PULSAR TELOS LRF XP50 THERMAL MONOCULAR - Even Better!
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- Last updated: 06/02/2024
First seen in the UK at April’s Stalking Show, and keenly awaited ever since (not least by the distributors, Thomas Jacks, who have spent much of 2023 fielding calls from would-be buyers), Pulsar’s new thermal monocular, the Telos, is finally on dealers’ shelves (and in reviewers’ hands). No doubt we’d have had the Telos sooner were it not for Mr. Putin, but now it’s here, was it worth waiting for? You bet!
The Telos isn’t just the successor to the Helion range, or even simply a single-barrelled version of Pulsar’s flagship thermal bi-ocular, the Merger, though it has the same hand-filling feel and tactile rubber armouring as the latter. Rather, it’s the harbinger of a new era in which Pulsar devices are uniquely modular and upgradeable, able to accommodate new lenses, sensors, and displays as these become available. Pulsar has long been the leader in providing users with regular firmware upgrades that offer real benefits, but the opportunity to upgrade individual hardware elements takes this to another level. To see how this principle plays out in practice in the months and years ahead, look out for the new “UPG” badge on the latest Pulsar products.
Fully loaded spec
That’s not to say the current specification isn’t impressive. There’s a precision-ground f1.0/50mm germanium glass lens; a powerful 640x480/17µm Lynred sensor, with a market-leading NETD of
<18mK for optimal imaging in all conditions; a pin-sharp, high-contrast 1024x768 AMOLED display; a massive 64Gb of online storage (enough for over 60 minutes of video); an additional high-speed 5GHz Wi-Fi channel; and a new slim-line LPS 7i battery with an 8-hour run-time. Build quality is impeccable, too. Everything fits and moves perfectly - the battery latches in place with a crisp ‘snick’, the dioptre ring is stiff enough to stay where you left it, and the full-diameter focusing ring gives great control for sharp imaging at any distance.
The low-profile rubber eyepiece may hark back to the Helion, but the rounded, hand-filling body shape, the layout and design of the control buttons, and especially the introduction of a camera-style zoom ring, all set the Telos apart from its predecessors. As well as being easy to control, the zoom ring is bi-directional, removing the requirement either to dive into the menus or max out the magnification before you can zoom back out. As I’ve said before, I spend 99% of my time at native magnification to benefit from the full field-of-view (an ample 22m @ 100m here), but there’s also a picture-in-picture (PiP) function if you want the best of both worlds!
Speaking of which, I love the ambidextrous design of the Telos, as the eyepiece can positioned to suit either eye; the hand-strap eyelets are mounted on rings that can be rotated, with the rear ring registering into positive detents at 2 and 10 o’clock; and the hinged cover for the objective lens mounts via a reversible bayonet fitting. Whichever hand you use, therefore, it takes just a moment to optimise the ergonomics. The ergos of the rangefinder module are also good, with a sloping rear that’s designed to fit the natural contours at the base of your thumb. Those with hands bigger than my size 8s will love this, though the smaller-pawed might prefer the non-LRF version.
Size isn’t everything
The rangefinder’s compact dimensions belie its 1000m capability, and control via the closest button puts it right under your index finder. Both ‘single-shot’ and continuous scanning modes are available, as are angle compensation (THD) and a choice of three reticle options. Activating the laser opens a PiP window that maintains your selected magnification, while the main image reverts to 2.5x to aid target acquisition, and once you’re done rangefinding, PiP is automatically deactivated, and the original magnification is restored. A neat touch! The base of the rangefinding module incorporates a metal hard point for attaching a tripod adapter (available separately).
Power and light
Other details include a neat USB-C data/charging port hidden under a flush-fitting rubber cover at the rear right of the housing, and a green LED, inset into the bottom rear, which flashes in a single, double, or triple pulse to indicate progress when charging the battery in situ. The battery can also be charged separately using its own USB-C port and LED indicator. A constant light shows when the battery is fully charged, or the device is turned on. The latter is a helpful safeguard against accidentally running out of juice, but can be distracting at night, so absent an option to turn it off, you may want to apply a little black tape!
The four rubberised control buttons located on the top of the device sport bold moulded-in icons denoting power, forward, menu, and back functions. Thoughtfully, the power and menu buttons are also deeply scalloped, making them easy to identify by touch alone. The back button also controls the rangefinder and activates the secondary palette (selected from eight options). The menu button enables you to make quick brightness and contrast adjustments and to select the amplification mode (normal, high, or ultra), as well as access the full menu and confirm selections. The forward button controls video recording, or takes still images, depending on the mode chosen. Finally, the power button lets you manually ‘NUC’ the sensor, enter standby mode, or power the device on or off. In each case, the function activated depends on whether you give the relevant button a short, medium, or long press. Finding your way around Pulsar’s buttons is always intuitive, but moving the zoom function to its own ring makes navigating the Telos even easier.
A special case
I normally just give a quick nod to the suite of ancillary items supplied with Pulsar’s devices, but with the Telos one of them demands special attention, and that’s the carry case. Pulsar’s Cordura cases have always been well-made, but also somewhat under-designed, so it’s great to see them create one that’s genuinely useful in the field. First off, the lid is held in place by elastic straps, so there’s no fumbling with buckles when drawing or stowing the Telos. Secondly, the rear of the case offers both belt loops and MOLLE tabs for integration with your other load-carrying gear. Lastly, it comes with a Y-shaped clip-on yoke that works like a bino harness, except it can be configured for either right or left-handed use, leaving your shooting shoulder clear. The result is uniquely comfortable, secure, and silent. Now, Pulsar must realise that black doesn’t blend in by day and make it in FDE!
Now we’re out in the field, it’s time for some impressions on how the Telos performed. Firstly, although a pretty snug fit, the access and security provided by the chest-mounted case were excellent. It distributes the Telos’ 720-gram weight away from your neck and shoulders and prevents snagging or mishaps when crossing obstacles.
As for the Telos itself, its rubberised polymer casing didn’t get slippery or cold in the hand. On the downside, whilst the balancing point is level with the power button, the natural finger positions are behind it, making the device feel a bit front-heavy. Firm resistance from the buttons also induced a tipping movement when pressing that sometimes produced blurred images when taking stills. Tightening the hand strap aided control, but - due to the 2 and 10 o’clock detent positions - it only supports the fingers. Maximum hand support would require detents at 4 and 8 o’clock. Consequently, I opted to use both hands when recording, to ensure a steady image.
Optimising the image was much easier. The manual controls proved swift and precise, and although at first, I sometimes accidentally grabbed the zoom ring when trying to focus the Telos, the mistake was instantly rectifiable. The digital controls were just as efficient. The three amplification modes can be instantly matched to the conditions, or you can rapidly dial the brightness and contrast up/down. Best results tend to come with the latter about four increments higher than the former. A quick dive into the menu will also let you activate/deactivate the image-smoothing function. This favours noise reduction over detail and can help reduce fatigue. Overall, Pulsar’s image processing remains second to none.
The real eye-opener here, however, is the new Lynred <18mK NETD sensor. In advantageous conditions, this delivers a stunningly subtle image, and it continues to produce highly informative results even when the external conditions become genuinely foul. The groundbreakingly small NETD number denotes the sensor’s ability to detect tiny heat differentials. These are then converted by the image processor into a supremely rich sequence of half-tones that enables the Telos not only to depict high-contrast, fine-textured objects, like foliage and fur, in intricate and accurate detail but also reveal detail even in smooth, low-contrast elements such as water and snow. It is also why, when the conditions get bad, the Telos’ sensor can cope where others fail.