Thermtec Ares 660 Thermal Riflescope
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- Last updated: 15/12/2022
Thermtec’s new Ares 660 has a strong claim to be the best thermal riflescope currently available. Its core specification is impressive, its build and presentation excellent, its controls refined and its unique dual-focus objective lens delivers higher magnification or a wider field-of-view (FOV) with a simple twist of the wrist.
Never heard of Thermtec before? They’re a major player in security-imaging worldwide but a new arrival in the UK, where they’re distributed by Cliff Ray of Optical Solutions, a man with a keen eye for cutting-edge thermal kit and a strong commitment to supporting his customers.
Cliff offers three Thermtec lines: HM335 security cameras, Cyclops thermal monoculars and Ares thermal riflescopes. Four Ares models are available. Each has a 3-digit designation. The first digit indicates the sensor size (‘3’ = a 384x288 sensor and ‘6’ = a 640x512 one). The remaining digits (‘35’ or ‘60’) denote the focal length (FL) of the objective lens in mm.
However, that simple ‘60’ belies the ground-breaking USP of the Ares 360 and 660 scopes - namely, a radical lens with a dual/switchable 60mm/20mm FL. Focal length is a key metric because bigger FL = more magnification and smaller FL = more FOV. At different times each of these properties provides the information we need to make good hunting decisions.
Regarding magnification, typical thermal devices feature a fixed optical magnification (a.k.a. ‘base mag’), of about 3x or lower, supplemented by a firmwaregenerated ‘digital zoom’ that enlarges the centre of the image, usually by 4-5x. This makes the base mag detail easier to see, but – unlike an optical zoom - doesn’t add any detail to the image. As such, its value is greatest in thermal riflescopes, where it permits more precise aiming, but even here, gains can be quickly compromised by pixelation.
Despite these limitations, manufacturers use digital zooms because replicating the optical zoom systems used in conventional optics isn’t viable with the special germanium glass required for high-quality thermal imaging. Except now there’s a third way - the dual-focal-length objective lens exclusively found in Thermtec’s Ares 360 and 660 riflescopes.
Immediately identifiable by the steep flare of their large-diameter objective bells, the Ares ‘60s have an extra control ring ahead of the main focus ring. A half-turn on this resets the FL, instantly switching between 1.1X and 3.2X base mags (20>60), or upping the FOV from 7.3°x5.5° to 21.9°x16.4° (60>20). At 100m, that 20mm FOV score represents an extra 15.3x11.6m of situational awareness. Switching FLs does require a re-focus, but you quickly learn which direction to twist and how far.
The Ares’ 20mm FL setting gives similar performance to the thermal spotter I use for initial target acquisition and identification. This helped me transition from spotter to scope without losing track of my quarry, and once a shot appeared likely, I simply switched up to 60mm, sharpened the focus, and applied as much digital zoom as needed, up to 5x (i.e. a total of 16x) to optimise the sight picture.
The Ares’ digital zoom gets things right, too. It operates intuitively via a dial on the L/H turret, running smoothly in 0.1x increments. This means quick, click-free adjustment up to the point of maximum clarity/precision, with no menus, no overshoot into pixelation and no overscrolling.
Having optimised magnification and FOV, we can tweak the image. Primary tuning is also via the L/H turret, where a single click lets you dial the brightness and a second does the same for contrast.
Palette selection (made via a button on the ocular bell) is just as quick. Options include white-hot, black-hot and red-hot, plus green, golden and violet. No red monochrome, unfortunately, but I’ll live. Diving deeper into the menu, we find ‘de-noise’ and ‘sharpen’ controls that permit further image optimisation.
Most interesting is the overall image processing. Unlike the photo-realism of high-end Pulsars, Thermtec’s image appears stylised, but in a way that better accentuates both the presence and form of animals, which is what matters most to the hunter. Additionally, fine reticle designs with 0.5 MRAD subtensions that scale up as you zoom in (FFP-style) let you aim ‘super-small’ on distant targets, with unprecedented ease and confidence. Finally, the adjustment ‘clicks’ (also controlled by the dial on the L/H turret) are unusually fine, resulting in an exceptionally-precise zero.
Put together the 60mm/f1.1 lens, big 640x512/12μm sensor, 1024x768 AMOLED screen, progressive 5X digital zoom, target-enhancing image processing, fine reticles and micro-click zeroing and they deliver a combination of practical image quality and precision that make the Ares 660 an unbeatable choice for long-range fox and vermin control.
You also get a veritable cornucopia of attractive features. These include (Generation-Game-style): a smart carry case with a moulded interior, a choice of black or bronze hard-coat anodising, a set of Picatinny rings matched to its universal-standard 30mm main tube, power from inexpensive, swappable/ rechargeable OEM 1850 or 18560 li-ion cells (not included), polarity-indifferent battery installation (just drop it in!), continuous background non-uniform correction (NUC) that avoids imagefreeze and removes a potential failurepoint, manual calibration if needed, 5 zero profiles, 7 reticle designs with selectable red, blue or green centres, picture-inpicture (PiP) view, a dimmable on-screen display (OSD) with 3 colour modes, AI rangefinding and auto-zeroing, freezeframe manual zeroing, 16GB of internal storage accessed via a USB-C port, 1024x768 still and video recording with audio option, recording-without-OSD option, still capture while videoing, Bi-directional WiFi and smartphone app, IP67 protection rating, a 3-year warranty and ‘lifetime technical support’. OK, so that’s the spec sheet covered, but now for a more critical look at some selected items.
When it comes to zeroing in auto-zeroing mode, the scope’s AI compares ‘before’and ‘after’ images of your target, interprets the difference as an impact, and automatically adjusts the crosshair’s coordinates. With the right calibre (larger), range (closer) and target material, it’s amazing. Otherwise, stick to manual mode. This offers digital targetzoom and ‘freeze-frame’ functions, plus a secondary cross-hair to dial onto your bullet hole. All good, but take care as you exit, because whichever zeroing profile (A-E) you’re setting up, the corrections are saved via a screen that defaults to profile ‘A’. Excessive haste here will result in two messed-up profiles and significant penalties in confusion, time, ammo and blood pressure. RTFM, I guess, except the manual gives no figures for click-values, and the X/Y numbers shown in the scope’s zeroing screen don’t match those in the saved profile, rendering it hard to restore a zero from recorded coordinates. Additionally, the ‘mushiness’ of the dial makes stopping at a precise point difficult (and also mars the menu-scrolling experience). Most importantly, if you intend to use the 20mm FL setting to shoot as well as spot, you must create a separate profile for it, because changing the FL affects the POI (that is in the manual).
Next, we need to discuss mounts, as due to the scope’s short eye relief, the standard 30mm rings supplied are unlikely to be suitable. Instead, you’ll need a cantilever mount with a generous offset. My go-to mount for this purpose is a Konus adjustable unit, and it did its usual excellent job here, though I needed a lot of comb elevation on my trusty SSS stock to obtain a cheek weld.
When it comes to batteries, using 18650 with the taller turret cap may stop you from zipping up your gun bag. If so, consider buying 18500s and using the shorter cap instead. It’s nice to have both options! You can run the scope from an external power source via the USB-C port, but only if you have a battery (even a flat one) installed. Forget your batteries and you’re going straight home! Also, the batteries have to be removed from the scope for charging, so you’ll need to buy a charger too, as Thermtec don’t include one.
The AI rangefinding is a nice party piece but is neither precise nor consistent, only works on animals and only when covered by the right amount of pixels. Basically, any range where ranging actually matters is too far for the AI.
Also, the smartphone app can’t detect image files stored in the scope, so downloading is via USB cable only. Brilliantly, however, you can review both stills and videos in the scope, bypassing any need for a phone. I love this feature, especially when shooting steel to check zero!
The screen-standby mode is operated by a single quick click on the power button. Power-saving is particularly valuable with 18500 cells. More evidence that Thermtec understands frequentlyoperated controls need to be quick and easy.
Finally, a bonus feature for fatigued/ lazy hunters. Simply set up your rifle on a tripod, go to base-mag at 20mm, activate Automatic Object Detection in the app, and then chill out. Thermtec’s AI will notify you when a heat source enters the Ares’ FOV!
So, the Ares 660 gives ambitious hunters plenty to get excited about, a great deal to like, a couple of things to watch out for and an overall taste of what the future of thermal will hold. Not at all bad for £3.6K, or £2.7K for the 360 model!
Optical Solutions - www.opticalsolutions.uk