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Pulsar N550 Digisight

Pulsar N550 Digisight

If you read my articles on nightvision equipment (NV Virgin) you will know I have mixed views on this technology. The ability to see in the dark is awesome, but to get best results you need to spend the big bucks… For me NV starts at Gen 2+, which at around the two grand mark is too expensive to be financially viable for my limited needs and still perhaps not quite up to the mark. So I have not yet made a commitment. However, I have just been testing something I feel offers good value for money and potential - the Pulsar N550 Digisight from Thomas Jacks. Would I buy one? Read on!

Ashley Beard of Thomas Jacks showed me the digi at IWA 2009, explaining it used CCD digital camera technology to offer a black & white image at near half the cost and weight of a comparable Gen 2+ image intensifier tube (ii) unit and with no risk of light exposure damage. He reckoned it was going to sell well, which was correct as it has become the must-have night scope for 2010. Pete Wadeson has already given us a heads up on it, but I was keen to have a look and Ashley equally so, to see how I felt about it.


Different

The N550 has none of that clunky, industrial feel I have come to expect from NV scopes. With its polymer casing with built-in lens cap it weighs 2 lbs 6oz and is about as long as a standard 3-9x42 scope though it’s rectangular in section at around 2 x 1.5”. A long, integral 1” claw base allows it to fit to Weaver/Picatinny rails and it comes in a soft case with an integral IR projector, plus a remote control. Optional is a more powerful IR lamp. It runs on 4xAA batteries and the spec is 4.5x50 and the controls are well positioned and user-friendly.

Most notable is the image produced, which is different from the green of the ii-types. The digi’s is black & white with all shades in-between, it is also shows a lot more contrast. I found this a mixed blessing given the terrain and range to target, but like anything new it’s a matter of getting used to it.

Controls and function are practical and offer some useful features. At the back you have the rubber eye cup, reticule focus ring, underneath the battery compartment. On the right - image contrast and sensitivity buttons, screen brightness adjuster, forward focus and integral IR lamp. On the left – zeroing drum, menu button and sectors, and Weaver rail. On top the ON/OFF/IR switch, reticule colour and screen information selector buttons.


Getting to Know You

The 550 presents a number of new concepts for NV optics. The reticule offers six options, the open Mil-Dot-style (with hash marks) with a floating centre dot proved ideal for both zeroing, target placement and range estimation. Likewise the ability to switch from white to black given your background and target colour. Initially odd is the fact the reticule is electronically generated and uses the moving image system. So all corrections are reversed – group left, move reticule left to swing the gun right to compensate. Zeroing uses a single control wheel with a central selector button for windage and elevation, which show as arrows in the screen that indicate direction.

This was great for daytime zeroing as you just note the fall of shot, keep the ret pointed at your aiming mark then move the cross to the impact point. Pulsar also offer a one-shot zero facility, which projects an X on your aim point, allowing you to do the same thing but with a bit more precision. I found it very easy to set zero in this manner.

You can also select the screen display; plain (no images just the view), reticule-only and ret plus time, battery life and contrast and sensitivity indicators. Given this is near a camera there are a number of capped outlets for external functions – remote control, external power, video out and USB for downloading more reticules from the Pulsar website. These are all covered by rubber caps, which I found a bit too easy to accidentally loosen or pull out.

On Gun

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I used the N550 on three rifles - Ruger SR22 (22LR) and 77/17 All-Weather (17HMR) and a Howa 1500 in 23 Remington. Though reasonably large, weight is not a big issue and given the mount you use it is not unnecessary high above the bore line. Testing was simple though the rainy weather put a spoke into some of my plans, as did Mr Fox who despite numerous outings and the enticement of calls and meat refused to make an appearance.

Daytime zeroing is easy though you do need to turn down the brightness to minimum as I said the view shows high contrast between black and white. With just x4.5 mag you will need a target you can see the aim point on. I found small lumps of chalk ideal as they can be easily seen in low light as can the splash of the bullet. The 17HMR and 223 Rem were giving an easy 1” @ 100-yards with the SR22 zeroed for 60-yards in the same fashion. The digi is far easier to set up than an ii scope!

Reticule selection was easy as the pattern with an open Mil-Dot (with hash lines) with a free central dot proved best. At 100-yards a rabbit sitting upright just fits between three hash marks top to bottom, with a hare subtending a bit more, which certainly aids rangefinding. With the 17HMR and 223, which will shoot near flat to 120-yards, I knew where I was.


Blind or Visually Challenged?

In my view any NV sight needs IR illumination to improve the picture, as without it and unless you are shooting over very light coloured ground like stubble and in a full moon you get a snow storm effect in the lens. The integral unit on the Pulsar is OK but has a fixed beam, which can bounce back off close cover and obscure the view. Thomas Jacks included a Laser Luchs IR torch and new adjustable mount, which I set up on the integral rail. This allowed me to set the beam where I needed it and also offered greater range.

In terms of visual acuity the N550 will let you see the quarry in detail up to around 75-80-yards. Much after that and certainly at 100+ all you see is a black silhouette. It is however sharp and there’s no problem telling a rabbit from a hare at that distance. Plus the laser IR picks out the eyes well, which is good as the x4.5 mag doesn’t give a lot away. However, it really focuses the mind and shooting skills wonderfully as there’s no high mag etc. to help…

First night out with the 17HMR I shot five hares, a gimme’ at 65-yards but my best was a head shot at 141 (measured by laser). I ranged him using the reticule and knew he was definitely 100+. The Laser Luchs picked out his eyes so I aimed back about an inch and up the same amount and squeezed; bop straight in the noggin. The other three ranged from 90 to 120-yard and all in the head. With the 22LR on rabbits, which means sub-100-yards the shorter range allowed better target view and equally good results, as you might expect. This was better performance than the Gen2+ scope I had used a few months ago.

Much past 150-yards though you could see the eyes, but not really make out the body of small quarry that well. I assume that a fox being bigger should in theory be more visible. In a wood up in a high seat on a 250-yard ride with known ranges I waited for Charlie on more than one evening, but he never showed. However, my theory was partially proven as I spotted a set of eyes at 175-yards, which had to be a hare or rabbit and at no time could I make out the body. I’d say you could engage a fox at 150-yards and maybe see larger shapes at a bit more, but as to ascertaining if it was a muntjac or whatever I’m not sure… That aside the ability to shoot at 150 at night with Gen 2+ type ability is not to be sneezed at for just under a grand!

For: Puts decent NV into more hands
Against: Not a lot
Verdict: Affordable and effective NV scope
Shooting controls – ON/OFF/IR selector, reticule colour, brightness and focus all fall easily and naturally to hand. Power consumption is good with an average of a 2-hour, full on run time and more if you switch off between uses. I think the N550 fills a unique slot in the NV market as it offers an affordable, effective and well-priced option. I would like a bit more magnification and operating range, which is a possibility for the future; I am told. But by the same token it’s hard to knock as it is…

Some people will obviously want more in terms of engagement and accurate observation range and the N550 will not be for them. However, the majority who mainly shoot rabbits, hares and the occasional fox will be well served by the Digisight; especially at the price.

PRICE: £999.99

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