Is front-mounted thermal the way to go? Jules Whicker gets hands-on with Pulsar’s new Krypton 2 to find out.
Pulsar’s thermal range covers all the bases: monoculars, bi-oculars, riflescopes, and – the subject of this review - the front-mounted devices commonly known as ‘add-ons’ or ‘clip-ons’. Pulsar typically develops its devices in three phases. First, there are free firmware updates to the Gen-1 model, which enhance image processing, add functions, and optimise display features. Then comes a Gen-2 version, incorporating higher-spec hardware that boosts its performance. Finally, the device receives a major redesign that enhances its exterior ergonomics, provides the internal real-estate required by the next generation of components, and earns it a new name: thus, the Helion monocular has morphed into the Telos, the Accolade bi-ocular into the Merger, the Trail riflescope into Thermion. It’s a neat pattern, but the Krypton 2 doesn’t quite fit it, because it’s not just the internals that are new. So, let’s take a closer look at just how Pulsar’s new clip-on takes its predecessor to the next level.
But first, why go for a ‘clip-on’ such as the Krypton at all? It really depends on how your personal armoury is configured. If you have less than say five rifles, and they all use the same high-quality base system (e.g., a true-to-spec Picatinny rail), you might consider selling all your day scopes, acquiring some premium rings, and buying a Thermion 2 DXP55 Duo. This would enable you to shoot all your rifles accurately and effectively around the clock at normal hunting ranges, with no need to re-zero. By contrast, if your rifles have different mounting systems, and if you want to shoot at long range by day, like to be able to dial in your corrections, have a preference for a particular reticle, or simply don’t trust any scope to return to zero after being dismounted, however good the mounts, then that’s where clip-ons come in.
At this point, it’s worth remembering that – while brilliant for night shooting - thermal imaging is also a genuine asset by day. With your quarry in the open, daylight optics are enough, but when it comes to a muntjac in the undergrowth or a squirrel in the canopy, thermal will let you track it with ease, leaving you ready to take the shot as soon as there’s an opening. Consequently, I rely on thermal for almost all my daytime squirrel shooting and use it for a good part of my stalking, too, especially in the summertime.
With the more expensive Duo, you can switch from a colour daylight image to a thermal one, or combine the two, at the press of a button. The Krypton can’t match that magic, but it can nevertheless be mounted in seconds, allowing you to transition swiftly from ID-ing your quarry in your day scope, to tracking and targeting it in the thermal. And if it moves back into the open, it’s just as easy to dismount the thermal and access all the magnification and clarity of your day scope.
You’ll appreciate this flexibility, too, when a hunting sortie carries you through from daylight into the hours of darkness, summertime foxing being a good example. Because a good day scope beats thermal (even the Duo) for longer-range precision, you can make the most of it until the light fails, then attach the Krypton to continue into the night.
As you will gather, I like clip-ons! Indeed, I bought the Krypton FXG50 I reviewed here in 2020. Thanks to a big 50mm/f.1.2 germanium glass lens, a BAE 640x480/12 µm/<40mK thermal sensor, a 1746x1000px AMOLED display, and Pulsar’s class-leading image-processing technology, its performance is not to be sniffed at. But the fact that there was still room for improvement is apparent from the features Pulsar have upgraded in the new Krypton 2. So, let’s get back on track and look at those.
Most obvious is the housing. The original Krypton repurposed the one from their F455 digital NV clip-on. It’s a good housing, finely machined from tough-but-light magnesium alloy, but in the Krypton 2, Pulsar has moved on from the squared-off aesthetic of the Trail/Helion generation towards the sleeker looks of the Axions and trimmed off some grams and mm in the process, making the Krypton 2 some 60-grams lighter, 12mm shorter, 15mm narrower, and just 9mm taller than the original. Also improved is the objective lens cover, which is now a permanently attached item that folds flat against the right-hand side of the housing.
Still recognisable is the IPS7 B-Pack battery (now top-mounted), although the Krypton 2’s more energy-efficient internals have extended its run time by 180 minutes to a whopping 11 hours per charge. Unlike the Thermion or Merger, there’s no internal battery, so you can’t hot-swap, but spares (£82.95) are quickly fitted, and a fast start-up gets you back in action in no time. Alternatively, you can run your Krypton 2 from an external 9V power bank via the USB-C power/data port on the left-hand side.
Also on the left-hand side are the key controls. As a left-hander, I found the top-mounted controls of the original Krypton, especially the focusing knob, easier to reach. The new button layout also feels less intuitive. There are four buttons: one top-and-centre (POWER/NUC), a pair at the bottom (DOWN/MODE and MENU/SELECT), and the fourth (UP/RECORD) at 2 o’clock from these. I’m not sure why Pulsar didn’t pair the UP and DOWN buttons for easy scrolling and put MENU in the 2 o’clock position, but fortunately, the Krypton 2 comes complete with a Bluetooth remote control that lets you manage all the functions (except focus) from wherever you attach the remote using the 3M self-adhesive hook-and-loop pads provided.
Changes have been made to the adapter system, too. Pulsar’s first clip-on, the digital F455S, mounted via a QD bayonet fitting into an adapter (FN) that remained attached to the objective bell of the day scope. Mounting/dismounting was quick, but each scope needed its own adapter. The Krypton addressed this with a new design (PSP) in which the thermal remained attached to the adapter, which clamped to the day scope via a QD lever. The latest iteration (PSP-B) uses both QD systems to provide the best of both worlds.
Better still, the Krypton 2 is backwards-compatible with PSP adapters, so you can still use it with the excellent PSP-V Picatinny rail adapter (£139.95). PSP-B adapters are available in three sizes (42, 50 & 56) to suit most scopes, and each comes with a set of eight polymer bushings to ensure a perfect fit. The PSP-B bushings also seem a touch more flexible – and thus grippier - than the PSP ones.
Additionally, the bayonet fitting on the Krypton 2 accepts Pulsar’s 5x30B and new 3x20B (£99.95) monoculars, which let you quickly convert your clip-on into a spotter. The 5X monocular was a bit overpowered for the original Krypton, but is a good match for the Krypton 2, whilst the 3x20 would suit either model.
It’s what’s inside that counts
External changes aside, the real step forward is in the internals. Refinements include: tweaking the geometry of the objective lens from f.1.2 to f.1.0 to deliver more photons to the sensor, which now comes from Lynred (France); boosting the resolution of recorded video from 960x720 to 1024x768px; adding a fast 5Hz Wi-Fi channel; and replacing the original monochrome AMOLED display with a colour unit, giving you access to the full suite of eight colour palettes (White-Hot, Black-Hot, Red-Hot, Rainbow, Ultramarine, Red Monochrome, Sepia, and Violet).
More importantly, the display definition has been increased to 1920x1080px, which means you can use more of your scope’s zoom before the pixels become intrusive, raising the threshold from 6x to 8x, or thereabouts. Correspondingly, Pulsar has tweaked the firmware to let you shrink/re-centre the main menu, quick menu items (brightness, contrast, recording status), and information bar, so that these remain visible for longer as you zoom in.
Aligning the Krypton 2 is also easier. You still need to confirm the day scope’s zero by shooting, but the X and Y sliders are now integrated into the menu. Additionally, a ‘display alignment’ function facilitates centring the Krypton’s display in the reticle of your day scope – done by adjusting the angle of the housing in the gimbal within the adapter - by providing a large cross as a reference point.
Notwithstanding my left-handed nit-picking about the controls, it is clear that the Krypton 2 represents an across-the-board improvement over its predecessor. But the absolute clincher is the price, which has plummeted from a daunting £4K to an appealing £2,849.95. And if that’s still too rich for you, there’s now a 35mm version (FXQ35) that boasts a 384x288/17µm/<25mK sensor, wider FOV (18.7x14m @ 100m), smaller dimensions (116x73x83), and an even lighter price tag of £2,249.95. This unprecedented combination of refined technology and keen pricing means there’s never been a better time to get a Krypton clip-on.