Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 Pro Thermal Handheld Monocular.
Helion 2 XP50 Pro thermal imaging monocular from PULSAR for hunting, forestry, personal security, life rescue and recreational outdoor activities. The unit features built-in video recorder, stadiametric rangefinder, long-life quick-change battery and Wi-Fi module for connecting smartphone or tablet. For image acquisition HELION 2 XP50 PRO uses top-quality thermal imaging FPA with 640×480 resolution (17 μm pixel pitch, <25 mK NETD) operating at 50 frames per second.
These types of thermal monoculars can be used both day and night, and they are very effective. Basically, there’s no hiding for anyone or anything although there are ways to reduce your thermal signature if you’re a professional. In complete darkness, you can see a small mouse moving around at 100 meters. The Helion 2 PRO can detect a human figure as far out as 1800 meters. Note that they cannot be used as a sight, they are designed to be used hand-held or mounted on a tripod for observation and spotting.
First Impression & Description
I’m used by now, but everyone who sees the Helion 2s comment that they’re much smaller than they appear in pictures – much slimmer at least. It’s still the largest of Pulsar’s monoculars, but you should be able to carry it in the outside pocket of your jacket. The dimensions are 242x75x60mm and the weight is 500 grams, pretty handy considering the performance. The buttons are tactile and covered with what I suppose is rubber. The on-off button is blue, positioned a little further away from the buttons used to control the Helion. In the darkness, it can be a bit of an issue to identify which button is which, but after a while, you get used to it. Basically, you press the menu, then plus or minus to move the cursor and hit enter.
The heart of any thermal device is the sensor. The Helion 2 XP50 PRO comes with a 640×480 pixel micro-bolometric sensor, with a 17 μm pixel pitch, 50 Hz frame rate. The NETD (Noise-Equivalent Temperature Difference) is <25 mK. The lower the better, and the previous version had <40 mK. Pulsar develops their own firmware and software and the unit is made in the European Union.
The sensor is protected by a hard plastic lens cover, on a hinge. Of all designs I’ve seen, this is by far the best I’ve used.
The magnification ranges from 2.5 up to 20 (x8 zoom). In my opinion, you should look for units with the lowest optical base magnification. I like the wide FOV when scanning, and only rarely zoom in. The 5x zoom still works well on the Helion 2, but if you continue zooming in, you’re only using a fraction of the sensor and the image gets very pixelated. Just beware that even though suppliers 1 and 2 both quote 2.5 magnification there may be a difference in reality in how wide you can see.
The best option, in my opinion, is to use the 2.5 power as a base image for scanning and use the Picture in Picture function on 5 or 10 power to amplify what’s in the centre of your interest.
The image quality is great! In good conditions, it’s like a black-white image of what you have in front of you. For obvious reasons, the picture quality will deteriorate as conditions get worse, but if any unit is going to deliver at that stage, the PRO series is certainly qualified. We had the Helion 2 PRO side-by-side with the old Helion 2 (both XP50s) on tripods pointed at the same area, both in good and poor conditions from sunshine +15°C to darkness and -4°C with light fog. The new PRO model appears considerably better overall, but due to the 1.0 aperture, it is also more sensitive to having the focus correct.
We also tried Leica’s Calonox View the same way. Overall the Leica felt more comfortable to the eye, but they are very close in image quality and eventually, it boils down to personal preferences. Also, as you will see in the video below, there is a difference in what you as a user see through the display and what the unit records.
As we had the possibility we also tried the Helion 2 PRO versus the Zeiss DTI 3/35 Thermal Spotting Camera. Looking at specifications, they’re pretty far apart, but looking at the list prices, they’re not that far off each other. Unfortunately, the Zeiss is pretty far from the performance of the Pulsar Pro series. Don’t get me wrong, the Zeiss is not a bad device but in comparison, it doesn’t make it. In fact, the image quality of the Pulsar Axion XQ38 appeared better than the Zeiss as well. The “sweet spot” for most users, considering budget, is still the Axion XQ38.
The Helion 2 PRO has eight colour palettes to choose from, with an Image Detail Boost function. Some of the colours may appear useless from start, but “Sepia” and “Red monochrome” are great in total darkness when you want to rest your eyes and still be able to see animals moving in the forest. The PRO also has four operating pre-sets depending on where you are: forest, rocks, identification and “user” where you can optimize the image yourself. You can just use the PRO out of the box and go white or black hot, but there are also quite advanced settings as you get more familiar with the functions and start to develop your own preference.
If Pulsar develops new enhanced functions, you’ll be able to upgrade the firmware in the future. Some of these upgrades have been quite substantial historically. You can also connect to Pulsar’s App via Wi-Fi or use the USB-connection to download the media you recorded. I use the USB cable most of the time, and data transfer is super quick.
What’s in the box?
In your Helion 2 PRO package – which looks really professional – there’s a Li-Ion IPS7 battery pack with charger, USB cable, quick start guide and a warranty card. There’s also a hand strap which is very comfortable, but for right-hand use only. There’s also a carrying case to protect your unit. The battery lasts very long, and we never managed to drain it although we had it on in the cold for a full evening. Pulsar claims up to 8 hours of battery life, which seems to be true. The good thing with having changeable batteries is that you can bring a spare one and be good to go again within half a minute.
The standard objective lens is F50/1.0, but on the Helion 2s they are interchangeable. There’s a quick bayonet mounting and its waterproof. Removing the lens takes just a few seconds. You can swap it out with a 38mm or even a 28mm lens for a wider field of view, but you will be sacrificing the detection distance and magnification. I honestly don’t really see the reason, but there may be professionals out there who have the need.
All of the thermal images and videos in this article are recorded with the built-in photo and video recorder, which is extremely easy to use. Press record and aim, you have 16 Gb of internal memory in the Pulsar.
Thermal monoculars have now reached such a high level that I’m prepared to say if this is the minimum image quality and overall performance then we can live with it for a very long time to come. I know I’m going to have to eat my own words, but in just the last year or so the development of image quality has advanced so much.
TFB has reviewed many of Pulsar’s latest thermal monoculars, from the entry-level Axion XM30S to the mid-level XQ38 and XQ38 LRFs. If you’re in the market for top-level thermal imaging and your budget isn’t strained, the Helion 2 PRO is definitely one of the devices that should be on your list to consider. It may not win each individual category and score, but the overall package is a winner.
The best features of the Helion 2 XP50 are the image quality, the wide field of view (2.5x), the picture-in-picture function and the possibility to take pictures, record and share this with others. I also appreciate that when you turn it on, you have a thermal image within about 4 seconds, that’s much faster than other units I’ve tried (by factor 2-3). If you put it on standby, it’s within a second.
I’ve had the PRO for about a month and it worked great, no issues at all. Hopefully, I can keep it for a while longer until Pulsar wants it back, but it will be missed. Once you’ve seen great image quality there’s no turning back.