• James B

Pulsar Helion 2 Review

I’ve been a Pulsar owner for some years now. Starting off with the Apex XD75 Thermal Riflescope coupled with a Quantum XD50S Spotter a few years back, the rate of evolution of technology in the thermal imaging market is quite astounding.

Fast forward to Summer 2020 and I’m currently running a Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 through it’s paces. The recent introduction of the second generation of Pulsar devices has improved what were already superb devices with tweaks that are mostly under the hood and hidden from view.

Looking at the design of the Helion 2, there are few giveaways that this is an all new device. Firstly, it says Helion 2 on the sticker underneath, and it has a new power button.…which is blue. That’s it.

The Pulsar Helion 2 sports a similar design to the first gen model

Don’t think I mean to sound underwhelmed, as I say, the changes are 99% technical and we’ll get to those soon enough…

First of all, in case you are new to the world of thermal images, the Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 is a thermal monocular with multiple colour palettes and a high resolution 640x480 sensor.

The sensor is the same size as the previous Helion model as well as the XP50 models in other ranges such as the mighty Accolade thermal binoculars.

Other products in the Pulsar range have XQ and XM sensors, where the sensor size is 384x288, meaning that the XP sensors are the flagships and provide the best resolution of the bunch. XQ and XM sensors come with their own advantages, whether that’s longer range clarity or simply more budget-friendly but at the moment, the Helion 2 is only available in the range topping XP50 configuration.

In case you were wondering, the letters refer to the sensor, and the number refers to the size of the objective lens. XP (top end sensor) 50 (50mm lens)…

The new blue power button distinguishes the Helion 2 from the previous generation

Sticking with physical upgrades, the only other thing different physically is the battery. It’s still the same fantastic B-Pack battery that we’ve grown accustomed to but this one is the IPS7 battery rather than the IPS5 which came before it. What does that mean? Simply more time between charges. The IPS7 will run up to 8 hours with wifi running meaning you’ll have a full night of usage without worrying about carrying a spare. If 8 hours isn’t enough, you can always opt for the larger IPS10 or one of the variety of battery adapters for CR123A or AA batteries…Pulsar have definitely got you covered!

So, let's talk technical for a minute. There is a headline change to the second generation of Pulsar thermal devices and that is all about Noise Equivalent Thermal Difference or NETD for short.

NETD measures the amount of temperature variation pixels can detect in a sensor and is measured in millikelvin or mK. Imagine you have a sensor that struggles to tell the difference between a cold rock and a warm patch of grass. You won’t see any definition between the two and the edges or objects will look fuzzy or mushy.

In NETD, the lower the number, the better the results. As a benchmark, military grade thermal images can reach an NETD rating of around 20mK, but most commercially available imagers sit around the 70mK mark.

Generation 2 Pulsar Devices (Helion 2, Trail 2, Accolade 2 and the Thermion) all run sensors of <40mK. If you remember your maths from school that little arrow symbol means that the sensor is less than 40mK, so some will run below 40mK giving you some of the best image quality available in a thermal imager on the market today.

The difference when using a <40mK Sensor is really noticeable

What the <40mK sensor also does is pick up tiny temperature differences meaning that if you’re out in difficult conditions where objects don’t have so much temperature difference, such as in the fog or just after the rain for example, the image you get will be clearer than you’ve experienced before. In the UK, this is absolutely critical!

Talking of image quality, Pulsar introduced a feature called Image Boost a few months ago in a firmware update for first gen devices. I don’t know exactly how this works, but it looks to me like the technology detects and sharpens the edges of objects in view meaning you get a much cleaner picture than without it activated.

Second generation devices get this enhancement too, so all in all, the picture quality is excellent.

With the Helion 2, you’ll get a native magnification of 2.5x and a digital magnification of up to 20x. Digital zoom is magnifying the image you’re looking at so the image will degrade as you zoom in, but handily, Pulsar are retaining the Picture in Picture mode in the new models, meaning you can keep an eye on the whole landscape whilst having a smaller, magnified view of the object you want to look at. The 50hz refresh rate will give you a nice smooth image too.

One of the 8 different colour palettes.

With 8 selectable colour palettes and a detection range of 1800m (for a human sized object), the Helion 2 can be set up and utilised by anyone.

The Helion 2 is a conveniently sized imager and it feels incredibly ergonomic to hold and use. It weighs in at around 500g and measures just over 20cm in length and 5cm deep and wide so easily drops into a pocket. Alternatively, attach a neck strap and hang it around your necks for quick use. The Helion 2 turns on in around 3 seconds so you don’t even need to keep it running all the time!

Other great features are carried over from the original Helion and found in most Pulsar devices nowadays, including video and still image recorder, wifi pairing to a smart phone or tablet using the superb Streamvision App and its IPX7 rated for waterproofness.

I’ve been asked whether the Helion 2 represents enough of an upgrade for Helion 1 owners to warrant paying out for the latest model. That clearly depends on whether the Helion 1 is meeting your needs. If you’re finding that the image clarity isn’t quite good enough, you really need to check out the Helion 2 and see the difference.

If you have yet to take your first jump into the world of thermal imaging, or maybe you’re still running a Quantum from a few years back, you will not believe the difference until you see it.

Either way, if you’re considering upgrading your thermal kit, check out the full range of Pulsar devices at Scott Country International (01556 503587/

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Black Grouse Media, Canterbury, UK