Alternate universes live just outside the wavelengths of light we can see with our eyes. Doctors use X-rays, astronomers use radio waves, and the more prepared folks can use infrared. IR, or infrared, comes in two flavors, reflected and emitted. Gen 1 night vision uses reflected infrared light to supplement any ambient light. By using an IR emitter or IR flashlight, a scene can be lit up when viewed with night vision optics, yet remain completely dark and invisible to the naked eye.
Thermal, on the other hand, uses a special camera to view the heat signature of objects, people, and animals. Those new to Thermal Optics or TO, are in for a surprise. Thermal imaging is like magic when needing to see inside, through, or across the wide open. And now Leupold has put a durable, versatile, and powerful thermal imager onto the market and into the hands of hunters, preparers, and anyone who wants or needs visual superpowers.
The Leupold LTO offers a six viewing choices, and a 1x-6x zoom. The LTO runs for 10 hours on a single CR123 battery, and is built like a tank. At a hair over five and a half inches, and a dense 10 ounces, the LTO (presumably Leupold Thermal Optic) is precision machined out of aluminium and has that rock solid Leupold scope feel. The uses for the Leupold LTO are infinite, and range from those anticipated and necessary tasks such as tracking injured game, or peering through brush for critters or people. And I do mean “peering through”. The Leupold LTO can see beyond and through brush that blocks normal vision, and it makes no difference if it’s full daylight or the pitch blackness of night.
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Instead of a photograph, a thermal camera creates a thermogram by focusing the emitted infrared light (think heat or temperature) of objects in the field of view, and then digitally processes them. The end result is an image you can see on a monitor or display that converted the invisible (to us) temperature differences in the scene into a set of shapes and colors that we can see and understand. The set of options in the Leupold LTO’s color pallet provide various ways to interpret the heat signatures of objects. Some pallets work better than others with specific subjects.
A fun idea to consider is that rattlesnakes and other animals that use infrared information in their hunting could be viewing the world the same way you might with the Leupold LTO. It doesn’t take an excessive amount of mental gymnastics to imagine seeing temperature, and it certainly didn’t escape Hollywood with such movies as Predator. And whether or not a layer of mud would be enough to hide Arnold from the Predator’s thermal imaging is a discussion for later.
The Leupold LTO is ripe for a good padded case. I don’t know if Leupold has plans for one, but I found a Nitecore flashlight case to be on the right track. It holds the Leupold LTO in a way that it can be used while in the case, as well as being able to wear the Leupold LTO around my neck or belt, and deploy instantly and as necessary. The case uses a Velcro closure flap that covers the eyepiece, but also allows the thermal camera on the opposite side open for business like an old-school holster. If I were Leupold, I would consider a single Fastex buckle cover system that in one-buckle release flips open the two end covers and frees the optics for viewing. Given the hard-use environments that this Leupold LTO will thrive in, and the potential life-and-death situations that the Leupold LTO could find itself in, a dedicated padded case might be more than a good idea.
Now You See It
In the field, the Leupold LTO is nothing short of amazing. The Leupold LTO is simple to use. Hold down the on-button for a few seconds and the Leupold LTO springs to life. The LTO remembers its last thermal color setting, and fires up at 1x. The Leupold LTO can zoom to a higher digital magnification either by steps when clicking the zoom button, or holding the zoom button down and zipping up in magnification level at tiny increments from one to six then dropping back to one again in an infinite circle.
An odd feature that asks more questions than it answers is that when the on/off buttons is toggled, a set of crosshairs appears. Since the Leupold LTO is not recommended for mounting on a rifle even though it’s an obvious one-inch tube that would have not trouble mating with conventional optics mounts. The crosshairs are a helpful addition if you have the Leupold LTO in a tripod mount, or other fixed container, but unlike the FLIR Thermal Optic Cameras, placing the crosshairs on a target does not provide any specific imaging info. However, there is something known as software creep where extra coded and features appear on something not yet designed for the capability of the code. So if I had to guess, it’s only a matter of time before the hardware is durable enough to sit in front of a red dot like the Leupold DeltaPoint Pro giving the shooter a $10,000 experience through a $800 (street price) thermal optic.
Here are dozen uses for the Leupold LTO that will make a difference when it matters.
- When things go bump in the night. While night vision might be a go-to solution, but when the “bump” is hiding, thermal imaging may be able to see through the concealment. Remember when the Boston Marathon Bomber was found hiding in a sailboat? It was thermal imaging that give away his position.
- Locating dangerous heat sources, fires, and overheated electrical components.
- Finding people and animals in thick smoke.
- Identifying recently driven vehicles.
- Detecting heat leaks in your home or camp.
- Comparing body temperatures, fevers, and injury hot spots.
- Looking back in time to where someone or some animal might have been hiding.
- Looking through walls for hidden compartments and doors.
- Looking through clothes for the outline of a concealed weapon.
- Stalking game while hunting, especially when animals are bedded down.
- Tracking an injured animal or person by following the thermal signature of the blood trail.
- Identifying the living from the dead.
The Leupold LTO has six different viewing modes or color palettes as Leupold calls them: Red, Green, White-hot, Black-hot, Black-highlight, and White-highlight. Its field of view is about 21 degrees and it has a 6x continuous digital zoom. There is no focus on the Leupold LTO, nor is there a need for one.
Behind the Curtain
The single CR123 battery provides about 10 hours of continuous use, or 20 minutes per day for a month. To access the battery compartment, a knurled ring in the center of the Leupold LTO is spun unscrewing the two halves of the unit. A flexible circuit spans the gap and access to a battery pocket.
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The operating temperature for the Leupold LTO is from -4 F to 140F, and it has a range of 600 yards according to Leupold, but I’m not sure what limits it. Likely it is that the resolution of the screen won’t provide much useful information about objects far away because the tiny screen is only 240 by 204 pixels. For reference, an Apple Watch is 312 by 390 pixels and an iPhone 7 screen is 1334 by 740 pixels. So out at a hundred yards, a human is only a few pixels wide and a few more than that tall on the LTO screen. Another technical consideration when presenting imagery on a screen is the refresh rate or frame rate. The Leupold LTO runs at 30hz. The human eye can detect the pauses in video if the frame rate drops below 20. So at 30, the Leupold LTO produces an image that mimics real world movement without jerks or jumps.
As mentioned, the aluminium shell is wonderfully strong, but the housing is also water resistant to IP67 standards which in English means IP=Ingress Protection, 6=total dust protection on a scale of 0-6, and the 7= “waterproof” to water immersion up to one meter. The IP67 is also the same rating of the iPhone 7.
The Magic Golden Ring
As a Leupold Gold Ring product, Leupold will stand behind the Leupold LTO with its excellent warranty for up to five years on the electronics. And frankly I’m not sure what else would need service except for the electronics. I know there will be blowback when suggesting battery powered devices for survival situations. Of course the electronics can break and the batteries can die, but if it doesn’t and they don’t you have some incredible superpowers in the meantime. And the way I look at it is that many survival situations are short term and you can use all the help you can get. But if things really go bad, possibly for a long time, the first few hours, days or weeks are a critical time where you need as many superpowers as you can get. The Leupold LTO really will give you superpowers.