ATN X-Sight Review – mid 2015
Night vision sights are no longer the sole realm of Special Forces tactical units. A good example of the night vision sights making their way into the recreational and rural market are the ATN X-sights distributed by Groundforce Products Australia.
Most Aussie shooters would have shot over the spotlight at some time. That may have been some simple bunny bashing with Pop or perhaps more intensive night time culling efforts for bigger pests.
The continued development, and especially the decreasing price, of night vision optics is seeing these devices increasing in popularity with both rural and recreational shooters. Night vision refers to optics that do not need a conventional spotlight for illumination. These devices typically use infra red (IR) or thermal imaging to detect target animals in the darkness.
The advantage of that is that there is no glaring tell tale beam of light to alert the game to the presence of the shooters. As anyone who has ever spotlighted for pigs or wild dogs would know, many of these educated and cagey customers head for the hills at the first sign of a spotlight in their area.
The use of IR or thermal sights provides a significant edge to night time pest cullers. The absence of an intensely bright light in the visible spectrum allows for improved contact with wary feral pests. It often also provides the opportunity for a couple of extra shots once the action starts.
Until recently the high cost of such night vision sights has been a deterrent to civilian shooters. However, prices are declining as the technology spreads. Groundforce Products Australia has further lowered the bar with the introduction of the ATN X-sight series which retail around that $1000 affordability mark.
Groundforce sent me the following package of items for review.
- 3-12x ATN X-Sight (RRP $999.95)
- 5-18x ATN X-Sight (RRP $1099.95)
- 32GB Micro SD Cards for recording
- Energiser Lithium Batteries (recommended for the product)
- 1 GF-IR-3000 IR illuminator kit (RRP $299.95).
The ATN X-Sights are set up for mounting to a Picatinny rail, something to be aware of. None of my rifles had these, but Groundforce kindly provided the three different rails required for testing on the Brno 22LR, Savage 11 223 Rem and Sako A7 308 Win.
The ATN X-Sights are solid bits of gear. The feel and weight of each sight indicates a construction largely of metal and not much plastic. The smaller 3-12x with 850 mW IR illuminator & batteries weighs 1.351 kg while its bigger brother the 5-18x with the optional IR3000 illuminator & batteries weighs 1.682 kg. Each X-Sight has a short length of Picatinny rail fixed to the left had side of the scope for mounting the IR illuminator, or any other pieces of gear, such as laser.
On lightweight hunting rifles, such as the Brno model 2 in 22LR, the ATN X-Sight made the rig a bit top heavy. The rifle was still quite manageable but a varmint style stock would have been a much better option. For spotlight shooting in general a varmint style rifle, shooting off a padded rail, bean bag or bipod is the commonsense preferred option anyway. This is certainly so with night vision sights that are bulkier and heavier than standard optical sights.
The key feature of the ATN X-scopes are both day and night vision capability. That is unlike many other types of night vision gear which can only be used only at night. It should be noted that the image you see through these scopes is an electronic one, not optical as through a telescopic sight. The target is seen on what is essentially a small electronic screen. It is necessary to select daylight or night mode when switching on the device.
I did find that the unit needed a bit more focussing effort than you would normally get on a conventional optical scope. Twisting the eye piece, the diopter adjustment, focuses the reticule and text seen on the viewing screen. The image itself is focussed by twisting the front objective lens. The X-Sight seems to have a shallower depth of field in comparison to an optical scope and it took me some time to get a feel for that.
Obviously, viewing your target on an electronic screen of any sought has some impact on the sharpness of the image. While it is certainly not comparable to what you would see through quality telescopic sights it is still adequate for shooting. The main point here is that this is a night scope that provides you the benefit of also being able shoot in daylight.
The X-Sights run on AA batteries. It is recommended that Lithium batteries be used. It also pays to switch off the Wi-Fi and GPS when not required in order to avoid excessive power consumption. That will most likely double your battery life. Typically, with GPS and Wi-Fi turned off, ATN state you can expect up to 11 hours of operation from a new set of Lithium AA batteries. My units seemed to go through batteries fairly quickly, but they were inadvertently left on for some indeterminate extended periods, so that may not be a fair comment.
On the subject of power, it pays to check that the X-Sight has remained powered down. Turning the unit off is accomplished by holding the power button down for three seconds. The screen shows a countdown to that and then the unit powers off. A number of times I found that the unit had restarted by itself. It seems that leaving your finger on the power button for a smidge too long re-initiates start up again. I understand that the issue has been recognised and can be corrected via an on line firmware update.
Being a bit old school, and being out bush without too many spare batteries, I resorted to simple taking the batteries out of the unit when not in use. That worked okay, naturally, but an unintended minor consequence was that doing that reset the internal date and clock. Date and clock in a rifle sight? Being electronic, the X-Sights have a host of modern features normally associated with mobile phones.
These ATN X-Sight features include a gyroscopically stabilised image, E-zoom, Wi-Fi, digital camera, video recorder, and GPS with E-compass, altitude, travel velocity and Geotagging. All this electronic wizardry is driven by ATN’s Obsidian Core processor which runs at one billion cycles per second.
The small booklet that comes with the sight does not provide much information on the operation of the unit and is largely devoted to advice on mounting it. That said, operation is pretty intuitive and the menu based screen controls are simple and straight forward. Full operating instructions along with video tutorials are available from the web site, http://www.gfpa.com.au/technical-support. For those folks wanting a bit of the personal touch you can call support on 1300 NIGHT VISION.
Sighting in was an absolute cinch. The ATN X-Sights come with an excellent sighting-in feature. Fire a shot at the target then electronically mark the aiming point before scrolling the cross hair to the actual bullet hole. Another click and you are sighted in. It’s as simple as that.
The screen based menu provides an array of choices for reticule type and colour. I opted for the green cross with centre dot as it was a good choice for both daytime and night time shooting.
At night the range of the device is fairly limited unless an IR illuminator is used. The unit that comes with the scope, the ATN IR850 extends that range significantly. I also was able to test a prototype of the more powerful GF-IR-3000 IR illuminator and that certainly extended the usable reach of the scope at night.
ATN update the device’s firmware on a fairly regular basis. That is one reason why the operating instructions are based on line. New features and changes can sometimes be added with an update and will be reflected in the on line guide. Minor glitches in the software are corrected during these updates as well. X-Sight owners are encouraged to keep an eye out for firmware updates and take advantage of those as they become available.
To update the unit’s firmware the following steps are necessary.
- Register your scope at http://www.atncorp.com/firmware
- Download the firmware file
- Copy that file to the unit’s Micro SD card
- Ensure the X-Sight is switched off
- Ensure your batteries are fully charged (a power failure during updating may lead to a problem)
- Insert the Micro SD card into the unit’s card slot
- Switch the X-Sight back on and follow the screen prompts from there
- Once the firmware update is complete the unit needs to be re-booted by switching off and removing the battery cap for at least 10 seconds
It pays to tighten the screw on battery cap tightly. That not only ensures good sealing from dust and moisture but also avoids any unexpected power down issue that can occur under recoil on heavier calibres if there is not firm contact on the batteries.
While I did not bother with the Wi-Fi and GPS features I was particularly interested in the video and digital camera options. If you aspire to videoing or photographing your quarry through the scope as you take your shot then you will need to be comfortably familiar with the activation of those functions while your eye is glued to the scope.
While the controls are quite simple it does take some getting used to the buttons located on top of the sight. That is particularly so if it is night time and you have your eye to scope. Without alarming the neighbours at home, it would be wise to become completely familiar with operation of the unit in your backyard before heading out into the bush. In particular that means being able to operate the buttons by touch without having to look at them.
An extended bout of rainy weather put a significant dent in my intentions for field testing. I had hoped to get some photos and video of wild dog hunting at night. With that washed out I did manage to pursue a few bedraggled bunnies closer to home. Through a combination of eagerness to take the shot and belatedly pushing the wrong buttons (see above) I never got any usable images. The best I could do was to put up a fox target for demonstration purposes and those images, taken through the device can be seen here.
While the weather conspired to prevent me obtaining any spectacular hunting images and video, there are plenty of those posted by other shooters on YouTube. Simply do a search on ATN X-Sight to view those and get a good feel for the capability of these night vision scopes.