Leupold LTO-Tracker 2 HD

Compact thermal imager with moxie
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Leupold Flashlight

The thermal unit looks like an LED flashlight and is just the right size for outdoor adventure.

Flashlight

The included protective neoprene cover works better than lens caps.

You might say I’ve got a pretty strong background in thermal imaging. Before ascending the GUNS throne (a tasteful beige leather recliner) to become the ruling Editorial Despot, I was working as a freelance “hired gun” for the biggest name in the thermal industry. One of the big benefits of the job was every 14-year-old’s Call of Duty fantasy: a closet full of the latest professional thermal imaging gear.

The new Leupold LTO-Tracker 2 HD doesn’t fit in the same category, not by a long shot. However, if you’re looking for a thermal imager costing less than a kidney transplant and built like the proverbial brick sanitation facility, this new Leupold entry is a good one to consider.

Leupold Flashlight

The Leupold LTO-Tracker 2 HD.

The Important Stuff

Before going further, we should clear up the common misconceptions regarding thermal imaging and night vision. Thermal devices work by highlighting the differences in infrared energy emission between objects — in layman terms, it uses heat instead of visible light to paint a picture of the scene. This makes thermal units especially useful for finding game, especially downed animals. It can also see through dust and light fog, making it great for boaters or hikers. Unlike night vision, it works around the clock and in every way except cost, thermal beats night vision for most uses.

One other not-insignificant consideration for hunters: thermal imaging laws are all over the place. In some places you can use them for hunting and/or downed-game tracking, while elsewhere the mere possession in the field when hunting is a crime. Know before you buy, but where legal, for general scouting and finding downed animals, thermal is literally a game-changer.

The LTO-Tracker 2 HD is the next generation of thermal devices from Leupold, a more-tricked-out version of their earlier Tracker model. Upon opening the box, the most noticeable feature is the size — it looks exactly like an aluminum LED “tactical” flashlight. At 5.5" long and weighing 7 oz., the imager is a study in outdoor-resistant simplicity.

Unlike most thermal imagers, you don’t hold the Tracker 2 HD to your eye. The 1.2"-round viewing screen is held a few inches from your face like a riflescope. This feels a little odd at first but you quickly realize such eye relief helps you orient to the surroundings, unlike most units which require you to place your eye against an eyecup. The only quibble is the image does wash out somewhat in bright sunlight but is still usable.

In terms of image quality, you won’t be spotting songbirds at 100 yards through the 320x240 resolution display refreshing at 25 Hz using one of six color palettes. Product literature says deer detection distance is 300 yards and I’d agree with the estimate. Keep in mind at such distances you’ll only see a blobby hotspot — you won’t find yourself saying, “Old Moses is standing by the old snag across the field, and it looks like he broke his left brow tine.” The unit does offer a 7X digital zoom that’s useful at the lower end. In fact, I kept the unit locked into the screen-filling 1.7X zoom most of the time rather than using the rectangular 1X setting.

Leupold Flashlight

Brent’s wife unwittingly posed for a thermal portrait (above). The business end of the imager (below) gathers infrared radiation.

Leupold Flashlight

Axe or Optic?

By comparison to similar units, image quality is okay but not stunning. There are other value-priced thermal cameras offering higher resolution, faster refresh rate and a few other nice features such as recording but in terms of size, ease of use and build quality, I’d rate the LTO-Tracker 2 HD as the top of the heap. I’d even put the build quality above some higher-priced professional units. Obviously I couldn’t do any destructive testing on the loaner but this thing looks like it could split firewood and survive. The included neoprene protective sleeve is also easier to use in the field than lens caps.

The camera functions are accessed via three rubberized buttons on top of the device. Operation is almost intuitive — without reading the instructions, I was observing my hot (literally, thermally-speaking) wife in the kitchen within seconds of installing the single CR123 battery. Battery life is about 3 hours, on par with units from other manufacturers.

Ultimately, having used all types of thermal imagers ranging from lousy Chinese knock-off stuff to ultra-high-end military cameras, would I spend my own lunch money for an LTO-Tracker 2 HD? The answer is a resounding “Yes”!

It is compact, has an easy-to-handle form factor in the field, fits nicely into a pocket, proves supremely easy to use and looks like it could brain a charging cape buffalo without significant damage. It doesn’t have any features I don’t need and with a suggested retail price around $1,600, the Leupold LTO-Tracker 2 HD is a great one-size-fits-all thermal device for hunters, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts.

www.leupold.com

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