April 23, 2021
A decade ago, thermal technology was simply too expensive to be of much interest to the average person, but today’s thermal optics are more affordable and accessible than ever before. Several companies have released new thermal handhelds in recent years, but few can match the new Burris Thermal Handheld’s ease of use, picture quality, and value. Whether you’re using a thermal to scout for game, secure your property or simply enjoy having a window into the world after dark, the BTH offers a long list of user-friendly features from one of the most trusted names in optics.
There are two new Burris thermal handhelds from which to choose. The BTH 35 features a 35mm-focal length and offers a 2.9 to 9.2x zoom range while the larger BTH 50 comes with a 50mm-focal length and a 3.3 to 13.2x magnification range. Both these handheld thermals offer 400x300 resolution, a pixel size of 17µm and a frame rate of 50Hz. Since both these handhelds use internal lithium batteries, you can simply plug them in to recharge, and with a battery run time of up to five hours you can enjoy hours of viewing from a single charge.
The two new Burris BTH handhelds are compact and light, so they aren’t a burden to carry in the field. The BTH 50 weighs 18.9 ounces, and the BTH 35 weighs in at just over 17 ounces. Overall length is 8.4 ounces for the BTH 50 and 7.5 inches for the BTH 35, so either can be carried in a coat pocket or a pack.
The durable polymer housing protects the internal mechanics of the thermal and soft-touch rubber surfaces on the buttons makes them easy to manipulate even with cold or wet fingers. There’s a manual focus knob on the front of the unit that allows you to fine tune the image, and the 1280x960 color LCOS screen displays images more clearly than most competing handheld thermals. There are five color-palette options including white hot, black hot, iron red, blue hot and red hot.
One of the most common criticisms levied against handheld thermals is that they aren’t intuitive to operate, especially under field conditions. The operating procedure for the BTH 50 I tested wasn’t difficult to master, though. There are five buttons on the top of each handheld unit allowing access all the BTH’s features. The power button is located in the front, and behind that there is an up-arrow button. The menu button is positioned behind the up arrow, and behind that is the down-arrow button. The photo/video button is located behind the down arrow and just ahead of the eyepiece. There’s a power indication light just aft of the photo/video button and a diopter adjustment on the left side of the unit.
The manual included with the purchase of each BTH optic and the supporting videos on Burris’s website do an excellent job walking new owners through the operation of this handheld, but here’s a brief overview of how the BTH works.
Begin by pressing the power button to turn the unit on and adjust the optic using the focal ring and diopter adjustment until you can clearly see a target object. Holding the up button for a long press allows you to zoom in, and holding the down button for the same length of time zooms out. Pressing the video/photo button allows you to record stills or video. Downloading and using the Burris Thermal smartphone app makes it possible to view and record images using your mobile device. The menu (M) button allows you to access and control features like picture-in-picture, screen brightness, the stadiametric rangefinder, Hot Track, and power save modes. Holding the power button briefly places the unit in power-saving sleep mode, and a long hold shuts the BTH down completely.
Many of these features are familiar to anyone who has used a thermal handheld before, but one in particular—Hot Track—is unique to Burris thermal optics. Hot Track automatically identifies and tracks the hottest image on the screen. This is particularly beneficial when you’re observing animals, especially rutting deer or feeding feral hogs that consistently move in and out of cover. By enabling the Hot Track feature, Burris thermal handhelds automatically follow the hottest object on the screen (identified by a crosshair), and that makes it much easier to follow animal movement.
The BTH 35 and BTH 50 are versatile optics that allow the user to see in complete darkness, and they are competitively priced, considering their high-quality processors and user-friendly features. MSRPs range from $2,799 for the BTH 35mm to $2,999 for the BTH 50mm.
In the Field Performance
Using a handheld thermal is similar to diving underwater in that you’re suddenly immersed in another world that you simply could not access before. There’s nothing better for night viewing than a handheld thermal, and there are few handheld thermals that match the Burris BTH series.
The base of the BTH thermal is threaded, so I could mount the unit on my adjustable shooting sticks for steady viewing. In the first hour I spent walking up and down the edge of a harvested grain field, I saw a half-dozen whitetail-tailed deer, a fox or coyote that I followed in and out of edge cover using the Hot Track feature, and a lumbering possum that rooted through the fallen corn fodder in search of a meal not more than twenty yards from me. The refresh rate (the rate at which images refresh on the screen, measured in Hertz) is 50 Hz, and that provides a smooth, consistent image quality even when an animal is moving. Because I was using the Burris Thermal smartphone app, I was able to sync the BTH 50 to my phone, so I could review and record still images and video.
Operating a thermal in the dark can be a challenge, but the BTH 50’s simple control layout made it easy to adjust menu settings like color palette and Hot Track. The buttons are large, well-spaced and their distinct shapes make them easy to identify. Rapid refresh rates make for better viewing, and the stabilizing feature helps reduce shake.
The BTH 50 proved to be entertaining, but there are a number of practical applications for a handheld thermal like this. There’s no better method to monitor around your home, since the thermal allows you to see in total darkness; it’s a must-have security item for homeowners. Thermals also protect against four-legged predators. I won’t travel in bear country again without a thermal (exiting your tent to answer the call of nature is less terrifying when you’ve scanned the dark surrounding forest for large predators).
I’ve used thermals to scout for game and for research projects. I’ve also used thermals to determine points around my home where warm air escapes (and costs me money), and it’s great fun to simply watch wildlife at night. Regardless of what prompts you to initially purchase a Burris handheld thermal, you’ll find dozens of other applications for these multi-purpose optics. Isn’t it time to see everything you’ve been missing?
Tested Burris Thermal Handheld BTH 50mm Specs:
Magnification: 3.3 – 13.2x
Pixel Size: 17µm
Frame Rate: 50Hz
Visual Angle: 7.8 x 5.8
Digital Zoom: 1x – 4x
Eye Relief: 10mm
Dioptric Compensation: -4~+2
Screen: 1280x960 Color LCOS
Color Palettes: White Hot, Black Hot, Iron Red, Red Hot, Blue Hot
Working Hours: >5 Hours at 77o Fahrenheit
Weight: 18.9 ounces
Dimensions: 8.4 in. (length) x 2.5 in. (width) x 2.7 (height)
Thermal Handheld or Thermal Scope? The Burris Thermal Clip-On (BTC) Does Both!
Debating between purchasing either a thermal handheld or a thermal optic for your firearm? There’s actually a single thermal optic that will perform both functions—the Burris Thermal Clip-On (BTC). The BTC works as a handheld thermal optic but also attaches to your traditional riflescope, transforming it into a thermal optic. For hog and predator huntersc, this means you can quickly scan your hunting area with the Clip-On as a handheld. When game is spotted, the Burris Dayscope mounting system allows you to attach the Clip-On to your traditional riflescope and transition it to a thermal optic.
Burris Clip-On models are available with your choice of 35mm or 50mm focal length and weigh between 14 and 15.8 ounces. Because the Clip-On works both as handheld and firearm-mounted optic, it reduces loadout weight in the field without sacrificing thermal image quality. Like the Burris BTH, the Clip-On features a 400x300 resolution and a 17µm pixel size. The manual focus ring located on the front of the optic, there are four color palettes from which to choose and 4x digital zoom comes standard. The unit runs on two widely available CR123 batteries as well as ICR 16340 rechargeable batteries. Like other Burris thermals, operating the Clip-On is fast and easy. If you’re looking for maximum versatility from your thermal optic, then the Burris Clip-On BTC is a superb option at a fair price. MSRP: $4,199-$4,499.