More than two years. That’s how long we’ve been endurance-testing the Leica Calonox thermal imaging attachment. Trying out a new technical device for two weekends lets you explore and describe the most important features. But if you spend many months working with the device, and take several pauses to reflect on your experiences, you delve much deeper into the topic.

The Leica Calonox SE during an autumnal stag hunt in Poland.

Even after 150 hunts, including several nights in raised hides and eight hunting trips abroad, this imaging device remains fascinating. It quite literally “reveals what is hidden”. For the younger generation, night-vision technology and silencers are completely normal, as they have grown up with them. For the over-40s, these tools are still considered “new”. In the past, thermal imagers were often dismissed as “poachers’ gear”, but now the benefits of this technology have become obvious. Hunters can see what is approaching, and thus make an accurate assessment. Even conservative hunters will change their opinion once they’ve seen a concealed animal – even during the day – and are able to identify weaned young, and can estimate trophy size more precisely.

30 minutes before sunset, you can still identify the fallow buck with a good 56-mm glass (or, as shown here, a Leica Elmarit 180-mm for photography). But night-vision technology will soon be needed.

The highlight of our test series was a three-week trip to several African countries in the fall of 2023, focusing on both hunting and animal observation. We took the “Sight SE” version with us, an affordable model that doesn’t include every “gimmick” (no Bluetooth® interface, for example) and has a reduced scope of delivery. To get started, we recommend the Leica video tutorials to all new users. From the first steps to calibration, everything is explained in detail, even for those who are not yet familiar with this topic. For anyone who has used a similar product, most aspects will be self-explanatory.

The Leica Calonox SE, shown here with a Leica riflescope and a Rusan adapter, is ready to be put to work (Camp Angola IV).

With a defined target size of 1.7 x 0.5 meters, the Leica Calonox Sight SE can detect targets up to a distance of 2,000 meters, recognize them up to 700 meters, and precisely identify them at up to 350 meters. The large field of view allows hunters to monitor their surroundings at all times, thus increasing the level of safety. Four color modes – Red Hot, White Hot, Black Hot, and Rainbow – let the hunter select the display best suited to the observation at hand, and thus identify game even more confidently.

The various color modes in use and in comparison, before our hunting trip to Slovakia.

To date, there is no material fatigue and no loss of imaging performance. The vanadium oxide sensor still delivers an excellent image with high detail resolution. And this cannot be said of every device that we’ve transported in the freezing cargo hold of an intercontinental flight and then in the African heat, inside a jeep – where temperatures can reach 50 °C.

The device is easy to operate. Three rubberized buttons are all you need. They still work as well as they did on day one. Dust, sunscreen and water have had no effect. Other testers in specialist magazines and on YouTube – while otherwise reporting good overall results – have criticized the pressure points of the buttons, but we cannot confirm this. “Dry and smooth” is our assessment, across three generations of hunters. The focusing ring at the front of the device can be turned with little effort, does not move unintentionally, and thus enables a sharp image within seconds.

In snowy Romania, the Calonox is mounted with a Leica Fortis 6 (1.8 – 12 x 42 i) on the Tikka T3x CTR rifle, 51 cm barrel, .308 Win, MDT ACC Elite chassis with Ase Utra Sl7i BL silencer.

We really appreciated “fog and rain mode”, which improves the image in harsher weather conditions. Four user profiles can be saved, but we rarely needed more than two. The programs never failed, the threads are flawless, the plastic coating does not stick. Basically, there’s nothing negative to report. The battery lasts a good nine hours on average. We carried out over 150 charging cycles; there was no memory effect. We held the device in our hands for pure observation, as well as mounting it on the scope (a Leica Visus 2.5-10 x 42). 658 grams is an acceptable weight. And, most importantly, we did not need to recalibrate when re-mounting the device. Repeatability was a given.

For aficionados: The Calonox passed the famous “aluminum-foil test” with flying colors. The precisely centered, thick-walled collimator lens was one of the points that won testers over.

The high-performance Calonox SE also impresses other professions, like this special police unit.

The observation specialists were particularly impressed by the fine and detailed image – especially in comparison to competitor devices. This is thanks to digital image processing (Leica Image Optimization / LIOTM), which uses algorithms to optimize the image in terms of color gradation, contrast, and detail resolution.

A proud animal: the oryx on a warm Namibian summer night.

Back to the hunt: It was thrilling to watch oryx antelopes (Oryx) roaming the Namibian dunes in the still-warm desert night, fighting their duels and striding along proudly. The sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) is just as beautiful to look at, even if it likes to take advantage of the cover provided by the thick bush in Angola. Unfortunately, we did not spot its “big brother”, the giant sable (Hippotragus niger variani) – even after days of stalking.

Imaging performance was better in the dry climate of Africa than in the wet highlands of Scotland; the scope recalibrated automatically. Pixel errors – which could have been eliminated with an internal program – did not occur.

Sunsets like this one are common in Africa (here: Tanzania) and are best enjoyed without any technical aids.

In conclusion: The higher price compared to the competition has often been mentioned by users, but we should keep in mind that this is a premium product. German menu navigation would be nice, but there are only a few technical terms, so general knowledge of English is sufficient. We would have liked a photo/video function, but this is feature is reserved for Leica’s more expensive model series.

We can recommend the Leica Calonox SE as an excellent buy for price-conscious users. It has a high-quality finish, the sensor size is perfectly adequate, it produces sharp images, and its four color modes are practical. It makes hunting easier, delivers what the ads promise, and works perfectly, even after many uses on three continents.

After one journey ends, we plan the next. In late summer 2024, we will visit the San peoples: hunter-gatherers in southern Africa.

Current pricing: The Leica Calonox Sight SE has now dropped to about 2,600 euros at well-known online retailers. The Rusan clamp adapter costs just over 150 euros.

Photos, video, and text: Dr. Frank B. Metzner

Products in use

Thermal camera's

Leica Calonox Sight SE

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