If you’re in need of a night vision scope that you can use while hunting, the choices you have are interesting. There are always high-end options that often offer plenty of extra features as well, but they can, and do, cost a pretty penny. And there are budget alternatives that often don’t live up to the (often low) expectations. Even if you do save some money by getting a budget scope, you’ll be left asking for more before you know it.
However, there’s a third category. There are scopes that aren’t exactly budget, but move a bit towards the midrange. They’re still way cheaper than the high-end options, but their performance and feature set isn’t that far off. You won’t find many of them, but we do have a great suggestion in the Sightmark Photon XT 6.5x50L. It’s priced a bit higher than the cheapest budget offerings, but all the features make it well worth it. If this sounds like something you might want, read on. If you decide you may need something else, we do have a bit more choice here.
The Sightmark Photon XT is a great all-round night vision scope. It has a 6.5x magnification, which might be too much, or just right, depending on your needs and requirements. The 50mm lens is fairly big, and there is a 640×480 resolution screen which is actually on par with many higher end options. Brightness and clarity of the image are great, and you can get some very vivid details at up to 200 yards. Precision will absolutely not be an issue, because inside the Photon XT you’ll find a digital elevation and windage adjustment system. This takes away a lot of the potential struggle of doing things manually, and you’ll have a much better time out.
You get some versatility with the number and options of reticles. There are six green/white/red options for long-distance applications, two crossbow reticles, a Mil-Dot reticle for holdovers and rangefinding, two Duplex reticles for varmint and hogs, as well as a German-style reticle. If you’ve ever thought that you’re lacking in terms of options, that won’t be happening here, as honestly, this is much more than you’ll ever need. You can take a look at detailed specs on the reticles here. Media features are also included. If you’re a person who wants to review, or even share, what they saw on their adventures, you can output video via the RCA plugs you will find.
The build quality is pretty good. It’s sturdy and well made, and it will hold up to most of the things that might happen when you’re out at night. There’s an IPX4 rating, so splashes and rain won’t hurt it either. You will also find an integrated weaver rail, if you happen to want to attach additional accessories. This is something you don’t really see very often, so it’s absolutely a welcome addition. Power is supplied via two AA batteries, and you can expect around 4 hours of battery life if you’re using IR, or around 5 if you aren’t.
Things to consider when buying.
There’s one thing that should absolutely be mentioned before you pull the trigger and get it. There are actually two models of the Sightmark Photon XT 6.5×50. One of them is the 6.5x50L, and the other one is the 6.5x50S. Everything that we mentioned above, as well as what we’ll discuss below, applies to the L model, as that is the one we’re reviewing.
The difference that one single letter makes is bigger than you may think. The internal infrared illuminator is actually completely different. If you intend to use an external one (and you can with the weaver rail), this may not make much of a difference. However, the built in one is actually pretty good, so it’s worth knowing what you’ll be getting. The S model has an LED IR illuminator, while the L model has a laser IR illuminator. You can’t really say that one is better than the other, but we can say that we prefer the laser IR illuminator of the L model.
The LED illuminator throws much closer, which may be a potential downside when you have a 6.5 times magnification and 200 yards of range. It is a tad grainier, but if you really want to take full advantage of the Photon XT, you should go for the L model. The laser also uses less battery, which is appreciated given that those 4 hours aren’t actually that much. Keep in mind that both offer a fixed beam pattern, which doesn’t give you an option of focusing it in a different direction.
Wrapping things up – how does it perform?
Even though you might not expect it to do so, it actually does punch a bit above its weight in terms of performance. The 200 yards range is great, you get clear, vivid images on the display, and the video out feature is a welcome addition. Things such as the vast range of options in terms of reticles, as well as the built in windage and elevation adjustment are all things that are hard to come by when you’re looking at scopes within this price range. Even some very high end scopes don’t have them, which makes the Photon XT a much better value in our eyes.
To conclude everything, we’d have to say that the Photon XT isn’t for everyone. The 6.5x magnification might be too much for people who don’t need it, and the built-in IR illuminator might not cut it. However, if that doesn’t bug you too much, it is actually an amazing option. It’s priced very competitively, and many other offerings don’t even come close to the feature set that it comes with. You get great optics, a clear and vivid image, and pretty long range. You also get things such as video out, external accessory mounting, and an intuitive, easy to use interface, and the sight in and setup are very easy. All things considered, if you can make the magnification and IR illuminator work for you, you can’t go wrong with it.