Looking Into the Future With ATN

What does the future hold for ATN, one of the most well known providers of thermal imaging optics? Find out in this Q&A with Steve Lemenov of ATN

Looking Into the Future With ATN

The electro-optics market is changing the way we all think about optics and the way we are hunting. By leveraging the cutting-edge features imbedded within the electronics, capturing and cataloging the hunt is now becoming common for hunters, especially for new millennial hunters. The challenge is that non-integrated cameras do not capture the first person view of shots and often get in the way of the hunt.

The clunky look of typical electro-optics from just a few years ago is also morphing into familiar optic shapes that mount similarly to any other scope on the market such as ATN’s new model lineup. Predator Xtreme had an opportunity to talk with ATN’s Director of Marketing, Steve Lemenov about the direction ATN is taking with hunting.

PX — What from ATN excited everyone this past year?

Lemenov — This last year we had already released a lot of products mid-year in 2018, but we did unveil our new HD line of electro-optics that feature the completely redesigned chassis and HD 4K clarity. There was a significant amount of interest in our less full featured ThOR LT very affordable thermal sight designed for predator hunters. The new ThOR LT deliver thermal capabilities at a more affordable price. We also offered a similar affordability features set with our day-only Buckhunter X-Sight optics. 

PX — For ATN, has predator hunting really driven the majority of your business.

Lemenov — It really has. Predator hunters are used to the augmented reality that has been night vision through the journey from the old highly pixelated images to the high-resolution images of today. They are used to a compromise in image quality as a trade for the benefits night vision and thermal optics offer. Night vision, and then also thermals, really changed the game for night hunts. Hog and coyote hunters have been using these optics for years, but they were very expensive. 

We still get emails and see that our old night vision sights are still being used for hunts because they still deliver a function tradition optics cannot. The advantages are significant to the success of predator hunting at night, but the biggest barrier for customers was the cost. We have worked very hard to get affordable electro-optic night, night vision and thermals in the hands of everyday hunters with the X-Sight and ThOR lines. Shockingly, we see a growing airgun rodent/rat hunting segment that is mounting thermal and night vision on high tier airguns — our multi-firearms electronic zeroing profiles allow one sight to be swapped between all types of firearms and airguns.

We were one of the first to drive cost down for the hunter. Since we have a computer inside the sight, we took advantage of that technology and added a lot of really interesting cutting edge features such as one shot zeroing, BDC reticle, target size ranging, inclination, cant, compass, atmospheric variables, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, firmware update functionality, recoil activated video recording and integration with our rangefinders to deliver an instant adjusted point of impact hold. We now offer an ABL — Auxiliary Ballistic Laser — that attaches directly to the X-Sight HD Pro or ThOR 4 and delivers near instant point-of-impact adjustment to the X-Sight and communicates via our BIX — Ballistic Information Exchange — Bluetooth system.

PX — What are some new products from ATN?

Lemenov — The X-Sight 4K Pro and ThOR 4in the new 30mm scope tube type chassis with all-day low power consumption technology are new, along with our BIX-enabled laser range-finding binoculars and Auxiliary Ballistic Laser. We also offer two new series that strip out some of the functions for a simpler and less expensive optic. Hunters loved the X-Sight features and most of all the ability to record the hunt, but it is illegal is some states to hunt deer with a night vision-equipped optic, so ATN now offers the X-Sight Deerhunter model that carries over all the features and recoil-activated recording of the X-Sight without the night vision capability. 

Similarly, we had a lot of customers who just wanted thermal night vision but without the extra bells and whistles, so we now offer a trimmed down ThOR LT version for an extremely affordable and simple white-hot/black-hot $1,199 MSRP thermal sight with 475 yard detection. 

On the new models, we also simplified the manual of operations into basic and advanced menus and updated our smartphone app based on the new technology and configurations. The BinoX 4K night vision and BinoX 4T thermal smart binoculars combine all the features customers know us for into binoculars plus range-finding and our Bluetooth BIX system that delivers a scout, range and instant Bluetooth hold solution to the X-Sights.

PX — What is the adoption rate of these new electro-optics?

Lemenov — Night vision is still really hot due to the price of these optics. Predator hunters are way ahead of adoption of everyone else in the market because to be really time efficient and successful with a hunt, the day/night optics night vision and thermals have almost become a necessity. The ability for a coyote or hog hunter to move into a field and scan for animals with a thermal optic can save the modern hunter hours of frustration, especially when they are attempting to cover multiple stands in one hunt. Predator hunters with thermal optics can actually pre-scan many properties for game before setting up to increase hunt success.

Daytime hunters really like the video and ballistic features that our optics are continuing to deliver. Hunters are starting to use and understand the electro-optics market and the system UIs are more intuitive. Now that we have electro-optics that resemble more traditional optics, we are seeing a much higher rate of adoption.

PX — Where do you think the electro-optics market is heading for the hunters?

Lemenov — The first big hurdle was really not image quality but battery life and electronic power efficiency. Early on that was accomplished with external battery packs and expensive but powerful disposable lithium batteries. Thankfully, we believe that hurdle is behind us with the latest generation of electronics. 

With our older Gen 1 X-sight systems, some customers were seeing runtimes as little as an hour before battery replacements were required. Our newer Gen 3 systems now deliver 18+ hours of continuous use, which satisfies all but the most extreme hunting requirements. We saw this early on even in red dots and reflex sights, which were battery hogs. Today, just a few years later, we have 50K+ hour red dots on the market. It is just a matter of time to allow the market to mature in the larger electro optics to the point where electro optics customers should see this improve drastically each year.

The other change you are seeing in the electro optics market is the UI. Everyone in the industry really has worked hard to deliver a simpler and cleaner interface that still offers clean and easy Apple-style access to features. I would say that is still a goal for all of us. This last year we broke out the interface into a “simple” and “advanced” menu. For those who just was basic features, the simple menu offers a faster interface. Customers who want to dive into advanced features can still do that. The feedback we have heard is that some of the less technical hunters felt that many electro-optics on the market had really nerdy and complex interfaces and we wanted to solve that problem.  We certainly have a way to go, however we believe we still have one of the simplest interfaces on the market with an enormously simplified UI which can be mastered in just a few minutes. 

Recoil rating has always been a problem. Obviously taking a computer, monitor screen and camera/sensor and then shaking it with 3,000+ ft./lbs. of instantaneous recoil is a recipe for electronics damage. Over the years, it has gotten better and better. Even today optics companies are still struggling with reliability of dot sights on handguns due to the constant pummeling a slide delivers moving back and forth. For us, we had a stated recoil rating up to .308, however the new 30mm scope tube format and a multitude of upgrades allows us to raise that recoil limit above .308.

Mounting for electro optics has been a challenge since day one for everyone in the industry. Even the much copied T1 Microdot had to create a four bolt optics mount, otherwise it would still be an odd rounded block that was hard to mount. The older night vision designs were always a bit clunky. We solved many of the mounting challenges by moving to the 30mm scope mount tube design to allow more freedom for hunters to mount the optics.  The 30mm mounting tube also delivers an improvement in eye relief for our Gen 3 models as well, which has been notably a bit short for heavier recoiling calibers.

Clarity is often compared directly to traditional optics, but that is like comparing a van with a sports car—both do totally different things well. A traditional optic does not have night vision so there is always some trade-off. Yes, the clarity is exponentially better in the X-Sight 4K Pro than even the X-Sight II. The sensor on the Gen I and II versions was constantly improving, however it really was mandatory to use the ATN IR illuminator to see clearly at distance on anything but the brightest of nights. The latest X-Sight 4K Pro is very good even without the illuminator, but does benefit from the very good IR illuminator that will push relevant ranges to around 300 yards. 

Feature expansion is likely to be another area hunters will see a lot of offerings. Some of the simple ideas for us have been very popular with customers such as the Profile Manager that allows optics swaps on everything from your rat shooting airgun, rimfires, AR and higher power longer range guns and select the profile of the gun or ammo, all without reprogramming the ballistics profiles. Most customers have reported that the optics retains 1 MOA zeroing, however that is dependent on the firearms. 

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