• Leupold LTO Tracker

    Interest in thermal imaging devices has grown considerably among shooters and sportsmen in recent years, and as a result a few of the more forward thinking brands in the sport optics industry have started dipping their feet into this relatively new but rapidly growing market. Leupold & Stevens of Beaverton, Oregon is one such company, and for 2017 they have released their second thermal imaging device in as many years Ė the LTO Tracker.

    The heart of Leupoldís new LTO Tracker is the 206 x 156 sensor that offers a 21-degree field of view. The thermal detection range of this sensor is a claimed 600 yards with a temperature range of -4 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The operating range of the unit is listed as being -40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

    At the other end of the unit is a Direct View display that offers 1.2Ē of viewable screen. The display has a resolution of 240 x 204 pixels with a frame rate of 30Hz. The display also offers the user six color pallets to choose from as well as a 1-6x digital zoom and a selectable duplex reticle option.

    The unit uses a CR123 battery (included) which provides for up to 10 hours of continuous use.

    The LTO Tracker itself measures just over 5.5 inches long and 1.5 inches in diameter on the big end. Weight with supplied battery is approximately 10 ounces. The LTO Tracker has a MSRP of $909.00, while online prices are coming in around $700 at the time of this writing.

    Using the unit is pretty simple and straight forward with the three button control panel. The first button (on the right) turns the unit on/off when depressed and held for three seconds. This same button can also be used to toggle the reticle on/off by tapping the button twice while the unit is powered on. The second (middle) button operates the digital zoom. Magnification will increase one power with each press of the button and then return back to 1x. The third (left) button toggles the unit through its six different color pallets or display modes. These modes include White Hot, Black Hot, Hi-White, Hi-Black, Red and Green.

    Changing out the CR123 battery is a simple matter of unscrewing the milled collar to separate the two halves and expose the battery Ė much like a flashlight. The two halves are tethered together by a piece of thin plastic to keep either end from being dropped while handling.

    Field Testing:

    I will admit right up front that my initial impressions of this product werenít that great. When I received the product it was mid-June and the average daily temperatures were in the high 80ís to mid 90ís. With ambient temperatures that high the unit displayed little thermal variation between the target subject and background objects due to their temperatures being so close to one another. In these conditions the LTO Trackers performance was pretty dismal as beyond 15-20 yards the target object would just blend into the background due to the lack of color variation on screen. Movement was still discernible, but only due to a very faint outline of the subject.

    For that reason I put the review of the LTO Tracker on hold with hopes that it would perform better once we got into cooler fall weather. Temperatures finally started to dip in early September and we finally got a week of consistent weather where the highs were in the low to mid 1960ís. These temperatures proved to be a little more favorable to testing the unit.

    With evening temperatures in the mid to high 50ís the unit did much better at picking up thermal variations out to 150-200 yards, and the screenís resolution was sufficient enough that you could make out what the source was in most cases. Employing the zoom function didnít provide any noticeable benefit with source identification at these ranges, and in fact made it harder to identify the source due to the degraded image quality offered by the digital magnification.

    Since squirrel season also opened up on the first of September I decided to see if maybe the LTO Tracker could be effectively employed for that. My thinking was that since itís early season and the trees still have all their leaves I may be able to use it to help pinpoint their location if I canít find them with the naked eye. Unfortunately this theory didnít pan out for as it turns out trees absorb and retain heat extremely well. In fact, even after having all night to cool back down most still retained enough heat from the previous day to light up like a Christmas tree on the screen. So much for that idea! It would probably work better later in the season once the temps are cooler during the day, but at that point the leaves will be off which makes it a moot point.

    The overall results of my testing varied depending on which color pallet was employed. Best source identification was had when using the white or black pallets at night. The green and red modes didnít fair quite as well as everything was basically just different shades of each respective color or black. The highlight modes naturally excelled at identifying different temperatures by assigning them different colors, but I found both pallets to be quite lacking in background detail.

    Another issue I ran into with the highlight modes was that I would get a color wave over the screen while slowly scanning an area by moving the unit. Iím not sure if itís a sensor issue or a display issue, but more than half the screen would end up covered with yellow and red snow-like effect similar to what you would see on your television if the reception went out. The issue was non-existent so long as the unit remained stationary, but as soon as you moved it no matter at what speed the display would wash out. I havenít seen this mentioned in any other reviews Iíve read or watched so it may just be a defect with this particular unit.

    I did experiment with the LTO Tracker at some longer ranges, and while it was able to pick up heat signatures further out, it was impossible to tell what they were and beyond 300 yards it was pretty hit or miss as to whether it would register a heat source or not. Aiming at cattle grazing in a large pasture at ranges out to 500 yards, the unit only picked up about half of those that were beyond 300 yards. Those that it did pick up were merely displayed as tiny single pixel dots, and using the zoom just made them larger dots that took up more area on the screen with no additional detail.
    Based on my experience with the unit over the last couple months I would have to say that the reliable effective range of the LTO Tracker tops out around 200 yards. Maybe if the difference in temperatures were more severe such as you would find later in the fall or winter or at higher elevations it might extend the effective range out a bit further, but at this point I feel Leupoldís claimed 600 yard effective range is very optimistic.

    Final Thoughts:

    Overall I have somewhat mixed feelings about Leupoldís new LTO Tracker. The build quality is top notch just like you would expect from any product wearing the Leupold name, and the interface is very simple and easy to use. Unfortunately the functionality just didnít live up to the claims and hype that Leupold has been touting in their marketing for this product.

    Probably the biggest drawback to this unit is the extremely small screen size. With such a small screen you just canít get the detail needed at longer distances. While I havenít used one, I feel confident in saying that I think Leupoldís other thermal device, the LTO Quest, would be the better option simply due to its larger 2.4Ē display.

    The reticle and the digital zoom proved to be of no practical use and in my view could have been omitted. I could see the need for the reticle if the unit could be mounted on a weapon to use as a thermal sighting device, but Leupold says itís not rated for recoil and there is no provision for windage or elevation adjustment to be able to sight it in even if it were. For the digital zoom to be of any use the LTO Tracker would need a larger display with much higher resolution.

    So in closing I will say this about the Leupold LTO Tracker: I think itís a solid, well-built unit that many serious hunters would find very useful for finding or tracking game. Whether you should get one or not will be dependent on three things: your expectations, the units known limitations, and determining whether or not itís really something you will get some serious use out of. I would highly suggest that you take the extra time to do your research and watch as many videos of the unit in use so you will know exactly what it is and is not capable of before spending your money. If you do that and can justify the $700 price tag I say go for it.

    Additional Photos:

    Contact Information
    Leupold & Stevens
    P.O. Box 4985
    Beaverton, OR 97075-04985
    (503) 646-9171

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. big honkin jeep's Avatar
      big honkin jeep -
      Thanks for the straightforward review. I'd love it if you could follow up with additional testing later this season when things cool off even more.
    1. J.Baker's Avatar
      J.Baker -
      That would be nice, but I have to send the unit back to Leupold as it's just a loaner.
    1. big honkin jeep's Avatar
      big honkin jeep -
      I can give you Leupolds "NEW SHIPPING ADDRESS" if you want. LOL