Written by Jamie Trahan, 18-year Law Enforcement Officer and Sightmark Pro Staff Member
Over the years, we have all heard the same thing. Night vision costs an arm and a leg. Reliable, night vision and economical are three terms rarely, if ever, used in conjunction with one another. Typically, you are forced to pick only two of them since the three attributes simply are not available in one package.
Sightmark heard this and said, “Hold my drink. Watch this!” (Completely in jest, the only drinks that should ever be involved with anything firearms related should be HYDRATING beverages and NEVER alcoholic based.)
That life lesson out-of-the-way, let me introduce the new Sightmark Photon RT series.
Directly from Sightmark.com:
Delivering unmatched performance day or night, the revamped Photon RT 4.5x42s digital night vision riflescope features an upgraded 768×576 CMOS sensor with 40% higher resolution over the Photon XT series, crisp 640×480 LCD display, built-in video/sound recording and integrated WiFi via the Stream Vision App. Available 2x digital zoom and a built-in 850nm LED IR illuminator allow shooters to hone in on targets up to 220 yards away in total darkness. The scope has 6 reticle options with 4 different colors and boasts a one-shot zero function, making zeroing the Photon RT a breeze. Shockproof and IP55 water resistant, the Photon RT also offers an additional weaver rail for accessories and a power input that works with power banks via microUSB. The Photon RT works with most aftermarket 30mm rings and includes carrying case, user manual, USB cable, spare battery container, battery container pouch and lens cloth.
Whew! Now, that you’ve read all of that, let me break it down to you in a cop’s easy-to-understand terms. The Photon RT series is a digital night vision riflescope that, for under $1,000 allows you to observe and report in complete darkness at typical “law enforcement engagement distances” of 100 yards or less.
The Photon RT model I received was the 4.5x42s. The optic comes nicely packaged inside a padded box proudly bearing the Sightmark logo. Upon opening the box, you find the scope comes with a soft carrying case for those times you choose to remove it from your rifle. You will be as impressed as I was by the size of the scope when pulling it out of the case. With the flexible eyecup, it is 16.57 inches in length, 3.93 inches in width and 3.62 inches in height. The weight is 30.7 ounces—1.92 pounds for those not good at conversions like myself. Thanks, Siri!
Now, you may be thinking “Man, that seems like a lot of weight on the top of my rifle.” Looking at it on paper, you may think so but then consider the power nestled in its compact body. The Photon RT 4.5x42S is a battery-powered digital night vision riflescope that not only allows you to see in the dark but also includes recording capability with audio. The Photon RT allows you to stream video to YouTube, update firmware, download footage and even allows the display to be viewed on a wirelessly connected smartphone or tablet using the device’s integral Wi-Fi along with the Stream Vision App. Doesn’t seem all that heavy now does it? And yes, you read right. It records video and audio and allows you to stream it. Wow! It comes in tactical SWAT black. Get you some of that.
Mounting the scope is no different than other scopes. It mounts quickly and easily with standard 30mm rings. Sightmark offers various types of optic mounts and is more than happy to help you make the right choice. This particular test and evaluation (T&E) model did not include rings, so I rushed out and sourced a high set locally. The rings locked up and once torqued into place with a FAT wrench, kept the scope locked down and set with no issues. That said, just get the suggested mounts from Sightmark—they’re better than what you’ll find at a moment’s notice like I did.
One thing to remember about the Photon RT is that it is truly a digital riflescope… including the reticle. There are no traditional crosshairs to adjust. Adjustments are done inside the menu settings of the scope’s software. The Photon RT features “One Shot Zero.” Essentially, you lock the rifle into position and eliminate movement while on target, fire a round and then enter the zeroing mode in the menu—a second crosshair appears. Using digital controls, move the second crosshair to your actual position of impact. Once the adjustment has been saved, that’s it. The manual suggests a 100-yard setup; however, I began at 25 yards. Once I confirmed my shot placement, I sighted in again at 100 yards. Honestly, perhaps I should have just gone to 100 yards as the manual suggested and saved some ammo… but Nah! That would be one less reason to stay at the range longer.
Since the Photon RT is a day- and night-compatible digital riflescope, I performed my zero at about 3 p.m. on a slightly cloudy day. With the zero set, the change in light made no difference to my position of impact when I double-checked accuracy that evening, at roughly 8 p.m. (Author’s note: This was during standard time, so it was actually dark at 8 p.m.).
DAYTIME RANGE SESSION/FIRST SHOOTING IMPRESSIONS
The rifle and Photon RT combo consistently shoots MOA at 100 yards with Federal 168-grain BTHP Match ammo with no performance deviations between day or night shooting. What did take a little getting used to was adjusting to a black and white sight picture on the 640×480 digital display. Moving around with helmet-mounted NODS is completely different than the Photon RT, at least for my eyes. One additional note related to sight picture, the Photon RT features two magnification settings: 4.5x optical zoom and 9x digital zoom—there is no variable zoom; it’s one or the other.
Another feature I appreciate is attention to eye relief. The Photon RT’s eye relief is generous and different from a traditional scope. Remember, when it comes to digital night vision scopes, you aren’t looking through a lens system. You are looking at a digital display manufactured by the information coming in from the objective lens and through multiple light manipulating processes, including converting gathered light into an electrical signal displayed on the device’s digital display. You can imagine how different it might be transitioning from an optical field of view to a digitally manufactured one. But, once you’re on the trigger, you forget about all the fancy processes it takes to make your sight picture happen. To that end, target acquisition is the same—place your crosshair on the target and squeeze the trigger.
Nighttime shooting was done under only moonlight conditions and on a standard police silhouette-type target. At 100 yards, IR setting six offered an optimum easy-to-engage target. On higher IR powers, the IT flashback was too bright against the target face. That’s not a knock on the IR, it simply means the IR is pretty good.
A second daytime range visit confirmed that two weeks of riding in the case on my rifle had not caused any shift in zero.
Recordings are easy to produce with a dedicated button. I’m not going to go into a ton of detail here because the videos available online speak volumes about the Photon RT’s content quality. (Editor’s Note: Jamie’s videos are evidence and cannot be published.) What I can tell you is recording is simple and reviewing footage is just as easy. The Photon RT also boasts onboard memory, not an SD card, so there’s no need to worry about video quality or buying SD cards. SD cards have also proven to be pretty unreliable under recoil conditions—another great benefit of the Photon’s integrated storage. Nice feature, Sightmark!
Author’s Note: Now writing this, I realize I have failed to explain that my rig included a suppressor, effectively eliminating muzzle flash. So, I can’t tell you to what degree muzzle flash may momentarily affect field of view. I can only assume it’s minimal based on the numerous Photon RT shooting videos I have watched online.
ONE FINAL SHOT
The Photon RT I tested was used in a way it is not truly intended. It was used as a spotting scope by a narcotics surveillance unit engaged in true LEO observation in an area believed to be a storefront operated by a “street level pharmaceutical engineer.” I can’t go into further detail, obviously, but I can tell you it has performed admirably. And remember, what it sees, it can record. Even in the dark.
If you are looking for a way to help clear your property of feral hogs, protect your livestock from predators or need a riflescope to assist you in your duties—even limited, cost-conscious law enforcement—give the Sightmark Photon RT line of digital night vision riflescopes a solid look.
My time with the scope was limited since quite a few folks are still waiting to get their hands on the small supply of test units. As with any law enforcement product, you may want to test it out for yourself to make sure it meets your needs and performs to your expectations. I accept and respect the opinions of others, but I ALWAYS must do my own testing, and I expect (and hope) you do the same.
If you are in law enforcement, contact Sightmark. Their law enforcement division is always willing to answer questions and discuss night vision options. They also offer courtesy discounts to individual officers, as well as departments.
Stay safe and happy hunting.
To reach Sellmark’s Law Enforcement team with questions about products and ordering, call 817-225-0310 extension 288.
Jamie Trahan is a career law enforcement officer with over 17 years of experience and works for a Sheriff’s Office in southern Louisiana. His full-time assignment is as a Detective in the Crime Scene Investigations Unit where he holds the rank of Lieutenant. He is also the entry team leader for the SWAT team, a member of the department’s Honor Guard and a LA POST Firearms Instructor. He is a member of the National Tactical Police Officer’s Association and the Louisiana Tactical Police Officer’s Association. First and foremost, he is a husband to his wife, Tara, and a father to his two sons, Luke and Liam. He is a staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights for all law-abiding citizens of this great country. He plans to pass the love of shooting on to his sons in the hopes that after he is gone and they are spending time with their own children, that they will reflect back upon the memories of what Jamie taught them as they are teaching their own, just like Jamie’s father taught him.