We review the Black ENV 10x, the latest reincarnation of what many still consider the ultimate night shooting digiscope

credit: Archant

The original Drone Pro has gained an almost mythical status in the night shooting community. Get into a conversation about any new NV system and sooner or later someone always chirps up with: “Yeah, but I bet it’s not as good as the Drone Pro!”

Over the years, I’ve had a quick look through the odd drone but never had the opportunity to take it into the field, until now! The device has had a colourful career in terms of brand ownership and incarnations. The original Drone was produced by Armasight, a company originally formed by ATN. It was then later sold on to Flir, who still own the copyright to the name but no longer produce the product. It’s a testament to the legend of the Drone Pro that the originals still command unbelievable prices on the secondhand market, in some cases exceeding that of the original asking price.

There’s been some controversy over the years with Flir replacing the original AMOLED display with a cheaper alternative, so you do need to know exactly what you’re looking for if you intend to stick a toe in the treacherous waters of the secondhand market.

Fortunately, there’s now an alternative with the arrival of the Black ENV 10 and 15. The name may have changed but underneath the branding it’s still a drone, and featuring an AMOLED display in the style of the original.

credit: Archant

What’s all the fuss about?

At first glance, the Black ENV looks every inch like an old-school analog Russian IR rig, which in a way it is, but it’s a true digital system so there’s no issues regarding burning out tubes during the day (the daytime image is very good btw). It’s a basic day/night scope with the latter being its real forte. Looking at the specs, you probably wouldn’t give it a second glance. Power hungry, fixed magnifications of 10x or 15x, no connectivity to other devices, no wifi functionality, no built-in video, although you can record SD video via an external recorder.

Essentially, you can zero it, tweak the brightness, pick from a limited number or rets in just two colour schemes and take the thing shooting, and that’s about it! Still produced in the original factory in the Ukraine and imported into the UK by IRay/Optical Solutions it’s pretty much identical to the original Drone Pro, which back in the day was cutting edge but put alongside the latest crop of digiscopes looks almost archaic.

Given the feature set, tinkering is pretty limited. There’s a central crucifix style array of control buttons up top with a basic on/off and standby. Hold the central button and tap the buttons surrounding it to adjust elevation and windage, at which point the X/Y figures update on-screen.

If you want to use it on more than one rifle, you’ll need to note these figures down and reapply them manually when it’s back on the gun. There’s no option for multiple profiles. Short taps on the outer buttons adjust brightness; toggle the ret colour and switch between rets; a two-button combo press saving your settings.

There’s a focus dial offset at 45° towards the objective and typical ocular adjustment at the other end and the whole thing sits on a quick-release sled ready for Picatinny attachment to a rifle. In short, it’s all very basic, but that is not always a bad thing. This scope is built for one thing and one thing only, well maybe two, long-range foxing with perhaps a bit of rabbiting if the fancy takes you.

The audience that rave so enthusiastically about this scope are the foxers. When you’re foxing, there’s often no time for multimedia streaming, dialling or any form of tinkering. It’s all about locating the target, identifying the animal and taking the shot – and that’s where the Back ENV comes into its own.

Even after all these years of technological advancement in the digiscope market, the image quality of the Black ENV remains second to none. It’s a one-trick pony with it’s fixed mag and limited functionality, but when it comes to pure image quality it remains the best digi in the business.

It’s strange that it still hasn’t been surpassed in this department. Obviously, the FLIR sensor is exceptional, but I think the fixed mag and quality glass also have a lot to do with it. As any photographer will tell you a prime lens (fixed focal length) will always outperform a telephoto and that could well play a major part in regard to the Black ENV’s performance. Before you start checking your bank balance, be warned this is a scope with a very specific skill set. Yes, the image quality is superb but it comes at the cost of flexibility. The fixed mag suits targets at distance and it’s often a liability at close range.

credit: Archant

In the field

While testing, I managed to drop a large dog fox but it took some doing, as the animal suddenly appeared within 100m and while I moved from thermal spotter to scope I lost it, purely because of the fixed mag. It took a fair bit of scanning around and several seconds to locate the quary. For almost all applications, I would definitely opt for the 10x model. I did eventually relocate the fox, clear as day, dropping it like a stone when I eventually got the shot off.

In terms of long-range performance, it’s exceptional, easily picking up eye shine and indeed body shape on the bunnies out to 330m with the aid of the Srius XTL IR torch supplied with it.

The Black ENV is a joy for any foxer who needs to take on Charlie at extended range. At £2,140, it ain’t cheap and roughly twice the price of many of the latest digiscopes. If you don’t shoot close-range and don’t need all the multimedia whistles and bells but demand the ultimate in image quality, it’s still very hard to ignore. The ‘old boy’ can clearly still teach the new kids a trick or two.

credit: Archant

Product: Black ENV 10x

Supplier: IRay/Optical Solutions

Web: www.opticalsolutions.uk

Price: £2,140.00

Product: Sirius XTL IR Torch

Supplier: ir.light.builds@gmail.com

Price: £140

credit: Archant

credit: Archant