Night vision devices like goggles and scopes let you see in the dark and let you see objects, people, and animals, that you wouldn’t typically see with your naked eye. Night vision is most common for Military use, hunters, and shooters, and is available in a variety of devices.
In this night vision buying guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know when choosing the best military-grade night vision devices
- How it works
- Night Vision Generations: Gen 1 though 3
- Night Vision Types
- Monoculars vs Binoculars
- How much do military-grade night vision goggles cost?
- Popular Night Vision Devices
How it Works
First, let’s talk about how night vision goggles work.
Night vision helps people see in low-light conditions by a combination of enhancing the spectral range and intensity range. Spectral range senses radiation that is invisible to the human eye. It allows viewers to see near-infrared and ultraviolet radiation.
The intensity range gives you the ability to see with small quantities of light. It also is an image intensifier that lets you see more and generates an image.
Night vision uses optoelectronic image enhancement. This works by sensing natural infrared light, like from the moon or stars, amplifying that light, and creating a glowing green image. shown below. Because night vision is dependent on natural light to create the image, it won’t work in total darkness, like basements or blacked-out buildings.
Night Vision Generations
Night vision is classified through generations and is known as Gen 1, Gen 2, and Gen 3. You may think that night vision generations are referring to the device itself, but it’s referring to the Image Intensifier Tube (IIT) inside each device.
The Image Intensifier Tube is what amplifies the ambient natural light and reflects what you see.
These generations can determine how much your night vision goggles will cost, how long they will last, and how clear and bright the image is.
These images from Hard Head Veterans show you the differences in image quality and enhancement between Gen 1, Gen 2, and Gen 3.
Generation 1 (Gen 1) was the first-night vision technology and has been around since the 1950s. This is ideal for short-range observation and for people who want to experience what night vision is all about.
Compared to other generations, Gen 1 is the best if you’re on a budget but you’re going to notice a loss in quality and how clear the image is and have darker edges that are distorted.
You can expect a life expectancy for Gen 1 night vision of around 1,000 hours.
Gen 2 night vision gives you a clearer and brighter image compared to Gen 1. Gen 2 has an improved range of detection because of the addition of the Micro Channel Plate (MCP). This gives you a greater range of detection and can be used in low-light conditions.
Gen 2 has a life expectancy of 2,500 to 5,000 hours.
When shopping for Gen 3 night vision devices, you’ll notice these devices are more pricey than other generations. This is because it’s classified as the best equipment in the market and used mainly by law enforcement and the U.S. Military.
Gen 3 is going to give you the clearest and brightest image compared to the other gen night vision devices. Gen 3 life expectancy gives you around 7,500 to 10,000 hours of life.
Types of Night Vision Devices
|Mounting on Helmet||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Mounting on Rifle||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|One or Two Eyepiece||One||Two||Two||One|
|Pro||Good at keeping you focused on what’s going on around you by not covering both eyes.||Magnification. Perfect for use if stationary and looking long distance.||More natural. Good depth perception.||Better aim in the dark when using your rifle.|
|Con||Takes some getting used to by looking out of one eye.||Heavier and can’t be mounted on a helmet.||Heavy so it can weigh the helmet down a bit.||Can’t use a night vision scope during the day.|
Night vision devices are available in goggles, binoculars, monoculars, and scopes. Each device is used differently and can change how you use night vision.
A Monocular is used to view the night using a single eye vs a binocular that let you see with both eyes. Monoculars are compact and lightweight to easily store and carry. They have no magnification and can be mounted on helmets.
Monoculars let you switch between eyes and keeps your other eye unobstructed to keep you aware of your surroundings (situational awareness) and peripheral vision.
Monoculars can take some getting used to and don’t feel as natural. You’ll want to keep both eyes open for the best results.
Unlike monoculars, night vision binoculars use both eyes to view and have magnification to see father away by zooming in. Binoculars are great for stationary use and looking off into the distance from a long range.
Keep note that the more magnification you use the dimmer the image will become, making the picture less clear. High-end Gen 3 night vision binoculars should be able to handle this but lower-end Gen 1 binoculars might not handle the magnification.
Binoculars typically are not mounted onto a helmet because they’re bigger and heavier. It’s also hard to use magnification when it’s sitting on your head.
Night vision goggles have no magnification so you can mount them on your helmet. They allow for both eye view and is more natural when using them.
Goggle lets you wear them while walking and have good depth perception making it easier for seeing how far away you are from something.
Goggles tend to be on the heavier side which when attached to a helmet may slide down or reposition due to the extra weight.
Unlike monoculars, goggles can’t be placed on rifles and have less versatility.
Day and Night system is a scope that can mount onto the file or attaches to a regular daytime scope. A day/night system lets you use a switch if you’re using your rifle during the day and at night. You can also purchase a dedicated night scope to use strictly at night. Day/night scopes let you easily change over and use at any time without the need for two guns (one for day and one for night).
Scopes magnify your view so you’re able to aim correctly and see further away.
If you are using a day and night system, it’s more compact meaning they don’t gather light as much as just a dedicated night scope would.
How much are military-grade night vision devices?
The price of night vision devices like goggles and binoculars depends on the type of device and the generation you want.
Gen 1 tubes are on the cheaper side and can start at a couple of hundred dollars. Higher-end Gen 3 tubes and newer can range up to a few thousand dollars. Night vision devices are more expensive because of the manufacturing costs and the special types of materials needed which can drive costs.
Many night vision devices are designed for consumer use and are noticeably less expensive than military-grade night vision devices, but you may notice a difference in quality.
Popular Night Vision Devices
Best Night Vision Goggles: Superior Tactical PVS-7
The Superior Tactical PVS-7 has all you need for superior night vision. This GEN 3 night vision goggle tells you when IR (Infrared) is on and when you have a low battery.
The PVS-7 is lightweight and can be mounted on your helmet or head mount, or it can be hand-held, great for any situation. These goggles are waterproof and MIL-SPEC compliant great to use in any weather condition.
|Helmet or Head Mount||Yes|
|Battery Life||50 Hours|
|Range of Focus||0.25m to infinity|
Best Night Vision Monocular: ATN PVS14/6015-3W
This night vision monocular ATN PVS14/6015-3W was originally designed specifically for the U.S. Military with the highest quality optics. You can expect to get around 50 hours of battery life which keeps you powered longer. This has a built-in illuminator for infrared detection.
You can purchase a helmet mount that lets you mount the monocular to your helmet or a head mount for hands-free operation.
|Helmet or Head Mount||Yes|
|Battery Life||50 hours|
|Range of Focus||0.25 yard/m to infinity|
Best Night Vision Scope: Pulsar Digisight Ultra N455 Digital Night Vision
The Pulsar Digisight Ultra N455 Night Vision Scope was overall a top-rated product among the reviews we read. This scope has an integrated video recorder that allows you to record your hunts with the Stream Vision App connected to your phone.
This scope can be used night and day with nighttime detection of up to 550 yards with 2x/4x digital zoom. Lastly, the Digisight Scope has a detachable long-range IR illuminator that emits light in the infrared spectrum that functions as a flashlight.
|Waterproof||Yes, 1m for 30 min|
|Helmet or Head Mount||No|
|Batteries||B-Pack Mini 18650 Li-Ion|
|Battery life||4 Hours|
|Magnification||4.5 – 18 x|
|Range of Focus||550 yards|
Best Night Vision Binoculars: Armsight Discovery 5x Gen 3 Night Vision Binocular
The Armsight Discover binocular is the right headset for tactical operations and long-range hunters or shooters. This binocular features a 5X magnification with a dual eye viewing system that makes it comfortable for viewing. This style is different than your typical binocular because you are viewing out of one tube instead of two.
This binocular is water-resistant and fog proof so you can use it without obstructions. This includes a hand strap, neck strap, and an infrared illuminator (detachable). The infrared illuminator lets you see even in total darkness.
The Armsight Discover is highly sought after and reviewed for its design and visibility in any light condition.
|Helmet or Head Mount||Head Strap|
|Range of Focus||10 m to Infinity|
How night vision improves the ability to communicate
Night vision allows users to see what is around them at all times. This increased awareness of surroundings is paramount to clear critical communications. Night vision is a tool that enhances communication because it gives users the ability to inform their team of their surroundings.
Overall, night vision leads to better communication which in turn leads to safer missions and accomplishing more tasks.