What is a night vision device?
A night vision device (NVD) is an optical tool that allows the user to see in low-light conditions and darkness. It takes what little ambient light there is, usually using infrared light, and amplifies the light electrically. This is what provides the green image that we always associate with night vision. Usually, when you think of night vision, you picture the fancy night vision goggles that look like skinny binoculars strapped to someone’s head. Even though they resemble binoculars, night vision goggles have no magnification. Luckily, they aren’t the only type of night vision device. You can have goggles, monoculars, binoculars, and scope attachments. Each device is different but uses the same concept.
Most night vision devices use optoelectronic image enhancement. This uses different lenses and vacuums to amplify both visible light and infrared light to give you a picture. First, the light passes through an objective lens, which captures what visible light there is, as well as infrared light. Then, from the objective lens, the photons pass into an image-intensifier tube. This is an electric vacuum that converts the photons to electrons in the photocathode and then amplifies their electrical signal in the microchannel plate or MCP. Those electrons then hit a screen coated in phosphors. The phosphors on the screen light up and create an image that you view through an ocular lens that allows you to focus and magnify the image.
Another popular technology used by night vision devices is digital image enhancement. With this method, the photons passing through the objective lens are converted into digital signals by a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor sensor. The image can then be enhanced and magnified digitally and sent to an LCD. A few big bonuses of the digital method are that the night vision device can be connected to other devices, like cameras and smartphones. The signals can also be stored on a memory card or drive, and some higher-end devices can display images in other colors, not just green. You can get higher-quality pictures using an infrared illuminator, an IR light flashlight that is invisible but shows up on the image.
Night Vision Monoculars
A night vision monocular is the smallest night vision device you can get. It is only for one eye, so it can be very compact. They can be handheld, but you can also have a head mount for them, and some new models can be attached to a rifle as a scope. Only using one eye with the monocular can be difficult, but it is actually useful for hunting. The naked eye will retain its natural night vision, and you will be able to have peripheral vision, which is crucial in hunting. Night vision monoculars are lightweight and can be adapted to fit a lot of different situations.
Night Vision Goggles
Night vision goggles (NVG) are the easiest to use because they provide you with the closest to normal vision, and they are usually on a head mount, allowing you to operate hands-free. There are two main types of night vision goggles. One kind has two eyepieces that branch off one image tube, and the other has two separate tubes, one for each eye. The second type, also referred to as the stereo vision, provides more depth perception than the first. A couple of downsides to the goggles are that they can be quite heavy sometimes, which can get difficult. They also cannot be mounted to a rifle if you are using them for hunting. This makes night vision goggles better for short-term or stationary use. If you are going to be moving around a lot or need to switch from an eyepiece to a rifle mount, then the night vision monocular will be better.
Night Vision Binoculars
Night vision binoculars are exactly what they sound like. They are essentially night vision goggles that have magnification built into them. They are usually not worn on the head like night vision goggles because they are too heavy and can be difficult to navigate close spaces with. Most models of night vision binoculars have fixed magnification, so you can’t use them for close navigation. But for long-range wildlife observation, especially from a stationary standpoint, night vision binoculars are perfect.
Night Vision Scope
If you end up having your night vision monocular attached to your rifle more than you use it as an eyepiece, you might want to consider getting an actual night vision scope. You can have a permanent scope that will be larger and heavier than a normal scope but will give you night vision. Another option is a day/night system that allows you to switch between daytime and nighttime use. This attaches to the objective lens of your normal scope when you need night vision.
Night Vision vs. Thermal Vision
Thermal imaging picks up heat or radiation coming off an object, while night vision amplifies available light. So a key difference is that thermal optical devices will work in total darkness while night vision would not. Also, since thermal imaging uses heat, not light, animals hidden by fog or brush will be more visible. But, night vision can provide a clearer picture, especially with an infrared illuminator. The IR illuminator floods the area with infrared light, invisible to the naked eye, but it will help your night vision images come out much clearer.
A couple of practical points in favour of night vision: thermal imaging is incredibly expensive and more delicate than night vision. It makes for heavier, more fragile rifle mounts, while night vision is much more affordable and makes for tried and true mounts.
Cost of Night Vision Binoculars
If you are thinking night vision binoculars are for you, let’s take a look at some prices. Most night vision binoculars are around $200 and can view around 500 yards. However, some higher-quality binoculars like ATN can be closer to $500-800.
The Night Owl NOXB-5 Explorer Pro 5X has 5x magnification and a built-in IR illuminator. It has a long battery life of between 40 and 80 hours and a range of about 600 yards, costing around $650. Another option is the Solomark Digital Night Vision Binoculars. These binoculars have 7x magnification and a range of about 400 yards. It can take videos and pictures, which you can store on an SD card. This pair is about $280. The X-Vision Night Vision Pro has 2x magnification and a range of about 300 yards. Nothing super fancy, but it’s only $130. Occer compact binoculars have a range of only about 100 yards but have 12x magnification. They are very compact though and only $40. Finally, the Coolife night vision goggles have a 3x magnification and a range of about 300 yards. They also come with an infrared light illuminator and are only about $130. But there is other night vision binocular options on the market too.
The ATN binox 4k 4-16x is a really good option if you are a serious hunter. It has a night vision and daytime mode so that you can use them as normal daytime binoculars. It also has a built-in rangefinder to help identify the distance of your target. The ATN binox is also equipped with an infrared illuminator for the night vision mode to help you when you are using it in darkness. The binoculars have long battery life and a low battery indicator. It comes with a neck strap, and the adjustable eye rests for comfortable viewing. It is about $900, but it is a very high-end device and worth the money. It provides up to 16x magnification and 10x magnification with high resolution. The ATN binox has a range of about 1000 yards. It also has the ability to exchange information with other ATN devices, so if your scope is from ATN too, you can exchange information between your binoculars and scope. You can save and stream high-quality pictures and videos. There are tons of features like a rangefinder, barometer, compass, 3D accelerometer, 3D magnetometer, 3D gyroscope, smooth, digital zoom, WiFi, and Bluetooth. All this and it only weighs about 2.5 pounds.
When buying night-vision goggles, adjust your budget based on how often you will use them. If you are not a very serious hunter and don’t go often, you might want to get a cheaper option. But if you are an avid hunter and need quality night hunting binoculars, you might want to look into some higher-end night vision binoculars.