It’s amazing when you trace the history of night vision technology and see not only how effective its become, but how small it is these days. Early German night vision needed a backpack to power it. Modern night vision is small enough to attach to a helmet and to be worn in front of your eyes or simply held in your hand.
The devices I’m talking about are called night vision monoculars and they revolutionized the night vision industry.
They are the norm with military forces and have become popular with hog hunters, preppers, and police officers.
Today we are going to explore why the night vision monocular has become such a force multiplier. We’ll detail what a monocular does, and give you some of our favorite models.
The 3 Top Infrared Monoculars of 2018: Outdoor Empire Reviews
These are our top recommendations for night vision monoculars in 2018:
- Best for the money: Get the Armasight Spark CORE ( Check 40+ user reviews )
- Best under $300: Get the Night Owl Optics M4X Marine
3. Best digital: Get the ATN DNVM-4
*Looking for a specific feature? Check out our quick-reference chart below:
|Resolution||60-70 lp/mm||35 lp/mm||40 lp/mm|
|Magnification||1x standard (3x to 5x optional)||4x||4x|
|Angular Field of View||35°||14º||12°|
|Weight||14.4 oz||14.5 oz||17.6 oz|
|Battery Life||Up to 40 hours||45 - 100 hours||20 hours|
|Cost||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
1. Best NV Monoculars for the Money: Armasight Spark CORE
If you’re aiming for a monocular that gives a clear picture at a particular budget, you’ll be thankful for the Armasight Spark CORE.
If you’ve never shopped for an NV monocular, this model may seem expensive. But it is actually affordable especially that it is produced by a well-known and well-respected brand.
This is a Generation 1 optic so it still has the limitations of the technology. It needs significant ambient light, and an IR illuminator is an absolute must for overcast nights.
Armasight resolved this by building an integral IR illuminator in the unit. They improved the Gen 1 design with their CORE (Ceramic Optical Ruggedized Engine) technology. CORE intensifier tubes take Gen 1 tubes to the peak of their performance.
The Spark CORE performs better than other Gen 1 devices.
- It produces one of the highest resolutions possible for a Gen 1 device.
- Edge distortion is almost eliminated, but not totally.
- It is versatile and can be used as a handheld unit, mounted on a helmet, or behind a rifle scope to turn a day scope into a night scope.
- Resolution: 60-70 lp/mm
- Magnification: 1x standard (3x to 5x optional)
- Angular FOV: 35 degrees
- Weight: 14.4 oz
2. Best Monoculars Under $300: Night Owl Optics M4X Marine
If $500 is a bit too much, you can go cheaper. This Gen 1 device is limited but can be useful. It is a fun unit for casual use and for night time exploration.
The Night Owl Optics M4X Marine is the perfect optic for recreational use. Right off the bat, I’ll be honest and say it is not the best for tactical or for dynamic hunting but it’s great for hunting small pests.
- It is rated as IP67, the same rating that the iPhone 7 has. This means it is fully protected from dust and is capable of being submerged up to 3 feet for half an hour.
- Designed to float so it really won’t sink unless weighed down.
- Resolution is increased by using a high-quality camera glass.
- Has an integrated IR illuminator
- Low resolution
- Low detection
- Low recognition range
- The biggest downside is the lack of attachment system.
The 4 in M4X stands for four power. So you have an acceptable magnification range, one that doesn’t have much bearing on image quality. It produces 35 lp/mm and has a manual focus.
- Resolution: 35 lp/mm
- Magnification: 4x
- Angular FOV: 14 degrees
- Weight: 14.5 oz
This is impressive for a night vision device. The M4X is perfect as a beginner monocular. It is aslo affordable enough for most people to own.
3. Best Digital NV Monoculars: ATN DNVM-4
Digital night vision is impressive. It functions completely different than traditional night vision.
ATN produces an excellent model — the DNVM-4. This digital NV device offers 4 power magnification and a 42mm objective lens. It is relatively compact and weighs only 17.6 ounces.
It has similar quality, effective range, and resolution as other Gen 1 devices.
- Offers complete clarity on both sides of the lens. Most standard Gen 1 devices have distortion along the edges of the optic.
- Advanced manual brightness/gain adjustment for maximized image clarity and light gain.
- Has a video output that allows you to connect the device to an external screen and actively scan. Combined with the DNVM-4’s tripod capability, you can have a big screen for easy scanning.
You get an impressive 12-degree wide field of view which beats the standard Gen 1 night vision. The focus range is as close to 2 meters and goes out to infinity.
- Resolution: 40 lp/mm
- Magnification: 4x
- Angular FOV: 12 degrees
- Weight: 17.6 oz
One of the biggest considerations for choosing a monocular is the generation. Night vision typically comes in 3 to 4 generations. These are mainly based on the internal intensifier. If you want a full run on the different generations, check our night vision gear guide.
Generation 1 monoculars and digital monoculars are the most affordable option. They are limited by their low effective range and lack of clarity.
- Casual use and observation
- Hunting during night with little overcast and bright moonlight
- Good choice for the airsoft crowd
Generation 2 optics present a massive increase in the recognition and detection range of a monocular. They are also much clearer and at the same time affordable.
Generation 3 gives excellent clarity, recognition, and detection range but it all comes at a high price. It works much better in low light situations than the generations before them.
These optics does everything pretty darn well. If I wanted to use night vision for security or for tactical applications, I won’t take anything less than a Generation 3 model.
- Indoor use
- Hunting and observation
- Security and tactical applications
Generation 4 has the biggest increase in picture quality among them.
Gen 4 monoculars are somewhat rare as the technology hasn’t caught on fully. They are extremely expensive but work much better with magnification.
- Surveillance work
- Tactical use
- Folks who hunt across wide plains
Considerations Based on Purpose
Tactical and Hunting
This allows you to use both hands or keep them on your weapon. It enables you to navigate the night with ease while utilizing your night vision device. When paired with an IR laser, they make it easy to take a target down.
Observation and Surveillance
If you intend to use these systems to observe an area or target, the ability for the monocular to be attached to a tripod is beneficial. This is a serious consideration especially for long term viewing, as holding it can become bothersome quickly.
Weight and Size
The weight and size of the monocular are incredibly important if you intend to use it with a head mount. A large unit is uncomfortable to wear, while a heavy one can cause strain to your neck and head. If you’re using a tripod, these factors are not major issues.
Extra Features to Look for
An auto-gating unit is handy. It increases the overall function of a unit through a different degree of light. It immediately compensates for sudden bright light interference, like someone shining a headlamp on your eyes.
It also prevents the night vision unit from being damaged by sudden bright lights.
Some tubes can accept a threaded magnifier adapter that can provide a small extra amount of power. This is handy for turning a wearable monocular into a more observable unit.
This is an exceptionally handy tool for those using their monocular as an observation device. This video output allows users to observe their target more comfortably. It also gives multiple users an option to watch at the same time.
Another important consideration is your monocular’s compatibility with an IR Illuminator. Standard night vision devices are always compatible with actual IR light but their compatibility with the external illuminator can be in question.
Does your monocular allow the attachment to an external illuminator? There are some night vision monoculars that come with a built-in illuminator. It can make a massive range and clarity difference.
NV monoculars are one of the versatile options for night vision optics. They can be mounted behind a day scope, can be worn for natural movement, and can be used for surveillance and observation.
They are often the most affordable option for night vision because they are a single unit, unlike binoculars and goggles which require multiple tubes and lenses. If you intend to have a night vision device, I recommend a monocular.
Other resources you might be interested in:
Real Tree – Night vision preparation tips.
Wired – “Inside the Freaky World of Next-Gen Night Vision”