Do you need an infrared illuminator? If you plan to use night vision, then yes. Regardless of the type of night vision device you want to use, it is a handy and beneficial gizmo to have.
What is an IR Illuminator?
It is a tool designed to emit infrared light. Think of it as a flashlight that produces light that the human eye cannot see. A night vision device can pick up on this light and make it visible to humans.
Night vision, in general, needs ambient light to work — usually it comes from the moon or starlight. In situations where it’s overcast or there is little ambient light, night vision does not work very well.
This is when an IR illuminator is really helpful. You can turn it on to see a lot better in low ambient light situations.
How Well Do They Work?
From my experience, an IR light is a must-have even with a Generation 3 device. I used one frequently in the Marine Corps and without several night patrols in Afghanistan would have been a lot more harrowing.
I didn’t use the IR illuminator during exciting firefights, but just to navigate areas or search inside a dark home. With it, I would be able to see exactly how wide a canal was before I tried to jump over it.
I was even able to focus my PVS 14 night vision monocular and use an infrared light so well I could read a book at night with them.
So an IR illuminator functions quite well and is a necessary gear even with higher end night vision devices.
There are several types of illumination devices out there — from handheld units to large lighting systems designed for CCTVs. This article is going to focus on the personal use of IR illuminators and not corporate security use.
Integral IR lights are built into the night vision device. This is common especially for monoculars and goggles.
These integral units vary in intensity and quality but are generally good for short range use. The biggest downside is that they shorten the battery life.
Night vision devices that lack an integral illuminator often have an area set aside for an attachable illuminator. This can be a threaded hole or a section on the Picatinny rail.
Attachable illuminators function independently. They control and rely on their separate battery source. They also tend to be larger, heavier, and make the overall unit bulkier.
Handheld IR illuminators are night vision flashlights. These units usually have a little more space and a bigger set of batteries. This gives them a longer life and often an overall longer effective range.
Units like the ATN IR850 Pro can be attached to a Picatinny rail special adapter. It provides up to 3 times the sight distance of a standard illuminator. Other models like the Streamlight 14000 Sidewinder has a white, red, and blue IR light that are used as a standard flashlight.
Practical Uses For IR Illuminator
How you use an illuminator depends on your night vision device.
1) Goggles and monoculars that are designed for walking and traveling at night work best with an integral IR illuminator. It lets users recognize obstacles in greater detail and offers better close range recognition.
2) Handheld illuminators and their most potent aspects are suited for binoculars and great range monoculars. Something that provides the magnification to take advantage of the longer range power.
Handheld illuminators are also handy for monocular and goggle wearers if they plan to use their systems indoors. Since an IR Illuminator is like a headlamp, it can easily distract and bother others at close range.
3) There are also IR laser systems that can be carried or mounted to firearms. They are excellent aiming devices for night hunters. They fire a concentrated beam of IR light and create a small dot.
This is handy as an aiming device, and also allows you to point something at other people a lot easier than trying to describe it. Tactical use of these tools is amazing, as they allow aiming and marking without having to say a word.
Reminders Before You Purchase
If your system doesn’t come with an IR illuminator and you intend to buy one, I recommend going for a good quality model. If you intend to attach it to your NV device, make sure it is compatible.
Some brands to consider are ATN, Steiner, and Pulsar. Still not convinced you need one? Owning a night vision device is enough reason to have an infrared illuminator.