Night vision technology changed the face of warfare. It was first implemented in World War II in limited numbers. It was refined in Korea and used more widely in Vietnam. The passive night vision system was first seen in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s passive night vision technology is what we’ve adapted and refined into better systems. It does not rely on an active IR source but on ambient light. Active IR devices, called IR illuminators, can be used with passive night vision to provide a little more clarity.
All modern night vision is passive, we just refined the technology and adapted it to a variety of uses.
We’ll go over those different uses and how night vision technology is being applied across the board. We’ll talk about its generations and how it affects the final product (you might also be interested in how night vision works).
We’ll also give a complete rundown of some of the popular companies that produce night vision gear.
Devices and Applications
Night vision is a technology that can apply to a wide field of optics. The difference is they simply take the same technology and move it between applications.
These devices are created for various purposes. Every individual has different demands, and luckily there is a little something for everyone when it comes to night vision.
Night vision goggles are quite famous in the popular culture, thanks to the fictional character Sam Fisher in Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. This series of games brought night vision goggles to the mainstream imagination.
Night vision goggles are exclusively designed to be worn while walking and moving during the night. They are replaced by monoculars in popular use especially in the military. But they are still widespread and a more affordable option.
They require a mounting system to be worn and used effectively. So you need a helmet or a HALO mounting system to hold the goggles in place over our eyes.
They cover both eyes and come together in the center giving you single viewing output. This confines your vision and can mess with depth perception since it limits your peripheral vision.
Walking around with goggles constantly take some practice to move smoothly and comfortably. Goggles tend to be more comfortable for extended use than monoculars and have a dedicated fan base.
Goggles are the ideal choice if you plan to walk while using a night vision device. It allows users to explore, patrol, and protect themselves at night. Plus, you can easily carry a rifle or bow with them.
A monocular is a single piece night vision device. It can be handheld, attached to a helmet or HALO mount, or even attached to a tripod for comfortable extended viewing.
To be worn as an active vision device, it needs to be limited to 1x. Trying to move with a magnified optic as your main vision method is dangerous and can most likely get you hurt.
Monocular vs Goggles
Monoculars suffer the same issues from depth perception as night vision goggles. However, they offer a wider peripheral vision.
Night vision goggles do not enhance this peripheral vision though. Using a monocular as an active viewing device preserves the natural night vision of the opposite eye. These smaller units also use less battery, they last longer when using a single battery.
Monocular vs Binocular
Monoculars can be magnified and used for enhanced viewing across open terrain. Similar to a normal daylight monocular, night vision ones are much lighter than binoculars. They are also more compact and easier to carry than binos.
They are both excellent tools for spotting and scouting without having to continually manipulate the unit. They bring out the explorer and scout in us all.
Night vision binoculars present one of the clearest images for spotting targets and movement at increased distances at night. They are specifically designed for comfortable scanning for a long period. Some are even made with only 1 power magnification to easily scan and scout.
Night vision binoculars do not feature the same magnification levels as normal daytime binoculars. Because of night vision limitations, they cannot feature the massive magnifications that daytime optics are capable of. Typically, night vision binoculars feature a magnification range of roughly 5 power and a fixed 5 power optic.
Comparing it to goggles, this has only one viewing output while binoculars have two: one for each separate device — this is their major difference.
Night vision binoculars are the most comfortable method of scanning for extended periods. They provide a nice clear picture due to their larger objective lens sizes and often have longer recognition ranges than monoculars of similar power.
They are excellent tools for hunters and those who enjoy watching nocturnal nature.
Uses For Night Vision Devices
While many states frown on night vision hunting of certain animals like deer and bear, many states have opened up the ability to hunt hogs because they are such a nuisance and a destructive force. Thus, hunting hogs at night became common.
In fact, it’s one of the most exciting and rewarding hunts because hogs prefer to move during the night. A set of night vision equipment makes it possible for hunters to safely and accurately shoot their chosen game.
Safety is a big issue when hunting at night especially with firearms. One of the golden rules of firearm handling is to know your target and what lies beyond it.
Regardless of what you are hunting at night, you should never assume what you are aiming at or how far it is. With night vision, you can clearly identify your target and estimate the range better.
A combination IR laser sight and night vision goggles or monocular is the perfect choice for hunting. The laser gives you an aiming point so you know where your round is going when fired.
The tactical use of night vision has exploded. The United States Military currently issues one form of night vision or another to all troops deploying to combat zones. The military’s choice is usually the PVS-14 monocular mounted on a helmet.
Night vision has also extended to both the police and prepping worlds as a must have. The tactical use of night vision gives users a very clear advantage in low light situations.
The ability to see an enemy before they see you is an absolute godsend. In a firefight at night, the team with night vision will definitely own the night. It gives a very decisive advantage.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban wouldn’t even attempt to take a shot at us at night out of fear of our effectiveness.
Tactical use also requires movement. Meaning, you must see what’s in front of you for safety’s sake. So even a mundane patrol without contact is safer while wearing a night vision gear. For this purpose, I agree with the military’s constant use of a monocular.
Sometimes we just want to watch, to see, and to enjoy the world around us. Nature lovers who want to see what nocturnal creatures do at night are hard pressed with anything other than NODs.
With night vision binoculars, you can spy on nature doing its thing. You can watch owls, foxes, deer, even coyotes, and bats if you have a keen eye.
Observing anything at night requires night vision. A standard set of binoculars or a spotting scope may be functional in low light conditions, but when night falls there is only one option for observing the world around you.
A set of night vision binoculars with magnification or a magnified monocular are the excellent choices. They are the lighter and more affordable way to go as well.
Home security and night vision can go one or two ways, inside and outside the house. Inside the house, it certainly gives you the ability to defend yourself and your home when an unwanted guest steps in during the night.
The biggest issue is the time needed to set up the gear. So a set of goggles or a monocular on a HALO mount is an excellent method to use night vision in the house.
External home security is where night vision shines. If you believe someone is outside robbing your car, garage, barn, and the like, then you can observe them safely as you contact the police.
If you live in the country like me, you may have hundreds of acres and you may also need to defend animals on your property. Keeping the fox out of the henhouse is a real task for chicken owners.
Night vision devices come in different generations that represent several levels of technology, specifically the image intensifier tube. Higher generations often give clearer and more concise pictures. They also have unique flaws that affect them.
And as the generation gets higher the price rises accordingly.
Generation 0 isn’t something you should worry about too much. These devices are already in museums. I only brought them up to keep an established timeline of night vision optics.
These were the first optics used during the World War II and in Korea. They were often massive and required an active IR source to function. These devices usually had an external battery pack.
Generation 0 optics are an interesting progression and are fascinating from a historical perspective.
These are the basic generation and active night vision units that are the most common on the civilian market.
They need a good amount of ambient light to provide a clear picture. When used during an overcast night, you’ll have significant clarity issues. They greatly benefit from an IR illuminator; the more powerful the illuminator is, the better.
These are the cheapest night vision optics out there and great for new users or those on a budget. They can be used effectively for observation and aren’t bad for hunting if you have plenty of ambient light.
The most common generation of night vision devices. Generation 2 represents an excellent trade-off of value and clarity. This is the generation minimum for tactical use.
These optics are often used by the police and security forces. Typically, these units can identify human facial features depending on range and magnification efforts.
The jump from Generation 1 to 2 is quite amazing. Generation 2 also has other moniker describing better Generation 2 technology. Sometimes known as Gen 2.5 or Gen 2+, these optics borrow some Gen 3 technology but are still categorized Generation 2 optics.
Generation 3 optics add an ion film barrier to extend the optic’s life. There is a chemical called gallium arsenide added to the photocathode. It delivers a crisper and bright picture. You have reduced noise, increased resolution, and a higher battery life than average.
Generation 3 optics are the standard of the United States Military. They are much better for tactical use because they offer a better picture, a wider depth of field, and require less adjustment when viewing at different ranges.
Generation 4 removed the ion barrier film and gated to greatly improve image intensification. It is still a new technology but it provides the brightest and clearest picture.
It has exceptional performance in low light conditions and almost eliminates visible noise. The main issue that Gen 4 has is the fact that removing the ion barrier cuts their life cycle significantly.
Night Vision Range
The effective range of an NVD varies by magnification, objective lens size, generation, and a few other variables.
External variables such as your own vision, the ambient light, and the size of your target all count as well. The effective range of night vision is tied with the optic itself and is divided into two separate categories.
Detection & Recognition
Let’s say the detection range of your device is 300 yards. This means I can see a large dog-sized animal at 300 yards. It could be a dog, a hog, or a mountain lion for all I know.
Now let’s say my recognition range is 150 yards. This means at 150 yards, I can recognize what that animal exactly is.
Detection range is where you can see a rough outline, recognition range is where you recognize the key features of the target.
Tips & Tricks
Night vision can be tricky. To become effective with it, you have to get some solid experience with it. A day time optic is self-explanatory, while a night vision optic takes training and patience to use.
The biggest mistake is not relaxing as you look through the optic. A lot of people squint and stress their eyes trying to see. The first step is to understand what your optics are capable of and to realize that you are not going to recognize right away what you are looking at.
Secondly, learn to relax your eyes and look for movement. Because of the limitations of night vision, you must look for movement and then focus harder once you detect it.
When it comes to wearing and walking with a night vision gear, the same thing applies. However, you need serious practice before you are apt at walking while using your night vision gear.
Trust me, it can be disorienting and it is very easy to fall. Take your time and always watch where you are walking. Take it slow at first and practice moving over easy terrain before you move to the wild.
Leading Night Vision Brands
If you are new to night vision, I can make an argument to go just look at Armasight website. They are a part of Flir which is a major optics company.
The Armasight night vision selection is absolutely massive. They have binoculars, goggles, and monoculars in different generations, magnifications, and styles. Armasight has something for everyone in a wide price range.
In general, their optics are well made and they offer a broad spectrum of powerfully magnified optics.
They have Gen 3 monoculars that are 10 power, which is quite impressive when you consider how clear the picture is at 10 power. Their lower end Gen 1 devices like the Mini Vega are quite impressive when you consider cost and the generation.
Armasight likes to tweak and improve the generation’s clarity and picture through improving the optic’s technology. This leads to several Gen 3 systems that are clearer than military models. The downside is the naming system for these better optics which can be confusing.
Armasight is part of a larger company and they produce quality goods. They have a lot of experience in producing NODs and they also have excellent customer service.
ATN or American Technology Network produces a smaller variety of optics than Armasight, but that’s pretty much all companies. ATN focuses on a core group of optics and improves as they go. They offer optics in all the major categories and divide them by lines.
So if you like the NVM-14’s design and features but can’t afford the Gen 4 model, then there is a Gen 2+ that you can have instead. They also offer a model line of PVS-14s which is identical to what is currently used by the United States Military.
ATN manufactures monoculars that are very light and comfortable without sacrificing quality. When something is hanging off the front of your head, you appreciate weight savings quite a bit.
Their optics tend to be modular and modern. For example, their Night Spirit series has a pic rail mount, automatic brightness control, and a bright light cut off and it’s a mid-tier design. They pack their most desirable optics with the best features.
ATN’s binoculars are the biggest weak point because they lack magnification. Their binoculars are simply more comfortable for extended viewing with magnification. Their monoculars are more powerful than their binos!
Other than that, ATN makes quality and competitive products.
Another large optics company that provides a full focus on night vision tech. They produce a wide arrangement of magnified and unmagnified monoculars, binoculars, and goggles options. Their lines are quite extensive.
They make impressive monoculars that are powerful and can be called spotting scopes. These big powerful beasts go out to 10x and can even digiscope with cameras and smartphones.
These systems are easily mounted to a tripod and offer some of the clearest views imaginable at night. They are of course massive and heavy but are effective for longer range viewing. Their small monoculars allow easy digiscoping with smartphones which are quite handy.
They have options for the hunter, tactical user, and nature lover. They limit themselves to Generations 1 through 3 and haven’t expanded into Gen 4 yet. This is understandable since the demand for Gen 4 is somewhat inadequate.
When compared to ATN, their systems are a bit more expensive. Another minor complaint is that their optics tend to be a bit heavier than average.
Bushnell would be easy to knock in terms of quality and clarity when it comes to night vision devices, particularly if you want to compare them to the companies already mentioned.
However, Bushnell serves a very important role in the night vision market. They produce affordable and usable NVDs at an unbeatable price point.
They produce night vision Gen 1 monoculars and binoculars, they do not produce goggles. What’s great is they produce these Gen 1 devices reasonably and offer multiple options.
Affordability and options make Bushnell unique. They produce devices with magnification levels from 1 to 6 power. Is their optics perfect? No, and they have limitations but for the cost it’s excellent.
I wouldn’t advise these optics for tactical use. But, definitely for hunting at close ranges or varmint hunting, scouting and observation are other good tasks. Plus for playing tactical games like airsoft.
The downsides include those of a Gen 1 device, like limited range and clarity. But if you can get passed that, you’re ready to rock and roll.