Once only limited to military applications, night vision technology has slowly made its way into our lives. We can see night vision devices all around us in various situations, from phone camera attachments to night vision scopes and goggles. Night vision technology is fairly cheap nowadays. You can find scopes and binoculars for less than $400. Even though they might not be the most impressive ones you’ve ever tried, for a budget-oriented situation, they will do the job.
However, for budget-oriented individuals who need a pair of cheap night vision goggles, there is a plethora of choices. This makes things increasingly hard for them. They have to go through (best case scenario) dozens of models, see which ones are good, and which ones aren’t, and choose. But the worst thing? Many people and websites choose to review high end models. Therefore, if you’re looking for something that won’t put a dent in your pocket, you might need to buy an untested model. This can be risky, depending on how much you’re spending, and what you’d be using it for.
Well, we’re here to help. If you continue reading, you will find two things. First, you will find ten of the best night vision goggles on the market today. They’re all tried and tested. We found them all to be admirable choices in this category. Some more than the others, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. Once you’ve taken a look at them, we’ll also give you a buyer’s guide. In case you’ve taken a look, but aren’t sure what some of the terms mean, or what you need, it might come in handy. When you’re done reading what we have below, you should be able to choose night vision goggles yourself, without worrying that you could make a mistake. Let’s begin!
We’ll start things off with an excellent pair of night vision goggles by ATN. The PS15-4 is a lightweight and compact pair of goggles. With two image intensifier tubes, it is made to give you crisp and clear images, even in the darkest of conditions. ATN does have quite a reputation in the field, so we do have high expectations for the goggles. They claim they’re made for every situation, but how do they really hold up? Read on and find out yourself.
To begin with, the PS15-4 has fourth generation image intensifier tubes. We’ll discuss the details later on, but what you do need to know is that fourth generation tubes are the highest end available today. With a resolution of 64 to 72 lp/mm, there’s no question about whether you’ll get a good image. It’s going to be bright, it’s going to be crisp and clear, and you won’t be left wanting more. Just like with most night vision goggles available today, we have a 1x magnification. This means that you won’t be getting any closer to your subject. Instead, you’ll be able to look at it as if it was with your naked eye. Since night vision goggles are often used due to lack of light, and not to get closer, this shouldn’t be an issue. The lens is an F1.2, 27mm lens, and it does let in plenty of light. The magnification and lens diameter give you a field of view of 40 degrees. This is, honestly, plenty for just about anyone.
You will also find a Proshield lens coating. This ensures there’s no loss of contrast or sharpness in the image. The focus goes from 0.25m to infinity, which is impressive to say the least. There is also a diopter adjustment. It ranges from -6 to +2, this should give you plenty of versatility. In case someone flashes a light while you’re using the night vision goggles, there is a bright light cutoff. This protects the tubes and makes sure they don’t get damaged. Other nifty features include automatic brightness control, an automatic shutoff system, and a built-in infrared illuminator with flood lens. There’s an IR indicator in the field of view as well. In terms of build quality, you get a MIL-STD-810 compatible body, and it’s completely waterproof. The resulting weight is 1.54 pounds, which shouldn’t be too much. The whole thing runs on two 1.5 volt AA batteries, or a 3 volt CR123A.
To wrap things up, the ATN PS15-4 is excellent, to say the least. It does cost a pretty penny, but for what you’re getting, it is more than worth it. There are a lot of functionalities included, the basic function works incredibly well, and the build quality is surprisingly good. If you’re looking for the best night vision goggles for all-round use, you might’ve just found them.
If you’d rather save some money, and opt for something that’s a bit cheaper, the Pulsar Edge GS might be a good alternative. You don’t quite get the performance of the ATN, but the price is significantly lower, too. Pulsar is a well known brand in the night optics game. Therefore, if these night vision goggles are something that would get the job done for you, you don’t have to worry. But are they any good? Let’s find out.
To begin with, this is a 1×20 pair of goggles. That means we have a 1x magnification (or lack thereof), and a 20mm objective lens diameter. As we said, 1x magnification is very common. It helps you with spatial orientation. If you use it in movement, it also helps you accurately estimate distance to an object, or between two objects. In case you’re wondering yes, you can use the Pulsar while moving. There’s a head mount that is included in the box. The 20mm lens lets in a sufficient amount of light for the goggles to work well. To help, there’s an IR illuminator with adjustable power. The power adjustment wheel, as well as all other control buttons and elements, are on the top of the goggles. The illuminator is a power saving one, and it won’t eat up all of your battery.
Inside the Edge GS is a CF-Super image intensifier tube, as well as a five-lens eyepiece. With this optics design, and with the performance you’re getting, there is absolutely no distortion. The edge-to-edge resolution performance is excellent. It is a first generation night vision device, though. Some might hesitate spending this much on a Gen 1 device. However, the optical performance is a touch above what you’d get with other Gen 1 goggles. There’s also the extra wide field of view, as well as the 90 yards viewing range. The built-in automatic bright light exposure won’t allow for tube burnouts. It automatically stops any extreme light from coming in and damaging the tubes.
On the outside, you get a somewhat decent build quality. It’s made of metal and reinforced fiberglass plastic. It is also completely sealed, which makes it resistant to both water and dust. If you’ve ever been caught out in the rain with a pair of optics, you’ll know why this is important and nice to have. We mentioned there’s an included head mount. The goggles are lightweight enough to not be a problem when you wear them on your head. There won’t be any fatigue, nor muscle strains.
At the end of the day, the Pulsar Edge GS doesn’t really have a “wow” factor. However, everything it does, it does admirably. From optical performance to build quality, everything is taken care of. Yes, it is a bit expensive when you consider it’s a Gen 1 device. However, the lenses and optical coatings give it an edge over other Gen 1 devices, making it worth its asking price. If you’re in need of an all-round pair of night vision goggles, you shouldn’t be hesitating too much.
We mentioned in the beginning that night vision goggles are an expensive category. If you want something really good, you should be prepared to pay quite a bit. However, there are exceptions to the rule. One of the best examples for that is the Night Optics USA Adventurer 1x. Even though a good brand name, it manages to balance its price with all the technology it has crammed inside. Honestly, yes, everything it has works very well. Nothing is implemented just so it’s there. We’ll take a closer look at them, and you’ll see why they’re an incredible choice for cheap night vision goggles.
To begin with, we’ll touch on two of the largest downsides of these night vision goggles. The first one is, honestly, the mediocre build quality. As soon as you get them out of the box, you’re met with plastic, and it’s fairly flimsy. From the body, to the eyepieces, you’ll feel like the slightest drop can easily break these. We didn’t want to push our luck, and we’d suggest that you be careful with them as well. Yes, it is somewhat weather resistant, but we wouldn’t advise testing this either. The second downside is the Gen 1 technology. We mentioned the Pulsar, which had Gen 1+, and even that wasn’t satisfactory to some. Gen 1 is even less clear and sharp. It isn’t bad, per se, but if you’re an expert, you might notice it’s not really very good either. However, for a novice, they will do the job.
Let’s talk about the numbers for a minute. To begin with, there’s a 1x magnification and a 26mm F1.2 lens system. This is a good combination when we’re discussing night vision goggles. The field of view is wide as well, at 40 degrees, or 2184 feet at 1000 yards. There’s a 10 inches close focus, so you can clearly see things that are close to you. Diopter adjustment is also there, ranging from -4 to +4. The detection range is 410 feet, while the recognition range is a bit shorter, at 328 feet. The IR illuminator uses a 3V CR123 battery, and it should last for around 40 hours. At 18oz, it’s a somewhat lightweight device. This is always welcome when there’s a chance that you’ll be using it on your head.
The optics are decent. The glass lens is multi-coated, and there is bright light protection built-in to protect the tubes. You can easily convert the goggles into a binocular as well. However, as we mentioned, it’s Gen 1, so we wouldn’t expect too much out of it.
At the end of the day, if you set your expectations right, you might be pleasantly surprised. One thing is clear, the Adventurer isn’t for experienced users of night vision devices. They will easily see all its downsides and look for a better option. However, for beginners, or for someone’s first pair of night vision goggles, they’ll more than do the job.
Somewhere in the middle between the entry-level Gen 1, and the high end Gen 4 devices, we have Gen 2. Gen 2 is a significant improvement over Gen 1, but it does cost a bit more too. The device we’re taking a look at now is the BelOMO NVG-16, which is a Gen 2+ device. It does cost more than most of the other options we have today. However, it brings a host of features that will come in handy to just about anyone, in a variety of situations. Let’s get into the details.
To begin with, we mentioned it’s a Gen 2+ device. These image intensifier tubes are excellent. They provide great clarity and contrast, and a very bright image in extremely low light situations. If, however, you don’t find them sufficient, you can use a 3rd generation electronic-optical converter, and get even more performance out of the scope. There is a near-infrared light, which is not visible to the naked human eye. There is a single button operation for it as well. A single button turns the glasses on and off. If you hold it, it turns on the IR illuminator.
Build quality is great. There is a shock-resistant case, made of composite materials. It protects the tubes from external mechanical damage, or any foul weather. The whole device is sealed with gaskets. This ensures that the night vision goggles are resistant to moisture and precipitation. To protect the observer’s eyes from things such as lateral illumination, we have beveled rubber eye flaps. They also unmask the green glow of the tube. You have +/-4 units in diopter adjustment as well. Close focus is 25cm, which should be quite enough. You can do things such as read maps or technical documentation in the dark without any issues. Focusing is done by rotating the lens, and it’s very smooth and precise.
In terms of additional features, we have light indicators on the device, as well as a battery indicator on the body. The indicator is in the observer’s field of view, so you have everything right in front of you. You will also find a comfortable helmet-mask. This lets you adjust the night vision goggles’ position, both vertically and horizontally, according to your eyes. There is also a tilt and lock function, so you can get the goggles out of the way if you aren’t using them.
To wrap things up, if you’re looking for a middle ground in terms of price and performance, this might be it. You won’t get Gen 4 performance, but you won’t pay Gen 4 prices either. The image is better than what you’re getting with Gen 1, or Gen 1+. Build quality is good, there is weather sealing and plenty of adjustability on the headgear. An excellent option for night vision goggles if you know what you want, and it’s not the absolute highest end.
Sightmark are a name we’re hearing very often when sport optics are mentioned. From binoculars, to night vision goggles and scopes, they have a lineup that covers more or less everyone’s needs. What we have today is one of their night vision goggles, the Ghost Hunter 1×24. It is a Gen 1 device, but a very well made one. It comes with quite a lot of features, and most of them are a welcome addition. The only potential downside could be the generation. However, everything else it comes with might make that neglectable. Let’s get into the details.
To begin with, we have a 1×24 configuration. This is very common in the night vision goggles world. No magnification, so you can easily orient yourself while moving. The resulting field of view is 30 degrees, or 162 feet at 100 yards. You will find a dual-tube system with EP33-U tubes. A dual-tube system is often easier on the eyes and gives you more details than a single-tube one. The S25 multi-alkaline photocathode has a 24mm useful diameter. The typical integral photocathode sensitivity is 200, and you get a very decent resolution of 30 lines per mm. What is also there is a high-power infrared illuminator, which helps in very dark conditions. The optics are multicoated, which guarantees optimum light transmission, clarity and sharpness. Power is supplied by two AAA batteries, and you get 20 hours of battery life with the IR illuminator, or an impressive 72 hours without it. As with any quality night vision goggles, there is automatic shut-off when they’re exposed to light.
The body is made of a glass filled nylon composite. It is sturdy, and well built, just as we’d expect from Sightmark. It is not nitrogen purged, which is a bummer, but it does come with IPX3 weatherproofing. You can use it in temperatures that range from -4 to 104 Fahrenheit, which should cover just about any conditions you could run into. There is a three-year warranty on the tubes, as well as a limited lifetime warranty on the housing, so you can rest assured that it will last.
All things considered, the Sightmark Ghost Hunter is among the best Gen 1 devices you could get. Yes, the fact that it is “only” Gen 1 might be off-putting for some, but even for a Gen 1 device, it performs admirably. There are no issues during use, the image is clear and sharp, and we could easily distinguish details. Yes, we’re aware that you might be able to pick up a Gen 2 for that amount of money, but to be honest, you might be making the wrong decision if you do that.
We already mentioned that night vision goggles are not cheap. However, when you’re buying them, you don’t want to get something that cut corners on important aspects. Yukon is a brand that is well known in the sport optics game, and have an extensive range of night vision goggles, monoculars and rifle scopes. The NV 1×24 is actually their first pair of night vision goggles, and they’ve got a lot of things right with it. Read on for the full review, as this might be a great purchase.
The goggles are a variation of their well-known Tracker model, which has received a lot of praise. They also have a headgear accessory included, so you can use them handsfree. All of the Tracker features that people loved are there. It’s a light setup, and given some time, you’ll barely notice it’s there. The goggles come with an ergonomically designed rubberized body. This doesn’t only make them look sleek and modern. It adds quite a bit to their durability as well. The headgear is very sturdy as well. The lens cap system won’t allow you to lose the caps, as they’re attached to the goggles. In the middle is a central focusing knob. It’s easy to reach and operate, even in the dark. The minimum focusing distance is 1 meter, and the knob will let you make smooth and precise adjustments from there on. With a single CR123A battery, you can expect around 40 hours of battery life.
We have to be honest, these night vision goggles are a Gen 1 device, so you can’t be expecting miracles. But, for the price you’re paying, you are actually getting quite a bit. The 1x magnification is great for spatial orientation, and 24mm of lens diameter is plenty. The image quality is very good, as good as it gets for a Gen 1 device. Regardless of whether you’re using them in some ambient light, or in complete darkness, they work admirably. You get multicoated optics which reduce blur around the edges to a minimum. Overall, you get the best Gen 1 has to offer, at a fairly competitive price.
However, not everything is perfect. There aren’t a lot of things to complain about, but the headgear, for example, can be tricky to adjust. If you do get it right, however, you’ll have no issues whatsoever. Another downside for some may be that the field of view is somewhat narrow at 30 degrees. Last but not least, there is no auto focus. All of these things might be nitpicking, though. The field of view will satisfy most users, and auto focus isn’t a necessity for many, especially at this price point.
To wrap things up, one thing must be said. If you were to get something slightly better in terms of quality, performance, or feature set, you will most likely be paying two times as much. The price of the Yukon NV 1×24 is one of its best assets, and it comes packed with useful features that come in very handy. They’re also durable, have a good warranty, and there is very little that could go wrong. If you want good performance, but don’t want to overspend, you should absolutely get them – you won’t regret it.
Armasight, a subsidiary of FLIR, is a very popular brand in the outdoor optics game. With plenty of binoculars, night vision goggles, thermal imaging devices and illumination tools, they have a very extensive lineup of devices. Their Spark-G night vision goggle is a great model to show you what Armasight are capable of, and at this price, you will be surprised at what you’re getting.
To begin with, the Spark-G has the CORE IIT. This stands for Ceramic Optical Ruggedized Engine image intensifier tube, and it gives you 60 to 70 lp/mm resolution. The tubes are very sturdy and durable. They’re made by fusing metallic alloys and ceramic compounds, just like Gen 2 and Gen 3 devices. Gen 1 devices are commonly made of glass, making them very fragile. The sensitivity levels are over 400 µA/lm as well, which is impressive to say the least. This severely minimizes edge distortion. However, the lack of a microchannel plate in the CORE puts the Spark-G in Gen 1 territory. But don’t let this fool you, with all the features and technologies it comes with, it can easily measure up to a lower end Gen 2 device, at a fraction of the price. The tubes are stacked tightly, which gives a lot of durability and shock and vibration resistance to the goggle.
Inside you will find a built-in infrared LED illuminator. It works on a single CR123A battery, and you’ll get around 40 hours of battery life. With a 1x magnification, you can easily orient yourself in space. The minimum focus range of the goggles is an impressive 0.8 feet. What this means is that you can easily read and distinguish objects that are very close to you. The 35-degree field of view is right up there with what you’ll commonly find in this kind of device. The whole optical performance of the goggle is excellent. People who know what they’re buying aren’t always fans of Gen 1 devices, but the CORE system makes these an excellent upgrade over a regular pair of goggles. Regardless of whether you’re relying on ambient light, or you’re using the IR illuminator, images are bright and detailed, much better than a regular Gen 1 device. In the package, you’ll also find a headgear, which lets you mount the goggle easily and carry it with you.
Not everything is perfect, though. These are, after all, fairly cheap night vision goggles. Where corners have been cut is the last thing we mentioned – the headband. First of all, it is heavy. Add to that the weight of the goggle, and you’ll have a somewhat uncomfortable experience, to say the least. The mounting points on the goggle aren’t compatible with the regular Mil surplus mounts. You won’t be able to use just about any headband, so if that’s an issue, you might wat to think twice before you buy. If that’s something you can live with, though, the Armasight Spark-G is an excellent solution for nighttime exploring, and at a very competitive price!
We just spoke about Armasight, so we won’t be wasting time on that here, too. We’re sticking with Gen 1 devices, mostly thanks to their affordability. They’re great for just about any user, and you won’t be spending too much on them either. After the Spark-G, we have the Vega, which is another cheap night vision goggles alternative. It’s more or less a direct competitor to the Yukon NV 1×24 we spoke about a bit earlier. You won’t be expecting much from it when you take a first look, but the Vega will blow you away with all the capabilities it has. Let’s get into the details.
To begin with, we’re again looking at a 1x magnification factor with this Gen 1+ device. Made to help you maneuver around instead of zoom in on targets, it’s an excellent choice. The IR illuminator that is built in doesn’t really have a lot of range. If you want to see further, there’s an optional long-range illuminator. The optics are all made of high quality glass, and multi-coated. When you consider the price, this is something you won’t find very often. If we compare the field of view to the Yukon, you have a better, 40 degree one here. Factor in the prices of both, and you’re getting a very interesting competition.
Speaking of the design, it is obvious that they’re made for comfort and ease of use. They’re a real pleasure to use out in the field. The headgear might be a bit finnicky to get right in the beginning. However, once you do get it right, and it all fits comfortably and snug, it’s excellent. The goggle is attached to a rail, and with very minor adjustments, you can use it with either eye. Or flip it up, and not use it at all, your choice. The whole setup is very efficient, and you also get a rubber eyecup to prevent any light leakage. In terms of build quality, you get weather resistance, and it works flawlessly in the rain. If you don’t want to mount it to your head, it is fairly ergonomic and easy to hold. Power comes from a single CR123 3V battery, and you get around 12 hours with the IR illuminator continuously on. Switch it off, and that number gets up to 58 hours.
Our only gripe with the Vega is the minor fisheye effect you get in your peripheral vision. In the center, everything is tack sharp, as it should be. However, around the edges, things get a little distorted. Depending on how you want to use them, that may or may not be an issue for you. If it’s not, what you’re looking at is an excellent night vision goggles option, with great optical performance and stellar build quality. When you consider that this is a cheap night vision goggles solution, you’re absolutely getting your money’s worth, and then some.
As we near the end of our list, we thought it would be good to not limit ourselves to cheap night vision goggles. Therefore, the last two models are a part of the higher end market. With more features, better optics, and better build quality, they do justify their price, but you should be prepared to pay a pretty penny for them. The first one is the ATN PVS7-3. It’s a Gen 3 device, which means you get excellent image, and it has a lot of features.
To begin with, this is a standard military issue pair of night vision goggles. You can use it handheld, or head or helmet-mounted. It is fairly lightweight, so it won’t be uncomfortable. We’ve found that it’s not the most ergonomic one, so this matters, because you’ll most likely use it mounted on your head or helmet. The head mount is fully adjustable. It is also waterproof, letting you use it regardless of the conditions. The operating temperature range is -40 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and it covers just about any situation.
Inside, you’ll find a few nifty things. We have the regular 1x magnification. However, unlike the other options we spoke about, we have a big 35mm F1.2 lens. It’s a 6-elements glass lens, and an all-glass three element eyepiece, for a wide, 40 degree field of view and incredible clarity. The minimum focus distance is an impressive 1 feet, and you’ll also get diopter adjustment, from -6 to +5.
Let’s discuss the tubes for a moment. Inside the PVS7-3 night vision goggles is a high-resolution Gen 3B IIT, with B-rated low-occurrence blemish rating. The resolution is 57-64 lp/mm, which is quite high, and the 300m detection range is paired with a 225m recognition range. You also get an IR illuminator, and you can switch it between momentary or continuous. For close viewing (up to 50 yards), you can use the illuminator like a flashlight. The “IR On” indicator is within the field of view. There’s also a low battery indicator, and that’s within the field of view as well. Everything is controlled via digital controls. It is very easy, and you can activate or deactivate features with the push of a button. Power comes from a single AA battery, which is included, and you can expect between 10 to 20 hours of operation, depending on the conditions and how you use it.
Inside the box, aside from the night vision goggles, is a soft-side carry case, shoulder strap, neck cord, front lens cover, demist shield, 3 brow pads for mounting it on your head, and a sacrificial filter for objective lenses. You won’t need to buy anything extra with it. If you’re looking at some of the best night vision goggles in the high end market, the PVS7-3 may very well be one of your best options.
Wrapping up our list is a somewhat unconventional design from BelOMO. It’s another high end option, as we said, but this time it’s a Gen 2+ device that’s only meant to be used attached to your head, or a helmet. But is it worth its asking price, or are you better off spending that money on a Gen 3 device which may not have that many features?
The first thing that we must mention is the design. When you take a look at the NVG-14, you’ll immediately see what we’re talking about. Regular night vision goggles are often the size of a pair of binoculars. However, this device comes with a “flat” design. It’s based around an electron-optical converter, Gen 2+, which has no analogues. This design is great for weight balancing and distribution, something that’s an issue with even the best night vision goggles out there. The lens is shifted to the right, which lets you use glasses if you want to aim weapons with collimator sights. The case is completely waterproof, and is made of impact-resistant engineering-grade plastic. The insides are nitrogen purged, which prevents internal fogging. This design lets you use the goggles at a relative humidity of 100% when the temperature is 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
While we’re discussing the outside, it’s worth mentioning that you have diopter adjustment on the eyepieces, and you just need to rotate the eyepiece rings. There are beveled eye flaps, so your eyes are protected from external light sources. The automatic adjustment system will give you a constant level of brightness, even when there are significant changes in illumination on the ground. The ergonomic helmet-mask will let you position the goggles just like you want them, or fold them upwards when you aren’t using them.
Moving on to the inside, you get excellent optical performance. The device gives you image quality that is very close to what you would get with a Gen 3 device. This, however, is to be expected, since the price is also more or less the same as a Gen 3 pair of night vision goggles. There is a somewhat mediocre 36 degree field of view, and the focusing distance ranges from 0.8 feet to infinity. The built-in IR illuminator is excellent, and makes the goggles very usable, even in situations where you have little to no light. Everything is powered by a single AA battery, making it easy to carry a spare or two.
All things considered, the last option on our list is also one of the best ones. Gen 2+ is an excellent compromise between price and performance, and you’re getting benefits in both of those areas here. The NVG-14 is built very well, and the unconventional design makes it very comfortable to carry, even for extended periods of time. It is absolutely one of the best night vision goggles you could find on the market nowadays.
The buyer’s guide
Now that we got the best night vision goggles out of the way, let’s see how we can make buying easier. Just picking any pair is a mistake. You need to know what you’re buying. Choosing the wrong generation, or cheaping out when you need a good pair, can cost you a lot in the long term.
Below are a few things that everyone should know. To begin with, we’ll discuss about the differences in generation, which is the most important thing in a pair of goggles. Then, we’ll move on to specifications, as well as a few other things. Let’s begin.
Explaining the generations
If you read the list above, you’ve seen that we often mentioned “Gen 1” or “Gen 2+” as one of the most important things about night vision goggles. If you were to take a look at what the differences are, you will often find technical information. Talk about micro channel plates, ion barriers, photocathodes and other technical term won’t always explain things well. If you’re a person who’s just buying their first pair, this will only leave you more confused.
Instead, below will try to give you the information in a way that matters, and you understand. What’s the actual difference? What’s the useful range? How clear is the image? How long can you use a device before you need to discard it? These are all things that you should be concerned about, but not many places will answer them correctly. Let’s begin.
Gen 1, or Generation 1, is all about affordability. It gives you limited night time viewing capability, as some night vision is better than no night vision. It’s far from the latest and greatest though. There is Gen 1 technology that dates back to the early 60s, when a computer was as big as a small house and we had no cell phones. However, if you’re fine with the limitations Gen 1 comes with, it might be just what you need. It will absolutely keep you within your budget, if you’ve set it realistically.
The maximum useful range of a Gen 1 pair of cheap night vision goggles is often about 75 yards, depending on the available ambient light. Just for comparison, a good Gen 3 device can go up to several hundred yards, even when light is scarce. The images have a decent resolution, but they come with plenty of static and noise. They’re also not that bright, to be honest. You should also know that Gen 1 devices can’t operate without the built-in IR illuminator. It has to be on, constantly, which makes you visible to anyone else who might be using a night vision device around you. Due to the distorted image on the outer third of your field of view, you’ll find that the effective field of view is usually smaller. While we’re at the image, a Gen 1 device is very susceptible to blooming, which is when excessive light leads to image distortion. The battery life is often shorter, and you can’t attach them to rifle scopes or spotting scopes. Last but not least, a Gen 1 device is only expected to last about 1500 hours. Depending on how you plan to use it, this may be quite a bit, or not much at all.
The next step up is Gen 2. Gen 2 is a huge improvement over Gen 1. A good Gen 2 device is actually much closer to the performance of a Gen 3 device, than of a Gen 1 device. However, there’s also Gen 2+, which is even better, and depending on the product you’re getting, you might end up with an excellent device. It improves over Gen 1 in quite a lot of areas, and if you think you won’t be satisfied with Gen 1, but don’t want to spend too much, this may be your target.
To begin with, the range is improved. Depending on the model, you can squeeze as much as 200 yards of useful range with a Gen 2 device. The resolution is much better as well, and the images are cleaner and brighter. There’s little to no static and noise, which is always welcome. You also won’t find the distortion on the outer third of the effective viewing area, which gives you a better field of view. Gen 2 is less susceptible to blooming when compared to Gen 1 as well. Another important thing is that you could use a Gen 2 device without an IR illuminator. Granted, you’ll need some ambient light to do this, but you won’t always be visible to people who have night vision goggles around you. Due to the tubes’ increased durability and adaptability, a Gen 2 device is much more versatile, and the battery life lasts a bit more. Also, when compared to a Gen 1 device, there’s more than three times the life expectancy, as most devices go for at least 5000 hours. They’re also much more reliable as well. If you can afford to get a Gen 2 device, you should absolutely go for it – it is more than worth it. However, if you do that, there’s always the question of whether you can squeeze out a bit more and get a Gen 3. Let’s see why Gen 3 is so good.
Generation 3 is one level below the best, but is still incredibly good. The US Military and Special Forces rely on it, so if it’s good for them, chances are it will be good for you as well. There are a couple of grades, but whichever you end up with, you won’t regret it. The downside with Gen 3 is the price – it is a lot more expensive than Gen 1, and a bit more than Gen 2 as well. However, if you can afford it, chances are you won’t regret it.
For starters, you have even more range with Gen 3. Depending on the model you choose, as well as the conditions and amount of light available, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get as much as 300 yards, or more from your night vision goggles. The resolution is incredible, with images that are clean, bright and tack sharp. The low light performance is also much better than the other generations, which is crucial here. You can use an autogated Gen 3 device in just about any light conditions, as there’s significantly less blooming than even Gen 2. Passive operation is another point that’s improved upon, as you can use Gen 3 without any IR illumination. Chances are you will get satisfactory performance, regardless of the conditions. Due to the improved performance and build quality, you can attach these devices to things such as scopes, camera adapters, and a host of other night vision accessories. The life expectancy is twice as much as Gen 2, with many devices going for over 10,000 hours, and reliability is great too. With proper care, and if you can afford it, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t get a Gen 3 pair of night vision goggles. There’s one more thing that we should mention while we’re at Gen 3, and that is the use of white phosphor. When you get a pair of night vision goggles with white phosphor, you won’t have that distinguishable green tint on whatever you’re looking at. You will get a better image with more shadows. However, it does cost a bit more.
Last but not least, we have “Gen 4”. You notice we put it in quotes – there’s a reason for that. Gen 4, technically, doesn’t exist. It was acknowledged by the US Army at one point, when it was initially introduced. However, since it failed to meet some of their durability and reliability standards, it was recanted. Today, you will find Gen 4 devices on the market. They aren’t really a new generation, but they’re significantly good Gen 3 devices. You could say that “Gen 4” is somewhat of a marketing ploy to let you know that the night vision goggles, or other device, has a really good image quality.
A few terms you should be familiar with
When you’re buying your night vision goggles, regardless of whether they’re cheap night vision goggles, or the best night vision goggles on the market, you will find a few specifications. You should consider your specific use scenario, as these specifications can make quite a difference between two pairs of night vision goggles.
The first thing is the magnification and the field of view. When discussing magnification, with binoculars or scopes, you could (and should) opt for somewhat of a magnification factor. However, with night vision goggles, it’s best that you stay to 1x, or no magnification. This way you see everything as you would see it with your naked eye. The reasoning behind this is simple. Night vision goggles are often used head-mounted. If you were to see everything zoomed in, orienting in space would be difficult and you wouldn’t be able to accurately estimate distance. With 1x, you can easily see where you are, as well as identify your surroundings. The field of view is simple – the wider the better. A wider field of view means that you can basically fit more things in your view without having to move or turn your head, which is always welcome.
Next, we have the resolution. The resolution is usually measured in line pairs per millimeter. It can be defined as the ability of the image intensifier tube to distinguish between objects that are close together. The resolution of the image intensifier remains constant, but the system resolution can be affected. For example, if you have a single night vision device, the resolution could be different at the center and the edges.
Moving on to the outside, let’s discuss weather resistance. With night vision devices, you want them to be able to operate regardless of the weather conditions. For example, you might get caught out in the rain. There might also be significant differences in temperature, which leads to internal fogging. Even though any device built to US military specifications should be good, let’s elaborate a bit. To begin with, we have water resistance. This is often denoted by an IP code, and is very important. The more water resistant the device, the less you have to worry if it starts raining. Next, there’s the fog proofing. On the outside, if a lens gets foggy you can clean it. However, on the inside, it’s much more difficult with that. Therefore, manufacturers do two things. One of them is completely sealing the night vision goggles. The second, and more important one, is replacing the air inside with argon or nitrogen gas. This prevents internal fogging, which is crucial.
While we’re on the outside, we should also discuss the size, weight and ease of use of night vision goggles. If a unit isn’t comfortable and easy to use, chances are you’ll throw it in your backpack, never to be used again. In the world of night vision goggles, you want a lightweight device, and preferably one that isn’t too big. It will most likely be attached to your head, so both weight and size can affect comfort. You will also not be able to see the device itself, so ease of use is necessary so you can operate it without having to take it off. If, however, you’re getting a device for static use, you could get a larger, heavier device.
Last but not least, we have power and batteries. Everything from the cheap night vision goggles, to the best nigh vision goggles makes use of batteries to power themselves. The IR illuminator, for example, also requires a bit more battery power, and can affect battery life. What you should consider isn’t just battery life, though. You should also consider how expensive, and how readily available replacement batteries are. If you’re going to be out for a while, you’ll want to have a few in your backpack. Cheaper batteries you can find almost anywhere can come in handy here.
Wrapping things up
At the end of the day, buying a pair of night vision goggles isn’t all that difficult. To begin with, your budget will more or less limit you to what you can, and can’t buy. Then, you have your needs and requirements – you’ll want whatever device you’re buying to fulfill your use case. You can’t get a pair of goggles if you need a night vision monocular, can you? Things such as magnification, weather resistance, field of view and resolution all matter here.
But if you do know what you need, and know how much money you can afford to spend on it, you’re set. All you need to do is take a look at the list above, and choose. All of the night vision goggles we spoke about are excellent in one way or another. They aren’t all for anyone’s needs though, and you’ll need to choose the right pair for you.
Once you’ve done that, all that remains is to order them. You will have a lot of fun with any of them, and they’ll make your night time exploring experience much more fun. Regardless of whether you need them for securing your back yard, or for attaching a camera to them, things will be much easier once you’ve bought a pair that fits your requirements and budget.