Choosing a night vision device can be tricky. Do you go with night vision goggles? Do you get a binocular, or a monocular? Well, to answer your question, if you’re after the most versatile night time device, you should absolutely go for a night vision monocular. Many people do choose to go this route, and then discover that getting a night vision monocular gives them a lot more options than they originally thought. You might’ve bought your monocular for hunting, but you can also use it for bird watching and wildlife observation. The possibilities are endless, and you’ll discover them as you go on your outdoor adventures from time to time.
However, choosing the best night vision monocular for your usage scenario isn’t that easy. Deciding between spending a ton of money on a high-end device which you’ll use twice a year, or getting something cheap that won’t break the bank, isn’t that easy. Then you have other considerations, such as generation, accessories, build quality, brand name etc. These are all things that you must consider before you buy. Even when you do, chances are you will find at least a dozen choices that fit your criteria.
Fortunately, we’re here to help. We have a list of ten night vision monoculars, all of which performed admirably. They aren’t all the same, though, and some offer more functionality than others. Some cost more than others, too, and not all of them might be worth the price tag. However, if you go through them, and still haven’t found the best night vision monocular for you and your needs, we also have a buyer’s guide. We’ll go through things that you need to keep an eye out for, and which night vision tech is worth investing into. Let’s begin.
Bushnell are already a household name in the optics game. From binoculars, to spotting scopes, their products have quite a reputation on the market. It is exactly that reputation that puts them closer to the high-end market, than the midrange. However, when you take a look at their Night Watch night vision monocular, you’ll see that first, not all of their products are that expensive, and second, not everything that isn’t priced like a high-end product, is cheap during usage. We should note that the Night Watch is restricted for sale in California, and outside the US, which might rule out some potential customers. For everyone else, though, it’s actually pretty great. Let’s take a better look at the Night Watch, and see why this may very well be the best night vision monocular you can get today.
We’ll start on the outside of the Night Watch, and there is plenty to talk about. Bushnell didn’t go cheap on the build quality, and you have a rubber armored body with an ergonomic shape. This is also a fairly lightweight monocular, coming in at 10.7oz, so comfort while using it won’t be an issue. In the box, you will find a lanyard and carry case, to make things even easier. In case you want to use the monocular on a tripod, you can do so via the built-in tripod mount, which adds a touch of convenience. All of that build quality also makes for a weather resistant night vision monocular. Weather resistant shouldn’t be confused with waterproof, but it shouldn’t be damaged if you get caught out in the rain with it.
Moving on to the insides, you will find a 2x24mm lens. The two times magnification makes this a good all-round scope, but you won’t be getting too close to your target. The lens size is sufficient for the magnification, and it does let in enough light. There’s a built-in infrared illuminator which makes things much brighter, but due to the lens size and magnification factor, if there’s decent moon light outside you shouldn’t even need it. It’s worth noting that even though this is actually a Gen 1 night vision device, the optics quality gets dangerously close to Gen 2. There is a 400 foot maximum range, and the field of view at 1000 yards is 105 feet, which is very respectable. All of those internals are powered by two AA batteries, which should last you for a good while.
When you take everything into consideration, if you’re in need of a lightweight night vision monocular that rivals high-end scopes, yet is priced competitively, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better option. The build quality is there, the specs are admirable (provided you don’t need any crazy magnification), and the price is within reach of many. To be fair, the only thing limiting this night vision monocular from being the absolute best is the fact that you can’t get it everywhere. If you live in a place where you can actually get it, there’s no reason not to.
Departing from the common Gen 1, Gen 2 and Gen 3 devices, we have Leopold’s LTO Tracker. This makes use of thermal imaging technology instead of regular night vision, which is a completely different beast. Leupold are another well-known name in the sports optics game, but is the LTO Tracker something you should be taking a look at? Well, for some it might be, so let’s take a look.
As we mentioned, you will find thermal imaging technology inside the LTO Tracker. If you ask anyone who’s worked with such tech, they can tell you that if you want it to be worth it, you’re going to spend a pretty penny. The unfortunate thing is that even though you might think you’re getting a thermal imaging device at a fraction of the price of commercial devices, you’re also getting just a small amount of the performance as well.
As far as power goes, there’s a 1 to 6x magnification factor, and an advertised rating of up to 600 yards. What we’ve found, however, is that the usable range is no more than 200 yards. As we mentioned, the performance is lackluster, and trying to look at things that are too far away will result in blurry images. The display has a resolution of 240×204, which isn’t a lot. Its temperature range is rated from -4 degrees Fahrenheit, to 140 on the other end. In warm weather, this shouldn’t be a concern, but when you’re living in colder areas, that bottom end might be an issue. The monocular will give you a choice of six color pallets, all of which work great in certain environments. This does add a lot to the scope’s versatility. It works off a single CR123 battery, and you should get around 9 to 10 hours of use out of it.
On the outside, it’s built pretty well. It won’t handle being submerged, but it’s weather resistant to a point where you don’t have to worry about a drop or two of water. With its plain black design and three-button operation, it won’t win any design awards either. The buttons are the power switch, zoom plus and minus, and the color palettes toggle.
We didn’t have a lot of good things to say about it, so who is it for? To be honest, if you’re a landowner who wants to keep track of their property, there are much better devices out there. You need a good night vision monocular, not a thermal device. However, if you’re a hunter, this can easily help you spot things such as animals sitting in a tree, or blood trails of that boar you just shot. You should note that that won’t work very far either, but if you’re comfortable with that, it could work for you.
If you’re willing to pony up and pay a bit more, Armasight have a very rugged multi-purpose scope for you. They took a Gen 1 scope, and improved a few things, to end up with image quality that rivals some budget Gen 2 night vision monocular devices. Their price is a touch higher than a Gen 1, but it’s still nowhere near a good Gen 2 device. It also has a few extra tricks up its sleeve that add a lot to its versatility.
When you first look at it from the outside, it doesn’t look that special. An all-black exterior which is both compact and rugged at the same time, and it’s obvious it was built with durability in mind. That design is also completely water and fog resistant, something neither of the options above are, and something that’s quite welcome in a product meant for the outdoors. The controls are ergonomic, and very simple to operate, which is excellent if you don’t want to waste time on that. You can also mount it on your head, which lets you use it hands free, and is something generally reserved for binoculars instead of night vision monoculars.
Moving on to the inside, this is where things get interesting. A Gen 1 tube is commonly made of glass, which means that they’re fragile, easy to get damaged, and image quality is somewhat lackluster compared to a high-end scope. However, Armasight have redesigned the tubes, and the Spark comes with their CORE image intensifier tubes. Core stands for Ceramic Optical Ruggedized Engine, and with the fact that it doesn’t have a micro channel plate, it’s still technically a Gen 1 scope. However, the ceramic compound that’s used instead of glass is actually more similar to the materials used in a Gen 2 or Gen 3 scope, hence the quality is much closer too. Edge distortion is almost completely removed, and photo-sensitivity is substantially better. The most important thing? The resolution is almost double that of a Gen 1 scope, coming in at 70 lp/mm. The scope does have an IR illuminator built in, but comes with a 1x magnification, which means no zoom. There’s an optional 3X lens for it as well, if you would prefer to get a bit closer, though. Everything is powered by a single CR123 battery, and you can also use a rechargeable one, provided it has a voltage of 3.2V. Battery life is an estimated 40 hours.
Granted, the Spark CORE IIT isn’t for everyone. As we said in the beginning, it costs a bit more than a Gen 1 scope, even when compared to something like Bushnell’s Night Watch, and you don’t even get the brand reputation Bushnell has, or the zoom lens. However, if you put that aside, and take into account everything that you do get, it’s actually worth it. The night vision technology is stunning, it’s completely sealed against the elements, and with the optional attachment and zoom accessories, it’s incredibly versatile as well. If you’d rather have that, instead of a brand name and reputation, you can’t go wrong with the Armasight.
Moving on from Armasight’s somewhat expensive monocular, we have something that’s sure to please people looking for a budget alternative. The Jaybrake Firefield comes in at a fraction of the price, while providing an entry-level user with everything they need for an all-round night vision monocular. No compromises in terms of build quality, or performance, and the scope won’t leave you wanting more. Let’s take a closer look.
Kicking things off with the specification, the Firefield has a Gen 1 intensifier tube. The lens is 50mm in diameter, and optics are multi-coated. As you’ll see in the buyer’s guide below, this is fairly common for monoculars at this price range. You get 4x magnification, which should let you get relatively close to what you’re looking at. The lens diameter is sufficient for this magnification, and does let in plenty of light inside. To help with visibility, there is a built-in LED IR illuminator. This ensures that even in total darkness, you can still have adequate visibility. Power is provided by 2 AAA batteries, which should last around 20 hours if you use the IR illuminator, or up to 72 hours without it. All things considered, as far as specs go, you get a respectable amount of features, especially if you factor in the price.
Moving on to the outside, there’s a fairly rugged build that you’re getting. There is an ergonomic, slender construction, optimized for a good grip and durability. The rubberized coating ensures the monocular won’t slip from your hands. At a weight of 21oz, it absolutely shouldn’t. It’s pretty lightweight, and you won’t feel it weighing you down. The objective cup will let you adjust the diopter and fine tune focus, and the whole night vision monocular is water resistant. The twist-up eyecup will prevent any light leakage, and add a touch of comfort for the user. If you’re wearing glasses, you’ll be pleased to know there’s a 12mm eye relief. While we’re discussing the exterior, it’s worth mentioning there’s a built-in tripod mount, so you won’t need an adapter if you want to use it for an extended period of time. When you’re done using the monocular, there’s a protective cap that prevents any dust or debris getting on the lens.
When you take everything into consideration, the Firefield night vision monocular is an excellent budget device. It won’t win any design, or performance awards, but it does manage to put all the essentials in an affordable package. The performance and optical clarity is stellar, and the build quality doesn’t leave much to be desired. The only potential downside would be that it isn’t completely waterproof, but at this price point, this would be considered nitpicking by many. If you’re on a budget, and need an all-round scope, definitely give the Firefield a shot!
Another budget-oriented night vision monocular, this one by Solomark comes with quite a bit of high tech features in it. It does come with all the essentials you would expect from a night vision monocular, and then some, and all while keeping the price very low. If you prefer technology to regular monoculars, do read on as we take a closer look at the Solomark. It’s bound to appeal to a certain mass of people.
We spoke quite a bit about the tech inside, so it only makes sense to start things off with it. With a regular night vision monocular, all you can do is look through it, but that’s pretty much it. With the Solomark, however, you get the ability to take a photo, or record a video of what you’re seeing. This is a great addition when you want to share what you saw with another person, or have it for yourself. If sharing is what you need, it is made easy with the AV and USB ports, which let you display any recorded photos or videos on a TV, or transfer them to a computer. Everything is recorded on an included micro SD card, so you won’t have to worry about that. Inside the monocular is a color LCD screen, which lets you view everything very clearly.
As far as “regular” monocular tech goes, the Solomark comes with multi-coated glass objectives, and an IR illuminator with 7 levels. This gives you around 100m, or 328 feet of visibility. However, since this is a budget oriented device, we’d be a bit careful with those numbers. You will most likely notice quality loss at the far end of that range, so we wouldn’t be overly optimistic. The zoom ranges from a non-magnified 1x, to 2x magnification, with the option of stopping at either 1.3x or 1.6x. Everything is powered by four AA batteries which you’ll have to supply for yourself. Considering all the tech that’s crammed inside the scope, it’s no surprise it requires a bit more juice than other products on the market.
On the outside, you have a rugged rubberized grip. The whole monocular weighs around 9oz, so you don’t have to worry about it slipping out of your hand. However, if you’d rather stick it on a tripod and not have to hold it continuously, there’s a tripod mount built-in. You will also find things such as strap mounts, so you can put it on a strap. The buttons are all on the top, and they’re placed so you can easily operate the monocular without giving it too much thought. A potential downside is that changing the batteries is pretty difficult. The battery cover is on the bottom, but it’s pretty stiff, and you will be required to use quite a lot of force to get it to open. This might be reassuring in terms of quality, but the cover is plastic, and breaking it might be easier than it should be.
When you take everything into consideration, the Solomark certainly isn’t for everyone. If you’d prefer image quality to high tech, it absolutely isn’t for you – something like the Firefield above would do a much better job there. However, if you’re someone who wants to share what they see, and have the ability to review it afterwards, you’ll appreciate the functionality that’s built in the Solomark. If tech is your cup of tea, it’s one of the best budget options on the market today.
Stepping away from the budget options, we come back to a name we all know too well – Bushnell. This time it’s their Equinox Z night vision monocular, which is a versatile monocular with incredible image quality. We already know Bushnell’s reputation in the sports optics market, so we won’t waste time talking about that. Instead, we’ll focus on the monocular itself. Let’s begin.
The first thing we need to get out of the way is which monocular we’re talking about. When you’re looking at the Equinox Z, there are three options: 3×30, 4.5×40, and 6×50. Whichever one you choose, though, the specs are the same, bar for the magnification factor, lens size, and weight of the scope itself. With the smallest one, you get a 3 times magnification and a lens diameter of 30mm, which gives you a field of view of 30ft at 100 yards. The weight is 15oz, and the effective range is 656 feet. The larger 4.5×40 comes with a 4.5x magnification and 40mm lens, which results in a 28ft field of view, a weight of 22oz, and a range of 738 ft. The largest of the lineup has a 6x magnification and a 50mm lens, for a field of view of 20ft, 27oz weight, and an impressive 984ft range. What should be noted is that we’re talking about Bushnell – the range that the monocular promises is the range that you’ll be getting, no compromises here. It’s also worth mentioning that the pricing varies wildly between each option, so the smaller you go, the less money you’ll be spending. Now that we got the differences out of the way, let’s talk specs and performance.
The Equinox Z isn’t your typical cathode tube night vision monocular. Instead, it makes use of a CCD chip which processes the incoming infrared light. This is technology usually used by an IR security camera, and in terms of image quality, it falls somewhere between Gen 1 and Gen 2. All of the monoculars will give you a choice between 1 to 3x digital zoom, which is a nice addition to the magnification factor. The glass objective is multicoated, resulting in optically clear images. There’s a bit of tech built in as well, with the video out capability of the monocular which lets you share what you’re seeing. The built-in IR illuminator can be switched off, letting you use the Equinox Z as a regular monocular during the daylight without damaging the interiors.
On the outside, you’ll find rugged housing that makes the monocular water resistant. The rubberized grip ensures it won’t slip out of your hands, and there’s a tripod mount at the bottom if you’d rather leave it stationary. The night vision monocular works with 4 AA batteries which you’ll need to provide. What should be noted is that eye relief is almost nonexistent, which may be a major problem for people who wear eyeglasses. This is the only downside to an almost-perfect night vision monocular. There’s even a picatinny rail mount which lets you either mount the scope to a rifle, or mount accessories to the scope itself. It has been tested up to 350 Gs, so you can go ahead and stick it to that red dot sight you have. It is, however, a touch too big for a helmet mount.
Provided you don’t wear eyeglasses, this is an excellent contender for the best night vision monocular you can get today. Performance is better than a Gen 1 scope, build quality is excellent, and you get a choice of magnification and lens diameter, so you can go ahead and pick the exact one you need. To add to that, behind all that is Bushnell’s reputation as a leading sport optics manufacturer, which should be enough to give you all the reassurance you need.
If there’s one thing we learned while assembling this list, it’s that bigger is usually better, but there are some noteworthy exceptions to that rule. One of those exceptions is the Firefield 5×50 Nightfall 2. It might look tiny when you put it next to some of the other competitors in the budget night vision monocular category, or other monoculars in general, but it undoubtedly packs a punch. If you think that you won’t need it very often, and would rather not invest too much money, but demand quality and performance once you do need it, this is the best choice for you. Read on and you’ll see why.
We’ll start things off with the design. It might come in a compact body, but it still has a 50mm lens, which lets in plenty of light. This also gives it a pretty recognizable design, which fortunately isn’t too front-heavy. There are side buttons that are fairly large, meaning you can easily find them by feel. The body itself is made of plastic, and it is rubberized on the outside. This is one of the downsides of the Nightfall, as the construction makes us feel like it wouldn’t survive a drop if it fell from, say neck height. It is, however, completely weather resistant, which does include fog, so you don’t have to worry about rain or extremely humid weather damaging your monocular. The scope is powered by two AA batteries, which give you around 20 hours of use. Turn off the IR illuminator, however, and that number easily triples. Unless you’ll be spending a week out in the field, this shouldn’t be an issue. The Nightfall 2 has a somewhat understated overall design, but you’ll be using it in the dark, so as long as it works and is comfortable, who cares?
There’s a 5x magnification factor with the monocular. Combine that with the 50mm lens, and you have a field of view of around 15 degrees. In terms of resolution, you get a respectable amount of 36 lines per mm, which is what most Gen 1 devices offer at this price range. Without the IR illuminator, you can expect to have a good view at up to 75 feet with a little light. If you need more than that, just activate the infrared light, and that range becomes much longer. Note, however, that the night vision illuminator shouldn’t be activated during daylight, as this will damage the device.
At the end of the day, there’s certainly plenty of choice when you’re looking at the best budget night vision monocular for your needs. However, few will offer the optical clarity and performance the Nightfall 2 does. Even fewer will do that at the price, and compact construction of the Nightfall 2. If you’re in the market for such a device, save yourself some time and just get it. You won’t regret it.
We spoke about the Jaybrake Firefield as a great budget all-round scope. We also spoke about the Solomark night vision monocular, as a tech-packed solution. But what if you want the best of both worlds? What if you’re willing to pay a bit more money to get a monocular that’s not only excellent as a regular night vision device, but has some extra tech features? Fortunately, with Bestguarder, you won’t need to spend thousands on such a device. Their 6×50 HD night vision monocular is well within the budget of many buyers, so read on to see why it’s worth your attention.
To start things off, we’ll talk about the “regular” night vision scope things. The 6x magnification lets you get really close to your subject, and unlike with some budget options, you won’t notice any quality loss as you up the range. If you don’t mind a bit of compromise in terms of quality, there’s also a 1-5x digital zoom option. The 50mm lens diameter lets in plenty of light. You have an 850Nm IR illuminator which lets you easily see up to 1150 ft in pitch black scenarios. If, however, you need to use it during the day, you can just switch it off and not damage the electronics inside. For everything in-between, you have four levels of adjustability, making this a truly versatile scope. All optics are fully multi-coated, which ensures glare is minimized and there’s optimal light transmission.
Moving on to the tech, the first thing you’ll notice is the 1.5” TFT screen. Operating it is extremely easy, as the buttons on the outside are placed so that you can get used to them very easily. The user friendly interface only makes things easier, and the menu can be operated in no less than seven languages – pretty impressive if English isn’t your primary language and you’d rather have something that hits home. Everything you see through the night vision monocular can be recorded as both photo and video. The photos come with a 5 megapixel resolution, and the video is recorded at 720p, and includes sound. Sharing what you saw has never been easier. This, and the fact that you can power the monocular with an external battery or power bank, make it also usable as a live IR surveillance camera. All footage is recorded and stored on an SD card (you’ll have to supply one), and you can transfer it in real time to a TV or computer using the video output port. You even have the choice between PAL and NTSC.
On the outside, there’s a high quality and well thought out build. As we mentioned, buttons are easy to use, and the whole body is rubberized to increase comfort and ease of use. It comes in at 1.54 pounds, which isn’t too impressive. However, consider the 50mm lens and all the smart tech inside, and that weight is more than worth it. There are two tripod mounts on the body, as well as a picatinny rail mount so you can attach a more powerful IR illuminator, if you happen to need it. One thing that we didn’t see on any other scope on our list is the weather sealing certification. While most manufacturers only claim it’s “water-resistant” or “waterproof”, here we have IPX4 certification which tells you clearly how resistant the monocular is. In this case, IPX4 means that the monocular is completely protected from splashing water at any direction.
To sum things up, the Bestguarder is a great combination of an all-round budget-oriented scope, and one that is very tech oriented. Regardless of whether you just want to watch or observe, or you want to review and/or share everything afterwards, it’s a great night vision monocular to have in your bag on your next adventure.
Ask anyone who’s ever worked with thermal imaging devices, and chances are FLIR is the first name that springs to mind. From their smartphone attachments, to their night vision thermal devices, FLIR is what you get when you want a thermal device, but don’t want to spend north of $10k. The FLIR Scout TK is a pocket sized thermal night vision monocular. If you’re a camper or wildlife observer who wants to see in the dark, it’s great for you. The Scout uses heat to read its environment, and the image contrast provided through temperature variations ensures you can see just about everything. There’s a big difference between night vision and thermal imaging, and it’s something worth knowing.
When using it in complete darkness, there’s a 20 degree field of view, and a range that easily exceeds 100 yards. Even at that range, you get unparalleled clarity. If you’re looking at an object, the object’s size doesn’t really matter. What does is whether the object has a significant heat signature. If it’s an animal, for example, when it’s active, you can easily see it. When it isn’t, its body doesn’t radiate as much heat. For example, a zebra is easy to see, but a polar bear might not be.
The user interface is really easy to use. There are a few color options, and depending on what kind of light contrast you’re dealing with, you can set the most suitable scene. Note that going through each setting might be a bit time consuming, and you might miss what you’re looking at if you aren’t lucky. The build quality is stellar, and even though it’s not something you want to be throwing around, it should survive a drop or two. The four buttons on the top are easy to find by touch, making for an even easier operation. The whole monocular is IP67 rated, making it the most weather resistant night vision monocular on our list.
The Scout TK also has some smart functionality, such as photo and video recording. The quality won’t be spectacular, but it absolutely does the job. You can record around 1,000 photos, or around four hours of video before the storage is full. The only downside here is that there’s no sound recording. All footage can be moved to a computer via a USB cable.
The final words for the FLIR Scout TK are more or less similar to what we had to say about the Leupold LTO Tracker. It is a very good device, it’s built like a tank, it’s incredibly easy to use, and image quality is more or less what you’d expect from a thermal imaging device that doesn’t cost as much as your new car. However, where it shines is in situations such as hunting, or home security at night. If you’re a wildlife observer, or someone who doesn’t really focus on animals that much, you’d be much better off with a regular night vision monocular which uses an IR illuminator, instead of a thermal imaging device.
Sightmark are known to make products with great optical clarity, and all while keeping the price low. Such is the case with the Sightmark Ghost Hunter 2×24 night vision monocular. There is nothing that screams quality, or something that implies incredible build quality. However, as they say, the devil is in the details. The Ghost Hunter is an all-round device. It won’t excel at one particular thing, and it’s instead fairly good at all of them. Whether you want it for all-round usage as a spotting scope, or as a device that’ll help you keep your home and back yard secure, it’ll do the job. Let’s see just how good it is.
We’ll kick things off with the design. At first sight, it is pretty compact and comes with a low-profile design. Due to the small lens, it is very light, at less than 9oz. If you want a monocular that you won’t feel like you’re carrying, this is a safe bet. The whole body is made of durable plastic, and it comes with an IPX3 rating. You won’t be able to put it fully under water, but in case you get caught out in the rain, it should stay protected. The buttons are all on the top, and they’re convenient and easy to remember by feel. On the bottom, you will find a tripod socket. You can also use that socket to mount it on a weapon as well. Power comes from two AA batteries, which should give you around 20 hours of use if you use the IR illuminator. Switch it off, however, and you can easily get up to 70 hours of battery. That IR illuminator also comes with a nifty auto switch-off feature, in case you expose it to bright light. Doing this when it’s turned on can severely damage the night vision tube, so this protection mechanism is pretty handy.
Moving on to the inside, 2×24 won’t get you too close to your subject. For that you might want a magnification factor of 4x or more. However, if you need a general observation night vision monocular, the 2x magnification factor is actually a good number. The 24mm lens lets in plenty of light, and the combination will give you a 25 degree field of view. This is actually wider than most of the other scopes we spoke about. The resolution should be around 36 lines per mm, which is fairly decent for a somewhat budget-oriented scope. The maximal detection range is 131ft, which is plenty when considering the magnification factor. Minimal focusing distance is 3.2ft, excellent for close range observation. The IR illuminator has 805nm, plenty to light up just about anything you might be looking at.
So, who is the Sightmark Ghost Hunter 2×24 for? Well, it’s certainly not for everybody. As we said, it doesn’t have a “wow” factor. You won’t find incredible optics, even though optical clarity is absolutely stellar. You won’t find any smart tech, such as recording photos and videos either. If you’re looking at something that’s further away, the 2x magnification factor might not cut it. But if you need it for its wide field of view, or its ability to be used at close distances, it’s excellent. It won’t get a “Best design” award either, but it is subtle, lightweight and very easy to operate. If these are all things you appreciate and demand in a night vision monocular, you should absolutely give it a shot.
The buyer’s guide
Now that we have the products themselves out of the way, let’s see how we can help you choose one. Not all of them are budget oriented, and making an informed buying decision is crucial when you’re spending your hard earned money. Let’s see where your money should go.
Know your generations
Night vision devices in general come in a few generations. Depending on how much money you can spend, getting a better generation can give you huge improvements in terms of overall image quality, contrast, sharpness, as well as useful range. If you’re after a budget oriented monocular, you’ll most likely end up with a Gen 1 device, which isn’t bad, but isn’t amazing either. If you can spring up for a better one, it might very well be worth it. Note that the ones we mention aren’t the only ones, but you won’t find any of the others in a night vision scope.
Gen 1 devices give you somewhat of a night vision capability. They’ve been around since the 1960s, and they are still offered on the market today. Their useful range tends to go up to 75 yards, depending on the light situation, and they might have some static and noise in the images. A Gen 1 device relies on a built-in IR illuminator which is always on, meaning if another person is using a night vision device, they can easily see you. The field of view is a bit small, and there’s noticeable distortion on the outside edges. Honestly, if you haven’t gotten used to a high-end monocular, you won’t be feeling like you’re missing out with a Gen 1 device. If you’re on a budget, go for it, they won’t disappoint you.
A Gen 2 device, even though it usually costs substantially more than a Gen 1, is often miles ahead in terms of performance. Useful range gets a bump at up to 200 yards, depending on the model, and the image is cleaner and brighter. They don’t need IR illumination, meaning they can work passively, and there’s no distortion on the edges of the image. Life expectancy is also around three times the one of Gen 1, and they tend to be a bit more reliable as well. If you can afford stepping up to Gen 2, you won’t regret it. But that begs the question, do you get a Gen 2, or do you make the leap to
Gen 3 is what’s currently the gold standard, and is what you’ll find being used by the Special Forces and militaries. The range is even higher at 300+ yards, depending on the model, and images are clean and sharp as well. Low light performance is incredible, and they have an even bigger ability to work passively. A Gen 3 tube lets you use it in any light conditions, and there’s virtually no “blooming”, which is image distortion when you have excess light. When used with a magnification lens, their performance is unparalleled, and their life expectancy is upwards of 10,000 hours. If you aren’t limited by budget, Gen 3 is the place to be.
Consider the magnification and field of view
This goes without saying when you’re buying such a device, as you should always consider the field of view and magnification, and how they work with your requirements. The magnification is how much closer the image will be to what you’re seeing, and the general rule of thumb is to stay at around 4x or 8x magnification. If you’re getting a higher end model, and need more magnification, you could go up to 10x. However, budget oriented monoculars with this much magnification tend to suffer from image quality loss. Another thing to keep in mind is that the higher magnification you get, the heavier and clunkier the monocular itself will be. This makes it a bit less comfortable to use as well, and you might not really need that much. If you’re getting a high magnification monocular, get a high-end one, budget ones aren’t that good.
As far as field of view goes, it actually depends on the magnification. The field of view is basically how much of the image you’ll see at once. Think of it as a window – the bigger the window, the more you can see outside. When you have a higher magnification, there’s a smaller field of view, as the image is more zoomed in. At a lower magnification, the field of view is generally a bit wider. If you want the best night vision monocular for all-round use, get something that gives you both a decent magnification, and a wide field of view.
Note the transmittance
The transmittance is actually a fairly important factor that you don’t see listed on many spec sheets. In layman’s terms, it is the amount of light that gets through the monoculars, and to your eyes. Contrary to popular belief, just like with any optical devices, things such as lenses and coatings actually cause a small amount of light to be lost before it actually gets to your eye. This can mean that some quality is lost, as well as a small amount of clarity. For a good night vision monocular, you’ll want at least 90% transmittance.
Lens size and coating are important as well
When you’re shopping for a monocular, chances are you will see numbers, for example 5x60mm. The first number is the magnification, in this case 5 times. The second, however is the lens size. Lens size plays a major role in both field of view, and image quality. When you have a larger lens, it has the ability to let in more light. More light means a better image, more details and higher clarity. However, it also means a larger night vision monocular, which adds both weight and bulk. The best solution for an all-round monocular would be to find a middle ground in terms of lens size, and get the largest one you would be comfortable with carrying.
While we’re on the topic of lenses, we should also mention coating. Coating is most commonly spoken about when discussing digital camera lenses. The coating guarantees a quality finish, and usually adds anti-glare properties to your monocular. At the budget end of the range, monoculars often have at least one piece of glass coated. On the other end, with high-end optics, you get fully multi-coated lenses. This means that all of the glass pieces are coated with a protective anti-glare coating. This ensures better light transmission and clarity. In the middle of the range, you could get either fully coated, or multi coated lenses, which are also a good option if you can’t get the high end. Note, however, that with a budget option that is only coated, without an anti-glare finish, using them in direct light might be a problem and might damage the monocular.
Eye relief is important
When you’re shopping for anything from night vision devices, to binoculars, you’ll often find the term “eye relief”, with no real explanation as to what it refers to. Eye relief is how much space there is between your eyes, and the eyepiece, if you want to retain the complete field of view. Even though most manufacturers will actually list this clearly, which is preferred to having to test it out. Eye relief is important, especially when you need to use the monocular for longer periods of time. Needing to have it stuck to your eye all the time can be inconvenient to say the least. It’s an extremely important thing to consider.
And then, there’s the issue of people who wear glasses. Glasses shouldn’t be a reason for you not to be able to use a night vision monocular. If you do wear glasses, that’s somewhat of a barrier between your eyes and the eyepiece, and it’s recommended that you get a monocular with eye relief of at least 14mm. It’s a good thing that most manufacturers tend to have eye relief larger than that, so the choices aren’t that little after all.
Size and weight matter more than you think
Devices such as monoculars and binoculars are made for the outdoors. That means that you’ll have to carry them with you, be it on a strap around your neck, or in your backpack, when not using them. When it’s an hour long adventure, this might not matter much, but when you’re out for hours, weight and size are important factors. Therefore, when you’re choosing the best night vision monocular for your needs, getting a portable one that won’t weigh you down is important. Manufacturers commonly list the weight of their products, but you can also keep an eye out for things such as lens diameter and magnification, which as we said, add more weight and heft to the scope.
Other additional features you might appreciate
We got the basics out of the way, but that’s not all. Monoculars often come with plenty of features that add to their versatility, making them a great tool to have in your bag. For example, lately there are some night vision monoculars that make use of white phosphorus. A regular night vision scope gives you a green image, which may not be that pleasant after extended use. White phosphorus turns that into a black and white image, which is much easier on the eye, and you can look at it for longer periods of time.
And, with the latest advancements in technology, we have a lot of “digital” features that are commonly found on such devices. A few years ago, you could only look through a night vision monocular. Today, you can capture images and video, whether it’s to an SD card in the scope itself, or via a cable to a smartphone or computer. Some of them even come with LCD screens that make things even easier, and you’re also able to mount them to either a helmet, or a rifle, for example. These are all additional things that you may not need, per se, but they might come in handy in certain situations. It’s no secret that they may also be the reason for a higher price, so if you don’t need them, don’t pay for them.
Who needs what?
On our list, we have devices that wildly differ from one another. From a budget oriented monocular that doesn’t really do anything, to a thermal imaging device that lets you record photos and videos, as well as combinations of both. However, not every device on our list will work for everyone. Let’s take a look at what kind of device would work best for what kind of user.
- Thermal imaging devices such as the FLIR and the Leupold are best suited to hunters and people who need the device for home security. They’ll let you see blood trails and the movement of animals and people, but they’re somewhat limited by their close range and image quality. You won’t get an incredibly crisp and clear image, and the more you zoom in, the more you lose in terms of quality. If you need it for close range, and you need to see moving, living objects, that’s what you should be looking at.
- Budget oriented night vision monoculars with no smart features such as the Jaybrake Firefield are best suited for enthusiasts who won’t be using their night vision monocular every day, and won’t depend that much on it. Since they’re a budget option, reliability is a mixed bag, and they won’t often impress you with features. However, for a general, all-round night vision monocular, they won’t ask of you to spend too much money on them, and they tend to do the job really well. If you need it for general wildlife observation every once in a while, they’re a good option.
- Budget oriented night vision monoculars with image and video recording are more or less the same as above, but they’ll let you record everything you see, and sometimes, hear. If you’re a bit more enthusiastic about your outdoor adventure, to the level that you come back and think about what you saw, having the smart functionality is a godsend. The ability to review what you saw when you come back home lets you see things that you didn’t see out in the field the first time, and of course, there’s also the ability to share everything with other people. If you commonly go out with others and you want to share amongst yourselves, this is what you should be getting.
- Midrange to high end night vision monoculars such as the two Bushnell models we spoke about above are best suited for people who already have a bit of experience. If you’re such a person, you already know that demand a higher quality lens, optics that are fully multi-coated, and you’ll be using your monocular quite a bit. You demand reliability, and a brand name such as Bushnell can provide. Smart features often don’t matter to such people, and they can justify spending a higher amount of money, when they know they get build quality and optical performance in return.
All things considered, we hope that at this point, making an informed purchase decision is much easier for you. If you read through both our list, and our buyer’s guide, you already know what the best night vision monocular looks like, what your options are at various price ranges, and which one to get. We did our best to include a wide variety of devices, from thermal imaging ones, to high end monoculars from brands such as Bushnell. All of the night vision monoculars on our list are products that we would absolutely recommend, but as we said, not each one of them is great for everyone.
Depending on whether you’ll be using it once or twice a year, or once or twice per week, you’ll be ready to invest a little, or a little more money. Depending on whether you need it for outdoors, or for your home security, you’ll need a regular scope, or a thermal imaging one. There are loads of factors to keep in mind, so make sure you have your priorities set, and your budget in mind, and pull the trigger on the one that’s most suitable for your needs and requirements!