The 10 Best Night Vision Scopes of 2019

No matter what you were told, eating carrots isn’t going to give you the ability to see in the dark.  Luckily, night vision technology has advanced enough that you are covered! There was a time that even the cheapest 1st Generation night vision scope cost thousands of dollars.  Now they can be purchased for a fraction of that price and out perform those early scopes in every possible way.

You aren’t limited in options either.  There are so many models and varieties that you are almost spoiled for choice.  To help make sense of all the different brands, options, and lingo, we have scrounged up the best we could find and dove into the technology and science that makes a night vision rifle scope tick.

If you are troubled by nocturnal varmints or just want a piece of the latest shooting technology, soldier on.  If you are after the best night vision scope you can get your hands on, we will get you straightened out in no time!

Our Selection of the 10 Best Night Vision Scopes:

1. Armasight Drone Pro Digital

To kick things off on a high note, let’s take a solid look at Armasight’s digital night vision scope.  There is no worry about the generation of the technology with this weapon sight, the use of purely electronic image capture means that you get a bright, clear, and high res view at a fraction of the cost of the best optical scopes.

As far as a scope goes, this is as close as you are going to get to one that does it all without spending vastly more money.  This is a true scope in every sense with a 10x magnification that will function in any weather at any time of the day. You can put this on your rifle and shoot targets all day and then, when the light fails, transition to the image enhancement mode and keep shooting.  Technology like this is rare at best!

As a scope, the Drone Pro does very well with incredible eye relief, good magnification, a solid field of view, and small increment adjustment to get a solid 100 yard zero.  Simply put, this is one of the best scopes you can get in this price range even if it wasn’t night vision. Being newer technology, this is an impressive optic.

In night vision mode the view is clear and fairly crisp, on par with some of the better gen 2 night vision scopes but with a superior range than most of those.  Some reports say that visibility can be as high as 500 yards with good light and clear conditions. More realistically, it’s closer to 300 which is still phenomenal for night vision technology.

If the conditions are a little dark for the Drone Pro, there is a removable wide-angle IR illuminator as a part of the deal that will light things up like the noonday sun!  Combine this with easy video output and you can use this to record your hunt or simply output to an external device to show others what you see. Leave it off the rifle to use it as a night time spotting camera for around the house.  It even has a remote control!

Mounting is a breeze no matter your mounting system.  The easy throw, quick release mount will attach quickly and easily to any Weaver, Picatinny, or Mil-STD mounting system using a lever cam system that is secure and simple to use.  No matter what rifle you have, this optic should go on easy and be ready to shoot in no time.

Looking at the limitations, this scope is somewhat heavy at a little better than 2lbs which is quite a lot for an optic but not so bad for night vision.  It is among the heavier optics but not so much that it would be hard to manage. I would also have a hard time recommending this optic for magnum caliber rifles though it may perform better than I would anticipate.

For the price, you get an optic that is robust, weatherproof and with a decent run-time.  The technology is sound and everything seems to do just what it should. For what amounts to a budget night vision scope, you are going to have trouble finding one better than the Armasight Drone Pro.

2. ATN X-Sight II HD

ATN X-sight II

Night vision technology is still fairly modern but if there is an old dog in the industry its ATN.  The X-Sight represents all of their technical innovations over nearly a quarter of a century. If you are after a true full-featured night vision optic, look no further.  This thing has it all and then some.

Being the current trend in quality night vision, this is a digital system rather than an optical system and performs on par with some of the best optical night vision on the market while still being one of the most powerful on the market in terms of magnification.  All around this scope kills the competition.

As a scope, the X-Sight is variable from 8 to 20x with smooth zoom between the powers.  The image is very crisp and clear, even in the lowest light. Because its digital, you will never have to worry about washout.  You can even use this scope as a day scope and then transition to night vision once the sun sets.

The low light technology is superb, I would say some of the best while still being very affordable.  The nominal range out of the box is around a hundred yards but with the addition of an upgraded ATN illuminator, you can expect to get three times that.  No matter the range the image is clear in low-light with no blurring around the edges or washout from bright light sources.

Like many other digital scopes, you can record from the ATN X-Sight series but they have upped the game to full 1080p HD.  But they didn’t stop there. You can use the scope in RAV (Recoil Activated Video) mode to turn on the recording when you pull the trigger just to make sure you don’t miss the footage of your shot.  You can add a remote to make things a little easier and even stream the video to a smart device over wi-fi. This is the ultimate gadgeteer’s scope!

Still not satisfied that this is among the most hi-tech scopes out there?  How about the onboard compass, rangefinder, and ballistic calculator that can be used to line up every shot?  All of this is incorporated into the price of this scope. You would be hard pressed to get these devices alone for the price of this scope, much less altogether.

This scope isn’t all roses though.  At a weight of nearly 3 lbs. it can be hard to lug around but think of all you get for that weight.  While you are at it, you can also add on an external battery pack for up to 22 hours of continuous use on top of the 8 hours the standard unit has.

Mounting is a breeze with the standard Picatinny mount or switch to one of the more advanced mounts that are compatible out of the box like an A.R.M.S. or LaRue mount.  It may not be the easy quick change that comes with most night vision scopes but it is very rugged and durable.

If you are interested in just one scope that does it all, the ATN X-Sight is the scope you want, especially if you are looking for a night vision scope under $500!

3. Pulsar Digisight

Pulsar PL

If you are looking for something as close to mil-spec as you can get without paying the mil-spec price, Pulsar has you covered and then some.  While this is still a digital image enhancement device rather than true night vision, you will likely never know the difference. The quality of the image and the range are fairly close to what you would get out of a Gen 3 night vision optic.

If you are looking to build an awesome AR 15 night vision setup, you could do a whole lot worse than the Pulsar.  While they aren’t as feature rich as some of the other options on the market, they are very robust and have the subdued look that would be appropriate to the more tactically styled rifles.  On top of that, they are just an all-around fine scope.

Optically, the Pulsar Digisight does what a good optic should.  It has a good zero and is easy to set and reset if needed. It may not be the most powerful optic with only a 4.5x optical zoom and 6.75x digital zoom but it is plenty enough to get the job done.  All of the optics are clear and precise and do very well, especially at the lower power.

When it comes to night vision, this scope comes into its own.  The CCD display is clear and bright even on moonless nights. Targets are easy to identify, even as far away as 100 yards and sometimes farther on a clear night.  If the zoom were higher, I have no doubt you would be able to see much farther but with the lower zoom levels, you can get a much crisper image for positive identification.

Should it be a little dark, there is the ubiquitous IR illuminator that works quite well.  It is not as bright as many other illuminators but that is sticking with the more covert appearance of this scope.  It has plenty of power to do the job but in the very lowest light levels but there may be occasions when you would like a bit more.

Other options include video recording and remote control to get your shooting footage.  All of the focus happens internally through the video software and all of the menus blend into a very intuitive interface that makes setup, zeroing, and use much more simple than other scopes with similar features.

Battery life is somewhat limited unless you use lithium batteries but the addition of a backup external power supply will rectify the issue nicely.  The internal supply will get you around three hours of usable time where the external will add about 12 hours more. If you can manage to use any scope for more than 15 hours, there are more comfortable scopes but I doubt anyone will manage that feat anytime soon.

The scope is water resistant and reasonably robust though not as robust as some.  The weight does make it feel hefty and solid but it weighs in at almost 4lbs which is quite heavy for a scope.  Still, if you are looking for a night vision scope for AR-15s or other tactical rifles, this is a solid bet.

4. Bushnell Equinox Z

Bushnell Night Vision Scope Equinox

Bushnell has been producing optics for decades and while they may be relatively new to the night vision world, they have given a solid effort and produced a quality digital scope that is small and light making it about the perfect night vision scope for smaller rifles such as varmint guns but with enough durability to withstand the power of most hunting rifles.

Optically, the scope isn’t really anything new or impressive.  It’s a fixed variable 1x to 3x magnification but has an optical quality quite a lot better than most night vision devices.  What more could you expect from a company that has made scopes for as long as Bushnell? For its purpose, the quality is probably a lot more than what you would need.

The optics may not be that special but the night vision is quite impressive for a company that has produced so few options in the night vision market.  You get crisp lines and a very clear view, that being one of the major benefits of a lower magnification. Sure, you won’t be hitting targets at hundreds of yards but that was never the intent.  What you can do is get up close and personal to identify your target and hit it just where it counts.

The Equinox series of optics are actually night vision monoculars that have been cleverly designed to accept a base to mount to a rifle.  This gives them a unique look unlike most other scopes and helps to reduce the weight and size of the unit overall. The mounts are easy to use and will attach to a variety of rifles but are designed to fit the rail system used on most tactical rifles.

As far as extras go, you have the standard video mode but also the ability to snap hi-res images at the push of a button.  You can also use the built-in tripod adapter for a great little spotting setup if you don’t want to keep it mounted on the rifle.  As far as versatility goes, this is among the best by a far margin. Daytime color mode combined with high-quality low-light capabilities only adds to the usefulness.

Battery life is fairly good considering this scope runs on very affordable AA batteries.  The option to add an external battery would be welcome but unfortunately, that is not one of the capabilities.  For the price and cost of batteries, it will still get you through a night of hunting with no problems without breaking the bank.

This scope makes a great night time varmint rig, especially if you have a need to keep pesky critters out of your chicken coop or vegetable plot.  The size works very well with compact .22 rifles and doesn’t make them ungainly or hard to manage.

This may not be the very best rifle scope out there but for a night vision scope under 300 bucks, it will serve you very well and for years to come.  Or simply use it to keep an eye on the property after dark, it will serve that purpose equally well.

5. Sightmark Photon XT

Sightmark Photon Night Vision

Of all the digital night vision optics available, this may be my favorite.  It isn’t because it’s the best or most powerful but because of the look and function.  Rather being a huge and ungainly box on top of your sleek and tactical rifle, its slender and balanced look combined with a weight right at 2 pounds makes it a perfect pairing with any modern rifle.

I like the lower powered models that provide a clearer image.  The longer tube adds focal length making everything pop just a bit more than the compact scopes that rely purely on digital magnification.  The 4.6 is about perfect for this type of optic but more powerful options exist if you are willing to pony up the extra cash.

The night vision on this scope is spectacular.  Everything is very crisp, thanks in part to its black and white display rather than green tones.  If you plan to spend a lot of time on this scope, be sure to rest your eyes from time to time as the white light is a little harder to deal with than the green tones.  Still, the tradeoff for image quality is well worth it.

Like most digital scopes you can capture video while using this scope and it will function in either daylight or dark though it is a little sub-par if you aren’t taking advantage of the night vision capability.  Should it get a little too bright, the scope is protected from washout and has an IR illuminator if it happens to be too dark.

Mounting is straightforward using normal scope mounts or rings.  This is one of the few scopes with a diameter that will allow you to use any normal bases meaning it can mount to any firearm that can accept a normal scope.  Any rifle you have can easily use this scope and unlike many other night vision optics, you can even slap this on your crossbow.

By far my favorite feature on this scope is the digital windage and elevation adjustment.  This makes getting on target so much easier and convenient than trying to adjust a night vision scope with dials.  It also makes a lot of sense considering the nature of digital scope technology.

Among the many virtues of the Sightmark Photon is durability.  You would be hard pressed to find a night vision scope under 1000 bucks that could stand up to what this scope can.  Not only is it waterproof but it is also shockproof which is almost unheard of with any digital night vision scope.

Not to be outdone by other optics, the Photon also has an external IR illuminator and a variety of reticles to make it more versatile for any possible use under any possible conditions.  This really is the digital scope to beat and should be considered the baseline on which digital night vision is judged.

No matter your need, it is likely that the Sightmark Photon XT 4.6x42s digital night vision riflescope will serve you well.

6. Night Owl Optics NightShot

Night Owl Optics NightShot

Of course, if you are looking for high quality without all the bells and whistles, you can do that.  Not everyone needs video feeds or rangefinders so keep it simple. Go with something like the NightShot which provides you with everything you need in a night vision optic without adding anything you may not want to pay for.

Everything on this scope is purpose driven, even the low powered optics which are plenty good enough to get you out to the 150-yard mark with ease but maintain the clarity and resolution to be able to pick your target out of rough brush or debris.  This may not be an astounding feat of optical engineering but it is a feat of high-quality optics for an amazing price.

The night vision on this scope is amazingly clear, even at ranges in excess of a hundred yards.  You can easily make out the edges of your target and nothing blends together as is often the problem with lower cost night vision.  The resolution of the image is spot on for the size and everything looks crisp.

There is no video mode on this scope as is generally the case with digital optics but most people never use that feature anyway.  It’s an afterthought that most companies use as a selling point. If it fits with your needs, by all means, get a scope that records but if not, you can get a little more quality for your money by doing without.

The way this scope incorporates the high projection IR illuminator makes everything look clean.  The scope is overall very slender and preserving that look is an added bonus. Even on high, you can expect to get at least a couple of hours of solid use out of this scope for the price of a few AA batteries.  If you need longer, spares are very affordable!

This scope may benefit from some TLC as it is not shock proof but seems to hold up well even on high powered rifles.  It is weatherproof and deals well with temperature changes. You can’t ask for much more from a scope that weighs in at just over a pound, easily one of the lightest weight night vision optics available.

Mounting is simple on any Weaver or Picatinny rail system or even weaver bases for rifles that don’t come with rails attached.  Two thumb screws are used to secure the scope which may not be as quick as cams but are far more secure and will not come undone accidentally in the field.  It may not be robust but it will stay attached.

If you are into simple devices that are easy to set up and use, this scope is a knockout.  It will do everything you need and then some but without the added complication or cost of those features you really aren’t interested in.  It may look a little boxy but for the size and weight, it works out very well.

7. Bestsight DIY Digital Night Vision Scope

Best Sight DIY

This is just one of those products that you have to include, not because it is any way the best rifle scope for the money but because it is interesting and a viable option if you are just looking for a cheap night vision scope for AR-15s or similar tactical style rifles.  It looks like something that walked out of a sci-fi show and costs far less than any other night vision technology.

There are no optics per se on this setup.  You have to have those on your own. It uses an existing scope for its magnification and really benefits from scopes that are of lower power, something at 8 power or less for a preference.  The better the scope, the better the results.

The illumination potential of this scope is actually quite good considering the price but when you don’t have to deal with any optics, you can do a lot for very little cost.  It consists of a camera that mounts to the ocular lens of a standard scope and a view screen that connects via USB style connectors. You don’t look through the scope but at a screen mounted on top of your scope.  It is a little awkward but functional.

With this setup, you would expect the ability to record video but that is surprisingly lacking from this DIY setup.  It is possible to rig in a recording unit but probably not worth the cost or difficulty. Take it for what it is and use it as it was intended.  The whole setup is somewhat awkward and would be made more so by adding to it.

It does have a quite powerful IR illuminator in the form of an IR pen light that puts out quite a glow on full power, plenty to get out to useful ranges.  It mounts in a ‘C’ style clamp above the scope and sheds light over a large distance and area. That works in favor of scopes that have a large field of view.  Seeing won’t be an issue through this scope.

You will encounter some issues with night vision with this optic as the 4.25 LCD screen puts out a lot of light.  Enough that you probably wouldn’t want to use this in a hunting situation. The light would easily give away your position.  Like the IR illuminator, the screen attached via a ring atop your normal scope.

Really this is more of a toy than anything actually useful but it is quite fun to mess with and can actually be very versatile and useful if not mounted to a rifle.  It is a great setup for nighttime surveillance and is even small enough and light enough to take in a camping pack for use in the field.

If you are hard up for night vision, you won’t get it for cheaper than this.  Or maybe you just want something to toy with and have fun. Either way, this specific device works well and is functional if a little awkward.

8. Firefield NVRS Gen 1

Firefield Gen1

So far, we have been dealing with pure digital technology and its well past time we got on with a true night vision optic.  Not that the digital is bad but that there is some allure to the technology as it was originally designed. There is nothing like the image through real night vision, it’s something that a digital system will never be able to replicate.

Being an optical based scope rather than digital, the quality of the scope is already much better than most digital systems.  The glass involved is a big factor in the quality of the overall scope and in the case of the Firefield, it is quite good, better than you would expect for the price.

One of the great advantages of true night vision is the image quality which doesn’t have to deal with screen resolutions.  Images through this scope are quite clear and better quality than the older Gen 1 night vision optics. There are some digital scopes that do it better but not with the clarity you get with an optical system.

As far as the illumination goes, this is top notch for Gen 1 night vision.  It actually does look closer to what I would expect out of later, more modern technology.  It does have some blurring around the edges but not enough to cause issues and it adds a lot of charm and ambience to using this scope.  If you have never experienced the difference between digital and optical, you really need to before you decide what to buy.

There is no option to record through this scope.  That is a purely digital feature. This is a military style scope and features like that just aren’t important.  Stick to the basics and make something robust, why deal with recordings.

The IR illuminator on this scope is very powerful and does an amazing job at projecting a wide beam to light up anything you could possibly want to engage with this optic.  What’s better is that even at max power out of the IR, you still get better than 20 hours out of a single battery charge. If you run it more conservatively, you can get closer to 50.  There is no digital scope that can come close to that.

Mounting is done through an integrated Weaver base that is very strong and rugged and attaches and detaches in second.  Add that to full weatherproofing and a durable titanium alloy body and you have one of the most robust units on this list.  I would say that this is easily among the best night vision under 1000 bucks that you could hope to get.

If you are interested in getting into the world of night vision and you want something that is usable and durable with that military feel and function, this is the optic with no doubts or reservations.  If this is your first night vision scope, you will be immensely satisfied.

9. Pulsar Trail XQ

Pulsar Trail XQ30

Of course, if you want the best of technology it’s time to go thermal.  Sure, they aren’t cheap but nothing beats a thermal night vision rifle scope when it comes to locating a target.  Anything alive is going to stand out so bright that you couldn’t possibly overlook it even if you tried. These are purely amazing technology!

In the case of the Pulsar, this is among the best consumer grade thermal optics on the market right now and they are optically amazing.  You can get one in either fixed or variable power ranging anywhere from a max of around 6 power up to around 20 power which is insane for a thermal optic.  Whatever you pick, everything will be crystal clear.

Thermal optics work a bit differently than normal night vision which usually goes too faint to see at around 200 yards max.  In the case of the Pulsar, it can detect heat signatures out to almost two kilometers. That is an astounding range and unless you are one hell of a shot, you aren’t going to get there with a 20 power optic.

There is no need for any type of IR booster on these scopes.  They don’t need or use them. They read the thermal IR that comes off a target naturally rather than reflected light.  But that doesn’t stop Pulsar from offering one of the most ergonomic and feature-rich optics on the planet.

This scope has onboard recording for every shot you take and the thermal IR makes for some impressive images, especially seeing a bullet hit your target.  It can store up to 8gb of video on board and considering the lower resolution of the video, that is hours of footage. But it doesn’t stop there. It can also stream that footage straight to a smart device for secondary recording or just so your hunting buddy can see what you see.

To ensure they weren’t outdone, Pulsar has also included software to help you with target identification and a rangefinder to make sure you are right on target.  All of this happens in your display that comes with over a dozen reticle options so you are sure there will be something you like.

The scope is waterproof and quite rugged for long nights in the field and is capable of running for up to 8 hours on a single charge so it can go as long as you can, maybe longer.  This is seriously the scope to beat in the thermal market. Simply mount it to your chosen Picatinny platform with its quick detach cam mount and you are ready to go.

10. ATN Thor HD

ATN Thor-HD

Now that we have sung the praises of the Pulsar, let’s look at an ATN thermal scope which is widely regarded as some of the most technically advanced optics on the planet.  I am not going to tell you that the ThOR is the better option or that it is the worse option. The ATN ThOR Thermal Scope is one of the best-selling pieces of night vision technology on the market and for good reason but as to which is best for you, that will be your decision.

Optically all ATN thermal scopes are very high quality.  The ThOR can be purchased anywhere from a small 1x to 10x scope all the way up to a 5x to 50x monster that can really reach out there.  Any of these scopes are going to be optically clear with great image resolution and crisp, sharp displays. It’s all a matter of how far you want to shoot after dark.

The thermal technology may not be quite as powerful as some thermals on the market but you will be able to easily pick up targets as far away as you would care to shoot in the dark and probably farther.  The sensitivity of the thermal imager means that the targets you do see will be well defined and clear enough to identify.

When it comes to extras, the Thor is loaded down.  Much like other digital scopes, you can record video of your shots and with ATN’s recoil activated video, you will be sure to capture each shot as it takes place.  The video is much higher quality than comparable units and can be streamed to a smart device for posterity.

Nearly all ATN optics have some form of ballistic compensation, being what ATN has become known for.  With the ThOR you get a high-quality ballistic computer that is coupled with an onboard smart rangefinder so you will always be dead on your target.  If you miss, that’s on you. The scope does its job.

Mounting is done with a dual cam quick release that will attach to your preferred Picatinny rail and will stay there until you release it with is positive lock.  That is just one example of the ruggedness of this weatherproof and very durable optic. It was designed for the field and can stay there quite comfortably, no matter the situation.

If you have the money to spend, it is hard to beat any optic by ATN, especially their night vision.  The Thor is just another fine example of a quality product from a great company. You get what you pay for and, in this case, you really are paying for one of the best thermal optics available to a consumer.  You won’t be disappointed.

Buyers Guide

Choosing the best night vision scope for you and your specific needs can be a challenge.  Generally speaking, night vision scopes are far from an affordable rifle scope that you would use during the day.  Many are quite expensive and even the simplest night vision scope is a very complex piece of technology that has many different variables and options that most shooters are unfamiliar with.  To make the best decision on where to invest your money, consider the following:

Basic Considerations

Before anything, you need to understand the three criteria that will be most crucial to the performance of any night vision device.  These are Range, Gain, and Image Quality. What will determine each of these factors depends on the technology and generation of the night vision you choose.  Considering these ahead of time will allow you to make a more conscious decision on any of the following criteria.

Range is just the same as with any other optic you would put on your firearm but with one additional consideration.  Typically, range is fairly low on night vision optics due to the range that infrared light can travel. Like a standard scope, you have your magnification to make your targets appear closer but you also have to worry about far you can see.  Your optic may be 10x but if you only see a hundred yards, do you need that much?

Gain is the amount of light amplification that your optic provides.  Low gain optics will need more ambient light or some form of IR light on board to make things easy to see.  High gain optics will require less light but may be washed out if light levels are higher in the area you use the scope.  Later model night vision has compensated somewhat for this washout effect.

Image Quality will mostly be determined by the generation of your night vision but other factors may affect this quality.  Having a scope that can see after dark does little good if you can’t make out what you are seeing. In the early days of night vision this was a huge concern but most scopes today have developed the technology to provide decent image quality in low light.

Technology

There are two distinct technologies used in night vision scopes.  When most people think of night vision it’s the monochromatic green display that comes from light amplification technology.  While these are the most common, thermal vision rifle scopes are becoming more popular and are the second option in night vision technology.

Light amplification scopes rely on having some form of ambient light which is electronically enhanced to provide a bright, clear picture for the shooter to use in identifying his target.  These are generally more affordable and far more common than thermal scopes. This technology has been available for a number of years and has undergone massive improvements over time.

Scopes using light amplification will only work if there is some light available from the moon or stars or an onboard IR laser.  Enduring that you have that light is mandatory if you wish to use the scope. Without some form of IR light, a thickly overcast night may be enough to prevent your scope from working.

Thermal scopes are often misconstrued as detecting heat.  In the loosest sense, this is true, but the more accurate way of describing the technology is that it detects infrared light in the thermal spectrum that is emitted from a target rather than other IR light that is simply reflected.  This means that you will never have to worry about how dark it is outside.

Thermal scopes are more costly than light amplification scopes and rely on more advanced technology.  There is really no such thing as a cheap thermal scope. They will often have a lower range of detection but within that range, they will make any animal shine like a beacon.  For locating a target in the dead of night, very little will beat a thermal scope.

The primary limitation in thermal technology is with target identification.  Because the target shows up as splotches of color depending on the amount of thermal radiation emitted, sometimes making out the shape of the target and determining your shot placement can be more difficult than with light amplification.

Both technologies are very beneficial but each has their own limitations.  Most of the time it will be the cost that is the determining factor but your intended use may also affect this decision.  If you start your planning with the type of night vision technology you are most interested in, it will help in determining the other qualities you would like your scope to have.

To see a comparison between these two technologies, check out this great video!

 

Cost

For the vast majority of people, cost may be the ultimate deciding factor on what scope is the best choice.  Luckily, prices on night vision devices have drastically dropped over the past 20 years. In the past, a good night vision scope would compare in cost to a new compact car and even a cheap pair of night vision binoculars would cost several hundred dollars.

Though thermal still remains quite expensive, you can get an adequate light amplification scope for less than most optical rifle scopes.  If the technology you are after is a FLIR thermal scope, expect prices in the thousands but if you choose a light amplification style, even the best gen 3 night vision scopes are less than a thousand.

Night Vision Generation

For most of the consumer models, all you need to understand is gen 1 night vision vs gen 2.  Gen 3 night vision exists and is currently the highest recognized level of night vision technology.  Avoid any claims that a product is gen 4 night vision as the military found that this technology was not viable.  Some products may claim a gen 5 night vision but no such designation exists.

Gen 1 night vision is the cheapest and has existed for over 50 years.  The primary advantage of these 1st generation optics is the cost which can be very low.  The disadvantages are lower resolution and blurry images around the edges and their light sensitivity and comparatively short maximum range of around 75 yards.

Most gen 1 night vision needs more light to work correctly and will often require onboard IR to function correctly.  The reverse side of this is that too much light can wash out the image completely and may even damage the unit. It is a decent technology and if you are after a night vision device, gen 1 will always beat none at all.

Gen 2 night vision is a huge improvement over the 1st generation optics.  They may cost more but the increased range, often up to 200 yards, makes them a good investment.  On top of that, the images are far clearer and they require less light to work correctly and can even work in most cases without onboard IR though it’s usually a good idea to have anyway.

Additionally, Gen 2 will have fewer issues with washing out or blooming than gen 1 and the overall image will be clear without any distortion near the edges.  Your scope is likely to last longer and will be far more durable. You can also expect much longer battery life.

Gen 3 is the gold standard and what is currently in use by the U.S. military.  You will get better range, performance and clarity than with any of the previous generations and far more durability and life expectancy.  If you are out for the best night vision rifle scope you can get, go for a gen 3 model.

You can expect to pay a premium price for gen 3 scopes, enough that at this level most of the time is the argument of gen 3 night vision vs thermal rather than a comparison of the different generations alone.  No one said that the best was cheap. If you want the best you have to pay for it.

There is another category of night vision that falls best under the heading of light amplification technology.  Rather than using optical sensors as a standard night vision device, some scopes use a digital device somewhat like a digital camera.  The quality on these varies greatly and the technology is somewhat new.

The chances of this new digital technology advancing the quality of night vision optics is high but in these early stages, it is still somewhat unproven.  You can get scopes using this technology that have great image quality at a more affordable price but realize that the durability and longevity of these devices may be less than you would expect.

A note under generations is that some scopes of each generation may come with white phosphor technology which makes images appear as black and white rather than the usual green.  This adds a level of contrast to the image and makes target definition easier. The drawbacks are that WPT is harder on the eyes and adds some cost to the scope.

For a more complete explanation of the generations of night vision, check out this article.

To see the difference in the generations, this video does a great job!

Magnification

Even those a night vision scope is still a scope, magnification is hardly the main point in having one.  You get night vision to see after dark, if you want magnification that is an option you will have to consider in addition to the primary purpose.  Most night vision scopes have comparatively low magnification more in line with their intended use. Some will have magnification closer to a normal optical scope.

Choose your scope magnification based on your intended use.  A night vision scope for hunting may need more magnification for varmints than it would if you were hunting hog for example.  You are unlikely to ever find a clear, quality night vision scope that has magnification over 10x.

Mounting

Mounting the scope to your rifle is no longer as difficult as it was with screw on bases and very few options.  Modern scopes use very precise rails for mounting and most any scope can be mounted to most any rifle. The difference is in the ease and cost of mounting them.

Some rifles will be ready to go with most any scope but some will require the purchase of additional mounting hardware.  This is an important point to consider before purchase. If you are looking for a night vision scope for an AR-15, most any option will work.  That is the platform that most of these scopes were designed for. If you want one for a standard hunting rifle, you may have more of an issue with mounting.  Explore your options and check the price of the mounting hardware you will need and take that into consideration when choosing your scope.

Options

The options on a night vision scope range from the almost necessary to those that are very situation and user specific.  As with anything, options always add to the cost but can sometimes land you with a product that you are more likely to be satisfied with.  Examine the other criteria above and select scopes based on those rather than allowing the options alone to guide your decision.

The most common option you will see on light amplification style night vision scopes is the IR illuminator.  This can range from almost useless on gen 3 scopes to mandatory on gen 1 scopes. Usually, a scope that needs this option will have it and those that don’t will not.  Occasionally you will find scopes in which this is an add-on feature that will be an additional cost.

Video recording is a somewhat common option and while it is completely optional, it is an interesting and fun feature to have.  The ability to record and playback your night-time hunts can make the cost of a scope much easier to bare. There will probably never be a need for this but it is something to consider and something that I have really enjoyed playing with.

Weight on a night vision scope is an option.  Unlike most rifle scopes where this can be a primary part of your selection process, the additional weight of all that technology on top of your rifle is just a given.  IF you can get something you are satisfied with that weighs less, go for it but it shouldn’t be a primary consideration over the criteria above.

Conclusion

The world of night vision and thermal optics is exciting and very enjoyable.  If you are an avid shooter or hunter, this is a way to add a new layer of capability to your rifle.  Hunting hog and coyote with night vision is some of the most fun hunting you can have.

Most states have laws in regard to use of a firearm after dark so be sure to check your local laws before engaging in any hunting beyond dusk.  The last thing you want to do is risk losing your investment over a lack of research on the topic.

With a price now that most people can afford some form of night vision, I would strongly urge you to give it a shot.  Even if you just use your scope to get rid of those pesky varmints around the farm, it will serve you well. Add one of these to a suppressed .22 rifle for getting rid of rats in the barn and you will have a blast for sure!

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