9 Best Night Vision Scopes Reviewed ( All Generations & Budgets )

Pulsar Digisight N960 LRF is also available at:

Sportsman’s Guide

Euro Optic

 

The Importance of a Quality Night Vision Scope

Night vision scope on gun

The good thing about capitalism is you can find an option for every use and price range, and the bad thing is trying to find a good night vision scope.

However, it’s important you do. A bad product will make it awfully hard to hit the target, especially if you can’t tell what it is.

When it comes to actually shooting, there is the rule to always be sure of your target and what’s behind it. If you can’t even tell what your target is, you shouldn’t be pulling the trigger.

A good product means you have the ability to see and tell what your target is. This is why you have to be picky when it comes to night vision scopes: you are putting them on a firearm or weapon of some kind.

You also want an optic that’s precise and zeroes easily. This goes back to hitting your target. The fact that it’s a scope is just as important as the fact that it’s a night vision device. It needs to be able to work as a scope as much as it does a night vision device.

 

How Does Night Vision Work

Magic?

Not quite, but night vision really is a technological wonder. What this tech does is boost the ambient light that’s both visible and invisible to create a picture.

Night vision devices can pick up ambient light from the moon, stars, and other similar sources, as well as invisible infrared light. Light enters the goggles and hit a thingamajig called a photocathode. This photocathode turns to light, which is made of photons, into electrons.

These electrons are then amplified by a photomultiplier. This creates tons more electrons. These electrons then hit a phosphor screen, where they create bright flashes of light. Those bright flashes of lights of so numerous and so constant it forms a picture.

That picture is light amplified and greenish in color. Night vision tech has evolved and shrunk over time, and different generations incorporate small differences in lenses, technology, and coatings, but the principle remains the same.

Night vision relies on some form of light, be it visible or infrared. In situations where there is absolutely no light, then night vision goggles won’t work.

For more in-depth explanation on how night vision works check this article.

 

Night Vision vs. Thermals

Nightvision vs Thermal view

Night vision and thermal scopes have a similar use but in many ways are complete opposites. Thermal devices detect heat and show it through a screen.

They are perfect for finding people and animals as fast as possible. Night vision still relies on your perception to actually find the target.

Both devices are handy, but night vision will give you more detail overall. You can easily identify the fine details of an animal or person with night vision. The same goes for details of an environment.

Thermal scope view

Thermals can’t tell you where a crossing is, or how deep a hole is, whereas night vision allows you to perceive this. In terms of logistics, thermal optics are much more expensive and quickly suck batteries dry.

They also generally have a shorter range, but the advantage is that they do not rely on moonlight. They can also safely be used during the day.

Nightvision scope sight

Night vision makes it easier to detect weapons, facial features, as well as individuals in a group. Some thermal units will turn a group standing close together into one glob of light.

One isn’t necessarily better than the other, as they both have distinct purposes. In my squad in Afghanistan, it wasn’t unusual to have a standard NOD and a thermal unit. They are both strong contenders for night time scopes and it’s really about what you need as an individual.

Click here for full NV and thermal optics comparison.

 

Night Vision Scope Generations

night vision generation comparison

Night vision scopes come in numerous generations. These generations were invented by the US Military and define the components and quality of the optic. The generations are separated by what type of image intensifier tube is used for that optic.

 

Gen 1

Gen 1 devices are the cheapest optics out there. They are widely available, and they are mostly for target shooting. They amplify light, but unless it’s used on the clearest of nights, you may need an attached infrared unit.

They are best used for close range shooting. They have a slight whine when used, and may have a blurry edge.

 

Gen 2

Gen 2 night vision scopes are where you get into more serious use, especially with Gen 2+ optics. Generation 2 night vision devices are where you can easily and safely hunt as well as do security and surveillance work.

Gen 2 devices have a micro-channel plate that creates more electrons for a clearer and brighter picture. These devices are great on gloomy and moonlit nights and will rarely require an infrared device.

 

Gen 3

Gen 3 devices are where NVG companies add an ion barrier film as well as a chemical known as gallium arsenide. These devices are extremely clear and bright and provide a crisp and clear picture.

Rarely will an IR light be needed. These are the current generation used by the United States military.

 

Gen 4

Gen 4 isn’t a military recognized generation, but one given by the growing night vision industry. Gen 4 devices are filmless and gated and provide the clearest picture you can get.

In low-light conditions, you can’t get a clearer picture than Gen 4 devices. The downside is the extreme price difference.

 

How to Choose A Right Night Vision Scope?

A person aiming through night vision scope

When it comes to choosing the right scope for you and your needs, you have to examine a few key factors. You have to be honest with your expectations as well as your budget in terms of how you want to use your system.

It’s much better to spend a little more than to obtain a system that just doesn’t work for you and be out a whole lot more money.

 

Budget

The first thing we need to examine is your budget. How much do you have to spend? Night vision devices of all kinds are expensive, and night vision scopes can be a little more advanced in terms of use and function. This requires a bit more money than something simple like a monocular.

A scope has to pack in magnification. This includes a digital reticle (and possibly multiple reticles), as well as a means to mount it to a rifle.

This all brings up the cost of the optic and makes night vision scopes a hair more expensive than your standard night vision device.

Inside the category of scopes, you also have to evaluate your budget, with some going for several hundred dollars and others going for several thousand. Like with most things, the sweet part is in the middle.

Past your middle-of-the-road optics, you start getting diminishing returns and the only shooters who would need a several thousand dollar scope are the kind that shoot guys like Osama Bin Laden.

 

Use Case

Sniper in gilli suite

Next, you have to examine what you want to use the system for. Shooting for fun is a lot different than hunting. If you are just shooting for fun, there is very little concern about the optic. Sure you want one that works, but it’s not a life-or-death scenario.

Recreational use

You can go with a cheaper optic with a lower overall clarity and simpler design. The use of night vision optics for plinking and recreational shooting is common, and you don’t need a top of the line optic—unless you want one, of course.

Hunting

Hunting is another growing use for night vision scopes. The feral hog population is booming in the United States, and most states now allow the pursuit of hogs after the sun goes down.

This has led to a massive interest in night vision scopes for killing these creatures. Other people using these devices are not specifically hunting animals, but defending their animals from predators.

In these situations, you want a crystal clear optic with a moderate amount of magnification. You want a crisp image to be sure you are shooting a legal animal.

Clear view through night vision scope

You can’t just shoot a green blob and hope it’s a hog, or coyote, or whatever. You have to be sure of your target when you pull that trigger. This means you need a clearer optic, something in the high-end digital vision space (Gen 2 and up).

As a hunter, you are going to be in the field, which means exposure to the elements, potential falls, dust, and even moisture. In this case, you are going to want an optic that’s a bit tougher than most.

You’ll also want an IR illuminator for times where the trees block out the moonlight, or the moon simply isn’t bright. An IR illuminator is a must-have tool for hunting with night vision.

Tactical

Tactical use of nightvision is almost always offensive in nature, and in this consideration it is also a piece of gear you have to stake your life on.

There is also the condition dealing with other people’s lives. In this case, you need the clearest view possible. You can’t mistake a guy holding a hotdog for a handgun and take a shot.

This means you have to go with optics that are Gen 2+ at the very least, and easily into Gen 3 and 4 scopes. These optics also allow for surveillance and observation of a target as well.

Taking a shot is not always necessary, so you want the ability to observe and report as well. Half of a sniper’s job is just scouting and reporting.

An optic for hunting will work well with shooting for fun, and an optic for security or police work will do all three well. What you can’t always do is take an optic designed for plinking and target shooting and expect it to be the best device for hunting.

To identify what works with your purpose, you need to examine important considerations like a product’s features, its resolution, and its performance in situations with no ambient light. These are critical to successful shooting.

 

Resolution

Resolution of night vision scope

The resolution of a night vision optic is defined in several different ways. Specifically, resolution with night vision is the ability of a device’s intensifier system to tell the difference between different objects that are close together.

Resolution is explained and measured in line pairs per millimeter, expressed as LP/MM. The higher the number, the higher the resolution—and generally the sharper and clearer the image will be.

Resolution is measured from the center of the optic, and near the edges you can always expect to see some distortion and lack of clarity.

The resolution of a device is typically tied to the optic’s generation. The higher the generation, the greater clarity you will have.

Resolution does not affect how bright the image will be, or incorporate no ambient light testing. Some devices need less ambient light, but that’s not a factor of resolution measurement.

Other effects on perceived resolution will be the signal-to-noise ratio, or SNR. Noise, also called scintillation, is that little bit of almost TV like static you see through an optic.

It’s normal and does affect the clarity of your picture. It’s more present in low light scenarios and will change as the light around you and your target changes.

 

Magnification

Magnified view through scope

How far are you planning to shoot is a big consideration as well. Shooting in the dark is hard enough, but it gets harder with little to no magnification when it comes to distance.

Unlike day optics, you won’t be seeing optics that have massive 25 power magnification levels. Typically you’ll see magnification top out at around 15x with digital zoom.

The issue with magnification and night vision is it reduces some of the image’s clarity. Most shooters aren’t shooting far enough to need some crazy level of magnification in the middle of the night.

A good 6 power will solve most shooters problems and allow them to see far enough to identify a target. In some scenarios, you may actually want less magnification.

In scenarios where you are shooting at close range the extra magnification is going to slow you down and make it hard to see your target.

The more magnification a scope has, the heavier, longer, and more expensive it will likely be. It really helps to range your typical shots and know what you need before you buy a night vision scope.

 

External Considerations

Night vision scope mounter on rifle

You also want to look at how strong and durable an optic is. Will it withstand the recoil of your particular weapon? The force generated from an AR 15 in terms of recoil is minimal.

The force that comes from a 338 Lapua is much more significant. A big question you have to ask is: will it withstand the recoil of your particular weapon? Companies will often tell you if it’s rated for light, moderate, or heavy recoil.

Remember, these optics are a combination of glass and electronics, which are both fragile by themselves.

What is its water and dust resistance? If your optic is going to be exposed to the environment, you need to consider what it will be able to withstand. This is critical.

When I was a young buck, I killed an expensive night vision optic because I assumed a military-grade device would be waterproof. It was not. Luckily, Uncle Sam footed the bill, but I learned a lesson.

Water-resistant and waterproof are two different things. The same goes for dust and debris. If it’s sealed for water, it’s sealed for dust. However, if you don’t know, it’s best not to assume.

Is the body aluminum or plastic?

Aluminium and plastic scope

Aluminum bodies resist drops, falls, and kicks better than plastic. They also cost a pretty penny more. Plastic bodies are great for budget sets and for plinking and light hunting, but when things get serious, go aluminum.

Ending Words

These are all things you need to consider to strike the right balance between price and utility.

Finding the right night vision scope doesn’t have to be hard. Isolate your needs and your budget, and then consider the options that fill those roles. It can be confusing, but if you take your time and examine the investment, you’ll be good to go.

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