There was a time when night vision scopes were only accessible to military personnel or law enforcement agents. They were very expensive and technical products that normal people couldn’t buy or use.
In today’s world, owning a night vision scope has become considerably easy. If you are a hunter or a target shooter who is out in the field at night, then a night vision scope is what you need.
Such a scope enables you to see at night when there is pitch black in your surroundings. These are battery operated devices that are divided into different Generations.
Before moving on to considering the factors that play an important role in choosing a night vision scope and then reviewing the top 10 scopes in this category, you to understand how these devices work and what are their common types.
Understanding Night Vision Technology
Night vision technology allows you to see at night. It either uses Thermal Imaging technology or Image Intensification in order to make vision at night possible.
Thermal Imaging Technology, as the name suggests, uses heat differences in order to detect hot objects. These objects usually appear as red blobs and you are unable to recognize your target.
Due to these reasons, image intensification is preferred over thermal technology. Under this technique, the available light is amplified which results in clear and bright images.
What happens is that that the light that is present in the surrounding is gathered and passed through the objective lens.
This light then hits a gallium arsenide photocathode tube which converts photons from this light into electrons. These electrons then transform into visible light.
The process of conversion of electrons to visible light is different in all the three night vision generations. These Generations are explained below.
Night Vision Generation
Night vision devices are generally divided into three main Generations – Generation 1, Generation 2 and Generation 3. These three are commonly available in the market and are referred to as Gen 1, Gen 2 & Gen 3.
Generation 1 (Gen 1) Night Vision
Introduced in early 60s, Gen 1 is the most basic and widely available night vision generation. It fulfills most of your hunting and shooting needs.
All Gen 1 devices have built in IR illuminators which project infrared light. This light cannot be detected by human eye but it can be seen in the night vision device. These infrared illuminators are always on.
Night vision devices with Gen 1 technology are also fairly inexpensive. Being simplistic and affordable, it has its drawbacks as well.
On average, you enjoy around 75 yards of useful night vision. Anything greater than that and your night vision device become useless.
The battery life on these devices is very limited as well. You can yield a maximum of 1500 hours of usage out of Gen 1 night vision devices.
Because this scope gets illuminated, you are unable to camouflage. Your hiding position becomes visible and you need to switch places quickly.
Finally, being inexpensive, most of the Gen 1 night vision devices have low quality optics which offer low resolution and more blurry images.
Generation 2 (Gen 2) Night Vision
A major upgrade to the Gen 1 devices, Generation 2 night vision technology is set to step up your game by a big margin.
Generation 2 devices use microchannel plates that convert electrons to visible light. These plates are the main source of light amplification on these devices.
You can see objects as far as 200 yards with your Gen 2 device. This is a lot farther than the useful range offered by Gen 1 devices.
As the Infrared on these scopes is not illuminated, Gen 2 technology offers an amazingly long battery life. Some devices can offer up to 4500 hours of battery life.
The images you see on a Gen 2 device a much brighter, clearer and less distorted. Unfortunately, these devices are quite expensive as compared to their ancestors.
Generation 3 (Gen 3) Night Vision
Mostly used by military and special forces, Gen 3 is the real deal. It has further classifications like the 3P and the 3AG. Outstanding performance is common in all the different types of Gen 3 night vision devices.
It is the best in every way possible. From the construction to the brightness, everything is top-notch. Cleanest images with the best resolution are offered by Gen 3.
Electrons are converted to visible light using microchannel plates that are present in Gen 3 devices. These plates are covered with ion barriers which greatly boosts light amplification.
Even in lowlight, the performance is exceptional. A useful range of more than 300 yards can be achieved by a Gen 3 night vision scope.
More than 10,000 hours of battery life can be expected from this technology. With these great features you have to pay a price that is up there.
According to some people, there is a Gen 4 Night Vision Technology as well. But this technology is strictly restricted by the US Army.
Day and Night Systems
Many riflescopes come with day and night systems that are meant to work in both daytime and night time. You usually have a regular daylight scope which has a day/night system attached to it.
The magnification and objective lens from the normal scope combines with this system to give bright and clear images.
Keep in mind that these systems are very compact and therefore don’t gather as much light as a night scope does.
These systems are more suitable for people who own one rifle only and they tend to go out for hunting/shooting in daytime as well as at night.
Digital Night Vision Scope
Scopes with digital night vision gather the available light and instead of transforming it into electrons it converts this light intro signals.
These signals are then displayed on a screen. The mechanism on these devices mimics that found on cameras.
The abilities of a digital night vision device are very close to a Gen 1 and a Gen 1+ night vision scope. You can even take photos and record videos with this scope.
Now that you know the different Night Vision types and Generations, let’s move on to the things you should look for while purchasing a night vision scope.
A Buying Guide For Night Vision Scope
If you plan on buying a night vision scope, then here are the factors that you should keep in your mind before choosing a night vision scope:
Because you not only want to see through your night vision scope device, clarity is one of the important features to look for in a night scope.
Hitting a target requires great clarity which can only be achieved if the resolution of your scope is reasonable. Clarity is high when the resolution is high.
In order to measure resolution, lines per millimeter are used. The more lines per millimeter you see through your scope, the better the image is.
You are also unable to achieve clarity if the images that your night vision scope provides are distorted. Distortion is associated with the quality of lens used.
Low quality cheaply made lens tend to distort images. Always go for genuinely made glass lens that are manufactured by known brands.
Most Gen 1 devices and some other night vision scopes come with built-in infrared illuminators. These illuminators have their advantages as well as their drawbacks.
A night vision scope with built-in IR illuminator is useful for someone who has to hunt in pitch black areas and that too in a very short range.
These illuminators also tend to reduce the overall battery life of the night vision scope.
For someone who is involved in tactical shooting and has to travel a lot, a night vision scope with a built-in IR illuminator is not a good option.
These illuminators also increase the overall weight of your scope and are therefore not suitable for people who need to change their positions quickly.
Detection and Recognition Range
The total range provided on a certain night vision scope is very different from what you actually get. There are two types of ranges – detection and a recognition range.
As the name suggest, detection range allows you to detect something. It will make you aware of the fact that there is some moving object in this range. But it will not necessarily tell what it is.
This is where recognition range comes in. It tells you what you are actually looking at. It lets you recognize whether the moving target is a deer or a coyote.
Recognition range differs with the surrounding light conditions. For a full moon you will have a different recognition range as compared to being under starlight only.
Where can you find the recognition range? These ranges are provided by sellers for multiple light conditions. You will notice that the recognition range decreases as the light conditions get worst.
A night vision scope is made up of very small parts including electronic tubes and glass optics that are prone to getting damaged.
If you are investing thousands of dollars in your scope you would want to buy one that is the most durable and long-lasting.
It should withstand recoil as well as other harsh weather conditions. Before purchasing a certain night vision scope, make sure that the scope you are buying is sturdy.