Whether you are camping outside at night or hunting in near total darkness, a night vision device can help you see your environment clearly. To illuminate the dark, night vision goggles amplify the little ambient light present in a dark environment or illuminate it with infrared light. A few top night vision goggles include the Luna Optics, the Bushnell Equinox and the Night Owl.
Night vision goggles used to be only for military use, but as the technology matured and became affordable, these goggles entered the consumer market. Night vision optics work in two ways: light amplification and thermal imaging. Light amplification involves enhancing moonlight, starlight or infrared light. Thermal imaging, or heat vision, also relies on infrared light as it picks up heat given off by objects, animals and people in the visual range of infrared goggles.
Night Vision Goggles: What to Look For
There are four generations of night vision devices, and each comes with a different set of capabilities. Here's what to look out for as you compare the best night vision goggles and pick the right one for your needs.
Gain refers to the ability to enhance images even as it gets darker. Typically, night vision falters as the amount of ambient light dwindles and the viewing distance increases. Some night vision goggles compensate by using longer lenses and infrared light, but these are only effective up to a certain point because increasing the gain often reduces clarity. The ideal night vision goggles can boost gain in low light without significantly sacrificing focus.
To capture objects that are far afield, night vision goggles need a magnification factor higher than 1x. A long and powerful lens is required to achieve this. Unfortunately, long lenses perform poorly in low light. To view objects far away in near-total darkness, a high-speed lens with moderate magnification is best. Such lenses capture more light and have higher gains and longer ranges.
Night vision goggles produce monochromatic green images because the human eye perceives contrasts more easily in green than any other color. The best night vision images are, therefore, those that remain sharp at the center and the edges. To avoid blurring and distortion, the goggles must produce high-definition images and have a high resolution.
Night vision goggles are worn over the head. Therefore, they must be lightweight and comfortable. Straps and other mounting gear should not chafe the skin, and the rims of the binoculars or monocular should not dig too deep into the eye socket. Comfort and ergonomics are important considerations for those planning to wear their goggles for prolonged periods.
Whether for hunting or security, night vision goggles give you the ability to perceive what the naked eye can't see. Finding the goggles that match your budget and needs is crucial.
Armasight Vega Review
The Armasight Vega is an affordable and capable head-mounted Gen 1+ night vision device. It weighs 0.54 pounds and comes with flip-up headgear.
The Vega has a body made of glass-fiber reinforced composite that is durable and weatherproof. The unit has fully adjustable headgear that lets you use the goggles hands-free. The headgear is comfortable and allows you to position the Armasight Vega over either eye. Besides the head mount assembly, the unit also has a dedicated rail for attaching it to a tripod. The included lens cap fits securely over the outer lens to protect the Vega's optics. This night vision device lacks an automatic protective mechanism that prevents sudden bright light from damaging the optics and temporarily blinding the user, so turning it on in daylight without its protective lens cover may damage its optics.
Unlike most Gen 1 night vision devices, the Armasight Vega does not rely solely on amplifying ambient light to provide night vision. It also has an infrared light source. This justifies the Gen 1+ designation of the device's intensifier tube. However, the built-in infrared illuminator only has a short range even with its flood lens. When activated, the infrared emitter appears as a red dot. This is acceptable for most purposes but is not good enough for activities that require stealth. While the short-range infrared illuminator is a major drawback, Armasight also offers an optional long-range illuminator for the Vega. Both illuminators allow the goggles to perform well even in complete darkness, although they do take an expected toll on the unit's battery life.
The optics in the night vision goggles is made of multicoated heavy glass. This lens has a diameter of 35 mm and provides a 35-degree field of view. It delivers good image clarity but does not magnify objects. This severely limits its effective viewing distance and highlights the limitations of its Gen 1 night vision technology.
The Armasight Vega is a low-cost night vision device that offers adequate performance for a Gen 1 unit and is most suitable for hobbyists. It is rugged but not waterproof, has good optics and includes a comfortable, adjustable headgear mount complete with a chin strap.
ATN PVS7-3 Review
The ATN PVS7-3 is identical to the AN/PVS-7, the night vision goggles issued to the U.S. Army. It can be used as a handheld, head-mounted or helmet-mounted device.
The ATN PVS7-3 is a combat-proven night vision device that has been in service since 1985. It weighs 1.5 pounds, runs on two AA batteries and is rated to last 10,000 hours. These goggles have a waterproof construction and the lens is protected by a special water-resistant coat. The device comes with demist shields to get rid of condensation on the eyepieces as well as a protective window that keeps the lens from getting scratched. The goggles come with eyecups for sealing the eyepieces and preventing the leakage of light. Other accessories included with the goggles are front lens cap, lens tissue, filter for objective lens, brow pads, neck cord and soft carry case.
This is a Gen 3 night vision device, so it amplifies ambient light up to 50,000 times. The intensifier tube is also auto-gated to protect it from damage following sudden exposure to intensely bright light. Besides cutting off bright light, it also has an automatic brightness control that governs the amount of light the lenses allow into your eyes. There is a built-in infrared illuminator to assist the amplifier when used in total darkness. This infrared emitter does affect the 50-hour battery life of the device. However, in order to improve battery life, it can be set to provide transient infrared illumination rather than give off continuous pulses of infrared light.
The multicoated all-glass optics found in these goggles performs admirably. The 35-millimeter object lens provides a 40-degree field of view and a 1x magnification. The lack of magnification is both a pro and a con. On one hand, it does not extend the effective viewing range of the night vision goggles, but that is already generous thanks to the high-end optics. On the other hand, the lack of magnification means that the entire range of view suffers no distortion.
As a standard issue of the U.S. Army Infantry, the ATN PVS7-3 is one of the best night vision goggles available for civilians. It performs excellently, comes with a complete accessory kit and has a great track record in the field. However, it is expensive, heavy and uncomfortable for prolonged use.
ATN Viper X-1 Review
The ATN Viper X-1 is a small Gen 1 night vision device for outdoor enthusiasts. This monocular is not only lightweight and compact but also comes with a headgear kit.
These goggles weigh 0.55 pounds and can serve both as a handheld night vision device or a head-mounted monocular. They Viper is wrapped in a rubber mount that makes it durable and weatherproof without significantly increasing its weight. ATN extols the simple operation of this unit – there are only two buttons on the device. While it is really easy to use, that is both an advantage and a drawback. Having a two-button operation makes this device attractive to those who are using night vision goggles for the first time. However, seasoned users find that the goggles difficult to adjust and limited by their size and lack of fine controls.
The included dual-side and flip-up headgear kit is also a pro and con. On one hand, the kit allows for hands-free use of the monocular. On the other hand, some users complain that it is difficult to adjust, does not stay in place, and is quite uncomfortable to wear. The Viper X-1 runs on a single CR123A battery and has coated all-glass optics. It has a maximum detection range of 150 yards, although users cannot recognize objects that are farther than 100 yards. The night vision device also has a 1x magnification, but that can be extended to 4x or 8x with optional accessories.
ATN prefers to call the Viper X-1 a Gen 1+ night vision goggle. This is because its intensifier tube is an improvement over the usual one found in Gen 1 goggles. Compared to image intensifier tubes in its generation, the intensifier in the Viper is not bulky. In addition, it employs black and white phosphor to produce sharp, natural images. It also reduces the kind of geometric distortion common with Gen 1 intensifier tubes by delivering flat field images. Additionally, the built-in infrared emitter improves gain by illuminating the field of the view.
All these improvements on the standard Gen 1 technology is admirable, but they do not make the ATN Viper X-1 perform as well as a Gen 2 night vision device. On one hand, it is lightweight, easy to use, and improves on dated Gen 1 goggles. On the other hand, it suffers from the same reliability issues that plagued Gen 1 devices, and the included headgear makes for a poor fit.
The 6x 50MM Bushnell Equinox Z is the top model in Bushnell's stellar Z Night Vision line. This night vision monocular weighs 27 ounces and runs on four AA batteries.
The Equinox Z has a rugged rubber housing that keeps it weatherproof. There are lines and grooves on both edges to prevent it from slipping from your grip. It is suitable for daytime and nighttime use. With the built-in infrared illuminator on, it can last for four hours on a full charge. The battery life doubles with the illuminator off, and the whole unit automatically powers down after 10 minutes if left unused. While this a nifty battery-saving feature, one of the few complaints about this night vision device is a short battery life. In addition, users complain about the poor quality of the onboard infrared illuminator, but this can be remedied by attaching an external IR illuminator to the device.
This Bushnell night vision monocular has a 50-millimeter objective lens that provides 6x optical magnification. It's capable of 1x to 3x digital zoom that delivers effective magnification ranging from 6.6x to 18x. These optics are multicoated and use an infrared-sensitive CMOS sensor rather than an intensifier tube to improve light transmission while reducing glare. The result is a maximum viewing distance of 1,000 yards with the infrared emitter on and a 20.5-degree field of view. With three adjustable brightness levels, you can easily achieve the contrast and gain levels you need.
To help you navigate the user interface, this night vision device has a small LCD lens built into its field of view that displays icons, settings and notifications. However, the standout feature of this night vision device is the ability to shoot videos and take pictures. You can capture videos and take still images with a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. Videos are saved in NTSC and PAL formats, while images are in JPEG format. The unit uses a microSD card for storage and it accepts up to 32GB microSD cards. There is a USB port for downloading saved videos and pictures from this Bushnell monocular without removing the memory card.
The 6x 50MM Bushnell Equinox Z is an excellent long-range night vision monocular with an exceptional optical clarity, a nifty digital system and multimedia capture. However, it has a poor IR illuminator and an average battery life.
The EOTech MTM Mini-Thermal Monocular is a high-end handheld thermal imaging monocular. It is light enough for one-handed use and small enough to fit in cargo pockets.
The monocular weighs 11.8 ounces and runs on two 3-volt lithium batteries that deliver a total battery life of four hours. Its design, build and technology follow military specs. This night vision device has an aluminum and steel chassis, and its weatherproof housing makes it durable and usable in harsh environments. Yet it remains user-friendly and has an ergonomic design and button layout. In addition, it is not only waterproof but submersible to a depth of 66 feet. It is operable in heavy rain, snow and fog, and its anodized composite finish protects it from scratches and corrosion. While it is primarily a handheld night vision device, you can also wear it with an optional head mount or attach it to weapons using its Picatinny rail.
The soft-touch pressure-sensitive buttons on the EOTech goggles are easy to use. There is also a removable eyecup that prevents light from exiting the eyepiece. This makes the unit a good night vision device for tactical and stealth missions. The fast and silent optics also contribute to its stealth capability. The objective lens is capable of 2x digital zoom without magnifying images. It can focus on objects as close as 18 inches and has a maximum target detection range of 1967 feet. This can go all the way to 4900 feet with an optional extender.
The monocular uses a Class IIIa laser for aiming. The built-in laser makes it possible to identify targets by their heat signatures in any condition and at any time of the day or night. You can manually calibrate its thermal sensitivity and also adjust contrast and brightness. This night vision monocular captures images and records videos too. Its onboard recorder saves up to 160 images and shoots NTSC videos with a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. The pictures and videos taken by this unit are not the sharpest, but it does well for a device that records even in total darkness.
The EOTech MTM Mini-Thermal Monocular is a high-tech military-grade night vision device, and it is nearly indestructible, farsighted in any condition, and quite portable. However, its battery life and video resolution need to improve.
The EyeClops night vision goggles from the toy company Jakks Pacific is a surprisingly excellent night vision device for kids. Although it is a toy gadget, this EyeClops packs some high-tech components for its affordable price.
These night vision goggles look very much like the night vision devices worn by U.S. military special forces. However, this night vision gadget is much simpler to operate and made of plastic. Even though the EyeClops is primarily a kid's toy, it is big enough for adults to wear and is quite effective. The device has three eyepieces, even though only one displays night vision. The cyclops eye on the forehead is the infrared illuminator. The right eye has a built-in LCD display that looks like a digital camera's viewfinder. The left eye is covered up, and even though its plastic cover is not sealed shut, flipping it open serves no purpose. Therefore, this night vision device is really a monocular. With one only eye receiving night vision, you have no depth perception and may find it hard to accurately judge distances.
Although the EyeClops has an infrared illuminator, the device does not amplify ambient light like regular night vision goggles. Rather, it simply bathes the environment in infrared light and makes a dark scene visible by capturing reflected light. This night vision gadget requires five AA batteries, and they all go in a battery pack situated at the back. These batteries make up quite a significant part of the goggles' weight, and they can make the device uncomfortable for prolonged use. The device has no automatic shutdown and will, therefore, keep running if you forget to power it off.
The toy has two viewing modes and two sensitivity modes. The viewing modes offer a choice between the traditional green glow of night vision devices and a ghostly palette of white and black images. The two sensitivity modes are Stealth and Surveillance. Stealth mode focuses the infrared illuminator at nearby objects, while Surveillance mode allows you to see up to 50 feet, the device's maximum viewing distance.
This is a capable device for having some good fun with night vision. It looks great, works well and has a durable construction for kids' night vision goggles. However, it can be uncomfortable for prolonged use, eats through AA batteries quickly and is not good enough for anything but indoor play.
The Luna Optics LN-EM1-MS is a small, simple night vision monocular that operates on a single AA battery. It can be accessorized with an optional head mask, IR illuminators to extend its range and magnification lenses.
This night vision device is palm-sized and weighs only 12 ounces. To keep it lightweight, Luna Optics gave it an all-aluminum body. Aluminum not only reduces the weight but also makes the goggles resistant to water and shock. However, it has an aluminum body without a protective rubber layer, the device has a few drawbacks. First, the aluminum shell makes a distinctive metallic sound every time the night vision monocular takes a knock. This is distracting and unwanted for a quiet observer hoping to keep his presence and location unknown. Secondly, aluminum is not as grippy as rubber. Luna Optics tries to mitigate this problem by putting grooves along the body of the device. In addition, the reflective nature of aluminum is countered by painting the monocular in black.
Luna Optics may have opted for metal over rubber for the body of the LN-EM1-MS, but it still used rubber for the device's eye cup. Besides its soft rubber material, the eye cup stays comfortable with its springy nature and the ability to rotate independently of the focusing ring. In addition, it has a flap that fits against the side of the face in order to prevent light from entering or escaping the eyepiece.
As a Gen 2+ night vision device, the goggles use a SuperGen intensifier tube to amplify ambient light by a factor of 22,000. This tube has a lifetime of 5,000 hours and a maximum resolution of 40 line-pairs per millimeter at the center. That intensifier tube along with its 26 millimeter lens give this monocular a 40-degree field of view, a maximum viewing distance of 492 feet and a 1x magnification. In addition, this unit comes with an automatic gain control to help keep images in focus even as the brightness of ambient light changes. It also has flash protection that kicks in upon sudden exposure to bright light that may temporarily blind the user.
For a night vision device that works on a single AA battery, the LN-EM1-MS performs excellently, but it will not do for long-distance observation since it cannot magnify the field of view. It is portable, but its aluminum construction is not perfect because it does not effectively dampen noise nor is it completely waterproof.
The Night Owl Optics 5-Power NOXM50 is a small, compact night vision monocular device with a Gen 1 intensifier tube. It weighs 14 ounces and runs on a single 3-volt lithium battery.
This monocular is wrapped in soft-touch rubber with a special impact-resistant lens housing made of molded thermoplastic. These sturdy materials make it weatherproof and shock-resistant without adding bulk. With its integrated infrared illuminator directly placed over the intensifier tube and a secure grip under that, this monocular is ergonomic and easy to hold and use.
Night Owl Optics used high-quality all-glass optics for this device's objective and ocular lenses. However, there is more to the optics than a good choice of material. The objective lens has a diameter of 50 millimeters and offers a 12.5-degree field of view. Unlike most Gen 1 night vision devices, this monocular can magnify objects in its view. In fact, it offers 5x magnification without sacrificing light amplification. In addition, its infrared illuminator is an improvement over basic Gen 1 goggles that only amplify ambient light.
However, simple improvements in optics cannot help the device overcome all the problems associated with Gen 1 night vision devices. The effective viewing range tops out at 50 yards, the depth of field offered is shallow you need to manually refocus every time you change direction. On the other hand, this monocular offers sharp images – except on rainy, cloudy and foggy nights.
Although this night vision device has a ruggedized weather-resistant shell, its ocular lens is left naked. Without an eyecup, light seeps into and escapes the intensifier tube. This not only affects the performance of the device but also gives away your location by the faint glow of light marking the eyepiece. In addition, the 50-millimeter objective lens used in this monocular introduces distortion at the edge of the field of view. Therefore, while the lens offers wide-angle fish-eye vision, it struggles with maintaining sharp focus.
Overall, the Night Owl Optics 5-Power NOXM50 provides excellent performance for Gen 1 night vision goggles. Its columnated IR illuminator, intensifier tube and hand strap make it easy to operate, and its optics deliver convincing night vision. However, its range is rather short, its lenses struggle with maintaining focus and the lack of an eyecup makes it a poor choice for tactical operations requiring stealth.
Spy Net Review
The Spy Net Ultra is a toy binocular that also doubles as night vision goggles. It is a lightweight handheld device that comes with a thin strap for securing the device around your neck.
The Spy Net Ultra is really a night vision monocular with a plastic body. Although it is a kid's gadget, it is still big enough for adults. In front, the device has one big lens and two smaller infrared LED lights surrounding it. At the rear, there are two eyepieces wrapped and conjoined by a rubber shield that not only makes it comfortable to nestle the goggles on your face but also keeps light from escaping the unit. Between the lens and the eyepieces is a set of colorful switches for operating the goggles, as well as a microSD slot. At the bottom of the device is a battery bay that holds four AA batteries.
Besides providing night vision, this device has three other visual modes: Daytime Surveillance to see everything in full color, Ghost Recon to turn the view ghostly white and black and Thermal Tech that mimics heat vision. In complete darkness, the night vision mode allows you to see up to 50 feet thanks to the two built-in infrared illuminators. One of them shines a red light while the other shines an invisible light. The former can be blinding when turned on objects that are too close.
In addition to its visual modes, this night vision device also has a long-range mode and short-range mode as well as record and playback modes. The night vision goggles can take pictures and record videos even in total darkness. These save on a microSD card, and users can transfer these images to a computer.
While the Spy Net Ultra has a true night vision system, other features such as thermal imaging and ghost recon are simply visual tricks achieved with lens filters. The pictures it takes are blurry, and recorded videos have a low VGA resolution. However, this night vision device performs admirably for a toy gadget, and it provides lots of fun for kids and adults alike.
The Yukon NVMT 1X24 is a head-mounted Gen 1 night vision device. It weighs 13.4 ounces, runs on a single 3-volt lithium battery and comes with headgear.
The Yukon is a compact monocular wrapped in a durable rubber armor that protects it from dust, dirt, rain and fog. This rubber shell makes the night vision device weatherproof but not waterproof. However, a lens cap that remains attached to the body of the monocular protects the optics from dust and moisture. Along the armor are grooves to prevent the unit from slipping from your grip. The mounting gear and head strap allows for hands-free use. With its flip design, it is easy to quickly flip the headgear into place when required. However, this headgear is only usable with the right eye. Besides this restriction, some users also complain that the headgear is not comfortable to wear nor easily adjusted.
Even though this is a Gen 1 device, it does not simply rely on ambient light amplification but also includes a separate infrared light source to help with its night vision system. The integrated 25-milliwatt infrared illuminator lies next to the intensifier tube and produces a tightly focused beam of IR light. There is a simple switch to activate it, and once turned on, it lights up distances up to 100 yards. While the infrared emitter helps with improving gain, it gives off a discernible glow that makes stealth observation difficult. Those who find the bundled infrared illuminator too weak or distracting can pick up the optional Sea Wolf IR flashlight.
The multicoated optics in the Yukon maximizes light amplification by enhancing contrast. The included lens offers a 30-degree field of view but provides no magnification. While its 1x magnification reduces distortion and produces clear images, it also reduces the effective range of the monocular. There is also a system in place to protect the intensifier tube and the user's vision from sudden bursts of bright light.
The Yukon NVMT 1X24 is lightweight, compact and easy to use. It comes with a headgear mount and offers impressive performance for Gen 1 night vision goggles. Despite enhancements to its Gen 1 intensifier tube, this Yukon monocular is simply underpowered for anyone but those newly introduced to night vision equipment.