Looking to be convinced into buying night vision?
Already on the gravy train and looking to find a night vision scope within your budget?
For whatever reason you’re considering buying a cheap night vision scope, you need to hear what we have to say about it.
Budget night vision scopes under $500 are not made equal.
You can end up with an expensive paperweight or a high-performing scope that you can’t rave enough about.
Hopefully, it’s the latter. Well, that’s the goal, right?
It’s why you need to know what’s worth buying and what it is you need to look for.
Best Night Vision Scope Under $500
|Sightmark Wraith HD 4-32X50||CHECK PRICE|
|Sightmark Wraith HD 2-16X28||CHECK PRICE|
|NightOwl Optics Night Shot||CHECK PRICE|
|Vector Optics 4X60 Gen 1||CHECK PRICE|
|NightStar NS43250 2X50 Gen 1||CHECK PRICE|
It seems like products come and go as brands consistently come out with something new year after year. Not only does the ever-changing market cause consumer confusion on what’s available and what is the standard when it comes to night vision technology, it keeps us continuously on the lookout for what’s hot, new, and worth buying at the cheapest price points possible.
As is evident with new products that are proudly released at Shot Show exhibitions, night vision technology is not only improving, it’s also getting cheaper. There is rumor abound that people are losing interest in night vision as thermal seems to be acquiring a lot of attention. But one specific thing that night vision has over thermal is better price points.
Besides, with as affordable as it is to have a night vision scope now, it’s not uncommon to have a thermal optic for spotting and an NVD for identification and accurate POA shots.
These are the night vision scopes worth buying and that can help you save money to afford a thermal scope as well.
With a budget scope, you can have your cake and eat it too!
Best Night Vision Scopes Under $500 Reviews
1. Sightmark Wraith HD 4-32X50
The Sightmark Wraith HD series is one of the best series in the market, and not just by our opinion but that of the masses too.
- High resolution
- Day & night modes
- 200-yard detection
- Battery life
- Need extended mount
This Wraith HD is the larger model in the series with a 50 mm lens and high magnification. Although bigger and heavier than its smaller sibling, it has all the same, great features.
It’s a digital scope with a high-resolution sensor and high-resolution display. You can see clearly out to 200 yards with crisp, bright imaging quality and can likely extend that range out to push 300 yard limits. You have color mode for day hunting and green and black/white modes for night vision.
Recoil-resistant up to .308 calibers, it makes for a great night vision scope for AR-15 platforms, hunting, and surveillance from quite the distance.
As a digital, it’s completely user adjustable with multiple reticle patterns, reticle colors, and display brightness. You can also video record and download to a micro SD card. No, it doesn’t have WiFi for live streaming, but who really needs that when you’re hog hunting in the dark? No audio is recorded, but that is to be expected for such a low-priced scope.
Since it’s been out of a while, you better pick one up quick as the new Sightmark Wraith 4K Max looks to be the lead to head this series into the future.
2. Sightmark Wraith HD 2-16X28
Penny pinchers, listen up! This is the night vision scope for you if you’re restricted to a tight budget. It’s one of the best picks for the money the current market has to offer.
- High resolution
- Multiple display modes
- 200-yard detection
- Video recording
- Battery hog
The Wraith HD 2-16x28 may be small, but it has a lot of potential. As a digital rifle scope, you can power this on and shoot during daylight hours without harm to the night vision system. It even has a color display mode so that you can see sharp details as you would with a day optic. Come sundown, you have the option of toggling between green and black/white modes for night vision.
Like its larger sibling in the series, it has digital features that includes a zeroing feature, 10 reticle patterns, 9 reticle colors, and user adjustable display brightness. You can also mount this to a .308 and hunt predators that threaten the stock without risking harm to the optics from recoil.
You can record video and take photos, but you can’t record audio. It does not have any WiFi compatibility features, but that’s not such a big deal to most hunters who don’t want to deal with the technicalities of having such things anyway.
It has a 200-yard detection range, so it’s ideally suited to varmint and predator hunters. It may be considered close-range, but it performs excellently and is better than expected compared to its competition at this price point.
For a scope that has been tried and proven in the field, it has value. Without a crystal ball, we can’t say how long it will remain available since Sightmark has released an upgrade for the series. It may be best to grab one while you still can. No other scope at this price point can beat it – period.
3. NightOwl Optics Night Shot
If you’ve been shopping for budget night vision, it’s inevitable to stumble across the NightOwl Night Shot. It’s been around for ages. That speaks to its value and performance as it’s been able to outlast its competition in a tough and ever-changing market.
- Decent resolution
- Easy to use
- Battery hog
The Night Shot is a great example of scopes of yesterday that require AA batteries – and a bunch of them too. With 4x AA batteries, you’ll get a fantastic, long operating time – not. You’ll be restricted to three hours of operation on one set. We hope you have spares on you.
Regardless of its power hog system, it has consistently remained one of the best cheap night vision scopes for years. It’s surprisingly lightweight at 20.8 oz but is on the long side at 13” and has the bulky body design that is associated with what night vision used to be. We say “used to be” because new body styles are coming in lighter, slimmer, and more day scope-like than ever before like the ATN X-Sight LTV.
Although it’s a digital scope, it’s scaled-down to provide the absolute basics – visibility. It can be used during the day, but its real purpose is for nighttime hunting. It has a built-in IR illuminator, so there’s no removing it. You can attach an external one if it proves worthwhile to do so but that would be at your own cost to mount a rail on board.
All in all, the Night Shot is a bare bones night vision scope. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s what you want for an introductory level NVD – simplicity, visibility, and accuracy.
4. Vector Optics 4X60 Gen 1
Since Gen 1 is the only type of generation night vision available in this price range, you’re severely limited to budget models. But does that mean you must go without quality? No way!
- Gen 1
- High resolution
- 100-yard detection
- Large aperture
- Simple operation
The Vector Gen 1 scope is 4x fixed powered and has a very nice 60 mm lens. Just saying it’s on the bigger side is an understatement as it weighs a porky 3 lbs! If you don’t mount it to the right weapon, this beast will throw your platform off balance.
It’s essentially a zero eye relief rifle scope, so you won’t want to use this on a .308 – even if it can handle the recoil. So, .22, .223 calibers – you get the idea, it’s a go. Besides, with a Gen 1 IIT, you’ll be limited in detection range. You’ll reach out to about 100 yards in the dark, so it’s your close-range night hunter for small pests.
Speaking of night hunting, as an IIT, you can’t use it during the day. This is true of all night vision tubes regardless of generation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a quick detach mount for convenient dismounting if you’re going to do some day plinking with or without a day scope.
It has ¼ MOA adjustments, really good resolution for a Gen 1, and it also comes with an 810 nm IR laser in the buy. For as cheap as it is, it’s fantastic to see that it comes with a warranty even if it is just two years. It’s worth giving it a run for its money as it’s one of the better ones in the market.
5. NightStar NS43250 2X50 Gen 1
NightStar Optics. It’s a good name for an optics brand but their products still fall within the generic category that offers budget, entry-level products. Is NightStar worth considering?
- Gen 1
- Decent resolution
- Battery life
- 100-yard detection
- Limited info
When a brand doesn’t provide much info about anything, sales are affected. People want to know what they’re buying before they buy, so this is a drawback right off the bat. However, the brand is lucky in the fact that the NS43250 is a generic scope that is much like its comparable alternatives.
It has good resolution of 36 lp/mm for Gen 1, and with a larger 50 mm lens, it will provide some decent and worthwhile imaging quality. It also has fixed 2x magnification, so although limited, resolution remains intact across the FOV for as best as it can deliver it.
Like Gen 1 for this price range, it’s expected detection performance is no more than 100 yards. It does come with an IR illuminator, but you can likely push distance with good visibility with an even better IR.
It has very simple user interface, and that’s the way beginners like it. After all, this is a beginner night vision scope.
What to Look for in a Night Vision Scope Under $500
Knowing what you’re limited to in this price range will help narrow down the options and put a little reality into your perspective.
It’s not that you shouldn’t have any expectations when it comes to buying cheap so much as it means knowing what you’re buying if you’re going to avoid buyer’s remorse. After all, 500 bucks is still 500 bucks – it can be a paperweight or a functioning nighttime scope. Here’s how you tell the difference.
Gen 1 IIT
Forget Gen 2, Gen 3, CORE tech. There’s no way you’re going to land that type of night vision technology in this price range. In fact, Gen 1 IITs at this price point are hard to find. They’re either being discontinued, are made only by generic, non-authoritative brands, or they stink, and no one recommends buying them.
Not to sound like a Debbie Downer, but as Gen 2 is reaching lower-than-ever price points, many will eat the cost difference to acquire the close-to-Gen-3 quality. But if you want night vision this instant, have limited funds, or are new to using night vision, there are a handful of scopes worth the money.
These will be IITs with resolution of 35 lp/mm or better. They’ll all have the typical green phosphor imaging display. They will not have any digital features as simplicity and ease of use will take priority. You will need to heavily rely on use of an IR illuminator to gain clarity and extended detection ranges.
Since these are designed for low budgets, they’re entry-level in quality, are intended as starter and introductory night vision scopes for beginners to shooting in the dark or for close-range hunting of pests like rabbits, rats, possums, coyotes, and more. These scopes are best recommended for light recoil weapons, air, and rimfire rifles.
Digital Night Vision
This is about as low in cost as you want to go for digital night vision if you expect any kind of real imaging quality. There will be variations between camera imaging systems and modules to single-unit digital scopes. If you have 500 bucks, we highly recommend sticking to the dedicated, single-unit digital type.
What brings them into this price range is limited digital features, but they will still retain the essential features needed to function. This would be a zeroing method, decent resolution of at least 640x480, adjustable brightness, and multiple reticle patterns.
What you may be missing out on is video recording, WiFi, multiple display modes, high recoil-resistance, and more.
But if you’re good with the basics and you don’t need or want the extra bells and whistles, you will find some good digital scopes for this price without spending a penny more.
Let’s get real. If imaging quality and performance cannot be compared to that of higher generation or higher digital quality scopes, neither can detection performance. While scopes twice the price can reach out to 200-400 yards and high-end ones can reach out well past 500 yards, you’re limited to 100-150 yard performance at best in this price range.
Really, that’s not too bad, and even reaching out to 200 yards with an appropriately matched IR illuminator may be enough to make a big difference. But with the lower display and sensor resolution in a digital scope and the lower resolution of Gen 1 tubes, you’re looking at a realistic 25-100 yard performance. Some may provide a little more and some may provide 60-80 yard performance.
Regardless of whether a scope has a tube or digital sensor, they’ll all be somewhat limited in build quality at this price point. You may get lucky with fully waterproof optics, but the reality is they may only be splashproof with a rating of IPX4.
Another major point to consider is recoil-resistance. Most will not be compatible with high caliber weapons or slug guns. You’re looking at scopes that may be rated to handle recoil up to .308 calibers. Some with zero eye relief are only good for essentially what is considered a zero recoil weapon like air guns and rimfire rifles.
Pay attention to these specs as it may very well be the factor that deems it a paperweight or a scope that fits your intended needs.
CR123 batteries can now be considered the most commonly used power source for night vision optics. Typically, one battery is required to provide multiple nights of hunting and shooting. Digital scopes will provide significantly less operating time with an average of 2-5 hours.
Some older scopes with designs maybe even a few years old may still require AA batteries for operation. This can become expensive very quickly if you’re hunting consistently night after night and must keep spare batteries on you.
This must be considered in the overall decision of whether it’s worth buying an IIT with longer lasting operating time over a digital scope or if it’s better to increase the budget for a more power conservative model.
The best cheap night vision scope is the one that you’re happy with. “You get what you pay for.” Performance and quality will vary between manufacturers in low price ranges of under $500. You’re limited to cheap digital scopes or Gen 1 IITs.
Sightmark offers the best quality night vision for the money at the cheapest price points.
While ATN, Pulsar, and Flir have consistently been the best night vision brands across the board, Yukon and Sightmark provide the lowest prices for night vision products. For price points under $500, Sightmark is the brand to turn to.
Night vision monoculars may be a serious consideration as they’re cheaper than both goggles and rifle scopes. However, even if you do manage to mount it to a weapon system, it doesn’t have a reticle. If you manage to mount it in front or rearward of a day optic, there is still the matter of recoil-resistance. Most monoculars are not made to handle recoil.
A clip-on night vision scope is the most practical way to acquire night vision through a day scope, but they tend to start at price points over $1000. You can purchase a dedicated night vision scope for $500 or cheaper night vision scope systems for less than $500.
For the low price in and around $500, you’re limited to entry-level night vision in both Generation 1 and digital night vision technologies.
There are more digital options available than Gen 1 IITs. However, even dedicated digital night vision scopes are somewhat limited before it moves into the camera module, multiple component digital design for the low prices.
Is it a Paperweight or a Scope?
No one in their right mind buys a $500 paperweight intentionally – unless you have very deep pockets, but then you wouldn’t be reading this now, would you?
Even though this is the budget price range for night vision, it takes more research to determine if you’re buying a dud or a gem. Many cheap scopes are sugar-coated so heavily that it’s hard to sift through the false pretenders to find the good ones.
Don’t be duped into buying a paperweight. There are the needle-in-the-haystack night vision scopes that are worth their weight in gold. It takes a good eye, user preference, and knowing the standard to pick them out. These scopes are the standard.