13 Best Night Vision Scopes In 2021 (Includes Digital, Clip On & More)

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Night Vision Rifle Scopes

Whether it's coons or hogs you're after, the hunt doesn't start ‘til after dark.

Unless you have superhuman powers to see through the black of night, you're going to need a night vision (NV) scope.

Night vision devices (NVD) have forever changed the way hunters approach night stalkers.

Varmints, coyotes, and hog hunting call for the night vision approach.

The best scopes from high-end to bottom dollar are laid out below and will light up the path and illuminate the night.

You’ll also learn a few things in our buyer’s guide about how to identify the best night vision scopes from the posers.

NV is expensive enough as it is. Make your first buy the right buy.

Best Night Vision Scopes

IMAGEPRODUCTDETAILS
tt-table__imagePulsar Digisight Ultra N450 LRF
  • Magnification: 4.5-18x (4x zoom)
  • Gen/Tech: Digital
  • Price Range: Under $2000
CHECK PRICE
tt-table__imageBering Optics Trifecta Core+
  • Magnification: 3x
  • Gen/Tech: Gen 1
  • Price Range: Under $1000
CHECK PRICE
tt-table__imageWolf Performance Optics WPA PN22K
  • Magnification: 3x
  • Gen/Tech: Gen 2+/3
  • Price Range: Under $3000
CHECK PRICE
tt-table__imageATN PS28-4
  • Magnification: 1x
  • Gen/Tech: Gen 4 IIT
  • Price Range: Under $10,000
CHECK PRICE
tt-table__imageAGM Wolverine 4 NL3
  • Magnification: 4x
  • Gen/Tech: Gen 2+
  • Price Range: Under $2000
CHECK PRICE
tt-table__imageBering Optics D-790W Gen 3+
  • Magnification: 6x
  • Gen/Tech: Gen 3+
  • Price Range: Under $10,000
CHECK PRICE
tt-table__imageKnights Armament UNS-A3
  • Magnification: 1x
  • Gen/Tech: Gen 3+ (L3Harris)
  • Price Range: Under $15,000
CHECK PRICE
tt-table__imageKnights Armament AN/PVS-30
  • Magnification: 1x
  • Gen/Tech: Gen 3+
  • Price Range: Under $15,000
CHECK PRICE
tt-table__imageAGM Wolverine Pro-6 3AW1
  • Magnification: 6x
  • Gen/Tech: Gen 3
  • Price Range: Under $5000
CHECK PRICE
tt-table__imageAGM Comanche-22 3NW1
  • Magnification: 1x
  • Gen/Tech: Gen 3
  • Price Range: Under $10,000
CHECK PRICE
tt-table__imageWolf Performance Optics WPA PN23
  • Magnification: 3x
  • Gen/Tech: Gen 3
  • Price Range: Under $3000
CHECK PRICE
tt-table__imageTRYBE PVS14 Gen 3 WPT
  • Magnification: 1x
  • Gen/Tech: Gen 3
  • Price Range: Under $5000
CHECK PRICE
tt-table__imageATN NVM14-4
  • Magnification: 1x
  • Gen/Tech: Gen 4
  • Price Range: Under $5000
CHECK PRICE

Night vision scopes can be a new and different world to many: beginner shooters have a lot to catch up on; night hunters have their own hunting styles that demand various features of an NVD, and law enforcement/military personnel who are buying a personal device outside of issued gear find value in knowing what the best available civilian scopes are.

Since there is no one scope that does it all for every application you might have in mind, we must disclose how we chose these options.

All scopes listed would be excellent for wild hog and pest hunting to ensure those critters don't get the best of your crops or your wits. A handful of these options are well-suited for tactical applications such as law enforcement, duty work, security, etc. 

To help you make the most informed decision, we've hand-picked the best of the best scopes currently available.

While we do list some budget and affordable night vision scopes, you will see that we also provide very expensive options. We can't deny the good stuff to those who have a taste for it - and who can afford it.  

Without further ado, let's shine the light on the right night vision scope for you.

Night Vision Scope Reviews

1. Pulsar Digisight Ultra N450 LRF – Best Digital Night Vision Scope

Pulsar Digisight Ultra N450 LRF Digital Night Vision Scope Review
Image Credit - Pulsar NV

What do you get when you marry a laser rangefinder with a night vision rifle scope? The Digisight Ultra N450 LRF.

Pros:

  • Standalone scope
  • LRF feature
  • Digital features
  • WiFi
  • Recoil-proof

Cons:

  • Battery life

The Digisight Ultra LRF is standalone, digital night vision scope with the works. It has everything you could expect from a digital device from video recording and app control to live streaming. If you want the works from a digital scope, you have it with a Pulsar product – just be ready for the learning curve.

However, its digi tech is not why the Digisight LRF is priced so high for a digital scope, it’s the laser rangefinder technology. While some scopes offer a sort of stadiametric version, this model has a fully functioning laser unit complete with scan and angle compensation.

Even though it’s teched out to the max, it’s no small and fragile scope. This beast is 14.6” long and weighs 2.4 lbs (approx.). You won’t mind the heft when you hear that it’s made to take repeated recoil. While many NV scopes find it difficult to handle hard kicks, the Digisight Ultra LRF doesn’t mind sitting on a 12-gauge shot gun, 308 Win, or 9.3x64.

What’s the catch? Just be quick about what you’re setting out to do. If you’re messing around with streaming and digital features too much, you’ll be through the 4-8 battery life before you can take down any hogs.

2. Bering Optics Trifecta Core+ - Best Gen 1 Night Vision Scope

Bering Optics Trifecta Core Night Vision Scope Review
Image Credit - Bering

The Trifecta 3.0x50 CORE+ sight is a scope for a varmint hunter on a budget.  A cost-conscious scope from a high-end brand is exactly the kind of deal everyone is looking for.

Pros:

  • Price
  • Core/Gen 1
  • Standalone scope
  • High resolution
  • Mil-dot ballistic reticle

Cons:

  • Battery life

The Trifecta Core+ is not your lightweight champ but it's not the largest scope out there. Besides, for the price, it’s completely forgivable.

Every manufacturer has their own methods to creating proprietary products, but generally, CORE tech involves ceramic replacing glass in Gen 1 tubes.  With CORE, you can get better quality night vision without the fishbowl or fish lens effect while staying within your budget. Did we mention it has Gen 2-like resolution of 50-60 lp/mm?

The Trifecta claims to have a detection range of up to 300 yards which is impressive for night vision in this price range. It has oversized turret knobs to get zeroed in and a ballistic mil-dot reticle with adjustable brightness.

It's recoil-proof up to 375 H&H and 20-gauge smooth bore rifles.  It takes a single 3V CR123 battery, but it will only last up to 10 hours.  The Bering scope comes with necessary gear that includes the mount, "On-Rifle" carry bag, front lens cap, and rubber eye guard.  To stay under $1000 for a night vision scope, this Bering scope is a must-have.

3. Wolf Performance Optics WPA PN22K – Best Gen 2 Night Vision Scope

Wolf Performance Optics PN22K Day and Night Scope Review
Image Credit - Optics Planet

The WPA PN22K gives you a taste of Russian night vision on USA ground. While it’s available in Gen 3 tubes, it’s also available in Gen 2+. With similar performance, either one would be an awesome buy.

Pros:

  • Gen 2+
  • Standalone scope
  • Day & night system
  • Chevron reticle
  • Recoil-resistant

Cons:

  • Heavy

The Wolf PN22K is a large 12” (approx.) and almost 3 lb standalone scope. With specs like this, why would you want this hog on your rifle? To hunt 4-legged pests, of course. It may be heavy, but it’s built like a mini Russian tank. It’s recoil-proof up to 30-06 caliber but is a scope better suited on an AR-15 .223 platforms.

For a Gen 2+, it provides really good night vision performance worthy of its price tag. It has a detection range of 350 yards, and it’s fully capable of providing clear imaging to hit steel at those distances.

But the real highlight feature of the Wolf scope is its day and night system. No, it’s not a digital scope but a dual-channel optical system that allows for safe use during the day while the night channel is cut-off and the IIT is protected. Yes – you can now have a real night vision scope at home on your rifle during the day and night.

4. ATN PS28-4 – Best Gen 4 Night Vision Scope

ATN PS28-4 Clip On Night Vision Scope Review
Image Credit - ATN Corp

The ATN PS28 is a night vision clip-on series. So, with clip-on collimation and Gen 4 tech which means an unfilmed tube, you’ll know this is one pricey unit that puts it at the top of its line. Can ATN bake up something this good that makes it worth the price? Let’s find out.

Pros:

  • Gen 4
  • Autogated
  • Clip-on
  • High tube specs
  • Recoil resistant

Cons:

  • Price

The PS28-4 has a Gen 4 IIT. In this case, it’s an unfilmed tube with autogating. The autogating provides some tube protection to bright light sources as voltage cycles are consistently and rapidly shut on and off. As a side result, overall tube life expectancy is improved.

Furthermore, unfilmed tech has come a long way that also improves its durability to recoil resistance. The ATN clip-on is supposedly recoil-resistant to 375 H&H, but if you’re only hog hunting with a .308 Win, you’re good to go.

Tube specs are extremely impressive for this PS28, and dare we say, for ATN too. Resolution is as expected at 64-72 lp/mm, it has a Gen 3 GaAs photocathode (the filmless tech makes it Gen 4), but its SNR of 25-30 and FOM of 2000 (typical) is excellent.

If you need the recipe to buying the best clip-on and the best of what Gen 4 can bake up, the PS28-4 is what comes out of the oven. You can have your cake and eat it too.

5. AGM Wolverine 4 NL3 – Best Night Vision Scope Under $2000

AGM Wolverine-4 NL3 night vision rifle scope review
Image Credit - Optics Planet

If you doubt that you can ever afford night vision, get out from under your rock. AGM brings affordable night vision to tight budgets.

Pros:

  • Price
  • Gen 2+
  • Standalone scope
  • Auto Brightness
  • Dual-lever QRM

Cons:

  • MIL/MOA

The Wovlerine-4 NL3 is an upper-end Gen 2 scope with awesome performance for the money. Gen 2+ just doesn’t get as affordable as this, and yet, here the Wolverine stands – at Gen 1 price points.

It has fixed 4x magnification, 45-51 lp/mm resolution, green phosphor, and approximately 50 hours of battery runtime. This is the type of night vision that varmint hunters with low caliber rifles should quickly buy up. We say low caliber because eye relief is pretty unforgiving at only 45 mm. No one likes scope bite, right?

The Wolverine scope is perfectly suited to hunting, nighttime steel plinking, and various close-range shooting needs. Turrets are in MOA adjustments and you have an illuminated center cross mil-dot reticle. Some may not like the MOA/MIL combo, but it’s not like you’ll need to be holding over or messing with adjustments at these distances in the dark, right? If so, this isn’t the scope for you. 

But to have Gen 2+ at this price point, it’s a deal worthy of recognition and you can get over your MOA/MIL fears. AGM manufactures some of the best night vision devices to date. If you want value, get on board.

6. Bering Optics D-790W Gen 3+

Bering Optics D790W Gen 3 night vision scope review
Image Credit - Bering

The Bering Optics D-790 should be one of the most revered scopes in the market. It’s big, but some of the best scopes are. The D-790W Gen 3+ shows you what real night vision performance really is.

Pros:

  • Price
  • Gen 3
  • WPT
  • Standalone scope
  • Recoil-proof

Cons:

  • MOA/MIL

We can talk about its heft or we can talk about real things to point out like its MOA/MIL system. The Bering scope has ¼ MOA adjustments and a mil-dot reticle. Big deal for you? Not a scope for you then. The D-790 is long-ranging and high-performing, so if this is a flaw in your opinion, it’s a strikeout.

However, this scope is no ordinary NV scope. It has the works. While it’s listed under an official Gen 3 classification, it has a gated, unfilmed tube, and it also has manual gain and a white phosphor screen. That’s a mouthful, but it’s all the high-end stuff that allows an NVD to reap in usable, detailed results.

The scope is also recoil-proof – yes, it can handle the kicks from .50 cal loads. Make sure to use this scope on the right rifle since it’s more than capable of acquiring identification on targets over 600 yards with cloud coverage and over 900 yards under quarter-moonlight. Impressive!

But that’s not all. Of course, it’s fully waterproof and fogproof, but if you’re ever in doubt of its fogproof capabilities, give it a refill. Yes – you can do that. For its quality and performance at its price point, it’s not hard to see why the D-790W should be a fan favorite.

7. Knights Armament UNS-A3

Knights Armament UNS A3 Clip On Night Vision Scope Review
Image Credit - Knights Arm Co

What does the military use? It looks a lot like this – the Knight’s Armament Co. UNS-A3. If you’re obsessed with having mil-spec gear, get ready to pay military-grade prices.

Pros:

  • Clip-on
  • True collimation
  • Long-range
  • Military-grade
  • Interchangeable battery system

Cons:

  • Price

It’s hard to pull the trigger on a brand new UNS-A3 clip-on from Knight’s Armament, and sometimes you’re forced to go the refurbished route. But if you ever have the cash for one, you’ll never regret it. If you want to know what the professionals use – it’s this.

The UNS-A3 is truly collimated to work with any day optic and red dot sight. Because of its precision collimated optics, it’s a clip-on that does not produce any shift in POI. If you want deadly accurate precision, you must have a Knight’s Armament scope.

Its tough too, just like the users who depend on it. It’s waterproof for hours and recoil-proof up to 50 BMG. It’s compact and lightweight. It has a versatile power supply as it runs on a AA battery or a CR123A battery.

For something so small, don’t make the mistake of underestimating its detection abilities. This is a 500 m detection scope under starlight. It only gets better.

To have a clip-on with this type of quality is worth the price. There are legitimate reasons why people pay more for clip-ons, and the UNS-A3 shows us why.

8. Knights Armament AN/PVS-30

Knights Armament AN PVS-30 clip on night vision scope Review
Image Credit - Knights Arm Co

Having SOCOM-issued gear is no joke. You have unparalleled night vision in the palm of your hands, and in this case, atop your rifle. What are you hunting? Never mind; if you can afford it, we don’t want to know.

Pros:

  • Gen 3+
  • L3 filmed
  • High tube specs
  • Long-range
  • Recoil-proof

Cons:

  • Price

The AN/PVS-30 is legitimate long-ranging night vision. When you rarely need to use an IR to see 6’ targets at 1000 yards plus, you know you have serious night vision. It may almost feel like you shouldn’t really be allowed to own it, but you can.

The clip-on scope has an L3 filmed autogated tube with tube specs expected of such a device. It’s why it’s a long-range champion and can be relied upon for breathtaking accuracy at such distances. As a Knight’s Armament scope, you know it’s been collimated to perform exactly as what you would expect of a $10,000+ NVD.

It’s heavier than the UNS-A3, but it also has an enormous objective lens of 120 mm. As you can imagine, it’ll fit better on extended rails, and hopefully you have some long arms to reach the focus.

It also has the interchangeable battery system that can power the scope as seen with the UNS-A3. Older models required 2x batteries, but these new versions only require either 1x AA or 1x CR123A.

The AN/PVS-30 is waterproof, fogproof, recoil-proof – you name it. They don’t get tougher, and they don’t get more accurate than this. If you have a taste for the expensive stuff and a taste for mil-spec stuff, the buck stops with Knight’s Armament.

9. AGM Wolverine Pro-6 3AW1

AGM Wolverine PRO-6 3AW1 Night Vision Scope Review
Image Credit - AGM Global Vision

Is bigger always better? In this case, it is. The Wolverine Pro-6 3AW1 is just as high-performing as it is big, and the Pro-6 is big.

Pros:

  • Gen 3
  • Standalone scope
  • WPT
  • Long-range
  • Projected reticle

Cons:

  • Heavy

The Wolverine Pro-6 is a long-ranging workhorse, and it should be. It has a huge objective lens, 6x magnification, and excellent tube quality that makes it one of the best scopes on AGM’s shelves regardless of the fact that it weighs over 3 lbs.

This model has a white phosphor screen that provides the black/white imagery that many have come to prefer over the time-honored green glow. If you prefer green night vision, the Pro-6 3AL1 model is identical to this 3AW1 save for the phosphor screen.

The Pro-6 has a Gen 3 gated IIT and is guaranteed to be free of blemishes in zone 1. While AGM doesn’t provide tube specs, it’s reasonable to suspect that SNR and FOM specs are up there with the best.

The scope has MOA adjustments and an adjustable brightness, projected chevron reticle. While there is only one chevron, it does feature windage and elevation crosshairs with hashmarks.

If you’re a fixed position calling-in type of hunter or long-ranging, prone-shooting, steel-hitting sniper, then this could be the scope you need. There won’t be much mobility with stock to shoulder with the Wolverine Pro-6. Guess it’s time to invest in quality sticks, right?

10.  AGM Comanche-22 3NW1

AGM Comanche-22 3NW1 Clip On Night Vision Scope Review
Image Credit - AGM Global Vision

Now here’s clip-on with the works that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, well, maybe just one leg. The Comanche-22 3NW1 is compact, lightweight, and is suitable for all types of night vision applications.

Pros:

  • Gen 3
  • Clip-on
  • WPT
  • Manual gain
  • Compact/lightweight

Cons:

  • No tube specs

AGM doesn’t provide any tube specs for their products. It’s a shame since many buyer’s depend on having this information to make an informed purchase.

But, getting over that fact, the Comanche-22 still looks really good on paper. The 3NW1 model indicates that the clip-on has a Gen 3 tube with a white phosphor screen and AGM’s “Level 1” IIT designation. In short, it’s a filmed GaAs autogated tube with black/white imaging and practically no blemishes in zone 1 – top NV quality.

Like the best scopes, it has manual gain and is effective for long-range distances and paired with 7x magnified optics. We consider long-range as beyond 400-500 yards. With quality and specs that the Comanche has, of course it’s a long-range performer.

It’s also worth mentioning that the AGM clip-on scope comes with a decent warranty not commonly seen in the night vision industry; it’s covered for 3 years that is a lot longer than most.

The Comanche will power you through the night over distance and long hours without tiring you out. It brings mobility to a setup where scouting, hiking, and shooting while standing or moving is essential. Practically every coyote hunter, right?

11. Wolf Performance Optics WPA PN23

Wolf Performance WPA PN23 Day & Night Vision Scope Review
Image Credit - Optics Planet

If you’re skeptical about the day and night system of the WPA PN22K, then go the traditional route with a night vision only standalone scope, the WPA PN23. You may be surprised by its low price tag to learn that this is a Gen 3 autogated scope.

Pros:

  • Gen 3
  • Standalone scope
  • Mid-range
  • Recoil-proof
  • Lightweight/compact

Cons:

  • Battery life

To have a Gen 3 autogated IIT at this price point is almost unbelievable, but it’s a real thing thanks to Wolf Performance Optics and their Russian manufacturer NPZ.

It’s compact and lightweight for a standalone unit as it comes in a size that is comparable to many clip-on scopes. Thanks to its nifty size, it can be used in various applications especially when mobility must be preserved.

While it’s recoil-rated to high calibers and has what you could consider the minimum requirement in eye relief, it’s really designed for use with small arms and would be a great scope for an AR-15.

Its passive performance without an IR is astounding for a scope at this price point but expected for a Gen 3. It can detect out to 400 yards but is especially crisp and clear within the 100-300 yard range – without an IR. This is important information because the PN23 is a power hog.

Speaking of hogs, it would be a killer scope for or hog hunting for its detection performance, light weight, and fast acquisition chevron reticle.

The single AA battery has limited runtime. Without use of the built-in IR, it runs for a max 15 hours. Best advice to avoid an epic fail in the field? Carry spares.

12. TRYBE PVS14 Gen 3 WPT

TRYBE PVS-14 Gen 3 WPT Night Vision Monocular Review
Image Credit - Optics Planet

Ah, the PVS-14 that is best used as goggles but often sees action atop a barrel. We couldn’t pass up on highlighting the TRYBE PVS14 due to its high-quality specs. Since it can be weapon-mounted, you can bet that it will be by many. Here’s how it holds up.

Pros:

  • Gen 3
  • WPT
  • Weapon-mountable
  • Wide FOV
  • Lightweight/compact

Cons:

  • Low recoil-resistance

It’s no secret that a PVS-14 is not a weapon sight and is not rated to handle recoil. Yet, we marry them to rifles all the time. If this sounds like you, we’ll tell you now that it’s not to be put on anything larger than a 5.56x45mm. Light to zero recoil calibers are acceptable as this would be an expensive paperweight once destroyed by repeated .308 Win recoil.

This isn’t an issue for many who are looking to plink steel with a .22LR at 300 yards or taking down rodents and coyotes with a .223 Rem. The feather-weight and compact body is well-suited to these platforms and pair well with night vision compatible red dot sights.

But as a hand/held or goggle optic by design, you can appreciate its huge 40-degree field of view. Obviously, this will be a close-range unit best suited to sub-200 yard shooting even with a magnified optic like an ACOG.

Now about the tube. This TRYBE Defense model is a hand-selected PVS-14 with a thin-filmed Pinnacle/Autogated Gen 3 tube. It also has the white phosphor screen that many have come to love. Detail, contrast, sharpness, and clarity – WPT is all the rage.

If you’re looking for your first NVD for mainly helmet-mounted use and would like the versatility of having a backup rifle sight on a light caliber rifle if the need arises, the PVS-14 will do the job.  

13.  ATN NVM14-4

ATN NVM14-4 Night Vision Monocular Review
Image Credit - ATN Corp

If you’re not looking to spend PVS14 prices but you want the same capabilities, look to the ATN NVM14. The NVM14-4 is the best of the best for the series but is still a monocular at heart. How will it work as a weapon sight? Stay tuned.

Pros:

  • Gen 4
  • Close-range
  • Weapon-mountable
  • Lightweight
  • Compact

Cons:

  • Low recoil resistance

The NVM14 is said to be recoil-proof up to .308 Win calibers, and it may hold some truth. The tube is a Gen 4 autogated filmless IIT, and unfilmed tubes are supposed to have much improved recoil resistance than they did in the early 2000s. Even so, it’s still a monocular at heart and would be best suited to light caliber weapons.

Even though the NVM14-4 is not a weapon sight, ATN makes a mount adapter for the NVM14 and it provides good shooting performance up to 100 yards. With its position rearward of a red dot sight, with somewhat adjustable eye relief, and 1x magnification with a 40-degree FOV, this is a close-range optic by all definitions.

Its tube quality and very lightweight, compact specs makes it tempting to keep it on your barrel 24/7. However, since it’s not made for that, it can be a good backup for when the need arises. With the right mounting assemblies, you can go between helmet and rifle. The NVM14-4 is the best of the series, but it’s still suited to those who are mainly using it as it should be – on your head or in your hand.

Since it can function as a weapon sight if need be, it’s best for those who aren’t doing a ton of shooting with it on the rail or those who plan on buying a clip-on or standalone scope in the near future. While it’s an expensive route to go, you’ll still have an A-class monocular as part of your NV setup. You can never have too much night vision.

What to Look for in a Night Vision Scope

As you can tell, NV scopes have a world of specs of their own. You have new terms, technologies, and internal components much different to a daytime scope.

To get you up to speed, we'll pump out a few tips to help you navigate your way through the dark!

Price

Price is now less of an identifying factor of scope type and generation as NV technology improves and new brands bring competition to the market.

Therefore, prices are really only a budgeting factor in helping you to narrow down the available options. You can spend as little as $500 on night vision and land a digital scope, and then you could spend upwards of $10,000 and land a high-end, mil-spec, Gen 3+ scope.

Set a budget and don’t stray because you’ll always be tempted into spending a little bit more and then a little bit more for the next best thing. Your budget, even if small, will still get you something that’s better than no night vision at all.

Night Vision Type

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There are multiple types of “scopes” that you’ll come across in the NV field. Generally, digital scopes are more affordable than night vision scopes with an image intensifier tube. Standalone scopes tend to be lower priced than clip-ons. Weapon-mounted monoculars are not the most practical way to get shooting in the dark, but they do have a place. Here is a rundown.

  • Digital Scope – A digital standalone scope that incorporates a light-sensitive sensor, electronic image processing circuitry, and a display. Can be used both day and night.
  • Clip-On Scope – Shorter and compact night vision device that must be used with a red dot sight, laser, or daytime scope as it has no internal adjustments or reticle. Mounts to rail in front of aiming device or can be mounted to the objective bell of a daytime scope that does not have an adjustable objective (AO).
  • Standalone Scope – A dedicated scope that does not need to be used with any other aiming device as it has a reticle, adjustments, and can be zeroed. Can be a digital or IIT version.
  • Monocular – Weapon mountable monoculars, like that of the PVS-14, are especially efficient for goggle/head-mounted use. They can be weapon-mounted to light caliber small arm rifles behind a red dot sight or daytime optic with limitations.

Night Vision Generation

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See Clarity of Gen 1 to Gen 3 Night Vision Devices

For most buyers, just saying that a scope is Gen 1, Gen 2, or Gen 3 used to be enough to help predict tube performance and price. It’s not quite that way anymore as specs are changing significantly between generations as technology improves.

We’re also seeing a lot more improvement in unfilmed/filmless tubes commonly known as Gen 4 that provides .50BMG recoil resistance in Gen 3 models. Not so fragile as once was thought, right?

Check out our rundown on generation explanations for more information. You might also like to check out our best Gen 3 night vision scope round-up.

Tube Specs

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Becoming far more important to the potential buyer these days are the tube specs or the image tube data sheet. This is the information that provides a general idea of expected tube performance from any given IIT. Many manufacturers don’t provide this information, so it may require a phone call prior to purchasing if you want more details.

The most asked-about tube specs are:

  • Resolution: IIT resolution measurement expressed in line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm). The higher the number, the better the resolution. It’s important to note that resolution does not determine the generation of an IIT, but it can be an indicator.
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): An excellent indicator of tube lowlight resolution performance. The higher the SNR, the better the tube performance in lowlight conditions to resolve targets with good contrast, detail, and clarity.
  • Figure of Merit (FOM): Another indicator of tube performance. It’s calculated by multiplying lp/mm (resolution) by SNR. NVDs with FOM of 1400 and above are non-exportable.
  • Photocathode (PC) Type: As the input surface of an IIT, it’s responsible for absorbing photons (light) and releasing electrons to form an image for the user. The material the photocathode is made from is a good indicator of night vision generation.
  • Photocathode Sensitivity: This is a measurement of how well the photocathode does its job. Measured in microamperes per lumen (µA/lm), this figure is another indicator of tube performance. However, with filmed and thin-filmed tubes, electron loss occurs in the ion barrier tube. Raw PC sensitivity data typically does not reflect the electron loss rates. So, tubes with 1600 µA/lm may very well perform at half that rate.

Mounting Options

Night vision mounting options will vary between the various types of night vision scopes.

  • Clip-on scopes generally work best on extended rails and will likely come with a quick release mount. Adapters to mount to the objective bell of a daytime optic is usually only available as an optional and separate purchase.
  • You must also consider the fact that clip-on scopes must be mounted so that the optical axes of the clip-on and aiming device are within 3mm of each other to ensure no shift in POI.
  • Standalone scopes may come with either a standard mil-std-1913 Picatinny mount or a quick release mount. They will vary between manufacturers. One thing to look out for before you buy are available replacement or upgradeable mounts in case the one included in the box does not fit your needs or is too flimsy.
  • Not all monoculars are weapon-mountable. If it is, they likely don’t come with the weapon mount included in the buy. Must be purchased separately.

The point of all this? Be sure that you have access to mounting options if the included mount is inadequate in quality, it doesn’t fit your setup, or if it doesn’t come with one.

FAQs

What Night Vision Scope does the Military Use?

The military uses Gen 3 and what is commonly known as Gen 4 (unfilmed/filmless) night vision scopes with autogating, overall lifetime reliability of 10,000+ hours, and high tube specs.
The U.S. Department of Defense issues contracts to manufacturers with very specific tube specs that must pass military standard testing procedures. These scopes are rarely available to civilians as they are restricted products reserved for fulfilling military contracts.
For examples of mil-spec night vision, check out the Knight’s Armament UNS A3 and AN/PVS-30.

How Far can you see with Night Vision Scope?

This is difficult to answer and is why many manufacturers do not provide an expected range because there are many factors to consider.
However, the average expected identification of a 6’ target is around 100 yards with detection of around 300 yards. This is without use of an IR flashlight/illuminator from a quality scope, although many can offer better performance.
With passive technology, you are dependent on ambient light conditions to retrieve an image. Therefore, the quality and specs of a tube and optical specs of the scope also have a lot to do with detection, recognition, and identification performance.

What's Better Thermal or Night Vision?

There is no right and wrong as many incorporate both in hunting and work operations. Thermal scopes are more expensive than night vision and they cannot provide the kind of target identification and detail of night vision. But they do not need light to function, can be used during the day and night, and they have a much longer detection range.
Night vision is less expensive and provides identification and details of a target but cannot work in total darkness (without an IR) and its detection range is closer than thermal. See our comparison guide on both technologies for more information.

Are Night Vision Scopes Illegal?

Night vision scopes are legal to buy, own, and hunt non-game animals in the USA. ITAR-restricted night vision and its documents can only be handled by US citizens. Each state has laws regarding use of night vision and thermal devices, so the onus is on you to stay educated about legalities before buying, shooting, and hunting with night vision.

Detecting the Right Night Vision Scope for You!

There are several factors to consider that will help determine what scope is right for you. You don’t need to go broke over buying night vision. Even Gen 1 is far better than no night vision at all.

Between all the improvements, brand competition, and newly-released technologies, affordable night vision scopes are now a reality. Keep your eyes peeled and your IR on.

Change the way you hunt and the way you see with a night vision scope tonight!

Further Reading

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