Night vision technology was first introduced in the 1920s. It was first utilized by the military in WWII, Okinawa. The technology back then (gen zero) was quite successful in the military advent. Humans have rather poor night vision compare to many animals, and that become a useful edge in battle.
Since then night vision technology has advanced to Gen 1, Gen 2, Gen 3, Gen 3 Pinnacle and Digital Night Vision. Furthermore, night vision optics are much more affordable that you can see Gen 1 and Gen 2 optics used in hunting and recreational sports.
That said, the price is still high, and no one wants to spend a fortune on a low quality product. But rest easy, because I have search the market and check them out for you. With this guide, you’ll find the best night vision scope on the first try.
To summarize, here’s my list of the Best Night VIsion Scope
Best Night Vision Scope
Before diving into the details of each, let’s discuss what we’re looking for in a night vision scope.
Table of Contents
What makes a good night vision scope ?
Gen 1 – The most affordable in the market today. This is for civilian use. It employs photocathode and phosphorous screen to produce night vision. You get about 1,000x light amplification from this technology.
Gen 2 – They put a microchannel plate between the photocathode and the phosphorous screen to amplify electrons. Resolution is better and noise is reduced. This produce 2,000x light amplification, which is significantly better than Gen 1.
Gen 3 – Material in photocathode gets an upgrade. This results in slight improvement from Gen 2.
Gen 4 – Ion barrier on the microchannel plate, the photocathode’s protection, is removed. This results in much better performance, but significantly less lifespan of the optics.
Gen 3 Pinnacle – Ion barrier on the microchannel plate gets thinner instead of removed. This results in slightly better performance and similar lifespan compare to Gen 3. This is today’s military standard.
Digital – Digital technology is becoming more prevalent in the world of night vision optics. High quality digital night vision can rival high quality Gen 2 devices. Plus there are additional features such as built-in video recorder and ballistic calculator. Pricing is also very affordable, some lower end digital optics are on the same price level as Gen 1 optics.
Even though Gen 2 optics significantly outperform Gen 1 optics, they also come with a hefty price tag. For hunting or non-military uses, Gen 1 performance is enough. If you need higher quality, digital night vision optics are a good choice to look at.
Day / Night Usability
Most night vision device can’t be used during the day due to extreme light sensitive components. Too much light can damage the light intensifier tube and phosphor screen. That said, there are some night vision device which are an exception to this.
Digital scopes however, are immune to this issue and can be used both during day and night. This is due to different technology used in construction of the optics.
Infrared Illuminator (IR Illuminator)
A night vision scope cannot work in total darkness. The device needs some sort of light to amplify. IR illuminator is usually the solution to this problem. It basically acts as a flashlight for night vision optics, projecting infrared light that cannot be seen with human eyes.
Good IR illuminator chooses light spectrums which are also invisible to animals to avoid spooking game.
Some night vision device is sold along with IR, but it is often a good idea to purchase additional IR illuminator to increase performance.
For military operations however, IR illuminator is not advised as it can reveal your position for enemies with night vision capabilities.
Note that the infrared should not be aimed directly at the eye as some damage can occur.
Traditional night vision device often has low to none fixed magnification like 1x, 2x or 4x. Variable power would come at much higher price tag.
A popular solution is to mount night vision device with other magnification optics but this leads to some degree of distortion and degradation due to more lenses the light must pass through before it reaches your eye.
Digital night vision device doesn’t have this issue as they use digital zoom instead. You can get high variable magnification like 3-14x or 5-20x. Admittedly, sight picture can get pixelated at high magnification.
Here is an approximate amount of lifespan for each tech.
- Gen 1 : 1,500 – 2,500 hours
- Gen 2 : 5,000 hours
- Gen 3 & Gen 3 Pinnacle : 12,000 hours
- Digital : Varies
Another thing to mention is that digital night vision consumes incredible amount of batteries. External power source is preferred than normal batteries.
Night vision optics quality is measured by “lp/mm” or line pair per millimeter. 10 LP/mm means 10 dark lines alternating with 10 light lines, or 10 line pairs per millimeter. High quality optics has a resolution of 64-72 lp/mm. 45 LP/mm is still ok for most uses.
Phosphor Screen Color, Green or White?
Most night vision device has green as their screen color. This is to take advantage of human eyes heightened sensitivity to green color. There is another idea of “white phosphor”. Some feel that contrast is easier to detect in white. However, I think this is more of a matter of preference.
Glass and Lens Coating
Suppose you obtain the best quality Gen 3 Pinnacle tube, but you put a low quality glass on it. This night vision scope will be inferior to Gen 1 tube with high quality glass. To conclude, you should not skimp on high quality glass and lens coating.
Eye Relief and Eyebox
Eye relief = Space between your aiming eye and the scope for optimal sight image
Generally, bigger eye relief means that your eye is safe from recoil. However, too much eye relief might lead to uncomfortable head and eye position.
Eyebox = Amount of wiggle room for your aiming eye placement
A small eyebox scope can mean less than half an inch room for optimal eye placement. When people complain about “small sweet spot”, it’s the same thing as small eyebox. This results in much slower target acquisition and frustration during field use. This issue normally magnifies itself on higher magnification scopes.
There are 3 main groups of reticle pattern
- Simple – Duplex, NikoPlex, V-Plex, Dot, etc.
- Mil-Dot, MOA – Crosshairs
- BDC – Bullet Drop Compensation calibrated to particular rounds
This is a matter of preference. But if you intend to also shoot long range, Simple reticles are not good enough as they provide no holdover nor distance measurement tool.
Mil-Dot and MOA type are preferred for range beyond 800 yards as most BDC reticle don’t reach beyond that range.
The point of illuminating the reticle is to make target acquisition faster. Because the reticle becomes easier to spot.
The ability to hold zero, lens and body durability are essential for any scopes. Furthermore, the scope must be able to endure field environment, such as extreme temperature, rain and some external force.
Night vision device are not the most durable scopes. So don’t drop it and don’t store batteries in it for long periods of time without use. Furthermore, keep the lens covers on it until you’re ready to use it.
Reliable manufacturer’s warranty also goes a long way to ensure usability of the scope. This aspect also helps maintain reasonable price when selling the scope in second hand market if the warranty is transferable.
1. Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3x 42mm Gen 1 Night Vision Riflescope
The Firefield is an affordable Gen1 optic. When you first see the price, you kind of doubt it’s usefulness. But it turns out to be a good thing that I’ve tried it.
Gen 1 optics today is much better than Gen 1 optics 10 years ago. This Firefield provides much value for its price. Provided that you have an IR illuminator, you can kill a coyote out to 100 yards in middle of the night. If you don’t plan to buy an IR illuminator, note that one is already built-in to your scope. You can also see out to 100 yards without any illuminator in a bright night.
The scope has fixed 3x magnification which is normal for traditional night vision device. Reticle is an illuminated red LED crosshairs. It has no holdovers whatsoever. This makes it not suitable for long range.
Like most night vision optics, you cannot use this during the day as bright sunlight could destroy parts of the night vision mechanism. That said, it can be sight in during late afternoon by using a small hole in the center of the lense cover.
Two things to complain is that the scope comes with a terrible mount and is heavy at 30.7 ounce.
The scope is rated for 3,700 joules recoil or about a .308 Win. From my experience, it holds zero well even with some bumps along the road. Furthermore, the scope is waterproof and can be used in the rain. However soaking it in water is not such a good idea and is not recommended. Warranty for this particular optic is 3 years. It can be increased to 5 years warranty if you register your product in their website, so just register it.
|✓ Good Gen 1 quality
|✗ Terrible mount
|✓ Low price
|✗ Heavy (30.7 ounce)
|✗ Not for long range
|✓ 5 Years warranty
|✗ Cannot be used during the day
Price : $$
2. ATN X-Sight II 3-14x/50mm Smart Day & Night Rifle Scope
As mentioned above, digital night vision optics are on the rise. The ATN X-Sight II is an excellent example of this statement. It is an affordable, high quality day/night optics that offers lot of features.
With an illuminator, you can shoot accurately out to 600 yards in the middle of the night. Image quality is very good. It boasts 160 lp/mm resolution which is considered very high. Plus it has easy-to-use built in ballistic calculator and rangefinder which calculates holdovers point for you automatically. Furthermore, you has various reticle sizes and colors to choose from. With its ballistic calculator though, you don’t even need the holdovers as the reticle auto-adjust itself for the drop.
The ability to take videos and video streaming during your shots are great to have. This makes sharing memory with your friends a simpler thing to do. The Recoil Activated Video could use some improvements as smaller rounds might not activate the recording video camera. Note that the video looks better on lower magnification.
Things to complain are that it consumes huge amount of batteries. With 4 AA batteries using every function, bluetooth, wifi, video, gps, geotagging, etc., you get only 10 minutes. You can fix this with a battery pack, but that will increase to its already bulging weight of 34.4 ounce.
Zeroing for digital scope is very simple as most digital scopes can do the single-shot-zero.
Durability is good with this scope and it will hold zero on .308 rounds. There are some defect cases but ATN fix this by offering 2 years warranty for this digital optics. Not great but acceptable for digital products.
|✓ Good image quality
|✗ Heavy (34.4 oz)
|✓ Wide range of magnification
|✗ Battery intensive
|✓ Digital Night vision optic
|✗ 2 years warranty
|✓ Day/Night scope
|✓ Built-in ballistic calculator and rangefinder
Price : $$$$
3. Night Owl Optics 3x NightShot Digital Night Vision Riflescope
This is a more budget option for digital night vision scope. It has significantly less functions than the ATN X-Sight II. But if you’re tight on budget, this optics will fit as a no-frill night vision scope.
Featuring fixed 3x magnification, the scope has effective range of 100-200 yards depending on your target size. This scope has no fancy ballistic calculator function, no built-in video recorder but is considerably lighter than the other two (20.8 ounce). Luckily it has built-in IR illuminator in case you don’t want to spend more. But note that buying an external IR illuminator can improve your visibility.
Reticle has 6 types for you to choose from and has holdovers for longer range shots. Note that its screen color is black and white image not green as most night vision device.
Glass is clear and good for shots in its effective range. The scope is rated for .30 caliber and holds zero fine for .30-06. Plus, since it’s a digital scope, daylight will not damage the scope. The Night Owl is durable enough for field conditions and comes with Limited (original owner only) 1 Year Warranty, which is a bit short.
|✓ Good image quality
|✗ Not much functions
|✓ Digital Night vision optic
|✗ 1 year warranty
|✓ Day/Night scope
|✗ Battery intensive
|✓ Lighter weight (20.8 oz)
|✗ Not for long range
Price : $$$
From the 3 scopes recommended, my personal favorite is the ATN X-Sight II. It is affordable with tons of features that you just couldn’t get with traditional night vision devices.
160 lp/mm resolution is shockingly very high. Plus you never have to worry about bullet drop anymore, as long as you input your specific loads correctly.
One of the most critical feature is its Recoil Activated Video. This makes sharing on YouTube or with your friends and family a very easy thing to do. Gone were the days when you need to carry the rifle, the optics and camera device to record your hunt.
That said, the scope is heavy and consumes lots and lots of batteries. If you purchase this, make sure you have external power source.