There is no doubt that Night Vision is becoming more popular and one of the main reasons for this is that the new digital technology is making it much more affordable. But with so many different flavors of night vision out there making your choice can be very difficult, so here is a short and simple guide to getting the best bang for your buck.
First, some basics.
The range that you can see things with your night vision is dependent on a number of factors: To see distant objects close up you need to magnify the image, unfortunately the greater the magnification the less able the optics are to transfer light therefore you will need a better light source like an IR laser or IR LED torch or increased “Gain” within the unit. Gain being the amount of internal light amplification. Increasing gain will not always improve the image you see as it can introduce grain and other aberrations into the image.
There are a number of things that you will need to consider when you start to use night vision. I have taken a number of people out for their first attempt at using NV and all of them have been proven good shots in daylight and with a lamp but all have said that using night vision does take a bit of getting used to. For a start it will add a not inconsiderable weight to the top of your rifle, there is also very little depth perception so it really helps if you know your land as judging range can be very difficult. During the day you may be used to seeing an area that has a lot of light foliage and areas of dark foliage, well if the dark foliage is reflective and the light foliage is not then the light and dark areas could very well be reversed when seen through NV.
Your choice of illumination will affect the image you see. A dedicated IR laser will give you a long range but you will see a very grainy image with a number of black spots and circles, I have recently swapped from a Firefly Laser to a NM800 IR on my Gen3 Longbow unit and the improvement in image quality is very noticeable.
Image Intensifier Tubes.
These are the ones we are used to seeing in the movies and games, where everything has a green glow. These were the first NV instruments to come on the market. They were initially developed for the military but as time has moved on they have been licensed for civilian use. Top end tubes still offer the best results but they do carry a very heavy price tag.
Unless the unit is equipped with protective circuitry it is very important that you do not point the unit at any bright lights as this will permanently damage the tube.
As the name implies these were the first NV Tube products to hit the market and there are still big numbers of them out there. Initially they carried a very high price but with later and better equipment coming along 1st Gen kit is now in the affordable bracket.
Gen 1 will amplify existing light several thousand times but there must be some light for it to amplify. The image will not be as clear as later generations and may dramatically fall off and blur towards the edges of the frame.
Gen 2 is in many ways similar to Gen 1 but with the addition of a micro-channel plate (MCP). This MCP is an electron amplifier and sits behind the photocathode and significantly increases the number of electrons released. This means that the Gen 2 units amplify the light many more times than the Gen 1 giving you a much brighter and sharper image.
Gen 3 is similar to Gen 2 but the photocathode now has the addition of gallium arsenide, which is extremely light sensitive, and this gives a significantly brighter and sharper image, however there is a significant increase in the cost of these units.
3rd Generation Filmless or 4th Generation.
The new Gated Filmless units are a huge step forward in NV technology. By removing the ion barrier film and Gating the system there is a massive increase in resolution and target detection range, plus the ability to work with extremely low ambient light levels.
Digital Night Vision.
Digital Night Vision is a newer technology than Image Intensifier Tubes and comes with a number of advantages and disadvantages. Three big plusses are:
The price, digital technology is much more affordable than tubes.
You can use digital units in daylight with no fear of damaging it, so even if your rifle is dedicated to a Digital sight, you can quite safely zero in daylight.
Many digital units have a video out port that will allow you to capture what you are seeing on a video recording device.
Digital nv view
On the negative side, at present digital night vision will only give you an image that is the equivalent of a 1st Generation tube.
Choice of Units.
There are so many out there and I will not go into recommending individual products and all too often it will be the size of your bank balance that determines what choice you make.
There are dedicated units, there are units that can be used to spot and then quickly attached to your existing scope to allow you to take the shot, in the digital world these add-ons can either go at the objective or ocular end of the scope. There is a lot of choice and that choice seems to be growing month on month.
Whichever way you choose to go, your night shooting will never be the same again and I wish you luck and happy hunting.