There is much to be said about predators. They own the night and drive lesser creatures into shelter and hiding. Even man, the apex of all animals, often feels the fear after dark. The one thing that separates us from those hunters of the night is our poor vision in low light. But that has changed, now you too can own the night, all you need is the best night vision scope you can get your hands on!
Too busy to read? Here are our picks for Night Vision Scope
What Is A Night Vision Scope?
When we say night vision, what we are really talking about is light amplification devices. In true darkness like a cave, they will do you no good unless you have some method of introducing light yourself. The good thing is the light doesn’t need to be in the visible spectrum, a little IR that is invisible to the naked eye will light up the darkness for most night vision scopes.
A night vision scope is simply a device that is weapon mounted that allows you to amplify any ambient light or use IR light to see your target at a distance. The more reflective the target is to that light, the brighter it will appear. For hunting, especially things like Hog and Coyote, these have been the best tool to ever be invented.
How It Works?
The more modern digital night vision uses IR light instead of the light our eyes see which it picks up and converts it to a visual image. Scopes of this time have become increasingly common and are a rapidly growing market. Unlike traditional night vision, digital night vision can often be used during the day as well.
Traditional night vision operates using a light sensor and phosphor screen. Instead of IR light, it needs some light from the visual spectrum, though it needs very little. Light in the form of photons enter the scope and impact a detection screen and are converted into electrons. These electrons are multiplied as they pass through a scope and are fired into a phosphor screen that glows from the impacts.
That is a very basic explanation of traditional night vision scopes. The technology gets more advanced as you move through generations. The basic principles are the same for all traditional night vision, it’s the technology inside that takes care of those principles that change.
Types of Night Vision Scope
You can divide modern light amplification night vision into two distinct technologies. The newest is digital night vision which works like a security camera. These are a rapidly growing sector of the market and often sell for much cheaper than the older technologies even though they are newer. Part of this is due to the lack of durability in many digital night vision scopes.
Traditional night vision scopes are true light amplification technology rather than substituting IR light. These scopes are divided into generations based on the exact technology used to amplify light. Most consumer models of night vision will be Gen 1 with a few Gen 2 options here and there that cost several times more than Gen 1.
There are Gen 3 scopes which are currently used by the military but can cost several thousand dollars for a cheap model. Gen 4 is the newest technology but is going through some growing pains and still costs a fortune with some models reaching past the $10,000.00 mark.
Thermal Vs Night Vision
Many people confuse thermal and night vision optics and truth be told, there are a lot of similarities in how they work and their use but they are two different technologies with one huge difference. A night vision scope relies on some form of light, be it visual or IR. It doesn’t have to be bright light but enough to reflect off the target. That reflection is the key, night vision requires reflected light.
Thermal optics, on the other hand, use IR but are more sensitive to the part of the IR spectrum that is radiated from a target in the form of heat. They need no reflected light or external source or IR. They see what the target is giving off naturally and will work during the day and even in complete darkness.
How to Zero Night-Vision Scope?
While the exact process for zeroing a night vision scope is very similar to a regular rifle scope, your choice of targets may need to change. The monochrome view of any night vision alone would make seeing rings on a target difficult aside from the use of IR light or other variables.
Some companies make targets specifically for use with night vision which are a worthwhile investment but making your own is also a possibility. If you choose to make your own, use different materials for your rings than you have for your background. Duct tape works very well but so does textured paint. You still want a color difference but the texture will help you differentiate.
You will still be adjusting your elevation and windage as with a normal scope and chasing your impacts to get zeroed. Luckily most scopes do rather well at seeing impacts. You do want to start at closer range than with a traditional scope and take zeroing in small steps rather than big leaps. Consider zeroing every 10 yards until you reach your desired range.
How to Use a Night Vision Scope?
Using a night vision scope will vary somewhat between technologies. For a digital scope, use it as you would a normal scope, just make sure it’s powered up. Time of day isn’t important.
It gets a little trickier with traditional night vision optics. The amount of light they need to function and the amount of light they can tolerate before washing out will differ between optics and generations. Avoid light that is very bright that may damage your optic, especially if its Gen 1.
Once you get the light down, a night vision scope will work the exact same as a traditional scope. Just be aware that spending much time looking through one can cause some eye strain. This seems more pronounced with digital night vision than traditional.
How to Mount a Night Vision Scope?
Most digital scopes are large, bulky devices that cannot possibly mount with the usual mounting hardware used for scopes. These will almost always have their own integrated mounting solution. Most will mount using Allen screws to any normal Picatinny or Weaver rail easily and without the need for adapters.
While the same mounting options may be true of some traditional night vision scopes, others will use a standard scope ring. Mount them just as you would a regular scope on whatever bases or mounts you have. Make sure you have properly sized rings and that they are not over tightened.
How Long Does a Night Vision Scope Last?
This is a common question as most people have heard that night vision burns out over time. If you have a digital night vision scope, it will not burn out as a traditional scope will. With proper care, they can last a lifetime or at least decades.
This is only the case with traditional night vision. A Gen 1 scope will vary greatly depending on its quality but can be expected to get somewhere near 1000 hours of use. Some may only get a few hundred if you go with a budget model. Advancements have increased this time somewhat with the newest Gen 1 scopes. A good Gen 1 Scope may last as much as a Gen 2 scope at around 5000 hours of use. Gen 3 can double that. Gen 4 is still up in the air with many claiming it lasts less than a Gen 2.
Can I Use a Night Vision Scope During the Day?
This depends on the technology. You can certainly use a digital scope during the day. They work very well and will often have full color and great resolution, making them work very much like a good quality rifle scope. This is probably the main advantage of digital night vision.
You cannot use a traditional night vision scope during the day. Some may even be damaged by sunlight just from being turned on. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions and never use them in bright light. The best possible outcome is that you get a full washed out screen.
How to Shop for a Night Vision Scope?
Decide what Technology you Want
For most people, digital night vision will do everything they need and more and cost much less. Still, there is charm in traditional night vision. The traditional night vision tends to be more durable but offers little else.
How much Magnification do you Need?
Typically, night vision scopes have very moderate levels of magnification. This works well as most can’t see as far as a scope can during the day. There are a few digital models that have high magnification for daytime use. For most people, something less than 10x is more than enough with 3x or 4x being typical.
Digital scopes will almost always need some form of IR booster or light and come with those on board. If they do not come with one, that is an extra cost.
The other big feature of digital night vision is the ability to record what you are seeing through your scope and even transmit it via Wi-Fi. While this is somewhat of a gimmick, many people enjoy it and some of the best even record sound.
Traditional night vision offers no extras in any scope that I am familiar with. They let you see after dark, that’s about as extra as most people need.
Top 3 Night Vision Scopes
1. ATN X-Sight 4K
At the heart of the X-Sight is a super-powered computer with a quad-core processor and that covers everything this king of the digital sights does. In many ways, it's more powerful than the smartphone you carry in your pocket and that’s before you get to the fact that it's strapped to a rifle.
The list of things this scope does is staggering from a ballistic computer, rangefinder, GPS, compass, recording device for video and sound, and a 4K LCD monitor for ultra-crisp resolution. This is very nearly a one-stop device for all your shooting optics needs, especially since it tops out a 14x magnification with plenty of resolution to still pick out fine details, day or night.
You can preprogram your loads into the sight, let it range the target, and let it tell you’re the adjustments you need to make. If it were any more advanced it would dial it in for you and take the shot but where would the fun be in that? Instead, let the scope record the action and send it to your smart device so you can watch it later. Notice how all the features come up and we still haven’t gotten to the night vision part?
When it comes to night vision, this scope is a stellar performer with two models available at either a 3-14x or 5-20x magnification. The top end of either is reserved for daytime use even if the scope comes with a high powered IR illuminator. You can get good distance at night but not enough to need 20x.
With all the tech packed into this scope, you do want it to be exposed to weather that is too harsh and it may be a little sensitive to rough treatment. ATN has done a good job of making it robust but not as robust as a traditional night vision scope.
Image quality is just about on par with a Gen 2 night vision optic but you don’t get the same contrast with digital. It should still serve your needs and with an 18+ hour runtime, it will hunt longer than you can. While I will always love traditional night vision, this is still a great optic worth considering.
2. Sightmark Photon XT
Digital sights really own the market these days but everyone should have a good option for a traditional night vision scope. For me, that is the Photon XT every time. You can’t beat the value and quality if you are in the market for the real deal.
You may not get the same image quality and resolution you would out of a digital sight but you get the charm and sheer awesome factor of owning a real piece of night vision just like militaries around the world use, even if this is just a Gen 1. And like their optics, this scope is built to last!
It also lacks the blocky and heavy body of most digital scopes, being more in line with the size and weight of a regular rifle scope. Meaning you can mount this to just about any regular rifle without the need for fancy bases or mounts. For an old bolt gun, this scope is amazing but will still mount on your AR 15 with no issues what so ever.
If you are a rifle shooter, the 4.6x power may seem light but that is more than adequate for night vision. The visible range of this scope tops out at around 130 yards which is very good for those not used to night vision and a 4x scope is more than adequate for those shots.
One of the best features of this scope is the CORE technology which does several things. Most importantly it clears up the image and improves the resolution of the image. Secondly, it improves the durability and that’s pretty astounding considering that this scope is already water and shockproof. Like I said, its built to last.
3. Bushnell Equinox
Most traditional optics companies have stayed away from night vision. Production is very different between the two and the market is quickly getting flooded with cheap scopes that are hard to compete with. But its good to see Bushnell take up the challenge with a scope that is affordable and worth every penny.
This is a digital scope but unlike most digital scopes it's very small and quite lightweight at just 2 pounds. Most everything about this scope is modest. The magnification is only 3x max but that works very well for this scope. No one is making any 500-yard shots after dark and 3x will get you to 100 yards perfectly with pinpoint accuracy.
Just like any other digital scope, you can record the action but you also get a one push button that will snap a still shot of your target that is amazingly hi res. If used during the day, you can get some impressive shots of your buck so if you happen to miss it, at least everyone will have evidence that you did, in fact, see it.
Probably the best thing about this scope, and there are a lot of good things, is that it uses standard AA batteries. You can stock up at the local supermarket without the need to worry about recharging or finding rare, expensive batteries. I wish more companies would take their cue from Bushnell on this. Even with AA batteries, you will still get more than a night’s worth of hunting, and you will get it cheap.
There is no doubt that you could hunt with this scope and do very well but I think this is perhaps the best scope on this list for a home defense gun. Its affordability, ease of use, and size make it about perfect. The fact that it works day or night is only a bonus. Bushnell has done an outstanding job with the Equinox.