The history of night vision devices (NVD) can be traced back to the late 1920’s, when Hungarian scientist Kalman Tihanyi developed an infrared sensing camera, which was used for aircraft detection in the UK. The German military began experimentation with night vision devises in the late 1930s, and began installing them on their tank fleet in the 1940s. Infrared night sighting devices were used by American snipers late in World War II, and again during the Korean Conflict (Wikipedia.com).
Before you proceed to the comparison table, we suggest you pay attention to the night vision cameras that we have chosen for you two best budget night vision cameras and the professional one.
Night vision devices generally fall into one of three categories:
First one – the scopes. Scopes are monocular (one eyepiece) and are generally handheld. Scopes are best when you want to look at something, then go back to normal vision. Scopes are often mounted on rifles.
The second category is goggles, which are binocular (two eyepieces). While they can be handheld, as in the case of night vision binoculars, they are often worn on the head. These are excellent for constant viewing and typically seen in military or law enforcement use, where you might be walking around a battlefield or dangerous neighborhood at night.
The last night vision category is cameras. Night vision cameras are typically used in fixed site applications, such as attached to a building and used for security purposes. Images can then be sent to a video monitor or recorded.
In this article, we are going to be evaluating a hybrid of two of the NVD types – the goggles and the camera. The latest technology has merged the binocular capability of goggles with the recording and image capturing capability of cameras. We will review a dozen versions of night vision binoculars that have a camera and/or a video recording capability.
Let’s look at how the technology works in an NVD.
Night vision goggles boost a dim, dark scene in a series of simple steps:
1. Dim light from a night scene enters the objective lens at the front. The light is made of photons (particles of light) of all colors.
2. As the photons enter the goggles, they strike a light-sensitive surface called a photocathode. Its a bit like a very precise solar panel: it’s job is to convert photons into electrons (electrons (the tiny, subatomic particles that carry electricity around a circuit).
3. The electrons are amplified by a photomultiplier, a kind of photoelectric cell. Each electron entering the photomultiplier results in many more electrons leaving it.
4. The electrons leaving the photomultiplier hit a phosphor screen, similar to the screen in an old-fashioned television. As the electrons hit the phosphor, they create tiny flashes of light.
5. Since there are many more photons than originally entered the goggles, the screen makes a much brighter version of the original scene.
So, whether we talk about goggles, binoculars, monoculars, cameras, or scopes, the concept is the same – gather and amplify what light there is to increase visibility at night. This technology should not be confused with thermal vision cameras, which capture sources of heat and make them stand out and become visible from their surrounding areas. There are some models and technologies, however, which allow dual use as night vision devices, and also can be used in daylight.
In addition to the military, security, and law enforcement applications, night vision devices can also be used for hunting, wildlife watching, human surveillance, navigation, and detecting hidden objects. Because of the military-grade technology in several of these models, they are not eligible for export. Some states also have bans on night vision devices, but these typically are related to a gun mounted NVDs. If there are questions about use or applicability, please check with the appropriate regulatory agency.
We’ve selected an even dozen night vision binoculars from Amazon.com. Ten of these would fall into the “budget” category of NVDs; two are definitely not budget, so we can categorize those as professional quality. In this article, we will give you an overview of the twelve, then discuss some features which might influence your buying habits. From there, we’ll drop down one level, and do a detailed review of each model, outlining general impressions, features and specification, and the pros and cons of that particular unit. Finally, we’ll wrap up with some recommendations on which cameras may be right for you, or for specific applications.
The night vision binoculars in the table below are sorted by their ratings, taken directly from the Amazon site. If the ratings are the same between two models, the more expensive of the two is listed last. Prices shown are for the base units only, without any options or extended warranty purchases.
One final thing to consider when looking at the ratings. Some of these units only have a handful of customer reviews, and only one of the twelve has more than 100 reviews. Given that, a couple of five-star or one-star reviews can have a dramatic effect on the overall rating of the binocular. While the ratings are important, they should not be the only factor impacting your decision.
Bestguarder NV-900 BEST PERFORMANCE, BEST OVERALL
This NVD has all the basics, and several bells and whistles, all at a reasonable, middle of the road price. Start with the 4” OCD screen. Add in a standard 32GB memory card, and you can view and store your videos and photos with ease. Large buttons allow for easy use, even in the dark. Runs on AA batteries or optional power pack for longer life. One-year warranty.
Features and specification:
- 640 x 480 pixels screen resolution gives clear, high-quality images
- binocular has a 5x digital zoom, 4.5x magnification, and a 40 mm objective lens
- takes clear photos, videos, and records with sound
- in full darkness, this NVD has 400-meter (1300 feet) visibility, using the built-in infrared illuminator
- Top end features and performance at a middle of the road price
- IPX4 water resistant, probably sufficient for most uses
- Operating temperature range of -30oC to +55oC for use in virtually any environment
- Time-lapse and pre-set time filming capability, so attendance is not necessary to photo or video
- Not surprisingly, given the features, the unit is fairly heavy at 2 pounds
- Batteries not included, 8 x AA batteries required for operation
- Some negative reviews based on facial comfort, distance ratings
Nightfox 100V – HONORABLE MENTION, BEST VALUE
This is the lowest price device on our list but still comes with some nice features. Seven levels of illumination allow vision up to 110 yards at night. It’s compatible with various tripods but is only for viewing, not recording or photos. Offers a special filter for daytime use.
- Lowest price by far of any of the NVDs on this list
- Day/night use
- Weight is 1.3 pounds
- Several reviews claim that the specified 6X magnification is not possible, and only 2X is available
- Six hours of maximum battery life on 8xAA batteries
Solomark Digital Night Vision Binocular BEST VALUE
The 4” widescreen has 320 x 240 pixels resolution, with 3.5X to 7X magnification and excellent color clarity. The 31mm objective contributes to a maximum viewing range of 400 meters (1300 feet). Can support up to 32GB storage with SD cards (not included, but 4GB is included), and comes with a USB cable to download to computers. Field of view is a fairly standard 9o.
- Only 16 customer reviews, but 15 of them are 5-star
- Expandable storage capability is a plus, especially if using for video recording
- Color, high-resolution LCD screen allows for instant viewing on the device
- Unit is a bulky 3 pounds
- Despite the weight, user reviews claim plastic is thin, and battery cover breaks easily
- Needs 8xAA batteries for operation, not included
Bestguarder Digital Night Vision Binocular BEST VALUE RUNNER-UP, BEST PERFORMANCE RUNNER-UP
With both day and night vision capability, and a patented filter, the unit has strong optics, including 7X magnification. A 320 x 240 resolution color LCD screen supports on unit viewing, 4 GB storage included, expandable to 32GB. Time and date stamp available for video and photos. USB and TV cables included. Price is reasonable, given the specifications and performance.
- IPX4 water resistance should be suitable for most applications
- Rechargeable batteries can be purchased for use in the NVD. Also works on (8, not included) AA, lithium-ion, or alkaline batteries
- Some users complained about the quality of documentation and operation directions
- Six-hour maximum battery life with illuminator on, batteries not included
There is very little information on this product on the Amazon web site, and, surprisingly, not much more on the manufacturer’s web site. The binocular has a 2X magnifier, so the focus of this NVD is on nearby targets and distances. It does come with a three-year tube warranty and a limited lifetime warranty on the housing.
- The binocular gets a 4.0 overall rating but limited by only 25 reviews
- A good warranty
- A couple of reviews mentioned they were shipped refurbished or used equipment
- Very limited technical data and specifications available for this NVD
This model is moving up on the price scale but also pulls in a good 3.9 rating. Very lightweight at just over one pound, it looks solid and dependable. 2.5X and a 40mm objective lens combine to give excellent optics, although at very short distances. The built-in illuminator is rated for 90-yard distance, overall distance approximately 250 yards.
- High quality, high definition optics
- Bushnell has been making binoculars since the 1940s
- Night use only
- Some customers complained about the ability to properly focus the unit
DoCred Night Vision Binocular
These binoculars drop back to near the bottom of the price range, but still, carry a decent 3.8 rating from a very limited number of reviewers. The work in a day or night setting, and have a photo and video capability. Operates on eight AAA batteries or power pack, neither of which are included.
- Lifetime warranty, good selling price
- Six-hour battery life with IR running, 14 hours with IR running
- IPX4 water resistant rating should be suitable for most outdoor environments
- Somewhat heavy at about three pounds weight
- Only five reviews of this product, 4 favorable, one at one star
ATN Binox HD
Back up the price list, but a full-featured binocular, with add-ons like a gyroscope, rangefinder, and compass built in. High definition photography and video, in both day and night use. Wi-fi capable, iOS, and Android compatible. Based on the reviews, people either love or hate this product – not much idle ground.
- Not overly heavy at 1.8 pounds
- Built in range finder means one less tool to carry
- Only binocular with over 100 customer reviews – 3.6 rating overall
- Batteries are expensive, and several complaints about how quickly they drain
- Complaints about the unit not working right out of the box
This unit is geared not so much for outdoor, nighttime viewing, but rather for maneuvering and walking in darkness. They have only 1X magnification, so are specifically made for short distance viewing. They are the most expensive of the ten base units and have a 3.4 overall rating based on under twenty reviews.
- High performance binocular, but for a fairly specialized application and use, such as patrolling or search and rescue
- Single CR123 battery required, included
- Fairly pricy for a limited application. The highest price, second lowest customer rating (under 20 reviews)
- No photo or video capability
Bushnell 260501 Night Vision Binocular
Another binocular with very limited information available on the Amazon web site. This is a day/night unit, with photo and video capability. 4X magnification, 50mm objective lens give a long and but fairly narrow 7o FOV.
- Built-in USB port to transfer file photos and video to computer
- User reviews claim up to 250-yard visibility with no moonlight
- Lowest rated binocular from the list. 30% of all reviews were one star, with most complaints about image quality
- Fairly pricy unit given the quality ratings
This is a military-grade, battle-tested night vision device. It can be used as a hand-held device, or helmet or head mounted. Built for rugged environments, it operates from -40oC to +50oC. Battery life is greater than 40 hours, and it has a two-year warranty.
Features and specifications:
- 1x magnification for close in operation, with a 40o field of view
- fully waterproof body for operation in inclement weather
- built-in infrared illuminator, and detachable flood lens
- automatic brightness control to cut off bright lights
- Battlefield tested, durable, operable in virtually any conditions
- Operates on standard AA batteries, with long battery life
- Price most likely puts it out of range for anyone other than professionals
- Only two reviews, but one of them mentioned poor customer service
Pulsar PL77411 – Best Professional Model
These are a combination night vision and thermal binocular, with a stated range of almost 1500 yards. Magnification ranges from 3.1X to 12.4X, with 384 x 288 pixels resolution. FOV is just under 10o, and the unit has a built-in range finder. Built-in wi-fi to stream to your smartphone, or even direct to the Internet.
Features and specifications:
- strong resolution, and picture in picture digital zoom capabilities
- combination of thermal and night vision, with the high-resolution display, gives clear, crisp images
- streaming and wi-fi capabilities allow you to instantly share your results with others
- Thermal and night vision technologies give exceptional viewing range
- Rechargeable batteries run for up to eight hours, and higher capacity battery packs can also be purchased
- Unit is fairly heavy at three pounds
- Price most likely puts it out of range for anyone other than professionals