Night vision has become one of those terms that shooters like to toss around when comparing guns and scopes. Night vision scopes can give hunters a tremendous advantage when hunting at night. Almost every optics manufacturer now offers some version of night vision in their product lines. The problem is finding the best night vision scope to fit your needs and budget.
Before you make your choice, there are factors that you should consider. You should also know the differences in the technology currently available to the civilian market. Like any optic, there are standard things to consider before you buy.
I base my list on these factors and considerations. What works for me may not fill your needs or meet your expectations. The primary factor in any purchase is to make the best decision based on your needs and goals.
Night Vision – Exactly What Is It?
Night vision has become a generic term that covers a wide range of optical devices and technologies. You need to understand the available technologies, their advantages, and their disadvantages. In the civilian market, there are currently two technologies available.
Light Gathering and Amplification
What most people think of when they talk about night vision are light gathering and amplification systems. This technology dates to the 1960s. Early-night vision devices used electronics to convert available light at night to electrical signals easily amplified and then redisplayed. Subsequent technological innovations are categorized into generations.
Gen 1 Night Vision Systems
Gen 1 systems were originally issued and used during the Vietnam war. The US Army held the patents on this technology for many years. These systems rely on ambient light to operate and on moonless nights are almost useless.
Gen 2 Night Vision Systems
Technological innovation in the electronics field during the 1970s led to a leap forward in night vision technology. Night vision equipment became smaller, required less energy, and improved the equipment’s resolution and reliability.
Gen 3 Night Vision Systems
During the 1980s, new technologies for light gathering and amplification led to the designation of these new systems as Generation 3. This new technology improves resolution and offers longer equipment life. However, some of these innovations produced downsides, such as an increased halo effect around some images. Power consumption also went up when compared with Gen 3 devices.
Gen 4 Night Vision Systems
Gen 4 systems differ from Gen 3 devices in two ways. Gen 4 devices may utilize a gated power supply system that allows the light-gathering system to adapt to changing ambient light conditions instantly. These Gen 4 systems also have a thinner ion barrier to reduce the halo effect with sharper images.
The US military does not recognize the category Gen 4. Rather these updated systems are referred to as Gen 3 Autogated systems. Many companies in the consumer market use the term Gen 4 to describe these updated Gen 3 systems.
Thermal Imaging – A Different View of the Same World
Unlike night vision, which depends on amplified ambient light to create an enhanced image, thermal imaging systems don’t use light at all. These devices see heat or the infrared and translate those signals into colors visible by the human eye.
The colors seen by the user of a thermal scope represent the different temperature gradients of the object at which the thermal scope is looking. The great advantage of thermal scopes is they will work in total darkness since they don’t depend on gathering ambient light.
What Night Vision and Thermal Imagers are Not
In the truest sense of the word, neither night vision nor thermal imagers are scopes. They do not contain lenses that transmit light through a magnification system. Both are dependent on electronic technology to produce images useful for ranging and aiming a firearm.
These devices bring other features to the user than traditional glass lens scopes simply cannot match. Image recording, image sharing through Bluetooth connections, range finding, and automatic windage and elevation adjustments are a few of these enhancements
Best Night Vision Scope for an AR-15
The basic criteria I considered in looking at night vision equipment of both kinds included
- Quality of construction and reliability
- Features and functions
- Ease of use
With those things in mind, we can look at the choices I made for my list of the best night vision scopes on the market.
Best Budget Night Vision Scope for an AR – B08KVYTHH3″ title=”ATN X-Sight LTV 3-9X
Night vision of any sort can be a budget buster. ATN has a full line of night vision, and thermal scopes but, in my book, the star of the ATN line up is the X-Sight LTV 3-9X. If you want to outfit your AR with a night vision scope without breaking the bank, the ATN X-Sight LTV 3-9X scope is worth a look.
One of the great advantages of the ATN technology is the ability to use the X-sight in full daylight or extreme darkness. The ATN QHD+ sensor adjusts automatically for ambient light. Unlike many night vision scope, you don’t need to worry about exposing the sensor to bright sunlight.
Looking at the features provided by ATN in the LTV scope series is impressive.
- Magnification – 3-9X
- Field of View – 460ft at 100 yards
- Sensor – QHD+ M584 sensor
- Core – ATN Obsidian LT Core
- Eye relief – 3.54 inches
- Video resolution – 1280 x 720
- #D Gyroscope
- #D accelerometer
- Multiple reticles
- 4 – 64 GB SD Card compatible
- USB recharging port
- Uses standard 30 mm mounting rings
- Includes IR illuminator
- Approximately 10 hours of use on one full charge
- Weather-Resistant Construction
- Diopter adjustment – -5 through +5 DPT
- Length – 12.2 inches
- Weight – 1.6 pounds
- Includes a 2-year warranty
- The price point is one of the best on the market for the features and quality
- Uses standard 30mm rings to mount
- Tough and durable. The wide range of temperatures is a plus
- One-shot zeroing with a push of a button
- A bit on the heavy side but lighter than most
If you are shopping for a night vision scope to try out, the ATN X-Sight LTV 3-9X is your best entry point choice. You will get all the features of much more expensive night vision equipment without spending the big bucks. This scope will get you into the field after dark with confidence.
Last update on 2020-11-18 at 00:02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Best Overall Night Vision Scope for Your AR – B07M8DMZQ6″ title=”Pulsar DS Ultra N450 LRF
The best balance of quality, features, and price that I found must be the Pulsar DS Ultra N450 LRF Pulsar is not widely known as a rifle scope manufacturer. However, Pulsar’s experience and history in the electronics field translates well into the digital night vision scope arena.
Pulsar has pushed innovation into the forefront with their DS Ultra line of digital night vision scopes. Using its unique experience and knowledge in the electronics field, Pulsar incorporates instant startup, digital video streaming, and updateable software as part of the features list
- Integrated video recorder
- Wide-angle eyepiece
- Software updates to keep your scope on the cutting edge
- High caliber recoil resistant
- Scalable ballistic reticles
- Multiple reticle styles available at the push of a button
- Stable aim point despite the zoom setting
- Store individual shooting profiles and setups for up to five shooters
- Live video streaming
- Useable with or without an IR illuminator
- Includes a long-range IR illuminator
- Extreme temperature range – -25 through +50 C (-13 through 122 F)
- Built-in accelerometer and gyroscope for more accurate shooting
- Magnification – 4.5 – 18 (4X zoom)
- 550-meter range with the IR illuminator
- Sensor resolution – 1280 x 720
- Field of View – 10.9 meters – 8.2 meters
- Eye relief – 1.96 inches
- Lithium-Ion Battery Pack
- Length – 14.5 inches
- Weight – 38.8 ounces
- Unbelievable features for the price
- Near professional quality digital night vision performance
- At the top of the field in nighttime distance detection
- Includes a long-range IR illuminator
- On the Heavy and Long side for an AR
One of the best features of the Pulsar DS N450 digital night vision scope is the battery pack design. Instead of an internal rechargeable battery or a replaceable button battery, Pulsar has designed an autonomous quick detach battery pack. These rechargeable battery packs are quickly and easily changed in the field. Each battery pack provides up to 6 hours of operation.
Last update on 2020-11-15 at 23:52 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Best Gen 3 Night Vision Scope for Your AR Rifle – AGM Wolverine Pro-4 4X Gen 3+ Autogated
The US Military doesn’t recognize what is referred to in the civilian world as Gen 4 night vision. What is generally called Gen 4 is Gen 3 technology with enhancements such as autogating that improves the resolution and light-gathering abilities. AGM uses the standard military convention of categorizing their night vision scopes.
If you want to mount a traditional night vision scope on your AR, you can’t do better than the AGM Wolverine Pro-4X Gen 3+ autogated rifle scope. This scope is based on the military AN/PVS-12/12A standard. These scopes don’t provide the features that digital night vision scopes provide. However, your needs and expectations may call for a more traditional approach to night vision.
- Available in 4X or 6 X magnification
- Adjustable projected reticle
- Uses 2 AA batteries
- Waterproof construction
- Up to 40 hours of continuous operation on 2 batteries
- Limited 3-year warranty
- Intensifier tube – Gen 3 Auto-gated “Level 1”
- Resolution 64-72 lp/mm
- Field of view – 8.3 degrees
- Reticle color – Red
- Objective lens diameter – 70mm
- Diopter adjustment – -6 to +2 DPT
- Eye Relief – 30mm
- Detachable long-range IR illuminator included
- Weight – 2.35 lbs.
- Length – 8.4 inches
- Can be considered military-grade equipment
- The latest Gen 3 technology available to civilian buyers
- Crips clear images
- Tough and durable construction
If you want to see a target at night with the highest resolution and the simplest operation, the AGM Wolverine Pro-4 night vision scope is a good answer. The controls on AGM Wolverine are simple and clean. The technology is cutting edge, and the scope is military tough. If you can get around the price, this is the top of the line in Gen 3 night vision for your AR rifle.
AGM Wolverine-4 NL2 Night Vision Rifle Scope
- Shock protected, all-glass IR transmission multicoated optics; Made from aircraft aluminum alloy
- Illuminated reticle with brightness adjustment, Quick-release mount, Mounts to standard weaver rails
Last update on 2020-11-16 at 00:12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Best Gen 1 Night Vision Scope for Your AR Rifle – Firefield NVRS 3×42 Gen 1 Riflescope
Gen 1 night vision systems work well under the right conditions. With an IR illuminator, Gen 1 night vision systems can keep you in the game on the darkest nights. The price of Gen 1 systems has also fallen in the past few years as newer technology has emerged. This makes most Gen 1 night vision equipment well within the budget of most shooters.
The Firefield NVRS 3×42 Gen 1 riflescope makes my list as a great pick for shooters at the entry-level of Gen 1 night vision. The simplicity of operation, the rugged construction, and the quality of resolution for the price earn the Firefield NVRS Gen 1 riflescope my pick as Best Gen 1 gear.
- 42mm lens for optimum light gathering
- 3X magnification
- Titanium scope body
- Integrated flip-up lens caps
- Enhanced, multi0coated optics
- Illuminated red dot duplex reticle
- Incremental reticle intensity
- Sleek ergonomic design
- IPX4 rating
- Built-in IR illuminator
- Quick detach scope mount included
- Field of view – 21 meters are 100 meters
- Eye relief – 45mm
- Detection range – 165 yards
- Battery type – 2 AA
- Battery life – 20 hours with the illuminator
- Weight – 30.7 ounces
- Length – 9 inches
- A large objective lens makes the most of ambient light
- Titanium construction is tough and durable
- integral lens caps
- Built-in IR illuminator
- The quick detach mount is questionable
You won’t be shooting out to 500 yards with this little Gen 1 night vision scope. However, you won’t be spending multiple thousands of dollars on the night vision equipment either. If you want to send nights hunting varmints or feral pigs, the Firefield NVRS 3X42 Gen 1 riflescope will serve you well. The Firefield NVRS 3X42 scope won’t let you down. I love the choice of titanium for the scope housing.
Last update on 2020-11-18 at 00:42 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
The Ultimate Night Vision Rifle Scope for your AR Rifle – SPI L3LWTS Thermal Rifle Scope
If you want military-grade equipment, the SPI L3LWTS thermal riflescope is as close as you will get in the civilian world. Even then, SPI tightly controls who purchases this technology. The SPI rifle scope is the only thermal sight that made my list. There are other good thermal rifle scopes on the market, but the SPI products are easily the ultimate choice.
The SPI thermal imaging scope is based on the Military issue tactical AN.OAS-13G9v) 1 L30LWTS standard and specifications. If you want military-grade performance, the SPI L3LWTS is your choice.
- Length – 6.7 inches
- Weight – 1.8 pounds
- Battery – 4 AA Lithium
- Battery life – 10 hours
- Real-time video out (with cable sold separately)
- 1X to 15 X zoom capable
- Enhanced thermal imaging quality
- Dedicated standalone capability
- Four integrated ballistic reticles that are bore sightable
- Field of view – selectable
- Resolution – 640 x 480 at 117 Um
- Military-grade housing
- As close to military-grade equipment as you can get
- Rugged, reliable, and field maintainable
- Small and relatively lightweight for a thermal imager
- Uses standard AA Lithium batteries
- Expensive and tough to get
To Own the Night – Becoming Night Vision Capable
If your goal is to gain the advantage at night, no matter your target, finding the right compromises on features, performance, and the price is critical. I hope that this article gives you some insight into the basic types of night vision systems. These represent what I think are the best values and features.
If you found this article helpful or have other thoughts, please share them in the comments section below. Sharing information, knowledge, and experiences is important for us all to learn more. Stay safe and good shooting.