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Night vision scopes may come in all shapes and sizes, but the technology used to power them typically falls into a few simple categories: Digital Night Vision, Gen 1, 2, and 3-night vision, and thermal imaging. Thermal imaging, however, is often considered separate from night vision due to the technology it uses.
However, the result is that it still allows one to gain insights into their target in hard-to-see situations (low light is one of those). When we compiled this list of products, we decided to leave out the often budget-breaking thermal imaging versions and only base our top recommendations on scopes that use traditional 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation night vision technology and those that use digital night vision.
While scopes can be used for various reasons, and this guide should suit several, we’ve crafted this guide specifically for hunting.
The ATN X-Sight blends the latest technology with the more traditional scope form to bring you one of the best scopes from both worlds.
What is a Night Vision Scope?
A night vision scope will let you see in the dark, and human sight is severely intensified when light conditions are low. There are several kinds of night vision devices. You will find active night vision devices, such as thermal imaging systems, infrared imaging systems, and passive night vision systems. The active ones use infrared light or heat patterns that objects, animals, or people emit and convert them into visible images.
Passive night vision systems amplify images picked up in minimal light conditions and make them visible images. What you see through a passive system is often 20 to 50,000 times brighter than what you could see with the naked, unaided eye. There are a couple of generations, and they all have different specifications.
This was primarily done for military uses. During combat, soldiers found it very difficult to identify enemies and objects in the dark. Using a night vision scope was much easier, and they had an advantage when they needed to enter combat in subpar light conditions. However, a bit later, the technology started to appear in things such as a night vision rifle scope available commercially. The tech wasn’t limited to military use anymore, as hunters began using it more and more for finding animals in the dark.
The ATN X-Sight 4K Pro is a top choice for a night-vision scope for rifle use. It is available in 5-20x or 3-14x magnification options and has numerous useful features in its design. It uses the Obsidian IV dual-core processor and an Ultra HD sensor.
Notably, the X-Sight offers exceptional clarity with distortion-free viewing and impressive eye relief. Unlike many scopes, it avoids pixelation issues even during high magnification. It features high resolution and fast response. The vivid colors provide a detailed and vibrant image.
One of its key advantages is its smart technology. You can record and stream HD footage simultaneously, storing it in the SD slot for later review and sharing. Transitioning from HD to night vision mode is seamless and can be activated with a simple button press. You will get up to 18 hours of usage from the Lithium-ion battery powering this scope.
The X-Sight includes two unique hunting features: an advanced ballistics calculator and a smart range finder. The ballistics calculator factors in range, wind, angle, temperature, and humidity, allowing customized setups for different firearms. The smart range finder requires only two target readings, automatically adjusting the reticle’s point of impact.
Despite its advanced features, the X-Sight boasts an impressive 18-hour battery life on a single charge. Its comprehensive feature set, coupled with a long-lasting battery, makes it an exceptional choice for those seeking a high-tech night vision scope.
2. Pulsar Digex C50
The Pulsar Digex C50 is a high-performance night vision scope designed for rifle use. It uses the Digex-X850S IR illuminator and features a magnification range of 6-24x, with a 50mm objective lens. It provides sharp and clear images, even in low-light conditions. It has multi-coated optics, which result in efficient light transmission, making it best suited for hunting, airsoft, and target shooting.
The illuminated reticle improves the process of acquiring your target. This reticle design allows for precise adjustments and significantly improved accuracy. This scope also features adjustable brightness settings to find the sweet spot in your lighting conditions. The battery life isn’t as high as the X-Sight but still produces up to 10 hours of usage reliably.
It offers similar modern features to those found in the ATN X-Sight 4K Pro. Most notably, there is a built-in Wi-Fi module that lets you do firmware upgrades through your phone and also allows for the transfer of photos and videos recorded through the scope. Cloud storage is provided to those who register with the app.
The Digex C50 is constructed within a durable one-inch tube and is built to withstand recoil and challenging outdoor conditions. It is nitrogen-purged and sealed with an O-ring to provide fog resistance and also allows for this scope to be used in rainy conditions. It features a side parallax adjustment, allowing quick and precise focusing. An eye relief of 50mm ensures a comfortable shooting experience, enhancing overall usability.
In summary, the Pulsar Digex C50 riflescope is a premium night vision scope with an extended magnification range, illuminated reticle, and user-friendly features, making it an excellent option for those with a relatively large budget.
3. Sightmark Wraith HD
The Sightmark Wraith HD is a digital night vision scope that is available in either 2-16×28 and 4-32×50 options, but we’re concentrating on the 4-32×50 version because of the additional range and lens diameter.
Unlike many other scopes, the Wraith’s 32x magnification isn’t completely digital. It has an 8x digital zoom compounded by a 4x optical zoom. This helps improve the overall quality of the image, as there is less digital zoom being used. It features a 1080 resolution sensor, which produces good clarity in day or night conditions. An 850nm infrared flashlight, which can easily be removed, provides additional range during nighttime.
The Wraith can switch between day and night mode with ease. During the day, it functions as a high-definition optic, ensuring sharp and vivid visuals. When night falls, it excels as a night vision scope, providing exceptional clarity even during cloudy nights.
The reticle is highly customizable, with ten different options and nine various colors to choose from. The battery life is mediocre, however, offering around four and a half hours of use using 4x AA batteries.
Sightmark’s controls are generally easy to use, which holds for the Wraith HD.
It features a robust build with weather-resistant housing. It can withstand challenging outdoor conditions, with its ergonomic design and user-friendly controls ensuring an intuitive user experience, enhancing overall usability in the field. At 2 lbs, it’s not a particularly light scope, but light enough to give you the mobility needed in a hunt.
Overall, the Sightmark Wraith HD is a modern, effective digital night vision scope. Its high-definition imaging, fast day/night transition, customizable features, and durable build make it a great choice for hunters and outdoor enthusiasts seeking superior performance in low-light environments. With its exceptional capabilities and user-friendly design, the Wraith HD is a quality digital night vision scope.
4. AGM Rattler TS25-384
The AGM Rattler series features several night vision scopes with varying magnification and resolution. The TS25-384 falls in the middle of the pack, with a resolution of 384×288 (50 Hz) and a magnification of 1.5x to 12x optical zoom with a digital zoom of between 1x and 8x. Still, it remains one of the most reliable and balanced models from the Rattler range.
It uses modern thermal imaging technology to present clear and bright images. The sensitivity of the infrared sensor has a resolution of 384×288 at a refresh rate of 50 Hz. This high refresh allows the Rattler to produce smooth imagery, resulting in a more accurate shot. The lens is 25mm in diameter and has a field of view of 14.9° × 11.2°. This makes it one of the wider models in the Rattler series. While
The sensor technology allows the TS25-384 to provide clear views in the harshest conditions, further backed up by the waterproof design.
A great feature of this scope is the batteries it uses. While its overall battery life is only rated at 4.5 hours, it doesn’t use traditional AA batteries. Instead, it uses CR123, which, when combined with a 5V power bank, can provide a solid improvement to that. The USB-C connection is a testament to the modern design and in turn, offers broader support.
The Rattler, despite its relatively small size, also comes with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity that lets you live stream or record video and photos directly from your scope onto your mobile device.
Overall, the RGM Rattler TS25-384 is best suited to hunters looking for a small scope with good infrared performance. The detection range is lower than other models in this series, but the clarity, field of view, and impressive design make it one of the best-infrared choices for night vision scopes.
5. Night Owl NightShot
The NightShot is here to satisfy the needs of people who want a low-budget yet high-quality night vision scope. If you have a .30 or lower caliber rifle, non-magnum, and don’t want to invest too much, read on. The NightShot offers quite a bit of performance and features and cuts fewer corners than expected.
First of all, you have 3x magnification. As discussed earlier, it’s the ideal magnification for night hunting unless you need long-distance hunting. But if you’re into that, you’re most likely looking at scopes that are a bit more expensive. The focusing distance begins at 10 feet and goes on to infinity. You can usually see up to 200 yards in typical nighttime environments and get a clear, sharp image on the 640×480 display.
The reticle options are limited to three, each in black and white. There’s a built-in IR illuminator and elevation and windage adjustment, which you may not expect at this price range.
No corners are cut on build quality either, as it’s a light yet stiff night vision rifle scope. It won’t weigh you down, and it’s even weatherproof, so you don’t have to worry about any water or dust ruining your day (or night, for that matter). The one potential downside, though, is battery life. The 4 AA batteries will last for approximately three hours before you need to change them. This might be a dealbreaker for people who want to use their scope for longer. This is something to be aware of.
If budget is your primary concern and you don’t mind changing out the batteries a bit more often, by all means, go for it; it’s a decision you won’t regret.
Night Vision Scope Technology
Digital is the most recent technology used in modern night vision scopes. Instead of using traditional photocathode tubes that turn invisible infrared light into electrons and then into visible light, digital night vision technology uses a CMOS chip like those found in cameras.
Digital night vision scopes take photos at regular intervals, which are then rapidly displayed on the screen. Digital still has much work to do to catch up with the newer generation cathode tube technology in traditional night vision scopes. Still, it does offer an affordable alternative that can compete with the early-generation versions.
Gen 0 night vision was the original night vision technology to be used in the military. While still in existence, most night vision devices on today’s market have evolved from this exact device, and typically, Gen 1 devices are more commonly found in the entry-level price ranges. Gen 0 was a large, clunky technology that has since been improved, using even smaller hardware.
Gen 1 night vision may be old and may not live up to the quality of the later generations, but these devices are widely available to consumers at far more affordable prices. The fallback of Gen 1 is that it is often reliant on a fair bit of moonlight to be present before it shows its worth.
Gen 2 saw a big leap in performance from the Gen 1 devices as new hardware came into play in the 1970s. A microchannel plate was added in this version, which increased the number of electrons converted into visible light to the eye. These require far less environmental light to be present to provide a clearer, sharper image. Gen 2 night vision scopes will
Gen 3 saw another big increase in quality due to enhanced materials used for the tubes and more electron efficiency to visible light. While Gen 3 was developed nearly 40 years ago – this technology is still being used by most law enforcement and military and is in most high-end night vision equipment.
Gen 4 is a little complicated, as this is also technically considered “Gen 3 autogated tubes” by the US military. However, manufacturers and retailers often refer to this technology as Gen 4. In this new generation, developed in the 2000s, you’ll find the addition of an automatic gated power supply, which provides more efficient electron conversions, and a great all-around product that offers excellent quality.
For more information on the finer details of the different types of night vision, check out this article.
If you have read this far, you know some of the best night vision scope options today. But what if you can’t make up your mind? What if you don’t know what features to look for, and what could you do without? We did discuss what types there are, so let’s look at the two generations mentioned here (Gen 1 and Gen 2) and what you should keep an eye out for when buying. You’re here to make an informed buying decision, so let’s help you do that.
Night Vision Scope Generations
Currently, there are four generations of night vision technology. However, only Gen 1 and Gen 2 are used for budget rifle scopes.
Gen 1 is the early technology, where the huge scopes used back in Vietnam were shrunken down and made to rely on passive infrared. The devices still need light and aren’t meant for serious applications or high-risk situations. This makes them great for hunting, and that’s why the vast majority of the devices on this list are Gen 1 devices. You don’t need more than that; if you want it, it will cost a pretty penny.
However, with Gen 2 devices such as the Armasight Nemesis above, there’s a large jump in size, clarity, and overall performance. This is where the lightweight, small, and portable devices began appearing, and people who could afford them appreciated it. These devices are often used by non-combat troops, as well as by reservists.
You won’t find many Gen 3 or Gen 4 devices on the market, but they exist in military applications. The Gen 3 tech is what most combat arms troops have, further improving Gen 2 scopes. There’s better clarity and resolution, and you also get increased sensitivity and less necessary light. With Gen 4, the protective coating on the microchannel plate was removed, and there’s a further 20% improvement in performance and clarity. However, this significantly decreases the tube’s life, and they aren’t used in many situations nowadays.
What Should You Pay Attention to When Buying a Night Vision Scope?
If you were only looking for a monocular or binocular, you could get a better generation and be done with it. However, you’re seeking a night vision rifle scope with a different goal. It’s made to hit a target, and plenty of factors affect the quality of the generation. Generational advantages exist, but one Gen 2 scope can perform much better or worse than another one.
The first important aspect is clarity. An optic resolution is critical for both hunting and tactical operations. It’s simple – if you can’t positively identify what you’re aiming at, you shouldn’t be pulling the trigger. The resolution with a night vision scope is measured in lines per millimeter, and the higher this number is, the more clarity you get.
Next, we have a range. You must know its recognition range when you have a night vision scope. Night vision is far from where rifle scopes are, and it can’t see over thousands of yards. When talking about night vision scopes, you’re looking for recognition range and not total range. A longer optic often produces more light and the amount of ambient natural light measures that range.
Many manufacturers choose to release a recognition range for an overcast range, only starlight, quarter moon, and full moon. Night vision requires some light, and you’ll notice that the range will increase as you go up the scale. If a scope’s full moon recognition range is, let’s say, 800 yards, you may not get more than 150 if there’s an overcast sky.
Magnification and Field of View
Magnification and field of view are also important. Generally, you can get up to 10x with a night vision scope, even though some offer higher magnification levels. These higher magnification levels come with two caveats – they’re large, and they’re expensive. For the optimal experience, especially after a more affordable option, you should look at the 3 to 5x range. There are also scopes without any magnification, and they’re very affordable, but they won’t do you much good unless you use them for close-range shooting.
The field of view is how much you can see at a distance. When discussing optics, this distance is usually 100 yards. For example, a 30 feet field of view means you can see 30 feet wide at 100 yards. The field of view decreases as you increase the magnification, though. If you want easy observation, this is an important consideration for hunters and athletes.
Ergonomics is another key factor. There are a few ways in which regular scopes are very similar to night vision ones. For example, a heavy night vision scope is still heavy. A larger magnification factor usually warrants higher weight, which isn’t an advantage. You often have sudden movements, need to aim easily, and hold your rifle comfortably, and heavy optics won’t help you with any of that.
Durability is always important, especially when you factor in the money you’ll invest. Hundreds of thousands of dollars is a pretty major investment for many. When adding this much electronics, as well as tubes and other specialized devices for night vision, you’re only increasing the number of things that can fail during usage. You do need to know the limitations of the gear you’re using. Is it waterproof?
Electronics play a major role in these optics; water can easily destroy them if they aren’t waterproof. What kind of recoil can the night vision scope handle? Electronics, especially small and sensitive ones, are damaged pretty easily. Do you have a 300 Win Mag? Not all scopes can handle that.
Last but not least, there are Infrared illuminators. Your night vision scope should either have one or have the ability to attach one. When you have some natural light while hunting, you may not think you need one. However, having it lets you shine an infrared light, undoubtedly making you see a bit clearer. The illuminators often have a limited range; if you want a more powerful one, it will usually be larger.
Even though night vision optics originally appeared and were used for military applications, you can’t deny the everyday user’s advantages. The ability to see objects, even when it’s pitch black, at distances greater than a stone’s throw can be used in many scenarios.
It’s no secret that the latest generation tech is still used by the military only, and it’s tough to find it in commercial products, but there are Gen 1 and Gen 2 scopes that are amazing and give you more than you would ever need if you want to hunt in darkness.
In the list above, you have options ranging from ones for people who are very budget-conscious to ones who would gladly spend a bit more if that means they can get a lot of techs and the best night vision scope for their money. Regardless of your category, you’ll undoubtedly find one of the products suitable for your specific requirements. You should know that regardless of your chosen options, you won’t regret them as long as you’ve set your expectations and requirements realistically.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a night vision scope?
A night vision scope is a device that amplifies ambient light, allowing users to see in low-light conditions or even in near-total darkness. They’re commonly used by military and law enforcement agencies and hunters and outdoor enthusiasts to observe wildlife or navigate at night.
How does a night vision scope work?
Night vision scopes use image intensifier tubes to amplify available light. Photons are converted into electrons, then multiplied and projected onto a phosphor screen, creating a green-hued image. The green color is chosen because human eyes are most sensitive to it, enabling clearer night-time vision.
Can night vision scopes be used during the day?
Most traditional night vision scopes can’t be used in daylight as excessive light can damage the internal components. However, some modern scopes have daylight filtering capabilities or are hybrid models that can function day and night. Always refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines for safe usage.
Are infrared (IR) illuminators necessary for night vision scopes?
Not always, but an IR illuminator can be beneficial in environments with very little ambient light. It emits infrared light, invisible to the naked eye, which the night vision scope can detect and amplify, improving visibility. Some scopes come with built-in IR illuminators, while others may require an external attachment.