Best night vision devices & how to use them

door Joost Nusselder | Geupdate op:  August 24, 2021
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During the day, our vision is topnotch. There is enough light at that time to allow us to see the beauty around us. When darkness falls, however, our vision becomes limited.

Low light or total darkness does not favor us at all. Some people suffer from night blindness. They cannot see anything at that time.

Due to this, lawbreakers take advantage of the darkness to hide and start wars, to commit crimes at night. This brings us to the benefits and uses of night vision devices.

The ability to see when the light conditions are low or there is total darkness is what the night vision entails. The night vision systems are responsible for enhancing the images.

The emergence of the war gave birth to devices that could easily locate the enemy with low light conditions or extreme darkness. Night vision devices came into existence back then. Military men would easily find those who hid from them back then using these devices.

With the advances in technology, proper night vision devices have been made available to many people. Two types of night vision devices are available in the market today.

These include image enhancement night vision devices and thermal imaging devices. Another question may be: does night vision work underwater? The answer is yes. This is actually a property that makes their usage easier and perfect.

Uses of night vision devices

Anyone can own a night vision device. However, it is what you will do with it that matters. You should not let darkness cut short on your adventures.

Your view can be limited when you are using your naked eye but you should never let it get into your way of the things you like doing best. Here is a list of some of the uses of night vision devices.

Hunting

Hunting at night can be challenging. Spotting your prey when the light conditions are extremely low is not a walk in the park. Many hunters have embraced the idea of having a night vision device to hunt. At night, there is a limit to what we see.

This is not the case with most animals. They use nighttime vision unlike us. They hide from their predators during the day and come out when darkness falls.

The number of animals that come out at night exceeds that of the day. This is why many hunters find it easy to find their prey at such times.

They use the night vision binoculars or scopes to help them hunt. With such, the hunter is assured of good vision.

Military purposes

night vision

When the war intensified, the enemies would hide at night because they were sure that spotting them at that particular time would not be easy.  Something had to be done to help fight these combatants when they were most susceptible. Night vision devices were therefore introduced. The military would successfully hunt for them when wearing the night vision goggles.  

These days, integrated technology has been adopted to enable the military to see more than just the enemy.

War weapons and other traps that the enemy has hidden can easily be identified when they are used. They come with many advanced features. For example, the fast target acquisition enables soldiers to take a successful shot at their target no matter how fast the target is.

A soldier does not have to bring their weapon on their shoulder when they want to take a better shot. Any position the weapon is in is ideal for the shot.

If soldiers would use flashlights to find their way to the hideout of their enemies, the enemies would easily notice as they near them.

If such things happen, the soldiers would be involved in a hide and seek game with the enemies until the wee hours of the morning.

Night vision devices come in handy at that time because they do not give away their positions and therefore the enemy is always caught unaware.

They make such operations to be successful in the dead hours of the night. This is one of the most important uses of night vision devices that cannot be underrated.

Law Enforcement

The officers in the law enforcement field have to apply protective measures allowed by the law in order to curb criminal activities.

If you have ever watched movies involving law enforcement, you may have seen green images obtained when the officers use goggles, cameras or scopes, while working at night.

These are as a result of the night vision devices.

There are a lot of crimes committed on a daily basis. Most of them are usually carried out at night. For example, drug cartels are widespread.

They hide drugs in areas that one cannot even fathom. These have to be dealt with. Some criminals go as far as digging holes and hiding bodies in them. The night vision devices are used in these instances to show places that these drugs are hidden.

This is made possible by the fact that the images these devices produce are very high in quality. They pick up stuff that a naked eye cannot see when the light conditions are extremely low.

Security purposes

Lack of security at homes or in businesses can be such a threat. Thieves break in and take off with whatever they find and in areas where there are no security devices to inform you of this, they get away with it.

Night vision devices have come to save the day. There are night-vision cameras that have been designed for such security purposes.

Many business people have adopted this method to enhance security in their businesses. Homeowners have not been left behind either.

Monitoring children or anything that goes on in their homes has never been made easy. To think that you can record and retrieve high videos with high clarity at any time of the day or night can be quite captivating.

Some people find it fun to observe wildlife at night. Most of the wild animals are on the move at that time to feed or to hunt.

This is the time you get in touch with nature quite well. The beauty that emanates from it at such time is unmatched. You are able to see all the wild animals at a glance unperturbed.

Night vision devices make this possible.

They detect every motion in the dark. With the advancement in technology, the devices are able to use the available light to produce clear images regardless of the time of the night.

The wildlife is brought into focus and you are able to enjoy more details about them from where you have positioned yourself.

This feels like they are just close by as they graze away undisturbed.

Astronomy

How can we fail to mention this critical use of night vision devices? The beauty all around us is incomprehensible. From one horizon to the next, there is so much that one can see.

However, this is only applicable during the day since our vision is much better when light conditions are high.

The good news is that we can still enjoy our views at night since the technology in night vision has chipped in to make it up for it.

You want a great view of the moon, the stars, or the planets when the sky is clear at the comfort of your own balcony?

You can comfortably enjoy these views at any time of the night. Night vision telescopes are available for this. Astronomers have been using them for the longest time now.

Their view of the terrestrial bodies, planets, moons, clouds and everything else is improved by the use of the night vision devices.

It is good to check the generation of night vision devices and make sure that you purchase one that will serve the purpose better.

Concerts

Nothing spells more fun than attending concerts with family members or closest friends.

When the artists you love are on stage and having to experience their live performance first hand, it can be mind-blowing. Some of these concerts happen at night.

If you want to capture every moment, a night vision device is recommended. Looking through it feels like you are part of the group that is performing. The closeness and great experiences are unfathomable.

As you have seen, there are a million ways through which night vision devices are used these days. If you get a quality device, your experience in all your views will be enhanced.

The great thing about these devices is that they are easily available. Whether you are camping, kayaking, or doing any other outdoor activity, this device is a must-have.

It is clear that all the above uses and benefits of night vision devices cannot be ignored.

The Technology Behind the Uses of Night Vision Devices

Night vision depends on an infrared spectrum or illumination in order to allow one to see images in the dark.

The night vision devices have an objective lens or an image intensifier tube that is installed in them. Any available wavelength that is imperceptible to the human eye, no matter how low it is, is collected and amplified several times.

The tube, a photocathode in this case, converts whatever amount of light that has been collected into electrons.

The negatively charged tube contains a microchannel plate. This plate has ready electrons and when those other electrons that have been produced from the available light pass through the plate, they get enhanced.  

Now, on the far end of the tube, there is a screen with phosphors coating. When the enhanced electrons reach that screen, photons are released with the help of phosphors. In turn, a green image is created out of this.

This way, the image becomes visible to the human eye.

One can achieve the use of night vision with either of these two devices. These include image enhancement devices and thermal imaging devices. The two do not work the same way but they are quite vital at detecting objects at night.

How and Why Night Vision Devices Need Image enhancement

In image enhancement, devices require illumination to identify the object. Here, the device collects any amount of light around the object, amplifies it several times, and displays the image. This way, the human eye is able to see it in the dark.

Thermal imaging in relation to Night Vision Devices

This technology involves detecting a body or object that is giving out the upper portion of the infrared light spectrum.

The devices are able to detect the difference in temperature of the surrounding with that of an object and produce a thermograph image that is in the field of view and displays it for the human eye through the ocular lens.

There has been a discussion between the right night vision device to buy between an image enhancement and thermal imaging night vision device.

Both devices are great at their performances. However, thermal imaging is the best. Though it has its drawbacks, its performance is topnotch.

Thermal imaging can be used either during the day or at night. It has a great ability to use very little amounts of light energy to identify images that are hidden and not in motion.

All it takes is to detect the difference in temperature between the object and its surroundings and voila! A thermograph is produced. The militaries use this device because of this efficiency.

One of the disadvantages of a thermal imaging night vision device is that it is expensive. You will have to dig deeper into your pocket in order to afford it.

Another drawback is that for any person who is out hunting at night, the device will display an image but it will not show which animal it is. The hunter may take a shot at a warthog while all they wanted is a gazelle.

On the other hand, image enhancement devices are very common among many people. They are quite affordable and can be used in diverse weather conditions.

Any hunter will easily identify their target and take a shot when using this device. However, one can easily fail to notice an object that is not in motion.

All in all, this technology has been there for more than 40 years. The devices that were used during World War II were not as powerful as those that are being used nowadays.

The night vision devices keep getting better each day. There are massive improvements that have been seen.  

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Generations of Night Vision Devices

There has been a technological breakthrough on night vision devices or NVDs. The features of the NVDs that were used during World War II have been advanced technologically over the years.

This has led to the development of various generations of night vision devices.

Each generation, or the level through which the NVD is being technologically improved, is made better than the previous one. For this reason, certain generations have been quite affordable.

Long-time ago, these devices were not available in the market for everyone who had the need for them. These days, anyone can own them.

They have unlimited uses unlike before where the militaries were using them to survey their area and fight their enemies at night. This has contributed significantly to their popularity among many people, especially outdoor enthusiasts.

Before you embark on a journey to get yourself one, it is good that you familiarize yourself with the kind of NVDs you will find in the market. This way, you will know which generation will work with your budget and the specifications you will need for your preferred device.

Get basic information about them is paramount before storming the market. Consider these generations and the modifications that have been made in each one of them over the years.

 generations of night vision devices

Generation 1

The first generation is the most affordable of them all. Its NVDs have grown in popularity significantly as the years go by. In fact, most people who have embraced the use of other NV devices have at one point or another used first generation NVDs.

In this generation, any available light is amplified thousands of times. This way, a human eye is able to see objects when darkness sets in, although not as clearly and brightly as in other generations.

This is because its resolution is quite low. We can say that the technology used in these devices is outdated. Also, an NVD can only be used at a range of fewer than 100 yards. 

It has a built-in IR illuminator. This feature does not allow it to operate passively. For this reason, it can easily give out the position of someone who is using it if their opponent uses a device that is highly powered than theirs.

There is more; a highly-pitched whine or a static noise is experienced while using it and its green glow does not stop immediately the device is switched off. 

Its quality is poor when compared to others. For example, geometric distortion is experienced when using it. As a result, the field of view is quite small.

Though it has become common among many people, it is not as durable; the battery life is poor, so you will have to keep replacing it and the life expectancy of the image intensifier tube is very short at 1500 hours.

Also, it cannot be used during the day or in urban areas at night where there are other artificial sources of light. This is because of the blooming effects that are experienced. It is also not as versatile as other generations.

They have a wide range of uses including security and outdoor activities like hunting.

Generation 2

This generation is similar to the first but there are a few major improvements that are seen here. This involves the addition of a microchannel plate and advancement in the intensifier tube.

This plate is positioned behind the negatively charged electrode or the photocathode. It multiplies the electrons several times and it is made up of several glass tubes that are parallel to each other.

When the electrons from the photocathode pass through the glass tube, it triggers the release of thousands of other electrons. As a result, light is amplified millions of times.

The image that results from this process is much more clear, crisp and brighter than the one produced by the generation 1 NVD.

The quality of this NVD is topnotch and the intensifier tube is greatly upgraded. Therefore, its performance and efficiency are unparalleled. It produces images with high resolution and it has a built-in power supply.

The resolution is between 45 and 54 lp/mm. The battery life is much better and the life expectancy of the intensifier tube goes beyond 10000 hours.

The NVD has a maximum range of 200 yards. This is far much better than the 75 yards range in the previous generation. There are also no built-in illuminators; therefore its operations are passive.

The nighttime performance is great. Here, the user is allowed to see images with high clarity and brightness because no image distortion is experienced and therefore the field of view is excellent.

The NVD in generation 1 experiences blooming when there is excess light. This is not the case with generation 2 NVD. It is highly reliable and adaptable and as a result, its monoculars are very versatile.

The modulation transfer function (MTF) is unparalleled. The signal-to-noise ratio is also increased. Due to these advancements the user is allowed to see images with high resolution, clarity, and brightness.

You cannot say that these NVDs are the real deal but they are big leagues whose efficiency is guaranteed. It is, therefore, a valuable item to own. However, you may get discouraged by their prices because they are quite pricey.

Generation 3

The NVDs used by the Special Forces and the US military fall under this category. Choosing this kind of device will answer the question: does night vision devices work underwater? 

In this generation, there is an addition of gallium arsenide, a very sensitive chemical, into the material of the photocathode. To increase the life of the image intensifier tube, an ion barrier film is also introduced and it has an exceptionally high voltage power supply.

The microchannel plate is greatly improved. This increases resolution because it is between 64 to 72 microamperes per lumen as well as the signal to noise ratio that stands at 26.

For this reason, it produces high-resolution images whose clarity and brightness are unmatched. It can be used at a range of 300 yards or more. This is greater than the range in the second generation NVD.

The intensifier tube also lasts for more than 10,000 hours. This is because of the gated power supply that is used, thus, enhancing reliability at all times. It does not convert operations at all because it operates extensively.

Due to these advancements, the NVD in this generation performs exceptionally well even in the dead of the night. In addition, they can be used in urban areas where there is light pollution. The artificial lights in urban areas like the streetlights, flashlights, the headlights of vehicles and others cannot hinder its performance.

When militaries and law enforcers use NVDs in urban areas, a halo effect is not experienced at all. The third-generation device minimizes this effect. This is as a result of the gated power supply it uses.

This device comes with a data record sheet.

The higher the generation, the more pricey it becomes. The devices in this generation are very expensive and therefore there are restrictions put in place on who they are supposed to be sold to. The US military and government agencies use this NVD.

Generation 4

This is the recent night vision technology. The NVDs have not been released in the market yet. They must go through a series of tests to gauge whether they are fit for the operations which they will be used for before they are made available to anyone.

The US military and government agencies are using generation 3 NVDs. Gen 4 devices have not been adopted yet. However, they are known to give a state-of-the-art performance than all the other three generations of NVDs.

This is one of the generations to be greatly preferred when reviewing the uses of night vision devices.

NVDs in this generation perform exceptionally well in extremely low light conditions. They are also very efficient during the day.

These are not the only advancements this device has seen; there is a massive increase in the signal-to-noise ratio.

The ion barriers that were previously added in the third generation are removed at this level and its power supply is gated. This allows it to produce very high-resolution images.

The technology in the power supply allows the device to be used both day and night. These ion barriers are referred to as being gated or filmless.

All in all, great performance sums up this generation. It will also be the most expensive night vision device one can ever own.

The video explains the various differences in the generations of night vision devices

Taking Care of the Generations of Night Vision Devices

All generations of night vision devices are a very vital asset that should always be taken care of. Investing a sizeable amount in such an asset is not enough.

You should be conversant with the safety measures when using them. This way, your device can serve you for as long as it is supposed to and avoid situations that would render it useless or pose a danger to you.

Bright light

The first and second-generation NV devices are engineered to work in low or extreme light conditions. Their performance during the day can, therefore, be very poor. The tube system can be destroyed by excess light especially during the day.

You can prevent such a device from getting destroyed when it suddenly comes into contact with too much light. There are devices on the market with auto cut off features.

These are the most suitable because excessive exposure to light will shut it down.

Extreme weather conditions

The weather changes on a regular basis and you cannot wait until the conditions are favorable to go about your activities at night. The right thing to do is to buy a device that can be used in all weather conditions.

Most of the NVDs on the market have great and advanced features. Choose the best. Rain, fog and other unfavorable weather conditions should not dictate how you use your device.

Conclusion

As you have seen, there have been four generations of night vision devices with each generation being more advanced than the previous one.

Generation 1 is quite affordable, but it cannot be relied on because of how poor it is in efficiency compared to all the others above it.

The second generation is better than the first, but poor when compared to generation three. The prices for the NVDs also keep going up in each generation. Therefore, if you want to buy one or to upgrade, this information will come in handy. 

Night vision devices came to save the day. If that technology had not been adopted, most of the activities that require us to use them would come to a standstill or get poorly done. There is more to these devices than we can ever realize.

          Joost Nusselder, the founder of Opticsvilla and a content marketer, and dad loves trying out new gear, and together with his team, they've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2018 to help loyal readers with the best scopes and binoculars.