Have you ever wondered how night vision works?
People usually ask this question whenever they see soldiers, secret agents or spies wearing night vision goggles and searching for something in the dark.
Even if you are not wearing the goggles, you can easily determine why people wear them. One obvious reason is to easily find someone hiding in the dark. You can also use them to patrol an are at night for any suspicious activity.
When it comes to night vision devices, there is a wide variance on the market, from military-grade technology, to toys.
Much of what you find online is meant for kids to wear and play with. These are cheaper night vision goggles that are really just spy gadgets for kids. You might consider picking up a pair as a Christmas or birthday present for a little one in your life, but not as a serious device for yourself.
We’ll cover where to find real night vision goggles, monoculars and binoculars below.
First let’s tackle our main questions: how does night vision work and what is the difference between the various generations?
How Night Vision Works: Two Ways
Hot objects give off infrared radiation, which is a kind of energy. This is what night vision devices are designed to detect.
Living beings give off heat. You can’t see it with the naked eye, but you can detect with one of these special devices.
Let’s get to the science part of it to find out exactly how you’re able to see in the darkness.
There are two different ways how night vision works.
The first is through enhancement of the image. This is possible through the collection of a small amount of light which includes the lower portion of the infrared (IR) spectrum.
The second is by means of thermal imaging. This is a technology that captures the infrared light spectrum’s upper portion. This is the spectrum produced as heat by living things and not a simple reflection of light waves, like visible light is.
All night vision devices basically function the same, whether they cost a hundred dollars or several thousand. The difference is in how well it functions.
If you are interested in getting a night vision device, it is important to consider how you’re going to use them.
Are they for an outdoor fun activity? You won’t need to spend too much.
Will you be using them to secure your property? You’ll want to spend a bit more.
Do you need one that you can use for professional surveillance? You’ll probably want to get a military-grade device.
Night Vision Generations: What’s The Difference?
As technology has improved, those improvements have been classified under different generations: 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Here are the details about each generation of night vision and also the kinds of devices that make use of the different generational technology.
The products that use this technology are the most affordable ones on the market. They allow you to see at night, but perhaps not that well in total darkness. This technology dates back to the 1960’s. Here are a few of the details:
- Range of up to 75 yards
- Low resolution images
- Relies on built-in infrared illuminators which make the user easily visible (not good for cover operations)
- Often results in “blooming,” which is image distortion when there’s excess light
- Lack of versatility. For example, you can’t really add it to a rifle scope, or use it to capture video or still images.
- Shorter life expectancy for these devices, as well as reduced battery life.
Generation 1 technology is good for kids or for just having fun. It may even be good enough for hunting (though you will lose the ability to stay hidden) and you can easily pick up something for under $100.
This next generation is a big step up from the first and it is actually a lot closer to the third than it is to the first. Here are some of the big improvements:
- Up to 200 yard range
- Good resolution and clean images that appear brighter
- Can operate with IR illumination (good for covert night viewing)
- Clear picture over entire field of view
- Longer battery life, and life expectancy of the device.
Generation 2 devices are great for most uses and they generally cost a few hundred dollars.
This new technology is what the US military and special forces use. You can also purchase these kind of night vision devices for personal use, but they’re very expensive. Here are some of the features:
- Up to 300 yards range
- Excellent resolution and very bright images, with top-quality optics
- Does well in very low-light conditions, as well as with excessive light
- Very durable and with a long life expectancy.
- Totally passive operation
Generation 3 technology is used by the military and private users who need night vision for professional application, like security and surveillance. Gen 3 devices cost several thousand dollars. They are the reason people always ask: “Why is night vision so expensive?”
The last one, generation four, is a bit up for debate. According to the US Army, this designation doesn’t really exist. Upon testing, these devices that were initially classified as this didn’t meet the US Army standards and so this designation was removed.
These days, it’s more of a marketing ploy for companies who make products using this advanced-level tech. That said, it may be slightly better than gen 3 for some specific purposes.
However, not everyone are converts, so it’s kind of wait and see with this one.
What’s The Deal With White Phosphor Technology (WPT)?
WPT is now available in all version of night vision devices. The main difference is that the images are black and white, as opposed to the standard green and black.
The advantage to this technology is that the images are more natural and they can show better contrast in some cases. The military has mostly switched over, and we expect most consumer devices will soon follow suit.
What Night Vision Devices Are Worth Getting?
With all the terrible products and all the toys on the market, it can be difficult to find quality night vision devices that are able to perform the tasks you need them to perform. We’ve done the research and have found the best ones at various price levels. Check out the following articles:
- Recommended night vision goggles
- Recommended night vision monoculars
- Recommended night vision binoculars
For fun outdoor activities, you can get everything you need from a pair of generation 1 goggles. Most of these goggles are for kids but if what you need is just to be able to see an image, a person or an activity in the dark, these types of devices are likely good enough for your purposes.
If you are looking for something more serious for professional use, consider an gen 2 or gen 3 device. These gen 3 military-grade night vision goggles from Armasight are a great choice, but they will cost you. They also have some legal restrictions.
These Armasight goggles are primarily for those who plan to use them professionally. If you are just going paint balling, you probably won’t want to spend quite so much.
Armasight does make somewhat less expensive gen 2 devices that are also extremely high quality and might be more suitable, if you are not going to use them professionally.
How Night Vision Works: Your Thoughts
Do you have any questions about how this works? Anything you’d like us to add to the article. Leave a comment below and let us know!
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