Thinking about night vision?
We’ll cover everything you need to know if seeing in the dark is worth the steep price of admission.
We’ll start with the different types and generations of night vision…then go into essential gear, some usage tips, and our favorite night vision goggles.
Whatever your end-use is…from low-light hunting to night shooting competitions or just because you can…this guide will get you started.
They’ll be plenty of pictures of actual tested gear…and even more video clips.
Table of Contents
Night Vision Generations
We won’t dive into the nitty gritty of how night vision works…just now that it collects whatever little ambient light there is and amplifies it. The important part is the image intensifier tube.
It’s has come a long way since the Vietnam war and each jump in technology is designated a different “generation”. Here’s the gist:
- Generation 1: Vietnam era and HUGE. Don’t buy this for any practical usage nowadays.
- Generation 2: From the 80’s…a newer kind of detection plate in the tube is developed (MCP) and improves resolution 150% over Gen 1. This is what you see in more affordable night vision goggles. Entirely usable.
- Generation 3: 90’s tech…with a new kind of gas in the tube. 30% increase in resolution from Gen 2. This is most of the stuff you’ll see and what we tested. Most recommended.
- Generation 4: 10% over the best of Gen 3. The halo around bright objects is reduced. But WAY more expensive. Get it if you can afford it…and/or if your life depends on night vision.
What about this white phosphor?
Most night vision that we know is green because of the color of phosphor on the tube. White phosphor is Gen 3 tech and gives you more defining shadows but costs more.
Monoculars vs Binoculars
Most of the time when you think goggles…you’re thinking of binoculars that have two tubes.
Or ok…the quad ones from Zero Dark Thirty. That you can actually buy for a cool $43,000.
I’m sorry to burst your bubble…but for your first entry into NVGs (night vision goggles) or NODs (night observation device)…you’re probably going with a monocular.
They are about half the price (think $2000 vs $4000 starting). Plus they are more versatile since you can use them in your hand, helmet, or on your gun. You also have one eye free that preserves natural night vision.
You still only have about a 40 degree angle of view with either the monocular or binocular…so it comes down to budget and personal preference.
How to Use Night Vision Goggles
The very first thing when I turned on my Gen 3 monoculars was silence.
You don’t know how bummed I was that it didn’t have that high pitch turn-on sound.
Turns out…that’s only for Gen 1. Movies/games have failed me again!
The next thing I noticed was how disoriented I was…before I figured out you have to focus to a certain distance.
I practiced for about 15 minutes each night walking around the house and trying not to trip over myself since you lose a lot of depth perception.
After a week I was able to change my newborn’s diapers with my NVGs.
Another pro for monoculars is that even if your distance is set for far away…your uncovered eye can help with close weapons manipulations…or butt-wiping.
Whatever your purpose is with night vision…it likely involves firearms. And just having a monocular or binocular will do you no good without more gear.
Essential Night Vision Gear
We’re going to slowly work through these topics with dedicated posts…but for now these are our recommendations.
Most systems will come with a strap head mount. But if you plunked down over $2000…you’re going to make sure you look cool.
So you need a helmet.
There’s ballistic rated ones and also cheaper “bump” helmets.
The specific one I’m rocking is Hard Head Veterans with their cover.
But the main thing is to make sure you have the standard “shroud” in the front for attachments.
Here’s some links to popular helmets. We’ll have some in-depth guides soon.
Then plop your NVG onto it…
The ATN model I used is commercial and comes with its own system. While others will use a more standardized military version.
My recommendation is to go with the Wilcox Breakaway so you don’t break your neck if you snag something.
Then…adjust the distance to your eyes.
And as for which eye…most will put it opposite of your dominant eye or your non-shouldering side. This gets it out of the way of your rifle.
If you look good…you’ll feel good.
Remember when I said that night vision amplifies ambient light?
What if there is no ambient light?
You’ll need an IR (infrared) illuminator that only shows up in your NVGs.
Some models will have built-in illuminators but they are usually only good for 10 feet or so.
The ATN has an IR mode on its switch.
What if you need something more powerful?
Or combo ones with IR lasers…which brings us to…
It gets really difficult to look through your sights with night vision goggles. Even if they have NV mode (much less bright so it doesn’t damage the tube).
NV enabled optics make it seem like the target is painted with a laser since your focus depth is on targets and not the dot.
Still…it’s pretty hard to use them.
So you want IR lasers that only show up in night vision and that allow you to point shoot. Like normal lasers if you want to see the beam you’ve got to have some smoke or debris.
And here’s where the fun starts…
Now what if you combo-ed the illuminator and laser? These are the cool-looking units you see on the front of rifles.
The Steiner DBAL unit (dual beam aiming laser) has regular laser, IR laser, and IR illumination.
Here is the IR laser and IR illuminator (which is much more focused than the WMLx) in action.
You can check it out here:
Your NVGs shift a lot of weight to the front of your helmet. After a few hours your neck is going to hate you.
So I highly recommend getting some counterweights for the back of your helmet…either with lead weights or extra batteries.
And now…what you’ve been waiting for…
Best Night Vision Goggles
For firearms…it’s mostly been “you get what you pay for”…but it’s even more so for night vision.
You also want to “buy once, cry once” since upgrading can be a headache with reselling and taking a loss.
And lastly…I highly recommend buying straight from the manufacturers or a super well-known retailer. You don’t want to mess around with warranties and returns with some small reseller.
1. ATN NVM14-3
This is the one I tested and the recommended model straight from ATN (one of the largest manufacturers of mil-spec and commercial NVGs).
Their commercial NVM14 model is a play on the mil-spec (military specification) PVS14 monocular.
Commercial is still plenty robust for most people but one thing to keep in mind is that you’re stuck with their mounting system. If you already have Wilcox or other mil-spec mounts you’re out of luck.
This one is a Gen 3 and although most will be happy with a Gen 2…you might as well save up a LITTLE more and get something that will make you really happy.
I tried my best with my potato phone pictures but it’s really a lot clearer when actually looking through them.
What do you think about the PVS14-3 if price were no object?
2. ATN NVM14-3W
Want the extra contrast of white phosphor? There’s a model for that.
Though I haven’t tried this exact one…if it’s the same quality as the regular Gen 3…it’s GTG.
Another thing to consider if you should up your budget a little bit (50% in this case)…this night vision thing is a slippery slope!
3. ATN PVS14-3
Their mil-spec version they make for the government. If you need that extra robustness and more importantly…ability to use mil-spec mounts.
Check out the rest of ATN’s monoculars here.
4. Armasight PVS14 Gen 3
Another big player that keeps coming up too with good reviews. A little more expensive than the ATN.
5. ATN PS15-3
For all you ballers out there that need binoculars…
6. L3 EOTech BNVD
For the discerning user who is looking for white phosphor binoculars.
The video does not do it justice…they were by far the clearest.
Law enforcement or military only.
7. L3 EOTech GPNVG
Now you get 97 degrees of viewing…all for the price of a nice car.
I haven’t been able to try these out…but I imagine I’d have the same reaction.
If you need these…you probably don’t need this article!
I’m not yet an expert in NVGs but I hope this is a starting point for your journey. I’m still going down it too!
How did we do for a beginner’s night vision guide? Anything we missed? Or if you could buy any of them right now…which would it be?
And if this video doesn’t make you want to get some NVGs…I don’t know what will…