Most rifle users have at least compensated by getting a scope that supports dim light for those dusk and dawn hours; some choose to just shoot during broad daylight and yet others find alternative sources to illuminate their shooting range. What about folk who prefer to do their shooting in the dead of night?
For these adventurous folk there’s a market for what was every kid’s dream at one point – night vision rifle scopes. These are an intricate and intriguing technology and a lot of makers simply don’t know what they’re doing – while others also make other high-end rifle scopes. It’s a tough choice, so we’ve put together this buying guide and a list of the best air rifle scopes to help you see in the dark.
Why on Earth would I need night vision?
To see in the dark, of course.
It’s not quite obvious to some why you’d want to be out shooting in the dark. Maybe you need to see deer quietly grazing while they’re thinking that nobody’s watching them. Maybe your favorite game is nocturnal. Maybe you didn’t intend to be shooting in the dark in the first place and you just got lost. The point is, there are many advantages to having a night vision rifle scope. Plus, it’s a blast.
How does Digital Night Vision Rifle Scope work?
Night Vision’s a pretty new-fangled technology that works by collecting light particles, known as photons, and condensing them into an image intensifier. This thing turns the photons into electrons, which are then amplified and projected towards something like a green screen (the thing they use in movies to film CG.)
When these electrons hit the green screen, they’re illuminated at a wavelength that’s visible to humans. Basically. There’s more to it than that, but the scope basically takes imperceptible stimuli and amplifies them to a point that we can see them.
Are there different kinds of night vision scopes?
The technology itself has been around for quite some time, though it’s only fairly recently that manufacturers have been able to reliably produce night vision at a rate that the general public can afford it. That said, there are still vast differences in the price range and quality of different night vision scopes.
First generation night vision optics were first developed in the sixties. Surprisingly these are still used all over the world today, for one main reason – their price. They work, but they’re not perfect, but they’re still leagues better than trying to see by yourself in the dark.
First gen optics require at least some visible light to work, which is fine for most of us because we won’t be shooting in subterranean caves. The starlight and moonlight is enough for most first gen optics to work.
Second generation night vision optics offer the ability to work in complete dark, as well as providing a bit of a better picture and being able to last a lot longer before burning out.
Third generation night vision optics are pretty intense pieces of technology, and the price reflects that. However they’re extremely adept at creating images out of complete darkness at an impressive resolution and great range.
There is technically a fourth generation of night vision optics but you likely won’t have access to this as a civilian because the fourth gen takes off one of the protective coatings on the screen. This limits the lifespan of the scope to the point that it can’t reach the 10,000 hour minimum required by federal standards.
Choosing a night vision scope
So, what do you need your night vision for? Most casual shooters will be fine with a first generation optic. They suffice for everyday(night?) hunting and they’re not going to put as much of a dent in your wallet as a second or third generation. They’re also a lot smaller and easier to pack around.
Military or law enforcement will probably want to consider second or third generation optics because the unpredictability of the situations they might find themselves in could lend them to better use. Consider the following, though;
Clarity is obviously very important when hunting and first-gen scopes aren’t known for having the best resolution. Some first gen scopes have higher resolutions than others; second and third gen scopes generally all have much better resolution than first gen.
Range is a crucial factor as well. Long distance shooters will be sad to find that standard night vision optics aren’t great for seeing thousands of feet. When looking at your scopes it’s important that you look at the recognition range instead of the total range because this number is a lot more important in regards to what you’ll actually be able to see. Companies also typically define ranges for different levels of moon or starlight.
Durability is critical too. These things aren’t cheap and there’s no point in buying a scope that’s not waterproof if you live in an area where it often rains. Check the recoil standards too, since you’re dealing with a scope that has wee little electrical components that are a heck of a lot more sensitive than the ones you might be used to.
Infrared or not? Infrared light can be incredibly useful in both long range situations and the pitch dark. Infrared scopes send out a small line of light that’s enough for the sensors in the scope to pick up, allowing you to perceive images in an area that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to see anything.
The use of night vision on rifle scopes is one of the most exciting and intriguing uses for the technology. It’s important to remember that many areas have different legislation for hunting at night and in some places it’s outright illegal. Make sure you check your local laws before spending money on a night vision scope!
So what are the best night vision scopes?
If you think you’re prepared to go do some nighttime hunting (and you live in judiciary where it’s legal…) and you know what you’re looking for, then it’s time to go get yourself a scope. Like we said, there are a ton of options out there – we’ve narrowed the choices down for you and have provided you with the five best night vision scopes you’ll find today.
Armasight Nemesis 6x-SD Gen 2+ Night Vision Rifle Scope Review
This is a good example as to why night vision rifle scopes are expensive – coming in closer to ten grand, the Armasight Nemesis is a combination of form and function that’s very impressive.
It’s a second gen night vision scope which provides a lot more clarity than first gen, even at a greater distance. It uses infrared so you’ll be able to see in the pitch black if that’s where you need to be targeting. There’s automatic brightness control, so your display doesn’t get painfully bright or too dim, as well as protection from a suddenly bright situation which could otherwise hurt your eyes.
It magnifies 6x which is twice as much as your average night vision scope. It’s also protected against the shock from more powerful guns which is very important because night vision scopes are super expensive and they have a lot of little tiny pieces that can break or fall apart with repeated rebound.
- Incredibly slick second gen night vision
- Magnifies up to 6x so is good for farther range than most guns
- Super durable
- Fog and weather resistant
- Good rebound
- Magnification isn’t adjustable
2. Armasight Vampire 3X – Night Vision Rifle Scope Review
Armasight strikes again, this time with a scope that’s half the magnification of their 6x and much more useful for close-range night strikes. It’s also only a tenth of the price of their 6x model.
It’s a first gen night vision scope but the tube uses a ceramic imaging technique to provide an extra level of resolution not offered by many competitors. The lenses, like Armasight’s other scopes, are shock-protected and can stand up against some serious rebound.
The tube is made of a single shaft of aluminum, not just for simplicity but for stability. It’s all been purged with nitrogen which makes the unit fog resistant and moisture resistant, and then further sealed with O rings for an added layer of protection.
There’s an infrared illuminator that comes with this, and the objective lens is also illuminated. One of the best things? Despite being a budget night vision scope, this one comes with a warranty.
- Comes with an infrared attachment
- Adds an extra layer of resolution compared to regular first gen
- Made from a single sturdy aluminum shaft
- Fog and moisture resistant
- Large and fairly heavy
- Not much use for anything further than 200 yards
3. ATN Gen 2+ Night Arrow 4-2 Night Vision Weapon Sight Review
This unit has a whole bunch of neat features packed into it, not limited to brightness control, high contrast settings and an infrared adjustment knob.
It’s got a set of lenses that can see out over three hundred yards, which is pretty good for most people just doing night hunting. The big objective lens also adds some illumination and a wide field of vision.
The automatic brightness feature means that you won’t constantly have to be adjusting your brightness settings – a very distracting problem many night hunters face with lower end equipment. This also protects the unit from becoming over exposed.
The reticle uses a color scheme for easy identification, with certain parts being marked in red and others in green. This provides contrast and visibility. There’s also adjustment knobs to compensate for wind or elevation, so your environment won’t be too much of a threat.
The lens cap is intelligently designed to prevent any accidental exposure to light – a crucial part of maintaining the longevity of any night vision scope.
- Can illuminate over 300 yards, great for a cheaper night vision scope
- Brightness control
- Contrasting color scheme for easy visibility
- Good lens cap
- Adjustment for wind and terrain
- Hard to focus on very close things (less than 50 yards)
4. Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3x 42mm Gen 1 Night Vision Riflescope Review
This is a rifle scope for folks who really don’t have a ton of money to spend on illuminating the darkness. It comes in at just over three hundred bucks, so you’re not going to be getting the most mind blowing product on the market, but for such a cheap price, this one is a great deal.
It magnifies up to 3x – no less than the standard for some more expensive rifle scopes – and has a built in infrared so you can actually see in the pitch black, which is something that many low-budget first-gen scopes couldn’t do.
The body is made of titanium and is lightweight when compared to some of the competitors, making it easier to aim and focus without off-shooting because of overweightness.
The reticle is illuminated and has settings for brightness depending on the environment. It’s got a 42mm objective lens which is quite wide for a scope like this and provides a fairly good field of view. The crosshairs are red for easy visualization.
- This is an extremely affordable model
- It’s durable; titanium body ensures it can take a beating
- Takes AA batteries
- Infrared attachment makes it easy to use
- Good place of adjustment knobs
- Tube has many black dots when being used
So, which one’s the best?
This vastly depends on your situation, since these guns don’t have adjustable magnification. However, since most of them are 3x, the ATN Gen 2+ Night Arrow would win this round.
It’s got an automatic brightness adjuster to save you from constantly fiddling with a brightness switch as well as an infrared attachment that allows you to see in pitch dark. You can easily target up to 300 yards away which is more than enough for most night hunters, and the reticle makes use of a good color scheme for ease of use.
It’s affordable and effective, and it makes our number one today.