Best Night Vision Scope – Generations Explained and Reviews

When considering what are the best Night Vision scopes for you,  the buyer needs to consider technology and budget first and foremost. Night vision equipment has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years and as such both price tags and also performance has taken a major leap up the ladder regarding tails sales.

When I was asked the question what are the best night scopes or systems to use in the field? I had to consider several factors. Because everyone is not made of money nowadays selecting good night vision systems in both light gathering systems.  Also, thermal imaging units were necessary because just thermal designs are off the charts expensive and the general use shooter can get by with far less in terms of systems cost, and at the same time have a good solid system in hand for field application.

In night vision selection stay way from first-generation night vision systems. Nothing less than generation two or even at best, generation three will do the best job for you in the field. The advanced second or third-generation systems have better internals and light gathering abilities and in general.  This is very basic and covered in terms of a lucky guess. The units we are talking about here are about half the cost of the thermal night vision systems.

My Picks for Night Vision Scope

ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart

ATN Thor 4, 640X480 Thermal. 2.5 X 25

Trijicon Reap-IR 60mm Night Scope

Sightmark Night Raider 3X60

Trijicon IRMS352 Tri EO

Pulsar Digisight Ultra N455 Night Vision Scope

Flier RS64 2-16x

Best night vision scope

First Through Generation Five Night Vision Scopes What You Need To Know

With the development of the night vision scope systems that date back to the early 1960s, there has been some major advancements in these sighting systems. Each time the scope advances in technology the performance level of the scope increases. When the term generation I through V is used within the industry, it means the level of advancement contained in an individual night vision scope.

Night vision scopes evolved through several Generations or Gen for short. These Generations are differed by the type of image intensifier tube, resolution and refinement of optical clarity. Most consumer models of night vision scopes come within Gen 1 and Gen 2 level of night vision quality. Both Generations feature technology that will allow you successful mid-range hunting, which is up to around 100-300 yards.

If you are looking for something significantly different from civilian sportsman grade optics and you are sort of long-distance hunters that aren’t limited by any kind of budget, then you should consider the newest technology currently used by the military. These are known as Gen 3 and Gen 4 devices, and they provide an extraordinarily crisp and clear picture and range over previous generations.

Generation I

This is the birth of night vision systems in terms of actual field use on a firearm. As a sight, it collects all available light ( starlight ) and amplifies it 1000 times for use in the after dark rifle scope sight.

In truth, these scopes in the generation-I are low level in terms of performance, only workable with some available light source on the outside, and even at that only to about 75 yards. I use this system on one setup for coyote hunting at night and to be sure it is limited at best in terms of target image quality and range. Bright stars and moonlight are best used with this system.

Generation II

Moving to the second generation night scopes we find advancements in terms of the newer S-25 pohotocathodes being used. This system integrates a micro channel plate (MCP) into an image intensifier which also improves the ability of the scope to pull in ambient light. This system is about 20 times better than the Gen I system.

Generation III

The third generation in night vision scopes makes use of the Gallium Arsenide Photocathodes. These photo cats massively increase the imaging ability of the scope and are beyond about 50.000 times greater than the first generation optical systems.  This model of night sight also makes use of a special iron coat that produces a better level of intensifier tube life on the unit. One drawback to the system is the high level of power consumption.

Generation IV

Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate is a body that names night vision generations. To date, this has not taken place with generation IV. The simple truth is that the generation lV night scope carries modifications and upgrades that improve image quality. This level of night scope is in the development stages for the most part. In the real world, the generation-lll is the level most of the night vision work will be the package used afield.

Generation V

The generation V night scope is all theory at this point in time. It is not an applied system, but rather laboratory research and development levels of completion in terms of a working advancement in night vision. 

At this point in time in the event, the hunter/shooter wants more scope than a Gen III, it is wise to search out thermal scopes which are included in this review. So as to save confusion the night-vision starlight systems and thermal scopes are not anywhere close to being the same systems. Also as generations in starlight options move up so will the price giving way to taking a look at thermal options before buying

How it Works?

In the most straightforward words, traditional night vision devices are light amplification devices and they work by gathering and amplifying any ambient light or IR light ambient light through electronics. Digital night vision units can give results similar to the Generation 1 devices, but they require an infrared light to allow you to see images at night.

If we neglect thermal imaging devices, there are two types of night vision where more conventional night vision scopes also known as Image Intensification (i2) devices use analog tubes to amplify light and scopes that use IR illumination or popularly but wrongfully called “digital” because of their digital nature. Both digital and analog night vision devices rely on some form of light, be it visual or IR using near, short, and mid-infrared wavelengths for their detection. In contrast, the far-infrared wavelengths (thermal IR) stay reserved for the thermal scopes.

The infrared waves bounce and reflect off of surfaces enabling night vision scopes to use image intensification by gathering light and creating a visible image.

While i2 night vision devices are applying a true light amplification technology, we have the newest digital night vision, which uses IR light instead of the visible light, which it picks up and alters it to a visual image.

Best Night Vision Scope

1. ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart – Best Day/Night Optic

This is a smart sight that is not dependent on systems other than ambient light available on location. This sight is filled with add-on elements that can take into account ballistics and other related smart application so popular today. The ATN X-Sight is a day/night rifle scope and will full additional needs than just those shooting after dark.

The scope takes 120 fps video, it has 18+ hours battery life, and also retains a rangefinder WiFi, E-Compass, Barometer, and IOS as well as Android apps.

The scope retains an ultra HD sensor and an ultra HD 4K sensor with the obsidian 4 dual-core processor. The scope retains cutting-edge tech, it is a solid example of a “ starlight” actuated night scope.

It is a solid hunters scope that is calling in varmints or hunting free range hogs. Moving much beyond this type of night vision technology will increase basic costs by a factor of four. 

2. ATN Thor 4, 640X480 Thermal.  2.5 X 25.

This scope is professional-grade and as such retains the advancements of about a generation 4 system. These are very advanced systems and as such retain stabilization range finding abilities, ballistics calculators, and ISO as well as Android apps.

The manufacture states that this scope will function at a low power level giving way to better battery life than some models in the past. This unit will adjust ballistics in terms of covering wind speed, target angle, temperature, humidity measurements, and can be regarded as a “ Multiple Weapons Profile system” in terms of target quantitation and sighting aids.

Professional hunters that are making their living off a fur market, meat market, or other applications covering animal control can consider this scope among the best of the pro series night vision systems.

ATN offers four different models in this scope with varied power settings and also very different price points as well. There can be as much as a $1000.00 difference between the model on one end of the list or the other. Buyers need to be informed when selecting one of these very advanced ATN scope systems.

3. Sightmark Night Raider 3X60

This Sight mark scope is a variation of the Starlight scope system in that it uses available light with a booster infrared system as well (IR illuminator).  This is again a hunter’s scope for called varmints inside 100 yards and for the most part much closer. Product measure 12X3, 9 X 3.5 inches, and a carry weight of 2.2 pounds. Battery power is made up of two Lithium metal batteries.

This scope is not full of added toys but built for one purpose and that is sighting a target after dark period!  At a time when toys outnumber effectiveness as a scope this scope is refreshing and is built to be affordable to the average Joe that wants to hunt after dark.  I rank this scope high on the last of working glass for working hunters and shooters.

4. Trijicon Reap-IR 60mm Night Scope

Here is a scope that is off the charts in cost but as such is designed as a scope first leaving the toys behind again. This is a hunter-killer glass sight, military and police directed, only the pros can afford such a sighting system. Trijicon is known to build for the military and almost all ACOG glass in combat is made up of their development and design.

This thermal sight is advanced to the latest points in night vision technology. Heat-seeking systems locate targets and bring them to full view with heat signatures alone.

The sight allows the shooter to swap out the glass on different weapons without lose the zero from the weapon just released of its sights.

Resolution on this sight is 640×480 12um micron / LWIR thermal core. The sight is ideal for military combat applications, border guarding details, night sniper activities, and the elite hunter that is a professional and is taking out sheep killers or barnyard damaging varmints in the dead of night.

The scope uses quick mounts Weaver rail design. Fast scope changes on AR / Mini 14 tactical class weapons is a snap.

5. Trijicon IRMS352 Tri EO

The Trijicon IRMS-35-2 is a mini thermal riflescope that is lightweight and very powerful as a heat-seeking night scope, this scope will allow very precision engagements of both man or beast. The unit runs on simple CR123 batteries ( 2 ), and the 35mm model retains an easy zero function.

This scope is built for rugged field applications, with Weaver pattern rail mounts it carries a fast on and off mounting system.

This is a professional night system with a very high cost attached to the same. Government hunters, police, and military units are right in line for this system.

6. Pulsar Digisight Ultra N455 Night Vision Scope

This Starlight-based system has a 550-yard detection target range  ( not sighting range ) and uses the HD CMO 1280×720 sensor with a 1024×768 AMOLED display. The scope can be connected to smart equipment for recording and makes use of a rechargeable B pack that will last eight hours in the field.

The unit is waterproof ( completely ), it uses a wide-angle eyepiece for position target coverage.

The unit is high caliber recoil resistant and comes with a battery charger, carrying case, protector covers for the illuminator. IR illuminator’s port plug, lens cloth, and warranty card.

This is a hunters field unit and sold at about 1/8th the cost of some others using Thermal imaging systems.

7. Flier RS64 2-16x.

The Flier night scope I have selected here is current somewhat hard to get. Well, my friends, it is about everything else in shooting sorts nowadays with the C-19 taking control of the USA. However, if this brand is of interested the detail I have selected regarding a review of this scope applies to all other Flier systems as well.

This is a heavyweight brand in night vision, and when the Apache gunships roll in with their heat-seeking vision system turned on to aid the gunner Flier is there. I rest my case in terms of the product’s background.

This scope retains a 640X480 Vox display resolution giving very effective results for night hunting. The scope has three different reticle settings so as to assist a wide number of shooters, the unit will pick up multiple images as far away as 355 yards downrange.

With long battery life, solid internal elements and built like a tank, this is a go-to system for the hog shooter, coyote hunter, or government control hunter as well. Designed to mount on Weaver rails the scope is a quick disconnect if required,

When zeroing the scope it is repeatable giving way to that element of the sighting systems quality.

8. Firefield NVRS 3×42

In the era of ubiquitous digital night vision devices, the Gen-1 night vision riflescopes are becoming rarer and rarer even though they can give you a good image for shots at around 150 yards.

If you are an avid hunter of hogs and predators and don’t want to be left out when your friends are out night hunting, the Firefield NVRS 3×42 is definitely something you should consider, especially if you are on a strict budget.

The Firefield NVRS 3×42 Gen-1 Night Vision Scope is the perfect choice as an entry-level scope easy to use and with the intuitive controls but without those bells and whistles found on high priced scopes.

You cannot expect from this Gen-1 scope to do miracles, but at short to medium range it is capable of giving good images allowing the shooter getting first-round hits in the dark of night.

For those shots in a pitch dark, this cheap night vision scope comes equipped with an integrated 805nm (IR wavelength) illuminator that can allow you to go about 75 yards with perfect clarity. Coupled with a fixed 3x zoom, multi-coated optics, and 42mm objective lens, this IR illuminator enables you to detect your target at 200 yards, but in perfect conditions with modest starlight.

The resolution is impressive with 30 lines per mm, giving you enhanced image detail and clarity in less-than-ideal conditions.

The scope boasts an illuminated red duplex reticle with incremental brightness adjustment, making it ideal for smaller targets at 150 yards or more.

With a generous 45mm eye relief distance and 42 feet of field-of-view, this Gen-1 night vision scope is almost an ideal upgrade for modern sporting rifles or lightweight carbines. While the other night vision scopes in this price class are built out of almost entirely of plastic, the Firefield NVRS comes with a lightweight titanium alloy body making it splash-proof by IPX4 Rating.

Furthermore, a Firefield Gen-1 night vision scope is powered by typical 2 AA batteries providing you about 20 hours of work with activated IR.

With its basic commands, a Firefield has a very little learning curve for beginners enabling them to use these optics very effective.

9. Night Owl Optics NightShot

In night vision and low-light optics industry is noticeable a fall in prices because the shooting world yearned for a low cost, “thе” budgеt-frіеndlу” NV rіflе ѕсореs. One of those is NіghtЅhоt digital rіflе ѕсоре from thе Nіght Оwl Орtісѕ Company that is priced well below $500 and is a great overall value.

The Night Shot brings nighttime hunting into the budget realm, so you need to lower your expectations according to the price point of this digital rifle scope.

Compared to the mild price versions such as Ѕіghtmаrk Рhоtоn RТ 4.5-9×42, thе humblе аnd truѕtу NіghtЅhоt doesn’t come with any extras except basic things.

The Nightshot comes with a built-in 850nm IR illuminator providing you with an effective range of around 70-80 yards in complete darkness, even though in an open area, you can identify targets out to well over 150 yards if the conditions are right.

This night vision scope uses an infrared illuminator integrated atop the objective bell at the end of the scope. Whereas the іllumіnаtоr саn’t bе rеmоvеd, NіghtЅhоt ѕроrtѕ а mоuntіng rаіl fоr additional accessories, like more powerful IR source.

This Night Owl Optics product has 640×480 resolution and three different reticle types coupled with a fixed three-power magnification. For every beginner, these features would provide a 100-200 yards range in most typical nighttime environments.

Though somewhat cumbersome, the Nightshot features lightweight, polymer construction, so it only weighs 1.3 pounds. On top of that, this inexpensive and easy-to-operate night scope with the thermoplastic body is sealed to be water and dustproof.

The scope is powered by common four AA batteries or lithium batteries and it will allow you about 2-5 hours depending on IR usage.

The Nightshot comes with a built-in Picatinny mount and is ideal fоr mоuntіng tо an АR rіflе, but if уоu’rе соnсеrnеd аbоut rесоіl it is designed for rifles up to .30 caliber in non-magnum versions.

10. Sightmark Photon RT 6-12×50

The Photon RT series is the upgraded version of the Sightmark Photon XT series scopes, and it is available in 4 different models. Although the optics from the Photon RT line look very similar in terms of overall shape and design, they come in different magnification ranges (4.5x and 6x) and illuminator types. The model without the “S” at the end is standard scopes having a  940nm illuminator, whereas the Photon RT with letter “S” indicates that it comes with the 850nm illuminator.

A difference between these two units is reflected in the visible red light of illuminators with an IR wavelength of 850nm, and invisible infrared light is coming from the 940nm illuminator model.

While the target detection range on the 940nm illuminators is limited of up to 150 yards, the illuminators with infrared light in the 800s range like our 4.5x42S scope can help you see up to 250-280 yards away in total darkness.

Unlike its predecessors, the Photon RT 4.5-9×42S sports an upgraded sensor with a 40% better resolution than XT series. Along with the new 768×576 CMOS sensor, the scope has a 640×480 LCD display for clear bright, and vivid images.

The Photon SM18015 scope comes with perfect 4.5 to 9–magnification power for short-range shooting at hogs or coyotes. Unlike the 6.5x model, the 4.5x model is geared more towards 100-200 yard shots. Compared to fixed magnification on the previous series, now both models feature a digitally enhanced magnification. It means that with a 2x digital zoom, you can only switch between 4.5 and 9.0x.

The Photon RT has 6 different reticles with 4 interchangeable colors, ranging from two suitable for crossbows to Plain Duplex to the classic German number 6 crosshair.

Although reasonably priced night vision digital scope, the revamped Photon RT comes with one-shot zero function, improved battery life, the external power port, and finally the ability to connect to your mobile device wirelessly.

The scope is also is water and dust resistant to withstand a lot of inclement weather, a feature that hunters would appreciate.

This Photon scopes like all RT models feature a traditional scope design compatible with standard 30mm scope rings. On top of that, this one boasts a modest 42mm bell objective making it particularly suitable for low-profile configurations on lightweight carbines or an AR-15 style rifle. It’s the Best Digital Night Vision Scope for the Money

11. Pulsar Phantom Gen 3

Pulsar Phantom is a typical representative of Image Intensification (i2) devices, an analog technology the most widely used in law enforcement and military applications. The Pulsar Phantom riflescope is based on Gen III Intensifier Tube using GaAs (gallium arsenide) photocathode.

Coupled with great 57-64 lp/mm resolution, this 3rd generation intensifier tube provides considerable improvements in brighter, clearer images at medium to long-distance with the softer tones of green.

The generous 60mm objective lens comes with a soft rubber cap with a pinhole which is tethered to the housing to prevent loss.  Combining military-style design, and high magnification with a large 60mm objective lens, the Phantom series of night-vision weapon scopes is the best suited for modern night hunting, navigation, viewing through the glass and facial recognition.

When compared to 1st and 2nd generation tubes, Gen 3 tubes offer 800 yards range for crisp observation and shooting distance of over 300 yards under average lighting conditions.

The 4×60 Phantom Gen 3 Night Vision scope housing is engineered from durable duraluminium and glass-filled nylon composite, making it rugged and reliable in most adverse hunting conditions and tactical applications.  Besides, an optical channel is purged with nitrogen and waterproof to IPX6 standard.

This Pulsar higher generation tube riflescope with a suffix MD means it sports a red and green illuminated Mil-Dot reticle with adjustable brightness and a low battery indicator.

Typically for Pulsar scopes, the Phantom has all main controls positioned on top of the body for easy and intuitive accessibility. For comfortable slip-free adjustments, all adjustment knobs are knurled.

While the scope is powered with one AA battery or one CR123A battery, it can operate from 5 to 8 hours depending on IR use.

The Phantom riflescope is shipped with an integrated quick-detach mount enabling you to detach and re-attach the scope quickly without having to re-zero the weapon sight.

Pulsar Phantom Generation 3 Select 4x 60mm MD Night Vision Riflescope

13. ATN X-Sight-II Smart

American Technologies Network Corporation or ATN for short is renowned manufacture of a military line of products, well known for their durability and high price tag. Their X- Sight II series of products is offering a technologically advanced scope packed with features but at a very agreeable price.

ATN X-Sight II HD 5-20x Smart Day/Night riflescope comes in newer consumer technology known as digital night vision.  Instead of looking through the glass lenses, you’ll look at a high-quality LCD inside the scope. Compared to the traditional night vision devices, digital scopes can be used day and night, similar to thermal technology.

The ATN X-Sight II is built around variable 5-20x power magnification lens, but maximum zoom power you want to use only in daylight activities.

Equipped with the 85 mm objective lens and the excellent Obsidian II Core computer, the X-Sight is a no-brainer for hunters who plan to take varmints or other game at night. While it provides a nighttime vision in HD 1080p resolution, the Obsidian core offers an extremely high-tech ballistic calculator, which can shift the estimated point of impact on the fly.

An ATN X-Sight II 5-20x package includes an 850mW infrared illuminator that you can attach to the scope body for use in pitch black scenarios. Useful recognition distance for X-Sight II is around 250 yards with a Field of View (FoV) at 100 yards- 24 feet.

Although available at a great price, The ATN X-Sight II 5-20 comes pre-programmed with seven reticle styles and three primary view settings. The ATN digital imaging technology allows you to use this scope in full-color Day view, standard night vision Green night view and Black and white night view.

As earlier said, this ATN smart rifle scope comes loaded with an astonishing list of features like a built-in rangefinder, an E-Compass, and GPS functionality. It also has some virtues found on much more expensive units such as the ability to stream HD video of your shots over WiFi, or the “Recoil Activated Video” (RAV) setting, which activates 1080 P HD video recording with a recoil detection system.

As earlier said, this ATN smart rifle scope comes loaded with an astonishing list of features like a built-in rangefinder, an E-Compass, and GPS functionality. It also has some virtues found on much more expensive units such as the ability to stream HD video of your shots over WiFi, or the “Recoil Activated Video” (RAV) setting, which activates 1080 P HD video recording with a recoil detection system.

W/Ballistic Calculator, Rangefinder, 1080p Video, WiFi, E-Compass, GPS, Barometer, IOS & Android Apps

A Word About Night Scopes For Hunting

During about four decades, I hunted a great deal at night for gray fox and coyotes in Minnesota. I hunted the deep woodlands of southeastern Minnesota, as such used the winter snow as added light, when there was no snow I used the full moon as an aid to bring up by generation one scope or other related sighting systems. The point here is simply this. Use whatever edge is available to you in the field. At times a simple sight system is affordable and best.  A snow background or bring moon is a free gift to the night hunter. Take advantage of the free tools when you designed to move on targets at night.  In effect, at times less is more. 

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