In search of a pair of night vision binoculars so you can continue your outdoor adventures even after the sun goes down?
Unfortunately, shopping for night vision binoculars can be a pain.
It doesn’t have to be, though. If you know what to look for and how to choose the right night vision binoculars for your particular needs, selecting a pair of night vision binos can be easy.
This guide will help you learn exactly that. We’ll start by talking about what, specifically, night vision binoculars are and how they work. Then we’ll talk about the different types and technologies of night vision that are currently on the market. Then we’ll move on to what you really care about: reviews of our favorite night vision binoculars.
Then let’s get started.
Table Of Contents
- Our Best Night Vision Binoculars
- What Are Night Vision Binoculars?
- How Do Night Vision Binoculars Work?
- What Are The Different Types Of Night Vision Binoculars?
- What Do You Look For In The Best Night Vision Binoculars?
- Best Night Vision Binoculars Reviewed
- Final Thoughts On Night Vision Binoculars
Our Best Night Vision Binoculars
- Night Owl NOB5X Pro Nexgen Night Vision Binocular (Our Top Pick)
- Sightmark Ghost Hunter Night Vision Monocular (Best Budget)
- ATN BinoX 4K Day & Night Vision Binoculars (Best High End)
- Firefield Tracker 3×42 Night Vision Binoculars
- Solomark Night Vision Binoculars
What Are Night Vision Binoculars?
Night vision binoculars are, obviously, binoculars that use night vision technology to allow the user to see better in the dark. They detect infrared light and ambient visible light. Then they use light amplification to create a picture, even in complete darkness. Night vision requires at least some visible light to create a picture.
Night vision technology is distinct from thermal imaging. While night vision uses both infrared and visible light to create an image in the dark, thermal imaging technology detects only infrared, or thermal, energy. They also do so with far greater sensitivity than night vision, which is why thermal imaging devices don’t require visible light to create an image.
Night vision binoculars are used by hunters, law enforcement, and the military alike. Other night vision gadgets, like rifle scopes or goggles, are used for civilian tactical purposes, like home defense. Some night vision binoculars can even be used with a head mount, allowing them to function as night vision goggles as well.
How Do Night Vision Binoculars Work?
To create an image, night vision devices use a process called image enhancement. This process amplifies the collected visible and infrared light to create a much better picture than you can get with your naked eye. So how do they do this?
First, infrared and visible light travels through the objective lens, just like with any other optic.
Then that collected light enters what’s called the image intensifier tube where the real magic happens.
Within the image intensifier tube, the light first hits a photocathode. The photocathode turns the photons of the light into electrons.
Next is a microchannel plate, a little glass disc with millions of tiny tunnels through it and electrodes on either side. The microchannel plate causes additional similar electrons to be released. This multiplies the number of electrons by thousands.
Now the electrons are almost done traveling through the image intensifier tube, but there’s one last step, a phosphor-coated screen at the end of the tube. The electrons interact with the phosphors, causing them to release photons.
Thanks to the straight microchannels, the electrons have held the same position relative to the original photons. That means that the photons released by the phosphors are in that same alignment, but there are more of them. This creates the intensified image, which is then viewed through the ocular lens or an electronic display.
What Are The Different Types Of Night Vision Binoculars?
Night vision technology was first developed around the time of World War II. While there have been significant advances in technology since then, many night vision devices use that early technology.
Night vision devices are generally sorted into five different generations.
The original night vision technology is considered Gen 0. They use active infrared, which means they create their own infrared light using an infrared illuminator. The illuminator basically acts as a flashlight but outputs infrared light rather than visible light.
They have both a cathode and anode in the image intensifier tube, which accelerates the electrons and can lead to a distorted image, especially since Gen 0 devices didn’t have the microchannel plate.
Gen 1 made the switch to passive infrared, which means that they use ambient light in conjunction with infrared light to intensify the image. Because of this, Gen 1 devices don’t have to have an IR illuminator, but without one they don’t function well when there’s not enough ambient light. For this reason, Gen 1 devices still generally have a built-in IR illuminator.
Gen 2 is where we see the anode replaced by the microchannel plate. This allowed the electrons to actually be multiplied rather than just accelerated. As a result, Gen 2 devices offer better image resolution and greater sensitivity for better performance in lower light conditions.
Most consumer-level night vision devices fall somewhere from Gen 0 to Gen 2 in terms of technology.
Gen 3 is what the US military currently uses. It’s very similar to Gen 2 but with some slight material changes to increase resolution and sensitivity even more. They also feature an ion barrier coating over the microchannel plate, which extends the life of the image intensifier tube at the cost of dulling and distorting the image.
The military considers Gen 4 a subset of Gen 3, but consumer night vision products generally consider it distinct. Gen 4 introduces the automatic regulation of the power supply to the photocathode, which allows the device to automatically adapt to different light conditions.
It also removes (or at least thins) the ion barrier that Gen 3 introduced to improve the image quality again.
What Do You Look For In The Best Night Vision Binoculars?
Now that you know a bit more about the technology involved, let’s move on to how to choose high-quality night vision binoculars. There are a few things that you need to consider.
First, light transmission is important with all optics, but especially so with night vision devices. They have so little light available to them in the first place and have to do so much with it that it’s essential that night vision binoculars are good at collecting and transmitting light. Looker for larger objective lenses, a brighter IR illuminator, and more recent generations to help with this.
This also helps with image quality. For night vision binoculars with a digital display, you’ll also want to look at display resolution to ensure a high-quality image.
You’ll also need to consider the magnification strength that you need. The smaller and farther away what you want to view is, the greater the magnification you’ll need. Most binoculars have fixed magnification, but many digital binoculars feature digital zoom to give the effect of variable magnification.
At the same time, you need to consider the detection range of the infrared sensor. If you want to see something at 500 yards away, it doesn’t matter what magnification power the binoculars have if the infrared sensor’s detection range caps out at half that distance.
Best Night Vision Binoculars Reviewed
Now that you’ve got all the basics down and know how to find binoculars that suit your needs, let’s look at our recommendations.
Night Owl NOB5X Pro Nexgen Night Vision Binoculars (Our Top Pick)
First up is the Night Owl NOB5X.
These Gen 1 binoculars feature large 50mm objective lenses and a built-in IR illuminator that allow the device to be used in total darkness or just improves sight in low light conditions.
The interocular distance is adjustable so each eyepiece lines up perfectly with your eyes while a central focusing mechanism allows you to adjust the binoculars’ focus.
The NOB5X features 5x magnification, but the Night Owl NOB3X is virtually identical, but with 3x magnification.
- Integrated infrared all-glass optics
- Impact resistant lens housings
- Large field of view
- A bit heavy
Sightmark Ghost Hunter Night Vision Monocular (Best Budget)
The Sightmark Ghost Hunter Night Vision Monocular not only helps you save money but is also more compact and lightweight than binoculars. It can even be mounted to your weapon or a tripod.
The Ghost Hunter even shuts off automatically when it’s exposed to bright light. That preserves the night vision components to help the device last for years, meaning it’ll be long before you end up having to replace it.
It comes in 2x, 4x, and 5x magnification versions. The 2x magnification has a 120m (131 yards) detection range, while the 4x has a 180m (197 yards) range and the 6x has a 200m (219 yards) range.
- Built-in 805nm IR illuminator
- Lightweight but durable construction
- Quick to power up
- Somewhat difficult to focus
ATN BinoX 4K Day & Night Vision Binoculars (Best High End)
If you’re looking for some high-tech digital night vision binoculars, ATN BinoX is the way to go.
The digital zoom allows for variable magnification between 4x and 16x, so they’re great for short and long distances. Plus the built-in laser rangefinder detects targets at up to 1000 yards, so these are excellent long-range shooting or hunting binoculars.
In addition, these binoculars have a Dual Core Processor that allows you to both record video and live stream to a mobile device, even simultaneously. Video is saved to a micro SD card and a USB cable can be used to transfer video to your computer.
- Day and night modes
- BIX technology allows communication with other ATN SMART HD devices
- 10-30mm eye relief
- All that tech means these binos are heavy
Firefield Tracker 3×42 Night Vision Binoculars
Next up is Firefield Tracker Night Vision Binoculars.
These Gen 1 night vision binoculars are compact, lightweight, ergonomic, and durable. They also have a very impressive battery life. A single CR123 battery will last 20 hours if you’re using the built-in IR illuminator and 72 hours if you’re not.
The Eclipse Lens Cover System features flip-up lens covers that easily move out of the way without risking losing the covers. The lens caps have pinholes that allow day time use of these night vision binoculars with the caps closed.
- Rubberized ABS plastic body with a non-slip coating
- ¼ inch tripod mount socket
- Comes with a carrying case
- Not great for glasses wearers
Solomark Night Vision Binoculars
Last on our list is Solomark Night Vision Binoculars.
These binos feature 7x magnification with 2x digital zoom and 31mm objective lenses. They also have a 4-inch screen with a surrounding eye shield to allow for a comfortable viewing distance. The screen features 320×240 resolution for a clear image.
These binoculars have IR-filter lens caps for daytime use to protect the infrared sensor in bright light. Like the ATN BinoX, these Solomark binoculars take pictures and record video, which are saved to a micro SD memory card.
In addition, Solomark calls these binoculars “life waterproof” which means they’re water-resistant but shouldn’t be submerged.
- Comes with a USB cable to transfer picture and videos to your computer and an AV port and cable to connect directly to your TV
- 400m (437 yards) viewing range when using infrared, unlimited during day
- Fully multi-coated optics
- Requires 8 AA batteries
Final Thoughts On Night Vision Binoculars
That’s about it on night vision binoculars, but I do want to give a shout out to Bushnell Equinox Z Night Vision Monocular, Aurosports 10×25 Folding High Powered Binoculars for Bird Watching and Bestguarder NV-900 Digital Night Vision Binoculars. These are all great options that are worthy of an honorable mention but didn’t quite crack the top 5.
Armasight is another great company for night vision devices.
Thinking you might go with a night vision rifle scope instead? Check out our night vision scope recommendations for some great options and to learn more.