We love shooting, but we’re often limited by low light conditions. The human eye just doesn’t have the low light sensitivity we need for shooting in the dark.

That’s where night vision optics come in. In the past, night vision scopes were prohibitively expensive for the average person. They were therefore really only used by the military and maybe specialty law enforcement.

Our Best Night Vision Scopes

  1. ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Ultra HD Day & Night Vision Rifle Scopes (Our Top Pick)
  2. Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Riflescope (Best Budget)
  3. Pulsar Trail LRF Thermal Imaging Riflescopes (Best High End)
  4. Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3×42 Night Vision Riflescope
  5. Sightmark Photon RT Digital Night Vision Riflescopes

These days, however, the price has come down a lot and night vision is accessible for the average civilian.

So if you’re looking to add night vision to your shooting repertoire, what do you need to know?

Settle in and found out.

In this handy guide, we’ll go over all the background you need to know to identify a good quality night vision scope. Then, we’ll finish up with recommendations of our five favorite night vision scopes.

Let’s get started.

What Are Night Vision Scopes?

Night vision scopes are a type of night vision device. They are telescopic sights that use night vision technology to allow the user to see in light conditions that are otherwise too low for the human eye.

They often do this by capturing and intensifying what visible light is present, as well as infrared light, to create a more easily viewed image. This process is called image enhancement.

Thermal imaging also uses infrared light to create an image perceptible to the human eye. Thermal imaging typically creates a rainbow image called a thermogram, while image enhancement creates a green or grayscale image. Some scopes use both thermal imaging and image enhancement.

Unlike most image enhancement scopes, thermal imaging scopes are able to operate even in complete darkness.
When one refers to night vision, they’re generally referring to devices that use image enhancement technology.

However, some also consider thermal imaging night vision.

Many night vision scopes use a combination of both ambient visible light and infrared light to produce their image.

We’ll go into more detail on exactly how night vision works in a moment.

What Are The Different Types of Night Vision Scopes?

Night vision is most commonly categorized by generation.

Gen 0 was the first generation of night vision. These devices use active infrared. This means that they use an IR illuminator to project near-infrared light, similar to how a flashlight emits visible light. The infrared light bounces off surrounding objects and is picked up by the lens of the device to create the image.

Gen 1 uses passive infrared. This means that Gen 1 night vision riflescopes use the ambient light produced by light sources like the stars and moon combined with the natural levels of infrared light in the environment. This allows these scopes to produce images without the need to project their own infrared light.

Gen 2 operates similarly to Gen 1, but these devices are more sensitive and better at intensifying the image. This allows them to produce images in even lower levels of light, such as a moonless night.

Gen 3 is what’s currently used by the U.S. military. They use the same technology as Gen 2 but have higher resolution and even greater sensitivity. They also last longer.

Gen 4 is the current cutting edge in night vision devices. Explaining the exact differences between Gen 3 and Gen 4 requires a lot of jargon and explanations of physics. Let’s just say that Gen 4 operates even better than Gen 3 across high and low light levels and produces an even better image.

Gen 0 and Gen 1 are the technologies seen most commonly in civilian night vision optics. They’ll get the job done, but they don’t have the same sensitivity as more recent generations.

Gens 2 through 4 are generally quite expensive and are only really used by professionals.

How Does a Night Vision Scope Work?

Now that you’ve got an idea of what types of night vision scopes are out there, let’s go into a bit more detail about how, exactly, they work.

We’ll primarily stick to Gen 0 and Gen 1 scopes in this explanation since they’re the types you’re most likely to be shopping for. We’re also only going to talk about image enhancement, not thermal imaging, since that’s what’s traditionally considered night vision.

Like on a traditional scope, the objective lens captures both visible and infrared light.

Next, that light travels through an image intensifier tube. This is where the magic happens.

Within the tube, photons of light are converted to electrons by a photocathode. Through some physics that would take far too long to explain here, those electrons are then multiplied by what’s called a microchannel plate (MCP).

The microchannel plate has millions of little holes, or microchannels, in it. These microchannels direct the path of the electrons so they stay in the same position relative to one another.

Like a bullet through a barrel, the electrons maintain the same trajectory with which they exited the microchannel. This preserves the original image.

Before exiting the image intensifier tube, all those electrons interact with a phosphors coated screen. This interaction triggers the phosphorus to release photons which creates the image.

That image is then viewed through the ocular lens or rendered on an electronic display.

What Do You Look For In The Best Night Vision Scope?

Now that you know a bit more about the technology behind night scopes, let’s talk about how to choose one.

Reticle

Most night vision scopes have multiple reticle options for you to choose from with the same scope. Common options include crosshair, mil-dot, and duplex reticles.

However, you should still make sure the night vision scope that you’re considering has the reticle or reticles that you want.

Many night vision scopes also have multiple reticle color and brightness options for you to choose from.

Battery Life

Night vision scopes require electricity to function, so they have to have batteries. Of course, to avoid having your scope fail in the middle of you using it, you want nice, long battery life.

However, if the batteries are easy to replace in the field, you can get away with shorter battery life.

Durability

While night vision scopes are more affordable than they used to be, you still want one that’s nice and durable to help protect your investment. Look for a night vision scope that’s shockproof and waterproof, or at least water-resistant.

Image Quality

Finally, you obviously need your night vision scope to provide a good image. You can’t expect a civilian scope to have the same definition as one used by the pros.

However, you should look for one with a high-resolution, high-definition picture.

Best Night Vision Scopes Reviewed

Now that all the background is out of the way, let’s move on to the actual night vision scope recommendations!

ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Ultra HD Day & Night Vision Rifle Scopes (Our Top Pick)

Our overall favorite night vision scope is the ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Day & Night Rifle Scope.

It’s the next iteration of the now discontinued ATN X-Sight II and is available in 3-14x magnification and 5-20x magnification versions.

A few of our favorite features include the Obsidian 4 Dual Core, recoil activated video recording, and Dual Stream HD Video output. Dual Stream allows you to stream video and record it to a micro SD card at the same time.

We also like the built-in rangefinder, ballistic calculator, gyroscope, accelerometer, barometer, and compass. The scope comes with an infrared illuminator.
Pros

  • One-Shot Zero automatically adjusts windage and elevation
  • Smart Mil-Dot Reticle allows you to change the variance between hash marks to match your load
  • 90mm eye relief

Cons

  • On the heavier side

Buy The ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Night Vision Rifle Scope Here


Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Riflescope (Best Budget)

Our favorite budget night vision scope is the Night Owl NightShot Digital Night Vision Scope.

It offers 3x magnification and has a built-in infrared illuminator. It detects objects up to 100 yards away. It also has a built-in lens cover. It mounts on both Picatinny rails and Weaver rails.

The NightShot is specifically designed for use with non-magnum rounds that are .30 caliber and under.
Pros

  • Weatherproof
  • 68.5mm eye relief
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Only 3-hour battery life, but just uses 4 AA batteries

Buy The Night Owl Night Vision Riflescope Here


Pulsar Trail LRF Thermal Imaging Riflescopes (Best High End)

On the other end of the spectrum is the Pulsar Trail LRF Thermal Scope, our favorite high-end night vision scope.

It’s available in 4 different magnification strengths and zoom ratios.

Like our top pick, the Trail LRF allows you to record videos, including recoil activated video recording.

It also has WiFi connectivity, which allows you to connect the optic and your Android or iOS smartphone. This allows for streaming, file transfer, firmware updates, and remote use of the optic.

It has a detachable, rechargeable B-Pack power supply with up to 8 hours of battery life, but higher powered and 3 AA battery packs are also available.
Pros

  • Very lightweight
  • Saves up to three zeroing profiles with up to 5 coordinates each
  • Wide field of view

Cons

  • Cost

Buy The Pulsar Trail LRF Thermal Imaging Riflescopes Here


Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3×42 Night Vision Riflescope

Another one of our favorite night vision scopes is the Firefield NVRS Night Vision Riflescope.

It has multi-coated optics and a red duplex reticle with incremental brightness adjustment. The built-in IR illuminator helps improve the scope’s performance. The scope offers 3x magnification.

It also has a lightweight yet durable titanium body and a built-in flip-up lens cover to protect the lenses. The scope is IPX4 weatherproof.
Pros

  • Wide field of view
  • Long eye relief, 70mm
  • Quick-detach weaver mount

Cons

  •  Iffy daytime performance

Buy The Firefield Night Vision Riflescope Here


Sightmark Photon RT Digital Night Vision Riflescopes

Last on our list is the Sightmark Photon RT.

It’s available in 4.5x magnification and 6x magnification models, each with 2x digital zoom and a 140-yard range of detection. There’s also an S version of the 4.5x magnification model. This version is better for long-range because it has an extended detection range, up to 220 yards.

Each version has built-in video and sound recording, including WiFi remote viewing via Pulsar Stream Vision. They also have a one-shot zero function.

The scope is shockproof and IP55 water-resistant. It’s also resistant to bright light exposure and has a built-in lens cover.
Pros

  • Built-in invisible 940nm LED IR illuminator
  • 6 reticle pattern options and 4 reticle color options
  • Side mount weaver rail for mounting accessories

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with a mount, but works with most aftermarket 30mm rings

Buy The Sightmark Photon RT Digital Night Vision Riflescopes Here


Final Thoughts On Night Vision Scopes

That brings as to a close on the best scopes with night vision.

All of these night vision scopes are great, high-quality options. Each will extend your shooting hours to provide you with a whole new shooting experience.

Remember, however, that different places have different regulations for night time shooting. Be sure to check your local laws before shooting at night.