Night vision has been around for decades, but until recently the night vision optics systems have been bulky and incredibly expensive. Now that digital night vision equipment is becoming more prevalent and affordable, it’s changing the game for night vision optics.
What is digital night vision?
Digital night vision is an image enhancement technology that allows the user to see in low-light or nearly pitch black conditions. Digital night vision takes existing ambient light or supplemental infrared light and amplifies it so the user has a clear picture of their surroundings. In some cases, digital night vision will look like traditional black and green night vision displays, while in other situations, especially with high-end digital night vision optics, it can have more colors and look closer to natural light.
How does digital night vision work?
Digital night vision works in a relatively similar way to traditional analog night vision technology, though the image processing process is a little different.
To start the process, the light is collected through the objective lens, which is generally the larger of the two lenses on any optical system. This light is then sent to a CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) sensor. If CMOS sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a sensor type that is a component in many digital optics systems, particularly digital cameras. In an analog night vision setup, this light would be focused onto an intensifier and converted into electrons.
Once the CMOS sensor has received the image, the imaging data is sent to a highly sensitive secondary processor called a CCD (Charge-Coupled Device) image sensor which electronically enhances and magnifies the image. Once the secondary processing is complete, the CCD sends the image data to a microdisplay.
This means the larger the CMOS sensor that handles the initial imaging, the higher the resolution will be on the final post-processing image that you see. Many of the digital night vision optics options on the market right now can deliver a full HD 1080p video experience in nearly zero light.
The microdisplay that the CCD image sensor sends the resulting image to is very similar to many other video displays that you use daily. It’s often an LCD or LED display, but incredibly small. This allows it to fit inside the ocular assembly, which is the end of the scope or optics that you look into. Instead of there being a glass lens like in a rifle scope, there is essentially a tiny video screen that displays the imaging data gathered by the objective lens and processed by the digital sensors inside.
Some optics even have separate screens that are larger and easier to view without scoping in, however, these are generally less popular and useful for hunting applications. Since both separate screens and microdisplays are video displays, they produce light. Visible light. If you are hunting at night, stealth is the key, and keeping your visible light emissions confined to the eyepiece means there is little chance that you can be seen by your prey. A larger screen, on the other hand, lights you up like a beacon in the night, just like someone checking their smartphone in a dark movie theater.
Advantages of digital night vision
Digital Night Vision offers a number of advantages over the more conventional analog intensifier tube night vision devices. Here are some of the biggest benefits of using newer digital equipment over analog.
Price & Performance
One of the biggest advantages of using newer digital night vision optics is that they are so much cheaper than analog, or even Gen 1 digital devices. As technology advances, it becomes increasingly economical to manufacture, and that cost saving is passed onto the consumer. This price benefit also goes hand-in-hand with boosted performance and reduced defects and distortions.
Meaning when you purchase newer digital night vision components, you’re getting better performance than analog or even older digital could ever hope to provide, at a price point that is far lower than they could ever compete with. Simply put, new digital night vision optics give you the biggest bang for your buck.
With analog night vision, there is a tendency for the user to experience significant image distortion from the photocathode, as well as considerable instances of phosphorescent screen blemishes. This is simply due to how the image intensifier tubes work, and the process involved in sending electron streams from one source to another after being magnified. Additionally, the screens for analog devices are similar to the phosphorescent screens on older televisions.
Digital night vision devices can avoid nearly all of these, due to the signal fidelity of the sensors and the processing circuitry. With advancements in CMOS sensors happening all the time, digital night vision systems grow in capability and clarity constantly. This means that you’ll continue getting better and better imaging as technology advances, whereas analog already reached its peak design and technology capability decades ago.
Photo & Video Recording
Another huge benefit to using digital night vision equipment is that since the image data is already in a digital format, it can be transmitted and manipulated in countless ways, just as any other digital video feed. Most digital night vision optics systems allow automatic recording of the video to onboard storage, as well as easily sending that video to another recording or monitoring source via USB connection.
You can take stills from your videos, and some of the more high-end digital night vision systems have onboard wifi so that you can send video wirelessly to any number of specified devices, or even live-stream your hunting action to a streaming service. The video options for newer digital night vision devices are staggering.
Analog night vision devices use image intensifier tubes, which are simply a type of vacuum tube. Bright light, such as accidental daylight use, or even being used when someone suddenly turns on a light nearby, can cause the tubes to become damaged and need replacement. You can easily break older night vision setups by simply using them in the wrong situation.
Digital night vision doesn’t work like that. Not only can digital devices withstand bright light, due to how the sensors and processors operate, but many are actually designed to be easily used during daylight hours to augment normal optical vision.
Disadvantages of digital night vision
While the advantages and benefits of using digital night vision are numerous and significant, there are a couple of relatively minor disadvantages that any potential user should be aware of. We’re going to discuss those here.
Refreshing the Image
With analog night vision, there is no processing, and the electrons move at the speed of light. Due to the image processing that occurs onboard the digital night vision optics, the signal lags slightly behind reality. The digital unit is creating an electric signal that needs to be refreshed to account for changes in the picture, which can create a slight discrepancy between what is happening and the image observed on the microdisplay.
While this difference is often no more than a few milliseconds, in the right situation it may mean a misplaced or missed shot. This image refresh lag is being lowered as technology advances, but it’s still something that needs to be considered if you’re thinking about using digital night vision for hunting.
Dependency on Infrared
Night vision of any type, analog or digital, relies on light amplification and image enhancement. This means that both types require some form of ambient light, and in the absence of ambient light, there must be a source of supplemental light. Most people have seen this on things like video cameras that have a “night mode”, which simply turns on a small infrared light to provide illumination that is invisible to the human eye.
With digital night vision optics, any light source can be used, though infrared is the best option because most animals cannot see it. Most digital night vision setups will have a built-in infrared illuminator, but since your night vision is going to be dependent on batteries to operate, using an infrared light will contribute to a faster battery drain.
There is also the concern that your prey may be able to see the infrared light if it’s not in the correct spectrum. Many digital night vision setups in the first generation of devices have an infrared illuminator that has a wavelength lower than 850 nanometers, which can be seen by some animals. The best digital night vision devices will have an illuminator with a wavelength greater than 850 nm, which cannot be seen by any land animal. This is also something to consider if you want to skip using onboard illumination altogether, and simply buy a separate infrared light in the appropriate spectrum.
Check out Optics Force for all your digital night vision needs
If you’re ready to browse some of the leading digital night vision systems available, Optics Force has what you need. There is an incredibly wide variety of night vision optics to fit your needs.