If you are a hunter, not only are you on the animal’s turf, but you’re also on their schedule.
Since most animals are active in the early morning, late evening, or nighttime, this makes using a night vision scope a necessity.
In this article we are going to break down what digital night vision is and what are the best digital night vision products on the market.
How does digital night vision work?
To better understand the benefits and drawbacks of the best night vision scopes on the market, understanding how digital night vision works is crucial.
Digital night vision is also known as digital image enhancement technology, and it can produce high-quality images from equipment with a very small form factor.
Digital night vision starts with an objective lens receiving light from a target, which is then sent to a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor or CMOS sensor. The CMOS sensors in digital night vision scopes are similar to the ones you may find in a digital video camera, or a DSLR camera that a photographer would use.
The data sent to the CMOS sensor is then magnified and enhanced to a significant degree, the larger CMOS sensors being able to produce images of extremely high resolution and quality. Most digital night vision scopes can record video in full, high-definition, 1080p resolution. This video is then often sent to an onboard LCD or LED screen, with many additional options available depending on the model.
Many digital night vision scopes will be able to store the footage on microSD cards and portable USB drives. Many high-end units also feature built-in wifi capability that allows them to instantly live stream video to any number of recipient devices you want.
Is digital night vision better than regular night vision technology?
There are two primary types of night vision technology, digital and analog. Since we’ve already covered how digital night vision works, understanding how regular night vision works can help identify which may be the best for your application.
Analog night vision doesn’t rely on integrated digital circuitry, and instead leverages physical components that manipulate the incoming light. The objective lens brings the light in, but instead of sending it to a CMOS, the light enters the image intensifier vacuum tube, generally powered by consumer batteries like AAs.
This tube changes the incoming light into an electrical signal, stripping out the color data in the process, and then sends that electrical signal and sends it to another part of the vacuum tube called the microchannel plate. This plate magnifies the electrical signal and sends it to a screen coated with phosphor like you’d see in older TVs.
The biggest reason that digital night vision will always be preferable to analog is that analog can only advance so far, while digital architecture and CMOS sensors, in general, are constantly evolving. This means that as time passes, digital night vision will be able to consistently offer better imaging at a lower cost. Initially, the first generation of CMOS sensors was bested by analog setups, but that time has long passed.
Who are the leaders in the digital night vision space?
There are countless brands on the market today, but there are a handful that are considered to be leaders in the digital night vision space. Some have been in the optics field for many years, while other younger companies have made a name for themselves relatively quickly. Here are some of the biggest names in night vision scopes.
AGM has rapidly become the leader in the digital night vision space, providing consumers with a wide array of electro-optical systems including rifle scopes and clip-ons, to spotting equipment, lasers, monoculars, and binoculars, and more. AGM Global Vision is also an innovator in the thermal imaging industry, being highly regarded by both consumers and professionals.
Steiner, officially Steiner-Optik, is one of the global leaders in optics innovation. They are headquartered in Bayreuth, Bavaria, and have been part of the Beretta Group of companies for more than a decade. Steiner is the manufacturer of an incredibly wide range of optical equipment, ranging from military and law enforcement-grade binoculars, to rifle scopes and spotting monoculars used in hunting, marine navigation, and even bird-watching.
Though only founded in 1995, ATN has quickly become one of the leading names in the night vision and thermal imaging space. They have developed state-of-the-art smart optics that not only provide top-quality imaging during the day but can process and record 4K resolution night vision data. They are commonly seen on high-end hunting rifle builds and are also known as some of the most expensive consumer-grade optics available.
Kansas-based Bushnell is one of the world leaders in top-quality optics and is the name behind some of the most reliable sporting optics available to consumers. They have been in business for the better part of a century, and produce monoculars, binoculars, spotting & hunting scopes, night vision equipment, and even telescopes that are targeted toward consumer use at reasonable prices.
The 5 best digital night vision scopes
The AGM Rattler TS19-256 can be used as both a compact night vision rifle scope as well as a standalone monocular. The 19mm lens makes it ideal for short-range hunting or other applications that deal with comparatively close quarters. It has a nice step-through digital magnification function, and it can generally be found for less than $1,000 which makes it one of the more affordable scopes that don’t compromise on quality.
- 24-hour battery life, with 4.5 hours of continuous operation
- All-weather construction
- Gorgeous 1024x768 OLED screen
- Built-in wifi for live-streaming and remote recording/storage
- Cannot be used to augment other scopes with night vision functionality
- Has a limited range of not more than 200 yards
The SiOnyx Aurora Black is a night vision camera that is relatively mid-range when compared to other models. It is designed as a sports optics camera but is rated for 5.56 caliber use, so it fits great with the AR-15 family. Featuring both daytime color mode and nighttime black & white, it functions purely with ambient light and does not include any IR source. Tons of features support the cost, and with viability on and off-weapon, it’s a valuable addition to your gear.
- Weapon-rated camera designed for the AR-15 platform
- The clip-on design saves time
- Day & night functionality
- Picatinny-mountable right out of the box
- Technically a camera, not a riflescope
While the Steiner Nighthunter C35 is likely to be one of the most costly night vision imaging setups you’ll come across, it’s also one of the most universally capable. The Steiner Nighthunter C35 is a perfect blend of cutting-edge thermal image processing and custom software, sent to a display that’s nothing short of beautiful. One of the best things about the Steiner Nighthunter C35 is that you can combine it with any existing scope in your lineup to create a customized night vision optics solution for your application.
- Incredibly fast detection & image processing powered by Quantum Vision
- Automatic calibration
- Superior imaging clarity over long distances
- All-weather construction
- Easily tracks moving targets
- Built-in wifi for hassle-free live-streaming and sharing
- The cost prices most hunters and sportsmen out of ownership
- Low battery life of only 4.5 hours
The NightRide SCOUT 384-13mm is a thermal imaging camera that, while it can’t be mounted directly to your gun, can give you nearly unbeatable imaging while hunting. The 384x288 CMOS sensor gives you an incredibly clear and smooth picture at long ranges. Ideal for monitoring property, hunting, and predator elimination, and has a range of more than ¼ mile. The NightRide SCOUT automatically sends the video to any digital device you choose and has a full 360-degree range of motion.
- Wide range for operating temperatures, -40F to 140F
- Can be used in a wide range of applications
- Easily control tilt and pan functions remotely
- Magnetic mount lets you quickly mount it anywhere
- Requires separate DC power source, rated for 12-16 VDC
- At 5.5 lbs, it’s considerably heavier than many alternatives
- Cannot be mounted to a weapon
- Lower price than the C35, but still costly
The standalone Pard NV008 is a great scope for folks that can’t drop several thousand dollars on optics. It’s small but mighty, and with updated firmware, it has a 2x zoom function. It has a day mode option that gives you full color, and a night ops mode that gives a black & white output. Additionally, the IPX7 waterproof rating means the Pard NV008 can deal with more than just a little splash.
- Only weighs 1lb
- Small form-factor takes up less rail real estate
- Updated firmware includes 2x zoom
- Far more affordable than other night vision solutions
- The mount generally needs shims to get it where you need it
- 200-yard max detection means you’ll need to get relatively close