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Best Cheap Night Vision Goggles 2019: Reviews & Buying Guide

Looking for cheap night vision goggles? 

You’ve come to the right place.

Night vision goggles are useful in hunting, security, search and rescue, and other outdoor nighttime applications.

For decades, only the military had used night vision systems. Today, they are just as common among civilians.

In this in-depth buying guide, we review and compare the best and cheapest night vision goggles available in the market.

We also discuss the most important features to look for when buying a pair of night-vision goggles, including magnification, IR illuminator, and detection range.


Best Cheap Night Vision Goggles 2019: Comparison Table

Yukon - NV 1x24
  • Yukon - NV 1x24

  • Type:
    Gen 1

  • Magnification:
    1x

  • Resolution (lines per mm):
    36

  • Detection Range:
    87 yards

  • Weight:
    1.7lbs

  • Battery Life:
    40 hours w/o IR

Pulsar Edge GS Super 1x20
  • Pulsar Edge GS Super 1x20

  • Type:
    CF Super Gen 1+

  • Magnification:
    1x

  • Resolution (lines per mm):
    42

  • Detection Range:
    98 yards

  • Weight:
    1.8lbs

  • Battery Life:
    50 hours w/o IR

Night Owl Tactical Series G1
  • Night Owl Tactical Series G1

  • Type:
    Gen 1

  • Magnification:
    1x

  • Resolution (lines per mm):
    35

  • Detection Range:
    150 yards

  • Weight:
    1.4lbs

  • Battery Life:
    80 hours w/o IR, 40 hours with IR

ATN NVG7-2 Gen 2+ 1x
  • ATN NVG7-2 Gen 2+ 1x

  • Type:
    Gen 2+

  • Magnification:
    1x

  • Resolution (lines per mm):
    40-45

  • Detection Range:
    Not specified

  • Weight:
    1.1lbs

  • Battery Life:
    50 hours w/o IR

Pulsar Challenger GS Super 1+ 4.5x60
  • Pulsar Challenger GS Super 1+ 4.5x60

  • Type:
    CF Super Gen 1+

  • Magnification:
    4.5x

  • Resolution (lines per mm):
    36-42

  • Detection Range:
    218 yards

  • Weight:
    1.5lbs

  • Battery Life:
    72 hours w/o IR, 20 hours with IR

Armasight PVS7-3 Alpha Gen 3
  • Armasight PVS7-3 Alpha Gen 3

  • Type:
    Gen 3

  • Magnification:
    1x

  • Resolution (lines per mm):
    64-72

  • Detection Range:
    Not specified

  • Weight:
    1.4lbs

  • Battery Life:
    30 hours


ATN PVS7-3
  • ATN PVS7-3

  • Type:
    Gen 3

  • Magnification:
    1x

  • Resolution (lines per mm):
    64

  • Detection Range:
    Not specified

  • Weight:
    1.5lbs

  • Battery Life:
    50 hours

ATN PS15-4 GEN 4
  • ATN PS15-4 GEN 4

  • Type:
    Gen 4

  • Magnification:
    1x

  • Resolution (lines per mm):
    64-72

  • Detection Range:
    75-100 yards

  • Weight:
    1.5lbs

  • Battery Life:
    40 hours

Sightmark SM14070 Ghost Hunter 1x24
  • Sightmark SM14070 Ghost Hunter 1x24

  • Type:
    Gen 1

  • Magnification:
    1x

  • Resolution (lines per mm):
    30

  • Detection Range:
    184 yards

  • Weight:
    0.8lbs

  • Battery Life:
    72 hours w/o IR, 20 hours with IR

Sightmark SM15070 Ghost Hunter 1x24
  • Sightmark SM15070 Ghost Hunter 1x24

  • Type:
    Gen 1

  • Magnification:
    1x

  • Resolution (lines per mm):
    30

  • Detection Range:
    87 yards

  • Weight:
    0.8lbs

  • Battery Life:
    72 hours w/o IR, 20 hours with IR

SOLOMARK binoculars
  • SOLOMARK binoculars

  • Type:
    Digital

  • Magnification:
    3.5-7x

  • Resolution (lines per mm):
    N/A

  • Detection Range:
    100 yards

  • Weight:
    2.2lbs

  • Battery Life:
    Not specified


Best Cheap Night Vision Goggles 2019: Reviews

1. Yukon – NV 1x24 Goggles

Yukon – NV 1x24 Goggles

The Yukon NV 1x24 goggles are great for anyone looking for affordable binocular goggles.

They are a bit bulky, but that won’t be an issue when you are using the included headgear accessory. It allows you to clip the goggles on your head, leaving your hands free to hold a rifle or whatever other tools you need.

The headset is not the most comfortable one. It feels a bit heavy and doesn’t conform well to your head. But unless you spend hours with the headset on, it’s not too bad.

This is the gen I night vision system, so check your expectations when it comes to performance.

The range is decent but only good enough for applications that don’t require long detection range such as hiking and big game hunting.

On a night with a quarter moon, it can spot a human-sized object at a range of about 87 yards. If it’s a full moon, the range increases to about 150 yards.

If it’s totally dark and you have to use the IR illuminator, the range dramatically shortens to 50-75 yards.

Another limiting spec is the field of view. At just 30 degrees, the tunnel vision-like view can be disorienting in the beginning.

But even when you get used to it, it still limits your night vision capability. You can’t sweep a wide area, making these goggles less than ideal for search & rescue and security.

We like the build quality, though. The rubberized body stands up well to rough environments and a bit of bad weather. Note, however, that it is just water-resistant, not waterproof.

Here are other notable features of the NV 1x24 Goggles.

  • Comes with neck strap and carrying case.1x magnification.
  • Dual diopter adjustment.
  • IR illuminator uses a battery-saving pulsing frequency.Convenient flip-up lens covers that can be rotated out of view when the goggles are in use.

Overall, the YukonNV 1x24 Goggles are best for beginners looking for something affordable for close-range hunting, hiking, or just for fun.

Pros

  • Inexpensive.
  • Protective rubber body.
  • IR illuminate allows night vision in full darkness.
  • Headset for hands-free operation.

Cons

  • Limited range and field of view.
  • Uncomfortable headset.

2. Pulsar Edge GS Super 1+ 1x20 Night Vision Goggle

Pulsar Edge GS Super 1+ 1x20 Night Vision Goggle

The Pulsar Edge GS is designed to overcome a key issue with many Gen 1 night vision goggles – edge distortion.

Basic Gen 1 goggles produce a sharp image at the center, but it gets distorted or blurred towards the edges.

The Pulsar Edge GS uses a special image intensifier tube to provide high edge-to-edge resolution. It’s called CF-Super technology.

There’s still some resolution loss at the edges, but it’s very small, typically a difference of 20% or less compared to the center resolution.

Combined with the 36-degree field of view, these goggles provide really good night vision performance.

With a detection range of 98 yards, you can see pretty far with the Edge GS goggles. The range is even longer on a full moon night.

When it’s dark, turn on the IR illuminator. The illuminator has a power adjustment button that allows you to reduce brightness, thus saving battery life.

Note, however, that the IR illuminator has a shorter range. It also emits a red light that gives up your position to anyone or anything you are pointing.

You can hold these goggles in your hands or attach them to the included headgear if you want your hands free to hold something else or navigate through the bushes.

The controls are easy to reach and operate. We also love the soft rubber eyecup. It makes for more comfortable viewing and provides great eye relief.

The body is made from metal and carbon composite. It’s solid and hardy, perfect for rough environments like the forest. An IP65 rating gives it plenty of protection from dust and rain.

Here are other notable features.

  • Comes with neck strap and carrying case.1x magnification.
  • The bright light protection system cuts off current to the intensifier tube if a certain luminance threshold is exceeded. This protects sensitive components from damage. 
  • 1x magnification.
  • 50hr battery life with IR off.​​​​​

Overall, the Pulsar Edge GS goggles are pretty good for the price. They are still entry-level goggles, but they offer significant performance improvement over basic gen 1 goggles.

They are perfect for beginners and hobbyists looking for something a bit more powerful, capable, and versatile.

Pros

  • Excellent resolution from edge to edge.
  • Long battery life.
  • Solid build that is dust and rain resistant.
  • Comfortable headgear for hands-free operation.
  • Powered by AAA batteries, which are easy to find.

Cons

  • Limited range, especially with the IR illuminator.
  • IR illuminator produces a red glow that is visible to others.

3. Night Owl Tactical Series G1 Night Vision Binocular Goggles

Night Owl Tactical Series G1 Night Vision Binocular Goggles

What we love most about the Night Owl Tactical Series G1 binocular goggles are their lightweight and compact design.

Even with the headgear, these goggles are significantly lighter and less bulky than other brands. This is especially useful for people who need to walk or move around a lot with the goggles on.

The ease of use doesn’t stop with the lightweight design. These goggles have a quick-release head mount that allows you to flip them up and out of view when you need to use your naked eyes.

You can also quickly detach the goggles for handheld viewing.

The 30-degree field of view is on the lower side, but the G1 binoculars make up for it with a longer range of up to 150 yards.

They are great for long-range applications like hunting and security.

The resolution is pretty good though there’s some distortion around the edges. But you can make out most objects even from afar.

The built-in IR illuminator provides excellent night vision for close-range objects when there’s no ambient light.

The main issue I have with these goggles is the type of battery they use. You need type-N batteries, which can be difficult to find from local stores.

But you can easily get them from Amazon.

Here are some additional notable features of the G1 binoculars.

  • Auto shut-off.
  • Circuit protection system for bright light.
  • 1x magnification.
  • 40-80 hours battery life depending on how often you use the IR illuminator.

We recommend the Night Owl Tactical Series G1 binocular goggles for anyone looking for affordable long-range night vision goggles.

Pros

  • Long detection range.
  • Bright light protection.
  • Good resolution quality.
  • Long battery life.
  • Built-in IR illuminator.

Cons

  • Batteries are a bit difficult to find.
  • Limited field of view.
  • The headset might be uncomfortable for some people.

4. ATN NVG7-2 Gen 2+ 1x Night Vision Goggles

ATN NVG7-2 Gen 2+ 1x Night Vision Goggles

The ATN NVG7-2 is a great choice for those who want a pair of night-vision goggles that are more capable than Gen 1 goggles.

These are Gen 2+ goggles, meaning the image they produce is sharper, brighter, and better defined compared to Gen 1 goggles. You also don’t get the distortion that is present in most Gen 1 goggles.

They are, of course, more expensive than the Gen 1 goggles we’ve reviewed. But they are still in the low budget range.

You can use them as hand-held, head-mounted, or helmet-mounted night vision goggles. The lightweight design feels comfortable whichever way you use them.

You can adjust the interpapillary distance – the width between the two tubes–for a perfect fit.

The ATN NVG7 goggles come with a lightweight headgear featuring a flip-up attachment. This lets you quickly lift the goggles up and away from your face when you need to look directly at something.

The 40-degree field of view is pretty good. You can get a wide sweep of an area, making these goggles ideal for applications like search and rescue, security, and hunting.

Battery life is also great at 50 hours.

Of course, the CR123A battery will last for less time when you are using the built-in IR illuminator.

The goggles have a rugged metal body and are rated as waterproof. They are ready for most kinds of outdoor environments.

Here are other notable features.

  • 1x magnification.
  • Auto shut-off in case of bright light.
  • Automatic brightness control.

Overall, the ATN NVG7 goggles are a big step up from Gen 1 lenses, but the price increase is not that dramatic. They are still pretty affordable.

Pros

  • Excellent resolution.
  • Light-weight and easy to use.
  • Long-lasting battery.
  • Powerful IR illuminator for use in total darkness.

Cons

  • More expensive than Gen 1 goggles.

5. Pulsar Challenger GS Super 1+ 4.5x60 Night Vision Monocular

Pulsar Challenger GS Super 1+ 4.5x60 Night Vision Monocular

If you are on a budget, a monocular is a more pocket-friendly choice compared to binoculars. You can find monocular at half the price of comparable performance night vision binoculars.

Such is the case with this Pulsar Challenger GS monocular. It is cheaper than other Gen 1 night vision goggles but matches them in performance.

It’s actually better than most Gen 1 goggles. It uses the same CF-Super technology as the Pulsar Edge GS goggles I reviewed above.

You get better resolution from edge to edge. The extra-large 60mm wide objective lens also helps enhance image resolution and brightness. This lets you see more details even when there’s very little light.

The Pulsar Challenger GS has 4.5x magnification, which is unique when it comes to night vision goggles. Most of them have no magnification (1x). It does not always mean that more magnification is better. 1x night vision goggles are designed with no magnification to provide a realistic view of the environment. But there are times when some magnification would be handy. For example, nighttime wildlife observations and bird watching. It can also help in building security, hunting, patrols, and search & rescue. Basically, any situation where you need to get a close-up view.

The monocular has an IP65 rating, so it’s well protected from dust and water. It comes with a carrying case for easy and safe transportation.

Here are more of its features.

  • Convenient single switch operation.
  • Built-in IR illuminator for use when there’s no ambient light.
  • 72hr battery life with illuminator turned off.

Like any other night vision system, the Pulsar Challenger GS monocular has its limitations. For instance, it has a limited 9-degree field of view. You won’t get sweeping views with this monocular.

But it makes up for it with increased detection range – up to 218 yards for a man-sized object with a quarter moon in the sky.

If your work or hobby involves pinpointing individual animals, people, or objects at long distances, the Pulsar Challenger GS monocular is a great choice.

Pros

  • Cheaper than most binocular night vision goggles.
  • Improved resolution over Gen 1 goggles.
  • 4.5x magnification.
  • Long detection range.
  • Lightweight and easy to use.

Cons

  • Limited field of view.

6. Armasight PVS7-3 Alpha Gen 3 Night Vision Goggles

Armasight PVS7-3 Alpha Gen 3 Night Vision Goggles

At Generation 3, you are in the military-grade zone. The performance is many times better compared to Gen 1 and 2-night vision goggles. That’s why Gen 3 goggles like Armasight PVS7-3 have export control restrictions.

The PVS7-3 bests most of the other goggles we have reviewed in all specs.

The resolution is an impressive 64-72 lines per mm, providing a sharp and bright image even in extremely low light conditions.

If it is totally dark, turn on the powerful IR illuminator. An IR indicator inside the viewing lens will tell you when the IR is on. There’s no external IR indicator to give away your position.

The field of view is 40 degrees, which gives you wide views of an area. This comes in handy during hunting, search and rescue, security, and nighttime patrols.

Another handy feature is the automatic brightness control. The goggles will automatically adjust image brightness depending on the current light conditions. This ensures the best image quality at all times.

The Armasight PVS7-3 can be used in three ways: hand-held, head-mounted, or helmet-mounted.

You can also remove the goggles and use them as a long-range viewer though you’d need to buy a magnification lens.

These goggles are designed for use in just about any kind of terrain. They are waterproof and can operate in temperatures as low as -40F and as high as 122F.

Considering it’s designed for military use, you can be sure it will last a long time.

Here are other notable features of the Armasight PVS7-3 night vision goggles.

  • Automatic bright light shut-off.
  • 27mm objective lens.
  • 1x magnification.
  • The low battery indicator on the screen.
  • 2-year warranty.

The Armasight PVS7-3 goggles are, of course, pricier than Gen 1 and 2 goggles. These are military-grade binoculars, after all. But you get what you pay for, and it’s worth it.

Pros

  • High resolution.
  • Wide FOV.
  • Rugged and weather-proof.
  • Lightweight design.

Cons

  • Expensive.

7. ATN PVS7-3 Night Vision Goggle

ATN PVS7-3 Night Vision Goggle

This is another good choice if you are looking for a Gen 3 military-grade night vision system. It’s also a cheaper alternative to the Armasight PVS7-3 Alpha goggles.

The ATN PVS7-3 goggles provide excellent resolution and wide field of view for a wide range of outdoor applications, including hunting, security, and even star gazing.

With a resolution of 64 lines per mm, it picks out more details and delivers a sharper and brighter image than Gen 2 and Gen 1 night vision goggles.

The automatic brightness control feature – or ABC –maintains the optimal brightness as you move between different light conditions. This not only maintains image quality; it also protects sensitive components.

Another protective feature is Bright-Source Protection (BSP). It reduces or cuts off voltage to the intensifier tube if there’s an unexpected bright light, such as from a car.

Like the Armasight system, ATN PVS7-3 goggles can be used in three ways: hand-held, head-mounted, or helmet-mounted.

For head mounting, it comes with a comfortable military strap. It also comes with a shoulder strap and neck cord.

The googles are waterproof and resistant to shock damage. They can also tolerate a wide range of temperatures from freezing conditions to the desert heat.

Here are other notable features.

  • IR illuminator and low battery indicators on the eyepiece screen.
  • 40 degrees FOV.
  • Uses power from two 1.5-V AA Batteries or one 3-V BA-5567/U Battery.
  • 50 hours of battery life without IR.

Overall, we love the money value of the ATN PVS7-3 goggles. They are some of the cheapest Gen 3 goggles, but the performance comes close to that of comparable but more expensive models.

Pros

  • Rugged military-grade design.
  • Excellent resolution.
  • Wide field of view.
  • Versatile.

Cons

  • More expensive than Gen 2 goggles.

8. ATN PS15-4 GEN 4 Night Vision Goggle System

ATN PS15-4 GEN 4 Night Vision Goggle System

We are now one generation higher – and several thousand dollars up in price. But you get much-improved performance for your money.

Most importantly, the ATN PS15-4 Gen 4 goggles perform better in all light conditions from total darkness to an environment with artificial light sources.

The PS15-4 goggles have an integrated IR illuminator for use when it’s totally dark. But you’ll rarely need to use it because of its excellent low light performance.

In urban environments where artificial lights can degrade image resolution, the PS15-4 goggles have auto-gating technology that maintains image quality.

The goggles also have automatic brightness control that adjusts image brightness depending on ambient light conditions.

With a resolution of 64 to 72 lines per mm, the image you receive is sharper and better defined than what you get with most night vision goggles.

You can pick out more details at a longer range.

Here are some other notable features and specs.

  • Bright light shut-off for system protection.
  • 1x magnification.
  • Waterproof.
  • IR and low battery indicators inside the eyepiece screen.
  • Uses power from two 1.5-V AA Batteries or one 3-V CR123A Battery.

The ATN PS15-4 has two issues you should note before you buy it.

The head mount could be more comfortable, especially the adjusting strap. The attachment to the goggles also needs a better design.

The other issue is that you cannot adjust the interpapillary distance. If the distance between your eyes does not perfectly match that of the two eyepieces, you’ll get an off-center view.

Pros

  • Excellent resolution across different environments.
  • Wide field of view.
  • Waterproof.
  • Lightweight.

Cons

  • Non-adjustable interpapillary distance.
  • Slightly uncomfortable head mount.

9. Sightmark SM14070 Ghost Hunter 1x24 Night Vision Goggle Kit

Sightmark SM14070 Ghost Hunter 1x24 Night Vision Goggle Kit

Sightmark is known for its affordable but high-quality optical gear. Their Ghost Hunter night vision monocular is a great choice if you are looking for affordable night vision goggles.

This is an entry-level Gen 1 night vision device, so don’t expect much from it. It’s mostly ideal for locating pets and other objects in the dark in and around your home.

You can also use it to walk through a wooded area. But for applications like hunting or security, you are better off with more expensive Gen 1 or higher generation goggles.

It does a decent job magnifying ambient moonlight and starlight. On a moonlit night, you can see pretty far – up to 184 yards if it is a bright night.

But that’s only for large objects like houses and cars. For smaller things, the max useful range is about 50-100 yards.

On darker nights, you can use the built-in IR illuminator to get about 75 yards of detection range.

There are two ways you can use the Ghost Hunter night vision monocular: as a handheld monocular or mounted on the included head mount.

The head mount has a convenient flip-up or down mechanism that makes it easy to get the monocular out of the way without having to detach it from the mount.

You can also attach the monocular to a helmet, but you’ll need a j-arm and rhino mount.

Here are other notable features of the Sightmark goggles.

  • Auto shut-off in case of bright light.
  • 3-year warranty on tube and lifetime warranty on housing.
  • 1x magnification.
  • Field of view: 30 degrees.

In addition to the limited image quality, another issue users have had to deal with is the need to adjust focus constantly.

The eye lens and the main objective lens have to be perfectly in sync to get a good image. This requires constantly adjusting the two knobs, which can be a bit tedious.

Pros

  • Inexpensive.
  • Decent range.
  • Built-in IR illuminator.
  • It comes with a head-mount.

Cons

  • Limited field of view.
  • Blurry edges.
  • It requires constant adjustment to maintain focus.

10. Sightmark SM15070 Ghost Hunter 1x24 Night Vision Goggle Binocular Kit

Sightmark SM15070 Ghost Hunter 1x24 Night Vision Goggle Binocular Kit

If you love the low price point of the Sightmark SM14070, but you’d prefer to get binocular night vision goggles, we recommend the Sightmark SM15070 night vision kit.

It’s in the same budget range as the Sightmark monocular but offers the advantages of binocular goggles.

The specs are roughly the same for the two-night vision goggles.

The SM15070 has the same 30 lines/mm resolution, 1x magnification, and 72/20 hours (with/without IR) battery life.

However, the detection range for the binoculars is less.

Like the monocular, the SM15070 binoculars are only ideal for basic applications that don’t require much range or high resolution.

The 30-degree field of view is quite limiting, and like other Gen 1 devices, the edges of the image appear blurry.

The built-in IR illuminator is great for dark nights, but don’t expect to see clearly with it beyond 50 yards.

You can hold the Sightmark SM15070 goggles in your hand or mount them on the included head mount. Either way, the goggles feel very light. You won’t get tired holding them in your hand or carrying them on your head for long periods.

Here are some other notable features.

  • Auto shut-off in case of bright light.
  • Batteries: 2xAAA.
  • 30-degree field of view.
  • IPX3 weather protection.

The IPX3 rating doesn’t provide much protection outdoors. It’s only good for light water sprays and offers no protection against dust. This is not exactly a rugged pair of outdoor night vision goggles. Exercise care when using them.

Pros

  • Inexpensive.
  • Decent range.
  • IR illuminator.
  • It comes with a head mount.

Cons

  • Limited field of view.
  • IR illuminator is visible to others in the dark – not ideal for stealth operations.

11. SOLOMARK Digital Night Vision Binoculars

SOLOMARK Digital Night Vision Binoculars

These are the coolest night vision binoculars on our list. They have many features you don’t get even in high-end night vision goggles. Surprisingly, they are very affordable.

Let’s start with the coolest feature: you can use these during the day and night. They are not just night vision goggles.

During the day, you can use them to get magnified views of far-off objects such as in a stadium when hunting or during bird viewing.

The other cool feature is the ability to take pictures and record videos. You can store them in the included 4GB micro SD card and then transfer them to your computer with the included USB cable.

The CMOS sensor that magnifies light produces a surprisingly good image quality, considering the price tag.

You view the image on the 2” TFT display screen.

If you need to see something much farther away, take advantage of the 3.5-7x optical zoom. Also, the binoculars provide a 2x digital zoom.

The viewing range is pretty good. You can clearly see a person or an animal at 100 yards at night.

For something as big as a house, you can see as far as 1300 feet (433 yards). Quite impressive at this price point.

Other features include.

  • Built-in infrared spotlight for better viewing in the dark.
  • Long eye relief – you can use the binoculars with and without glasses.
  • 9 degrees field of view.
  • Power: 8xAA batteries.
  • Display screen resolution: 320x240 pixels.

What we love most about these digital binoculars is their versatility. You can use them in a wide range of applications, including hunting, search and rescue, camping, hiking, security, fishing, wildlife observations, and even stargazing.

The fact that you can use them at night and during the day is also a big plus.

Pros

  • Good value for your money.
  • Long detection range.
  • Good image quality.
  • Optical and digital zoom for close-up views.
  • Versatile.
  • It comes with various accessories, including tabletop tripod, 4GB microSD card, and battery case.

Cons

  • Limited field of view.

Popular Night Vision Goggle Attachments

Night Vision Goggle Attachments

Here are some popular attachments and accessories for night vision goggles.

IR illuminator: Some night vision goggles accept external IR illuminators. This is handy if the built-in illuminator is not powerful enough for your needs.

Video recorder: Most night vision goggles don’t record video. But you can attach a compatible video recorder to record video and audio. Some recorder attachments can also take still images.

Tripod: If you are observing non-moving objects in the same area, attaching night vision goggles on a tripod can make your observations easier and clearer. There is no shaking and moving to affect focus.

Helmet mount: If you want to attach your night vision goggles to a helmet, you’ll need a compatible mount. Most night vision goggles can be attached to a PVS 14 J-arm and rhino mount.

Lens filters: You can use different filters to change the quality and color composition of the image you get from the objective lens. Some filters reduce glow and glare, making for a better viewing experience. Others tone down the green color that’s common with night vision devices, to ease eye fatigue and improve visibility.


How Night Vision Goggles Work

best night vision

To help you see in the dark, night vision goggles collect the little light available from the moon, stars, and other surrounding sources and enhance it.

They also collect infrared light, which is invisible to our eyes.

The main component of night vision goggles is an image intensifier tube, which is the one that magnifies ambient light. Binocular goggles have two of these tubes, while monocular goggles have one.

An image intensifier tube basically takes light, turns it into electrons, amplifies those electrons, and then turns them back into the light.

Ambient light comes in through the objective lens and enters the image intensifier tube. A part of the tube called the photo cathode converts the light photons into electrons.

The electrons are accelerated through a vacuum and hit a microchannel plate (MCP). When the electrons hit the MCP – which is a thin glass disc with millions of holes –they multiply.

The amplified electrons hit a phosphor screen and are turned back into light photons. This creates a bright image that you can view through the eyepiece.

What if there is no ambient light to amplify such as on a moonless night out in the country?

Well, manufacturers have thought of that. Most night vision goggles come with a built-in IR illuminator.

The illuminator shines invisible infrared light onto whatever you want to see. The image intensifier tube then amplifies this light to create a visible image.


Purchase Considerations

best night vision goggles

1. Price 

Prices of night vision goggles are all over the map. You can find a decent pair for $200 or less. You can also spend as much as $8,000 or more on another pair.

Why the vast price differences, and how much should you expect to spend on good quality night vision goggles?

The main reason for the sprawling price points is the differences in performance, technology, and capability. These differences occur between different generations (more on that next) of night vision technology.

Gen 1 goggles are the cheapest, with most going for less than $1,500. By the time you get to Gen 4, prices have risen to over $5,000.

Your budget depends on what level of night vision capability you need, which in turn depends on what you are planning to use the goggles for.

But generally, Gen 1 goggles are good enough for most applications, including hunting, security, and camping.

For more money, you can get a Gen 2 or 3 pair of goggles with better resolution, longer range, and better viewing quality.

2. Night Vision Generation

Night vision technology is grouped by generations to indicate the level of performance and capability.

Gen 1

These were first used in the Vietnam war. They are currently the most popular night vision goggles thanks to their affordability.

Generation 1 night goggles have lower resolution, resulting in a fair quality image. The edges are usually blurred through advanced gen 1 goggles that have mitigated this problem.

They also have a lower detection range with most able to detect large objects at a max distance of about 100 yards.

Gen 2 

Generation 2 night vision goggles have an improved photo cathode that produces brighter images with less distortion around the edges.

They produce brighter images even in very low light conditions and generally have higher image resolution.

They also have a longer detection range of up to 200 yards or more.

Other upgrades from Gen 1 goggles include longer battery life and longer lifespan.

Gen 3

This is where you get the good stuff. Generation 3 night vision systems are highly advanced, providing excellent resolution and image quality in different light conditions.

They feature auto-gating technology, which maintains viewing quality in areas with artificial light such as urban locations.

The high capability and long lifespan of Gen 3 night vision goggles make them the standard choice in the military.

Of course, the price matches the improved performance with most goggles costing thousands of dollars.

Gen 4 

Generation 4 is not officially recognized by the army and other professional fields. It’s usually used as a marketing term for companies that want to hype up their goggles.

That’s not to mean gen 4 goggles have no improvement over gen 3 devices. They boast of higher image quality and resolution.

This is because the MCP lacks a protective film or coating.

The downside is that Gen 4 devices don’t last as long as Gen 3 goggles.

Other Classifications

In between the above generations are additional sub-groups that indicate incremental improvement within that generation.

Examples include CF Super Gen 1+ and Gen 3+.

3. Type of Night Vision Goggles 

There are generally two types of goggles you’ll come across.

BinocularsThese are the most popular. They feature two image intensifier tubes and two eyepieces. You use them with both eyes. They are heavier but provide good depth perception since you are using two eyes.

Monoculars: These have just one eyepiece. You look through the device with one eye. Monoculars are cheaper, lighter, and more versatile. But some people may feel disoriented using just one eye. Monoculars also have a limited field of view.

If your work or hobby involves using night vision to find your path or survey a wide area, go for binoculars. They provide a realistic depth perception that closely resembles that of your naked eyes. They also have a wider field of view.

If you mostly plan to observe specific objects and you want something lightweight, a monocular is the best choice. It offers the same performance as a comparable binocular for less money.

4. IR Illuminator

This is a must-have. No questions about this.

An IR illuminator is handy when there is little to no ambient light from the moon and stars. It shines infrared light on objects, allowing you to still see in the dark on moonless nights.

Even cheap Gen 1 night vision goggles have IR illuminators.

5. Field of View

The field of view (FOV) determines how wide of an area you can see through the goggles.

Most Gen 1 night vision goggles provide a 30-degree FOV. It’s not very wide, so you are limited in the size of the area you can observe at the same time.

But since most people use night vision goggles to observe individual objects like animals and people, the limited FOV is usually not a big deal.

If you are planning to use the goggles to observe large swaths, look for a pair with a wider field of view. You can get Gen 2 and higher goggles with a 40-degree FOV.

Note that binoculars are the best if FOV is a concern. Monoculars, though lightweight and versatile, usually have very limited FOV.

6. Range & Resolution

Generally, the more expensive the goggles, the better the detection range. Most Gen 1 night vision goggles allow you to see an animal or person 75-100 yards away clearly.

Gen 2 and higher goggles can reach a range of 200 yards or more.

Note that Gen 1 devices can achieve longer ranges when you are observing larger objects (e.g., a house) and when it’s brighter such as on a half or full moon night.

As for resolution, it also goes up with price and generations.

At the low end, you’ll get about 30 lines per mm (the measurement for resolution). This produces a slightly blurry image with a lower definition, especially towards the edges.

Gen 3 goggles can provide up to 72 lines per mm in resolution. You’ll get a very sharp image with excellent definition even at longer distances.

7. HeadMount

This is another handy must-have. A head mount gives you the option of mounting the goggles on your head, leaving your hands free to hold something else.

8. Weight 

Look for a lightweight pair of goggles. Not only will they be easier to carry around, but they’ll also be easier to use, especially if you plan to use them for hours at a time.

A good pair of night vision goggles shouldn’t weight more than 2lbs.

9. Waterproofing 

The ideal level of waterproofing depends on where you’ll be using the goggles. If it’s mostly around your home, you can get goggles with a lower IP rating.

If it’s in the woods, look for goggles with good water and dust protection.

That said, all night vision goggles should have some water protection since they are meant to be used most of the time outdoors.

10. Video Recording 

This is not a common feature. If you want to record with night vision goggles, you usually have to add a video recorder attachment.

But some night vision systems come with video recording built-in, and some can even take pictures. They are great for applications such as ghost hunting.


Top Night Vision Brands

Night Vision Brands

Sightmark: A Texas-based maker of optics mostly for use with rifles. They manufacturer high quality but affordable night vision goggles, both monocular and binocular.

Pulsar: Pulsar manufactures thermal and night vision optical devices targeted towards hobbyists, amateurs, and professionals.

ATN: ATN manufactures high-tech optics for both day and night operations. Their catalog includes rifle scopes, thermal & night vision binoculars, and range finders. The company was founded in 1995.

Armasight: Armasight is a startup founded in 2011 that makes a wide range of thermal imaging and night vision devices. The company was acquired by FLIR Systems in 2016.

NightOwl: Night Owl Optics focuses exclusively on night vision products, including binoculars, monoculars, and scopes.


Thermal Imaging vs. Night Vision

Night Vision

We’ve already talked a bit about how night vision goggles work. They take ambient moonlight and starlight and amplify it to produce a bright image of a dark area.

Thermal imagers are quite different.

They don’t use light at all to create images. Instead, they use heat.

Thermal imagers have sensors that detect minute differences in heat across an area. They then present those differences in color gradients. That’s why thermal or infrared images look a bit trippy with multiple colors.

In contrast, night vision systems produce a greenish image.

Thermal imaging and night vision have some overlapping applications. But each also has unique uses.

For instance, both technologies are useful in security and hunting. But only thermal imagers can be used to diagnose a faulty engine or detect a leak in an HVAC system.

Thermal imagers are also more useful when you need to see through fog, smoke, or bush. That’s why some hunters and the military prefer to have both night vision goggles and thermal imagers.

They complement each other.


Night Vision Goggles: Frequently Asked Questions

best night vision binoculars

Can night vision goggles work in total darkness?

Yes, they can as long as they have an IR illuminator. The illuminator produces invisible infrared light, allowing the night vision goggles to ‘see’ objects.

Do I need a permit to own night vision goggles?

As long as you are a US citizen, you don’t. You can even own military-grade Gen 3 night vision goggles without requiring anyone’s permission.

The only restriction put on advanced night vision systems is for exporting them outside the country.

How long does a night vision goggle last (useful life)?

It depends on how often you use the goggles and how well you take care of them. Gen 1 goggles have a 1,500-hour lifespan, Gen 2 about 5,000 hours, and Gen 3 about 10,000 hours.

Why do some night vision goggles cost so much more than others?

Because they offer better resolution, low light performance, and range. More expensive goggles are also likely to be better designed and last longer.

What is CF-Super technology?

It is a special type of image intensifier tube that reduces the edge distortion that’s common in Gen 1 night vision goggles. You get better edge-to-edge resolution.

Will night vision pick up Infrared?

Yes, they do. They then turn it into photons to create a visible image.

Why are night-vision goggles green?

Because that’s how they are designed to look. Night vision images are actually black and white. But the phosphor in the image intensifier tube turns them green to make them easier on our eyes.

Human eyes are also more sensitive to green. So green images make for better visibility.


Conclusion

Night vision cam

Night vision technology keeps getting better and cheaper. Even Gen 1 night vision goggles, though based on old technology, are getting improvements.

So you have plenty of great options when it comes to buying cheap night vision goggles.

Hopefully, our buying guide has helped you find the right ones for your needs.

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