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.
What's On This Page
Best Cheap Night Vision Goggles 2021:
Pulsar Challenger GS Super 1+ 4.5x60
CF Super Gen 1+
Resolution (lines per mm):
72 hours w/o IR, 20 hours with IR
Resolution (lines per mm):
Resolution (lines per mm):
Resolution (lines per mm):
ATN PS15-4 GEN 4
Resolution (lines per mm):
Resolution (lines per mm):
X-Vision Night Vision PRO
Resolution (lines per mm):
10 hours w/o IR
BARSKA Night Vision Nvx300
Resolution (lines per mm):
Stealth Cam Digital Night Vision
Resolution (lines per mm):
10 hours w/o IR, 6 hours with IR
Resolution (lines per mm):
8 hours w/o IR, 5 hours w IR
Night Owl Pro Nexgen
Resolution (lines per mm):
Resolution (lines per mm):
Up to 1300 ft.
Resolution (lines per mm):
Up to 110 yards at night
ATN Binox 4K
Resolution (lines per mm):
4K Ultra HD
Luna Optics Digital G2
Resolution (lines per mm):
Up to 600 meters at night
Best Cheap Night Vision Goggles 2021: Reviews
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).
I’m not saying 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.If your work or hobby involves pinpointing individual animals, people or objects at long distances, the Pulsar Challenger GS monocular is a great choice.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Overall, we love the 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 yet far more expensive models.
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.
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.
SOLOMARK Night Vision binoculars are the coolest cheap night vision binoculars on our list.
They have many features you don’t get even in high-end night vision goggles.
At just a few hundred bucks, they are also extremely 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.
What we love most about these SOLOMARK 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.
Featuring a multifunction system, the X-Vision Night Vision PRO is ideal for use during both the day and the night. In low light conditions, the unit offers a viewing field of up to 150 yards, while the range increases during the day, reaching up to 400 yards.
The model is designed with a padded neck strap, making it more comfortable to carry around. It also boasts adjustable magnification, along with multiple settings that you can adjust manually.
Its compact design enables you to hold the unit more securely in your hands, making it extremely travel-friendly at the same time. Its long battery life and excellent LED illumination further ensure exceptional performance, while its dust- and water-resistant build makes the pair ideal for harsh environments.
These binoculars boast four different brightness levels, allowing you to clearly view objects or animals in total darkness without using any extra external light. The unit also has an International Protection Rating of IP52 and weighs only 0.6 kgs to provide optimal comfort.
Moreover, this model has an extended battery life and allows long continuous use, providing 10 hours of performance in the day and 6 hours of performance at night. Its three simple buttons ensure an easy and straightforward operation for both kids and adults, making this pair suitable for professionals and beginners.
The focus wheel is situated on the bottom, so you can manually adjust the view and focus on any object or animal. Lastly, its clear widescreen display enables you to comfortably look through the binoculars with both eyes, even if you wear glasses.
Some notable features of the X-Vision Night Vision Pro include:
In conclusion, this model is incredibly comfortable and easy to use, making it one of the best night vision binoculars available today.
The BARSKA Night Vision NVX300 boasts a 20mm objective lens and a fixed 7x magnification level. Although it offers two zoom functions, its primary magnification is fixed.
Available for under $200, this pair is ideal for use during the day and in low light conditions. In regards to its battery life, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better at this price, as these night vision goggles boast a battery life of one year before they need a replacement. Their use of AA batteries further makes it easier to replace the battery as they are available at almost every store.
The binoculars boast an output resolution of 640 by 480 pixels. You can also insert an SD card into the unit to record footage as an image or a video and then export this content to a computer.
The BARSKA NXV300 provides 7x magnification viewing in total darkness and low light conditions with the help of a powerful infrared illuminator. With a lightweight and quick design, this unit is incredibly easy and quick to use and allows you to see and track your target at a minute’s notice. Its advanced night vision technology enables you to see up to 100 yards in complete darkness, making the model perfect for surveillance, night navigation, camping, law enforcement, and much more.
Moreover, you can record a video or capture an image and directly view the files on the unit’s internal screen. You can also transfer the files and go through them later on a computer or television. Lastly, this BARSKA model features rugged and durable water-resistant housing, which means it endures the elements while offering exceptional nighttime viewing quality.
Some other notable features include:
Featuring rugged construction, two zoom functions, and an excellent output resolution, the BARSKA NVX300 undoubtedly deserves a place on our list of top picks.
Boasting a fixed lens magnification and a digital zoom, the Stealth Cam Digital Night Vision Binoculars are designed with a double magnification system. Its electronic viewfinder makes it faster and easier to detect targets, while its compact size allows you to comfortably carry the night vision goggles with you wherever you go.
The unit offers a battery life of 10 hours, but that reduces to around 6 hours when you turn on night vision. It further has a minimum focus distance of 110 yards, giving you a clearer view of targets at a farther distance. It also offers a viewing field of 110 yards at night, but the viewing distance increases to 440 yards during the daytime.
Moreover, these goggles boast an enhanced lens, an integrated infrared filter, and a 1-watt LED illuminator system. Since this is the standard night vision golden technology, you’ll undoubtedly get a clearer view of any target. The unit also allows you to record a video and capture still images, while its adjustable frame rate gives you the option between 30FPS, 25FPS, 15FPS, and 8FPS. Lastly, this optic features ABS High Impact housing and a rubberized grip to ensure durability, reliability, and longevity.
A few other notable features of the Stealth Cam Digital Night Vision Binoculars include:
This unit’s electronic viewfinder and double magnification system ensure clear visibility of your target, while its wide viewing field makes it suitable for both daytime and nighttime use.
The X-Vision XANB50 night vision binoculars are the perfect option for individuals who don’t want to carry their goggles around in their hands during their trip outdoors. It comes with a head mount system and three straps that go over and around your head, adding stability to the mount and ensuring that you continue with your tasks without worrying about the goggles falling off.
Its lithium battery provides better performance and has a life of up to eight hours. It further offers a maximum viewing distance of 200 yards at night, while the distance extends to 400 yards during the day.
The binocular is further constructed with a 3x optical lens and enables you to capture photos and record video. Since this unit is ideal for both nighttime and daytime use, it’s suitable for hunting, scouting, sporting events, surveillance, and checking trail cameras.
Boasting an adjustable lens focus and simple button controls for selecting day/night mode, magnification level, IR light, and capturing photos and videos, the X-Vision XANB50 is extremely easy to use as well. Lastly, it comes with a charger and a padded neck strap for maximum comfort and convenience.
Some of its other notable features are:
Overall, this pair of night vision goggles provides optimal comfort and convenience, making it one of the best units available under $500.
With a 5x magnification option, the Night Owl Pro Nexgen Night Vision Binocular offers one of the highest magnification powers available today without reducing light amplification, making it the perfect optic for your hunting and camping adventures.
It ingeniously combines two high-end generation-1 image intensifier tubes with powerful magnification and a long-range field of view with a 50mm objective lens. All these features ensure that you get sharp and bright images, even when you magnify your sight picture.
Night vision binoculars do not work if there’s no light to brighten and illuminate the image. Therefore, this unit boasts a powerful built-in infrared illuminator to ensure clear viewing in low-light conditions and complete darkness. In fact, this infrared illuminator makes this pair better than other gen-1 models that only work with amplified ambient light.
Moreover, the Night Owl Pro Nexgen is constructed with the highest-quality materials and features a soft-touch rubberized finish. This build makes you feel like you’re holding on to something solid and robust and increases the confidence in your grip, particularly at night when it’s hard to hold things properly and see clearly.
Its lenses are further encased in impact-resistant thermoplastic lens housings, which makes the unit shock-proof without adding any extra weight to its ergonomic design. This shock-absorbing feature also protects the binocular from any possible damage, making it ideal for extended outdoor use.
Although this unit is large in size, it’s only medium in weight and easier to get used to as compared to other night vision binoculars. It will become a natural instinct to fix and adjust your hold for greater balance and comfort in only a couple of uses.
Some of its other notable features include:
With its highly acclaimed and advanced gen-1 technology and two 5-power lenses, the Night Owl Pro Nexgen Night Vision Binocular is one of the best products available in the market today.
An excellent budget-friendly product, the Bestguarder NV-900 is designed with a clear 4.5x optical magnification rating, so you can see targets far in the distance. Its night vision alone gives you a clear, illuminated viewing distance of 1300 feet, which is truly incredible and more than enough for more hunting trips.
When you aim these goggles and look through the TFT screen, you’ll get an extremely clear view of your target. If you go one step further and use infrared technology or an LED illuminator, you won’t have to worry about your prey escaping your view.
The unit boasts an extremely easy-to-use interface that further enhances its superb performance. It also comes with some additional features, such as Time Lapse, Multi-Shoot, and GPS ID Stamp function. Moreover, it’s designed with an infrared-sensitive CMOS sensor, which gives outstanding image quality and edge-to-edge resolution at the same time.
This model’s excellent 4” viewing display ensures simple and comfortable viewing, while its 640x480 screen resolution provides exceptional levels of detail and manages to be extremely easy on the eyes. You can also use the Bestguarder NV-900 to capture high-quality pictures and videos with sound.
With a night vision viewing distance of 400 meters, this multi-coated optic reduces glare and increases light transmission. Its rugged construction and removable wrist strap further make it more compact, thus enhancing ergonomic comfort.
A few other notable features of the Bestguarder NV-900 Digital Night Vision Binocular include:
All in all, the Bestguarder NV-900 is an incredible piece of technology. It provides you with almost everything you’d need from an optic for a hunting trip and is perfect for tactical use as well.
This Nightfox model is a new kind of digital night vision optic that’s simpler to use. It’s like a typical night vision monocular, but with a single large widescreen viewing monitor for both eyes. The eyepiece is comfortable for individuals with glasses as well.
Thanks to its high frames-per-second sensor, its widescreen video monitor provides seamless, crisp footage that’s extremely easy on the eyes. Since the unit’s digital sensor is incredibly sensitive, you won’t need to use its built-in infrared illumination in ambient light, like at dawn or dusk, to see objects that are farther in the distance.
This night vision device is extremely easy to use. A focus wheel and three buttons for controlling the zoom, IR illumination, and power are right at your fingertips. You can also use the tripod thread to use the binocular for extended periods, making the unit perfect for wildlife observation.
Furthermore, the Nightfox 100V boasts seven levels of infrared illumination for use in different situations. The highest level provides an extremely clear vision for up to 100 meters at night, while the 3x magnification offers exceptional details in the large widescreen image.
The unit works with eight AA batteries and provides a battery life of up to 6 hours. You can also use lithium, alkaline, or a rechargeable NiMH with a 200mAh capacity to power the binocular. It further comes with Nightfox product support and an 18-month warranty, so you won’t have to worry about the quality of the product.
This comfortable, easy-to-use, and practical night vision binocular works well in both pitch dark and low light conditions. They’re more suitable for use with a tripod or when lying still and observing a game instead of stalking or hiking.
Some other notable features of this model include:
With a high frames-per-second sensor, a large viewing screen, and seven different levels of infrared illumination, the Nightfox 100V provides exceptional clarity in low light and pitch dark conditions.
Inspired by the design and concept of the Luke Skywalker binoculars, the ATN Binox 4K Smart Binoculars are completely electronic, have HD video recording capabilities, and boast a 4K sensor.
This unit features a dual-core processor that provides vivid and rich color tones, while its 4K Ultra HD technology makes the visuals absolutely stunning. This HD optical technology by ATN uses one of the most advanced and complex digital processing architectures in the industry, which is why this product deserves to be on our list of best picks.
Its 1000 yard/meter rangefinder makes it incredibly convenient for individuals who prefer an all-in-one optic and saves them from constantly switching their devices. This further reduces the weight they have to carry around and allows trekkers to accurately measure the distance they need to walk, making their trip more convenient and comfortable.
Its 1080p HD video recording also enables you to capture breathtaking visuals that you see out in nature. Moreover, this device has a dual-streaming capability, which means that you can live-stream a video and record it on your SD card at the same time.
By inserting a new lithium-ion battery, these Binox binoculars can give you a solid 15+ hours of runtime. The battery also recharges quickly and easily, saving you the money and time of having to purchase non-rechargeable batteries.
Furthermore, this model's exterior is rubberized to enhance strength and durability and to ensure long-lasting use. It also boasts an IP-rated weather-resistant build, while the adjustable focus knobs on its eyepieces work intuitively and smoothly. Lastly, this pair of binoculars provides interpupillary adjustment and considerable eye relief to suit the position of your eyes more comfortably.
A few other notable features of this model are:
All in all, the ATN Binox 4K Smart Binoculars boast a cutting-edge design that leaves competitors behind in more than just one way.
This Gen-2 model boasts Full-HD video capabilities and allows users to transition between Night Vision Green, Black and White, and Full-Color image modes.
Its 1920x1080 active pixels and light-sensitive CMOS sensor, combined with its powerful IR illuminator and precision all-glass optics, enable you to see clearly at distances that other digital models cannot match.
Its brightness control and water-resistant body further ensure crystal-clear viewing in all ambient conditions, while its unique daytime color filter delivers vivid colors during the day. You can also connect the pair to a 5V/2A power bank for extended use. It comes with an 8GB micro-SD card, AC adapter, carry case, and video and USB cables.
Moreover, it boasts 0.26” micro-flat dual high-resolution displays with brilliant contrast and resolution to provide an unparalleled direct viewing experience. The unit’s multi-controller enables quick and easy menu selection out in the field, while its Blu-ray quality video recording makes it the perfect 24/7 companion.
This Luna Optics model further features precision all-glass optics, a 6x optical image magnification, and a quality electronic image zoom system - all of which combine to offer up to 30x magnification. Lastly, it boasts a powerful focusing IR illuminator that provides an effective viewing range of up to 200m in complete darkness.
A few other notable features of this unit include:
Thanks to its impressive list of components, specifications, and features, the Luna Optics Digital G2 is undoubtedly one of the best pairs of digital night vision binoculars available today.
Popular 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Binoculars: These 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.