Shopping for the best IR Laser and Illuminator?
Then you are in the right place.
For nighttime hunting, night vision scopes require illuminators to work. Together, the scope and the illuminator allow the hunter to visualize the prey. Therefore, IR lasers and illuminators are an important gadget for all night=time hunting or surveillance activities.
What's in This Buying Guide
We have put together this buying guide for anyone who wants to know more about IR lasers and illuminators before purchasing one. This article talks about what an IR laser and illuminator is, followed by some of the best options available on the market.
Then we discuss the features that you must consider before buying an illuminator. Lastly, we look at the different types as well as the limitations of an IR laser and illuminator before ending the article with a few FAQs.
What is an IR Illuminator - and Who Needs One?
All night vision optics require some amount of ambient light or IR light to function. While ambient light is visible to humans as well as the prey in hunting, it is not widely used as it can alert the animal. Infrared light is invisible to the human eye but acts as a flashlight for night vision scopes.
IR has a longer wavelength than visible light and is therefore detected only by the scope and not by the animal or other humans.
An IR laser and illuminator emits the IR light that the scope then uses to observe the field and make it visible to the human eye.
Anyone who uses night vision scopes for hunting, security purposes, or for surveillance would need an IR laser and illuminator.
Some scopes have built-in IR lasers and illuminators, but most don’t. Therefore, in order to be able to see in the dark via a night vision optic, the user needs an IR laser and illuminator.
Best IR Illuminators
Best design and layout
4.84 x 0.94 x 1.1 inches
Best for long range use
6.62 x 2.2 x 0.9 inches
Pulsar 940 IR Flashlight
Best for compatibility with a wide range of rifles
5.2 x 1.8 x 2 inches
BESTSUN Mini IR illuminator
Best for easy portability
4.6 x 1.3 x 1.2 inches
1. Best Design and Layout: FANDYFIRE 940nm IR Flashlight Illuminator
Built on an advanced design, this FANDYFIRE IR illuminator would be a great fix for night vision scope. It has a sturdy build and a layout that allows zooming in and out for enhanced functionality.
Oftentimes, a simple design improvement makes a product much more user-friendly. The FANDYFIRE 940nm IR Flashlight illuminator has a solid and sturdy aluminum alloy construction.
This makes it resistant to occasional bumps and hits encountered as a result of operational abuse. Not only that but since the aluminum alloy is also resistant to corrosion, users are able to use the illuminator in rainy and snowy weather as well.
A beam of 940nm is emitted from a single LED source from the illuminator. The beam is capable of traveling up t0 20-50 meters. The use of a convex optical lens produces a concentrated and focused beam, which illuminates the area much better than a dispersed beam.
One of the best things about this illuminator is that you can zoom in or out of the head section. When zoomed in, it achieves a more concentrated light beam, and when zoomed out, you get a floodlight effect on a limited area in the field.
Hunters or surveillance personnel often have to hold multiple objects at a time. Therefore, gadgets with ergonomic designs that are easy to hold prove to be very useful. This illuminator, in addition to being lightweight, has an anti-slip body. There is also a lanyard that you can use to hang the illuminator from the arm.
To charge the device, all you have to do is connect it to a power source. Rechargeable batteries are not included in the package, and you will have to buy them separately. There is a single power button located at the tail.
Issues and Limitations
The range of the beam emitted by this illuminator is quite limited. With a distance coverage of up to 50 meters and a beam diameter of 1.1 inches, you can only use the illuminator for short-distance viewing. Moreover, the short range might limit its use with Gen 1 scopes.
Those looking for an illuminator to use with short-range night vision scopes will find this model quite useful. It has a user-friendly layout and valuable features like the zooming head. All in all, this is a decent deal for the buck.
2. Best for Long-Range Use: Streamlight 88704 Super TAC
Our next pick is a very popular IR illuminator by Streamlight. This product is known for its simple design yet exceptional performance. It is very suitable for use on rigorous hunting trips.
If you are looking for a long-range IR illuminator that is also easy on the pocket, then this model by Streamlight might be your answer.
It has a very simple construction that resembles a flashlight, but it works wonders when used with night vision scopes. Thanks to the 850nm wavelength, the light beam emerging from the illuminator is able to travel longer distances.
We already know that an IR illuminator's durability is highly dependent upon its construction, among other factors. This particular illuminator by Streamlight is made from high-grade and tough TAC aluminum and has anodized casings.
All openings are O-ring sealed to keep the moisture out and prevent malfunctioning as the illuminator is not water-resistant.
The beam can travel a distance of up to 346m, making the illuminator suitable for long-range hunting and surveillance. A single charge can last up to three and a half hours at 30,000 candelas. Two Lithium batteries are included in the pack.
Moreover, you can mount the illuminator on a rail, place it in a holster, or carry it in the hand - it all comes down to your preference.
Issues and Limitations
Waterproofing increases the usability of an illuminator by multiple folds. However, this IR illuminator is not water-resistant or weatherproof, so you cannot use it in wet areas or during rain or snow. Another limiting factor is the low run time of the battery. Three and a half hours of battery life is not enough for long use.
Built as a tactical long-range illuminator, the Streamlight 88704 Super TAC IR illuminator has a deep-dish parabolic reflector. The reflector, along with a long-range focused beam, allows you to use the illuminator for surveillance, navigation, and monitoring of different terrains. It is a great option for long-distance night-time use by professionals.
3. Best for Compatibility with a Wide Range of Rifles: Pulsar 940 IR Flashlight
Often hunters own more than one firearm. An illuminator compatible with multiple rifles could be very useful for such hunters. The Pulsar 940 IR Flashlight is a compact illuminator that can serve the purpose.
The product package that the Pulsar 940 IR flashlight comes in is one of the best equipped. In addition to the illuminator and the batteries, there is a carrying case and a cleaning cloth so that the illuminator is well-protected and well-maintained.
But that’s not all; the illuminator is equipped with a rail that makes it mountable on most modern night vision riflescopes. Through this rail, users can also attach the illuminator to sports and pneumatic weapons.
Another adapter is included in the package that you can use to mount the scope on NV units. A ¼ “tripod mount is also provided in the package.
Now that we have seen how versatile this illuminator is when it comes to compatibility, let’s take a look at some of the other amazing features. This illuminator allows users to adjust the IR spot position in the field.
Forget about lengthy methods and having to go to a dealer to get IR spot corrections. With this illuminator, you can do it yourself anywhere in a few simple steps.
To adjust the spot in the field of vision of a rifle scope, all you have to do is turn the locking ring 5-10 degrees counter-clockwise.
Then you have to line the IR spot with the image that you see in the riflescope by moving the IR hood transversally. Once you have achieved the desired position, lock the ring back.
The illuminator can provide a variable or focused beam and could be used in extremely dark conditions, including evenings without a moon.
It is easy to carry and store because of its small compact layout. With a wavelength of 940nm and a range of 200-300 yards, you can use it for medium-range shooting as well.
Issues and Limitations
The Pulsar 940 IR is not water-resistant, which makes it unsuitable for use in rainy and snowy weather conditions. Moreover, despite the beam being invisible, the lens gives out a red glow when the illuminator is switched on. This glow is particularly visible from smaller distances and might be enough to alert your game or prey.
Also, the power button has no ring around it. As a result, the button could be pressed easily when the illuminator is stored among other gear. Under such circumstances, the battery drains out before the user even knows it.
There are many factors that we like about the Pulsar 940 IR flashlight. It has a good range and can give a focused or dispersed beam. The lightweight and compact design makes it easy to carry around, store, and transport. Moreover, the multiple weapon compatibility lends great convenience of use.
4. Best for Easy Portability: BESTSUN Mini IR Illuminator Flashlight
Portability becomes a problem, especially if you carry a lot of gear on long trips. Nobody wants an illuminator that is difficult to carry around and takes a lot of storage space. This is why the BESTSUN Mini IR illuminator Flashlight made it to our list; it is small but powerful.
Hunters who want a small IR illuminator with an uncomplicated design for small-range use will value this option. Many users prefer to have a separate illuminator for small distance viewing because they are easier to manage. Out of all the options we discussed above, the BESTSUN Mini IR illuminator Flashlight has the smallest design.
Even though it is quite compact, it is loaded with features. The use of 6061T aircraft Aluminum HA III for constructing the layout further enhances the durability.
This particular material also makes it resistant to corrosion. The O-ring sealing prevents water from entering the illuminator, imparting it water resistance. Hence, you can use it under wet and humid climatic conditions as well.
This illuminator allows the light beam to be zoomed in or out as well. When zoomed in, a concentrated spotlight can travel to a distance of 100-150 yards.
When zoomed out, the floodlight can travel to 50-100 yards. This way, you can use it for surveillance in floodlight mode and more focused monitoring in spotlight mode.
Lastly, the average lifespan of LEDs inside the flashlight is 10,000 hours. With a range extending to 30 meters, you can use it well for varmint hunting.
Issues and Limitations
The illuminator's detection range is limited to 30 meters, so you cannot use it with medium or long-range night scopes. Furthermore, the battery only works for 1.5 to 5.5 hours, depending upon the mode used.
BESTSUN’s Mini IR illuminator Flashlight works up to a range of 30 meters. It has two illumination modes and a strong, sturdy, yet compact design.
Featuring a clear anti-reflective coating magnifying ABS lens, it provides clear imagery. In case you have any concerns regarding faulty performance, you can contact BESTSUN’s customer service for a replacement or refund.
Buying Guide: How to Select the Best IR Illuminator
The choice of the best IR illuminator differs from person to person. However, there are a few elements that you should look at in order to ensure that you get the best deal for your needs. Let’s take a look at these elements.
Choose the Right Model for Night Scope Generation
Night scopes come in different generations. Generation 1-night scopes are considered to be the most dedicated scopes with high performance.
The illuminator you buy should be compatible with the generation of your night vision scope; otherwise, it would be a lost investment. IR illuminators and lasers for Gen1 scopes are also pricier than the rest.
Look for Multiple Scope Compatibility
If you use more than one type of night vision scope, you should look for an illuminator compatible with most of your scopes.
This way, you will not only save money and enhance the working of multiple scopes at the same time but will also have a space-saving solution where one illuminator is easier to carry than multiple illuminators.
Get Warrantied Products
With gadgets like IR illuminators and lasers, it is always a good idea to get warrantied products. This is because often these products are quite expensive and demand a considerable investment.
They are used under harsh conditions and receive some degree of operational abuse. Under such circumstances, it is best to buy warrantied products where you can claim repair or replacement if the product does not perform as advertised.
Specifications: What is a Good IR Illuminator
As we have discussed already, the right illuminator varies from user to user. There is no single illuminator that could satisfy the needs of all users.
But, there are a few basic features that everyone should consider. These features help you decide the right product according to your requirements and should be duly considered before making a purchase.
Arguably, the most important feature to consider is the illumination range of the IR illuminator. As the name suggests, the illumination range refers to the distance that the beam emitted from the illuminator can travel.
This range decides how far you can see with a certain illuminator. For small-range hunting like backyard or small hunting grounds, an illuminator that could see anywhere between 30 and 50 meters would suffice. Such illuminators are usually used for hunting down troublesome wild boars, varmints, and rodents.
For medium-range shooting, one should opt for an illuminator with a range between 100 and 200 meters. Usually, deer hunters use illuminators within this range.
However, for game hunting on larger and expanded grounds, a medium-range illuminator will not suffice. You will have to invest in an illuminator with a greater range of 200-350 meters.
Hunting gadgets that are not weather-resistant can limit the success of a hunting trip to a great extent. This is especially true if your IR illuminator is not waterproof. Any place that is wet or humid would deem the illuminator unusable.
Similarly, you won’t be able to use it in rain or snow either. Therefore, weather resistance is a very important consideration.
Usually, O-ring sealing is used to incur some level of moisture resistance in IR illuminators; however, they alone cannot make the gadget fully water-resistant.
IP67 weather resistance is a great option in this regard. Products that hold the IP67 rating can be used in rain, heat, humidity, and snow alike. Although, the higher the IP rating, the better.
The power source may seem like a trivial feature, but it is not. It determines the number of hours for which you would be able to use your illuminator; hence, it directly affects the sport. IR illuminators come in both rechargeable and disposable battery options.
Rechargeable illuminators will run out of battery after a few hours, but you can recharge them. They are more efficient if the hunter is not going to spend all the time in the wilderness and will have access to a power source for charging. Rechargeable batteries cannot be used for extended periods of time continuously either.
Illuminators with disposable batteries are more widely used when hunters plan on a multiple-day camping trip on the hunting grounds. Under such circumstances, they do not have access to a power source.
Therefore, disposable batteries work best for them as they can be used for several hours continuously before they die out. However, users need to carry multiple packs of batteries which takes up space. They also have to buy batteries every now and then, which might become inconvenient.
The infrared wavelength of the beam emitted from the illuminator is another very important consideration. There are two popularly used wavelengths, 850nm, and 940nm. There isn’t much difference in the working of the two wavelengths.
However, there are other differences associated between the two. An 850nm illuminator has a better illumination range, and it is more efficient than the 940nm. However, it also produces a red glow when directly looked at the illuminator.
Even though the IR beam is invisible to humans and the game you want to hunt, the red glow on the illuminator is noticeable when directly looked at. This glow could alert the animal, and the hunter might miss the opportunity.
940nm illuminators produce no glow. Therefore, they are completely invisible to the naked eye. However, they are 30-40% less efficient than 850nm illuminators and require more sensitive scopes for detection.
So, if you don’t mind the red glow from the illuminator and can’t compromise on the illuminator's range and efficiency, then 850nm illuminators are better for you. However, in cases where small-range surveillance and viewing are involved, the red glow could be a problem. Under such circumstances, a 940nm illuminator would perform very well.
An IR illuminator is as useful as it is durable. A model that lacks structural integrity and performance is no good. Therefore, it is very important to make sure that the layout of the illuminator is capable of withstanding operational abuse and the occasional bumps and falls encountered during use.
A popular and good choice of construction material is aluminum alloy. Various brands use different types of aluminum alloys because they are corrosion-resistant and are also quite sturdy.
Furthermore, the LEDs used within the illuminator should be durable as well. They must not die out or flicker in the middle of the operation. In this regard, buy illuminators that support LED bulbs with a lifespan of around 10,000 hours on average.
Types of IR Illuminators for Night Vision
IR illuminators for night vision are of three types and they differ on the basis of illumination range and price. They are lasers, diodes, and lamps.
Diodes are the least expensive and very easy to maintain. You can use them for short-range illumination. The illumination that they provide is not powerful enough to distinguish minor details.
Lamps are used for medium-range illumination. Through their illumination, users can see details like facial recognition. Lamps require maintenance and care for optimal performance. They are more expensive than diodes but less expensive than lasers.
Lasers are used for long-range illumination. They are sharp and powerful, which is why they can travel longer distances and illuminate more details. The long-range image clarity is excellent even during harsh weather conditions like rain and snow. Lasers are the most expensive type of IR illuminators.
Limitations of the Night Vision Over Thermal Optics
Both night vision and thermal optics are used for viewing fields and areas in low light conditions. While night visions make use of ambient or IR light for the purpose, thermal optics use heat signatures from the objects to paint a view.
Both types of optics are used for the same essential purpose but are quite different from each other in the working principle.
To know the difference between the two, we must first understand how night vision works. Night vision optics work by using reflected light to detect contrast in the image.
Where the contrast is sharp (such as in areas with a white object over a black background), the image is clear, but in areas with lower contrast (such as in areas with a dark object against a black background), the difference is not detected.
Low contrast areas are not well-represented by night vision optics. Some night vision optics like scopes, monocular, or binoculars come integrated with IR illuminators, while many do not have an integrated or built-in illuminator. Night vision optics that lack an integrated illuminator often make use of IR illuminators and lasers sold separately.
However, in thermal optics, reflected light is not used. Rather, heat signatures emitted from different objects are used to form an image.
Thermal optics are very sensitive and can detect small heat changes in the surrounding. These signatures are represented in different color shades over the viewfinder of the optics.
Therefore, in thermal optics, no matter how low the contrast, the detection is much better than in night vision optics. Moreover, thermal optics do not need additional gadgets like illuminators to work with.
Are Night Visions Capable of Detecting IR?
Yes, night visions are capable of detecting Infrared light. Unlike the human eye, night vision optics are more sensitive to certain wavelengths that a naked eye cannot perceive. Infrared also has wavelengths that a naked human eye cannot see but are detectable by night vision optics.
Do the LEDs in IR illuminators glow?
Yes, IR LEDs in an illuminator glow. This is how they emit light to the surrounding. However, the wavelength of this glow is unperceivable by the human eye, making the glow invisible to us. However, in 850nm IR LEDs, you can see a faint glow at the lens of the illuminator if you are close to it.
Does night vision see through a glass surface?
A night vision optic can see through the glass. This means that using night vision optics, it is possible to see through a glass window. However, there has to be some ambient light present, or you should pair the night vision with an IR illuminator. In complete darkness, the night vision will not work.
How to know if the IR illuminator is working if we cannot see the wavelength with the naked eye?
IR illuminators often produce a faint red glow on the lens surface when they are turned on. You can detect this glow if you are standing close to the illuminator and looking directly at the lens. This method is widely used to test if the illuminator is working.
How are night vision and infrared scopes different?
Infrared scopes are more commonly known as thermal scopes. They detect infrared heat signatures from various objects to present an image of the field. Infrared scopes do not need ambient light and can work in complete darkness. However, they cannot work through glass.
On the other hand, night vision scopes use ambient light, either visible or from an IR illuminator or laser, to visualize the surroundings. In the absence of light or complete darkness, a night vision scope does not work on its own. However, it can work through glass if a light is present.
We believe that the Streamlight 88704 Super TAC is the best IR illuminator for night vision scope from among our discussed options. It has a sturdy IPX7 build and a very long range of more than 300m. You can either mount it on a weapon or hold it in your hand, allowing it to provide ease of use.