Shopping for the best night vision scope under $500 for your next hunting trip?
You have come to the right place!
Night vision optics are becoming increasingly popular. What used to be only high-grade military innovations is now used by any shooter who can afford the cost of a typical extension.
With a quality night vision scope, you can get the most out of your night hunting or shooting trips as they offer a clear sight picture in low-light conditions.
The best models also increase your chances of hitting a target and ensure a successful hunting trip.
However, with such a wide range of scopes, choosing a quality and budget-friendly unit can be incredibly difficult.
To help you with your decision, we've reviewed some of the best night vision scopes under $500 available today.
Let's dive right in!
What's in This Buying Guide
This guide includes comprehensive reviews of the best night vision scopes under $500 and includes a detailed buying guide so you know exactly what to look for.
However, if you're looking for thermal scopes for less, make sure to take a look at our review of the best cheap thermal scopes available today.
Best Night Vision Scope Under $500
- 1Best Overall: Sightmark Wraith Digital Riflescop
- 2Best for Long-Range Shooting: Sightmark Photon RT 6-12x50 Digital Riflescope
- 3Best for VarmintHunting: Night Owl Optics Nightshot Digital Riflescope
- 4Best for the Money: Bushnell Equinox Z2 Monocular
- 5Best for Surveillance: Bestguarder Night Vision Monocular
Disclaimer: All links below go to Amazon.com
Sightmark Wraith Digital Riflescope
Objective Lens Diameter
Sightmark Photon RT 6-12x50 Digital Riflescope
Best for Long-Range Shooting
Objective Lens Diameter
Night Owl Optics Nightshot Digital Riflescope
Best for Varmint Hunting
Objective Lens Diameter
Bushnell Equinox Z2 Monocular
Best for the Money
Objective Lens Diameter
Bestguarder Night Vision Monocular
Best for Surveillance
Objective Lens Diameter
1. Best Overall: Sightmark Wraith Digital Riflescope
The Sightmark Wraith offers a wide magnification range from 4x to 32x, allowing you to choose an option that best suits your needs and hunting conditions.
It's ideal for daytime use, while its night vision mode makes it incredibly effective for hunting in the dark as well.
The unit also comes with a photo and video recording feature for greater convenience, while its built-in IR illuminator makes the scope perfect for shooters and hunters who want to enhance their shooting skills.
Even during the daytime, Its sensor further enables you to see in full color and make accurate shots.
This Sightmark model also allows you to adjust every setting and offers both black and white and classic green viewing options in its night vision mode.
With its high-definition images and 1080p videos, it undoubtedly deserves a place on our list of top picks.
However, it doesn't come with a memory card, which might be a problem for some.
Some Other Notable Features of This Model Include:
Overall, the Sightmark Wraith Digital Riflescope offers a clear vision that's suitable for both day and night use.
Boasting an 850nm IR illuminator and 10 different reticle options, it comes with solid features and functions that are definitely worth considering.
2. Best for Long-Range Shooting: Sightmark Photon RT 6-12x50 Digital Riflescope
The Sightmark Photon RT boasts a wide magnification setting that ranges from 4.5x to 9x, making the riflescope perfect for medium and long-range shooting.
Its 850nm LED IR illuminator and 2x digital zoom enables shooters to accurately hit targets up to 280 yards away in complete darkness.
Its clear sight picture further increases chances of precise target acquisition.
This model is one of the best digital rifle scopes for professional shooters and seasoned hunters. However, because of its ease of use; it's a great fit for newbies as well.
Its innovative Stream Version app further allows you to wirelessly stream footage to your smart device or YouTube in real-time.
The app is compatible with Android and iOS and enables you to transfer photos and videos seamlessly.
Moreover, this unit boasts a quick-change battery pack that allows hunters to replace batteries in the field without wasting any precious time.
The Sightmark device also comes with integrated sound and video recording features, making it more convenient and easier to use.
Its high-end and high-resolution 768x576 CMOS sensor further enhances clarity, and adds to the useful features of this night vision scope.
The Sightmark Photon RT offers 4 colors and 6 reticle options, allowing you to choose the type that best suits your specific situation.
In addition, its resistance to bright light exposure ensures a better sight picture, while its one-shot zero function makes zeroing the scope incredibly easy.
Boasting a water resistance rating of IP55, the Photon RT comes with an additional weaver rail and a power input that allows you to use the scope with power banks with a micro USB cable.
Lastly, it works with most aftermarket 30mm rings and includes a user manual; a spare battery container, a carrying case, a USB cable, and a lens cloth.
Some of its Other Notable Features Are:
Delivering unparalleled performance during both the day and the night, the Sightmark Photon RT riflescope boasts a 768x576 CMOS sensor, built-in sound and video recording, and a clear 640x480 LCD display.
All these make it one of the best models under $500 available today.
3. Best for Varmint Hunting: Night Owl Optics Nightshot Digital Riflescope
The Nightshot Riflescope enables you to take precise and accurate shots from 200 yards away in regular nighttime environments.
It's suitable for almost every hunting scenario and constantly delivers a clear sight picture.
It boasts a high-resolution 640x480 display and allows you to magnify the picture 3x.
Its IR illuminator further enhances focus at night, ensuring the image remains visible.
The night vision scope offers several different mounting options including the weaver mounts to add to its flexibility, while its varying reticle selection allows you to adjust the scope according to your shooting environment.
There are 3 reticle options that you can configure in white or black.
This model is perfect for hunting enthusiasts who want to improve their long-distance shooting skills and practice shooting in the dark without breaking the bank.
It's also lightweight and features a heavy-duty polymer body for long-term use.
The Night Owl Optics Nightshot is waterproof as well, so you can easily use it throughout the year without any issues.
Here are a Few Notable Features:
With an integrated IR illuminator, weatherproof properties, and versatile mounting options; this night vision scope certainly deserves a place on our list of top picks.
If you want a reliable and powerful scope for night use, then this is one of the best options available today!
4. Best for the Money: Bushnell Equinox Z2 Monocular
Designed with a powerful infrared illuminator, the Equinox z2 ensures clear viewing in low-light situations and in complete darkness.
Its infrared-sensitive CMOS sensor offers outstanding image quality and unparalleled resolution, while its multi-coated optics decrease glare and increase light transmission for a crisp; clear, and illuminated image.
Boasting a 30mm objective lens and 3x magnification, this compact unit enables you to effectively view targets 500 feet away in night vision mode when the infrared level is set to its highest option.
The model also allows you to record images as video clips or still photos.
You just need to insert a micro-SD card to capture high-quality images and videos, and you can then upload the files to a tablet; computer, or smartphone.
You can even stream live video footage with the Bushnell Equinox app, which boasts several robust menu operations that allow remote operation, making it easier for you to monitor and control a tripod-mounted night vision scope.
All in all, this is a cost-efficient and robust solution for taking accurate shots in the dark.
The model offers numerous features that make it perfect for both surveillance and security applications and recreational purposes such as fishing, camping, and hunting.
Some of its Notable Features Include:
Thanks to its powerful built-in IR illuminator, the Bushnell Equinox Z2 monocular allows you to clearly see targets 500 meters away.
You can record videos, capture images, and control IR brightness and zoom from your mobile device, making it one of the easiest scopes to use for under $500.
5. Best for Surveillance: Bestguarder Night Vision Monocular
The Bestguarder Night Vision Monocular features a 50 mm objective lens, 6x magnification, and digital zoom that goes up to 5x.
It comes with a 1.5-inch TFT LCD and a built-in infrared illuminator that enables you to clearly view targets 1150 feet away.
Furthermore, the unit's 720p video recording ability and multi-function design allow you to use the scope as a camera; camcorder, and telescope.
You can also connect it to a TV with a USB cable for live infrared surveillance or insert a micro-SD card to capture images and record videos and transfer them later to your tablet or smartphone.
Lastly, the monocular boasts a rugged, water-resistant body for added durability, while its convenient design allows you to attach it to a portable strap or mount it on a tripod, making it incredibly easy to use as well.
Some of its Other Notable Features and Specs Include:
Since you can connect this model to a TV using a TV cable, it is one of the best night vision scopes for surveillance.
Its water-resistance body ensures durability and longevity, allowing you to comfortably use the optic in all weather conditions.
Night Vision Scope Under $500 Buying Guide
What to Look for in a Night Vision Scope Under $500
Due to the wide range of models available today, choosing a quality and budget-friendly night vision scope is incredibly difficult.
To help make your decision easier, we've listed some of the most important things you should consider before making your purchase:
Most night vision scopes offer a viewing distance between 100 and 200 yards.
This is because, unlike optical scopes, night vision models use either stray light from the environment or infrared light from separate emitters or flashlights fastened to the scope itself.
If you're hunting at night, it's better to choose a model with a wide field of view for clearer and easier observations.
A wide field of view is also suitable for tactical situations, as the more you're able to see; the more likely you'll be able to spot intruders or any other targets.
Clarity and Magnification
Just like all other optics, a night vision scope also needs to provide a consistent and clear view of your surroundings.
Clarity is generally measured by lines per millimeter (lp/mm), and the higher the number, the clearer the scope.
High-end night vision scopes usually boast a clarity of 60 to 70 lp/mm.
However, you should not solely consider lp/mm for clarity. You should factor in distortion levels as well, as this will negatively affect clarity and make it difficult to discern the specific features of your target.
Optics with high-quality glass lenses usually have the least amount of distortion, while polymer or plastic lenses produce a more distorted image.
When it comes to magnification, these units can go as high as 10x.
Although higher magnifications are suitable for some applications, they're not ideal for hunters who don't want to invest in a more expensive model.
Magnification levels ranging from 3x to 5x are usually more affordable and perfect for most shooters.
Some units don't come with a magnification feature and are even more cost-effective.
They're designed for more traditional short-range hunting but are not suitable for long-range shooting.
Signal to Noise Ratio
If you've captured pictures with a night vision camera or seen night vision optics being used on TV, then you know about the static-like effect that's always present.
Called noise or snow, this distortion is similar to TV static and is present on even the highest quality night vision optics.
Signal refers to the amount of light you can actually see, and signal to noise ratio is basically the light you see divided by the snow or noise present.
You should consider this clarity rating as well and gauge the visibility that the scope offers before purchasing it.
Most hunting grounds are harsh, so your rifle might fall down from time to time or come into contact with water.
That's why it's better to get a fog-proof, shockproof, and waterproof night vision scope.
Weatherproof models offer excellent value for money and are perfect for use in the wilderness during harsh weather as well.
It’s best if you go for a scope constructed with aircraft-grade aluminum or other similar durable materials.
Furthermore, units featuring anodized plating are resistant to rust and not likely to suffer from corrosive damage easily.
Such coatings also reduce sun glare and help hide your position.
Night vision optics are a generational system, with four generations available in the civilian market today.
Each generation has its own unique features that give it an edge over other models, so it's better to choose the night vision scope that best suits your needs and hunting scenarios.
These optics need a lot of ambient light to provide a clear picture and function properly.
Gen 1+ devices are the most commonly used and are highly preferred over Gen 1 scopes. They usually cost around $300 to $700.
Since Gen 2 scopes are a modification of Gen 1 units, they use more light and produce sharper and better images.
Along with being clearer, they also boast a longer and more effective viewing range, making them the perfect compromise between cost and clarity.
They're smaller than Gen 1 scopes and can be paired with an IR illuminator for crispier images.
Generation 2 night vision scopes are one of the best options for hunting.
The United States military currently uses Generation 3 optics. Although Gen 3 wasn't a huge leap from Gen 2, there are still enough changes to notice a difference.
Generation 3 night vision scopes have an incredibly low amount of distortion and noise and can provide a clear image to read small text if they're properly tuned.
They also need less light than traditional night vision optics yet they can offer a truly impressive amount of clarity.
The latest and most advanced generation of night vision optics; Generation 4 units are incredibly expensive but extremely clear.
The optic is gated, and the ion film barrier is removed, resulting in at least a 20% improvement in clarity.
This means that the optic almost completely eliminates noise from the system.
However, there is a trade-off to Gen 3 devices. Because of the removal of the ion film barrier, the scopes have a shorter service life.
They're also extremely pricey and are somewhat rare, making them hard to find and procure.
Popular Brands of Night Vision Optics
Although night vision scopes from even the most popular brands in the market won't always provide satisfaction, it is still a good idea to get a unit from well-known manufacturers.
Famous names are also more likely to offer their customers post-purchase benefits and services as compared to less-popular brands. Here are a few manufacturers you should consider before making your purchase:
All night vision scopes need at least a small amount of ambient light to function properly.
If you're patrolling or hunting at night, then the light from the moon and stars will be enough for a clear image.
However, shadows can still cause distortion and make it difficult for you to see.
If you're using a night vision scope in a cave or a building where there's no ambient light, the optic will not show you anything more than what you already see with your naked eye.
Although most budget night vision scopes come with built-in IR illuminators, they're not as powerful as high-end ones.
This reduces their viewing distance and negatively affects image clarity.
Budget-friendly scopes also have a shorter lifespan and can last anywhere between 5000 and 8000 hours of use, whereas costlier models can handle up to 15000 hours of operation.
Furthermore, it's difficult to accurately locate your game when you're hunting through heavy brush and foliage.
And while cheaper models come with a wider field of view, they're usually limited in range, which means you'll have to get closer to get a precise shot.
Additionally, budget-friendly scopes don't work well with dust, so it can be difficult to make out camouflaged objects with these optics. They're also not suitable for foggy nights as the fog negatively affects the night vision process.
Moreover, budget night vision scopes do not have a long battery life, so it's better to be prepared and take some additional batteries with you on your trip.
Lastly, these models don't come with any additional quality features. For instance, some units cannot take photos or record hunting activities.
So, if you're a hunter that likes such memories, it's better to go for a more expensive night vision scope.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is Better? Night Vision Scopes or Thermal Optics?
Night vision scopes use and enhance ambient light, whereas thermal devices detect thermal heat or radiation and highlight the differences in temperature in your surroundings.
If you're hunting somewhere with little to no light, a thermal optic is your best option.
Similarly, if you're planning on hunting in several different lighting conditions or from day to night; a thermal imaging scope will be better as bright light can damage night vision devices.
To put it simply, thermal optics are better for detection, but they're more expensive than night vision.
In Hours, How Much Usage Can Night Vision Scope Handle?
A quality Gen 2+ system can handle around 5000 hours of operation, while a Gen 3 system can offer as much as 15,000 hours of use.
At 100 hours per year, a Gen 3 device will have a life of 100 to 150 years, and a Gen 2 device will last for 25 years.
What’s the Importance of Auto-Gating When It Comes to Night Vision Scopes?
Auto-gating is basically a feature of military night vision scopes where the amount of ambient light reaching the intensifier tube is automatically gated to protect the scope from bright lights.
It helps ensure the greatest clarity and highest possible resolution in a wide range of lighting conditions, which is why it's mostly used on rifle optics.
It's generally found on Gen 3+ tubes but it's present on some Gen 2+ devices as well.
Final Verdict: What is the Best Night Vision Scope Under $500?
With a powerful 850nm IR illuminator, 5 weapon profiles, and 10 different reticle options, we found the Sightmark Wraith Digital Scope to be the best night vision scope under $500.
However, make sure you go through all the aforementioned models to find one that best suits your needs.