How to Buy Night Vision Devices


In How to buy Safari binoculars I gave an overview of what to consider when buying a pair of binoculars when going on safari or visiting a national park or game reserve. In this article, How to buy night vision devices, I will discuss night vision devices for safari or visiting a national park or game reserve.

Exciting prospects! 

Imagine you're in a camp in one of the nature reserves in Africa; it's dark, with only the camp fencing protecting you from the wild; suddenly there's a commotion with a lot of growling and branches breaking, right there, close to the fence, but you can't see the drama which is unfolding right there - I know what it's like - been there!
Unless you have a device which enables you to see in the dark (or even better: see AND hear - discussion later).

It's not hard to guess why night vision devices are worth considering when you're really into night game drives and nocturnal animals: These devices provide your eyes with a light amplification tool that gives you much more night vision sensitivity than many nocturnal animals!

Some animals are strictly nocturnal and chances of seeing them in daylight (in nature) are virtually non-existant. With a night vision device, however, you could get lucky.
Like a porcupine, the biggest rodent in Africa:

Granted, a spotlight is always used by game rangers when taking guests on a night game ride. However, with your night vision device you actually do not need that light; you can see what's going on in the dark - you're not restricted to where the spotlight is focused.

In addition to this, animals you are watching will not be disturbed. They don't even realize they are being watched.

How do night vision devices work? 

Night vision devices are sophisticated electro-optical devices and one could easily get carried away with all the technicalities, leaving your readers with more questions than answers.
I will not go that way. Having read this module, you will have a basic understanding of how these devices work, without being intimidated.

  1. Different night vision devices: Night vision devices come in goggles, scopes, monoculars and binoculars. In this article I will focus only on monoculars and binoculars.
    Everybody knows what a binocular is; a monocular has only one objective lens, like the Yukon Advanced Optics 3x42 Night Vision Waterproof Monocular.

  2. Amplification of light: Night Vision devices are sophisticated electro-optical devices that amplify the amount of light available at night (from the moon, stars or from artificial sources), making it possible for you to see in the dark.
    NVD are primarily intended to make it possible for you to see in the dark, not to magnify distant objects or see objects far away.
  3. Infrared illuminator: Most of these devices come with an infrared illuminator (or accept supplementary IR illuminators). This illuminator casts an infrared ray at the object at which you are looking, the objective lenses of the binoculars pick up the extra (infrared) light along with the visible light which is available and this then results in a brighter image.
  4. Phosphor screen: The image that you see is actually not the physical object itself, but a projected, amplified electronic image on a phosphor screen, which glows with a green colour. This is perfect, since the human eye can distinguish more shades of green than any other colour.
    The eyepiece then magnifies the image for you to see. You cannot see in colour with a night vision device.
  5. Levels of technology: The level of technology used in night vision devices is expressed as Generation 1, 2, 3 and 4. Only generation 1 devices need to be considered, since the other generations are way too expensive and not used for recreational purposes.
  6. The amount of light gain (15,000 to 40,000 times) produced by the tube determines the brightness and clarity of the viewed image. The higher the quality of the NVD, the bigger the effective range and brightness of image.
  7. Black spots on image area a given in all night vision devices. Night vision image tubes are never flawless, and every night vision intensifier tube will have blemishes to some degree. These blemishes translate into scattered black spots on the image area. This is where price comes into the frame. Cheap devices will have more and bigger black spots than the more expensive ones. The fewer and smaller the blemishes, the better the quality and therefore the higher the price.
  8. Batteries: Another point to remember is the fact that NVD uses batteries. Good batteries will last for up to 8 hours constant use, so one set of batteries will not last if you plan on going on a number of night game rides during your safari/visit to game reserves.

How far can you see with a first generation night vision device? 

There are several different variables that play a role in how far you can see.

  1. The amount of light available: When the moon is full and the stars are shining, you will be able to see wild animals as far as 180m away; half moon, only 130m away; only stars, only 80m away and a on a cloudy, overcast night, only 65m away.
    But then, a major difference between an ordinary pair of binoculars and a night vision device is that a night vision device is not primarily intended to magnify objects you are looking at or look at objects far away, but to enable you to see in the dark; and they're good at that.

  2. How big is the object you're trying to see? Obviously, watching an elephant at 100m is easy; watching a little duiker at the same distance is quite another matter.

  3. The environment itself: Dense vegetation and trees soak up light, restricting the light available for your night vision device.

  4. The quality of the device you have: As said above, quality comes at a price. The more you're willing to pay, the better the image you will see - no question about that.

Two points of caution 

  1. Limited life: Night vision device can wear out. The phosphor screens are rated at about 1500-2500 hours - which is a awfully long time for a non-professional user . So, no need to worry.
    However, this also means that you should think twice before buying a used NVD, unless you know exactly how the previous owner used it.
  2. Wrong use: In addition to this, wrong use could also harm your night vision device. Night vision devices are supposed to be used in low light conditions. They do their job with the help of extremely light sensitive components. They will suffer damage or lose useful life by use in daylight or when "overloaded" by strong artificial light like flashlights, headlights or spotlights.
    So, when your on a night game drive and the game ranger uses a spotlight, do not point your night vision device at brightly lit areas. These light sources can damage the light intensifier tube and phosphor screen even when the units include protective circuitry.

Even more exciting option: See and listen! 

What about the possibility of not only seeing what is happening in the dark, but also hearing what is happening! This is indeed possible with some of the night vision devices, which come with microphones.

Check this one out:

The Bushnell 2.5x42
is a night vision monocular with a microphone (in the picture above).

You'll not only see what happens in the dark, but also hear! Sound is audible from 80m and can actually be recorded.

Decisions to make before buying a night vision device 

Unlike when buying a pair of day-light binoculars, deciding what night vision device to buy is not that difficult.

  1. Decision 1: Personal budget matters:
    In Generation 1 technology prices range from $150-00 to $500-00. The more you pay, the higher the quality - no question about that.
    You cannot expect to get get the same quality image when you buy a Yukon Advanced Optics 2x24 Night Vision Monocular as when you buy a Luna Optics GEN-1 Premium Night Vision Monocular, which goes for more than double the price of the Yukon.

    But you have to decide how much you're willing to spend on a device like this.
  2. Decision 2: A monocular or a binocular?
    Quality-wise there's no difference, but you might feel more comfortable with a pair of binoculars. On the other hand, monoculars are more compact, which could be important for traveling. Then you have to decide whether you would like to have a microphone included or not. Unfortunately your choices are restricted. At Amazon currently only one option is available, i.e. the The Bushnell 2.5x42.
  3. Decision 3: Technical matters:
    a.Power/magnification: Night vision devices are not primarily intended to magnify objects you are looking at, so the power aspect is not important at all.
    b. The diameter of the objective lense, however, is important, since the wider, the more light can be absorbed (which is very important when the amount of light available is of crucial importance).
    c. Make sure you buy a device with a built-in infrared illuminator.
    d. Black spots on the image area: You have to go for a device with as few as possible and as little as possible black spots on the image area. But this means that you'll have to be willing to pay more.
    e. Waterproofing: At night temperatures drop sharply and condensation on your device could become a problem. Make sure the device is waterproof.


Making a decision on what night vision device to buy is really not that complicated. All night vision devices amplify the light available at night and all in the lists below have built-in illuminators as well.
Once you've decided how much you're willing to spend, you only have to decide whether it will be a monocular or a pair of binoculars.
But remember: Quality comes at a price. The more you're willing to pay, the better the quality of the image you will see.

Night vision monoculars available at Amazon 

The selection below all include built-in infrared illuminators. The magnification is not that important.
The best seller at Amazon is the Yukon, with the Bushnell in close pursuit.

Bushnell Night Vision 2.5x42 Built-in Double Infrared (Green)

Amazon Price: $198.28 (as of 09/22/2008)

Yukon Advanced Optics 3x42 Night Vision Waterproof Monocular

Amazon Price: $249.00 (as of 09/22/2008)

Night vision binoculars available at Amazon 

The most popular among the night vision binoculars are the Bushnell, Night Owl and Yukon.

Yukon Viking 2x24 Night Vision Binocular - 25023

Amazon Price: $341.07 (as of 09/22/2008)

ATN Night Jaguar 1st Generation, 4x Night Vision Binocular

Amazon Price: $489.00 (as of 09/22/2008)

ATN Night Scout Night Vision Binoculars

Amazon Price: $529.99 (as of 09/22/2008)

Bushnell Night Vision 2.5x42 (Black/Green)

Amazon Price: $378.95 (as of 09/22/2008)


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