Where do you begin when you need to choose a night vision scope? Naturally, you want the best
product you can get for your money, in addition to getting a scope delivering the best vision in total
darkness or near-total darkness. But these are extremely broad guidelines, which won’t get you as close
to the right scope for you and your activity in the field.

Night-vision devices of all types, whether it’s a scope specifically used for hunting after the sun goes
down or a tactical headset used to gain an advantage when you’re searching at night, are designed to
enhance the available light. The best of these products allow you to see even on a moonless night, or
when there seems to be no light in a closed-off room.

If you haven’t used a night-vision scope, you’ll benefit from a basic understanding of how these devices
work. Most people purchase a scope that is efficient at amplifying available light, with magnification as a
secondary priority. Some night-vision devices offer low magnification, such as 2x to 4x. You may also
find a feature on your scope called built-in infra-red. This gives you some added light, so you can actually
see in what appears to be complete darkness.

Performance Range

Almost any product advertised as “night vision” will improve ability to see in dark conditions, but there
are different levels in goggles, cameras, and scopes. In the night-vision scope category you will be best
served by choosing a Generation 2 or Generation 3 scope delivering performance suitable for military
and law-enforcement use. However, your budget may limit you to something less expensive, though
these scopes will also perform in a more-than-adequate manner.

To get closer to your choice, you might want to learn a bit about the difference between “generations”
of night-vision products. All scopes, for example, gather and amplify existing light through the first, or
objective, lens. This light is focused on an image intensifier. This energy is converted to electrons and
those electrons then strike the phosphor screen. This provides the image you can see. The difference
between generations is found in the technology of the image intensifier.

Here are highlights of the various categories:

• Generation I – Basic operation intensifier tube amplifies available light. Electrons strike
phosphor surface.
• Generation II – Have additional micro-channel plate to multiply electron numbers before they
strike phosphor screen. This increases light gain.
• Generation III – Goggles and scopes in this category add a “photocathode” of gallium arsenide
which increases photo-electron numbers above the level of Generation II.

You may begin seeing more Generation IV night-vision products, though these will be more expensive,
as are Generation III scopes and goggles. The level of light-delivery you get is often determined by your
budget. Most of the Generation I products available today will give you the light amplification you need,
along with suitable image quality. They’ll be more than sufficient for camping, fishing, and boating. If
you hunt a lot, you may be able to justify moving to another level such as Generation II or III.

To Buy or Not to Buy

Of course, when you want to hunt at night using a high-quality night-vision scope, you should buy one.
This is not meant to suggest that you don’t buy. But there may be some you want to stay away from
simply because they’re not of sufficient quality to deliver long-term service. With the detailed
information above, you should be able to make an informed decision. Just look for the lens combination
you need, as well as the size of the scope that will give you the performance you need without being too
bulky to use in the field.

Naturally, you should pay close attention to prices, as compared to the features of each scope and the
benefits you get from each one. In general, you should buy the best one you can afford, so you can
avoid making another purchase in the near future. If you’re looking for something to use in a
recreational setting, you won’t have to pay as much attention to technical specifications. If you’re a
serious hunter, you may want to go to the next level and read the specs closely.

There are a lot of variables with night-scope use, including the setting in which you move. If there are a
lot of trees and the vegetation is dense you’ll need to get a scope that gathers and enhances more light.
If you’re in an open field more often than not, you might be able to get the performance you need with
a less-costly scope. With any purchase of outdoor equipment, hunting or otherwise, you should consider
real-world use.

Features to Consider

Visual clarity should be at the top of your priority list. This applies whether you’re using a night-vision
scope, a standard scope, or your own eyes. One of the key words here is “resolution.” In the world of
optics, you want to be able to see details without struggling or taking an extra second or two to get a
clear view. Positive identification is the ultimate goal.

It’s an unfortunate reality: When you get high resolution you will compromise on the level of contrast.
Try to determine which scope gives you outstanding resolution with the best contrast level. Seeing in
dark conditions might mean has resolution and contrast as closely matched as possible.

As you’re researching which scope is best for your purposes, you’ll need to consider the idea of range. In
fact, you should narrow this search to the scopes delivering the best recognition range. This can vary
depending on the amount of light, naturally. But look for indication of good recognition range. Bulk or
scope size has already been mentioned, briefly. You should buy the scope that works best for you,
keeping in mind that greater magnification generally means more weight. Try to find a scope that’s light
enough to handle comfortably, yet delivers sufficient magnification and light for your purposes.


When you find a scope that’s comfortable to handle, fits your hunting conditions, has good recognition
range and resolution, you’re on the right path. While it’s possible to find a very good night-vision scope,
you may never find the “perfect” scope. In addition to the performance details just mentioned, you
should pay attention to reviews and recommendations, especially in reference to durability and the
ability of the scope to stand up to extreme weather conditions. Shock resistance and water resistance
are very important. Some would say essential.