So you've finally decided to make the jump into night vision, but you're not sure what night vision to buy with so many options on the market. It's a big world to jump into, and with so many different housings, intensifier tube manufacturers, and intensifier tube grades, it can be pretty overwhelming.
Enter, our Night Vision Buying Guide. We're writing this up as a general guideline for how to approach the market, this is by no means a definitive rule that's going to cover every scenario. Instead, we want our guide to give you the tools and know what questions to ask yourself to determine your use case. And once you know what your usage will be, you can figure out what you need.
And what you need is important. Because if we all just bought what we wanted, we'd be rocking $40k GPNVGs and drowning in credit card debt. So, let's not start there.
What kind of Night Vision do I need?
First things first, figure out what you need. There's a few questions that we recommend people ask themselves when they start their buying process. We're assuming here that you've either never used night vision before, or have very limited experience:
- What do I plan to do with night vision? This is a broad question, but it matters. Do you want to stargaze? Maybe you want to have fun on the flat range? Maybe you want to hunt? Or maybe you're wanting to night hike? This all matters a lot. If you plan on moving and hiking over rough terrain, you might want to do something different than if you just want to stargaze or do the occasional night shoot.
- Where do I live, and what's the weather like? We aren't asking you this to consider weather proofing, all night vision housings are pretty waterproof. Instead, we want to look at lighting conditions. Do you live in a big city, and that's where you would likely use it? Some tubes are better with artificial light and high light conditions, like the Photonis. Or do you live in the Pacific North West, where it's constantly overcast? Well, you may want to consider some higher-end tubes.
- How often will I use night vision? Another big one. Some guys (like us), use night vision at least on a weekly basis. However some guys may only be able to get out and use it once a month or less. Be realistic with yourself here, and know that you'll use it the most at first, and then usage will decline and level off just like any other toy. So if you have a new baby and a demanding job, don't kid yourself into think you're going to be living that goon life every night.
Budget for Night Vision
Now that we've established some use parameters, let's see what we can afford that fits our goals. We think it's more important to really figure budget second, because if all you think is "What can I get in this budget?", you're likely to end up fitting the wrong things in it.
So maybe you have a fixed number that you can spend, or possibly you're looking at financing and have a set number per month you're willing to let go of. Several vendors offer night vision financing but... we wouldn't go that route. If you need to break it up into payments, we recommend looking at a credit card that will be interest free for the first 18-months, and paying it off within that time. In fact, if you are able to pay all at once, you may still want to consider that option, so you can leave that lump sum invested somewhere making money in the meantime.
However you handle your payments and financing is your business. But when looking at budget, don't forget to look at everything else besides your actual device. A bump helmet, night vision mount, earpro mounting, a laser to aim with... those are all fixed costs you can't dodge, and they add up quick.
Night Vision Housings
There's a ton of night vision housings out there on the market, and there's more coming out every year. Each one does something differently, and offers you different options. We aren't going to get into every housing on the market in this article, instead we're going to try and figure out whether you should go single or dual tube, and leave the housing selection research up to you.
And if you want more information than we have here, check out our blog specifically about Single vs Dual Tube Night Vision!
By far the most popular entry-level night vision device, most people start here. It's also the most widely issued style of device in the military. This is a great way to get into the night vision hobby without sinking too much money before you realize if it's really for you.
Single tubes are also great for portability. Bringing around a set of duals can be bulky, but keeping a PVS-14 in a jacket pocket or in a glove box for quick observation is easy to do. PVS-14s (or other single tube devices) also allow you to keep one eye acclimated to the ambient light level you're in. There are some advantages to this, but some peoples brains don't like seeing two vastly different images at once, and this can cause headaches. And, keep in mind, this will make depth perception tough as well.
However, you can be extremely effective with a PVS-14, all it takes is training. Someone who trains with a single tube device will be much more efficient than someone who has dual tubes but never really gets out there. Again, theres tens of thousands of infantry guys who used them to fight in the mountains of Afghanistan. You can certainly make it work too.
These are the cool guy NVGs. True stereoscopic vision giving you real depth perception in both eyes, moving under dual tube night vision is considerably easier. However, they're also considerably more expensive.
There are many different housings for dual tubes, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, but do you need duals? Depends what you're doing. If you're just doing some stargazing, or hitting the flat range occasionally, we would probably say no. However, are you doing any long movements, especially off trail or over rough terrain? Then we would really encourage the depth perception that dual tube night vision offers.
We will say this though: We've never met anyone with a single tube who didn't want to upgrade to duals.
Night Vision Intensifier Tubes
The heart of the device itself, we need to figure out what tubes you're seeking out for your new device! The first piece of advice we want to give is: Don't listen to the hype. Yes, L3 Filmess tubes are awesome. However, it's only about 1% of users who will really notice the difference that they give you, and if you're shopping for your first device, you're not one of them. Not to discourage you if that's what you really want and have the budget for! We only say that to encourage you if you're looking at something other than L3 for your budget. All of these manufacturers have military contracts, and all of them give you the ability to see at night.
Dutch, and has many military contracts throughout Europe. The most common tubes available from them in the United States are the Echo series. Photonis tubes are Gen 2+, so not quite as good in very low light conditions as the Gen 3, but good enough for probably 80%+ of night vision buyers (probably even more than that). Photonis excels in high-light conditions like inside cities at night, due to their better resolution in high light, as well as their generally small Halo values. Often overlooked, the Photonis tube is a great budget option for the casual user, or someone who lives in an area with a typically clear sky or a lot of ambient light.
Elbit Systems produces more tubes for the United States Military than any other manufacturer (L3). They're is an Israeli based company, but produces their image intensifier tubes in Fort Worth, Texas. They've recently won several additional contracts, as the military looks to transition even regular infantry to white phosphor tubes now. Elbit produces high quality thin-filmed tubes in both green or white phosphor, and their commercial line is the best value on the night vision market.
The best of the best. L3 Harris's Unfilmed White Phosphor tubes are highly sought after for their ability to "see" more in the lowest of light conditions. These tubes are issued to aviators, and to US SOCOM. Just the cool kids. However, it's worth noting that L3 also makes thin filmed (and thick filmed) tubes as well, and there is no magic sauce in those. L3 is just currently the only ones who can make Unfilmed tubes because of their patent on the technology.
New Or Used Night Vision?
Unless you are on a very tight budget and looking at an older PVS-14 with an OMNI contract tube, we're going to always suggest new. Night vision holds its value extremely well, and so you likely aren't getting much of a discount if you buy used. You also won't have any idea how many hours are on the tube, how much it's been abused in bright environments, etc. And because it holds value so well, if you buy new and need to get rid of it, you likely won't be out much at all. Buying new also gives you the assurance that you have a warranty and support from the vendor in case anything goes wrong. Plus, you'll get a data sheet, and you know it will actually be a legit data sheet as well. We'll always advocate for purchasing new.
What Night Vision Should I Buy?
Up to you! We're just here to give you a bit more information on the process, and hopefully make your decision a bit easier. Don't get caught up thinking that you have to have PVS-31s to enjoy night vision either. Even a green phosphor single tube gives you 100% more ability to see at night than most people! The truth is that seeing at night is going to be exciting no matter what device you end up with. If you want a bit more information on night vision in general, check out our blog on How Night Vision Works.
Enjoy Our Night Vision Blog?
Hope you found something of value to yourself here! We write these to try and educate and share information that we had a hard time finding when we were new to NVGs. If you liked it, sign up for our newsletter to be notified of new articles or company news. Feel free to comment what you thought down below, and we always love when our articles get shared for others to read.