Night Vision: Green Phosphor vs. White Phosphor

     Buying night vision is a big purchase, and one of the most common questions from new purchasers is: What's the difference between green vs white phosphor, how does it affect performance, and which one should I get? When I bought my first device, it was something I struggled with as well. Of course, it's made even harder by the fact that there really isn't anywhere to go check out night vision before you purchase, like test driving a car.

     Thankfully, with night vision rapidly becoming more and more popular, there's more and more information and first hand experiences available for new buyers to consume. Unfortunately, it means that there's also more disinformation out there, or opinions stated like fact on forums from people who may not know any better. So, let's leave that behind us and address the facts on the Green vs White Night Vision debate, and leave the ultimate decision to who it belongs to: You.

What is a Night Vision Phosphor Screen?
phosphor screen illustration

     First things first, let's talk about what a phosphor screen is. And before we go any further, let's clarify that it's NOT phosphorus. No, you don't have burning white phosphorus giving you the ability to see at night, lighting your path with war crimes and destruction.

     As simply as we can put it, the phosphor screen is like an analog TV screen. After all the other magic happens in your night vision tube (if you want to know more, check out our "How Night Vision Works" blog), the amplified electronic particles hit the phosphor screen which causes it to glow in accordance to the electrons being input in that area. It's the final step before fiber optics and your rear lens focuses that into a viewable image. There's a lot more science that goes into making sure the phosphor screen glows long enough to make a usable image, but not long enough that it creates image lag.

dual color night vision

     It's worth noting at this point that the phosphor screen can be any color the manufacturer wants it to be, not just white or green phosphor. In fact, Adams Industries has even created a dual-channel phosphor screen, which gives you two colors, depending on the wavelength of light. 

So, why Green vs White Phosphor?

     Well, it comes down to a little bit of science, and a little bit of history. Night vision was first developed in the 40's, but it really didn't see use until the Vietnam War, and even then, use was limited. It's always been understood that the human eye sees more shades of green than any other color. So naturally, if we're only going to be able to see in one color, green is the obvious choice. More shades gives us more contrast, definition, and ability to pick out different objects. 

     Of course, night vision was also pretty much garbage until really about the OMNI III contract (read our: "Night Vision OMNI Contracts" blog), which was the first true Gen 3 devices. OMNI I & II are debatable, but generally regarded as not too much different from Gen 2 level devices. So we get Gen 3 in 1990, and then except for sparse conflicts here and there, the United States Military isn't in a major conflict until the Global War on Terror, beginning in 2001.

     Why does that make a difference? Well, because now we have a force spending significantly more time under night vision, and for the first time, really finding out the technologies shortcomings in an actual conflict. One of the major problems being brought up was eye-strain by pilots and special operators spending long hours under night vision, and that's where white phosphor comes into play.

     Now of course we know white phosphor as the "cool guy" night vision color, because that's what the door kickers use. But green phosphor hasn't survived 70 years for no reason, so let's break down some differences, which we know is why you're really here.

Green Phosphor or White: Which is Better?

green phosphor vs white phosphor comparison

     First, it's important to point out one thing. During trials of soldiers performance under green and white phosphor night vision, no combat effectiveness difference was able to be detected. With that said, let check out some pro's and con's to each:

Green Phosphor

     The classic. What we all grew up seeing in video games, in movies, and it persists in pop culture today. It was in use a long time before white was around, and it continues to be used today.

Green Phosphor Advantages

  • Evolution: You can see more shades of green than you can of white. Many people say that green tubes of equal specs to white ones seem a bit clearer, with a bit more definition and contrast, and there's science to support that.
  • Cost: Because green is produced more, and white has the Gucci-tax associated with it, an equal performance tube green tube will cost less than a white one.

Green Phosphor Disadvantages

  • Eye Strain: Some peoples brains really do have a difficult time seeing in green, and this can lead to eye strain and headaches in about 5% of people. Also, when you take off green phosphor tubes, you're usually seeing in purple for a few minutes after, depending on how long you were using them.
  • No Flex: You can't flex green phosphor tubes as hard, and we all know that's why you're really getting into night vision. To flex on the poors.

White Phosphor

     The latest in night vision, white phosphor tubes come from the aviation and special operations world, and have now become synonymous with cool-guy tubes in the civilian market. Remember your ABCs kids: Always Be Cool.

White Phosphor Advantages

  • More Natural: White phosphor was created to eliminate eye strain for users spending long hours under NVGs, and white tubes feel very natural to most users, which helps eliminate a little of the learning curve.
  • Higher Spec: Currently L3 Filmless tubes are only made in white phosphor, and Filmless tubes lend themselves to better SNR and Halo specs. Keep in mind, for any other L3, Elbit, or Photonis tubes, there is no performance difference between white or green phosphor.

White Phosphor Disadvantages

  • Cost: There is a premium for seeing in white, and it may not always be worth it. You can get some Gen 3 Green Phosphor tubes for less than you can get Gen 2+ White Phosphor tubes. 
  • Contrast: Some people feel that white phosphor has less contrast. This is a very subjective thing, and it's impossible for us to tell you how you'll feel.

Which do I choose: White Phosphor or Green Phosphor Night Vision?

     Like we said at the beginning, the choice is up to you. Night vision is a lot of money, and we aren't here to tell you how to spend that much. However, we can offer some advice on how to decide. First, decide a budget for how much you're willing to spend on your device (and don't forget to leave a couple thousand for a helmet, mount, laser for your rifle, etc). Once you know what you can spend, look at what's available, and pay attention to specs. We wouldn't suggest getting a Gen 2+ Photonis Echo tube over a Gen 3 Elbit XLSH tube just because the Photonis is in white, because you're costing yourself in actual tube performance. We also wouldn't suggest stepping down from a dual tube device to a single tube just so you can have that Gucci-Gang L3 Filmless White Phos hottness you see everyone talk about on the 'Gram. But you may feel differently.

     Ultimately though, the decision is yours. And at the end of the day, when the sun goes down, you're going to have a superpower very few people ever get to possess. So whether that superpower is green or white doesn't seem like that big of a deal.

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.

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