3 Things to consider before buying a Night Vision Monocular

So you have decided on buying a night vision monocular. That’s great.
But first, a big thing to consider and pay closer attention is that there are a few things to be considered before instantly rushing straight to the shopping cart and ordering yourself a night vision monocular.

From determining the activity that you are going to use it to all the way to what the weather environment will be in the area you are going to use it in – there can be a few tricky things that need to be further investigated before jumping straight into the night vision gear shopping spree.

For most of us, budget is a big thing when it comes to buying anything actually – even more important when deciding to buy a night vision device, as it can definitely be costly. The ratio of budget to performance/quality of the night vision device is split into ‘’Generations’’.

Like all technology, night vision equipment has evolved greatly over the decades. The performance/price ratios have gotten lesser, paving the way for several generations of night vision equipment. Generation is used for rating most available night vision gear, like night vision goggles, binoculars and Monocular. It is also used as a point of comparison for the level of technology incorporated into each specific device.

1. Generations

Generation 1-Night Vision

Generation 1 gear was developed way back in the 1960’s and first introduced during the Vietnam War. This generation is currently the lowest-priced one of the night vision market. Gen 1-night vision products include night vision goggles, binoculars and monocular that have implemented this technology into them.

When we talk about how exactly a Generation 1 device performs, each one employs a vacuum tube with photo cathode sensitivity of 120-280 microamperes per lumen and light amplification of 120-900 times the ambient light. The resolution with Gen 1 devices is 20-38 line-pairs per millimeter in the center of the image, while the maximum range goes up to 80m.

A thing that is definitely worth mentioning is that the Generation one’s night vision monocular and devices are not suitable for photography, because they often have a reduction in quality around the edges of the image. Nevertheless, they have numerous different applications and due to their lower price range they are quite popular among night vision enthusiasts and are a perfect low-budget choice.

Generation 1+ Night Vision

Generation 1+, the slight upgrade from the Generation 1, offers a further improvement of the Gen 1 tubes with a fiber optic plate installed at the front/back of the tube, allowing for a drastic improvement when it comes to the image resolution, preventing possible blur at the edges

Gen 2 Night Vision

The Gen 2 devices differ from Gen 1 and 1+ because they implement an electron amplifier – the Micro Channel Plate (MCP). Currently on the market there are two types of the intensifier tubes with MCP available – the 25mm and 18mm. Basically, the larger the diameter the more effective the tube is. Still, it is important to keep in mind that it also needs a larger night vision unit to adequately operate.

When we talk about Generation 2’s specification, the light amplification is set at around 20,000 times, making them very efficient in pitch black and low light conditions. The very little distortion they possess makes them a good match for video or still cameras. It is important to mention that they have an increased sensitivity of 300-320 microamperes per lumen and also an increased tube durability/longevity, almost double compared to the Gen 1 and 1+’s specifications (Gen 2: 4,000-5,000 hours, Gen 1/1+:  2,000-2,500)

As it could easily come to mind, the higher cost of the Gen 2-night vision equipment makes it mostly used by law enforcement or other professional services.

Generation 2+ Night Vision

Just like the Gen 1 and Gen1+ the case with both of the 2 and 2+ generations are pretty much the same. Comparing both the Gen2 and Gen2+ – the Gen2+ is a slightly better version than Gen2, although pricey.

Generation 2+ devices are equipped with manual control that helps regulate the brightness of the image depending on the outside light conditions.  Gen 2+ devices have a built in unique feature that acts as a flash protection and an image which is virtually distortion-free even at the edges. This type of night vision units was used only by the military, but as time passes and the popularity of Generation 2+ devices arise, the usage of those devices spreads out to a much wider audience than just the military forces.

It is important to mention that all Gen 2+ tubes are Russian-made because the US switched from Gen 2 directly to Gen 3. Russian law regulations state that the maximum sensitivity allowed for export outside of Russia is 350 microamperes per lumen – specification that the Gen 3 exceeds, that’s why there is no Gen3 night vision devices in Russia.

Generation 3 Night Vision

The Generation 3-night vision gear is on another level. It is mainly used by both US military and special forces. The 3rd Generation of night vision gear is currently the best and most reliable technology on the market although not very budget-friendly. When it comes to the advantages provided by Generation 3, they include: 300 yard plus ranges, best resolutions, most effective low-light performance and the longest life expectancy – 10,000+ hours along with a high ratio of durability/longevity.

Generation 4 Night Vision

The Generation 4-night vision technology is still fresh and not officially accepted by the military. But you can make a conclusion yourself that if Generation 3 is mainly used by military/special forces, then Generation 4 will most likely not be available to the average night vision user. Another term used for Gen 4 is filmless/gated image intensifiers. Filmless because of the ion barrier film added to the Gen 3 image-intensifiers has been removed allowing for clearer images.

Gated means that the power supply allows for a possibility that the night vision unit can be used during daytime, along with the improved image resolution and minimized halo that appears due to the bright light sources attacking the lens of the device.

Generations in general are the biggest and most splitting factor, that best groups the different types of night vision categorizing them into a Generation, as each Generation raises, the power and price of each Night vision device in the exact Generation rises too. So this leads to the idea that depending on how big the budget of a specific customer is – the higher the Generation target will be.

2.Night vision specifications

So we got the Generations out of the way – they are more of a budget category split than a specification list. But to fully understand what are the factors and specifications of a night vision monocular, we must take a deeper dive and take a better look into the night vision monocular specifications themselves, before deciding on what exact night vision monocular is the right choice for us.

Resolution, Magnification and Spectrum are the 3 main specifications that category a night vision device and what its capabilities are.


Resolution can be defined as the ability of an image intensifier or night vision system to distinguish between objects close to one another. The image intensifier resolution remains constant while the system resolution can be affected.

Magnification and Field Of View

When deciding on magnification and FOV it is important to take into consideration the distance that you need as well as the size of the area that is going to be observed and searched.


Human vision is targeted to a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum – visible light. The spectral range provides the viewer with the ability to take advantage of the non-visible sources of electromagnetic radiation –  near-infrared or ultraviolet radiations. The ultraviolet region spreads from 100 to 400 nm while the near-ultraviolet nominally spreads out to a further lower end starting from 300 to 400 nm, while the visible part of the spectrum can extend greatly and spread out from 400 to 750nm. Those are special measurements that you need to be aware of, before even trying to understand them.

Weather Resistance

One of the most important specifications when it comes to night vision systems is their ability to operate under extreme weather and humid conditions. The night gear that has been built to U.S. specifications can endure almost any environmental condition and extreme weather. The most well-known and often issue for such devices as night vision goggles is internal fogging which tends to reduce visibility and the internal moisture can tire out the eyes much quicker than normal. That is why the ability to resist humidity and moisture is so important.

Size, Weight and Ease of Operation

These three factors might be considered the most important when it comes to choosing the right night vision monocular, because if a unit is not comfortable to hold and easy to operate it will be of little to no benefit to the user. How does this apply to night vision devices – well, if the user needs to be mobile while using his night vision device then they should choose a smaller, lighter model. On the other hand, if the device is intended for viewing from a standing, a larger model is a more suitable option. Regardless of the model, switches and focus control have to be positioned in such a manner that they can easily be adjusted and customized.

Power source

Batteries: All night vision devices made for civilian use are powered by batteries – alkaline or lithium just like every single cellphone in the world. So when you consider buying a pair of night vision goggles, you should always take into consideration the additional costs that come from restocking yourself up on batteries. While cheaper and easier to get alkaline batteries are less durable, lithium batteries provide longevity and they can be bought from much more accessible shops.

We covered the Budget oriented Generations as well as the specifications that need to be considered before buying a night vision monocular.

3. Performance


Clarity is directly connected with the resolution, which we have discussed in the previous section. The relation is quite simple – since the resolution is measured with lines per millimeter, the higher the lines the greater the quality will be.


When dealing with night vision monocular, it is important to know the mandatory recognition range for one to operate. Regardless of all the technological advances, night vision monocular have still not reached the point where it can see further away as a rifle scope, having the ability to see over hundreds of meters. The total range is not nearly as important as the recognition range of a night vision monocular.
Most manufacturers release recognition ranges for different lighting conditions like full moon, quarter moon and even slight starlight.


How much beating can a night vision monocular take?
If you are about to spend several hundred or even thousand dollars on a piece of night vision equipment, it needs to be a long term investment. So before deciding on the company and model, consider the following features: is it waterproof (if not, do not use it in rain and snow), check the quality of the electronic parts since they are most likely to break, and finally the optics – for example, some can withstand a 300 Win Mag, others cannot.

Infrared Illuminators (IR)

When buying a night vision monocular, one should always pay attention if it has an infrared illuminator, or the option to have one attached. The purpose of an infrared illuminator is to project an invisible-to-the-human-eye infrared light, acting as an additional light source for the night vision monocular, offering the user a much better picture/resolution/quality. This addition is especially useful in situations where there is a total lack of light. It is important to mention that IRs have a limited range, depending on their size.


Size/Weight, Eye relief and possible extra features.
When talking about what the monocular will be used for, the size and weight of the monocular itself can play a big role. Consider what you will be using your monocular for. If you are vision impaired and likely to use monocular in various daily circumstances, you will need an instrument that is light weight and portable enough to fit into your pocket. The size and weight of the monocular largely has to do with the size of the lenses, though other considerations – such as the material it is made from – do affect this too. Lenses of 25mm could be considered lightweight enough to be pocket sized

Eye Relief

Eye relief is the space between your eyes and the eyepiece on an optical instrument, and is measured in millimeters. Eye relief can get quite technical, but to put it simply, it is the distance you can move your eyes away from the eyepiece and still have a full field of view. The easiest way to be able to know this is to test run monocular. Look through them using them as you would normally so that you can see the monocular full field of view.

Slowly move the monocular away from your eye and test whether or not you can still practically use the monocular at a small distance from your eyes. This is important because it is not always comfortable to have an eyepiece directly on the eye for longer use periods.

Eye relief becomes even more important when you have prescribed glasses which you cannot operate without, as obviously there is a barrier putting distance between your eyes and the eyepiece. In this case you would need eye relief of at least 14mm. People who do not wear glasses usually do not require such long eye relief, but it is something that can vary for each individuals.

4.Extra Features (BONUS)

A Monocular can be surprisingly versatile as well as extremely customizable devices. Because they can be used as surveillance devices and be part of outdoor/ survivalist kits, many monocular come with added features and if they do not come with ones, they have the possible options of adding certain additions to your favor.

  • Image capturing – using your night vision monocular as a night vision camera
  • Video recording capabilities if you decide to film your night vision adventures
  • Connect to PC and TV via a USB cable – file transfer
  • Micro SD card slots – extending the space and the number of videos/pictures your monocular can fit into itself (if image capturing and video recording is a present feature)


No matter the budget you decide to spend on a night vision monocular, the discussed features are the most important things to consider and further pay attention to – even if you are just getting to know night vision devices and how they operate but still want to buy yourself one.

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