5 Unique Differences Between Night Vision & Thermal Scope

When comparing night vision scopes with the thermal scopes, before shelling out the cash, first make sure you are aware and understand the pros and cons of each device as well as their differences.

The value, capacities, and impediments of each and every device can change contingent upon what you need the optics to do, their main role. Before you pick among thermal and night vision optics, you have to comprehend the distinctions in the innovation of each device separately.

If you want to understand the principle of both devices individually and then talk about their differences – keep on reading to find out, as this might just be the perfect place for you to gather valuable information for both devices as well as their differences.

Firstly, have in mind and know that thermal scopes are on the principle of recognizing radiation. The higher the temperature, the more radiation something emits. Thermal scopes recognize the radiation or heat, and in light of the fact that the subject’s temperature is higher than its environment, the scope give you a picture. Since they recognize radiation, thermal scopes don’t require unmistakable light to give you a picture of your objective/target.

Since thermal scopes identify heat, you can frequently make out even little creatures in profound spread or covered by mist. The other side to that is since you are taking a look at the thermal picture, you won’t have a detailed image. It will take some time to adapt to look at a thermal picture and deciding appropriate shot arrangement – if you are a hunter for instance. Another thing to consider if you are dealing with a hunting activity – you will most likely have to adapt to dealing with your weapon after a thermal scope is applied since thermal extensions are quite heavy (heavier compared to regular night vision scopes).  The heaviness of the scope can sometimes become a bigger problem than expected – if used for a longer duration than expected, the user will definitely feel it getting heavier and heavier as time passes by and fatigues starts becoming present.

On the other hand, regular night vision scopes have a mandatory requirement – they need ambient lights to produce an image to the user. As a rule, the stars and moon will give enough light to deliver a picture, however shadows can make it difficult to see.

Current night vision optics come furnished with an IR Illuminator. If you think about it, the most adequate and suitable name for a night vision scope would be picture heightening night vision. We will further discuss the IR illuminator later –  But what if the present ambient light is minimal and the picture isn’t clear enough ? Well this is where the IR illuminator comes into play so keep reading if you want to find out about that mentioned IR illuminator.

Night vision tend to be more detailed and more natural if compared to thermal vision. Night vision has for quite some time been mounted on rifles and is progressively tough and can be used in more drastic weather conditions/ One noteworthy downside is the picture increase tubes utilized for the outer light source are extremely delicate and can be harmed easily whenever presented to bright light. Night vision extensions are utilized just during the evening and cannot be utilized during the day.

Thermal scopes can basically operate in total darkness unlike devices that fully rely on their intensifier tubes to capture low light that is already present in the environment. And thermal scopes actually overcome more than just darkness – with this technology you can clearly see through fog, smoke dust and even foliage – those last few factors are a pretty big factor and game changer in hunting situations for example.

But with the thermal scope, how exactly does simple heat offer the user a clear image?

The detectors used in the thermal scope are called Bolometer. A Bolometer is a specific device that measures the power of electromagnetic radiations through the heating of a specific object that has a present temperature, different from its environment. The Bolometer can read difference in temperature between a heat-emitting object and its background temperature and this is actually what creates the image itself – look at it as more of a thermal profile of the scenery.

So, if you’ve come this far into the topic we are discussing, you might want to stick around and keep on reading – since we got the principle of both devices out of the way, let’s talk differences, in fact lets discuss the top 5 differences between the two devices – the Night Vision Scope and the Thermal Scope.top 5 differences between the two devices – the Night Vision Scope and the Thermal Scope.

1. Pricing Range

 Most of the time, pricing is a valuable factor in choosing a specific device and its type. A good night vision scope is roughly quarter of the price of thermal scopes. That is quite the difference isn’t it?

There also is another feature that has to be considered – Do you want your thermal scope to display in color?

Both scopes can be fitted to be able to record. You would have two choices if you are looking to record – either directly to an SD card (if the specific device allows it and is SD-card compatible) or an additional extension cord that connects the scope to a camera.

There are a few factors that play a big role in both devices and are a significant difference – while we covered that the thermal scopes are quite expensive on the price, looking for the cheaper device wouldn’t always be the cheapest in the end. When we are on the side of the night vision scopes – there are major factors that actually bring the price higher such as:

  • Will the device have a compatible slot for an SD Card for recording?
  • How easy is it to simply zoom in and out?
  • Will the scope be mountable on a weapon if the purpose is hunting?

All great questions but each and every question raises the price of a night vision scope significantly. So if we answer ourselves all those questions and take for instance every single feature to be added and present to the night vision scope – comparing it to a regular thermal scope would actually pretty much even out the price of both devices.

2. Light source usage

Remembering that image intensification has a mandatory requirement of having an ambient light present – for example hunting deep into a mountain wouldn’t offer much ambient light, so for this particular instance, a thermal scope may be the better fit of the two devices.

The difference on the thermal scope compared to the night vision scope is that it would allow the user the possibility of seeing in any light condition – night or day, seeing through thick brushes and even tracking down residual heat from footprints on the ground – all possibilities that unfortunately aren’t present to the night vision scopes. Although thermal scopes have their advantages, the night vision scope also has a few tricks up its sleeve.

  • Seeing through thick mists.
  • Pouring rain and extreme humid conditions.

Although both have their powers, look at it this way as the main difference.
The thermal scope is a very delicate and special device which can be easily be permanently damaged is exposed to bright lights while the night vision scope is a much hardier, tougher device that can definitely take much more beating compared to the thermal scope.

3.Detection and recognition range

Detection refers to the distance at which a target initially appears in the image while a recognition range would be the distance required to determine further details regarding the object.

Detection range is always much greater than recognition range.

Firstly, taking a look at the night vision scope. There are a lot of different variables that can highly affect the distance that is required for a night vision scope to detect and recognition an object. Before everything else, what are you trying to see? Is it a boat on the water or just a rabbit in the woods for instance? The largest the object is, the easier it would be to be seen – common sense right? Plus, if trying to see further details of the object that you are looking at (what we understand as recognition range) or are you just trying to see if the certain object is there or not – you will be able to see the movement but won’t be able to 100% determine what the object in reality is – this is called detection range. Secondly, an important variable is the lighting condition. As mentioned, the more ambient light that is present, the better and further you are going see and make the detection and recognition range much greater and clearer. You can always see further on a night where the moon/stars are out than compared to a cloudy almost-ambient lightless night. Statistically speaking – to tell the difference between a male or a female dog or deer for example, you would need to be at approximately 75-100 yards which is give or take around 90 meters. However, if looking across an open field and there is a half-moon out, you could even see a barn or a larger house from 500 yards away!

Most models of night vision devices have a handy tool called an IR illuminator. This tool is a supplement to the night vision scope and greatly increases brightness and the distance of the detection and recognition range increases. The ranges vary with different models but roughly speaking, low energy IR illuminators can be effective for up to 100 yards and especially even more effective at 30 or less yards as the principle of the IR illuminator is that it illuminates the area of the night vision scope, invisible to the human eye, so the further you are trying to look at with an IR illuminator, the less the effect of that illumination would be – quite logical. When speaking about IR illuminators, did you know that the laser pointers we used to play with when we were younger work on the same principle as the IR illuminator – with one difference is that the laser pointer is visible to the human eye unlike the IR illuminator.

So at one point, the laser pointer loses its power and cannot be displayed if trying to look too far away – well the same case is with the IR illuminator.

On the other hand, the thermal scope uses targets that are out of the ordinary – ones that are warmer or cooler than their ambient environment. Specifically speaking, it would be visible on at least two pixels, so there would be not enough information to confirm what distance the target is at. The thermal scopes use a very different system compared to the night vision scopes. The main measurement that the thermal scopes use are pixels.

When talking about detection and recognition using a thermal scope, it could be a misleading statement especially to users without a military background. To make matters worse, back in 1950’s the thermal scope specifications were based on a much older screen-display technologies. While the standards for that time were definitely different, they have been updated from line pairs to pixels in an effort of modernizing the technology. The increasing resolution of thermal scopes has greatly shrunken the size of the DRI areas in relation to the overall field of view, compared to back then.

For example, a thermal scope would have a default resolution of 640×480 which is over 300,000 pixels. Do you know how much pixels are required for a human to detect a certain object using a thermal scope?

Guess not – it literally requires only 3.6 of those pixels while recognition range required only 230 out of the 300,000 pixels that are present This is an extremely small portion of the pixels that are used for the scope and could easily go unnoticed by the human sight. Even when the scope is magnified, the amount of details available to the user at the DRI distance is not as high as one would of expect.

4. Durability

We covered the technical part of the devices, their pricing, certain factors required for their adequate performance, detection and recognition range. But what about a very important factorDurability.

When we talk about durability of both devices look at it this way – the thermal scopes are a precise and delicate device that needs to be used cautiously and with maximum care, while the night vision scope is a more rustic, heavier, tougher and much more durable under extreme conditions.

One simple mistake with the thermal scope could be your first and last one. Exposing the thermal scope to a bright light – taking daylight for example, literally would burn and damage the system and the thermal vision scope would be unusable.

Although some thermal scopes have additional features that helps protect the scope and when exposed to bright lights instead of instantly getting damaged it turns off completely for a certain duration – most of the time you would have to be very careful not exposing your thermal scope to bright lights as it may be fatal.

The night vision scope is on the other spectre of things. It can be used throughout the day, and by it can, it doesn’t mean that it would be effective at all, but at least you wouldn’t damage your device permanently if you expose it to bright daylight.

The night vision scope can take quite the beating – using it under pouring rain, mud and thick mist and humidity – depending if the night vision scope is at its full potential and doesn’t have any damage done to it already, most of the time it would definitely stand through extreme weather conditions.

5.Usage flexibility

Depending on the activity you are looking to use your device for, each has its own sectors.

The thermal scope is mostly used in much more serious situations like military and warfare operation or chase down-hunt-kill activities – hunting.  Tracking down terrorists, wanted criminals looking for specific stolen goods and objects – all the serious stuff that require nighttime action – the thermal scopes are almost always a company for those actions.

The night vision scope can be looked at as more of a casual device – it would fit perfectly into much more casual hobbies and activities. Don’t get me wrong, the night vision scope is definitely not a toy and can still be used under specific military and warfare operations and even hunting but as well as those sectors it can be widely used as a tool for entertainment.

The night vision scope has found a great place in night time activities and entertainment. It is widely used for Nighttime nature and wildlife exploration. Ever wondered what the wildlife looks like at night? – well there are more people than you can imagine that wonder the same thing. It is also a great tool is with the wildlife you would like to go explore the stars – stargazing.


As we discussed both devices, their main technology and what they rely on to perform their best as well as mainly talking about their differences, both the Night Vision Scope and Thermal Scope can, will and for the future will continue finding their way into the usage of numerous different activities and industries as well as fitting into each and every user’s choice and preferences.

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