Over the years, the concept of the night vision becomes more and more popular. Almost everybody, interested in night vision in general or not, has probably seen what night vision is about – your favorite action movie for example. But let’s be honest – the night vision devices you see in movies and how they operate is quite different and way over-exaggerated.
First and foremost, look at night vision this way – although there are hundreds and hundreds of different night vision models and devices, all night vision devices are split into only two categories – a Thermal Imaging based night vision device and an Image Enhancement night vision device.
When we are talking about a night vision setup – the thing to be considered are the three-night vision types which are Mono, Dual or Pano.
Night Vision Goggles
To know how and why to choose from which type of the three to pick – let’s compare each type’s advantages and disadvantages:
Pano, Panoramic Night Vision Goggle (GPNVG-18) is an extremely serious device as well as an extremely expensive one. Even though its specifications and power are crazy compared to Mono or Dual devices, the price range of the Pano device is also out of this world.
So for an average civilian or a night vision enthusiast, the average price of a Pano would be around 40,000 USD. This is definitely a ridiculous amount to spend on a night vision device with the sole intent of entertainment. This basically removes Pano out of the way which leaves us to Mono versus Dual devices.
Dual, The first thing that would come in mind to the average civilian or enthusiast would be the price range. It would be logical that the Dual device would be a bit pricier because of its performance compared to a mono device for example.
On average the price range of the Dual devices varies around 8,000 USD, which can still be considered quite high. In comparison this is the amount of money people spend on a car for example.
Mono, If budget is a big concern for you, the Mono devices would be the right choice for you. Its logical that you will sacrifice performance but the price of a Mono device is much more doable for most people – price varies from 2,000 to 3,000 USD.
If comparing the field-of-view (FOV) of both types of devices – they offer pretty much the same which is a 40-degree angle view. If we are looking at performance in general – the dual night vision devices can be considered better.
Mono devices only cover one eye of the user and the user has to rely on using only one eye while with a Mono device the user of the night vision has the advantage of using both of his eyes.
This makes it that much easier for the brain to perceive the night vision image better – seeing with one eye wouldn’t be as comfortable compared to seeing with both of your eyes right?
If we are talking about an inexperienced night vision user or a newbie, that would be the case. But if we add experience and certain training into the equation, things get a bit different. The Mono device is much more practical and lighter and if used by a user that has a bit of a night vision usage experience, he will definitely be able to perform much better than a user with a Dual device.
Popular Dual and Mono Devices
The dual night vision range is very wide. An honorable mention which is very famous amongst the dual night vision devices is the PVS-15 device or also seen as M953. It is a very lightweight device that combines top-notch performance with lightweight and comfortably.
The Harris night vision brand is also a very good pick amongst the dual devices. The Harris dual night vision devices emphasize on tactical advantages under low and no-light conditions. They are designed to be more powerful at close ranges and also offer integrated IR illuminators, for when there is no ambient light present.
Other honorable mentions that deserve a look when we are talking about the dual night vision devices are the brands Sightmark, Night Owl, Luna Optics, Yukon tracker and Solomark.
The biggest contender in the Mono device world is the PVS-14 device, which can be considered the face of the Mono night vision devices. This device is perfectly balanced and offers its user top-notch performance under tougher weather conditions. Comfortability is not sacrificed when we are talking about the PVS-14 also – it is very versatile and can be head mounted, weapon mounted or just used manually.
To conclude both types and the war of both types of devices – generally speaking, especially if we are talking about unexperienced night vision users or enthusiasts – the better choice to get your hands on would be the Dual device. Although pricier than the Mono devices, it is much easier to get into and does not require any past experience or training with a night vision device for you to start using it at its peak performance as soon as you buy it.
During your investigation into finding your way into getting to know the night vision devices, you will definitely meet the term Generations. Basically, Generations can be simply explained as the ‘’ levels’’ of how each night vision device progresses. Starting from Generation 1 to Generation 4, but it’s important to take a look into each Generation as every Generation differs itself from the next one.
Although the most popular Generation, it is the most basic one also. A device that is categorized as a Generation 1 unit simply provides the user with a bright sharp image at a low cost which is perfect if you want to get into night vision but budget is a big concern for you.
This generation is where improvements start to come into play. The price difference between Generation 2 and Generation 1 is around 1,000 USD. The main difference performance-wise is that there is an addition of a micro-channel plate which is commonly known as a MCP.
The MCP has a purpose of better light amplification and is placed behind the main tube/s of the night vision device. This additional tool allows 2nd generation night vision devices to perceive and amplify more light compared to Generation 1 and gives the user an even more brighter, sharper and contrasted picture.
Generation 2 IIT
Generation 2 IIT is a slightly improved version of the Generation 2. They have a slightly higher quality than the Generation 2 and bring excellent brightness and resolution. Each of the device’s tube has a micro channel plate, a multi-alkaline photocathode and a built in power supply.
Generation 2 CGT IIT
Generation 2 CGT IIT adds image intensifier tubes for the Generation 2 devices that are designed to further enhance the performance over the current Generation 2 mentioned IIT’s. The CGT IIT is a multi-alkali compact format image intensifier. This highlights the CGT specifications as an improved version of the Generation 2 IIT. The CGT IIT Generation 2 devices are more sensitive to low light and provide a stable contrast under different weather circumstances.
Generation 2 HPT IIT
Generation 2 HPT IIT brings tubes that are an upgrade from the CGT Generation 2 tubes. They are also a multi-alkali compact format MCP Image Intensifier. The HPT tubes increase resolution, light sensitivity, signal to noise ratio also seen as SNR for short, and an additional function called a Modulation Transfer Function or MTF in short. Those improvements result in an excellent image clarity as well as perfectly synchronized brightness. Most HPT specifications are equivalent to a standard Generation 3 devices.
Generation 3 is an even more improved Generation 2 – you can look at it that way. But how improved actually? There is an added sensitive chemical to all Generation 3 devices, a chemical that isn’t present in the Generation 2 devices.
This chemical is called gallium arsenide which is built into the tubes of the device – the result is an even better, improved picture with an improved contrast, brightness and sharpness of the received image. But this is not the only improvement that the Generation 3 brings to the field of the night vision devices. There is an additional ION barrier coat that greatly increases the tube life and the overall life and performance of a Generation 3 device.
Generation 3 Standard IIT
The standard Generation 3 IIT tubes that are added into this generation offer top-notch quality. They have a micro channel plate, self-contained integrated high voltage power supply which results in much longer life span. Those Generation 3 tubes provide the perfect balance of improved resolution, signal to noise ratio as well as photo sensitivity over tubes that are based on a multi-alkali photo-cathode – the technology that is present in the Generation 2 tubes.
Generation 3A Premium Select IIT
This premium select IIT tube of the Generation 3 has the highest quality of the IITs of the 3rd generation, no doubt. These IITs are hand-chosen to provide its user with the highest quality and specifications. They have a micro channel plate, GaAs photocathode and an integral high-voltage power supply for extremely durable and long lifespan of the device itself.
Generation 3P IIT Pinnacle
This term is used for Generation 3 tubes that use the ITT Pinnacle technology. The industry that developed the ITT Pinnacle image tubes utilizes a gated power supply while providing truly top-notch performance in high-light or light-polluted areas – mostly urban areas.
The Pinnacle tube has a gated power supply that minimizes any ‘’halo effects’’. This mentioned Halo effect is most commonly associated with the usage of night vision devices in an urban area where random street lights can be a possible issue with a Night vision device. Night vision units that rely on the Pinnacle technology have a very specific resolution setting and a typical signal to noise ratio. All night vision devices that implement Pinnacle into its use are not available for export. A signed export from the company of Pinnacle and an end-user agreement statement is mandatory prior to further shipping of those units.
This technology represents the biggest technological breakthrough when we are talking about image intensification/enhancement technologies in the past 10 years. By removing the mentioned ION barrier film and the ‘’ Gating ‘’ system, the Generation 4 devices provide a substantial increase in target detection range, resolution and detail density at extremely low light conditions.
But with this generation, it’s not only the performance that goes up – the price goes up significantly also. The ridiculous price range for a Generation 4 device makes it very unpractical and a huge ‘’overkill’’ for the average civilian or night vision enthusiast. This Generation is only used with the intent of military missions and military enforcement.
Generation 4 Gated/Filmless IIT
Autogated or Filmless image intensifier tubes which are present in this Generation improve night vision effectiveness mainly for users that rely on night vision goggles. The filmless micro-channel plate provides a higher-than-usual signal-to-noise ratio than standard Generation 3 devices, which results in better image quality under extremely low-light conditions while maintaining a reduced halo effect that minimizes interferences of different unnatural light sources.
The reduced Halo maximizes the effectiveness of the Night vision devices that use the Gated/Filmless IIT in dynamic lighting conditions – nighttime operations in urban areas for example.
While looking at the facts and specifications of each Generation, if you have a more flexible budget and want the bang for your buck when talking about performance, the best choice for you would be the Generation 3 device as it brings top notch performance as well as a reasonable and doable price compared to the average pricing of Generation 4.
White Vs Green Phosphor Technology
The Generation 3 devices can be further split into two categories – a white phosphor based device and a green phosphor based device. Basically, the color that is received by a Generation 3 device comes from the mentioned phosphor used.
That is mandatory component for the night vision device and is used in the tubes of the night vision device. Simply put, when a photon of light enters the tubes of the device, it is greatly multiplied. This is basically how all night vision devices that use image enhancement work. But the color of what the image will be perceived by the user of the device is affected by one of the two types of phosphor used in the tubes of the device. The use of a phosphor called P45 will create white images while a phosphor called P43 will create green images.
Based on different user feedback through the web, the white phosphor devices are considered to have a slight increase in picture contrast. There are also different feedback that while using white phosphor Generation 3-night vision device, the image appears to be more natural in black and white compared to the traditional black and green image that is received with the green phosphor technology.
When we talk about night vision in general – one of the main features of a device of this kind would be comfortability. This is where the mounting options come into play. In general, the mounting options of night vision devices are split into three categories – Scull Crushes, Helmets and simply manual use or Handheld – let’s take a deeper dive and pay attention to each mounting category.
Skull crushes mount
Skull crushes are head mounts that do not require a helmet to be used and are very adjustable with the purpose of being able to fit into the specific head type of the user of the night vision device and the head mount itself of course.
A great and widely known example for a Skull crush head mount would be the Raptor Tactical Sentinel Skull Crusher. The Raptor Tactical Sentinel Skull Crusher is great non-helmet night vision mounting system. It’s extremely lightweight design and comfort and soft padding allows you to navigate obstacles with ease while avoiding fatigue. The Sentinel Skull Crusher provides hands-free use with many different types of night vision devices. Perfect for night hunting, star gazing, or simply finding your way around the house at night even! It is a one-size-fit device that has an incredible amount of adjustment to fit you perfectly.
Handheld or Manual Use
Handheld mounting option is pretty much self-explanatory. If you are willing to use your night vision device manually instead of mounting it on your head with a skull crusher or on an additional helmet, then this is your best choice.
The most popular and superior as well as most commonly used would be the Helmet mount. This is a mount that with the addition of another device, you can mount your night vision gear. Some night vision devices come with built in strap that can be mounted on a helmet also.
An excellent example and a popular night vision device that is almost always helmet mounted is the Pulsar GS Super 1+ Night Vision goggles. Those head-mounted goggles will easily last more than 1500 hours with a fully charged battery. You can freely go for several nights without having to recharge your helmet, making for a convenient device if you are willing to go on longer nighttime adventures. This would be great for camping trips or any project where you don’t always have any access to a charging port.
The goggles and helmet combined weigh only around 400 grams, which is a very lightweight option. Since you’d be wearing this on your head for a longer duration, the lightweight of the overall device is a great advantage. With Pulsar providing this device, you know that you’re in good hands. This company is renowned for providing its users with top-notch quality regarding night vision equipment for all of the user’s needs. Their equipment has been used by security forces as well as for outdoor excursions even.
With everything said, this is a Gen 1 device where the main focus of the device itself is one – clarity of the image. The Generation 2 or Generation 3 options might give better performance, but this is a budget option that can be just as useful. You’d be getting a clear vision and adjustable brightness settings over a wide range of 100 meters, which is a bit above average if we are talking about Generation 1 devices.
The Best Bang For Your Buck
we are talking about the perfect balance between price and performance this is where Generation 3 shines. A perfect example for an outstanding helmet mounted device representing Generation 3 would be the Night Optics’ USA Patrolman 1X. Those helmet-mounted goggles are everything the night vision enthusiast needs – top notch performance, versatility, picture quality, brightness and contrast of the image as well as a very long battery life and overall lifespan of the device itself. The maximum detection range of this device stands out in between other devices with the impressive range of more than 380 yards or around 350 meters!
Another good example for Generation 3 that is worth taking a look at and mentioning is the ATN PVS7-3 Night vision helmet-mounted goggles. This device has one feature that stands out amongst its other features – its extreme lightweight prevent for any kind of head fatigue, no matter the duration of usage of the device. The ATN goggles are overall a robust, multipurpose but overall dependable device that provides the user with an excellent experience.
An advantage for this specific device is its ability to work under tougher-than-normal weather conditions. There is a built-in infrared illuminator to back up that statement so that when there is close to no ambient light present, receiving an image won’t be a problem. An added-in switching function will make sure that the user of the device is always aware of the battery indicators and their remaining lifetime as well as the condition of the infrared illuminator.
While we are talking about helmet mounts in general – lets pay a little bit of a deserved attention on the mounted helmets themselves. They are categorized into two types – Ballistic and Non-ballistic helmets.
The Non-ballistic helmets are at a much lighter weight compared to the ballistic ones, but are way softer and not as protective as the ballistic ones.
The Ballistic helmets are more robust, tougher and heavier. They have an additional coating that is not present with the Non-ballistic helmet and provides its users with much better protection, but at the cost of weight – the Ballistic helmets are much heavier hence comes the possibility of fatigue to develop overtime with the user if the helmet plus the additional weight of the mounted night vision device are worn over longer periods of time.
So far, we have covered two of the three main devices that are needed to create a helmet mount – the night vision device and the helmet itself. But there is one crucial component that isn’t talked about still – the thing that combines the night vision device and the helmet into one, the mount itself.
Mounting process and mounting options
Before we start looking at different mounting options, it is needed to comprehend how a mounting process happens. Overall it’s a simple process – there are 3 categories of mounts that are used when mounting night vision gear on a helmet so the whole mounting process consists of three elements.
The J-arm is simply a unit that thread on or just clips onto your Night vision device. The so called term ‘’ J-arm’’ actually refers to a specific part that is used by US special forces and their PVS-14 monoculars. This part determines whether the Night vision will be in front of your right or left eye, while there is a variety of options depending on the Night vision device’s mount
This is the cost common one and is also called the ‘’ Rhino-arm’’ mount. It’s hinged part is used to flip up or down to have your night vision device fast out of your sight. The angle of the night vision and the actual distance it will sit away from your eyes Is manually controlled and adjustable. Brands like Wilcox, Norotos and Cadex all make more enhanced flip mount components for users that require manual locks or a much wider range of motion of the mount itself.
This is simply a square bracket that is permanently attached to your chosen helmet. Sometimes they are screwed into the helmet, connected to the helmet with straps or even molded into the material of the helmet during the creation of the helmet itself. This type of mount is not designed to be quickly removed, if possible to be removed at all even. The different shroud mounts are designed to fit different shapes and sizes of helmets while offering a very improved stability.
The mount should be very reliable during all sorts of movement and stressful situations – so sacrificing quality of a head mount with the purpose of trying to squeeze into a tighter budged would be a definite no-go for a night vision setup. One-night vision mount brand should be mentioned, as they never skimp away on the quality of their mounts and their mounts’ reliability under different situations and drastic movement – Wilcox. More specific, we will take a look at Wilcox’s two head mounts that are considered top-notch L4G11 and L4G24.
- The L4G11 is a very solid upgrade to your night vision plus helmet setup. The L4G11 works perfectly to distribute the weight on the helmet itself a lot better than the average rhino arm that is commonly used to mount night vision devices on helmets. The weight distributing works perfect for avoiding head fatigue during longer wears. The L4G11 has almost no increase in the height of the helmet setup so the user wouldn’t bang his mount or expensive night vision device into hanging door ways. So if you are not looking to spend crazy amounts of money on a rhino arm helmet mount, the L4G11 is an excellent and affordable choice for you – the price range goes for around 265 USD for a new device and around 200 USD for a used one.
- The L4G24 is a further upgrade from the L4G11. Not only when we are talking about functionality, but also an additionally added in NOD feature. This feature will make the user feel a lot sturdier using this system. The difference between the L4G11 and L4G24 is that it uses the so called ‘’dovetail’’ mounting system. This requires the user to actually purchase a different arm for the mounting of a helmet as the L4G24 is not compatible with just any standard arm mount. The L4G24 actually has a slightly different operation compared to the L4G11. Instead of using force to bring the NOD down, there is a side button that does the job for you. This convenient feature allows the user to press it and the whole arm swings down and clicks right into its place.
A feature that is worth taking a look into when we are talking about stability is the suspension system with helmet mounts. This suspension system for helmet mounts provide the user with an enhanced stability and adjustability for installation in helmets from different brands and different models. A suspension system most commonly includes an upward stabilizing component that extends from a supporting portion of the suspension system itself and is pivotally attachable.
This pivotal attachment between the stabilizing component allows the suspension of the helmet to be adequately incorporated into helmets during their manufacturing process, while providing versatility, flexibility and delivering the perfect fit for the specific shape and size of the user’s head. The suspension systems are categorized into 5 types:
A single-piece aesthetic suspension system that of one main mesh crown pad for a soft and comfortable fit for the head with completely adjustable straps and water-proof nylon woven interior.
A fully-adjustable 4-point chinstrap suspension system that can fit a wide variety of head sizes – even adjustable for smaller head types like kids for an example while adding an additional flexible harness system and a specific design for excellent comfort.
A 3-point chinstrap suspension system that results additional stability for intense movement and rapid head movements
A 4-pint chinstrap system with additional impact protection for different scenarios including military static-line airborne operations as well as an easily adjustable manual mechanism that provides for a very comfortable and snug fit to the head.
A 4-point system with an enhanced ballistic protection. With this type of suspension system protection is a number one component.
Even though it may fatigue inexperienced users as the ballistic cover weights more than normal suspension systems – protection will definitely always be on point and present.
This system has a special additional head band that isn’t present with other suspension systems as its required to have an additional head band because of the higher weight of this type of system – avoiding a loose fit and possibly moving from the head of the user during rapid head movements and intense movement like running for example.
Importance of Proper Helmet Adjustment
Adjusting your mounted helmet correctly should always be the priority. No matter what the scenario for using a mounted night vision device would be, the correct adjustment of the mount is always recommended. Adjusting the chin straps to fit the size of the head and testing out the mounting component beforehand to see if the night vision device falls perfectly on your sight must be a crucial step before going into any kind of night time adventure.
Adjusting your setup is very important not only performance wise but also good for the sake of the setup itself. Imagine rushing into using your night vision setup without the proper head adjustment. There could become some complications that can be avoided. If the setup is not adjusted correctly, the performance of the night vision device may hinder as it would not fall perfectly on your sight, making night vision images appear not exactly as you want them.
During rapid head movements and running, if the setup is not adjusted properly, the helmet can get looser and looser on your head without you even noticing it and the night vision device can fall off your head, creating the possibility of permanently damaging your night vision device just for a few minutes of not paying attention or being too excited to immediately start your night time adventure without taking a minute and adjusting your night vision setup properly – a very crucial step to avoid further ‘’headaches’’.
Dominant versus Non-dominant eye in Mono devices
We talked about the importance of proper adjustment, centered around the helmet mount itself. Dual night vision devices use both eyes, so you don’t have to choose an eye to use it with, but this isn’t the case with Mono devices. With the Mono devices, you need to carefully chose on which eye the night vision device will rely on.
On different feedback from users, some people perform better using their non-dominant eye. On the other hand, others perform better using their dominant eye. Here the case is pretty much trial and error, so you have to try for yourself. But most commonly, the Mono device is set up to be used with your non-dominant eye.
At first glance, that could not make much sense, but if we dig deeper into this statement we will definitely find out why this is so. Using your non-dominant eye as an ‘’enhanced’ night time vision works better. The principle is that your more powerful and dominant eye sees without enhancement and is pretty much still in the game.
It could detect possible things that you won’t be able to detect with night vision for example. However, the non-dominant eye gets a vote as well, as it has the enhanced picture on its side. This way the brain of the user will basically ‘’meld’’ the two images together. This will result in an enhancement and compensation for the loss of the non-dominant eye with the night vision, pretty much making your dominant and non-dominant eyes both DOMINANT.
First and foremost, after purchasing your first night vision device there is some time for every user, new or experienced to get used to that new device. If you are accustomed to using daytime optics, there are some things that you have to ‘’unlearn’’ if it became a habit for you to be able to efficiently get into using a night vision.
But even before starting to try and get used to using your Night vision device, you have to get to know your way around the device itself as well as its controls and indicators.
- Controls – Generally, night vision devices have three main controls: ON/OFF switch, an eyepiece focus and a front lens focusing. Some night vision models have different and separate switches for their main power.
If there is a present IR illuminator, there could be an additional control button for it, while others have one single switch that basically switches both the IR illuminator and the night vision device itself on and off.
These switches also control light-indicators. Those Light indicators are a Green LED for the main power source and a red LED for the IR illuminator’s power source. It is crucial to be aware of your LED’s at all times, knowing the level of power on the night vision device.
The IR illuminator is not visible to the naked eye and leaving it on could unnecessary drain the batteries without you even knowing it. Some different models also have an IR illuminator that has additional controls for adjusting and narrowing down the beam of the IR illuminator.
After we covered the controls and buttons of the night vision device, let’s get back to focusing. Focusing your night vision device is pretty much a two-stepped process.
First and foremost, the user of a brand new night vision device must focus his eyepiece. The simplest way to do that is to set the eyepiece in a lit environment first, without removing the Protective Lens Cap avoiding permanent damage to the device.
It won’t matter if the objective lens is in complete focus at that time to be able to tell when you have the right focus for your eyepiece. You just have to find out where the image is the sharpest or at least where you think it is the sharpest in comparison.
Once set, this focus should not be changed for the user as the distance from the eyepiece o the phosphor screen will be set.
Some units, however have very lose focusing rings and for this case, a small piece of simple electrical tape will keep the focusing ring in its place. Once your eyepiece if set up correctly, the only objective left to do is to adjust the focus on different observed objects and areas. A fourth-control is present on some night vision devices which acts as an instant set-up – which actually may be the case for you if you are in a big hurry and excitement in wanting to try your night vision device immediately.