Home Buyer Guides A Definitive Buyer’s Guide To Night Vision Rifle Scopes

A Definitive Buyer’s Guide To Night Vision Rifle Scopes


looking through night vision rifle scope

We Recommend:

ATN X-Sight ( Read 199+ Amazon customer reviews)

ATN Mars 4x

Night Optics D 730

Armasight Vulcan

Night vision technology has seen a rise in demand as it has rapidly improved in the last decade. In response to the war on terror and the issuing of night vision optics to nearly every soldier and Marine on the ground and in the rough stuff. Night vision technology has become much cheaper, and much more accessible for civilians, and while it’s still pricey, compared to a decade ago it is downright affordable.

A major category of night vision users is hunters. While hunting at night is often illegal for most game, a variety or vermin, and predator hunting is perfectly legal to do at night in most localities. The rise of feral hogs across the American south has plagued property owners and farmers for years, and now most states have very lax rules on hunting them, and the use of night vision to hunt these beasts is incredibly common.

Please check out this website for a great overview on your state night vision and nighttime hunting laws.

Outside of hunting, night vision has a variety of different useful functions. For those with large stretches of land they can be invaluable for property protection, and this goes the same for private security. Also, let’s not forget how much fun night vision is to shoot with, it’s awesome when paired with an IR laser and be able to engage targets regardless of the light conditions. Outside of those dedicated night vision users there isn’t a lot of guidance of advice on buying these optics. Most people aren’t willing to toss hundreds, or even thousands of dollars into the wind hoping they get the scope that will fill their needs.

ATN x-sight night vision
ATN X-Sight
ATN Mars 4x Gen3
ATN Mars 4x
Armasight vulcan
Armasight Vulcan
Magnification: 5-18x4x2.5-5x
Type: Generation 1Generation 3Generation 2+
Eye Relief: 2.6 inches1.7 inches
1.7 inches
IR: Built-in and detachable450IR and detachableDetachable Long Range IR
Recognition range: Up to 150 yards w/ IR ( maximum)Minimum (Cloudy night) – 150 yards-
Weight: 2.7 lb2.9 lbs1.6 lbs
Product Page:Click HereClick HereClick Here

How Nightvision Actually Works?

Long story short:

Night vision amplifies existing light to provide the user with a clear picture in low situations. In a completely dark room, with absolutely no light, night vision is quite useless. This light can be as subtle as moonlight or as expansive and technologically based as active infrared lamps.

breakdown of night vision scope parts: ocular lens, photo multiplier, photocathode, phospor screen,, image intensifier, objective lens


Longer story, more detailed explanation:

The objective lens take ambient light and tosses it through this special tube, known as the image intensifier tube. This system applies power to the image tube components, and the light(photons) is converted to electrons. The process continues through tons of microchannel in the microchannel plate. As the electrons pass through the microchannels they are multiplied over and over, creating thousand new electrons. These electrons exit the microchannels and smash into a screen that is coated with phosphors (They make the image green). The electrons interact with the phosphors and create photons, but thousands more than the tube originally absorbed. This creates the exact same picture originally seen, but the light is amplified and allows the user to see in the dark, albeit a generally green image.

Understand The 4 Generations of Night Vision

Understanding the generations of night vision is one of the more important technical aspects of understanding night vision. Nightvision is split into 4 generations, although some do argue there are only three generations. Since the industry itself defines a fourth generation it is the opinion of this article that such a thing does exist.

gen 0 nightvision
GEN-0 Used by US army in World War II

There is also a Gen 0, a very early, very ineffective, and very large night vision system, that as far as I know is only available as an expensive antique for collectors. For this article, we will discuss generations 1 through 4. These Generations represent differences in clarity, performance, light amplification, and of course, price. The higher the generation the higher the performance or course cost follows the performance.

Gen 1 technology is what we used in Vietnam, with the early Starlight scopes ( AN/PVS4). These huge scopes have been shrunken down considerably in Gen 1 devices. These scopes were the first to rely on passive infrared. These scopes do need some moon or starlight to work, without it these are poor performers. Gen 1 scopes are not for serious applications, or anything high risk. These optics are good for some vermin and predator hunting, but tactical applications are not recommended.

Gen 2 Technology is where we see the largest jump in clarity, size, and overall performance. Gen 2 was when we began seeing small, portable, lightweight optics. Some inspiration for Gen 2 went to current Gen 1 scopes in terms of size. Gen 2, and especially the Gen2+ occasionally known as Gen 2.5 are still completely sufficient for tactical operations. Gen 2 is still used by some noncombat troops and reservists.

Gen 3 is what we are currently seeing issued to most combat arms troops. Gen 3 technology further refined gen 2 scopes, and while they didn’t exactly redefine night vision technology. The resolution and clarity of these optics are improved significantly, as well as the sensitivity and necessary light needed to work effectively.

Gen 4 is still rare and difficult to find on the civilian market. Gen 4 optics removed the protective coating on the microchannel plate. This was found to improve clarity and performance by 20 percent conservatively. The main issue is that this protected film was actually protecting something, and removing it decreased the tube’s life. These tubes are not capable of lasting the ten thousand hour tube life required by the Department of Defense.

 5 Performance Factors

While someone can buy by generations and generally find what they are looking for when searching for a night vision binocular, or monocular; scopes are a bit different. Scopes are designed to hit a target, not to simply observe it. A variety of different factors determines the scopes quality within its generation. These generations are scales, with minimal acceptable standards. On these scales, one Gen 3 scope can rate quite differently than another.

Clarity – The resolution of an optic is quite critical for hunting, and tactical operations. Simply put if you can`t positively identify your target you have no business pulling the trigger. Resolution is measured by lines per millimeter (Aka LP/MM) for most night vision scopes. The higher the lines per millimeter the greater the clarity will be. For example, the overall excellent Armasight Nyx 7 Pro 3 has an outstanding 64-72 lp/mm.

Range – With night vision scopes you must know your necessary recognition range. Night vision technology is not to the point where it functions like a rifle scope, with the ability to see over thousands of yards. The total range is not near as important as the recognition range of a night vision scope. When purchasing a scope, look for the recognition range over the total range. Typically longer optics are better at producing more light, Range is often measured by the amount of ambient natural light. Manufacturers will release recognition ranges for full moons, quarter moons, starlight only, and overcast ranges. Since night vision requires light you’ll notice that the range decreases as you go down the scale. A scope that can have a recognition range of 600 yards in a full moon may only have a recognition range of a 100 yards with an overcast sky.

Ergonomics – When it comes to to night vision scopes they are no different than regular scopes in a few ways. Weight is weight, so a heavy night vision scope is still heavy. The higher the magnification usually means the optic is going to be bigger and heavier. If you are doing a lot of brush hunting, and off hand shooting, you may want a lighter optic. A heavy optic will be harder to aim, uncomfortable, and it will slow the speed of moving the weapon around.

Durability – Another really important consideration. Let’s face it, spending hundreds to thousands of dollars on a scope is a major investment. Adding electronics, tubes, and specialized devices, to an optic and you have a higher potential for failure. You need to recognize your optic’s limitations. Is it waterproof? Remember these optics rely on electronics, so water can easily shut them down if they aren’t waterproof. Also what amount of recoil is the scope rated for? Again, small, sensitive electronics are easily damaged. Some optics can withstand that 300 Win Mag, other cannot.

Infrared Illuminators ( IR )

Does your optic have an infrared illuminator, or can it attach one? An infrared illuminator allows the user to shine an infrared light, which makes night vision a bit brighter. It is especially handy in those nights where it’s nearly pitch black. These illuminators have a limited range, though, and often the larger they are, the more powerful they are. If you are buying a night vision rifle scope, it may be a wise decision to purchase an attachable, or a handheld illuminator, or even spotlight.

Night Vision Scope Weaknesses

One major weakness of scopes is reflecting light. This light reflection makes it difficult to see clearly at longer ranges. Rain, for example, reflects light in a night vision optic. Also, think about driving in the fog, and how effectively fog reflects light.

Depth Perception– Depth perception is affected by night vision significantly. Luckily with an optic you are using it to aim at a specific threat, not walk around and attempt to navigate with.

Dew– If you live in a humid environment where dew is prevalent you’ll find this dew will reflect light, especially moonlight, This can make it difficult to distinguish shapes in the brush.

Own the Night

Night vision is a fantastic device and can work wonders in tactical situations, and goes hand in hand with dedicated hunters. As night vision improves in performance and lowers in price we are bound to see more on the civilian market. Knowledge is power, and knowing what these optics can do and what is right for you can pay dividends when it comes time to make that purchase.

4 Best Night Vision Scopes Available on Market

ATN X-Sight

ATN x-sight night vision

The ATN X sight is a GEN 1 optic that has a variable magnification of either 3 to 12 power or 5 to 18 power. As a gen 1 optic is may not be suited for tactical endeavors, but it is a good option for hunting. This optic made its place on the list by being very affordable. For a little North of six hundred dollars, one can have the ATN X sight.

Another advantage of the ATN X sight is its ability to be both a day and night vision scope. This makes life a lot easier for shooters since one can transition seamlessly to day or night vision. There is no zeroing required to switch to day or night. This is where the high level of magnification comes into play. A Gen 1 night vision may not need 18 power, but a daylight scope can certainly take advantage of it.

The ATN X sight is quite affordable and is still packed with features. The user basically has a built-in heads up display that gives them a compass for easy navigation, an option to take pictures or record video. The scope is compatible with micro HDMI and micro USB outputs, as well as micro SD cards.

The lenses are high-quality HD glass that do aid in the clarity limitations for Gen 1 night vision, and the extended zoom capability does allow the user to see a bit farther than normal. The ATN X sight is a brilliantly modern optic packed full of features and it comes in at an affordable price.

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Type: Generation 1

Magnification: 5-18x

Eye Relief: 2.6 inches

IR: Built-in and detachable

Power Source: 4 AA

Weight: 2.7 lb

Recognition range: Up to 150 yards w/ IR ( maximum)

Manufacturer`s Page: http://www.atncorp.com/x-sight-night-vision-rifle-scope-5-18x

ATN Mars 4x

ATN Mars 4x Gen3

The ATN Mars 4x is a powerful, gen 3 night vision scope well suited for rifle work. The Mars is remarkably clear with an impressive recognition range. The optic makes it very easy to see the fine details of a target, up to the point where the target’s finest details are clear. The scope has a fixed 4 power magnification which is sufficient for night hunting and private security. The Mars meets or exceeds the U.S. Military standards for materials, clarity, and overall optic life.

The Mars comes with a detachable IR illuminator that attaches to a small section of Picatinny rail. This illuminator, the IR 450, is quite powerful and casts a wide beam of IR light. The Mars takes this light from the illuminator and magnifies even more, to provide a clear picture on moonless nights. The reticle can be changed to red or amber for easier viewing against a green backdrop, and functions off a single battery for up to 40 hours of use.

The design is bulky but surprisingly light for a nightvision scope. The optic does make the rifle unbalanced or bog it down. The design is completely waterproof, which is an excellent feature to have on something made for field use. The night vision scope is capable of being submerged to 66 feet before it takes any water damage. The ATN is an extremely nice optic, that provides a clear, and bright sight picture, and is priced appropriately.

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Type: Generation 3

Magnification: 4x

IR: 450IR and detachable

Power Source: 1×1.5V AA or 1x3CR123A

Weight: 2.9 lbs

Battery Life: 1.5V 40 hours or 3V 55 hours.

Recognition range: Minimum (Cloudy night) – 150 yards

Resolution: 64-72 lp/mm

Eye Relief: 1.7 inches

Manufacturer`s Page: http://www.atncorp.com/nightvision-riflescope-atnmars4x-3

Night Optics D 730

Night Optics USA 730

The Night Optics USA D 730 is a gen 2+ optic that is relatively small and compact for a night vision scope. The design resembles more of a typical rifle scope than a night vision optic, which is appealing to those looking for something lightweight, and comfortable for extended engagements. The Gen 2.5+ optic does produce a well-defined sight picture that allows for clear target determination at over a hundred and fifty yards. The optic is capable of 41-60 lp/mm. The 2.5 is capable of presenting a bright picture, and the D 730 features a short section of Picatinny rail to attach an IR illuminator.

The D 730 is part of Night Optics Super lite line of night vision scopes. The scope utilizes a mixture of modern materials to produce a durable, but very light body for the scope. This super lite body is still resistant to heavy recoil, and drops, or falls. Once attached to a rifle, it’s hardly larger than a long range scope and needs only a short section of Picatinny rail to secure. This makes it easier to attach the device to a shorter carbine, or bolt action rifle. The optic’s unique zero retention system will keep the weapon zeroed regardless of rapid fire, or recoil.

The D 730 features fully multi-coated optics and a 3.7 power magnification. The scope itself was one of the first to feature quarter MOA adjustments for elevation and windage, which allow rapid and precise adjustments in the field.

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Type: Generation 2.5+

Magnification: 3.7x

IR: Optional

Power Source: 3v CR123

Weight: 19.8 oz

Battery Life: 60 hours

Recognition range: Maximum 382 yards

Resolution: 41-60 lp/mm

Manufacturer`s Page: http://www.nightoptics.com/mm5/

Armasight Vulcan

Armasight vulcan

The Armasight Vulcan may be technically a Generation 2 optic, it is capable of producing 55 to 72 lp/mm. This is Generation 3 performance, at Generation 2 pricing. This is capable because of the optics multi-alkali photocathode. Another feature that makes it so clear and so capable is the scope automatic brightness adjustments. The optic actively adjusts the image’s brightness, which provides comfort for the shooter’s eyes, and aids in image quality. The optic also has a bright light cut off, which shuts the optic off when it meets a sudden, bright light.

The Armasight Vulcan is fitted with a quick detach lever mount that allows the user to swap effortlessly between this night optic and a day optic. The mount is rock solid and attaches to any standard Picatinny or weaver rail. The optic also features a longer section of rail than most optics, this allows the attachment or larger, more powerful IR Illuminators. The optic itself does come with an illuminator, but the more options you have the better. The optic is also waterproof and coated with a rubberized housing for superior drop protection.

The Vulcan is a fixed 2.5 power optic but comes with a slip on doubler, which brings the magnification up to 5 power. The optic has a manual gain control and utilizes ½ MOA adjustments. The crosshair reticle is red, and can be manually adjusted for different brightness levels. The Vulcan is a powerful, lightweight option that provides a lot of bang for your buck.

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Type: Generation 2+

Magnification: 2.5-5x

IR: Detachable Long Range IR

Eye relief: 1.7 inches

Power Source: single CR123A Lithium or AA battery

Weight: 1.6 lbs

Battery Life: Up to 60 hours

Resolution: 62-72 lp/mm

Manufacturer`s Page: http://www.armasight.com/night-vision/night-vision-weapon-sights/armasight-vulcan-2-5-5x-gen-2-hd-mg



  1. I would be interested in your view of Pulsar’s N550 or N750 models. ATN makes great optics just looking for another perspective.

    Thanks for the article, great insight.