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Night Vision Binoculars: What You Need To Know Before You Buy

Even Antelopes use night vision binoculars to spot their predators
Antelopes seen using night vision binoculars to spot their predators

Even if you’ve never owned any, you’re probably at least somewhat familiar with night vision binoculars.  A necessary tool of hunters, mariners, campers, and anybody else that believes the best things in life happen long after the sun has set, they can make visible most objects that would normally be obscured in the presence of darkness.  So whether you’re scoping out a trophy buck or trying to navigate a foggy lake in the middle of the night, night vision binoculars can shed a little light on your endeavors.

Once you’ve made the decision to purchase a pair, there are a few things you should take into account before handing over your hard earned cash.  Different models and classes of night vision binoculars are available, including traditional optical lens-based versions and newer digital based models.

Optical night vision devices have been around for decades, dating back to the 1960’s.  They rely on lenses that collect small amounts of light reflected from the environment, and then intensify this effect, resulting in the image being viewable.  These types of devices come in 4 different classes, or generations.  Generations 3 and 4 are generally reserved for use by the military, but there are a few differences between Generation 1 and 2 that are worth noting:

  • Generation 1 models are less expensive than other generations, and serve well as an entry level product. They typically allow viewing up to about 75 yards away, but sometimes the images can be somewhat distorted and of a low-quality resolution.  They also usually have a fairly short battery life, and an overall shorter lifespan than other models.
  • Generation 2 products provide better resolution and crisper images, as well as viewing up to 200 yards away. The battery life is much better than generation 1 models, and has a much longer life span.  Needless to say, generation 2 products are more expensive.

The other category to consider is digital binoculars.  Relying on a lot of the same technology that digital cameras utilize, digital night vision devices offer many features and benefits that traditional optic-based models cannot.   Optic lens night vision binoculars cannot be used during the daytime, and in fact, even exposing them to daylight can substantially shorten their lifespan.  For that reason, it is suggested that they are capped and kept stored until night falls.  Optical lens products also tend to be heavier than their digital counterparts, and are more susceptible to permanent damage if dropped, due to the delicate nature of the parts used in their construction.

A favorite amongst consumers, the Bushnell Equinox Z is a high-quality pair of goggles that won’t break the bank.  Because of the digital components, these goggles can be used both during the day and at night without concern.  They’re much lighter and more durable than traditional optical models.  And while optical lens-based products, especially in the generation 2 level, can cost well over $2,000, digital binoculars provide a level of clarity and resolution that is comparable to 2nd generation models, but at a much more budget-friendly price point.  Also worth nothing is that digital binoculars can take pictures and record video, so you’ll actually have proof when you tell your friends about the huge bass that you almost caught.

Regardless of the type of night vision binoculars you decide to purchase, remember that there is a lot of advanced technology involved in these devices.  Therefore, care should be taken to keep the lenses protected from scratches, and abrasive materials should never be used to wipe them down.  Digital devices are typically weatherproof, but it’s still not a bad idea to keep them from getting too wet.  When not in use, keep your device sheathed in its protective case, and stored in a cool, dry area, and you’ll have plenty of fun-filled nights ahead of you.