What are Night Vision Binoculars?
Unlike some animals, humans don’t have the amazing ability to see in the dark. That’s why you must rely on technology and specific devices to pursue your beloved nighttime hobbies. Whether you love spotting wildlife, camping, hunting, exploring caves, night navigation, night boating, and night fishing, night vision binoculars are a must-have to open that new nocturnal world.
With that, read on below as we’ve collated everything you need to know about them. From what night vision binoculars are, how they work, their main advantages, to the factors to consider when buying them, as well as some other valuable information, all these are useful in making your adventures in the darkness more enjoyable. Without any further ado, let’s begin.
How Can Some Animals See in the Dark?
Before delving deeper into night vision binoculars, you might be curious why some animals don’t need them anyway. Many wild animals like raccoons, coyotes, badgers, skunks, minks, bats, tarsiers, and mice are nocturnal, which means they are almost entirely active only during the night. Their good night vision is extremely helpful for hunting and keeping away from their predators. What’s surprising is that most of these nocturnal creatures have even better vision at nighttime than in the daytime.
On the other hand, human eyes are designed to work in the daytime and for sleeping in the dark. Our retina has receptors called cones that are responsible for seeing colored vision, and rods that are responsible for seeing at low light levels. Though human eyes have 20 times more rods than cones, we can’t still see clearly in the dark.
Yet, some animals are just built differently. Their eyes have various features that are different from ours, giving them the capability to see in the darkness. To begin with, nocturnal animals have larger eyes, and their pupils open broader than that of humans. For instance, tarsiers possess enormous eyes relative to the size of their body. Thus, letting more light in.
Apart from that, nocturnal animals also have a special part in their eyes called tapetum lucidum situated at the back of the retina. It’s a layer made of thick light-sensitive, reflective cells that acts like a mirror and bounces light back to the retina, giving a second opportunity to the rods to absorb light. As a result, it immensely improves visual sensitivity even when there are small amounts of light. Chances are you might have pointed a flashlight at a cat or dog and seen their eyes glow. That’s light reflecting off the tapetum lucidum.
Lastly, nocturnal animals also possess more rods compared to daytime animals, giving them far greater ability to see at night. Of course, night vision isn’t the only thing they need to survive in the dark. They use it along with heightened senses, such as smell and hearing, to find food and get around in the dark. Still, it’s fascinating to know that as most humans start to mellow out and rest at the end of the day, some animals are just getting ready to start with theirs, thanks to their ability to see even when it’s completely dark outside.
What is a Night Vision Device?
Fortunately, there’s no stopping you should you wish to get active at night like these nocturnal animals. You can use a night vision device (NVD), also called a night optical device or night observation device, to see in the dark. An NVD is an optoelectronic device that works by amplifying available light, enabling you to see in low light conditions.
While technology has evolved much since it was first introduced in the 1930s, its functionality has stayed the same. It focuses lights towards an objective lens, which then directs to an image intensifier tube that augments and enhances the light. A photocathode then converts it into energy and projects it to a screen to create the image.
A wide array of night vision devices are available, such as night vision scopes, night vision monoculars, night vision goggles, and night vision binoculars. For more information on these different kinds of night vision tools and accessories, check out The Guide to Choosing Night Vision Equipment.
What are Night Vision Binoculars?
Night vision binoculars are night vision devices that you can use to see through using two eyes. While binoculars and monoculars don’t offer the hands-free advantage of goggles, what they offer that goggles do not is magnification. That means that they can make faraway objects appear closer, though the intensity may differ depending on the model. Meanwhile, binoculars’ biggest perk against monoculars is that they are built for both eyes, rather than the latter which can only be used with a single eye at a given time.
Four Generations of Night Vision Technology
Though NVDs function under the same basic premise, the image quality produced varies depending on the intensifier technology. With that, night vision technology is classified into four (4) generations to determine the level of performance.
Generation 1 night vision utilizes an intensifier tube that augments ambient light through the acceleration of electrons that then hits a phosphor surface same as that of a TV. Generation 1 night vision binoculars were the first type released to consumers and are deemed to be acceptable for consistent usage. Models under this generation are usually the most common and most affordable you can find in the market and are best suited for spotting or observing wildlife. Though these devices can provide decent images at close distances, they are usually restricted by lower resolutions and just an ample total visual range of around 69 meters (75 yards).
Generation 2 night vision incorporates an upgrade in the form of a micro-channel plate. This additional part multiplies the total number of electrons before it directs it to the phosphor screen. Thus, boosting gain. As they are more functional, generation 2 night vision binoculars are a preferred choice. These devices have improved image clarity, better image brightness, and increased range at around 183 meters (200 yards), making them ideal for professional use.
Generation 3 night vision includes a Gallium Arsenide photocathode, aiding the creation of a considerably more significant number of photoelectrons than the two older generations. Generation 3 night binoculars are already classified military- or tactical-grade as they are the ones used by the combat armed forces of the U.S. military. These devices have longer battery life, provide even better images, and perform much better in low light conditions. Plus, they are also a great choice for long-range viewing with a total visual range of around 274 meters (300 yards).
Generation 4 night vision eliminates the ion barrier film and gating system. Thus, increasing both range and resolution. Generation 4 night vision binoculars are the highest option as they offer the clearest image. As such, they outperform all the other generations in low-light conditions and are usually the most expensive models on the market.
While image quality increases with every generation, generation 1 night vision devices nowadays are usually more than capable to be used for most recreational and professional purposes.
Benefits of Night Vision Binoculars
Buying night vision binoculars entails enjoying various benefits. They are important for a number of good reasons:
- Better visibility in the dark: Of course, the biggest advantage of night vision binoculars is that it allows you to see clearly in ambient light or at night. These devices let you see things, which are normally invisible to the naked eye, like animals and insects lurking in the dark.
- Navigation: Night vision binoculars can also help you navigate in the dark. For instance, you can go through tunnels or dimly lit areas smoothly without causing disturbance to the occupants.
- Improved range and accuracy: Using these devices also have a better field of view and image clarity. You can clearly see any targets even from a distance, enabling you to perform any outdoor activity or hobby during dusk or dawn or at night.
- Better safety: Whether you’re walking, observing wildlife, night boating, or doing any outdoor pursuit after dark, having the ability to clearly see your path, whatever is lurking around, or any potential dangers is vital for you and your colleague’s safety.
- Provides enjoyment: Using night vision binoculars is simply enjoyable. It’s always exciting to see well in the dark, given that it’s not a normal thing that we, humans, experience. It also opens up more opportunities to do other thrilling hobbies or activities without having to worry about getting restricted by the power of the human eye.
- Lightweight and compact: Night vision binoculars are usually lightweight and compact. Thus, making them easier to carry and transport wherever you wish to go.
Why You Should Buy Night Vision Binoculars?
With such perks, you might have already been enticed to buy night vision. However, if you’re still having second thoughts. Here are some other obvious reasons why these night vision devices are a perfect fit for you:
You’re A Camper or Wildlife Enthusiast
Chances are you have already visited a national or wildlife park with your family, friends, or other hobbyists. In the daytime, you can clearly spot animals and birds around. However, some animals are nocturnal and you can also see them when night falls. That’s what makes night vision binoculars a must-have for camping trips as it allows you to observe these precious creatures as they travel or hunt food at nightfall.
You’re A Nature Lover
Navigating at night to get to the top of the mountain and catch that beautiful sunrise can be difficult. Traveling home through the woods in the dark after spending a whole day in a secluded waterfall could be challenging as well. Luckily, you can make the task easier by having night vision binoculars. You can get to any nature spot and traverse any difficult terrain with better ease and efficiency. As such, you’ll get to your destination sooner, allowing you to relish any fascinating scenery longer.
You’re A Hunter
If you’re a hunter, you know how darkness affects your accuracy. Not to mention that your targets are usually always moving. With that, it is much harder to bring a good catch home without clear views of your game. Night vision binoculars are a big help in honing your night hunting prowess. Darkness won’t be able to restrict you, allowing you to watch animals and monitor their movements better, increasing your chances to secure that shot. Wildlife officers also use night vision binoculars in areas where poaching and game hunting are banned, proving how important these devices are.
You are Security Personnel
Having night vision binoculars is also a huge plus if you’re a security worker. These devices can be a great asset when doing surveillance patrols at night in any facility, institution, or property.
You’re Fascinated by the Military
The military is important as they help ensure peace, stability, and security among different regions around the world. They protect us at all times, often even without our knowledge. Part of it is using various essential equipment that is useful in conducting surveillance, navigating in territories, and strengthening defense. Night vision binoculars are one of the tools that they use when spying or surveying enemies in the dark during surreptitious affairs. If you have a thing for the guys in uniform, a great way to experience how they work in the field is by buying a decent pair of NVBs.
Night vision binoculars can be used in a variety of applications. If you belong to any of the above-listed categories, you should no longer be contemplating why you should buy one.
Technical Specifications to Look at When Buying Night Vision Binoculars
If you’ve finally decided to buy night vision binoculars, don’t rush and get any random model you see online. Like with any equipment purchase, there are lots of technical aspects to look at to ensure that you make a smart decision and get your money’s worth.
1. Image Quality and Resolution
Image quality is one of the primary technical specifications to consider prior to buying night vision binoculars. The catch is that it is also one of the most difficult to evaluate, given that there are several factors that contribute to the resulting image quality. For instance, the generation, sensor size, and power of the light amplification unit all can affect the quality of the image. You can look at the model’s resolution as it’s the term often utilized to refer to image quality. The higher it is, the clearer, sharper the image will be.
The next thing that you should consider is magnification. However, don’t expect that to be as powerful as that of daytime binoculars. Such intensity isn’t just feasible during low light conditions. While the standard ones can provide 10x or more magnification, NVBS range between 1x to 5x optical magnification. Though the digital zoom feature is available, note that it can cause the image to get pixelated or blurry. With that, you must always look for the ideal optical magnification.
For night vision binoculars, magnifications are usually displayed as 3×40, 5×35, and so on. The first number pertains to the magnification power, while the second number refers to the diameter of the objective lens (the lens that gathers lights into the device).
Note that image quality goes down as magnification increases. For night vision binoculars, you can opt for magnification between 1x (normal vision) to 3x to get the best image quality. If you are going to observe wildlife at night, you will most probably be looking at things relatively closer to you, so higher magnification isn’t much of a problem.
3. Field of View
The field of view is the total area you can see through your night vision binoculars. It’s a crucial aspect as the wider it is, the easier it is to spot wildlife, pursue any activity, and do other actions without the need to constantly move your head and the device. You can see the field of view abbreviated as FOV and measured either as degrees or feet at 100 meters. The higher the number, the bigger the width of the area seen.
There is a correlation between optimal magnification and field of view. The higher the former, the narrower the latter. For night vision binoculars, this isn’t really an issue, given that only low-powered magnification is possible in low-light conditions.
Range refers to the distance at which the night vision binoculars can detect and focus on a target object. You need to assess what sort of range fits your preferred activity. For instance, if you’re doing wildlife viewing at nightfall, you actually don’t need a great distance. What you must consider is buying one that can give you a closer, clearer view of the animals nearby. Typically, NVBs with a maximum range of 300 to 450 feet (100-150 yards) are already more than enough.
Other Things to Consider When Buying Night Vision Binoculars
Aside from the technical aspects, there are several other considerations to take when buying night vision binoculars to ensure that you get the best and most enjoyable experience when using the device.
1. Intended Purpose
You must always evaluate why you are buying night vision binoculars in the first place. Will you use it for night boating or fishing? Do you need one to help you navigate at night? Or, are you interested in spotting nocturnal wildlife? Determining your intended purpose can help you choose the appropriate model that will suit your needs.
It’s also imperative that you purchase a pair of night vision binoculars that you’re comfortable using. Look for one that is ergonomic in design, allowing you to use it with ease. Buttons should be well-spaced, and decently sized, while the binoculars themselves must be easy to hold. Remember, if you’re not comfortable using the device, it will not be of much use.
3. Size and Weight
Be mindful that night vision binoculars can be large and heavy. While it’s something that you may not initially mind, you’ll know how hefty these devices can be once you bring them on your travels, take them to camp, or carry them when hunting. Some NVBs can weigh nearly a kilo, while others are only around 300 grams. Having a smaller, lighter, easy-to-carry pair of night vision binoculars can be a huge advantage.
4. Build Quality
In general, night vision binoculars are pretty delicate. As you’re going to use them in the dark, dropping or bumping your kit is inevitable. As you’ll be spending a considerable amount, it’s ideal to invest in a sturdy device upfront. Assess the build quality by checking the product specifications, product ratings, and reviews. Fully rubberized models are your best bet, as they can prevent damaging the technology should any mishap. If not, look for one that has solid casting with rubberized grips.
5. Water Resistance
If you’re going to take your night vision binoculars outside, especially when boating, it’s also important to get fully waterproofed models or ones with a water-resistant rating. Such devices are more durable and will certainly last longer, eliminating the need to buy replacements as often.
6. Source of Power and Battery Life
Various power options are available for night vision binoculars. Some may use changeable batteries or rechargeable batteries, or both. Of course, it’s best to go for one that uses rechargeable batteries if you’re after affordability.
Meanwhile, most models usually have at least three hours of battery life. In most activities, this is usually enough. However, if you’re planning to travel, hike, and camp for the day, you may consider getting models that can sustain extended battery life. Otherwise, you can simply bring extra batteries enough for the entire duration of your activity.
7. Day and Night Use
Though night vision binoculars don’t have the same magnification capabilities of their standard daytime counterparts, some NVBs could be used for daytime viewing, too. It is also practical as you no longer need to carry two pairs on your travel, saving up space and weight. However, bright light exposure can damage the device’s intensifier tubes, so you must first ensure that the model you’re buying allows day and night usage.
8. Added Features
Night vision binoculars also have different unique features. These may include having a central focus wheel that provides the ability to focus manually, lens coatings that prevent bright light sources like a full moon or street lights from altering night vision, or anti-fogging that ensures that cold and damp nights won’t cause the lenses and screens to fog. These added features are good to look out for when buying a pair of night vision binoculars.
Price will never be out of the picture. Depending on your needs, you can spend a few hundred or thousands on a pair of night vision binoculars. Assess where you intend to use the device. For wildlife viewing, entry-level pairs already have enough functionality to do the job.
10. Legal Restrictions
Though this might seem surprising, some state laws actually limit the usage of specific night vision devices, including NVBs. With that, it is always safe to check first for any state restrictions to make sure that you won’t get into any trouble. For example, in California, usage of night vision devices is partially approved, as you can’t buy military-grade models as a civilian.
Tips for Caring for Your Night Vision Binoculars
Once you’ve bought a pair of night vision binoculars or are already owning one, be prepared as all night vision devices require special handling and care. Safety precautions, thorough cleaning, regular maintenance, and appropriate storage are all needed to keep your night vision binoculars in tip-top condition and for you to use them for a very long time. With that, follow the tips below so that your NVB stays protected and operational.
1. Read the instruction manual.
Most models are easy to operate. As such, most people tend to skip reading through the instruction manual. Yet, it’s always important to read it before getting things started. While it’s a hefty read, the instruction manual contains all the necessary information that you need to know about the device, such as the things that can damage it, the possible dangers of operating the device, and what parts may cause harm to you or your loved ones.
Other valuable information like temperature and weather restrictions, battery requirements, and instructions on how to operate the device safely and effectively are also included in the instruction manual. So, take the time to read it. After all, it is always great to know your device by heart.
2. Avoid sources of bright lights.
Unless your binoculars are intended for day and night use, never expose your device to all and any source of mighty light, such as daylight, large flames, lamplight, flashlights, or streetlights. As earlier mentioned, these bright light sources can damage your NVDs as the optics used for them are designed for locations with little to no ambient lights. Exposure to intense lighting can lead to serious damage to both internal and external parts. When that happens, expect to spend money on expensive replacements or repairs, which are not covered by the warranty.
3. Never take the device apart.
You might be tempted to repair the device on your own, but trust us, it’s never a good idea. All NVDs are complex, delicate, and intricately constructed by trained professionals. With all the complex mechanisms inside, taking even a single part and making a mistake can be costly, causing your device to stop working permanently. Unless you have hands-on experience, you will be better off reaching out to the manufacturer for any needed repairs.
4. Know the correct voltage.
Like with other electronic devices, batteries with specific voltage are recommended for night vision binoculars. It varies depending on the manufacturer, how the equipment was designed, and its intended purpose. Make sure to use batteries that follow those recommendations, so that your device works safely and properly. Though most NVDs have a feature preventing them from working when installed with incorrect types of batteries, it’s better to prevent any risk of damage at the onset rather than regretting anything later. Make it also a habit to remove the batteries from the device when it’s not in use as they can leak and damage the equipment.
5. Watch out for high humidity.
High humidity can obviously damage your night vision binoculars. While some models are waterproof or water-resistant, others are not. Always check whether your device can be used in highly humid conditions or rainy and foggy environments. Usually, such devices are priced higher. If your equipment does not have the system to withstand moisture, you know what to avoid.
6. Handle the lenses with care.
The night vision binoculars’ objective lenses are the ones situated farthest from the eyes. These lenses are delicate and sensitive as the skin of a newborn child. They can be damaged even with a simple touch from your finger as it contains oils and microscopic debris that can break down their special coating. It’s recommended that you only use a soft, clean, non-abrasive cloth when cleaning the objective lens. You can find many cleaning kits available on the market today. When in doubt, you can also always consult the instruction manual to know how to clean your device’s optics thoroughly and safely.
7. Clean the device properly.
Apart from the lenses, you must also clean the entire unit. Again, the instruction manual is your best ally. They contain the best advice on how to clean your equipment, what types of brushes to use, and how to keep your device in great shape. Avoid using strong chemicals and abrasives, and other chemicals that may leave residue behind.
8. Store the device properly.
If you’re not going to use your night vision binoculars for a long time, don’t forget to turn them off and remove the batteries. Keep the equipment in a secure, cool, dry place and away from any exposed material wirings, high heat, or flammable materials.
Indeed, night vision binoculars are incredible tools that free us from the restraints of darkness, allowing our intrepid selves to discover what’s out there in the dark and relish all the amazing outdoor adventures it offers. Plus, it’s also great for ensuring safety, surveillance, and security purposes, making them one of the most versatile devices that you can buy today. We hope these tips help you understand more about this equipment and we hope that you get to use and enjoy one for the many years to come.