Before You Buy Night Vision Goggles

 Did you know you can buy great quality Night Vision goggles for about the same price as ordinary field binoculars? And I’m talking everything you will ever need – plus some! 


Before You Buy Night Vision Goggles

Night Vision View

Most people believe they can’t afford Night Vision goggles. Most people can’t comprehend the technology and consider it only for the military and scientists. Feeling overwhelmed, they give up on owning this awesome tool.

I believe Night Vision technology is pointless unless it can be simplified and understood. And before you buy Night Vision Goggles know your options and how to make them work for you.

What Is Night Vision?

If you’ve ever searched the internet for Night Vision, you usually find a great deal of information explaining light and photons and energy. What? Do you care about all that? I don’t.

All you really need to know about how any of this effects Night Vision devices is that light can come at you in 2 different ways…


  1. Light can be Emitted – DIRECTLY. Given off from something that’s heated.
  2. Light can be Reflected – INDIRECTLY. Bounced off surfaces.


You need to know this because Night Vision devices are categorized into 2 groups depending on which light they utilize to operate…direct or indirect.

Thermal and Enhanced.

Group #1: Thermal Devices – This is equipment that utilizes heat related emitted light. This light comes directly from the object you are observing.

To describe them another way, these devices see temperature…more specifically temperature differences…very precise temperature differences!

Thermal Mold Inspection

Thermal Device – Mold Inspection

If you’ve ever had a mold-inspection performed at your house, you most likely witnessed a professional wander throughout your house with a Thermal device. He uses Thermal technology to see the moisture inside of walls relative to the warmer temperature of the wall. Notice it does NOT depend on darkness to work. Airport security scanners are Thermal devices.

This group of Night Vision device is really fantastic with many benefits. But it is also very expensive and entirely out of most people’s budget costing thousands of dollars.

Group #2: Enhancement Devices – Any device that utilizes reflected light from a source other than what you are observing is an Enhancement Device.

You can appreciate that in order to work in really dark settings, these devices gather what little light there may be, and then multiply (enhance!) it.

Have you ever heard of a ‘Starlight Scope’? This describes equipment which is capable of using the tiny amount of light from the stars that is found indirectly reflected off walls, the ground and other surfaces. Well, ALL  Enhancement Devices are ‘Starlight Scopes’!


The Enhancement group of Night Vision devices is where you find goggles and equipment for a wide range of budgets. And there are 2 types of equipment to consider in this group…

Optical and Digital.

Type #1: Optical Devices – All the ‘Generations’ of Night Vision devices that you may have heard about fall into this group. If its Generation 1,2,3 or 4…its an Optical Night Vision device.

The original concept of Night Vision was to rely on lenses (optics!) to collect as much of the small amount of reflected light as possible and then enhance this light in an intensifier-tube with light sensitive materials.

With each new ‘Generation’ of devices came improvements in intensifier-tubes and materials.

Notably, the most impressive development throughout all the ‘Generations’ came long ago when Generation 2 implemented an additional glass plate inside of the intensifier-tube to better direct the light and achieve more powerful light enhancement.

If you’re planning to spend less that $1,000 don’t go looking for affordable Generation 2 Night Vision goggles because you won’t find any! And Generations 3 and 4 are far more expensive! For that price you are limited to Generation 1.

Intensifier Tube

Generation 1 Optical Night Vision Components Showing Image (Intensifier) Tube

Did you know ALL Generation 1 devices have the same intensifier-tube made by the same company? And Generation 1+ is only a later production of the same tube!

Type #2: Digital Devices – Light processing electronics and LCDs similar to that found in digital cameras have replaced intensifier-tubes and sensitive materials.

Digital Photo Sensor

Digital Photo Sensor

Although a relatively new type of enhancement device, digital computer electronics have made impressive advancements in this field. Undoubtedly this is the area where future developments will be made as there seems to be no limits to smaller, faster or better breakthroughs.

Thankfully the lower cost of manufacturing the modern components of these scopes is mirrored in the purchase price. Excellent performing Digital Night Vision scopes are available for a few hundred dollars.

Cheap Night Vision – Generation 1 and Digital.

Clearly your budget will play a big part in the choice of device you consider to buy. So far we have eliminated all those which cost over $1,000. I wouldn’t pay half that much! Would you? And naturally you don’t want to compromise quality for price.

Let’s take a close look at our choices…

Summing Up Generation 1:

  • Is an enhancement device that gathers any small amount of reflected light available at night.
  • Is an optical device that relies on an intensifier-tube and light sensitive materials.


  1. Comes with a built-in Infrared Illuminator (an invisible light,) to really light things up in the dark. You can’t see this light, but your night vision glasses will love it!
  2. Can be incorporated with other accessories such as neck or head straps.


  1. Light sensitive materials makes them very sensitive to bright lights! In fact you should keep the larger objective lens covered at all times during the day with a lens cap, and not direct it towards very bright lights at night. This will seriously affect the life of the unit.
  2. The picture you view through the eyepiece is green and notoriously blurred around the edges due to unavoidable characteristics of the intensifier-tube and lens.
  3. Limited user adjustments are possible.
  4. Usually power hungry and can consume batteries quickly.
  5. Takes time to warm up and power down as some of those sensitive materials need to be heated before becoming effective.
  6. Can have considerable weight due to the many components required for construction.
  7. Is delicate and vulnerable to hard bumps and falls due to the fragile nature of the components.


  1. Made in the US, the entry level Night Owl Lightweight X2 Night Vision Monocular costs around $150
  2. For less than $200, you can buy the better quality X5 Night Vision Monocular which 85% of people who reviewed it on Amazon rated 4 or 5 stars. See my personal Night Owl 5x NOXM50 Night Vision Monocular Review.


Summing Up Digital:

  • Is an enhancement device that gathers any small amount of reflected light available at night.
  • Uses digital computer electronics similar to digital cameras.


  1. Usually have a video-out signal for connection to a recording device, and some models even record directly to an on-board SD memory card.
  2. Have many useful user adjustments for fine tuning performance and picture quality.
  3. Eyepiece is a small LCD similar to cameras which is usually adjustable in brightness and made to display in different colors.
  4. Sharp picture over the entire LCD display.
  5. Power efficient computer components extend battery life.
  6. Can be used during the day. Bright light does not damage any components.
  7. Comes with a built-in Infrared Illuminator (an invisible light,) to really light things up in the dark.
  8. Can be incorporated with other accessories such as a tripod stand and neck strap.
  9. Is lightweight and durable due to the lack of fragile components.


  1. I’ll let you know when I find one!


  1. Very cheap. An entry level Digital Night Vision scope starts well under $100. Although advertised as a fun toy for kids, the Eyeclops 2.0 Night Vision Binocular has many versatile features normally found with more expensive models. Amazon has had more than 100 people review this binocular and 90% of them rated it 4 or 5 stars.
  2. The best Digital Night Vision scope which boasts superior performance to Generation 2 Optical Devices costs a little more than $400. The Night Owl iGEN 20/20 is made in the US and has tons of useful features. This is my personal favorite. See my review of the Night Owl iGEN Monocular.


Unfortunately this industry has many confusing names and descriptions that can really cloud what is relevant or not. When you filter a lot of the hype as I like to do, you begin to see clearly…especially at night! 


57 Responses to “Before You Buy Night Vision Goggles”

  1. Dena says:

    Hi Tony
    I am going to the beach for 2 weeks and I am looking for a night vision monocular to be able to watch sea turtles as they nest. I saw the Night Owl one you really recommend and the Equinox. Is there something less expensive you could recommend. They will only be used once a year.

  2. Brad says:

    Hi great article and lots of information! Thank you so much for being very informative and easy to understand.

    What is a great way to see as many stars as you can using one of these tools maybe under $500?

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Brad. Thanks for contacting me, and for the kind comments.

      I have great success at looking at stars with my Night Owl iGen 20/20.

      I set it up on a photographers tripod. I find it very helpful to steady the image. And I also find that the darkest nights (without a moon,) are best.

  3. Tom says:

    I am looking for very good night vision binoculars that I can use for hunting coyotes (you hunt them at night).
    Range could be 100 to 150+ yards. Would heat sensor also work?
    Price is not as important as quality.

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Tom. Thanks for contacting me.

      OK…since you are most concerned about quality, I would suggest the Pulsar N750 Digisight Riflescope, with a side-mounted Pulsar PL79076 940 IR Flashlight Accessory.
      In my opinion, this particular setup is the ultimate night hunting tool. The Flashlight Accessory penetrates much further than the internal IR-emitter of the rifle scope while being undetectable by your target. And since you can turn off the rifle scope’s emitter, you reduce battery consumption for what really counts. Being a “digital” night vision device, you can utilize the rifle scope also during the day. Not so with “Generation-type” devices.

      If you really meant a hand-held night vision device Tom, then I would suggest you consider the Night Owl iGen 20/20.
      This is my personal favorite device that I take everywhere. It is a very robust device that performs extremely well in many conditions, albeit less suited to hunting than a rifle scope.

      “Heat-Sensor” (thermal imaging night vision) would definitely prove itself valuable for hunting. It is a matter of budget. I personally have not used a thermal device hunting, but I asked a friend who is a professional hunter for his opinion, and he recommends the Armasight Zeus 160 4-8×42 (30 Hz) Thermal Imaging Weapon Sight.

      • Tim Kirby says:

        I noticed that you did not recommend any binoculars for this application. Do you know of any that would be suitable for the same application?

        • Tony Valentino says:

          Hi Tim. Thanks for contacting me.

          Truthfully, I am still searching for a good digital night vision binocular…that I can recommend. There are several Generation 1 (intensifier tubes) binoculars available, but I find the image quality and technology-inherent disadvantages too distasteful.
          I will let you know when I find something remarkable.

  4. Carolyn Leiker says:

    My 8 yr old grandson wants better night vision goggles than the toy ones he has. Most I’ve seen are huge. I would like a recommendation on night vision goggles that are not so huge.

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Carolyn. Thanks for contacting me.

      At an entry level to decent night vision equipment that won’t break the bank and yet has the ability to last a life-time, is the Bushnell Equinox Z Monocular.

      It is a digital device. It will render far superior versatility and durability when compared with optical devices. (Optical devices are sometimes referred to as “Generation” type, or “intensifier-tube” type devices.)

      And it is a monocular, allowing full operation with 1 hand.

  5. Bonie says:

    I’m looking for night goggles/binoculars for my husband when he goes fishing. Nothing fancy or expensive. So he can watch his floats and when on the bank, where he is going. What do you recommend?

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Bonie. Thanks for contacting me.

      That’s an easy question to answer. And with Christmas coming I’m announcing this as what will surely be that special gift. So ladies listen up.

      The best night vision device available now, based on performance and list of useful features is still the Night Owl iGEN 20/20 Monocular.
      I’ve written about this particular device extensively. It is my absolute “go-to” night vision device among many. Need more convincing? Take a look at the on-line customer reviews.

      If your budget is limited, my next recommendation which boasts impressive performance though the useful list of features is not as strong…is the Bushnell Equinox Z Monocular.

      Oh…it’s going to be a merry Christmas for some folks!
      Happy holidays everyone.

    • Bonnie says:

      These are nice but really looking for something hands free. When fishing it takes two hands to reel in the big one!

      • Tony Valentino says:

        Bonnie…I get it. I don’t want to be responsible for the one that got away.

        In that case, take a look at the Armasight Vega Night Vision Goggle.
        It is a light-weight device that is built by the best manufacturer of “wearable” night vision equipment. And this particular model comes with the head-strap which I found to be quite comfortable and sturdy to wear.

  6. JPA says:

    Hey Tony, I work mainly in the field and sometimes at night and needed something to help me along, I was looking at the igen and the viper x-1 but I can’t find enough reviews on the x-1!

    I like the all-weather x1 magnification and simplicity of the x-1 and don’t really feel the need for all the igen extras like the multi color display or the image recording capabilities but I’m a bit worried regarding image quality and technology sensitivity to damage…

    Any insight will be greatly appreciated!

  7. Alex SDU says:

    I play airsoft, and sometimes we play at night.
    I was thinking about getting a NVG, but some of the cheap NVG out there use infrared LED light to ‘shine’ the area ahead, which unfortunately means that another NVG wearer could see.
    Is there a NVG that doesn’t use infrared light to illuminate the area, and not too costly?
    I’m thinking of somewhere around USD$300.

    Thanks in advance.

  8. Martha says:

    Do you have any recommendations for night vision security cameras?

    • Tony Valentino says:


      After countless hours of research for an upcoming product review on security systems, I decided on personally evaluating a system I found to have the most benefits and cost effectiveness. I chose Insteon wireless security products as they have an evolving range of wireless products that can be incorporated into a system over time and as the need arises. My experience so far has been very favorable.

  9. Gareth Sweeney says:

    I’m also looking for a pair of Night Vision Binoculars around $500. I know you recommended the Night Owl Pro NexGen Night Vision Binocular (x5). These are old fashioned intensifier tube technology…Is there any good Digital ones on the market as I would prefer digital?

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Garth. Thanks for contacting me.

      You are correct in stating intensifier tube technology is old. Newly available digital night vision is my absolute favorite and go-to device.

      See my review on the Night Owl iGen 20/20.

    • Jerry Johnson says:

      Hi Tony,
      You discounted infrared based on cost. If cost was not a factor, say up to $12K, which infrared scope would you want. I am thinking clip-on scope with hand held capability as well.


      • Tony Valentino says:

        Hi Jerry.

        I am only qualified to give you an opinion up to around $2,000 budget…this is the area which I research. Within this budget, “digital” night vision equipment is the most impressive.

  10. Jim Kirk says:

    I’m looking for military style star light night vision goggles, and I hear your recommendation is really affordable, please contact me as soon as possible, thank you Sincerely Jim K.

  11. Jahni says:

    Hi Tony,

    I’m trying to decide between the Night owl 20/20 and the armasight spark core..
    Please let me know your experience and /or suggestion


    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Jahni. Thanks for contacting me.

      I think its really a matter of your intended use…

      The Armasight Spark Core is very versatile since you can mount it on a weapon or incorporate it into head gear. But it still is Generation 1 quality “intensifier-tube” technology.

      The Night Owl iGEN 20/20 Monocular is not easily mountable, but does offer superior quality night vision capability.

      • JOHN says:

        HI TONY



        • Tony Valentino says:

          Hi John. Thanks for contacting me.

          The biggest difference is that the Night Owl iGEN 20/20 is a digital device, while the Armasight Avenger is an optical device. (See this article for details on these types of technology.)

          If you are planning to “wear” the device, then the Avenger is the better choice. And Armasight definitely leads in “wearable” hardware-technology. Otherwise, the iGEN is easily a more superior device.

      • JOHN says:

        HI TONY.

        THANK YOU.

        • Tony Valentino says:

          John, the only instance the Armasight Avenger would be better than the Night Owl iGEN 20/20 as a night vision device, would be if you were intending to “wear” the device, like on a helmet-mount.

          The iGEN 20/20 is far more forgiving to physical and environmental abuse. It gives you a very impressive “user-adjustable interface”. And it produces a better picture. Additionally, the “image capture” version you refer to is capable of recording pictures.

  12. Chia Ryba says:

    Really good blog, thank you very much for your effort writing the posts.

  13. David B says:

    Tony Hi.

    We have had an opportunity to develop a high quality 880nm range strobe that triggers on a rf sensor signal. This is mostly for border patrol, poaching and so on…

    Night vision is not typically my thing as I am more into micro cameras and traditional IR flood lights used in security.
    My question is that on these beacons we have tested them well at close range using basic modified camera gear, but for point to point surveillance at a range of 1-1.5 miles I’m wondering what’s best. Given the strobes emit a huge pulse from 8 LEDs, I’m wondering what should do the trick to simply be able to wear or use that would easy pick up on these when they trigger in a valley floor scenario with watchers up top?

    Once I understand the logic of whether assisted night vision is needed or not will help me further I guess.

    Any suggestions would be great. As you know law enforcement has minimal budget so there is not thousands to spend..

    Thanks in advance.

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi David. Thanks for contacting me.

      This is pretty easy to answer since you will need a device that is very “user adjustable” in order to utilize effectively over the different conditions as mentioned. Only a digital device can give you this.

      For versatility, look at a Night Owl iGEN 20/20.

      I think you will find useful:
      – scope and range of programmable features.
      – video out signal in NTSC or PAL.
      – objective lens takes a standard 42mm lens mount for magnifiers and filters.
      – image capture to SD-card version is also available.

  14. Carlos says:

    Great article. Helped me understand night vision!


    I am prepared to spend anywhere from $1000-$2000 on a nice set of head mounted goggles. Could you recommend?

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Carlos.

      Thanks for contacting me.

      Your question is very easy to answer…as I have a “commando” friend who is an expert in this area, and I have spent a lot of time trying out different devices with him.

      First, I would say to consider Armasight as the best manufacturer of “wearable” night vision. They are the innovators and suppliers to the military and set the standard for specifications.

      Then specifically, I would suggest you take a good look at Armasight Nyx7-ID Gen 2+ Night Vision Goggles Improved Definition

      What I really like about them:
      – true military specs, like water proof, etc.
      – flip-up with auto-off
      – bright light auto-off protection
      – auto IR illumination
      – chin-strap on head-mount really helps to keep the device stable and in place
      – many add-on options for future use

      I was really impressed with this device…

  15. bearforce1 says:

    Hi there,

    I am taking a round the world motorcycle adventure. I will be in Africa for a couple of years. It would be advantageous to see what is coming to eat me.

    I need to pack reasonably light and I am prepared to spend 500 to 1000 dollars on nightvision.

    Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Bearforce1. Thanks for contacting me.

      Without hesitation, I believe the best Night Vision device under $1000 is the digitally driven Night Owl iGen 20/20 Monocular.

      It is very robust and light-weight making it a perfect travel companion. And most importantly, it has the best night-effective features that are user adjustable and unique to this unit. It is my personal favorite.

      Happy trails on your motorcycle adventure.

  16. Amrita says:

    Hi Tony,

    Looking for a night vision binocular around $500. Which one would you advise. My dad is not interested in a monocular actually.

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Amrita. Thanks for contacting me.

      Here is the unit which I personally like. Night Owl Pro Nexgen Night Vision Binocular (x5)

      Even though it utilizes old-fashioned intensifier tube technology, it performs very well. Most reviews give this device a 5-star rating. Be sure to keep the lens caps on during the day as bright light can damage the sensitive components internally.

      Let me know if you have any more questions.

      • Dustin says:

        I’m interested in a binocular set of night vision goggles for under $1000. I like the look of this Night Owl Pro Nexgen Night Vision Binocular (x5) that you recommended, but I need a headset mount. Is there a similar set of goggles I could buy that would have this? Or perhaps one that would be even smaller in size? Thanks.

        • Tony Valentino says:

          Hi Dustin. Thanks for contacting me.

          Since you mentioned binocular and head-mount as criteria, I would say you consider a device from Armasight

          Things to keep in mind:
          – weight is important when it comes to head-mount because of neck-strain, and gravity forcing the equipment down in front of your face. Armasight’s head-mount kit addresses the gravity problem by including a chin-strap that anchors the whole system in place.
          – binocular devices have 2 sets of optics which makes them more expensive than monoculars. Consider a monocular device if your budget is restricting.

          • Dustin says:

            Thanks for the rapid response–also, do you know of any dealers where I may be able to try the product before I buy? Thanks so much for your help.

          • Dustin says:

            One more quick question–do you know anything about Night Owl Tactical Goggles BG1 NOBG1? I’m interested in these, but I’m having trouble finding sufficient product reviews on them. Thanks so much for your help.

          • Tony Valentino says:

            Dustin, it’s not easy finding a dealer that stocks a really good range of Night Vision equipment. You can try comparing something similar to what you want in stores such as Outdoor World, Bass Pro, hunting and camping stores. If you have a police/security supply store near you, you will usually find a range of Night Vision devices there.

            I am familiar with Night Owl’s wearable goggles. Although a great company, I prefer Armasight in this instance for the list of useful features.

  17. Zero says:

    Hi, good topic, but can you recommend any NV rifle scope under $1000?

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Zero. Thanks for contacting me and for the compliment.

      It’s uncanny you should ask…I recently recruited the help of a good friend that is an expert hunter (professional actually,) to draft up a “true-review” of what he considers the best bang-for-the-buck night vision rifle scope.

      He considers the Yukon NVRS Titanium 1.5×42 Night Vision Rifle Scope to be among the top 5 items of must-have for hunters.

      Until the review is published, I can steer you to some recent customer reviews found online.

  18. ishu says:

    very nice information. thanks

  19. venta says:

    I’m not positive where you are getting your information, but good topic. I must spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for wonderful info. I was searching for this information for my mission.

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Venta…thanks for your comments.

      • Martha says:

        Do you have any business interest, partnership, or relationship with any company associated with any of the products you are commenting on?

        • Tony Valentino says:

          Hi Martha. Thanks for contacting me.

          At the bottom of every page of my website you will find my FTC Disclosure. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to I do not receive any form of compensation from any of the manufacturers of items found on this website.

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