Homemade Night Vision – How to Make Night Vision Goggles

How To Make Night Vision GogglesThere’s a lot of fun to be had with night vision, both for kids and for the young at heart, and if you’re primarily interested in these devices for their entertainment value, then you may want to find out how to make night vision goggles for yourself.

Homemade goggles are probably good enough for dashing around at night, firing off paint-balls and having a great time, or for kids playing in the nocturnal back yard. They’re also an interesting home science project that may surprise you with the results. If you need night vision goggles for a serious purpose, though – for your work as a security guard, for example, or for search and rescue during catastrophes and emergencies – go for a professionally made set.

The first thing to remember when you’re finding out how to build night vision goggles is to ignore all the technical jargon; just have fun and enjoy the process. You can always get an inexpensive entry level set of night vision equipment like the Eyeclops V2 Night Vision Stealth Binoculars so that you can enjoy some night vision fun while you’re still working, and so that you have a basis for comparison, too.

Tips for simple Do-It-Yourself night vision:

The easiest form of do-it-yourself night vision equipment you can make duplicates the method of amplifying light found in commercial and military versions, just on a much smaller scale. The heart of the system is blue and red theatrical gels and high intensity infrared LEDs, which create a similar effect to what is going on inside a commercially manufactured NV device.

Here’s how to put all the stuff together:

  1. Buy blue and red theatrical gels and a pair of welding glasses whose lenses can be removed, plus a cheap infrared flashlight. For tools you’ll need a hobby knife or multi-tool, glue and a pinch of luck. If you are more courageous or enjoy more technical projects you can make your own infrared flashlight with eight to twelve high intensity infrared LEDs . For this you will also need two 3-volt coin batteries, some thin electrical wire, superglue, and a soldering iron.
  2. Cut two pieces of each colored gel to cover each of the lenses of the welding glasses. Since the lenses ought to be removable, you can use them as a template for shape and size.
  3. Glue (only the outside edge,) the red gel lenses to the exterior of the welding glass lenses, and then glue the blue gel to the interior surface. Try to line them up as exactly as you can so you filter all the light that passes through them.
  4. Put the lenses back in the frame of the welders glasses. If you are making your own IR flashlight now glue the LEDs to the outer edges of the frames, pointing outward to light up the objects you are viewing. Glue the batteries to the temples (ear pieces) of the goggles or wherever else is convenient, and connect the LEDs. If you have the technical knowledge, add in a switch to let you turn the LEDs on and off and a current-limiting resistor rather than just draining your batteries.
  5. Test your goggles at night. If they work, then you have discovered how to make night vision goggles! If the image is dim and feeble, add another layer of red gel to the outside, more blue gel to the inside, and extra LEDs to give more illumination.

My favorite homemade night vision project:

The method above is the quickest, easiest, and/or cheapest of the options you have for homemade night vision. It isn’t the only one though, there are many different ways for you to experiment and enjoy do it yourself projects. If you’re feeling adventurous – here is my personal favorite homemade technique which will give you very impressive results.

Board Camera For Night Vision

Board Camera For Homemade Night Vision

The key component is a board camera also known as a micro camera or a spy camera. To be clear, I’m talking about a “low-lux” (capable of functioning in very low light, 0.5 lux is good) black and white camera otherwise known as a monochrome camera. These cameras differ to the color variety as they have no infrared blocking filter on the lense. You could probably guess this is important because that’s precisely the light we want to see in the dark. Also the monochrome type have a very basic 3 wire connection and can be found for as little as $10. My favorite online vendor is www.esentia.com

The 3 wire hook up is easy as 2 wires are used for 12 volts D.C. power, and the last is used as a composite-video out that plugs directly into a camcorder for recording or a video display like an LCD screen.

This setup alone is capable of producing a remakably clear IR picture. A simple test is to point any remote control you have at home that is labeled as being infrared and observing the light which is emitted in pulses on your handy-dandy do it yourself IR camera.

No doubt you’ll be amazed how much your little remote control’s light illuminates a darkened room. But with just a little more work we can really brighten things up for our homemade infrared camera by perfecting an IR light source.

My homemade infrared light, is simply a halogen-bulb flashlight that is found anywhere for a few dollars. I want a halogen-bulb because this produces the most amount of infrared in the white light it gives off, but an incandesant-bulb flashlight will work almost as good and has the advantage of not heating up as much.

Heat is a factor because I modify my flashlight with a home-built infrared pass-filter. As the name suggests this is a filter which will allow only IR light to pass through it. I do this by cutting out a close fitting piece of filter material and fixing it to the outside of my flashlight.

Floppy Disk For Infrared Filter

Floppy Disk For Infrared Filter

The materials I find to be the best for an IR pass-filter are listed below best to least:

  1. 5.25 inch floppy disk. The actual plastic disk inside the square cover.
  2. 3.5 inch floppy disk. Same as above only the larger 5.25 inch is more practical for cutting out shapes.
  3. Used (developed,) cellulose film. I purposely take a blank photo (without a flash,) in a dark room for this. And it usually takes several layers for best results.
  4. Camera store supplied glass IR pass-filter for a SLR camera. I list this last only because of cost, but it actuall works great.

You will not believe the effectiveness of your homemade equipment. You will want to experiment and tweak to find what is best for your application – oh, and you’ll invent many more applications just for the hell of it.

Exploring the world of night vision can be a whole lot of fun, both in learning how to make night vision goggles and then using them! And if you want to skip ahead to the good stuff even while you continue to work on your projects, you can always get a cheap, entry-level start on stripping away the gloom with the Eyeclops V2 Night Vision Stealth Binoculars that you can read about on our site – adventures in the starlight await!

9 Responses to “Homemade Night Vision – How to Make Night Vision Goggles”

  1. Nate says:

    What gauge electrical wire did you use on the first one?

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Nate.

      I had some old 14 gauge wire sitting around that I used. Since it is very low powered, you could even use 16 gauge.

  2. Dan the man says:

    I really loved your article on Make Your Own Night Vision Goggles. I was wondering if you could help me with a project I set up based on your mini spy-cam version. It consists of using a 12 volt spy cam, http://www.esentia.com/product-p/aceex360ehp4.htm and connecting it to a 5 volt LCD mini screen. https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11377
    I need to know how exactly to do this because the screen itself has 9 prongs and will probably need resistors between the connections. If you have any input on how I should go about connecting this spy cam model to this mini Screen, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much. Dan.

  3. Soham says:

    Can you please tell me if using welding glass lenses is essential? Will an ordinary glass lens work just as good?

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Soham…and thanks for contacting me.

      Welding glasses are best as they inherently have light filters incorporated into the glass. I haven’t tried for myself, but I suspect ordinary glass lenses would work but you would need much more colored gel.
      Please let us know how your project works for you.

  4. Jitendra Chaudhary says:

    Hello sir. I can’t find theatrical gel. Can I use blue and red plastic for this propose? And have you other interesting projects? Send it to me with detail. Please reply quickly as possible. THANK YOU.

    • Tony Valentino says:

      Hi Jitendra…and thanks for contacting me.

      Theatrical gel is made of poly-carbonate or polyester plastic…so look for those types of plastic. Let us know how it works out for you.
      Let me mention that the project involving a “board camera” gives very impressive results.
      I’m working on more projects to post.

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