Night vision binoculars can help solve this conundrum. Night vision equipment uses sensors similar to digital cameras to collect light and amplify it. This information (light) is then displayed on a screen in front of your eyes, similar to a viewfinder on a mirrorless camera. Many augment this with an infra-red illuminator, which projects a light we can’t see, then gathers its reflected returns and shifts them into something our eyes and brains can make sense of.A vast range of night vision binoculars are available to buy online. Unfortunately, many of these turn out to be either low-quality, leaking light into the human visual range and thus ruining your natural night vision, or they’re quickly discontinued. This makes it near impossible to replace or repair if they go wrong.
Lots of devices labeled as night vision binoculars are not binoculars at all. They typically have two lenses at the front, one for the camera and one for the infrared illuminator. In other words, a night vision monocular is the same as many ‘binoculars’, just with a smaller display for a single eye. Keep reading to find our pick of the best night vision binoculars, monoculars, and goggles at every price point. If being able to see in the dark isn’t important for you, have a read of our guide to the best binoculars which features more generalist all-purpose models. Or for smaller hands, there are also the best binoculars for kids.
Best night vision binoculars overall
With one photomultiplier per eye, the NOB5X is a pair of binoculars rather than a monocular. This makes their night vision bright and clear, with close focus down to just two meters.
The conventional binocular layout is familiar to anyone who’s ever used a pair, with a central focus wheel and adjustable eyepieces. Their 5x magnification is a little higher than many other offerings, but the 50mm objective lenses gather enough light while the sun’s still up, and an IR illuminator kicks in when it’s dark to illuminate objects 100m or so away (although curiously the manufacturer makes no specific claim for this).
Though heavy and rather expensive, these are hard to beat for a great night-vision image. Unlike some others mentioned in this guide, the NOB5X doesn’t give us the option to record video.
Best budget night vision binoculars
Despite the ’80s sci-fi movie-esque design, the Wulf Full HD NV binoculars have a level of performance and features that rival big-name, more expensive products.
During the day, you’ll get full-color images on the TFT screen, with an IR illuminator providing a black-and-white view after dark of objects within 300m. Using the illuminator naturally takes its toll on battery life, and the unit takes eight AA-size cells, which will provide around ten hours of use. Luckily, you can attach external USB power to the included power bank holder.
While the screen is more low-res than we’d like it, any video captured will be at full HD resolution. A 64GB micro SD card is included, along with a rugged carrying case. UK users should note that a three-pin plug isn’t part of the package so you’ll need an adapter.
Most versatile NV binoculars
Another curious-looking pair of night-vision binoculars, Luna Optics’ entry on this list brings high-quality AMOLED displays, giving a standard binocular-like feel. There’s also a laser rangefinder and high-resolution imaging. It captures 16.1 megapixel still images and QHD (also known as 2k) resolution video at 30 frames per second, or 1080p at up to 60fps.
A color filter is included that changes the daylight color balance to something more natural so you can use them during the day, while the night-time display can be either black and white, bright green, or amber. The IR illuminator should be good for subjects up to 600m away, while the laser rangefinder reaches up to 700m.
The viewing options on offer are decent too, with a digital zoom that goes all the way to 36x (though will only record at up to 6x), the ability to stream over Wi-Fi, connect storage over USB, or save to a memory card. The LN-G3-B50 comes with a strap, case, and all the cables you could need.
Best for slow-motion video recording
If you’re looking to shoot high-speed video after dark or in challenging weather conditions, these weather-resistant ATN Binox 4K might be what you need. With the ability to record at up to 120fps, you can create slow-motion effects when you play it back.
They can also share real-time rangefinder information with other people via mobile devices, meaning laser tags can be sent out to help a team move into a position ready to observe or photograph wildlife.
You can share video too, recording at 1080p and streaming at 720p with an IR illuminator that boasts a range of 1km. It has ultra-low power consumption with an internal battery that can run for up to 15 hours and can charge using a USB-C.
Best monocular for long range detection
Whether you think of this as a thermal imaging camera or a monocular is up to you, but the distinction makes little difference in use. With only one lens and eyepiece, it’s not a pair of binoculars, but the quality of the optics and the clever additional built-in functions make all the difference. It has a fast refresh rate of 50Hz for flicker-free images and offers a picture-in-picture feature that makes it easier to keep a moving subject centered in the field of view.
Four color modes for night-vision mean you can flick from classic white to an inverted dark image, place red overheat signatures, or display differences in temperature as a rainbow gradient. You can place brackets around heat sources which quickly allows you to identify the hottest object in the frame, great for nature spotting. A variant model, the DTI3/25 (opens in new tab), has a lower magnification but a wider field of view and is a better choice for use in heavily wooded areas.
Best entry level device
The Nightfox 100V are low-resolution, heavy, have limited range, manual focussing and don’t have a recording function. They weren’t designed with the pro in mind, however, they will enable you to see in the dark for up to six hours at a time. They are lacking in sophistication perhaps, but we can’t deny that they work.
With 100m of IR illumination broken into seven different levels (which allow you to turn down the brightness to save the power of the eight AA batteries), there’s 6x magnification too. This, however, is broken into 3x optical and 2x digital, meaning you’ll lose quality with max magnification. Still, they’re a good, affordable introduction to the world of night vision.
Best low-tech way to see at night
Here is something a little different. Ditching light amplifiers and electronic wizardry for good old-fashioned physics. Binoculars work by gathering light over a larger area than the human eye can manage, then magnifying the result. This means a pair with larger objective lenses will show a brighter image than a pair with smaller objectives. What would happen if you took reasonably large 54mm objectives, and applied a magnification of just 2x?
These are what happens, the Orion 2×54. They allow us to see subjects that would otherwise be in darkness because they collect light over 40 times larger than a dilated human pupil. They are intended mainly for astronomy, and we can assure you that you’ve never ‘seen’ the Milky Way until you’ve seen it with something like these.
With no batteries and no IR illuminators, they do depend on having at least some light available, but the low-tech approach brings its own rewards.
Best head mountable
This head-mountable unit looks like it could be a prop from a TV show about special forces soldiers. Instead, it’s a handy device from Bresser, a well-known astronomy brand, and it is used for moving around in the dark as opposed to providing magnification. It doesn’t offer magnification beyond a 2x digital zoom.
The IR illuminator should be good for seeing subjects up to 70m away, and the unit comes with a rechargeable battery that lasts up to eight hours. It can also be powered by an external power pack via USB. If you need the ability to record, there’s a similar model from the same manufacturer, the Bresser Digital Night Vision Binocular (opens in new tab). It’s a tad more expensive and isn’t head-mounted like this one, but it does boast a record function.
Modern night vision equipment can be affordable, powerful, and versatile, but not necessarily all three together. It’s always worth shopping around to find the best deals and equipment to suit your desired purpose. Be wary if you’re thinking of buying a discontinued item (and there are many of these right now) to save a few dollars, you take on the risk of not being able to troubleshoot or repair it in the future.
It’s important to note that not all night vision kit is legal to own in all countries. Laws vary. In the USA they can even vary state by state. This is understandable considering the potential for nefarious purposes of night vision binoculars. If ever in doubt check with a local retailer or club who will be able to advise you.
Originally published at www.space.com