Night Vision Buyer's Guide
By: Mike Schoby
News clips from Desert Storm and the movie "Silence of the Lambs" are what most people think of when night vision is mentioned. But what about watching deer feeding undisturbed in the back pasture? Navigating out of the woods after dark? Or lining up the crosshairs on a coyote that's trotting into a rabbit in a distress call under the cover of darkness? These are all legitimate and often fun uses for night vision optics that more and more people every year get to experience thanks to the lower cost and higher quality of night vision optics.
Only ten years ago night vision was out of reach of the average individual and the quality of the available optics was not much to write home about. Thankfully, all this has changed and Cabela's is your one-stop source for everything from entry level optics to the best in the world.
How does night vision work?
Night vision works by collecting minute particles of light and focusing them into an image intensifier. The image intensifier converts them to electrons. The electrons are then multiplied and projected onto a green phosphorescent screen. When this intensified electron image strikes the phosphor screen, it causes the screen to emit light that is visible to the naked eye.
The whole process is complex and many factors dictate the final outcome, but essentially, night vision takes small electrical charges not detectable to the human senses and multiplying them to a perceptible level.
While the entire process may seem foreign to most of us, we all need to know what separates the $300.00 units for the $3,000.00 units. The differences are really quite easy to understand. Night vision optics have been around for over 50 years and they have gone through many changes. These changes are called "generations" (GEN). With each Generation, the end picture quality, range and light gathering ability has improved. It is these differences combined with the overall size, weight and technical features that dictate the price.
First Generation Night Optics
GEN I optics were developed in the 1960's and are still widely used today. They need some visible light to operate and do not function well in extremely dark environments. But for general use with the aid of stars and/or moonlight, combined with extra infrared illumination, they work well for most applications. The biggest advantage to GEN I optics is price. GEN I optics can be had for a quarter of what some of the GEN II and GEN III models cost.
Second Generation Night Optics
GEN II optics were developed in the 1970's. They have a significantly longer life span than GEN I and do not require visible light to operate, which allows them to work in extremely dark conditions. They also offer a better resolution than GEN I optics and are a good choice for night hunting optics.
Third Generation Optics
GEN III optics are currently the state of the art in night vision. GEN III optics have a greatly increased amount of light gaining ability and resolution (clarity) over all other forms of night vision. For night hunting applications they work extremely well, offering excellent detail and range. The only disadvantage of GEN III optics is the price.
Choosing the Right Optics
Once the differences in Generations are understood, you must decide what you are going to be using the device for. For casual use and back-up illumination for hikers, campers and nature watchers, a GEN I monocular may be the best choice. They are relatively inexpensive and offer enough performance to safely navigate through the woods or see animals. They are also small enough to stowaway in a small fanny pack to have with you in an emergency.
Monoculars Night Owl Cyclops Explorer
These monocular, at 7.2 inches long and only 15 oz. is one of the smallest Gen I monoculars available today. It is perfect for throwing in your pack for emergencies or fun on your next camping trip. The 3.1 magnification allows for detailed viewing of distant objets, and the built in IR illuminator helps light the way on extremely dark nights.
Night Vision Riflescopes
Night vision, as described above, serves many purposes, but where it really shines is night varmint hunting applications. Regulations on night hunting for varmints vary from state to state, but where it is allowed, those who have done it will agree there is no better way to spend a night outdoors. We have called coyotes at night for years and have always used spotlights, which work reasonably well but have a couple of drawbacks. First, using a spotlight can be cumbersome and often takes two people to effectively use. Even with a red lens in place, coyotes can spook when the light is turned on and there is always the possibility of drawing undue attention to yourself from area residents or law enforcement officers. Anywhere I have done it, it was legal but it really is inconvenient explaining what you are doing to every individual who sees a red light fanning through the night sky.
For these reasons, high quality night vision optics are perfect for calling evening song dogs. Cabela's offers several great units for this purpose, but under no circumstances condones the use of these products in areas where it is illegal or for harvesting big game.
Aries Night Vision Riflescopes
Aries makes several varieties of riflescopes, using the best components in the business and build a product that is rugged enough to meet any punishment your hunting can dish out. All Aries night vision scopes carried by Cabela's feature Smart Total Darkness Technology. What is this, you may ask? "Smart Tech" was patented by Aries in 1997 and is the cutting edge in hi-tech computer controlled night vision. A micro computer is built into each unit that controls several features and functions that give them a longer life (up to 5 times than without) make them more reliable, and user friendly.
Smart Tech, utilizes a sensor so that when the scope is brought to the eye the unit automaticly turns on. When removed from the eye it will turn off. The scope also automatically goes into sleep mode when it is not being used, thereby eliminating the possibility of being damaged by being left on and subjected to bright light. All the controls are digital, which provide precise operation of light amplification, lit reticle brightness and infrared magnitude. The MK6500 and the MK6600/7700 models offer a remote control that allows the user to place the 3-button control panel anywhere on the rifle for instant access.
All Aries night scopes have a daytime filter system that allows them to be used in daylight. This makes them easy to sight in and can be used under emergency day light situations but they are still best used after dark.
This scope is one of the best-priced night scopes on the market and finally allows the casual hunters an affordable night vision option. It is a high resolution First Generation + unit, that has increased light gain and quality resolution over other GEN I units through digital technology. A long 85-mm focal length provides four-power magnification, which make this scope ideal for aquiring fast moving coyotes at close range.
The MK258 features internal adjustments, rangefinding chevron reticle and a standard Weaver base for attachment on virtually any weapon.
Like all Aries night scopes, the MK6500 comes standard with Smart Technology. This scope utilizes a second-generation intensifier tube that allows it to be used in complete darkness. It also comes complete with a gun-mountable remote control and a Pelican waterproof hard case.
These two scopes have all of the same features except the 6600 is a generation II and the 7700 is a generation III. Both scopes utilize AMT's new red on green rear projection aiming system, which provides an extremely sharp aiming point for fast, precise target acquisition. The newly designed red on green reticle increases sharpness by 600%, over standard night scopes. Both models also have 1/8th MOA internal adjustments that allow for precision sighting.
Both scopes are high quality units and while the GEN II (6600) will work extremely well for most tasks, if you are hunting in heavily forested, dark terrain then GEN III (7700) would be a better option.
Night Vision is a handy tool for hikers, backpackers and hunters and as you can see, there are models to fit almost any need or budget. Don't risk getting lost or stranded in the dark or miss out on a lot of night hunting fun. Don't wait any longer, get yours today.