Night Vision 101

Night Vision 101

Night vision is key to stay safe from predators and take down your prey. Take this crash course, Night Vision 101, to learn about this technology and what to expect before you buy it.

Since the dawn of time, humans have sought to bring light into the night. Darkness can conceal threats and targets, making it impossible to defend yourself and your land or to hunt after the sun sets. Luckily, science has made advancements in night vision technology to solve these ancient issues. Nowadays, night vision technology is found in a host of devices such as cameras, binoculars, and monoculars. It’s also common for hunters, landowners, boating enthusiasts, law enforcement, and tacticians to have night vision tools so that they’re always prepared.

Night vision technology has come a long way since its inception during World War II. As a result, there are different types of operating systems, each with their advantages and disadvantages. Since the technology is rather sophisticated, you’ll find some companies and manufacturers listing off various specifications and terms. It’s important to unravel the mystery of how these devices work so that you can best decide which night vision tool is the best for you. This crash course of night vision 101 will give you the low-down before you purchase your first night-vision product or upgrade your current one.

Why Can’t I See in the Dark? 

This might seem like a no-brainer question, but the answer will get us into the complexity of how night vision works. For the camera of our eyes to see an image, there has to be light. Light waves then bounce off of surfaces, and their different wavelengths are what allow us to see color. Therefore, night vision technology is all about solving the issue of creating an image our eyes can perceive in the absence of these light wavelengths.

Types of Night Vision 

In the night vision world, three primary systems produce the classic green images we all associate with night vision. Each of these has its pros and cons, but I’ll spend a good deal of this article covering digital night vision technology because it is the most affordable and accessible.

Traditional night vision typically uses image intensifying or image enhancing technology. In these types of binoculars, for example, low levels of light and infra-red light reflected off of objects are taken in through objective lenses and into the image-intensifying tube. The photons from these light particles then come into contact with a photocathode, which essentially takes in photons and spits out electrons. The newly arrived electrons then funnel into a microchannel plate, which has tiny microchannels or holes. The electrons bounce off of the microchannels and, in their excited state, create thousands of new electrons. These electrons then hit a phosphor screen that converts the thousands of electrons back into photons. The original photons stay in their proper order so that they assemble and create your image at the end of this process.

This is how night vision worked for many generations. However, this system still requires some light for the process to kick off with photons and does not always work well for military, police, and firefighters who need to maneuver in pitch-black or smoke-filled conditions. For these needs, we also have thermal night vision goggles. These night vision devices work by reading the thermal infrared waves that are emitted by objects, rather than waves that reflect off of objects. You won’t find many of these on the market for an affordable price,  but there are other solutions for seeing in pitch-black conditions that will work for most civilians and law enforcement.

Digital night vision technology seems to be the best way to see even in the darkest of nights. These night vision devices work, similar to a digital camera, by having either a charge-coupled device (CCD) or a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) sensor. Without going into too much detail, both of these sensors take in photons and convert them into electrical pulses that the microchip can then process and interpret as your image. Most digital night vision optical tools come with built-in infrared light so that there’ll still be enough light for this process to work even if there’s a waning moon crescent.

Best Bang For Buck 

Most experts agree that digital night vision binoculars or monoculars are the best value for their price point. There are many excellent digital night vision tools on the market for under $200, whereas binoculars with image-intensifying tubes will cost closer to the $400-500 range. Cheaper, in this case, though, does not mean less quality. Digital technology is less expensive because it has become more common thanks to cameras. It is also more convenient to manufacture than the more complex systems in an image intensifying night vision set. They will accomplish tactical goals for most civilians and law enforcement – with some of the only exceptions being those working under smoky conditions or those needing instant visual processing.

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As previously mentioned, most digital night vision tools will also come with a built-in infrared light. An Infrared illuminator is vital to your night vision set because, just like an image-intensifying system, digital night vision tools still need light to operate. High-end night vision binoculars like the ACPOTEL Night Vision monocular will have an 850nm infrared illuminator. At this level of infrared light, you will be undetectable to the human eye unless your target or threat is also using night vision tech. You’ll also be able to run drills, hunt, or survey your land in pitch-black darkness.

Another benefit of going digital is increased magnification. While the night vision tool, whether binoculars or monoculars, will typically have optical magnification, a digital version will have digital magnification. This capability gives you an increased ability to zoom in on an object. Being able to get a clear image of your target is critical for being aware of your surrounding or taking the perfect shot. If magnification is essential to you, check out the ACPOTEL night vision monocular for its fantastic 8x digital magnification option.

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You’ll also find that digital night vision binoculars are more versatile than image intensifying models. Digital night vision optical tools can typically also be used during the daytime in addition to at night. The JStoon Night Vision Goggles are a great example of multi-purpose use during the day or night. Binocular with image intensifying systems won’t function in sunlight, and you can damage the gear since it will be overwhelmed by the amount of light it collects. 

Some might shy away from digital night vision sets because they do tend to have a shorter battery life. Because digital night vision optical tools require infrared illuminators to function, they run through their batteries quickly. This is worth considering, especially if preparedness is a factor in selecting the best night vision technology. A workaround is to make sure you always have extra batteries in your pack so that you’re never caught off guard.

Experts also note the slightest bit of lag time between digital binoculars versus those that use an image intensifying tube system. An image- intensifying system is nearly instantaneous because the process of protons converting to electrons and back to protons happens almost as fast as the human eye can perceive it. On the other hand, digital technology will need to refresh the image every few seconds. For most users, this won’t be an issue. Still, if it is critical to view even the smallest of movements, you might consider night vision models with image intensifying systems. 

Going Digital? Here’s What To Look For 

We recommend buying or switching to digital night vision devices because, for the price, the pros outweigh the cons. If spending wisely is crucial to you, check out the factors to consider before you make your purchase to get the best value.

Ranging Distance 

Most digital night vision optical tools will advertise how much yardage you’ll be able to see in daytime and nighttime conditions. This information will help you determine if the night vision set will work for your needs. Most digital night vision sets will give you a range of about 200 – 300 yards. The JStoon Night Vision Goggles pushes the boundaries by giving up 328 yards of ranging in complete darkness. These distances are more than enough for those hunting nocturnal nuisances. 

Magnification Power and Zoom

Just like buying a regular pair of binoculars, you want to check out the magnification power and zoom on your night vision device. Many high-end night vision devices will have magnification power both on their optical system and on the digital end. CreativeXP’s digital night vision binoculars have incredible magnification for their optics at 7x with an additional 2x digital zoom. Remember, though, higher magnification optics will typically have less field of view and might be unnecessary if your targets are not at extremely long distances. 


Just like scopes, even the most advanced features won’t do much if paired with an inferior optical system. Before you make your purchase, be sure to check out the lens elements. A large objective lens is going to help create brighter images because of the higher light-gathering capacity. You’ll also want to look for lenses that are labeled fully, multi-coated, or have multiple coating layers as these help with light transmission. Lastly, some binoculars will provide information about the quality of the internal prism. A BAK-4 prism in ACPOTEL’s night vision monocular will give a wider field of view and brighter image than an optical tool with a BAK-7 prism.

Resolution and Memory 

A huge advantage of high-end, digital night vision sets is capturing still images or video footage. If this is important to you, you’ll want to check the resolution of photos and videos that you’re able to take. A high-resolution image of your favorite nature scenes will be sharper and brighter than a low-resolution image. Just like on a camera, the resolution is measured in pixels. You’ll also want to know how much storage your night vision device provides, which is measured in gigabytes. For this reason, The Creative XP is an incredible deal because it comes with a 32 GB memory card to store all of your wildlife pictures and videos.

Battery Type and Life 

Some night vision products, like the ACPOTEL monoculars, will come with a lithium battery. In contrast, others like the CreativeXP and JStoon will require alkaline batteries. For those concerned about preparedness, lithium batteries can be a good choice because they’re long-lasting and are rechargeable. If this isn’t high on your list of qualities, alkaline batteries can be easier to deal with because they’re more common and cheaper to buy. Most night vision sets will also list their battery life so you know how much time you have in the field before your battery runs low. 


Another important category is to double-check the durability of your night vision set. Especially in the darkness of night, you might be more likely to trip or slip, sending your binoculars flying into a puddle or bouncing onto a rock. Several blogs discuss how digital night vision products tend to be less durable than other systems. While it is true that digital night vision tools won’t typically be completely waterproof, many high-end products are designed to guard against disaster. For example, the JStoon night vision goggles are IP56 waterproof, and the CreativeXP are IPX4 waterproof. This will at least buy some sense of security when you’re out in the Dark. 

Our Take

Night vision technology has come a long way since the trenches of WWII and Korea. The latest digital technology will take your nighttime hunting, drills, boating, or land monitoring to the next level. With digital binoculars, you’ll see further, have crisp, clear images at 100% darkness, and all at a price that most other systems cannot beat. As you consider making your next night vision purchase, we highly recommend that you grab a digital night vision set for your nighttime protection and hobbies. These products will ensure that you’re always prepared for whatever life may throw your way.

ACPOTEL Night Vision MonocularJStoon Night Vision Goggles Night Vision BinocularsCreativeXP Digital Night Vision Binoculars
Price $$$$$$
Magnification5x (optical) 8x (digital) 3x (optical) 4x (digital) 7x (optical) 2x (digital) 
Objective Lens 35 mm25mm 31 mm
Infrared Illuminator Yes; 850 nmYes; 850 nmYes; 850 nm
Lens BAK-4 Prism; FMC lensFMC lens FMC lens
Ranging distance @ night200 meters 300 meters  1300 feet (396 meters)
Resolution 130WPhoto: 1280×1024 Video 720PPhoto: 1280x960pixelVideo: 960P?
Memory 8 GB memory card32 GB memory card 32 GB memory card 
Battery life Rechargeable lithium batteryAA batteries; 6-8 hours AA batteries 
Durability ?IP56 waterproof IPX4 waterproof & anti-slip design