What are night scopes and how do they work?

The main purpose of night vision goggles is to allow their users to see without being seen in situations of absolute darkness.


On a technological level, night vision devices use the residual light of a given space to convert it into a light projection. This is possible thanks to an electronic system that allows the residual light in a given space to be multiplied by 15,000 times.


Most night viewers are equipped with a small infrared flashlight whose light beam is not visible to people or most animals. However, the infrared light emitted by this flashlight is captured by the night vision scopes, which allows them to significantly increase their performance in conditions of total absence of light.


Night vision scopes can be the ideal complement for hunters who love to wait (wild boar), as they offer the shooter the possibility of observing his target with a certain clarity even on nights without moon or stars. However, it is necessary to know that in Spain it is forbidden to use them directly mounted on a hunting gun.


ATN Trident night scope mounted on an AR-15


Darkness has always been one of the greatest fears of human beings. A fear based on an irrational fear of the unknown, of what cannot be seen or recognized with the naked eye. To illuminate dark environments, human beings have resorted, as far as possible, to technology. Flashlights, spotlights, or candles have been, along with traditional torches, some of the most commonly used elements to illuminate open spaces or rooms immersed in absolute darkness.


The main people interested in the use of night vision are hunters and professionals to see without being seen. It was under these precepts that the first night vision devices were developed, optical sights whose main objective is to provide those who carry them with an important strategic advantage.


Generations of night vision goggles


First generation

These night scopes amplify ambient light thousands of times. They usually include infrared illuminators to see in complete darkness. It’s the cheapest option. They provide good quality but sometimes blurred images and have several uses: Hunting, fishing and surveillance.


Second generation


These scopes are somewhat better in performance. The 2nd generation night vision goggles are used by law enforcement, but are also used by some professionals. The price starts at 1,000 dollars. The improvement over the previous generation is the integration of a “microchannel plate” or MCP. These are glass tubes that amplify the electrons, thus obtaining better quality images.


Third generation


A gallium arsenide compound is added to the 3rd generation night vision scopes. This results in improved image quality along with greater brightness and sharpness. An ion barrier is also incorporated to increase the lifetime of the viewfinder.


Fourth generation


These night scopes are technologically superior. The price is prohibitive and they are usually reserved for private professionals and the military. They usually last for thousands of hours and allow you to view high-resolution images.


As we said, virtually all night vision equipment works the same way: it captures residual light from the environment and intensifies it as much as possible. To achieve this, they use infrared sensors that are capable of transforming, through an electrochemical process, that residual light into illumination.


In addition to professional hunting or use in warfare, night vision scopes have many other applications, such as surveillance or night-time childcare services, search and rescue operations, night-time hiking trips, etc.


As to their manufacturers, one of the most widely known and with a greater variety of products is ATN, though there are also other internationally renowned brands, like Pulsar, which have specialized in the production of these night vision goggles for firearms. To these two companies we should add some not so popular ones like Yukon, Dedal or Night Owl, which despite not being so well known do market products with a good quality-price ratio.


Characteristic image of a hunting night sight aiming at a wild boar


Like traditional scopes, night vision scopes also have magnifications, especially those of more advanced generations. In this sense, we find models with 2x, 3x and even 6x magnification.


The price of these products is usually quite high, although it depends basically on each model and the type of technology applied. To be more specific, we can find night vision devices for firearms from 1.000 to 10.000 dolalrs, being the most economic formats the ones known as night vision monoculars.


Finally, it is worth remembering that in Spain the use of night vision goggles mounted on firearms is prohibited for civilian shooters and hunters. They are only allowed to use monoculars and night vision equipment that are not directly installed on a firearm.