The nightvision world has exploded over the last few years and much of what is on the market has become affordable, but is it worth all the hype and worth investing in? and does it replace the traditional lamp?
As many of you know I spend a lot of time reviewing and testing nightvision products from Thermal units to top end add on kits and digital scopes.
The Night vision market has a lot to offer and range from a £500 straight up to £10,000 depending on what your looking for. The commercial markets, in the UK, top end night vision/ thermal products are between 3 and 4 thousand pounds and people are willing to pay it.
I am always fascinated with the topics of conversation on the social media platforms about night vision and thermal units and much of the advice given is about individual specific products and not night vision as a whole. I am hoping within this article I can address some of the do’s and don’ts of night vision and maybe dispel some of the myths around it, also maybe answer some of the questions surrounded around the use of nightvision.
Now before I start, I have to say I genuinely love most night vision products on the market and have tested nearly every Yukon and Pulsar unit that has come out as well as other products such as PVS and Armasights Drone Pro’s and some ATN products, I have also been involved with the development of a number of our own night vision products such as the popular “truck cam” , hand spotter and Field/Target cam, so my knowledge of night vision products is pretty vast and as I work mainly at night then at least 5 days a week shooting my knowledge is in the field and not in controlled environments.
Let me try answering some of your questions!
“What is better thermal or digital Night vision?”
This is a question that is always asked on social media and it is not an easy one to answer as both products are completely different.
Firstly cost, thermal scopes and monocular’s tend to demand a higher price than most commercial night vision products and rightly so as the thermal technology within the unit is expensive on its own never mind the development and testing as well as the issue of how your going to house the thermal sensors etc for optimum use in the field. So if your on a budget a good Night vision unit is better.
Secondly quality of image, Thermal has advantages and disadvantages here over night vision, Night vision products tend to have a better quality of image as it draws from an external light source whether natural or from a torch etc, so what you see usually is an amplified image of what you would see during the day, thermal however technology draws on heat source and what ambient light there is only focusing on heat signatures and although giving you some ability to identify the surrounding environment, depending on weather, thermal can be very deceiving.
What thermal lacks in regards to picture quality it does gain in being able to pinpoint specific targets where Night vision fails, with thermal the quality of the image depends on the price but there is not much between the medium and higher priced units.
Where Thermal comes into its own is the ability to cover vast amounts of ground very quickly and picking out potential target heat sources, you can with most units see through “fairly” thick cover and when scanning a wood line you can see past that first and second line of trees, where most night vision products fail due to glare back from the IR light., however because you can see your target does not mean you can shoot it, thermal lures you into a false sense of ability at times and unless your shooting in open fields and countryside then you could find that what your seeing has obstacles between you and your target, a problem you wont get with night vision units as they show the picture in front of you not what is hidden in the undergrowth.
One thing to add is that thermal can be used in the day time, top end NV products cannot and those that can be have to be used with a light filter cap.
Because of what I mentioned before I am not a huge fan of thermal rifle scopes, an optimum set up for me is my thermal hand spotter/monocular and night vision scope or add on kit, the reason for this is that Thermal is amazing and second to none for spotting that potential target and tracking it for long periods of time but it is better to then switch to the night vision product when I am close to being ready to take my shot on said target with a clear knowledge of surroundings and what else is hidden from view for that increased visibility and safety.
On occasion though I still have to revert back to lamp and clear glass, as even the nightvisions IR can be flooded out by an animals “eyeshine” at closer range so if need be it is bino’s or clear scope and lamp.
Neither is better or worse than the other though as they both have their own pros and cons. As far as I am concerned a thermal spotter is better than a Night vision one and a night vision scope or add on is better than a thermal scope.
“Can you shoot deer with a night vision scope or thermal scope?”
This is a question that has caused many debates.
In many countries you can but in the UK you cannot it is illegal.
I shoot deer at night under license so my main rifle set up for deer never has any night vision products on it, the law demands that you use natural light and clear glass for the shooting of deer and although technically not natural light the lamp is classed as natural light.
It is also illegal to shoot deer using a digital or thermal scope during the day in the UK so products such as the ATN Xsight and the Yukon Photon day/night scope are not legal to use for deer at all at any time. I have confirmed this with S.N.H, BASC, Natural England, DEFRA and the police on a number of occasions over the years and all have said that the use of these products are illegal at the moment for shooting deer although you can shoot almost any other species of animal using them.
“What is the range of Night vision and thermal?”
Every one wants to know if you can take that long shot deep into the darkness.
Well with Night vision products that need an external IR source the range does not usually depend on the camera unit but the IR unit so many people use very bright IR torch, you do risk flooding out the image with light at closer ranges with the brighter torches though. I would expect eye shine from an animal a minimum of 4 to 600 yrds and a shootable identifiable target between 50 and 300 yrds. Most units on the market are more than capable of doing this.
For tubed Night vision, Identifiable range is usually the same and although eye shine is not always available with tubed gas units up to 300 yrds of clear image is usually very possible.
Thermal can be well past 8 or 900 yrds for spotting but depending on unit can be properly identifiable at 3 to 500 yrds .
I must say though, no matter what unit you use I would never advise a shot over 300 yrds at night unless your really really sure of your location and surrounding area. All these products have one disadvantage and that is ranging, using the units alone it is almost impossible to predict range of your target and although some products have built in laser range finders that work really well, hold overs can be sketchy and there is no possibility of dialing in on dedicated products (add on units benefit from being able to dial your scopes “dope”).
I have to admit though, my longest shot through night vision and thermal is 280yrds on a fox, my longest shot at night with the lamp and clear glass is 540yrds. So for that long shot you cannot beat clear glass.
“What is better scope add-on units or dedicated night and thermal scopes?”
Well I must say and since I have just finished a review on a Pulsar add on kit there is one answer to this,
EACH TO THEIR OWN!!!
Add on kits are handy if you have one rifle for all, if you are that guy who only needs one rifle for shooting foxes and deer or you have a small rifle for rabbits during the day and night and a big rifle for everything else then an add on kit is perfect for you, but choose carefully on what type of set up you want, front mounted units are limited to field of view and camera image quality but can handle expensive glass like Swarovski or Kahles and rear mounted units although better quality of image are useless with expensive coated glass and you have a change of firing position and wires to contend with. So do your research.
Dedicated night vision and thermal scopes are great if your able to dedicate a rifle to it, if you cannot dedicate a rifle to it then it is a real pain going from day scope to night scope everytime you are out but on the up side, no clamps or wires , no messing about with monitors as everything there is at a button.
For me I prefer a dedicated scope, but I am swaying the idea of a front mounted unit.
“Is night vision easy to set up?”
Some are easier than others , it all depends on the type of unit you go for. Add on kits tend to be more awkward than dedicated units.
Some people expect too much from their night vision units and often come in to trouble when mounting them to their rifles.
Take the Yukon Photon for instance, I have advised and sorted out hundreds of peoples zeroing problems by giving one simple advice ” do not put your objective higher than 1.3cm from the bottom of your scope to the barrel” as many people mount their scopes too high.
Setting up on digital devices can be a lot of fun if you like the geeky stuff but if your not “wired” that way then go for the simplest set up that suits you.
All nightvision products though are difficult to zero or test zero during the day so bare that in mind.
I think I have covered most of the stuff that often crop up. I will say though I love night vision stuff in general and I have shot a lot of rabbits and foxes using my products, but there is a place for the traditional clear glass and lamp. You really need to use each tool accordingly and you cannot rely fully on one thing to solve all problems, there is nothing better than night vision to get that lamp shy rabbit or fox problem but there is also nothing better than the challenge of tracking and shooting a fox in the lamp as it bobs in and out of the shadows.
Currently I am between reviews so at the moment while I wait for my next product to test I am back to my trusty Yukon Photon XT 6.5×50 with Deben tracer IR400 on the side (just got a new Laserware X70 to try which book says IR goes to 1100yrds so worth a giggle) on the Browning .243 firing 100gr Sierra prohunter at around 2950fps along with that I have my Pulsar Quantum Lite XQ30v and for the money this has proved to be a very essential piece of kit that i use from everything from tracking foxes to counting deer in clear fells. I also have my various torches and lamping products from Laserware.