Best Night Vision Scopes: 5 Top Picks Reviewed

For years hunters, especially varmint hunters, have been mostly restricted to hunting during daylight hours.  While most states regulate big game hinting to daylight hours only, varmints usually don’t fall under these restrictions.  It has only been in the past few years that night vision technology has become available and affordable for civilian hunters.

Best Night Vision Scopes

As the feral hog population has continued to rise in many states, night hunting popularity has also increased.  I get many questions about night vision equipment, particularly night vision scopes.  Hunters wonder which night vision scope is the best, what type of night vision they should buy, and how well the most popular night vision scopes perform.

In this article, I will look at some of the best night vision equipment on the market.  Hopefully, when you have finished reading this article, you will better understand the technology behind the different night vision scopes.  The discussions about my picks for this list of night vision scopes should help you decide which night vision scope is best for your situation and needs.

What is Night Vision

Almost everyone is familiar with the term “night vision.”  Movies and TV shows often feature actors purportedly using “night vision” to see in the dark.  There is some truth to the portrayals we see on the screen, but the truth is a little different.  Before you start shopping for night vision equipment, you need to understand the technology of night vision and the realities of how it works.

Technically, the term “night vision” covers several different types of technologies currently used by civilians, law enforcement, and the military.  The U.S. military has often been the driving force behind the development of night vision technology, and the latest versions of the technology remain restricted to military use only. 

In short, night vision equipment uses several methods to transmit a useable image to the user’s eye in the dark.  Night vision equipment accomplishes this in several ways.

  • Available light amplification
  • Digital enhancement of available light
  • Thermal Imaging

Available Light Amplification – Starlight Scopes

Night vision equipment dates to World War II and the German army.  The technology depended on gathering infrared light and converting it into visible light.  The equipment was large, heavy,and required infrared lights for illumination.  Generally, this type of technology is considered Generation 0 and is no longer in use or manufactured.

Generation 1 through the current versions of light amplification scopes gather the available ambient light (hence the name starlight scopes) and intensify or amplify that light before transmitting the image to the viewer.  

One common factor of these scopes is the green hue imparted to the image by the intensifiers.  This green scene look is familiar to anyone who watches movies or TV shows.  Some of these night vision scopes still employ small infrared illuminators to enhance this equipment’s very low light capabilities.

The latest technology available to civilian purchasers is Generation 3 Filmless Image Intensifier.  In some cases, this technology may be called Generation 4.  However, the term Generation 4 is a misnomer.

Digital Night Vision

As digital camera technology has matured, scope manufacturers realized that this technology common in digital cameras, cell phones, and video cameras was adaptable to night vision.  The technology behind the digital camera reaches into the Near Infrared Spectrum.  The development of digital night vision equipment soon followed.

These digital night vision devices have several advantages over older night vision equipment.

  • Digital sensors are immune to damage from bright light.  The older night vision equipment is easily damaged if the sensors are exposed to bright light accidentally.
  • The sensors used in digital night vision equipment have virtually unlimited lifetimes.
  • Digital sensors are much more rugged and durable than starlight style equipment.
  • The images produced by digital night vision scopes easily convert to other types of images that are storable.

Not surprisingly, the cost of manufacture digital night vision equipment is considerably less than traditional light amplification equipment.

Thermal Imaging

The latest entry into the civilian night vision arena is thermal imaging.  Thermal imaging scopes do not depend on ambient light at all to operate.  This type of equipment detects long-wave infrared and converts these wavelengths into images that the human eye can detect.  

By reading an object’s temperature and the background temperature, these devices produce an image on an electronic display based on the temperature differences.  The hotter the object, the more intense the color that is displayed.  

Thermal imaging scopes have both advantages and disadvantages over other types of night vision equipment. 

  • Thermal imagers can see in total darkness without having to use illuminators to create a reflected image.
  •  In most cases, thermal imaging is not affected by fog, smoke, foliage, and dust.
  • Thermal imagers are expensive to manufacture, making the end cost higher.
  • Glass blocks the thermal radiation preventing thermal imagers from being used through windows

Best Night Vision Scopes for Civilian Use: My Choices

More and more companies have entered the night vision civilian market in the past few years.  Competition in the marketplace is good for the consumer.  Prices have dropped and technology has become more durable and more dependable.  These are my picks for the best night vision scopes.

The Best Generation 3 Night Vision Scope – ATN NVM 14-2 Review

ATN is, without a doubt, the go-to brand for night vision equipment.  When comparing night vision systems, ATN is the standard by which other equipment gets measured. When it comes to Gen 3 night vision equipment, ATN is a known and respected brand that produces the highest quality equipment available.

ATN-NVM 14-2

The ATN-NVM 14-2 is a multi-purpose night vision system.  The NVM can be used as a hand-held monocular, worn on the head with a special purpose harness, attached to standard or tactical helmets, or mounted on a firearm.  This type of versatility makes the ATN-NVM 14-2 popular among sportsmen and law-enforcement alike.

Considering the features of the ATN-NVM 14-d system, the overall price doesn’t seem quite so steep.

  • Generation 3 technology
  • Magnification – 1X
  • Field of View – 40 degrees
  • IR Illuminator – built-in
  • Multi-coated and protected lenses
  • Fully adjustable diopter
  • Automatic brightness control
  • Bright light cut off built-in
  • IR indicator• Battery – 1 x CR123A
  • Battery life – 60 hours
  • Weight – 1.54 pounds
  • Length – 4.7 inches
  • Included in the package 
    • One ATN NVM 14-2 night vision scope
    • Warranty card
    • Lens cloth
    • Carrying case
    • One cr123A battery

Pros

  • Well made, rugged, and durable
  • Crisp, clear images
  • Useable to long ranges with ease
  • Useable behind some red dot and holographic sights

Cons  

  • Expensive
  • The focus adjustments using the front and rear settings can be confusing

Last update on 2021-01-31 at 10:42 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

All in all, if you want a Gen 3 night vision system, the ATN NVM 14-2 is a great option.  It is pricey, but the ATN NVM won’t let you down and should give years of above-average performance.

Best Digital Rifle Scope – Sightmark Wraith 4-32×50 Digital Riflescope Review

Since the debut of the first Sightmark digital scopes, the company has made steady gains in the riflescope market.  Sightmark has built a reputation for building quality scopes at an affordable price.  The Sightmark Wraith 4-32×50 digital scope is no exception. 

Sightmark Wraith 4-32x50

Digital night vision scopes, by and large, are popular among hunters because of the additional features that come with the digital technology.  The Sightmark Wraith is no exception and brings to the table a host of features and options that can broaden your hunting or shooting experiences.

Many of the features are not available on other night vision platforms.

  • 1080P HD digital imaging technology
  • Daytime mode in full color
  • Night vision mode
  • Built-in HD video recording
  • 8x digital zoom
  • Ten reticle options with nine different colors
  • External power input
  • Profile memory allows different settings for different conditions
  • Complete with removable 850nm IR illuminator
  • Uses common AA batteries• Battery life up to four hours
  • Uses the latest CMOS sensor technology for the brightest and crispest images
  • Supports up to 64GB SD cards
  • Eye relief – 2.4 inches
  • Fully adjustable diopter
  • IP55 water-resistant
  • Length – 10.5 inches
  • Weight – 36.3 ounces with batteries
    • What comes in the package?
    • One Sightmark Wraith scope
    • IR flashlight
    • Objective lens cover
    • Fixed Picatinny rail mount
    • Quick start guide

Pros

  • Tough and durable construction 
  • Second focal plane reticle
  • Bright and clear images
  • An external power supply as an accessory

Cons

  • May not hold focus on larger bore rifles
  • Short battery life requires you to carry extra batteries or an external power source

Last update on 2021-01-31 at 10:42 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Digital night vision scopes make a lot of sense for most hunters.  The technology is sound, and the performance in both daylight and at night is exceptional.  The Sightmark Wraith is at the top of the heap when it comes to affordable digital night vision equipment.  There are certainly more expensive digital night vision scopes, but why pay more for the same technology?

Best Thermal Imaging Night Vision Scope – ATN 4 384 THOR 2-8X Review

ATN again lands on my list with the ATN THOR 2-8x Thermal imaging night vision scope.  If performance is a key factor in your choice of a night vision thermal imaging scope, the THOR 2-8x scope must be on your shortlist. 

ATN THOR 2-8x

ATN uses the latest thermal imaging technology in their products.  These scopes also include a wide array of additional features to enhance your shooting experience.  The THOR line of scopes is configurable with different display resolutions, magnification ranges, and extra options to create a night vision scope that truly fits the shooter’s needs.

You get the features you expect from ATN on a thermal imaging scope of this quality.

  • Magnification – 2 – 8X
  • Display resolution – 1280 x 720 pixels
  • Brightness settings – 5• Eye relief – 90 mm
  • Field of view angle – 12 degrees
  • Fully adjustable diopter• Ranges up to 960 meters
  • Uses an internal Lithium-Ion battery• Battery life up to 18 hours
  • Weather-resistant construction• Length – 13.5 inches
  • Weight – 2.03 pounds
  • Video recording to SD card
  • Built-in Wi-Fi streaming capability
  • Multiple reticle and reticle color options
  • Ballistics calculator
  • On-board gyroscope
  • Electronic compass
  • GPS functions
    • Included in the package
    • One ATN 4 384 THOR riflescope
    • Eyecupo Standard ringso L-shape ring
    • Scope cover
    • USB-C cable
    • Lens Cloth

Pros

  • Built for even large caliber rifles
  • Brightest images available
  • Exceptional clarity 
  • The built-in ballistics calculator is invaluable

Cons

Last update on 2021-01-31 at 10:43 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

It is hard to find a bad review of the ATN 4 384 THOR 2-8X thermal imaging riflescope.  I must admit that this scope’s cost is pushing the limits for most hunter’s budgets, but this is a scope that should serve you well for many years.  If you want the best thermal imaging night vision scope with more features than you may ever use, the ATN Thor should be at the top of your list.

Best Budget Digital Night Vision Scope – Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Scope Review

If your budget is limited but you are intent on adding a digital night vision scope to your rifle, there are plenty of options.  Night Owl is not an easily recognizable brand, but they produce a night vision scope within most hunters’ budget that includes a reasonable number of features.

Night Owl

The Night Owl NightShot scope is a good option for entry-level night hunters or anyone who wants to try out night hunting for varmints.  The Night Owl digital night visions scope offers a good list of features for the price.

  •  3x magnification
  • Ranges to 100 yards at night
  • Built-in infrared illuminator
  • Weatherproof
  • 640×480 resolution display
  • Weaver and Picatinny mounts
  • Eye relief – 2.7 inches
  • Three reticle options 
  • Two reticle color options
  • Weight – 1.3 lbs.
  • Length – 13.2 inches
  • Uses 4 AA batteries
  • Battery life up to 3 hours with IR Illuminator
  • Battery life up to 12 hours without the IR illuminator

Pros 

  • For the money, the best budget night vision scope on the market
  • Great image resolution
  • Good eye relief
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Not the best range 
  • Don’t mount on any rifle over .30 caliber

Last update on 2021-01-31 at 10:43 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you want to try out the night hunting game, the Night Owl NightShot digital rifle scope is a good way to go.   You won’t break the bank, but you will get a reasonably good digital night vision scope.  Don’t expect to get all the bells and whistles of digital scopes costing 2 or 3 times as much.  

Best Budget Thermal Imaging Night Vision Scope – ATN THOR LT 3-6X Thermal Rifle Scope Review

Let’s face facts.  Thermal imagining technology is expensive.  You can expect to pay thousands of dollars for a top of the line thermal imaging scope.  However, ATN can help a little with your budget.  The ATN THOR LT 3-6x thermal riflescope is one of the lowest cost thermal imagers on the market.

ATN THOR LT

At just over $1,000, the ATN THOR LT scope brings you all the quality and durability of the other ATN thermal imaging scopes and many of the same features of much more expensive units.  If you are on a budget but want to employ thermal imaging advantages on your hunts, the ATN THOR LT scope is a great choice.

Consider what you can get with the ATN THOR LT scope.

  • 3 – 6x magnification
  • 160×120 pixel sensor
  • 1280×720 pixel display
  • Multiple reticle choices
  • 90mm eye relief
  • Battery life 10+ hours
  • Weather-resistant
  • Length – 11.5 inches
  • Weight – 1.4 lbs.
  • One-shot zero feature
  • 3D accelerometer
  • Mounts using standard 30mm rings
  • Internal rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • External battery port

Pros

  • Great entry-level thermal scope
  • Well-built and durable
  • The one-shot zero is fantastic
  • The lightweight of this scope makes it easy to transport and handle when hunting

Cons

  • Magnification is only 3x or 6x. There is nothing in between
  • Expensive for an entry-level scope

Last update on 2021-01-31 at 10:43 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

At the price, the ATN THOR LT scope still must be considered an entry-level thermal imaging scope.  You just won’t find a cheaper thermal imaging night vision scope at a lower price.  The ATN THOR LT scope features are good, and the quality is as good as ATN offers.  You won’t be disappointed with the THOR LT scope, but you will probably soon be shopping for an upgrade.


The Final Verdict 

Of all the possible choices in night vision systems, for me, the decision hinges on price versus performance.  My overall choice for a night vision riflescope is the Sightmark Wraith 4-32×50 digital night vision scope.  The average night hunter pursuing the occasional feral hog or coyote should be more than satisfied with the Sightmark Wraith scope’s performance.  The price won’t bust your wallet and the features are as impressive as almost any other digital scope on the market.

I hope that this article has helped your understanding of night vision equipment and gives you a strong starting point as you decide which type of night vision equipment best meets your needs.  If you have more ideas, suggestions, or experiences, please share them in the comments section below.  Good shooting and good luck.


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