4 Best Night Vision (Rifle) Scopes

Whether you’re a hunter, a homeowner, or a large property owner, it’s alarming when things go bump in the night. You should be able to see – even at a distance – what’s prowling around out there. But if you’re not ready to invest thousands of dollars on the latest-and-greatest in night vision technology, there are alternatives.

In fact, there are so many affordable options that could become the best night vision rifle scope for your needs. But before we can do that, we first have to understand what makes a night vision scope work and what features to look out for.

If you are shopping for hunting equipment, also remember to read our guide about best spotting scopes.


What Is Night Vision and How Does It Work?

Night vision is exactly what it sounds like: being able to see clearly at night. Typically, a night vision device comes in the form of a rifle scope or night vision goggles. Older versions (or “generations”) of night vision technology only used ambient light – such as the light from the moon or stars. More modern night vision devices use both ambient light and infrared light to help you see in almost complete darkness.

The way that night vision works is a little complicated for anyone who isn’t well-versed in physics or optics. However, the basic idea is that light is collected by the night vision device’s large objective lens, and then it’s amplified by electrons – kind of like how sound can be amplified by a speaker. The amplified electrons then hit a phosphor screen that produces a green glow visible to the human eye. Where the electrons make the phosphor screen glow becomes the “picture” that you see when using a night vision device.

Voila! Let there be night vision! But how does one choose a night vision scope to use as an outdoorsman or aspiring protector of house and home? What else do you need to know before buying a night vision scope?


Features of a Good Night Vision Scope

There are so many great brands, product lines, and models to choose from when it comes to finding the right night vision scope. To narrow down which scope is best for you, there are a few factors and features to consider. Learning about these features will help you decide which ones are the most important for your needs. Then you can choose not just a sufficient night vision device, but the very best night vision scope for you.

Generations

When talking about night vision “generations,” you will find that there are either four or five of them (depending on who you ask). Gen 0 night vision technology was the first and most primitive, developed in the mid-20th century. At the other extreme end of night vision generations is the Gen 4 technology. Gen 4 may or may not technically exist (and may or may not be available for civilian use), so we don’t need to discuss it here.

Gen 1 through Gen 3 technologies include most if not all modern night vision equipment out there, from home use to military applications. Each successive generation from 1 to 3+ gets more advanced – and significantly more expensive due to technological differences. For the purposes of finding the best night vision scope under $1000, we’ll be focusing on Gen 1, Gen 1+, and comparably priced digital scopes that give you the best quality for their cost.

Durability

While a night vision scope doesn’t have to be as tough as nails, it does have to have some durability. After all, we’re talking about glass and sensitive electronic components – sitting on top of a gun!

When searching for the best night vision scope for you, try to pay attention to how weatherproof and shockproof the scope is. If you know that the firearm you use tends to have a lot of recoil, for example, make sure to check that your new night vision scope can handle itself well when you pull the trigger.

Weight

On the other side of durability is the importance of weight. Remember that your scope will be sitting on top of a gun or crossbow. If you’re a hunter who moves across long distances, you probably wouldn’t want it to be too heavy.

The design of the scope can be important, too. If you want to look around quickly for game (from tree to tree or bush to bush, for example), you probably want a light and agile kind of scope. Others may keep their gun more stationary as they use their scope. For these night vision users, a heavier, stockier scope could work well for that purpose.

Infrared (IR) Illuminator

An IR illuminator is basically a flashlight or spotlight that shines infrared (IR) light instead of regular light. Although humans can’t see infrared light with the naked eye, using an IR illuminator gives night vision more light to work with. That means that using an IR illuminator helps increase the clarity and range of most night vision scopes.

However, if you need to stay completely stealthy, more passive night vision systems are preferable. If an intruder or enemy is also using night vision technology, an IR illuminator can immediately give away your position, which could turn disastrous. However, if you’re hunting coyotes or wild hogs, they’re not likely to notice you using infrared technology.

Night vision scopes vary as to whether they include an IR illuminator with the purchase of the scope. If they do have an illuminator, it will either be detachable or integrated with the body of the scope. Some may prefer for their illuminator to be detachable since it’s easier to replace the default IR illuminator with an upgraded IR light. As with many night vision choices, however, this comes down to personal preference and the intended use of your night vision scope.

Digital Capabilities

Some night vision scopes are digital, while others use traditional or conventional night vision technology. Digital night vision scopes can more economically imitate the quality and clarity of more advanced generations of night vision technology. However, for certain stealthy applications – such as security – digital night vision scopes are more likely to alert someone else (using night vision) to your location. For hunting or target practice, digital night vision may be the best way to go.

Some enthusiasts disagree about the superiority of digitization when it comes to choosing a budget night vision scope. Like how some prefer analog cameras or amplifiers or digital, some say the more traditional methods of producing night vision are better. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you want the internal mechanism of your night vision scope to be digital or analog for its intended use.


Best Night Vision Scopes of 2017

At this point, you may have already decided which night vision scope features are most important to you. Now comes the fun part: choosing a specific brand and model to call your own. Between the different strengths and designs of Armasight, Firefield, Sightmark and ATN night vision scopes that we are about to introduce to you, you’ll be sure to choose the very best night vision scope to suit your needs.

Sightmark Photon XT Digital Night Vision Riflescope – The Popular Choice

Sightmark Photon XT 4.6x42S Digital

Pros
4.6x magnification with a 42mm objective lens
Waterproof and shockproof
Integrated IR illuminator
Up to 120 yards of clarity in low-light conditions
Records 640x480 video
Cons
Focus ring use can block your IR light
Washed-out images in close range
640x480 resolution is only middle-of-the-road for camera resolution
4.5
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Best Features:

  • Caters to crossbow hunters and firearm users
  • Sleek and lightweight
  • Six different digital reticle options

Best when used for mid-range targets (under 100 yards), the Sightmark Photon XT rifle scope is a real “bang for your buck” night vision scope seriously worth considering. The very lightweight design of the Sightmark night vision scope makes it appealing not just for firearm use, but also for crossbow hunters. The simple but versatile Sightmark Photon XT might just be the best digital night vision scope for your needs!

Sightmark

A decade-old Texan company, Sightmark is dedicated to helping their customers “aim and fire” as accurately as possible using Sightmark optics and firearms accessories. Found all across the United States and in over 40 countries around the world, Sightmark has sold more than a million of their more popular sight and scope products. When it comes to wide-reaching distribution and popularly purchased products, Sightmark may represent one of the best brands in the market.


Armasight Orion 5X Gen 1+ Night Vision Rifle Scope – A Diamond in the Rough

Armasight ORION 5X Gen 1+ Night Vision Rifle Scope

Pros
Inexpensive
5x magnification
Mounts easily to Weaver-style rails
Shock resistant
Cons
Very heavy
Hard to maneuver while hunting
Zoom not as clear as digital
4
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Best Features:

  • Adjustable reticle (crosshair) brightness
  • Holds zero well
  • Detachable IR illuminator

The Armasight Orion night vision rifle scope is great for someone looking for a no-frills, affordable introduction into the night vision landscape. This Armasight night vision scope does its job well and is a thoroughly solid Gen 1+ scope. Sturdy and unconcerned with digital complications, this best value night vision scope could be the heavy-duty night vision scope you’ve been looking for.

Armasight

Armasight is a relatively small hunting and home protection optics company that works under the more well-established FLIR Systems, Inc. Together, Armasight products have become FLIR’s Outdoor and Tactical Systems line. They strive to best serve hunters, outdoorsmen, home security enthusiasts, as well as police and military needs. Working together, these companies can help more customers stay aware and stay safe – in daytime light and even in the darkest night.


ATN X-Sight II 5-20x/85mm Smart Day & Night Rifle Scope – All the Bells and Whistles

ATN X-Sight II 3-14x/50mm Smart Day & Night Rifle Scope

Pros
5-20x digital magnification with large 85mm objective lens
Records 1080 HD resolution videos
Built-in gyroscope/image-stabilizer
compass
GPS
barometer
and Wi-Fi
Scope viewable using a smartphone
Cons
Heavy
More expensive than comparable scopes
Lots of features to get used to
5
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Best Features:

  • Ballistic calculator and rangefinder
  • Tons of customizable, high-tech extras
  • High-resolution video

When it comes to buying the best night vision scope for under $1000, the ATN X-Sight II may be the best investment for the modern, tech-savvy hunter. If you want a scope you can customize, take and upload videos with, and even share the view of your scope in real time, this is the night vision scope for you. The ATN night vision scope is an undeniable competitor among the many digital night vision options out there.

ATN

ATN is a 20-year-old company that provides optical night vision as well as thermal vision products to a wide consumer base. In addition to their wide-reaching selection of night vision devices, ATN also has a number of popular thermal scope lines, including the Thor and ODIN series models. In the five years since introducing digital night vision products, ATN has quickly become a brand of note when searching for the best digital night vision scope to fit your needs.


Firefield FF16001 Gen 1 Night Vision Rifle Scope – Getting More For Less

Firefield FF16001 Gen 1 Night Vision Scope

Pros
Incredible price
3x magnification and 42mm objective lens
Integrated IR illuminator
Quick detach mount
Cons
Right side IR light may be tricky for lefties
Not a good daytime scope
3
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Best Features:

  • Titanium body is very durable
  • Adjustable reticle brightness
  • Very affordable price

It can be hard enough to find a good night vision scope for under $1000. But what if you absolutely need a cheap night vision scope – one for far less than half that price? In that case, the Firefield night vision scope may be the best option for you. This non-digital budget night vision scope is ideal for beginner night vision users who need a tough, durable scope for heavy use in the field.

Firefield

Founded in 2009 in the midst of a nationwide economic downturn, Firefield has kept affordability as the foundation of their company’s mission. Modern hunters and home security enthusiasts don’t want overpriced, overwrought gadgets they care barely afford. Instead, security and sport-minded men and women want inexpensive but dependable firearm accessories at a great price and value for their needs.


Zeroing In On a Verdict

When searching for the best night vision scope for under $1000, there are many options to choose from. But armed with the knowledge of what to look for and a few quality brands to consider, finding one for you should be a breeze. Each night vision product has its place for someone: from the heavy-and-hardy low tech “old faithfuls,” to the lightweight digital night vision scopes with tons of techno extras.

It all comes down to what you like and how you plan to use your night vision scope. Once you know those two things, you’ll be ready to get your new scope. There’s no need to hurry, but there’s no reason to wait, either. Surveying your territory or hunting landscape in near-total darkness is almost a reality for you now – right now – so go on and find that perfect night vision scope already!