Not all that long ago, night vision was considered cutting-edge technology. Expensive, fragile, and difficult to use, night vision was mostly relegated to official military use. The best night vision scopes weren’t even unavailable to civilian shooters.
Today, night vision optics come in an array of sizes. They are cheaper, more reliable, and easier to use than the devices available just a few decades ago. With major advancements in night vision technology, the market has been flooded with affordable and practical options for practically any shooting application.
Night vision is no longer relegated to the modern battlefield. Quality night vision scopes are used by sportsmen to hunt predators, varmints, and other nocturnal game. Night vision scopes are also a popular choice for recreational and tactical shooters.
The options can be both confusing and overwhelming, especially for those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of night vision technology. Don’t worry. We’re here to help you learn what to look for in a night vision scope. We also have a list of what we consider some of the best rated night vision scopes available to the civilian shooter.
If you don't have time for the details, check out the list below for the best rated night vision scopes:
- 1Pulsar Phantom Gen 3 4x60mm Night Vision Rifle Scope
- 2Firefield NVRS 3x42 Gen 1 Night Vision Riflescope
- 3ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Riflescope
- 4Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Riflescope
- 5Sightmark Photon RT Digital Night Vision Riflescope
- 6Armasight Vulcan 4.5x3 Alpha MG Gen 3 Night Vision Scope
- 7Bushnell 4.5x40 Equinox Z Digital Night Vision W/Mount
- 8Armasight CO-X Gen 2HD MG Night Vision Scope
- 9Pulsar Trail LRF XQ38 Thermal Rifle Scope
- 10ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Rifle Scope
Table of Contents
- Types of Night Vision Scopes
- Best Night Vision Scope on the Market Review
- 1 Pulsar Phantom Gen 3 4x60mm Night Vision Rifle Scope
- 2 Firefield NVRS 3x42 Gen 1 Night Vision Riflescope
- 3 ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Riflescope
- 4 Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Riflescope
- 5 Sightmark Photon RT Digital Night Vision Riflescope
- 6 Armasight Vulcan 4.5x3 Alpha MG Gen 3 Night Vision Scope
- 7 Bushnell 4.5x40 Equinox Z Digital Night Vision W/Mount
- 8 Armasight CO-X Gen 2HD MG Night Vision Scope
- 9 Pulsar Trail LRF XQ38 Thermal Rifle Scope
- 10 ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Rifle Scope
- Final Thoughts
Types of Night Vision Scopes
Night vision devices use special technology to allow you to see in low light environments. Devices use either an image intensifier tube (IIT) or a camera sensor to transmit images to the viewer. Night vision scopes that use an IIT are classified in generations, ranging from Gen 0 to Gen 3 Plus.
The very first night vision devices fall into this category. Introduced during World War II, both German and US forces utilized this technology.
Gen 0 devices require an active infrared light to produce a viewable image. The units include an Infrared (or IR) Illuminator light, which the device uses to create an image along with an anode/cathode electron accelerator and a phosphorus screen.
Although Gen 0 devices allow the user to see images in low light, they have several drawbacks. They are bulky, fragile, and the images are of relatively low quality. Additionally, the IR light can be seen by others in the area, giving away the shooter’s position.
Gen 1 night vision technology uses passive infrared and ambient light. Gen 1 night vision utilizes an improved photocathode to increase image resolution and reduce distortion. However, images produced by Gen 1 technology tend to have blurry edges and lower resolution than more recent technology.
Gen 2 night vision technology produces much clearer images than either Gen 0 or Gen 1. The technology features an added micro-channel plate to increase light gain and image resolution.
Gen 3 technology uses the same technology as Gen 2, but with the addition of gallium arsenide to increase sensitivity. The result is the brightest, clearest images of all night vision technology.
Advances in Gen 3 technology increase the life of these night vision devices as well as improve image resolution. However, this technology comes with an expensive price tag. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Gen 3 night vision scope for under $2000.
All night vision devices that utilize Gen 0 through Gen 3 technology display green images. One major disadvantage to using a scope with this technology is that the internal tubes cannot be exposed to bright light, or they will burn out.
Digital Night Vision
Digital night vision technology converts ambient light into a digital image that is viewed on a screen. The image quality of most digital night vision scopes can be compared to Gen 2 traditional night vision technology.
Some digital night vision scopes can be used in daylight. They may also have features that allow the shooter to record, zoom, and change reticles. These versatile devices also tend to be more affordable than Gen 2 or Gen 3 devices.
Thermal imaging technology uses heat rather than light to produce a viewable image. Scopes that utilize this technology create high-contrast black and white images and can detect tiny differences in heat down to 0.01 Centigrade.
Like digital night vision, thermal imaging can be used during the day. Thermal imaging makes it quick and easy to spot living targets. However, sometimes the images lack detail, which can make precision shooting problematic for hunters.
Best Night Vision Scope on the Market Review
Not all night vision scopes are created equal, and some are better suited for certain shooting applications than others. Here are some of our favorites. They run the gamut of cost. However, if you want state-of-the-art performance and loads of features, expect to make a major financial investment.
1 Pulsar Phantom Gen 3 4x60mm Night Vision Rifle Scope
As we mentioned before, Gen 3 is the real deal when it comes to night vision technology. With the brightest images, the longest viewing range, and the best image resolution, there is no better way to shoot after the sun goes down.
Not only does this rifle scope deliver exceptional night vision capabilities, it’s also jam packed with other awesome features, including a red-on-green or green-on-green mil-dot reticle, intuitive controls, and a weaver rail for a digital camera adapter.
It’s also durable enough to withstand rough handling and rugged conditions, offers a wide field of view (FOV), and is nitrogen purged for fogproof performance.
The price tag on the Pulsar Phantom Night Vision Rifle Scope may be enough to create a serious case of sticker shock, especially for shooters on a shoestring budget. However, it’s hard to beat this level of clarity and performance. We think the Pulsar Phantom is well worth the investment.
2 Firefield NVRS 3x42 Gen 1 Night Vision Riflescope
A great option for budget-conscious shooters, this Gen 1 night vision scope from Firefield is the best value for the money. Coming in at well under $500, the Firefield NVRS is the perfect entry level night vision optic for hog hunting, coyote hunting, or any other nighttime shooting endeavor.
Designed specifically for AR-15 and other modern sporting rifles, the NVRS is lightweight, durable, and has a quick-detach weaver mounting system so you can easily swap optics for day or nighttime shooting. This quality scope also features multi-coated glass, a built-in infrared illuminator, and an illuminated duplex reticle with incremental brightness adjustment.
Perhaps the best thing about this optic is its rugged durability. It has a titanium body with a water resistant IPX4 rating, making it more than capable of handling some abuse in the field. However, you’ll want to get in close on your targets. Its range is only about 75 yards.
3 ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Riflescope
Most night vision scopes can only be used after the sun goes down. If you want to make a seamless transition between daylight and nighttime shooting, it takes a special optic. We consider the X-Sight riflescope from ATN to be one of the best day/night optics on the market.
Not only can you use this one scope for all your shooting needs, it also comes packed with extra features. You get adjustable magnification (5-20x), a 4K video recorder with built-in HD screen, and recoil activated recording so you can capture all the excitement of your hunts.
This optic also features a ballistic calculator, barometer, rangefinder, and Wi-Fi streaming. If you want a high-tech, do-it-all scope, this thing is a virtual computer you can mount directly to your hunting rifle.
4 Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Riflescope
The NightShot Digital Night Vision Scope from Night Owl Optics is ideal for varmint hunting after the sun goes down. Perfect for picking off rats, rabbits, or larger hogs and coyotes at distances beyond 100 yards, this digital optic has a large FOV, 3x magnification, and sturdy, weatherproof construction.
It easily mounts on either Weaver or Picatinny rails, has three reticle options, and has a built-in infrared illuminator. Made from heavy-duty engineered thermoplastic, the NightShot digital rifle scope is lightweight, durable, and completely weatherproof. It also easily handles the recoil of rifles up to .30 caliber, making it ideal for .308, .30-06, or even .300 Win Mag.
5 Sightmark Photon RT Digital Night Vision Riflescope
If you want quality night vision for under $1000, digital is the way to go. This digital night vision riflescope from Sightmark is easily one of the best digital options on the market. The Photon RT is lightweight, compact, easy to mount, and has a built-in IR illuminator. You can choose from six different reticle options, and it has a one-shot zero function. And we haven’t even begun to discuss the image resolution this scope provides. (Hint: it’s pretty incredible.)
Packed with tons of cool features, the Photon RT is more than just a rifle scope. It also features built-in video and sound recording. You can even live stream footage to Youtube or any smart device with the original Stream Vision App.
6 Armasight Vulcan 4.5x3 Alpha MG Gen 3 Night Vision Scope
If you want the best in night vision technology, here it is. Just be prepared to pay for it. We are aware that the Armasight Vulcan rifle scope comes with a pretty hefty price tag. Do we think it's worth it? Yes. Every single penny.
This is professional grade, Gen 3 night vision technology. The Vulcan has an illuminated mil-dot reticle that comes with both a manual brightness dial and an automatic brightness setting. This optic also comes with a wireless remote control, shockproof optics, multi-coated glass, a quick release mount, and a detachable IR illuminator.
The compact, lightweight design of the Armasight Vulcan won’t unbalance your rifle, making it ideal for predator hunters and tactical marksmen who need pinpoint precision for their after-dark shooting.
7 Bushnell 4.5x40 Equinox Z Digital Night Vision W/Mount
Because night vision is such a specialized technology, few optics companies have tackled both night vision and traditional scopes. Bushnell is one exception, and the company does a fine job with both. The real beauty of Bushnell’s Equinox Z is it can function as a stand-alone handheld device, or you can mount it directly to your rifle and use it as a night vision scope.
Although the Equinox Z doesn’t have a bunch of fancy features, it is a highly practical and functional night vision optic. However, like most digital night vision, the Equinox Z allows you to video record your hunts for later viewing.
8 Armasight CO-X Gen 2HD MG Night Vision Scope
This clip-on night vision optic from Armasight instantly turns your daytime weapon into a nighttime weapon. The CO-X easily attaches and detaches to your centerfire or rimfire rifle without needing to re-zero.
The CO-X is compact and lightweight for a Gen 2 night vision scope, but don’t be fooled by its size. It has serious high-end features, including manual gain, which can be used to adjust brightness levels to ambient light conditions. The CO-X also has an auto shut-off feature, high-definition optics, a wireless remote control, and excellent battery life.
9 Pulsar Trail LRF XQ38 Thermal Rifle Scope
No list of night vision optics would be complete without at least one thermal imaging rifle scope. Thermal imaging allows you to view heat signatures rather than reflected light. Although target details can sometimes be fuzzy, nothing beats thermal imaging for seeing game animals obscured by thick brush.
The Pulsar Trail lets you easily see heat signatures as far as 1400 yards. It also has built-in recording with 8 GB of internal memory, an integrated laser rangefinder, white-hot and black hot viewing modes, and 13 different reticle options. The Pulsar Trial is also dustproof, fogproof, waterproof, and works reliably in temperatures ranging from -13 to 122 degrees Fehrenheit.
10 ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Rifle Scope
We have one more thermal rifle scope for you. Like other thermal devices, the ATN ThOR detects heat signatures rather than gathering ambient light. This high-tech device also features a ballistic calculator, laser rangefinder, and high resolution HD video and photo recording.
The recoil activated video (RAV) allows you to capture every adrenaline-pumping shot, and Wi-Fi streaming lets you share everything with your friends. The ATN ThOR is sure to tickle the fancy of high-tech gear junkies, but nighttime hunters will also appreciate many of these super cool features.
Choosing the best night vision scope to meet your specific shooting needs can be a tough decision. However, no matter which optic you choose, spend some time getting to know it. Ultimately, accuracy and proficiency are your most effective weapons, no matter which scope you have mounted on your rifle.