What are the best night vision scopes available today?
When you think of a night vision scope, you likely think of military applications. Originally introduced by the Germans in WWII, these Nachtjäger devices were tank-mounted telescopic rangefinders. In the U.S. development of the M1 and M3 infrared night sighting devices (the “sniperscope” or “snooperscope”) saw service with the U.S. Army WWII as well.
These night vision devices (or “NVDs”) act as a force multiplier – greatly extending military capabilities in nighttime and low-light situations and giving the user a massive tactical advantage.
While night vision scopes are certainly used by military and police, they are also available to regular consumers.
Night vision scopes are electro-optical devices that enhance visible light in environmental conditions with little or no light – allowing you to see in the dark. These scopes can be used for self-defense, hunting, backpacking situations, pest control, hog hunting, and other purposes.
If you’re going to be doing anything in the dark with a firearm, having a night vision scope will almost certainly make you more efficient & effective.
We sent 13 night vision scopes out with 3 former Marines across Arizona & Colorado to get their take on the best night vision scope across a variety of price points.
Quick List: The Best Night Vision Scopes or Any Shooter:
The Best Night Vision Scopes Under $500
At under $500 you might not expect much, but what our testers found is that there are indeed some fantastic scopes for very little money. These scopes will enable to you do everything you need as long as you’re working between 100 to 200 yards. Any further than that is likely pushing the capabilities of the rifle scopes at this price point.
- Optional accessories include an integrated 5mW adjustable IR illuminator with spot/flood focus knob
- Superior for extended surveillance
- Automatic shut-off when exposed to bright light sources
The Sightmark Photon XT 5.5x50L Digital Night Vision Scope offers both day and night-use options. It also features a digital reticle with six different styles ranging from Mil-Dot to Duplex, so you get a lot of configurability out of the gate.
The scope offers a high-resolution display with a built-in 780mm laser infrared illuminator. Our testers found the scope to be an excellent value – even with minor gripes about quality control. Beyond that, this scope performed well.
Our testers liked the six different reticle options, the fact options for day and night use, and the intuitive interface.
The addition weaver rail allows you to add accessories – a feature not found on every scope out there. Also, the video output allows you to attach a camera to showcase your exploits later on.
Overall, this is a fantastic choice for this category.
- Six different reticle options
- Doubles as a monocular
- Long eye relief
- Additional weaver rail for accessories
- Video output enables video recording
- Not good for over 200 yards
- Some reports of quality issues
The Firefield NVRS 3×42 Gen 1 Night Vision Scope is another good option at this price point. The scope features high-quality image resolution, a built-in IR illuminator, 3x magnification, and a quick detach feature. The effective range is about 150 yards.
While not right for everyone due to range restrictions, this scope can be a smart choice for any shooters who are regularly making shots under 200 yards.
The titanium body contributes to a surprisingly lightweight scope, which makes this a good choice for almost any rifle.
Our testers found this scope accurate and easy to use. It would be perfect for smaller caliber rifles or rifles you plan to shoot at 100 yards or so.
While testers found it can shoot accurately up to 150 yards, the nuances of the target started to blur beyond that, which made longer-range target acquisition challenging.
Still, this is a well-made night vision scope that comes with few downsides.
- Generous eye relief
- Easy-to-see red reticle
- Range limitations
- One reticle option
- Easy-to-use: Mount, Sight, Shoot
- Call for mounting advice: (800) 444-5994
- Range: 100-200 yds. in typical nighttime environments
The Night Owl Optics NightShot Digital Night Vision Scope is another scope at this price point that offers a competitive package.
It features 3x magnification, a digital display that’s crisp and clear, a 100 to 200-yard range, three different reticle types, daytime and nighttime use, and is rated for use for any caliber below .30.
Our testers found this scope provided more flexibility than some other options – working well both in twilight and in the dead of night. The more light available the further you can see and shoot – but you’ll struggle to shoot much more than 200 yards with this scope.
Also, while rated for day and nighttime use, our testers found this scope washed out during very bright light – making it difficult to see the target.
Still, you can accurately shoot during the day as long as it’s not excessively bright.
Daytime shortcomings notwithstanding – in terms of night vision optics this is one of the best dedicated night-use scopes at this price point.
- Clear display
- Three different reticles
- Good for both twilight and dark conditions
- Tough to replace the batteries when mounted
- Limited to 200 yards
- Daytime shooting not the best
The Best Night Vision Scopes Under $1,000
Once you get up into the $500 to $1,000 range, features like Wi-Fi connectivity and video recorders become more common. You’ll also get scopes that offer more in terms of ambient lighting and better clarity in low light conditions. As you can imagine, these scopes are just a step up from their budget counterparts.
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If you’re looking for a step up from the sub $500 night vision scopes that were showcased above, then the ATN X-Sight II HD 5-20 Smart Day/Night Scope could be perfect.
This scope has an impressive number of features – including a high-resolution display and seven reticle styles – including both BDC and Mil-Dot.
You also get an automatic rangefinder that makes it easy to dial in the range to your target. Once the distance is determined, the sight automatically adjusts to the range, making longer shots much easier.
This feature in addition to things like Wi-Fi streaming and video recording make this a significant step up from the scopes listed above.
Our testers were pretty impressed with this scope. If offers features that weren’t expected for the price.
Sighting in the scope is a little different. You shoot, then place the reticle where the shot actually landed and press a button. The scope then adjusts based on that shot. This is different than the usual process, but our testers found it worked well and after getting sighted in even up to 300 to 400 yards.
- Automatic rangefinder
- Seven reticle options
- Easy to set up and use
- No traditional windage and elevation knobs
- Could use a wider field of view
The Sightmark Photo RT 6-12×50 Digital Night Vision Scope doesn’t cost much more than the scopes in the sub $500 section, but it offers more functionality and is certainly a step up for day-and-night scope technology.
The scope features a high-quality digital display and a high-level digital zoom with LED infrared illuminator that allows you to shoot up to 280 yards in total darkness.
There are six different reticle options for you to choose from and the scope comes with Wi-Fi streaming.
Our testers found the scope performed nearly flawlessly out to its 280-yard limit. Beyond that, it became a challenge at times.
While our testers found the scope to be one of the best at this price point they did caution to bring additional batteries with you as the scope seems to burn through batteries faster than you’d expect.
The last thing anyone needs with a trophy buck in their sights is for their scope to go dark with their finger on the trigger.
- Clear display
- Wi-Fi connectivity
- Six reticle options
- Only good up to 280 yards
- High battery consumption
- No "fish bowl" effect; built with a high performance Gen 1+ tube
- Ballistic red on green reticle with bullet drop compensation scale
- Reticle brightness control
A popular varmint hunting option, the Bering Optics BE16350 Trifecta features Gen 1 scope with a red-on-green MIL-dot reticle and an aircraft-grade aluminum body.
The range of this scope is 300 yards, and it has a long eye relief of 50 mm to ensure its both comfortable and effective. It should easily mount to pretty many different rifles via a standard weaver rail mount system.
Our testers found the Bering Optics scope offered solid image quality for shots up to 300 yards at night.
The manual control of the brightness of the reticle proved handy at times, and our testers reported it feeling sturdier than some of the other night vision scopes in the test group.
Overall, this is a good option that should last many hunts.
- Quality construction
- Easy to mount and use
- Offers up to 300-yard range
- Not as feature-heavy as other options
- Slightly heavier than other scopes
The Best Night Vision Scopes Over $1,000
Once you get over the $1,000 mark, you’ll find that this is where you get into the real military-spec, professional shooter night vision scopes.
These are the scopes that can generally aid you in shooting well over 300 yards. The best scopes, depending on how pricey you get, will even give you a clear picture of what’s down your rifle sights at 1,000 yards or more. These are the cream of the crop.
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This scope from theOpticGuru provides a good thermal scope option for a fair price. The scope can be used both during the day and at night.
The OpticsGuru Thor LR is a thermal scope and not an infrared scope, so it allows you to see your target even in total darkness and through the fog, smoke, or heavy vegetation.
The scope easily mounts to just about any rifle and it allows you to see in detail targets, such as hogs, at 150 yards without issue. Our testers found that you could even see the movement of the target at 300 and 400 yards – though they noted the detail was much less clear at the 400 yard range.
This isn’t a scope that’s full of special features. However, finding a quality thermal imaging scope at this price point is worth noting. These scopes offer impressive capabilities, and theOpticsGuru Thor LT gives you a quality thermal scope option for less.
- Thermal works both night and day
- Clear details up to 150 yards
- Ability to see movement out to 400 yards
- Weather-resistant and well-made
- Lacks some of the features other scopes offer
- Details fade quickly after 150 yards
- 4x Magnification, 125mm Objective Lens, 8° FOV, 25m to Infinity Focus Range
- Automatic brightness control, Adjustable projected reticle
- Powered by 2 AA batteries, 60 hour continuous operation
The Wolverine Pro 4 3NW Gen 3+ night vision scope is one of the best at any price point – offering Gen 3+ night vision technology. This is a scope that’s based on high-quality military-spec scopes – and performs like it.
The scope features 4x magnification that allows you to see for several hundred yards. There are automatic brightness control and adjustable projected red reticle, two features that help make this easy to use. There’s also a detachable infrared illuminator.
Gen 3+ night vision provides the highest level of resolution and clarity you can find. This means the Wolverine Pro 4 3NW Gen 3+ will provide a higher-quality clarity than any other scope listed here. With that said, it does cost significantly more money, which you certainly have to take into consideration when shopping.
- Long battery life
- Excellent magnification and clarity
- Gen 3+ night vision capability
- Only one reticle
- Heavier than other options
The Pulsar Trail XQ50 Thermal Scope is one of the most expensive on our list, but it offers a whole heck of a lot. The scope is made with modern hunting needs in mind, including an app that allows you to connect the scope to your smartphone for streaming purposes.
The XQ features a 384×288 pixel thermal imaging sensor and 2.7-10.8x magnification. This will allow you to shoot comfortably from a few hundred yards out. The scope connects to your rifle via a standard weaver rail system and offers automatic distance detection up to almost 2,000 yards.
Our testers found this to be highly accurate and the connectivity features to be very easy to use. This allows you to see coyotes or hogs at more than 1,000 yards out without issue at night.
While connecting the system up via the app turned out to be easy, some testers did report issues with video clarity. Still, the capability alone is pretty impressive.
- Excellent magnification and clarity
- Thermal imaging
- App for streaming to a smart device
- Only one reticle
- Heavier than other options
Night Vision Scopes: A Primer
A night vision scope is designed to work just like a traditional scope but in low-light or nighttime situations. These devices allow you to detect an object in limited light, recognize that object more clearly, and identify its distinguishing features – greatly increasing your ability to accurately engage targets even if there is little or no light available.
The end goal is the same as any other scope – see and hit your target.
Night Vision Scopes & The Visible Light Spectrum
Visible light comprises a relatively narrow band of the broader electromagnetic spectrum. This visible spectrum is experienced by the human eye as colors – from violet to red. Each of the colors in the visible spectrum has a characteristic wavelength – with violet at around 400 nanometers and red at 700 (nm) and light reflecting at these wavelengths is what gives objects their color.
Objects which appear blue absorb all other observable wavelengths — except for blue — which is reflected.
Night vision scopes are sensitive to portions of the electromagnetic spectrum — called bands — outside the range of human vision. They allow the human eye to use these additional bands to illuminate an object, and making them incredibly useful any number of applications – from search and rescue to surveillance, law enforcement, forensics, hazardous material response, hunting and tracking, navigation, and even engineering.
Considerations for selecting a night vision scope
Types of Night Vision Scopes
There are a few different types of technologies that allow scopes to provide night vision capabilities. The first is image intensifier night vision, the second is digital night vision devices, and the third is thermal imaging.
All of these utilize an optical tube and multi-coated lenses. In the case of image intensifier night vision and digital night vision the scope uses an infrared sensor to turn infrared light into visible light, which enables users to acquire targets in near pitch black. These kinds of scope may also offer different kinds of durability-focused features like sealed bodies and water resistance.
Thermal imaging, on the other hand, doesn’t use light to illuminate the target. It uses tiny differences in heat to detect and display the target. This means thermal scopes can be used during the day and at night IR & digital night vision rifle scopes can only be used during the night.
Just like with any other scope, magnification is important. You’ll need to be able to magnify your target to get an accurate shot at range. Night vision scopes offer varying degrees of magnification and you need to make sure that you get a magnification that works for you.
Think about how far out you’ll be shooting. Are you going to be making 100-yard shots? Will you be shooting over 300 yards? These details need to be factored in when you’re choosing which night vision scope is right for you.
Ease of Use
There’s a lot to dial in when it comes to night vision – power adjustment controls, NIR illumination, and focus should be clearly labeled, easy to locate and operate with one hand in the dark.
The battery compartment should be quick to open and provide easy battery replacement.
Gain control adjusts the level of image brightness, which is an important ergonomic consideration. Specifically, look for gain control knobs which allow for adjustment without interrupting use. Weather can make for inconsistent ambient light so it’s critical that you can adjust the brightness to maintain optimal visibility of your targets.
The opposite is also true – if you’re in a situation where you’re using night vision for an extended period, dimming the display when there’s higher amounts of ambient light can help reduce eyestrain.
Of all the scopes listed here, the best night vision scope for most people is the Pulsar Trail XQ50. Yes, it is one of the most expensive options listed, but it also offers the best experience to its user.
With night vision scopes you get what you pay for, and while the other scopes on this list are excellent options, if you eliminate price from the equation, the Wolverine Pro 4 would probably take the top spot. If it fits in your budget, the Wolverine Pro is hard to beat.
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