5 Best Night Vision Binoculars in 2020 (incl. Gen 4)

Even the best binoculars with the brightest glass will fall short at producing clear images at night. Nature enthusiasts interested in observing late-night animals will need to use the best night vision binoculars to spot nocturnal wildlife. 

Night vision binoculars are much different from standard binoculars. Understanding the basics of night vision is key to finding quality optics that meet your every need. The guide below will walk you through the primary components of night vision binoculars and how to prioritize which features you’ll need. 

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Best budget option

Smart Night Vision

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Sightmark SM15070
Goggle Kit

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Goggle System

Night Vision Generations

Night vision (NV) binoculars are categorized by generations. The term generation refers to various features that an NV binocular may or may not have depending on its image quality and build. The most obvious difference between each generation is the price, with Gen 1 being the most affordable option and Gen 4 being the most expensive. Here’s what you can expect from each generation:

  • Gen 1: Generation 1 night vision devices (NVD) use external infrared light to illuminate objects at night. The added infrared bounces off objects and is then amplified by the NVD to brighten images despite a lack of natural light. Gen 1 has its limitations. Gen 1 NVDs struggle to view objects beyond 75 yds, and the images produced may have distortions around the outer edge.
  • Gen 2: Generation 2 NVDs are much better than Gen 1. Gen 2 NVDs are able to pick-up infrared light that is naturally emitted from the moon and stars, making a built-in IR illuminator unnecessary. However, cloud cover can impede the quality of Gen 2 NVDs. Overall though, the image quality is greatly improved and the range of vision reaches an impressive 200 yds.
  • Gen 3: Military forces use Generation 3 NVDs. This generation is capable of creating incredible NV images, no matter the weather conditions. Gen 3 NVDs are versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. The range of vision is also improved and can reach up to 300 yds.
  • Gen 4: Generation 4 is very expensive and rarely used, but Gen 4 NVDs are exceptional at producing high-quality images in extremely low light conditions.

What Are You Going to View?

Night vision binoculars have a range of practical uses. How you plan on using your night vision binoculars will determine which generation you’ll need and which features you’ll want to prioritize. How do you plan on using your night vision binoculars?

General Night Use: Night vision binoculars can be quite handy for general use around your property. Whether you’re checking on your outdoor animals or searching for something you may have dropped during the daytime, a Generation 1 NV optic would be the recommended option.

Wildlife Viewing: To view wildlife, you’ll want a NV binocular that has more range and can produce clearer images. Digital Generation 2 NV binoculars are the best option for wildlife enthusiasts hoping to observe nocturnal animals in their native habitats.

Hunting: Many hunters find NV binoculars very useful. Like those who use NV binoculars for wildlife viewing, hunters will want to use Digital Generation 2 optics. Many hunters may also want to opt for a hands-free option that can be attached to a head mount.

Security: For security purposes, Generation 1 can offer an affordable way to surveil your property at night. If you want to get optics that have a bit more range, go for a Gen 2 alternative.

Stargazing: Many amateur astronomers and stargazers find NV binoculars very useful. In order to get the best results from stargazing, you’ll want to opt for a generation 2 NV binocular. These are ideal for picking up the natural infrared light from the night sky.

You Get What You Pay For

Like most optics, quality comes with a cost and NV binoculars are no exception. To get the best NV experience, you’ll have to pay a lot more. Here’s what features you can expect at different price points:

  • 0-$500: For the typical consumer, a NV binocular under $500 will be sufficient to meet most needs. For under $500, you can get a Gen 1 NVD or a Digital Gen 2 NVD. The options in this range will be built with affordability in mind. Expecting waterproof optics or clear images at high zoom is a bit of a stretch, but there are plenty of great options in this range that are sufficient for a basic NV experience.
  • $500-1,000: NVDs in this range improve upon the standard Gen 1 or Digital Gen 2 NV binocular designs. These binoculars may include larger objective lenses, higher zoom capabilities, and improved durability.
  • $1,000-5,000: In this range, there are a variety of hands-free tactical NVDs in both Gen 2 and Gen 3. These NVDs are mostly used for military simulation.
  • $5,000-Up: Gen 4 optics are very expensive and for a good reason. NV optics at this price point will perform well even in pitch dark conditions. There will be no need to use an IR illuminator or rely on natural infrared to get clear images in the dark.

Night Vision Features to Look For

Night vision binoculars are more technical than regular binoculars. The images you see with NV binoculars don’t simply rely on magnifying lenses and prisms. They rely on a more complex series of image transmissions. When deciding on a NV binocular, be sure to check for these features:

Range Of Detection: Range of detection refers to an NV binoculars’ ability to project images at a distance clearly. Basic NV binoculars, such as Gen 1, will be able to produce decent images up to 100 yds. To get beyond that, you’ll need either a high-quality zoom or a Gen 2 binocular or higher.

Recording Function: Many NV binoculars come with video or photo recording capabilities. If you’d like a record of what your NV binoculars pick up, a recording feature would be a great feature to prioritize.

Resolution: Night vision resolution is measured by using line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm). The higher the number, the better the resolution. A NV binocular with 40 lp/mm or lower is typically considered a Gen 1 NVD. If the image resolution is your main concern, you may want to find a NVD with 40 lp/mm or higher.

IR Illuminators: Gen 1 NV binoculars require a built-in IR illuminator. These illuminators project infrared light in front of the binoculars so the light will bounce off objects and back into the lens. Gen 2 NV binoculars or higher do not require an IR illuminator, but having a built-in IR illuminator is useful, especially on a cloudy night when natural infrared light is not readily available.

How to Choose the Right Night Vision Binoculars

There are a range of options when it comes to buying night vision binoculars. Below you’ll find various specifications to look for when choosing a night vision binocular.

  • Magnification: Wildlife observers and hunters who want to identify nocturnal animals will want to prioritize a zoom NV binocular. A 3x magnification or higher is recommended for wildlife. For those who plan on using a hands-free NV binocular for simple night navigation, a 1x zoom will give you an image of your surroundings as they appear in real life.
  • Angular Field of View: It’s never fun to peer through binoculars only to find a narrow field of view. Fortunately, most NV binoculars have a fairly wide field of view compared to standard binoculars. The lower the angular field of view, the more limited the image will be. Wider fields of view will have a higher angular degree. A normal line of vision is about 40°.
  • Battery: Night vision binoculars require batteries, sometimes a lot of batteries (up to 8!). Finding a NV binocular that uses rechargeable batteries will help you save in the long run.
  • Weatherproof: Weatherproofing is an important consideration when choosing a night vision binoculars. Because NV binoculars are electronic, you’ll want to ensure that your NVD is safe in all-weather conditions. Although it costs to get waterproof NV binoculars, there are many water-resistant options that will be well-protected from rain.
  • Weight: Image quality is, of course, the main concern when purchasing NV binoculars, but image quality doesn’t always have to come in a bulky package. Lightweight, compact NV binoculars are available. If you plan on purchasing a hand-held NV binocular, you may want to avoid anything that weighs over 3 lbs unless you are planning to use a bino harness.

Best Night Vision Binoculars

1. CreativeXP 7x31mm Digital Night Vision Binoculars

For most wildlife watchers looking for night vision binoculars, the CreativeXP 7x31mm Digital Night Vision Binocular is the perfect match. 

These easy-to-use optics produce high-quality images in the darkest part of the night. The 4-inch screen makes viewing simple and the 7x magnification allows users to zoom much closer than standard night vision binoculars. 

This generation 2 digital night vision binocular offers other useful features as well, such as a 12mp camera and 1080p video recorder. 

Made in the USA, the Creative XP 7x31mm Digital Night Vision Binoculars are a reliable piece of optics equipment that come with a lifetime warranty and US-based customer support. 

Overall, for the price, quality, and dependability, the NV binoculars are an excellent choice for anyone looking for decent night vision optics.

Check the price of CreativeXP 7x31mm Digital Night Vision Binoculars here

What we liked

  • Easy-to-Use
  • Up to 7x Zoom
  • Takes Video & Photos
  • Clear Images
  • Includes Protective Case, Neck Strap, & 32 GB SD Card
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Water Resistant

What we didn’t like

  • Quite heavy
  • Requires 8 AA Batteries
  • No official info about battery life

Gen: Digital 2
Magnification: 7x
Lens Diameter: 31mm
Angular Field of View: N/A
Resolution: N/A
Battery Life: N/A
Weight: 3 lbs
Warranty: Lifetime
Weatherproofing: Water-Resistant

2. ATN BinoX-HD 4-16x65mm Smart HD Binoculars

One of the “smartest” options on the market is the ATN BinoX-HD 4-16x65mm Smart HD Binoculars. 

These binoculars include an array of smart features, such as a built-in rangefinder, GPS, WiFi connectivity, 3D gyroscope, and an e-compass. 

The list doesn’t stop there though. The ATN BinoX-HD 4-16x65mm Smart HD Binoculars also take pictures and records 1080p HD Video.

These binoculars are very versatile and can be used in a variety of settings and for a variety of purposes. Wildlife watchers looking for a binocular that can do it all will be thrilled by the ATN BinoX-HD 4-16x65mm Smart HD Binoculars’ day or night mode. 

This NV binocular does a great job producing clear night-time images and even has a zoom that reaches 16x.

Check the price of ATN BinoX-HD 4-16x65mm Smart HD Binoculars here

What we liked

  • Day or Night Use
  • Up to 16x Digital Zoom
  • Built-in Rangefinder
  • Includes 3D Gyroscope, e-Compass, & GPS
  • 1080p Video Recording & Photos
  • WiFi Connectivity
  • Includes Batteries

What we didn’t like

  • Not Compatible with Headgear
  • No Built-in IR
  • Somewhat bulky

Gen: Digital 2+
Magnification: 4-10x Smooth Zoom
Lens Diameter: 65mm
Angular Field of View: 6 °
Resolution: 90 lp/mm
Battery Life: 6-8 hours
Weight: 1.8 lbs
Warranty: 2-year
Weatherproofing: Weather-Resistant

3. Sightmark SM15070 Ghost Hunter 1x24 Night Vision Goggle Binocular Kit

If you’re looking for a hands-free alternative, the Sightmark SM15070 Ghost Hunter 1×24 Night Vision Goggle Binocular Kit is a great option. 

This kit comes with a 1×24 night vision binocular that can be used in-hand or attached to a head mount. 

If you plan on hiking into the woods at night and want to avoid using a flashlight, a hands-free 1x magnification NV binocular is an excellent choice that allows you to freely move about at night

The Sightmark SM15070 Ghost Hunter 1×24 Night Vision Goggle Binocular Kit is a durable, compact NV system. The quality of this Gen 1 optic provides a visual up to 100 yds and a close focus of .9 ft. 

With a battery life of up to 20 hours you could easily spend an entire night outside and be able to see despite the darkness.

Check the price of Sightmark SM15070 Ghost Hunter 1×24 Night Vision Goggle Binocular Kit here

What we liked

  • Good Image Quality, Even at 100 yds
  • Affordable
  • Compact & Lightweight
  • Wide Field of View
  • Bright Light Automatic Shutoff 
  • Helmet Compatible 
  • Includes Head Mount

What we didn’t like

  • IR Illuminator is Visible
  • No Zoom
  • Not Weatherproof

Gen: 1
Magnification: 1x
Lens Diameter: 24mm
Angular Field of View: 30°
Resolution: 30 lines per mm
Battery Life: 20 hours
Weight: 0.9 lbs
Warranty: 3-year Warranty on Tube, Limited Lifetime Warranty on Housing
Weatherproofing: Water-Resistant IPX-3

4. Night Owl Pro Nexgen 3x Night Vision Binoculars

Night vision plus zoom can result in image distortion. That’s why most NV binoculars will feature lower magnification than day binoculars. 

The Night Owl Pro Nexgen 3x Night Vision Binoculars offer a low 3x magnification to provide zoom while maintaining image quality

These adjustable NV binoculars will comfortably fit anyone’s line of sight. The battery life alone makes these NV binoculars stand out. 

With up to 80 hours, you won’t have to worry about your night vision going blank in the middle of the night. The Night Owl Pro Nexgen 3x Night Vision Binoculars are a great option for just about anyone interested in hand-held NV binoculars

Whether it be wildlife viewing, hunting, general use, or security, these binoculars will be able to perform the basic functions of a Gen 1 NVD.

Check the price of Night Owl Pro Nexgen 3x Night Vision Binoculars here

What we liked

  • Built-in Infrared Illuminator
  • Adjustable Interocular Distance (57mm-73mm)
  • Impact Resistant
  • Excellent Battery Life
  • Low Battery Indicator
  • Rubberized Finish on Binocular Body
  • Includes Carrying Case and Padded Neck Strap

What we didn’t like

  • Fixed Magnification
  • Not Ideal for Stargazing
  • Not Weatherproof

Gen: 1
Magnification: 3x
Lens Diameter: 42mm
Angular Field of View: 19°
Resolution: 35 lp/mm
Battery Life: 40-80 hours
Weight: 1.9 lbs
Warranty: N/A
Weatherproofing: N/A

5. ATN PS15-4 GEN 4 Night Vision Goggle System

The ATN PS15-4 GEN 4 Night Vision Goggle System is capable of producing high-quality NV images in total darkness. 

This NV goggle system can be used completely hands-free and is able to produce clear images in the darkest conditions. 

The ATN PS15-4 GEN 4 Night Vision Goggle System is a highly specialized piece of optics.  

Unless you plan on using these for advanced military simulations, there isn’t really a practical reason to use these NV binoculars for wildlife viewing. 

This goggle system may lack additional SMART features, but it’s components are top-of-the-line, featuring a waterproof lens body and resolution between 64-72 lp/mm.

Check the price of ATN PS15-4 GEN 4 Night Vision Goggle System here

What we liked

  • Sophisticate Gen 4 Night Vision
  • Hands-Free Head Gear Attachment
  • Dual Tube Night Vision to Produce the Clearest Picture in Dark Conditions
  • Built-in Infrared Illuminator
  • Fully Waterproof
  • IR & Low Battery Indicator
  • Excellent Battery Life 

What we didn’t like

  • Expensive
  • Does Not Zoom
  • No SMART Technology

Gen: 4
Magnification: 1x
Lens Diameter: 27mm
Angular Field of View: 40°
Resolution: 64 to 72 lp/mm
Battery Life: 40 hours
Weight: 1.5 lbs
Warranty: 2-year Limited Warranty
Weatherproofing: Waterproof

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