How do you learn to read in the dark? You go to night school. How do you find out which are the best night vision binoculars? Keep reading!
Shopping for night vision binoculars can be a real challenge, with so many options available (and many from less known brands). It is a market in continual flux, and we recommend you think carefully before you buy. A surprisingly large proportion of the products available on internet selling sites are discontinued by the manufacturer, which could mean a bargain but could give you problems with servicing and warranty. Buyer beware!
Night vision technology works in a similar way to mirrorless cameras, with sensors to collect low levels of ambient light and amplify this onto a screen for viewing. They usually include an infrared (IR) illuminator which works like a flashlight. The difference is that the camera can see the IR light reflected off a subject, but the human eye can’t. Not all IR is truly invisible though, as lower-quality units may leak light within the range of human vision. If this is an issue, go for the longest wavelength IR you can find and certainly over 900nm.
A lot of devices labelled as night vision binoculars are really not binoculars at all. They typically have two lenses at the front, one of which is for the camera and one for the IR illuminator. In other words, a night vision monocular is basically the same as many ‘binoculars’, just with a smaller display for a single eye. Keep reading to find our pick of the best night vision binoculars, monoculars, and goggles at every price point. And if seeing in the dark is less important for you, then check our guide to the best binoculars overall instead.
Best night vision binoculars overall
Many of the devices advertised as night vision binoculars are really nothing of the sort, as they have a single objective lens (often with a second lens alongside for the IR illuminator), and deliver night vision images via a single screen.
Not so these Night Owls, which are true binoculars with photomultiplier tubes for each eye. Although they offer no recording function they do deliver bright and clear night vision, in a conventional binocular format with adjustable eyepieces and a central focus wheel.
The fixed 5x magnification is slightly higher than many similar devices, but the NOB5X gates away with this thanks to its large 50mm objective lenses which can gather more light in the first place. When that light runs out, the IR illuminator is good for objects 100m or so away (although curiously the manufacturer makes no specific claim for this).
Like a good pair of regular binos, these offer close focus down to just 2m which again is better than most other devices. As a mid-price true night vision binocular we think they’re hard to beat.
Best budget night vision binoculars
Not the prettiest night vision binoculars available, unless early-1980s cubic design is your thing, the Wulf nevertheless offers features and performance better than some big-name devices costing a lot more. For daytime viewing the TFT LCD screen delivers bright full color images, while conventional night vision black and white kicks in after dark. The built-in IR illuminator should be good to light up subjects up to 300m away, but using this will eat into your battery life.
If passive night vision is good enough, you can expect up to ten hours of use from a set of eight AA batteries (not included), but lighting subjects up in IR will drastically reduce this. External USB power can be supplied, and the kit includes a powerbank holder. The screen is fairly low resolution by modern standards, being slightly sub-VGA, but video and still image recordings will be at full HD 1920 x 1080. Making this impressive package even more appealing are the decent semi-rigid carry case and 64gb SD card both included (although UK users please note that a three-pin adapter is not. And remember, you’ll be using them at night so nobody will see how ugly they look.
Most versatile NV binoculars
This is a versatile night vision device which offers daytime viewing, long IR illumination range, a laser rangefinder, and high resolution imaging. It captures 16.1 megapixel still images and QHD (also known as 2k) resolution video at 30 frames per second, or 1080p (1k) at up to 60fps. Views are delivered to the eyes via a pair of high-quality Amoled displays, giving a proper binocular-like feel.
For daytime use a special color filter is included which gives a more natural color balance, while at night the display can be black and white for best contrast, traditional night vision green, or amber – said to offer the best combination of detail and contrast. The IR illuminator should be good for subjects up to 600m away, while the laser rangefinder reaches up to 700m.
The Luna Optics LN-G3-B50 has a digital zoom taking the magnification from 6x to a useful 36x, but will only record at the lower 6x setting. You can stream to another device by wifi, connect by USB-C, or save to memory card. The binocular comes with a semi-rigid carry case, strap, cables, and an 8GBSD card.
Best for slow-motion video recording
Two stand out features make the Binox 4K worthy of consideration: high speed video capture at up to 120fps, making highly dramatic slow motion movies for later consumption, and its ability to share information in real time with several other people. This ‘ballistic information exchange’ (BIX) means that a subject can be tagged with a compatible laser, and its position relayed to smartphones and other ATN devices to generate a map overlay showing positions on a sort of radar screen.
The sociability extends to sharing a livestream video: while some night vision binoculars force you to record or stream, the Binox 4K will do both: record at 1080p and simultaneously stream at 720p. The integrated infrared illuminator and laser rangefinder both have a claimed range of 1000m, which is among the highest available, and the internal rechargeable battery offers an exceptionally long 15 hours of continual usage.
Best monocular for long range detection
This device from prestige German brand Zeiss is billed as a thermal imaging camera rather than a monocular, but this distinction will make no difference out in the field. What will make a difference is the quality of the optics and the clever additional functions built in. It has a fast refresh rate of 50Hz for flicker-free images, and offers picture-in-picture feature that makes it easier to keep a moving subject centered in the field of view.
There are four different color modes to the display, showing a heat source as either white, black, gray, or rainbow. White looks like a traditional thermal image, while black is like a regular mono photograph. Zeiss says the ‘red hot’ mode allows faster detection of thermal signatures, while the rainbow effect is both trippy and useful for detecting small differences in temperature. A hot tracking mode places red brackets around the warmest heat source in the frame.
The similar DTI 3/25 has a shorter focal length (25 instead of 35mm) giving lower magnification but a wider field of view, and is a better choice for use in heavily wooded areas.
Best entry level device
If you don’t need or want all the bells and whistles that come with more sophisticated night vision binoculars, this Nightfox unit might be for you. Weighing just 603g before the batteries are added, and nearly 800g after, it offers limited 100m range, adequate VGA resolution, and no recording function. It costs just a fraction of even other budget devices, and will enable you to see in the dark for up to six hours at a time.
Seven different levels of IR illumination should light up subjects as far as 100m away, and the 6x total magnification (3x optical, 2x digital) brings things that bit closer. The device is no frills, manual focus, and an affordable introduction to the world of night vision.
Best low-tech way to see at night
The purpose of any night vision equipment is to enable the feeble human eye to see in conditions it did not evolve for. The standard way of doing that is through photomultiplier tubes and electrickery to receive, amplify, and display a digital image.
A different approach is to use simple physics and optics, with lenses that collect for more light than your pupils ever could. These big 54mm objectives have a surface area over 40 times that of the dilated human pupil. This means that, even allowing for losses through the glass elements, they enable things to be seen where otherwise there is only dark. Intended mainly for astronomy (and you’ve never seen the Milky Way until you’ve seen it with something like this), they also perform well at simply amplifying the visibility of objects in the night.
No IR illumination, no batteries, and dependent on there being at least some light available (which there nearly always is), this is a low-tech high-reward approach to night vision.
Best head mountable
Bresser is a well-known astronomy brand and also makes a range of night vision equipment, including this basic head-mountable unit.
Its performance is no better than some devices costing a bit less, but it wins a place on our list for being so lightweight and with coming with the head mount included in the (quite reasonable) price. Like proper special ops night vision gear, this delivers an unmagnified image which makes moving around in the dark quite easy. A modest 2x digital zoom will get you a little closer to the action. IR illumination in seven increments should be good for subjects up to 70m away, and the unit comes with a rechargeable battery lasting up to eight hours and can be powered by an external powerpack via USB.
A similar model from Bresser, costing a bit more, also has still image and video recording functions but is not head mountable – we suggest checking which one you want before hitting the ‘buy’ button.
Modern night vision equipment can be affordable, powerful, and versatile, but not necessarily all three together. It’s always worth shopping around to find the best deals, but if you’re thinking of buying a discontinued item (and there are many of these right now) you take on extra risk.
Not all kit is available in all territories, and it’s even more important to note that not all kit is legal to own in all countries. Laws vary from country to country, and in the USA even state by state. Given the potential application of night vision binoculars for nefarious purposes, this is understandable. If in doubt check with a local retailer or club, who should be able to advise you.