Beginner’s Guide To Night Vision Part 1
We will be doing a series of articles about entering the world of night vision. There are a lot of ways to go about it and this is certainly not the only way to do it however you may be able to get some pointers and avoid problems. Night vision is either cheap or expensive. There is not much middle ground and price is generally what you pay for. In this article we will focus on the inexpensive night vision setups.
Cheap Night Vision
There are some really inexpensive night vision systems out there but how well do they work? 6 years ago I found a digital toy night vision scope. Don’t let the “toy” aspect fool you. I mounted it to my KRISS Vector and shot it at a night match. It actually worked.
The toy works on a similar set up to most inexpensive “digital night vision” scopes like the ones you see at Walmart. These digital night vision scopes use a digital camera CCD chip. Regular digital cameras have a filter across their CCD to filter out IR light. You can remove this filter in a digital camera and now your digital camera can see IR light. The major difference in these types of “night vision” compared to real night vision is that they do not amplify light. Does that make them bad? Not necessarily. It all depends on your needs and budget. While these setups do not amplify light, they can see IR light and IR lasers. So you can get an IR weapon light and IR laser to use on your firearm of choice. Just note that mounting these cheaper night vision systems is usually a DIY process. They are not designed to be mounted to a firearm. Now there are some ways to mount them to your head but your options are very limited and the money spent could be spent on a better setup.
One good feature about these digital setups is that they aren’t usually prone to burning out if you use them in bright light areas. For example, if you use them in a dark room and someone turns on the lights. This does not hurt digital night vision.
Surplus Night Vision
What about surplus night vision? There are a lot of cheap surplus European and Russian night vision scopes. For the most part they are big, bulky and not very good. The cheap ones are gen 1 night vision. Below is a comparison of a Russian Cyclop-1 vs an Armasight Spark Core and PVS14. The giant camcorder looking grip is actually an IR illuminator.
The Cyclop-1 is a Russian made night vision monocular. It runs on a 9v battery and has a very large adjustable lens. Unfortunately the image quality is not very good.
There is quite a bit of distortion in the image and there is magnifcation. There is little to no amplification of light and in fact I could see more with my naked eye and natural night vision with the aid of a moon lit sky. The one good thing about this setup is it is made very robustly with metal housings and they are relatively inexpensive. You can get them on ebay for around $150. These are actual night vision and even thought they do not amplify light very well you can burn them out with bright light so make sure you maintain light discipline. Use the day light pin hole cover if there is bright light.
Armasight Spark Core
So what is the next step? Armasight makes an entry level night vision monocular called the Spark Core. It is advertised as Gen 1+ or Gen1.5 night vision. The Spark Core has very good resolution and the image looks very clear. The Spark Core runs on a single CR123 and has a built in IR illuminator that works well for indoor use.
Here is a video using a SLR lens adapter on my Nikon DSLR.
There is a bit of distortion along the edges of the image but other than that it is very clear compared to the cheaper night vision.
The Spark Core is similar to the Gen1 night vision and does need an alternate souce of light to really work well. Also be careful exposing it to bright lights. I am using a airsoft weapon light that has both IR light and IR laser built into it.
With a good IR light the image quality is very good. The Spark Core can be bought for around $400-500. It uses a MUM-14 style rail system so any MUM-14 rail accessory will work. One big problem that I found is that most night vision accessories are very expensive. The arm that attaches to the monocular and clips into the mount on your helmet or headwear is called a J-Arm and typically costs anywhere from $150-$200. Just for a lump of plastic with some metal components. The Spark Core plastic arm, in the DLSR photo above, feels cheap and fragile but it only cost $80. I upgraded to a metal dovetail J-Arm and an airsoft clone of a Wilcox mount. I do not have a helmet so I got the Crye Precison Night Cap and went with a Norotos shroud with built in white/red/IR leds.
This setup works well as long as I have a good IR laser and IR light on my firearm. The best part is when I upgrade to better night vision I can use this same setup, I don’t have to go buy a new mount or head gear.
In the next night vision article we will see how my budget setup compares to a real PVS-14 Gen 3 night vision monocular.