Infrared vs Thermal Night Vision | Which is the best for you?

Which night vision device is right for you?

Whether you’re a serious hunter, a military man or just a man who wants to be prepared for anything that comes your way, you’ve probably realized you need a scope that functions in low-visibility or no-visibility situations.  Do you go for Infrared vs Thermal Night Vision?

A lot of the websites that try to explain the differences in these scopes just end up sounding like you’re talking to a rocket scientist. The rest of them sound like desperate commercials about why you should buy their brand. Neither of these are helpful if you’re just a regular guy looking for good, quality night vision.

This post isn’t going to be long-winded or annoyingly technical.

I’m not going to try to shove products down your throat.

I’m just going to break down the differences between the most common types of night vision and leave you a few links to products I trust.

Night Vision Soldier

Night Vision

If we’re being technical, this type of night vision scope is called image intensification, or just I2. Obviously, this kind of technology only works at night. This scope gives you the gray and green images you’re used to seeing in movies and television.

It captures bits of light from the environment, such as the moon and stars, and uses a special, electronic tube to magnify that light and project it onto your lens. This is the green image you see.

The images from these scopes are varying shades of green because the human eye can see more shades of green than any other color. This means that green imaging gives you the best, most detailed vision.

The most important thing to remember about night vision is that it won’t work in total darkness. It needs a little bit of light to work its magic, no matter which generation you choose.

Gen 1 units typically need an infrared illuminator to be useful. These are the least precise, and images are often cloudy and noisy.

Gen 2 units are better quality and produce brighter, clearer images than Gen 1. These have a short depth of field, however, so you may have to spend time adjusting focus when targets move.

Gen 3 is the highest quality and offers the best focus and clarity. These are used by law enforcement and some military operations.

A few of the best include:
ATN X-Sight II 5-20 Smart Riflescope
Armasight Nemesis6x-SD Gen 2+ Rifle Scope
ATN Gen 2+ Night Arrow 4-2 Weapon Sight

Infrared and Thermal Scopes

Even though you might see infrared and thermal vision talked about as two separate things, when you’re looking for a scope, they’re basically the same. Most quality scopes will be labeled with “thermal imaging” or something similar, so that’s what you should look for when you’re shopping.

A thermal scope works by capturing heat from the environment instead of light. This heat is actually infrared energy, which is why you’ll see both terms used sometimes. Everything in the world produces at least a little bit of infrared energy, so it’s easy to get a clear view of your environment with infrared technology.

When you view something hot, like humans, animals or running machinery, the image will show up in shades of gray and white with the lightest areas being the hottest or vice versa depending on the scope.

Things like trees or buildings will show up as “cooler” images because there is not much energy release happening.

IR Hunter Thermal Riflescope 35mm Reticle 2

Thermal imaging is very detailed and doesn’t need light to work.

The most basic thermals have a range of 300 yards for a man-sized heat signature. Mid-level detectors typically have a 500 yard range, and an extender can lengthen that range to 900 yards. The upper-tier, military and law enforcement-grade ones can accurately detect heat over half a mile away.

A few of the best include:
ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Riflescope
Armasight Zeus 336 Thermal Imaging Weapon Sight
IR Hunter Mark II Thermal Rifle Scope

It’s critical to have the ability to see your environment clearly, even in the dark.

Now that you’re informed, which optic is right for you?  Thermal is clearly superior in most situations but the industry has yet to come out with a wearable solution like night vision goggles.  But what do you need it for?  What can you afford?

Nobody can answer the Infrared vs Thermal Night Vision question except YOU!

Goggles or a helmet mounted monocular allow you to move using night vision.  For many people, mobility is key.

Night Vision Goggles

If you’re going to remain stationary then either optic in a riflescope or handheld configuration would work for you.

Armasight Vulcan 6X In Action

In a perfect world, maybe you’d have both?

Bottom line, a good, thermal vision scope is going to cost a lot more than an infrared scope, especially if you want one that can be mounted on your rifle.

However, regardless of your choice, however, you can rest easy knowing you’re prepared.