The Different Generations of Night Vision
Night vision technology has been around for decades now. Through the years, the technology has significantly improved leading to better equipment through what’s called Night Vision Generations. This means more accurate and clear images along with greater ranges.
This has also led to fall in prices as the technology finds uses in multiple applications from military to recreational.
The evolution of night vision technology has seen the emergence of different generations of as we will cover below.
Night vision equipment is commonly classified in terms of generations based on leaps in technology. These generations define the advancement of technology as it is brought to the market in the form of night vision goggles (NVG) or night vision scopes, typically.
While some enthusiasts and manufactures start with Generation 0, most everyone begin at Generation 1 or just Gen 1 night vision. A recent leap in technology has cause some to start using the term Gen 4.
Most people, especially the military, have refused to accept the term Generation 4 as of yet, but there are some night vision equipment that are labeled as Generation 4.
This is the original technology as it was used during World War II and the Korean War.
These devices operated on active infrared where are a projection unit Infrared (IR) Illuminator is attached to a Night Vision Device (NVD). It is this unit that projects the near-infrared beam of light that resembles what a torch or flashlight does. When light falls on the object, it bounces back to the device and thus can be detected. The electrons are accelerated using both an anode and cathode.
This way of operating means that the life of the internal components will be reduced significantly. Accelerating the electrons also causes them to be distorted somewhat leading to a poorer quality of image.
This technology was also very simplistic and was thus copies by all sides in the various wars it appeared in.
The different armies developed mechanisms of detecting the infrared light as a counter measure and their usefulness all but disappeared. This made the technology unreliable for use in security situations as well.
Unclear images, camouflage, and, concealment also proved problematic most situations.
An example of a Gen 1 Night Vision Scope is the Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3x 42mm Gen 1 Night Vision Riflescope seen below.
The challenge of detection of infrared beams led to development of passive infrared detection.
The second generation, or Gen 2, infrared night vision devices relied on IR light already present in the night sky provided by the stars and the moon. The problem was that they could not work well in cloudy environment.
They also still experienced a problem with distortion and short life of the tube (internal component). It however came with a few advantages:
- Vision was possible up to 200 yards
- Images were clearer, brighter and with better resolution
- They could operate without being detected because of an IR Illuminator
- Battery life extended
- The images are not very distorted even on the outer third of the view which was typical in Gen 1 devices
- The night vision monocular developed to have a longer lifespan, more versatility and more adaptable.
- Images are less likely to bloom regardless of the amount of light.
These advantages mean a lot in night vision and night fighting. The features and capability of these devices are enough for ordinary surveillance and typical night vision needs.
An example of a Gen 2 or Gen 2+ Night Vision Scope is the ATN X-Sight II 3-14 Smart Riflescope w/1080p Video, WiFi, GPS, Image Stabilization, Range Finder, Shooting Solution and IOS and Android Apps seen below.
At the time of this writing, Gen 3 is the gold standard when dealing with military grade night vision.
It is considered the best commercially available and is being used by both the military and special branches of law enforcement.
Because of technological developments at this level, several grades within the 3rd Generation have emerged. However, all are similarly reliable and will deliver quality images.
Because of their popularity they are also within the budgetary expenditure of most institutions and individuals.
An autogated image tube is one of the new features incorporated in Gen 3 night vision. This generation and its variations require less adjustment when a bright light is suddenly introduced into the field of view.
These devices are also designed to still be effective in extremely low light like a cloudy night. This happens by increasing the electrons taken in rather than just accelerating them resulting in a clearer and brighter image.
The advances in technology have also enabled better vision in places with artificial lighting like towns.
The advantages you enjoy with devices of generation three class include:
- Depending on the condition of your device and the model, you can view images that are 300 or more yards away
- Their images are appreciably brighter, cleaner, and of a higher resolution
- Performance in low light is exemplary
- They are the preferred choice for a covert operation because, while they benefit from IR Illumination, they do not need to rely on it. This passive ability makes them idea for use in covert surveillance and area security monitoring.
- They offer significant reduction in blooming. This is especially attributed to the autogated technology. This technology essentially allows night vision to operate in all lighting conditions.
- This generation is used to produce the highest rated night vision scopes, cameras, binoculars, monoculars, and other accessories which end up being more versatile.
- The life expectancy of these accessories is over 10,000 hours. This makes them among the most durable, reliable accessories, and cost efficient.
The capability produced by the autogated capability and technology is still considered state-of-the-art. Because it’s widely used in military and special law enforcement agencies it is considered the best there is commercially available.
An example of a Gen 3 Night Vision Scope Armasight Vulcan 6X FLAG MG Compact Professional Night Vision Rifle Scope seen below.
This is a slight tweak of generation three which explains why the military is yet to classify it as Gen 4.
The term has been recanted by the industry after tests in capability revealed that it does not meet the threshold of being regarded as a complete generation. It has been labeled as filmless Gen 3 or unfilmed Gen 3. In other words, the performance of these devices has been improved but not to a significant extent.
White Phosphor Technology
This is a technology that is being incorporated in devices of all generations.
Instead of images appearing in the ordinary black and green coloration, they appear in black and white. This gives you a better viewing ability because the appearance is more conventional or natural.
Previously, it was thought that it was better to use the green spectrum of light because the human eye can notice subtle differences in shapes better in that spectrum.
New developments have lead to clearer images and the green spectrum is no longer necessary for image distinction because of the improved the level of contrast.
The technology has gained approval in the security sector with military and police using it. It is therefore a technology that is likely here to stay. When buying your night vision equipment, if you want to upgrade to this technology there is an increase in cost.
Night Vision Devices
Most of the cheap night vision devices available in the market use Generation 1 or Generation 2 technology. This means that they do not deliver the sensitivity and clarity of professional equipment.
Generation 3, and, 3+ or military grade night vision equipment are a bit more expensive but will offer an incredible increase in experience. They will last significantly longer if you take proper care of them.
Choose your night vision device and night vision generation based on your needs to avoid disappointment.
When buying night vision equipment be sure to read our reviews carefully to avoid disappointment.