The first choice you will have to make when shopping for a night vision device will come to the style of the item, meaning either a night vision monocular, goggles, binoculars, etc.. This will, of course, be dictated by the use you intend to get out of it, since they don’t all fit the same applications equally well, or even at all.
The night vision monocular is considered to be the most versatile choice out there, and it’s truly a jack of all trades since it can be mounted both on your head and on your rifle, attached to a scope or red dot. With a proper adapter, they can even be fit to cameras for night time filming or photography.
Their low weight and compact frame make them very comfortable to wear, and the fact that one eye remains free will allow for better peripheral vision and subsequently increased situational your awareness. This also makes “blooming” — which is the confusing image distortion caused by light — less of a problem since only half of your field of view will be affected by sudden bright flashes.
This will only be a potential problem with early generation models, however, since a great night vision monocular of a newer design shouldn’t be prone to blooming due to the superior technology employed.
The only downside to this type is that it won’t feel as natural as a system that offers binocular vision when head-mounted. Regardless, the monocular is highly recommended if it will be the only night vision device you intend to own.
Although somewhat more cumbersome than the monocular due to higher weight, the ubiquitous night vision goggles are considered to be the best solution for head mounting. They feel natural and take very little getting used to, and some newer models will even allow for enhanced stereoscopic vision if two image tubes are used.
Goggles break into two main categories, those that use a single image tube with two eye sockets and the ones that employ a vision tube for each eye. Both of them are considered to offer superior depth perception as compared to the monocular, with the dual tube version offering significant better results since either eye will receive its own, slightly different image.
This will prove very useful when navigating, either on foot through a field or on your boat, dodging rocks and sandbanks. However, weight is also increased, and besides adding to user fatigue, this could make the goggles ride down on your face when walking or running, which can prove very uncomfortable.
They can’t really be mounted on an external device, so they suffer when it comes to versatility compared with the monoculars. However, for short distance navigation at night, there’s no better alternative, with the caveat that some might prefer the lower weight of a monocular when trekking over large distances.
Night vision binoculars have two eyepieces and built-in magnification. They are not practical to head mount due to the added weight of the objective lenses making them extremely uncomfortable, but you wouldn’t feel the need for this anyway since the magnification will dramatically decrease your field of view.
Night vision binoculars are basically employed the same way as regular ones, for long distance viewing, with the only difference being that they are used during nighttime. Some of the downsides you get with regular optics are present with the NVB as well, for example, the magnification will decrease image brightness, which means that it isn’t really practical to couple dimmer night vision devices with magnifying lenses.
If you want a workable NVB, you’ll have to pay the extra cash for a 3rd generation or above light intensifier, which is a leap forward in regards to brightness over previous apparatuses. Furthermore, there are only a handful of models that allow you to see the image at a natural zooming level, so don’t expect to be able to use any of the affordable binoculars out there when walking.
Night vision scopes also break down into two categories, one that is basically a larger and heavier rifle scope with an integrated light intensifier, and modular day/night systems. These last ones are two-piece devices, with a removable image intensifier which attaches to the front of a scope. Among the two, the dedicated night time scope is considered to offer the best performance, but no one can deny the versatility of the day/night version.
Speaking of versatility, some monocular devices can be attached to the eyecup of a regular scope, provided that the required adapter is present. Eye relief, in this case, shouldn’t really be an issue, since your eye is mainly presented with the image captured at the front of the intensifier. Light doesn’t pass through a photon/electron night vision device as it is captured by it much like it would by a camera film.
If you can’t really afford more than one night vision device, then an adaptable monocular might be your best option for scoped night hunting, as you can also use it to navigate. A small day/night piece will never gather as much light as a dedicated night scope, which, again, it is easily the top performing of the three. However, the day/night might be preferable in tactical situations, where carrying two scopes around for both day and night will prove especially inconvenient.