This used to be the stuff of Science Fiction — then Science Fact in the military — and over a few short years – off-the-shelf technology. In the 1980’s G1 and G2 night vision were things only for law enforcement, the military, and people with substantial budgets. Most were monocular and had grainy, but impressive images. Long-term use of these early versions (30 min to an hour) produced some stunning headaches. Now, we are on to G4 night vision with truly incredible resolution and sophistication.
A short thumbnail guide to cost is G1, under $1,000 , G2 under $2,000, G3 under $3,000 and G4, from about $4,000 to $8,000.
Recently we had an opportunity to use several different night vision systems. We also tried helmet-mounted monoculars and binoculars (aka, hands free).
What we were impressed with is how inexpensive the G1 and G2 are, and how much they have improved the resolution and the postponement of headaches. G3 and G4 are stunning.
We subjected G1, 2 and 3 to a few tests.
Operating a boat at night with no lights and no moon. Could be done with G1, though we did notice some problems with depth perception. No problems with G2 and 3. I would suggest the hands free version.
Hiking in the wilderness at night, with no moon. G1 had some image lags, but G2 and 3 were excellent. Used both hands free and hand on versions, both worked well but really preferred hands free. We also spotted a great deal of wildlife in our area that we would not have otherwise seen – albeit in green or black and white, but still nice. Some wildlife seemed to be sensitive to the IR, but it is only a guess based on their reaction to being illuminated with IR.
Surveillance and threat identification. G1, 2 and 3 all did well. Resolution was the key in the display. The better the display resolution the better we did at the surveillance and threat identification. Hand free or hands on – didn’t matter — as we were spotting, assessing, and moving on.
Emergency Evacuation from a darkened building. G1 was fine, as we could see what we needed to see to get out. With some G1 monoculars selling between 150 and 300 USD – it’s a bargain.
All of the models had the option of IR illumination. The IR was good when we avoided lighting up the foreground and aimed the IR illumination at the background. When we lit up the foreground the background all but vanished, just as it would in an over exposed photo.
We were experimenting with many models at the same time, and it was clear to those using the passive night vision when another member chose to use IR. The IR user glowed like a bright flashlight in the dark that would go all but unseen if not for the other members also using night vision gear. IR is definitely a plus when you are looking for someone with night vision who does not belong, or looking for a team member who does belong.
A night vision monocular with IR capability should be part of any security teams equipment, even if it is just a G1. This means building security, mobile patrols, emergency responders, executive protection, even many guard functions can benefit from the enhanced capabilities offered by night vision. It can also be part of a business professional’s emergency kit when traveling.