Since the dawn of time, humans have longed to see in the dark. Early efforts at fitting torches to spears and clubs did little except start awkward fires.
Shortly thereafter, mankind gave up on trying to acquire night vision and settled in for centuries of not shooting delicious animals and dangerous enemies in the darkness.
Fortunately, humans have very long memories and very clever brains. By the end of WWII, we had acquired functional, albeit crude night vision devices.
In an unusual development, this new technology was not adapted for viewing naughty pictures, and instead got put on rifles!
Seventy years later, we are still using night vision scopes and viewers on our rifles, but they are greatly refined. Modern night vision as we will see in a minute is the stuff of science fiction while even entry level night vision is far superior to that fielded in combat less than a generation ago.
The reality is that there are now night vision scopes for every budget and every application, and they are legal in most every US state (sorry California).
What follows is an in-depth breakdown of night vision riflescopes, ranging from true third generation and better military grade scopes to basic first generation quality scopes that are quite suitable for nighttime predator hunting. Sit back, grab a beverage and check these out!
Best Night Vision Scopes Comparison Table
|Armasight CO-Mini 3 Alpha||Gen 3||$$$||4.6||Read Review|
|ATN ThOR||Gen 3||$$$||5||Read Review|
|Pulsar Apex XD50A||Gen 3||$$$||3.9||Read Review|
|Armasight Nemesis6x-SD||Gen 2+||$$||4.5||Read Review|
|Pulsar N750 Digisight||Gen 2+||$$||4.3||Read Review|
|ATN X-Sight||Gen 2||$$||4||Read Review|
|Yukon Varmint Hunter||Gen 1||$||4||Read Review|
|Sightmark Photon XT||Gen 1||$||4.6||Read Review|
|Armasight WWZ||Gen 1||$||4||Read Review|
The Best Night Vision Scopes Under $3000
These are the most elite night vision scopes you can buy. In fact, these are the same quality and sometimes even types of optics used by military and law enforcement.
These are going to be third generation night vision devices or improvements thereof and will represent the absolute pinnacle of night vision technology available to private citizens.
You can expect crisp images, superior operation in low light conditions, and devices built to withstand the rigors of combat. These devices are no joke and are priced accordingly.
Armasight CO-Mini 3 Alpha
- Day or night operation
- Manual gain adjustment
- Third generation night vision scope
- Wireless remote control
- QD mount for standard Picatinny rail systems
- 1x Magnification
- Converts daytime optics into night vision
Use this bad boy to convert your favorite daytime optic (up to 6x power) to night vision. Designed to allow the use of standard scopes at night, and to fulfill the need for a rock solid conversion device, the Mini 3 Alpha is one of the premier optics upgrades on the market today.
Built with hunters or professional door kickers in mind, this third generation night vision device allows short to medium range magnified night vision without sacrificing reliability or function.
Use it with your favorite fixed or variable power scope, it features a bright light shutoff circuit, variable gain control, and can, with a bundled adapter even mount directly to the objective lens of a binocular or telescope, making this a truly universal night vision device.
You will find this is the perfect night vision for somebody who requires flexibility, yet already has invested in high-quality optics. One of the most exciting features about this optic is that its factory bore sighted to sub MOA accuracy, meaning you literally just have to mount it and call it good.
There is no need to “dial it in” or adjust your existing optic to work with it. Truly one of the most innovative night vision devices on the market today.
- Digital thermal scope
- Color display
- Multiple digital reticle patterns
- Long battery life
- Can run on a single battery
- Attaches to standard Picatinny rail
This is a really exciting night vision scope, because it’s not just a night vision device, it’s an all digital night vision device. While other high-end optics transmit a monochrome image, the ATN ThOR shows you color images on its bright OLED display.
This all digital technology doesn’t just stop there, though, using virtual reticles, the ThoR can display one of five different reticle patterns in one of five different colors, ensuring that you’ve got the perfect shape and perfect color for your target.
It also comes with video output, digital magnification, and digitally controlled reticles. This optic represents a substantial leap forward in night vision and scope technology.
Previously windage and elevation were set by using spring loaded controls, which could lose zero when subject to harsh or repeated recoil, but the all-digital controls on the ThOR do not have this problem.
These scopes are perfect for law enforcement, elite private security and of course one of the largest night vision markets in America; hunters.
Suitable for use as a standalone night vision device, or mounted to your favorite hunting or tactical rifle, the ATN ThOR brings 21st century technology to the ancient dream of seeing our enemies and prey in the dark.
Pulsar Apex XD50A
- Wireless remote control
- 1.9 power magnification
- High resolution imaging
- Displays thermal signatures up to 1400 yards
- One of the longest range NV scopes on the market
This is another excitement inducing scope. Using state of the art digital thermal imaging technology, the Apex XD50A gives you unparalleled vision at night.
Built in 1.9 power magnification brings your target closer in than most night vision devices will, while the brilliant digital display makes your thermal image come to life before your eyes.
Designed to clearly show images up to 1400 yards away, the Apex XD50A is both a stand-alone night vision device or rifle scope. Suitable for remote observation through its video output, law enforcement tactical use, or simply state of the art night hunting, this military grade optic does it all.
What I like best about this and other digital thermal scopes is that you aren’t stuck seeing raw images transmitted on a picture tube. While such technology is now highly advanced, I personally favor something ran through a digital imaging processor and enhanced.
This seems to provide a clearer image of the target and allows for color images, digital reticles, and other advanced features not available on other types of night vision or thermal scopes. Regardless, take a look through this scope and you’ll be sold on digital night vision.
Best Night Vision Under $2000
Once we move out of the rarefied world of night vision scopes around $3000 we start getting more options from more manufacturers.
These will be a mix of the third generation night vision, purely digital night vision or perhaps high-grade second generation night vision. Second generation is where we start getting into advanced photon enhancement that requires more specialized circuitry and a higher cost.
While third generation and high-grade digital night vision are almost exclusively the realms of elite security and military professionals, the second generation is both approachable by more law enforcement as well as private citizens.
Here we will take a look at some scopes in the roughly $1000 to $2000 range. Expensive, but within easy reach and justification of many average private citizens or professionals. We’ll see familiar names again like ATN and Armasight, and we’ll again see scopes that can be connected to remote devices, used as standalone monitoring devices, and rely heavily on digital enhancement.
If our first few scopes were Ferrari of night vision scopes, you’ll find these more wallet-friendly devices are the Corvettes of night vision; perfectly suitable for most any job you’d have for a high end night vision, but lacking some of the high-grade refinement and sex appeal.
- Second generation night vision
- 6 power magnification
- Auto brightness control
- Attaches to standard Picatinny rail
- Illuminated red center cross reticle
- Waterproof construction
Built with hunters in mind, the Nemesis is a rare combination of a digitally enhanced second generation night vision device with sufficient magnification to do some decent reach out and touch something.
While many night vision devices have low magnification or work in conjunction with another optic, this lovely scope does it all for you.
Includes internal windage and elevation adjustment controls, removable IR illumination feature, an ability to fit standard Weaver or Picatinny rails, automatic brightness control, and an outstanding two-year warranty.
What makes this such an outstanding scope and real bargain is that what I just wrote there reads much like one of the far more expensive third generation units we looked at earlier. And the reality is, that’s not too far off the mark.
Despite having cut my teeth on commission sales, I’ve always been a fan of buying just enough gun, just enough scope, just enough twenty-year-old Scotch (I haven’t found that point yet) and the like.
Let’s face it, if money was no object, we’d all have AR-15’s build by Holland and Holland and fitted out with cutting-edge gear that would make a Navy SEAL jealous or some such like that.
The reality is, for many of us, high-grade gear is a point of diminishing return. After some point, we just don’t or can’t use the extra performance and features.
Sure, it’s nice to have the best of the best, but an honest person will admit that 9 times out of 10 they don’t need it. Which brings us to this charming scope. It’s right in the Goldilocks zone. Just right.
Pulsar N750 Digisight
- Digital night vision scope
- Second generation style performance
- Long eye relief
- Built-in IR illuminator
- OLED display
- Video out feature
If I had to sum this scope up in a couple of words, they would be “It works.” Neither amazingly brilliant, nor amazingly bad, the N750 simply does what you’d expect a scope of its type and price range to do, and in my book, that’s a solid positive.
It has a long list of things that are basically standard on such optics like video out, wireless control and the like, but what’s nice about the N750 is that it’s a long eye relief scope.
What this means is that not only can you use it on handguns with enough room to mount it, but more importantly that you can use it on a scout rifle build.
Scout rifles seem to go in and out of vogue, but there is no arguing that they are generally popular, and offer an interesting alternative to more traditional means of scoping a rifle.
Alternatively, this might be ideal for some AR style rifle configurations depending on your needs or preferences. Either way, it’s a rock solid mid grade digitally enhanced gen two style night vision device with all the utility of an LER scope.
Honestly, if you need an LER night vision device, this is probably your best choice. Sometimes I like devices that don’t have to rely on pretentious marketing or long winded self-praise.
A quick look at Pulsar’s website is free of that, showing a manufacturer who builds to function and price point, and lets the market do the rest.
Brand names and images are expensive and add to the cost of a finished product, sometimes it’s just best to buy a quietly made and quietly sold optic and pocket the savings.
The N750 is just one such scope. Slap a brand name on it and watch it sell over the $2k mark. Pfftt… no thanks. I like to buy optics not labels.
- 5-18 magnification
- Built GPS, compass, geotagging, video and still recording, altitude and more
- Image stabilization feature
- Built-in WiFi for use as a remote viewfinder or smartphone integration
- IR illumination
The advent of modern computerized manufacturing methods means that where an optic is made no longer matters as much as how it is made.
What we are looking at here with the X-Sight is a Chinese made digital night vision scope that pushes the limits of how we look at imported optics.
In seemingly common Chinese fashion, this scope has a bewildering array of features not commonly found in most commercial night vision scopes, yet when you examine them, they make a lot of sense. You see the X-Sight isn’t just a night vision scope, it is also a highly useful stand-alone night vision device.
Many high-grade night vision scopes are in fact just regular NV gear dressed up as a rifle scope. However, in this case, this gives you a general purpose device that is just as useful on your rifle as it is off.
Connect it to your Android or iPhone to use as a remote imaging device, connect a cable to it for live video feed, make use of the onboard GPS or compass for noting the location of targets, dead game, or most any other purpose you may have for such things.
Make no bones about it, this scope is chock full of gimmicks designed to sell what is an otherwise average device, but they are useful and fun gimmicks.
I’ve already said what I think about buying just enough, but there is a flip side to that, where sometimes if extra features aren’t adding to the cost or complexity of the primary function, then there is little reason not to enjoy them.
Here we have a perfect example of those extra features. Personally, if nothing else I like the idea of the compass and GPS. It never hurts to have spare nav gear, and if you are already supporting the power needs of your optic and carrying a scope,why not stick them in there?
Either way, if you want an entry level second generation style night vision scope, you really can’t go wrong here.
The Best Night Vision Scopes Under $1,000
There are some surprising values to be had under a thousand bucks. In fact, I was hard pressed to find entry level and first generation night vision scopes that broke the $500 mark.
Here, we will find some lower end second generation devices, and what is generally termed first generation night vision; it may lack digital enhancement and many of the refinements like video out or other multipurpose functions that have been near universal so far.
Still, each of these scopes will perform their task. Some will be suitable for less demanding law enforcement or security purposes, but their crowning ability is to give the average hunter or sportsman the ability to see in the dark where legal to hunt at night.
These are the blue collar night vision scopes, and their performance, pedigree and price all show that. Another good descriptor may be “entry level”, but either way, as long as you understand the limitations of these lower priced optics you won’t be disappointed.
First generation night vision will lack color enhancement, may use actual video tubes instead of digital circuits, offers a classic blurry green image that we associate with Hollywood night vision, and like their more expensive cousins may have little to no magnification.
As a bonus, power consumption on these basic devices is reduced so you can often enjoy longer battery life. Some units may appear clunky, these are truly legacy devices and are built to fulfill a price point rather than a performance based market.
Still, they remain on the market for a reason and may just do what you need.
Yukon Varmint Hunter
- 2.5 power magnification
- 50mm objective lens
- Lightweight titanium body
- Nearly universal mounting base
As the name suggests, this scope is built with nighttime varmint hunting in mind and offers a lot of bang for your buck.
A first generation device with a lifetime warranty, this modest scope is just the ticket for hunting coyotes or other nighttime game. Ideal for the first time or casual hunter, or for somebody who just wants to play with night vision, this bad boy runs off a pair of AA batteries for inexpensive and long lasting battery life.
I really like this scope, it’s about an ideal basic night vision scope. In fact, it’s well within the memory of many readers when a scope like this would have been cutting edge and hideously expensive. Well, this tech was good enough twenty years ago, and it’s good enough now.
If anything, modern manufacturing methods have driven the cost of these things down so low as to be approachable by most anyone. Quite frankly, I get really excited thinking about that, you have to love a free market economy that takes the military grade gear of a couple decades ago, and soon reduces it to an inexpensive entry level device for sports shooters.
The illuminated red on green reticle is highly visible under all conditions, and the infrared illuminator will reliably light up a target out to 100 yards, making the 2.5 power magnification just about perfect.
All in all this is an outstanding bargain and as much at home on your favorite bolt action rifle as your AR-15.
Sightmark Photon XT
- Digital first gen style performance
- 4.6 power magnification
- 42mm objective lens
- Multiple digital reticles
- Suitable for use with crossbows or firearms
The Sightmark Photon is a perfect example of using modern technology to make a sleek, lightweight yet advanced first generation scope.
A digital scope with multiple reticles, this traditional yet futuristic looking scope is at home on pretty much any rifle or even a crossbow. While it kinda resembles something thrown off the set of Star Wars, the Photon is quite possibly the best choice in entry level night vision scopes.
It features pretty decent magnification, and is highly useful within the hundred yards or so it’s IR illuminator lights up and has a surprisingly large light-gathering objective lens.
The ability to readily change the reticle pattern to suit your taste and needs is a charming cutting edge feature, and it’s all digital design means you aren’t weighing your rifle down with a needlessly heavy scope.
Crossbow hunters can take careful note, few optics cater to your brand of classic hunting, and fewer still are night vision, yet Sightmark has made sure that even your needs are met.
Many US states allow hunting with crossbows, and they are ideal and one of the best night vision scopes for hunting in areas where a traditional firearm may pose too much of a risk in case of a miss.
If you like the challenge of crossbow hunting or simply take advantage of the relative safety of a crossbow in populated areas, then this is without a doubt the night vision scope for you.
- 4x magnification
- Enhanced first generation performance
- Mounts to standard Weaver or Picatinny rail
- Detachable IR illuminator
- Illuminated reticle
- 40-hour battery life
I’ve always had an odd fondness for four power scopes, maybe it’s because oddly enough one of my first scoped rifles was a replica Mosin Nagant sniper rifle with a fixed four power scope.
I cut my magnified shooting teeth on that wheezing old WWII era combo, and when I finally got around to building a modern hunting rifle, found I had little desire for high magnification.
The practical aspect of the whole thing kicks in too when you realize the infrared on this scope has a range of about 100-150 yards, so you really don’t need more magnification. In fact, first generation night vision gets really blurry once you start magnifying it too much, so 4x is probably just about right.
Running on a pair of easy to find CR123 batteries, you get a comfortable 40 hour run time out of it, meaning you can hunt nearly all week long before changing batteries.
Perfect for hog hunters or those who like a little reach out and touch something with their scope, but can’t afford a high dollar scope, this is one of the most all around ideal entry level night vision scopes out there.
Most private citizens buy night vision to hunt predators and varmints with where legal, and in most cases that means coyotes or hogs. A cornered or wounded hog can be especially dangerous, so it pays to make a careful investment in your scope.
The WWZ is robust enough to take into the woods and dependable enough to not worry about when staring down a giant hog with razor sharp tusks.
The combination of enhanced first generation technology and perfect magnification range all come together to give you the best chance at “bringing home the bacon” or at least cleaning up a few destructive hogs or ‘yotes’.
Night vision scopes can be both simple and confusing. Wikipedia does a fantastic job of explaining the terminology if you need help in that respect. In general, as you’ve probably picked up by now, night vision is defined by its generation of development, with first through third generation products on the market.
Any device may also feature special digital enhancement which is generally indicated by “enhanced” or “plus” in the description, or something else along those lines.
Digital enhancement generally means a cleaner, crisper picture and often lighter weight optics, as a chip does some of the work an imaging tube would normally do. Some devices are all digital and rely on infrared (IR) illuminators and modern image processing to show you a crisp, clean image on an LED display.
Naturally the more modern the device, the more expensive it gets. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where we can buy true cutting edge military grade optics without any oversight or permission, and that shows in the incredible array of high-end night vision scopes available to us.
In fact, you can buy anything from basic first generation devices to some of the same gear used by our elite soldiers. Somewhere in all of that is the perfect scope for you.
If you are hunting, which is probably the biggest legitimate market for night vision after security, law enforcement, and military, then you probably want a combination of magnification and clear picture.
However, you can often cut corners a soldier or SWAT officer can’t. Let’s face it, shooting a coyote at fifty yards is a lot different than engaging an armed terrorist or criminal.
You don’t need the same precision, but boy it sure is nice. Buy to your budget and you’ll be good. Some devices are designed to work alongside your existing red dot or optics and will add function to your existing optics.
It is important to note too, that the State of California has decided that it’s residents are not fit to own night vision riflescopes, and owning one can earn you several years of free room and board at state expense, followed by a criminal record.
And along those lines, it’s pretty much always illegal to send any sort of night vision scope outside of the US (yes even to Canada) without Federal permission.
This is to combat the proliferation of military-grade optics in unfriendly hands. Let’s face it, I don’t think there is anything we reviewed here that you want to find in the hands of ISIS, so let’s keep ’em at home eh?
Night vision does not have to be confusing, and it’s as expensive as you want to make it, law enforcement, hunters, and private citizens who see value in night vision for home defense, people in rural areas who may have to engage predators at night, and countless others all have legitimate uses for night vision rifle scopes.
Find a good one, and fulfill one of humanities most primal urges; to see and hunt in the dark.