What is Digital Night Vision?
Originally, night vision devices amplified existing light (photons) that were too faint to be perceived by human eyes. The photons were gathered and then converted into electricity (electrons) so amplification could be accomplished. At the center of this transformation was the Image Intensifier Tube (ITT). The electronic light (electrons) would be multiplied many thousands of times, providing a clear image of objects and people in nearly pitch-black conditions. Most ITT devices produce an image with a green tint: green is the result of the technology.
Digital night vision devices provide the same sort of image results, without the traditional ITT providing the light amplification. Digital units use a CCD (charged coupled device) that gathers light, amplifies it and creates a viewable image, much like a camcorder or digital camera. The difference with the digital night vision devices is that their CCD’s are optimized for near infrared (IR) light. But do they work as promised?
Like every product a person could buy, you get what you pay for.
A low-end digital device can be bought for around $250.00. These units do let you see in the dark, and they are cheap. Unfortunately, these low-end units can’t see very much unless the Infrared (IR) light is on, due to the fact that the units are made to see what the IR light illuminates, and possess very weak performance without the IR being on. For fooling around while camping, or watching raccoons in your trash can at night, these cheap units will provide some entertainment value. A wise shopper should avoid these, however, and spend a little more money for a better-quality product.
Bushnell and others have been selling good quality digital scopes for years. The Bushnell Stealthview 5x42mm monocular is a good example. The quality is much better and the CCD is much more robust than the dirt-cheap devices. The Stealview does, however, still rely heavily on the IR light provided by the unit itself.
Bushnell’s home page describes the Stealthview as having an IR flood light that is integral to the system. The limitations of this and similar units are determined by how far the IR light can project. With the Stealthview the IR distance is 200 yards. For the casual user this class of digital device is not a bad investment. A buyer, however, should be aware of the limitations.
One of the best digital units available today is the SuperVision scope, which is manufactured here in the USA by Xenonics Holdings.
The Supervision is small, comes standard with a 2-8x zoom lens, and requires no addition IR support to see clearly in most outdoor conditions. A video and spec sheet can be found on Xenonic’s web site at: www.xenonics. com. An optional IR light is available for use inside buildings, caves, or on moonless or overcast nights where there is very little ambient light to amplify.
The Supervision scope provides comparable illumination performance to Gen 3 ITT devices with sufficient starlight; however, with it’s white video presentation and zoom lens, the performance difference is pronounced. One disadvantage of the Supervision is that the device cannot be head or helmet mounted: it’s just too big.
The question a potential buyer should ask is: what am I going to use this device for?
For professionals, the Supervision is the best product available. Professional is defined as: law enforcement, private investigators, security personnel, armed forces troops, or anyone else whose life or occupation depends on good surveillance.
For others, like ranchers, farmers, or any individual, first examine what you want to see, then select a digital device that will allow you to see it. Be aware that the cheap units will provide cheap performance, so spend a little more and obtain better results.