The night vision device is used to improve visibility at dusk and in the dark. Due to the different functionality of the devices, a night vision device can be purchased for many applications. It is used in many fields, military and police, home and garden owners, industry, building surveillance or hunting.

Read the following background about night vision devices, regarding their functionality, areas of application, variants and what to look for when buying.

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FAQ Night Vision Devices: Function, variants & selection

How do night vision devices work?

The technology used to generate night vision depends on the model. Night vision devices with residual light amplifiers and image converters are used:

  • Residual lightamplifiers use the weak light that is present at dusk and at night and amplify it. Night vision devices with residual light amplifiers use camera systems with a large input lens and a very sensitive CCD sensor. The high sensitivity of the sensor and the large input lens are sufficient to capture and amplify even very low light levels. Devices that use residual light amplifiers can also be used to generate color images.
  • Image intensifiers are equipped with semiconductor image sensors or image intensifier tubes. The technology allows infrared radiation that is not visible to the human eye to be made visible. The so-called near infrared (NIR) in the environment can be converted into visible light. The temperature of heat-emitting objects differs from the ambient temperature. This technique is used, for example, to observe wild animals and other warm-blooded animals. Shelters and engines that are still warm can also be detected with the help of heat radiation.

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What is a night vision device used for?

  • Night vision devices, which work with residual light amplification and according to the image converter principle in the infrared range, are used by the military and police, for example.
  • Among private persons, the devices are mainly used by hunters . They are available as thermal imaging devices or as attachments. Before using them, however, the legal situation in Germany should be checked.
  • The techniques of night vision devices are also used in video cameras, for example, to enable surveillance of buildings.

What do the generations mean for night vision devices & which ones are available?

Night vision devices, such as residual light amplifiers and image converters, are divided into generations. Generation 0 night vision devices have been known since the 1940s. Further generations range from 1 to 4. The higher the generation, the more up-to-date the development stage and longevity.

Generation 1 night vision devices

Generation 1 night vision devices are short-life(1,000 to 2,000 hours) variants that use image converter tubes. Electron optics are used in the devices, which provide high gain (1,000x up to 8,000x). At the same time, the devices are designed for image reduction. In the military field, several image converter tubes were used, which, connected in series, were supposed to provide better vision. The devices were used decades ago and were considered very clunky.

Generation 2 night vision devices

Generation 2 is characterized by a longer service life compared to Generation 1. The life span is higher with approx. 10,000 to 15,000 hours. Furthermore, Generation 2 night vision devices have a micro channel plate (MCP). The MCP is located between the screen and the photocathode. The microchannel plate allows each pixel to be multiplied, resulting in up to 20,000 times the residual light gain.

Generation 3 night vision devices

Generation 3 has improved microchannel plates. By using gallium arsenide (GaAs), light amplification of up to 50,000 times can be achieved. The service life is approx. 15,000 hours.

Generation 4 night vision devices

Generation 4 uses ebCCDs to generate image data. The image data is processed and optimized by digital signal processors. Generation 4 night vision devices are reserved for the military and are not available.

What can you do with a night vision device?

Thermal imaging cameras can be used, for example, to record movements of warm-blooded animals in the garden. Surveillance cameras with night vision capabilities also make sense for remote residential areas. The devices are available with residual light amplifier or image converter (near-infrared). The advantage to surveillance cameras with night vision is that they can be purchased with recording memory. A hard drive or SD card (micro SD) serves as a storage of the night recordings, which can be evaluated by the homeowner.

Cheap night vision device vs. expensive night vision device


An expensive night vision device is characterized, depending on the model, by a longer range and versatile features. For example, commercially available devices allow recording by means of memory cards or integrated flash memory. The higher-priced devices also reproduce a better image. The images are displayed sharper and contrasts can be recognized better.

The best models are popular mainly because of their high range . A large lens diameter is also important and, with residual light amplifiers, allows for better light output. Expensive night vision devices are also characterized by a long runtime.


Usually,a device for amateur use is sufficient for private users.

These devices are Generation 1 night vision devices and are available at a reasonable price. The advantages of amateur devices are a favorable price and suitability for night vision in complete darkness (infrared beam).

However, the inexpensive devices give a grainy, noisy image and are usually only usable for night vision at short distances. Furthermore, amateur devices have only a short period of use (a few hours), compared to more expensive 2nd and 3rd generation night vision devices.

Night vision device – what to look for when buying?

Helmet with integrated night vision device

Variants: Night vision goggles vs. night vision device

When buying a night vision device, the choice of device variant is important. For example, night vision goggles, night vision binoculars and thermal imaging cameras are available in stores. Inexpensive goggles with night vision function cost between 20 euros and 30 euros. They are not professional night vision devices, but merely visual aids that ensure visibility in low light conditions. The night vision goggles are interesting for night use in road traffic.

Furthermore, there are night vision devices for hunters that can be used with a scope. In addition to the “shape” of the night vision device, the features are also essential. Thus, the following points should be decided before buying:

Recording function as a purchasing factor

If you need a night shot and want to view and evaluate the footage, you need a night vision device with image storage capabilities. Variants that can be connected to a video recorder or a camera are also available in stores. It is advantageous if the device with camera connection option has a tripod thread.

Lens purchase factor

Good lenses have a high light transmission. The light transmission as well as the integrated technology of the night vision device enable a good image quality. In a good lens, the F-number (aperture ratio) is low.

Compare product data

When looking at the favorites, it is also easy to compare the facts. All or most of the following points should be included in the product data:

  • Range: How far does the view need to be?
  • Zoom and magnification: What values should be selected here?
  • Operating time: How long must the device last without recharging?
  • Size & weight: There are also differences here. However, these points usually do not play a major role.
  • Picture quality: How important are sharpness and contrast?
  • Price: Where is the pain point, it is best to set an upper price limit.
  • Recording: Should the device have a recording function?
  • Software: How does the download of the data work, which software/app is behind it.
  • Mounting: Should the device be mounted somewhere? Are there any mounting instructions or material?

FAQ about the night vision device

Update: 2023-06-09 / Affiliate Links / Bilder von der Amazon Product Advertising API