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Picking the right equipment or gear when going hunting can be a daunting task. Especially if you don’t have the requisite level of experience that some hunters have. But choosing between a thermal scope and night vision shouldn’t be a hassle.
Start by thinking about the lighting conditions. Are you going to hunt coyotes at night, or during daylight hours? If you only work best when the sun’s down, go for the night vision scope. Thermal scopes are more useful during the day.
Then think about the infrared filter feature and the benefits it provides. This feature is usually found on thermal scopes, and its purpose is to only allow infrared light to pass through the lens and block visible light. Thus, ensuring all images produced are crisp and crystal clear. Our night vision friend doesn’t discriminate, seeing as it lets through all spectrum colors.
We’ll kick it off by defining what night vision is. It’s essentially a special type of optic, meant to assist different users to see or acquire targets (or coyotes, in our case) in near-total darkness. The operative word in that statement is “near,” because it’s sort of useless in total darkness. You have to be able to access at least a little light so that you can give it something to go with. For example, the light provided by the moon and stars above.
You should know night vision scopes are classified according to grades. Therefore, there’s more than one type. We have the traditional Gen 1 night vision, which was succeeded by Gen 2, then Gen 3, and finally Gen 4.
They are different when you look at the kind of technology that they bring to the table, but similar in one way: the fact that they all rely on an intensifier to transform whatever little light you have, from the near-infrared spectrum to something that the human eye can interpret and comprehend.
If at all it wasn’t obvious from the jump, Gen 1 means “first generation.” It leverages the properties of its objective lens to collect and relay light to the image intensifier. At the intensifiers, the light’s electrons are somehow accelerated, compelling them to strike a phosphor surface. That surface is what actually amplifies everything.
All Gen 1s have what we call an IR illuminator. The work of that illuminator is to provide you with extra visibility since it functions the same way a flashlight does. The downside is that you also become more visible to the prey.
They are always cheap, affordable, and efficient for recreational use. They’re ideal if you’re just a hobbyist.
Are they great for coyote hunters? No really. These scopes are not the kind of night visions that we’d go hunting with, as they only offer a 100-yard maximum range. Not to forget the IR illuminator that will always advertise our position.
We also noticed that their images aren’t as clear as we would have liked, owing to the fact that they lack infrared filters. In addition, their runtime lifespan is only 1,500 hours, and they often grapple with the ‘halo’ and ‘fisheye’ effects.
The second generation is everything Gen 1 is, plus a micro-channel plate designed to propagate the photoelectrons being intensified. What that means is that you’ll be getting a better image quality and an additional range. The scope’s runtime lifespan is 5,000 hours max, and the IR illuminator can be switched on and off.
What we didn’t like was how close its price tag was to Gen 3, which is an even better scope.
The third-generation vision scope will impress you whether you’re working at night or during the day. Even though it’s not as good as the thermal scope during the day, its performance is still up there.
They replaced the Gen 2 intensifier tube with the Gallium Arsenide photocathode, to increase the light electrons being produced. There was no need to install the IR illuminator here because it didn’t make a difference. It has a runtime lifespan of 10,000 hours, and you’ll be able to spot targets that are 300 yards away or beyond.
The Gen 4 is the most advanced night vision scope on the market. It offers the longest range, the best target acquisition, and visibility. You could get one if you want something more tactical, but you’ll have to break the bank. It’s so good that even the military uses it.
This scope is a new entrant in the market. It certainly relies on the photocathode tube system that we’re used to but also has silicon chips to improve the image clarity.
In our opinion, it’s the best substitute for the Gen 3 scope. It’s a lot more pocket-friendly, can be used during the day or at night, and is durable. To top that off, it has a video recording feature. So you can go back home after your hunting escapades and show your friends and family what you’ve been up to.
These scopes have been designed to detect heat or radiation emanating from a living organism. And that’s why they are so efficient during the day. The type of lens installed in them is special in the sense that they focus on infrared light to create what we call a thermogram—an image that shows blood and heat patterns on an organism’s body. The scope will then change the thermogram into electrical impulses and show it as a picture on your screen.
Compared to the night vision scope, the lens aperture of this optical device is relatively larger. That’s to say, it produces images of a higher resolution. The aperture size has always been an important factor in these types of comparisons because it’s the feature that influences the amount of light that passes through the device’s lens.
If you’re hoping to only work with brighter images, go for a bigger aperture. The only problem that you’ll have to deal with is fogging. It might sound like a reasonable compromise, but with time, it starts to get frustrating.
The range is yet another vital factor that you should take into account while comparing the two optical instruments. Since thermal scopes rely on heat rather than light to produce images, they end up providing a longer range than what you’d typically expect from the night vision optic. You see, light normally travels from the object and to our eyes. And if you can’t see the object, that means you’re out of range.
But heat is a different story. You really have to be very far from the object to not detect the radiation. Hence, the reason why you’ll still be able to see the object in the absence of light.
As mentioned earlier this is one of the main differences between the two scopes. Not having an infrared filter means the night vision can’t produce images without some degree of distortion. And that distortion is normally caused by the target’s color. Irrespective of how expensive the device is, this problem will always be there.
The cost is a matter of perspective, in this case. Some consumers feel like the thermal scope offers value for money, but some disagree. Then again, we’re not surprised a lot of people aren’t on the same page, considering thermal optics haven’t been around the block for as long as the night vision scopes have.
There’s no big difference in the battery life because the night vision scopes usually last for 2 to 4 years, while the thermal scope clocks 3 to 5. However, we can confirm that both devices rely on batteries and they cost around $15 to $30. What’s more, you could go for batteries that are disposable or those that are rechargeable.
Weight is critical if you’re going to run around carrying weapons and other things. The ideal scope is not only compact but also light. If you weigh these two devices, you’ll realize most night visions are heavier than their counterparts. Some of them even look bulkier.
Honestly, there’s no good or bad scope. It all depends on how you’re planning to use it, how much you’re willing to spend, and what you feel most comfortable with. If you’re the type of hunter who only hunts under the cover of darkness, go for the night vision optic. But if you love hunting during the day and want something that offers a decent range, work with the thermal scope.
The most affordable scope on the market is the Gen 1 night vision scope. Finding a thermal scope that’s relatively cheap is a tall order unless you’re going for a piece of second-hand equipment. Comfort is also something we should talk about. You see, thermal scopes tend to be a tad bit more high-tech and complicated. It’s not the type of scope that we would recommend to a beginner.
Our original question should have been, “Which optical device is better at identification, and which one excels at detection?” The answer would have been straightforward, as we all know thermal scopes are incredible at detecting anything on the fly, and the night vision makes target identification easy.
Feel free to reach out should you have questions or want to contribute something we missed.
Featured Image Credit: Pixsooz, Shutterstock
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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