Generation I Night Vision

Is it worth it?
How well do they work?
Looking/thinking about one of the monocular type devices.

You’ll need a separate source of IR illumination iirc. Spend a bit more and get a unit that will work in ambient star/moon light.

The Gen 1 Russian stuff doesn’t work nearly as well as the current Gen 3 US equipment, but the cheapo Russian stuff is still way better than the unaided eye.
Using an illuminator helps, but isn’t strictly necessary much of the time–a lot of “how well it works” depends on what you are trying to look at.
As for price, there’s really no comparision at all:
Gen 1 (Russian) monoscope = as low as $70
Gen 2 (US/GE/Litton tubes) monoscope = $1000+
Gen 3 (US/GE/Litton tubes) monoscope = $2000+

For that $70 monocular, try:
Enter “night vision” into the search box.
I haven’t ordered any NV stuff from them, but they have prices among the very lowest I have found for Russki NV stuff.

      • Well okay, I just ordered one frojm Harbor Freight, what the L.

I chose the 3.6X monocular for $99.99. I have wanted one forever (it’s the ultimate geek toy, after all) and nobody done got me one for Christmas, so there.
I have used the cheapo $70 ones as well as better ones before, the $70 jobs do work well enough out to 25-50 yards or so at night under typical conditions.
I notice that the two cheapest ones they offer are cosmetically different but have the same optical specs–I don’t know what the differences are there.

I will post a mini-review if ya want, it’s 10-14 days shipping tho’ (sigh).

I am pondering buying a pair of the goggles, as this one doesn’t work quite as well as I’d hoped.

Thanks Doug. I was wondering if I was being too picky about performance.

I returned the Unit I got from Outdoor World. A Bushnell 2.3x42 Audio Monocular model 26-0300.

The thing just did not work well. I could see the same objects almost as well with the naked eye. When I used the illuminator, it did bring out more detail, but it was only effective for about 60 feet - the illuminator seems to be and work like the one you describe in your review.

Just gonna have to wait for the Gen II stuff to come down in price.

      • I ran across a page of a Russian export company that went into details of each generation tube, and they noted that Gen 1 tubes don’t work well much above 1.5X.
  • Well, they work best in total darkness. If you’ve got bright lights around, the contrast suffers and the advantage above a pair of regular binoculars can be not-that-great. …The one I got is bright enough, I could certainly see things at 100-150 feet I could not without (especially with the illuminator), but the field of view isn’t flat.
  • The one I am pondering now is the single-tube ATN gen 1 for around $270, but everyplace seems to list it as out of stock/unavailable/backordered through 2003—>I dunno yet if it’s discontinued or just really popular. It is the cheapest single-tube unit I could find that is head-mounted and allows using a camera/videocamera adaptor and magnifying lenses with the NV optic device…

Is there any truth to all that stuff I heard years back about Soviet night vision equipment being linked to eye cancer?

Whether it is true or not, the idea of eye cancer makes me freak.

      • I have not asked around much, but a few years back it was common to see sellers of Russian NV equipment say that their merchandise was “tested for excessive radiation”. Now nobody mentions it either way. -What exactly would produce radiation I don’t know; a NV tube is just a photocathode vacuum tube, there’s no radioactive materials involved. The main argument against early Russian models was that the tubes didn’t last very long.

  • And the ATN $280 goggle is discontinued; it was a gen 1 with only 25 lines/mm resolution. The next-up one is $400 but gen 1+ with 40 lines/mm resolution. -And Rigel makes a single goggle for $360 but it’s listed as 30 lines/mm resolution. The one I got doesn’t give technical specs, I will have to email the retailer.

How easy is it to damage the tubes on the inexpensive gen I stuff?

I’d like to get one but I’ve heard that bright light will damage the tubes pretty easily. What does it take to get burn in on the tubes for these things? Car high-beam headlights? Bright flashlights?

I’d like to use it for camping, but I frequently run into people who are trying to light up all the night with expensive super-bright flashlights.

It’s possible. When an electron hits a target it emits a photon (bremsstrahlung). If the electron is first accelerated by a 1000 volt electric field, it hits the target with 1000 eV (1 keV) of energy and will emit an X-ray photon of up 1 keV. A typical medical X-ray generator consists of an electron gun, a strong electric field to accelerate the electron beam (typically 60,000 V) and a Tungsten target.

Image intensifier tubes work in a similar manner; incoming light hits a screen (photocathode) which emit electrons in response (photoelectric effect). The electrons are accelerated by an electric field of several thousand volts and multiplied (cascade or avalanche effect). Then they hit a phosphor screen which converts electrons back into light, only brighter than the original because of the electron multiplication.

The X-rays generated by the phosphor, if any, would only have several keV energy and can easily be blocked. So I doubt it’s a problem on any properly designed equipment. But I think it is a legitimate a concern when it comes to poorly designed and/or poorly maintained equipment.

Disclaimer: I’m just extrapolating on what I know about astronomical imaging devices which use image intensifiers. I don’t have first-hand info about designing commercial night vision equipment.

      • Well really I’d say just join the crowd on that one. A cheap AA-battery flashlight costs $5 now. The cheapest NV I have found is $80. The one I have says it shuts off if the view gets too bright, but I have not had that happen yet. You lose image contrast very quickly if there are brightly lit and dark areas in the view.
  • I did find that the lens of the one I have unscrews, and the distortion is caused by the lens–because you can see that same type of distortion when just looking through the lens removed from the device. And the actual NV tube itself is fairly short, maybe two inches long at most–it is recessed near the eyepiece in the monocular’s plastic body. The lens threads are about 41mm across; I visited a local camera shop but the people there that day knew of no standard camera lenses that would screw into a 41mm hole. Filters they had on hand were a bit too small and the threads wouldn’t grab. At this point I am looking for a cheap and easy way to place an achromat over the front and see how it does. I may just glue a lens to a piece of black plastic and attach it with crazy-glue if I get a better view with it.

Ah, but when you’re out in the woods at night lit up like Christmas, you don’t actually get to see anything interesting. When you turn off the lights and stop tromping around like an ogre, you discover that there’s a lot more action going on then you’d first expect.

When I’m out at night currently I’m using my Sony TRV9 camcorder. It has “Nightshot” mode, which makes it see into the near infrared, and it can see pretty well into darkness using it with an external infrared light.

However, it has downsides, mainly that it’s heavy, the battery doesn’t last long in IR mode, and the viewfinder is very bright and ruins any dark adaptation in the eye using it. Also, the viewfinder is very low resolution, half the time I’m not even sure what I’m looking at till I get home and watch the tape on TV. One time I thought I was taping someone’s dog chase a rabbit and it turned out to be a coyote.

I’ve been looking at NV gear for a while, but didn’t really want to spend $200 on something that could get wrecked if someone were to flip on a light at the wrong time. I thought that being able to deal gracefully with bright light was something that differentiated gen I from gen II and III, but it sounds like that’s no longer true.

So my question is: If you point a Generation I night vision device at a bare 60 watt bulb at 20 feet, will it get burn in? Or will it be OK?

Mine is one of the cheapest ones around, and the instructions say that the thing will totally shut down for around 5 minutes if you get it too bright. Exactly by what mechanism that occurs I don’t know (as I have not yet had it happen), but I have viewed areas lit by streetlights from 200 feet or so, and don’t get any burns or shut down. I have been “swept” by car headlights from several hundred yards’ distance (with the viewer pointed directly at them), and got nothing from that either.
…-But if you want something to conect to a camera you are automatically talking more money. The cheaper units generally don’t have such an option, unless you rig something up yourself. I will likely order the ATN Viper mono-goggle when I get new credit cards (the bank cancelled mine over the weekend, because wierd telkemarketing charges suddenly appeared on them–so I can’t order anything until the new ones come).
—>The figures I have run across for tube lifetimes are 1500, 2500 and 10,000 hours, for gen 1, 2 and 3 tubes. So even a gen 1 used regularly for two hours per week (quite a lot for a casual user, when you really think about it) will last over 14 years.

      • Various notes:
  • I have since seen a few others and bought a couple more. Turns out that the $99 one I started out with is very, very low quality overall–which is why it costs about half what one from the “name-brand” companies do. Basically: the image tube internals are tilted off-center, the optics suffer poor barrel distortion and only the external lenses have any anti-reflection coatings. And I have since seen another model from this company, and it was roughly comparable overall.
  • I ended up buying a ATN Viper (1X head-mount) and then an ATN MO2-1 (monocular 3X). Both of these are much clearer than the cheap one above. Their views are dimmer but much clearer. Both also use c-mount lenses, and you can swap the two lenses between them and get basically the same view from both. And you can use CCTV c-mount lenses as well of course, except that it can be difficult to find good, cheap candidates: NV scope lenses are very short focal lengths (F/1-1.2 or so at the most) and have large optics. And higher-magnification lenses sacrafice brightness, so I prefer 1X’s most of the time. …The cheapie uses some odd-sized lens I could not identify–but changing the objective won’t fix all its problems anyway.
  • The MO2-1 I like better than the Viper, because the MO2-1 has a larger ocular lens [22mm across] where the Viper has a 17mm ocular. The $99 cheapie has a lens only 13mm across. -->This may not sound like a lot, but it makes a huge difference in use–the larger eyepiece is far nicer to use. In fact, I intend to modify the MO2-1 for head-mount use, as it comes with only a hand-strap… -which will involve me opening the case in order to remove the hand-strap, and will void the warranty. Oh well.
  • Gen-1 NV scopes need illumination to work well, and so most have a built-in red LED for this reason. Their advantage as far as “general sneakiness” goes is that if you put a deep red or IR filter over a flashlight, the beam the flashlight casts can’t be seen with the naked eye but still shows up brightly in a night-vision scope. If you shine the light directly at someone they can easily see it, so you need to use a shade on the flashlight (a tube extending from the head a couple inches, with the inside painted black), and just be careful where you aim it. And for general running around and goofing off in the dark, you don’t need a huge light–I use a 2-AA-battery mini-maglite flashlight with a red filter, and that is plenty of light. When the military used gen-1 NV, they had to use illuminators with them too.
  • I have found that the onboard LED’s often aren’t helpful, and I prefer a hand-held flashlight. The problem with onboard illuminators is that often you get excessive glare from foreground objects–particularly when trying to look through a window, for one example. The Viper has a illuminator that is “always on”, but it can be easily temporarily disabled. The MO2-1 has separate switches for the NV tube and LED, and so it does not have this problem.
  • As for “one bright light ruining it” I don’t think you’re gonna have that happen under any normal circumstances, just from one occurence. I have twice accidentally had a flashlight shine into the Viper and shut it off, and it shows no signs of damage at all (even though it’s not something I intend to do regularly). In both cases I dropped a 2-D cell flashlight with a red filter, and it shined into the NV from just a couple feet away. I just turned the NV switch off and back on, and it worked just as before.
  • It’s hard to compare “how well” any of these things work–you almost have to get out and use one to see for yourself. If you have a regular flashlight, you don’t normally notice what the regular lighting conditions are around you–but for example, no matter how much light you’re geetting from the natural sky, in deep woods is far darker than in an open field. If you can use the flashlight I mentioned previously, you can see anything, anytime it’s clear out to at least 50 yds with a “good” gen-1 scope. If there’s a half-moon or greater and you’re in an open area, you might not need the flashlight at all, depending on the particular circumstances–but on a moonless night under a clear sky in a far-rural area, I tried to use both of the ATN’s I have and they really were useless without illumination–putting them to your eye, you almost couldn’t even tell that they were even turned on.

Also: my mini-review page has moved.

Thanks, Doug, your post and your reviews page are very helpful. The difference in quality between the super-cheap NV gear and something just a bit more expensive is interesting.

Now I won’t be tempted to buy the $99 set they have at Fry’s. It sounds like I’d be much better off looking at ones a couple of steps up in terms of price and quality control.

Though I haven’t been getting out as much as I used to, so this may have to wait for a while. Too many hobbies.