Night vision technology has come a long way in the past 30 years or so. There was a time when all that consumers could buy were cheap, gimmicky goggles that didn’t do much beyond turn your surroundings green.
Now, professional grade night vision equipment is available to consumers for a fairly reasonable price. These let you hunt hogs and varmints in even the darkest, foggiest conditions!
If you’ve been shopping for a night vision rifle scope, you’ll know that they can command a hefty price tag. At such a high price, you want to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
And with so many options on the market, it can be pretty confusing to sort out which ones will work for you. Normal scopes are technical enough, but these have a whole other set of specs, ratings, and markings. For the average person who’s not a scientist, the whole business of infrared, imaging tubes, and resolution is pretty messy to figure out.
We understand! We know how hard it can be to find reliable info that’s easy for the average shooter to sort through.
To help you out, we’ve scanned the marketplace for the best night vision scopes available. We read professional reviews in magazines, in-depth technical summaries of each Gen, and reviews from consumers who actually bought these products. We’ve consolidated all of this info into one guide, which we hope will help you make sense of your options.
We chose three solid options that will help you hunt at night without breaking the bank. You’ll find our full reviews below.
At the bottom of the page, we’ve made a handy list of important things to be aware of as you shop.
Here are our top three choices, at a glance:
Best on a Budget
Best Night Vision Scope Reviews
1. Armasight Nemesis
The Nemesis allows you to hunt much farther afield than other models, with a 6X power lens set. The Infrared system in this model is a Gen 2+, which has basically the same function as a Gen 3 at a much lower price. We think this is one of the most impressive bargains in the market right now.
The imaging tube provides the improved definition of Gen 2, with 50 lp/mm resolution. The unit also has a few smart features like automatic brightness control and an automatic protection for bright sources. We especially love this feature, as unexpected bright lights from cars or flashlights can do a number on IR imaging tubes.
6X magnification power offers twice the range of cheaper night vision scopes. Both the lenses and the imaging tube are shock-protected. We particularly appreciate the shock-protected optics on this model, because they mean that the Nemesis can deal with the recoil from bigger guns (a weak spot for many models).
The reticle is more technical than other models, with fine but clearly defined crosshairs and hash marks. The superior reticle markings make windage and elevation adjustments much easier.
It’s also illuminated, with a red/green contrast design and multiple brightness settings. Another plus is the extended battery life on this model (about 60 hours).
The tube is water and fog-proofed, and sealed with rubber O-rings. The housing also includes several mounting rails for accessories. One is for the included IR illuminator, and the other two can be used for other add-ons.
The lens caps have pinholes which allow for sighting it in during daylight hours. Unlike cheaper models, this one has tinted glass for a wider view and better light protection. That’s a nice touch, since it can be a real pain to zero them in the dark. This model allows you to focus easily without damaging the imaging unit.
It’s a lot cheaper than a Gen 3, most of which start around $2,500-$3,000.
It’s quite heavy. While the Gen 2 imaging tube saves weight over a Gen 1, the more powerful glass adds bulk. The Nemesis is a full pound heavier than our other recommendations.
Since the magnification isn’t adjustable, you might have some trouble shooting at close range. We couldn’t find any complaints from previous buyers, but 6X power can be an impediment when you’re shooting under 100 yards.
2. Armasight Vampire
The Vampire is technically a Gen 1 scope, but has a lot of upgrades which make it function more in the range of a Gen 2 (without the price tag). The ceramic imaging tube doubles image resolution over a Gen 1, without adding much to the price. The Vampire also has better build quality and a longer warranty period than other budget options.
Most Gen 1 night vision scopes use glass imaging tubes. These are delicate, and have relatively low image resolution. The Vampire uses a ceramic tube to improve image quality and lower distortion up to 2x the level of glass ( 60-70 LP/mm). Many previous buyers were impressed by the quality of the image for such an inexpensive scope. They said that while it wasn’t quite up to successive generations, but was darn good for the price.
The lenses are designed to last, with full shock-proofing and multi-coating on both.
The tube is also well-constructed. The main shaft is composed of a single piece of aluminum, and is nitrogen-purged for moisture and fog-proofing. Both ends are sealed with O-rings, and padded with rubber to keep the lenses safe.
The reticle is illuminated, with several brightness levels to choose from. It gives you a nice bright target point in the middle of your field of vision. The Vampire also comes with a detachable long range IR illuminator. You can hunt with the illuminator attached for better visibility on cloudy nights, or with it detached to save weight and power.
Unlike many other budget scopes, it has a 2-year warranty. That’s a big plus for us, since you’re getting the same coverage you’d have on a $2,000 scope.
At less than $1,000, it’s a steal. Since it’s technically a Gen 1, it doesn’t have the high price tag of a Gen 2 (with comparable performance). It also has much higher build quality than the $500 range options on the market. Previous buyers were very impressed!
It’s not much good over 200 yards or so, due to the low fixed magnification.
It’s fairly large, and weighs a full 3 pounds. That means it’s not ideal for smaller rifles, as it makes them pretty top-heavy.
The reticle isn’t technical. While you won’t need mil-dot markings for hog hunting, the duplex design on this scope is fairly basic. Depending on your shooting style, that may be a disappointment.
3. ATN Night Arrow
The Night Arrow uses a smart imaging tube system with automatic brightness control, high contrast red and green sights and a one-knob IR controller. It’s between Gen 2 and 3, with a powerful 4X lens set for added distance. We’re recommending it as a good mid-range choice, with both price and power landing between the Vampire and Nemesis.
The 4X fixed lens set will reach out to 300+ yards. That’s enough for most night hunters’ needs, and will serve you well for hog hunting as well as varmint patrols around your property. The wide objective gives you a nice, wide field of vision, which helps add background contrast in the dark.
The Night Arrow’s imaging unit has an automatic brightness control feature. That’s handy for your eyes, since you won’t have to constantly adjust brightness by hand to keep from being oversaturated on snow or sandy surfaces.
It’s also great because it protects the tube itself from overexposure. This extends the life of the night vision unit, which is the most delicate and expensive component on the scope.
The reticle has a two-tone color scheme for better visibility. The grid markings are green, with a red center target point. Unlike a lot of night vision scopes, this one has a simple, easy to use reticle control system, which is just a simple push button.
There’s also an IR illuminator for fog or mist. It’s detachable, and sits on its own smaller pica tinny rail.
There are two adjustment knobs for windage and elevation. Both work on a 1/4MOA turn system, and turn with definite clicks for each setting. The side focus turret allows you to zero-in with just one knob.
There’s also an adjustable eyepiece with a diopter correction. It’s extra-padded, and gives you a lot of eye relief.
The battery compartment is conveniently located at the bottom of the scope in a separate housing. That makes it easy to switch out the battery without taking the scope of your rifle rail.
ATN provides a smartly-designed lens cap. That’s especially important with night vision, since constant exposure will wear out the imaging tube (much like a camera). However, the ATN cap has a pinhole at the front which allows you to sight in the scope with the cap fitted! As you’ll know, it’s a lot easier to get things sighted in broad daylight than it is on a foggy night.
It comes with a 2-year warranty.
Some previous buyers wrote in their reviews that it’s hard to focus on objects closer than 25 yards, since there’s no parallax adjustment or low power setting.
It’s not a huge leap in quality over the Vampire. While the imaging unit is more stable and has fewer flaws, the advantage of the Night Arrow is mainly in smarter features, not greatly increased power.
Which night vision scope is the one for you?
If you’re just getting into night hunting, or are looking to shoot in the dark on a budget, the Vampire provides reasonable magnification power and solid IR night vision. It’s well-built, and comes with a very decent warranty.
For a midrange choice which adds some smart features like automatic brightness control and a two-tone reticle, the Night Arrow is the one for you. It jumps a Generation for better image quality without increasing size or weight. Plus, the Night Arrow is a bit more powerful, giving you some extra range.
If you’re really serious about night shooting, the Nemesis is a great choice for you. It’s twice as powerful as the Vampire and other low-to-mid range night vision scopes, with a smarter, cleaner imaging tube. And it still won’t cost an exorbitant sum like the Gen 3 and 4 scopes. Understanding how night vision works will help you make a better choice.
How to Shop for a Night Vision Scope
Look for high gain settings:
Infrared gain is how a night vision scope magnifies imperceptible light to give you a visible image. High gain is especially important in extremely dark conditions, and for shooting at longer ranges. Using longer lenses for distance viewing requires more gain to compensate for bad light transmission over the lens. Powerful lenses magnify better, but are worse at transferring light. The gain setting on a night vision scope helps address this issue.
Consider your preferred range:
Most traditional night vision scopes offer only 1-4X power ranges. Since they’re limited in legal use to varmint control around your property, this shouldn’t be a problem. More expensive and recent models have lens sets going out to 6X or more. One key difference from traditional rifle scopes is that night vision scopes are fixed power, due to the imaging systems used and the already heavy weight of the night vision unit.
Compare image quality:
Night vision scopes produce an image by amplifying light in an imaging tube, generally made of glass, ceramics, or film. Because they work much like a camera, their quality ratings are stated in LP/mm. That’s shorthand for line pairs per millimeter. To the average shooter, it’s most useful to think of like pixels on a TV screen. The more light pairs per millimeter, the better image quality.
Most night vision scopes produce the clearest image at the center of the lens, with some blurring around the edges. Earlier models from the 1st Gen. tend to produce minor black spots. Later models use an embedded microchip to fix this. More recent additions to Gens. 3 and 4 use film-less imaging units to produce near-perfect images with deep contrast and definition. In short, better night vision scopes have higher contrast ratios, and better definition overall.
Note the Gen of a particular scope:
Night vision technology is grouped chronologically by “generation,” which is a rough guide to how recently developed a particular scope is. First generation scopes are quite functional, and very inexpensive. However, they’re heavy and bulky, and require some residual background light.
2nd generation scopes are more expensive, by $500-$1,000. They use a micro-channel plate to amplify light even further than the first generation technology, and don’t need any visible background light to operate. These units are also free of the black spot issue which affects Gen 1 scopes.
Generation 3-4 scopes are generally the best options out there for consumers, though they do come with a hefty $2,000-$3,000 price tag. These scopes have still better light transmission, and better range (out to 300+ yards).
The most advanced night vision scopes are “gated film-less” models of the 4-6th generations. These cost easily $4,000-6,000, and are out of most people’s price range. While they’re available to consumers, they’re mainly sold to law enforcement agencies and other professionals. However, if you can afford one, these scopes have range out to 10X, and near-perfect image quality.
One note: we know that most people don’t have the cash to spend $5K on a rifle scope. That’s why we’ve narrowed our options to fit a $500-$2,000 price range. Gen 4, 5, and 6 models are available online, but since they’re pretty recent, we found it hard to assure you of their quality, as so few people have reviewed them thoroughly.
Be aware of the different ergonomics:
Night vision scopes are traditionally a lot bulkier than normal scopes. The oldest night vision scopes, from Gen 1 are largest and heaviest. Newer models from Gen 2-5 are progressively less heavy and obtrusive. Even the newest, sleekest night vision scope is still going to add more heft to your rifle, so be prepared to modify your rail setup and buy proper mounts.
Because of the very sophisticated technology used in night vision scopes, they tend to be a bit less durable than traditional models. That’s not too surprising, since anything with electronics and moving parts is going to be fairly delicate. Because of this, companies that make night vision scopes provide much shorter warranty periods. While normal scopes above the budget range commonly carry lifetime warranties, night vision scopes have warranties that usually don’t go over two years. Read more on things you need to know about night vision scopes.
If you’d like to see more of our recommendations for the best rifle scopes, see our main page (here)! We’ve got handy guides to the best of the online marketplace for .308, .22, and sniper scopes, among others.