Best Night Vision Scope 2018: Top Reviews for AR-15 Rifle Optics for Sale for the Money
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. That’s why we’ve spent the time to find and review the absolute best night vision tech on the market.
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 also made a handy list of important things to be aware of as you shop.
Here are our top three choices, at a glance:
|Best Quality||Firefield FF26014T||Check Price|
|Best Seller||ATN Night Arrow||Check Price|
|Best on a Budget||Armasight Zeus 640||Check Price|
Best Night Vision Scope Reviews
The Firefield is an inexpensive but capable night vision optic which is ideal for bolt-action rifles. It’s rated for anything up to a .308, and provides a lot of bang for the buck. You actually get more magnification power than our midrange pick, plus a massive objective lens. This is our top recommendation for anyone looking to get into night vision without paying lots of money.
The Firefield offers a lot of magnification for the price, at least when you compare it to other night vision optics. Its lens set is a fixed 2.5×50, 20% more magnification than the more expensive ATN model below.
Unlike a lot of other night vision optics under a grand, the glass is actually quite good in this thing. The lenses are much clearer than anything else in this price bracket. They also do quite a good job with light transmission. The large 50mm lens in particular allows for lots of light-gathering.
Since it has internal focusing, it’s easy to get sighted and shooting with this one. You probably don’t need more than one target group to get you set.
It has surprisingly good build quality for the price. The housing is a rugged titanium alloy, and
both the lenses are fully multicoated. You can certainly do better over $1000, but many optics at or above the Firefield’s price can’t match its quality. It’s a refreshingly solid little budget model!
While there’s not much that’s fancy or elaborate on something this inexpensive, the Firefield covers all the basics. It has an illuminated reticle, with a simple cross design, plus knobs for making windage and elevation adjustments.
This particular model combines the inexpensive but serviceable Gen 1 night vision imaging system with a good infrared illuminator. Between the two, it gets you very respectable image quality for the price.
You can use it for anything within 100-200 yards using the onboard IR, but the glass is good enough that you could shoot further with an additional IR illuminator. That’s why it always pays to go for good glass, even on nigh vision equipment!
The Firefield is relatively light for a Gen 1, at just under 2 pounds. It fits all trail systems, and will mount to just about anything (don’t use it for anything larger than a .308, though).
Of course, aside from any of its specific features, the most appealing aspect of the Firefield is the price. This is an extremely accessible unit, costing just a fraction as much as our other recommendations. It’s actually the only model under $1K that we recommend!
The glass is one of the most impressive features on this thing, but it isn’t quite as good as what you’ll find over $1K.
Likewise, the Gen 1 imaging tech on this model doesn’t begin to compare with the Gen 2+ ATN or the thermal cam system on the Armasight Zeus. It’s grainier, less consistent, and doesn’t have the kind of textural detail you can get on more recent tech.
This is very solid compared to anything else under $1K, but our pricier picks do have better build quality.
The illuminator isn’t as powerful as the more expensive models, either.
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 2X fixed lens set will reach out to 200+ yards, nearly as far as the Firefield, and with much greater clarity. 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. That’s one of many smart little features which set a midrange system like this above the budget-priced Firefield.
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 a powerful IR illuminator for fog or mist. It’s detachable, and sits on its own smaller pica tinny rail. Unlike the Firefield, you’re not likely to need or want an external illuminator to go alongside this one.
There are two adjustment knobs for windage and elevation. Both work on a 1/6 MOA turn system, and turn with definite clicks for each setting. The side focus turret allows you to zero-in with just one knob.
On the whole, you can get much more precise adjustments on this than you could on the Firefield or anything else cheaper than the Night Arrow.
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.
The ATN is rock solid. The Firefield is impressive for its price, but this knocks it out of the park. It’s all rugged and reassuring. It comes with a 2-year warranty.
We’ve found that it can be a bit hard to focus on objects closer than 25 yards, since there’s no parallax adjustment or low power setting.
You’ll get much better imaging quality with this over the Firefield, and many more smart design features. You won’t get any additional magnification power, though. If that’s what you’re after, we recommend making the leap to the Zeus. For the vast majority of night vision shooting, though, this is more than enough.
It’s about 50% heavier than the Firefield.
The Zeus 640 is wildly more expensive than our other night vision scope recommendations. Having said that, it’s worth it if you’re a passionate nighttime shooter! The Zeus is a lot more than a scope. It has a full thermal imaging system with video recording capabilities and the latest tech.
This thing is as versatile as night vision optics come! It has a massive magnification range, a reticle you can customize, and the most space/weight efficient design we’ve ever encountered. It’s overkill for nearly all hunters and gun enthusiasts, but it’s the ultimate night vision optic for those with high ambitions and ample budgets.
It has a superb magnification range. Unlike our other picks (and most of the night vision optics on the market), the Zeus has an adjustable magnification system that has the kind of range you’d see on a standard optic! This one can zoom from 3-24x.
The truly impressive thing is how clear and detailed the image remains all the way through the magnification range! That’s thanks to an insanely good 640×480 resolution sensor and a large 60mm Lens, which translates lots of light.
Thanks to the pairing of lens and imaging system, the system is excellent out to the limits of its range. That’s not something we’ve found with many other high-powered options. Up around 24x does start to get iffy, but you can hardly complain!
The imaging technology used in this thing is years ahead of what you’ll find in either the Firefield or ATN. The Armasight uses the latest FLIR Tau 2 VOx microbolometer core thermal imaging inside, and it’s mind-blowingly good. Even though it’s not much more expensive than Gen 3 models, it gives you a serious step up!
The new system uses long-range infrared with a solid state, uncooled structure. It’s not affected by daytime brightness, which can damage older units to the point where they won’t work at all. This one’s thermal imaging works in any kind of lighting conditions.
The benefit there is that you can use the magnification range and clear glass set as a primary scope during ordinary hunting. You can also use the thermal imaging in obscured daytime conditions. So, it makes it easy to get a target through smoke, haze, snow or fog.
Having that kind of daytime versatility is not only convenient (since you don’t have to worry about taking the scope on and off), but it also makes the price tag easier to stomach (since you can use this as a primary scope).
The hardware and software systems can accommodate for a nearly infinite number of scenarios, without the limitations of analog systems like our other recommendations. Think of it as the difference between a solid state hard drive and a traditional disk drive in a computer. It’s faster, more adaptive, and more resilient.
You can use this interplay between the hardware and software to “e-zoom” up to 8x without affecting the reticle/target positioning. You can also choose between lots of reticles, or even ditch the reticle entirely. This thing has options for anything from MOA’s to simple crosshairs. Overall, the internal tech makes it extremely versatile!
One of the most impressive aspects of the Armasight is how incredibly unobtrusive it is, compared to the other night vision units we’ve reviewed. This new tech has the benefit of being lighter and more compact than older night vision systems. As a result, this is actually the lightest of the three (under 2 pounds), despite it being the most capable!
It’ll fit any rail setup, just like our other recommendations.
Since this is a very recent model, it’s no big surprise that you can film your hunts, as well as using the imaging system in real-time! Ports are built-in, so you’ll just need cables or the optional kit.
Even though it has lots of settings, features, and options, it’s relatively easy to navigate. That’s always a plus on something this elaborate!
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 CNC-machined 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.
It’s made entirely in the USA, and covered by a 3-year warranty, with 10 years of coverage on the FLIR detector. That’s the kind of insurance we look for on something this expensive!
There’s only one real downside to this thing, and that’s the massive price tag. It’s nothing short of exorbitant, and that’s coming from folks who review high-end scopes all the time. Don’t get this unless you have a very generous budget, and will get your money’s worth out of it.
It’s light for a night vision scope, but still heavier than your standard optic. So, for longer hunts, you’ll need to build up your shoulder strength.
It goes through batteries fairly fast, so we think the rechargeable battery pack option is a worthwhile investment.
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 Firefield provides reasonable magnification power and solid IR night vision. It’s well-built, and comes with a very decent warranty. We think it’s the best you can do under $1000.
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 and a half for far better image quality without increasing size or weight too much. It won’t give you any extra magnification power over the Firefield, but the quality of the image within its range is vastly superior.
If you’re really serious about night shooting, and have the budget for it, the Armasight Zeus is a great choice for you. It’s as powerful as anything else on the market, with a smarter, cleaner imaging system than anything else we’ve reviewed. While it might be very expensive, it’s also infinitely versatile and will have lots of other uses besides hunting at night. Only buy it if you can afford it and can reasonably hope to get your money’s worth out of it, though!
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.
The higher your gain settings go, the further afield you’ll be able to shoot accurately. After all, it doesn’t matter how much magnification you have if it only shows you darkness farther off!
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. That’ll be enough to control hogs, coons, and other annoyances.
More expensive and recent models have lens sets going out to 6X or more. For most people, that’s overkill. After all, you’re not supposed to be doing traditional hunting with these sights. And at that distance, shooting at night, things can get dangerous.
One key difference from many traditional rifle scopes is that most night vision scopes are of a fixed magnification power, due to the imaging systems used and the already heavy weight of the night vision unit. Only the most expensive, elaborate options support adjustable magnification.
Compare image quality:
Traditional 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. The latest models are all-digital, which eliminates all those analog flaws and distortions.
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 of the traditional 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.
At the cutting edge of night vision tech is where you’ll find advanced digital/thermal imaging systems, capable of military-grade performance. These optics have as high of magnification ranges as typical scopes, and with superb resolution out to the very max. You’ll pay a premium for them, but many can function in the daytime as well. That was never possible with traditional tech.
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.