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The Airsofter's Guide To Night Vision

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Hello and welcome to the 2010 edition of the first ever complete guide to night vision for the average airsofter!


I'm sure most of you at one point or another have thought about how cool it might be to go into a night time skirmish and flip down a pair of goggles or look through a scope and have day turn to night, giving you the tactical edge of moving and picking off targets in the dark with total stealth. It's the same type of attraction almost everyone gets for sniper rifles at some point or another, but tends to be a heck of a lot harder to find information about.


Information on night vision technology for airsoft use can be found online, but it's all scattered across the web in little bits and pieces here and there and facts often get mixed in with uninformed opinions. So it's a subject that's very hard to find good solid information on, especially if you're new to night vision technology.



One of my favorite hobbies outside of airsoft is night vision, and I own several Gen 1 and Gen 2 night vision devices and use them on a weekly basis for all sorts of activities. I enjoy writing quite a bit as well, so after much pondering I have decided to take it upon myself to combine these 3 interests and write what you now see before you.


It took more than two dozen hours of work to write, but I am confident that this guide which is written in simple and easy to understand terms will be able to teach any airsofter everything they might need to know about how night vision works, the different kinds of night vision devices out there, what to look for and what to avoid to make a smart night vision purchasing decision, and how to use and care for their night vision device once they have purchased it.

Even if you know absolutely nothing about night vision devices right now, by the time you have finished reading this guide you will know everything you could need to know about using night vision technology for airsoft.


In this revised 2010 edition I add a few new chapters and a chapter index, correct some numerical figures that further testing had proven to be a bit off since the first edition, correct pricing information for prices that have changed since the first edition, provide information on new technology that has come to market since the first edition, discuss additional options for equipment, address hardware durability and compatibility issues, and provide various bits of information that in retrospect I felt should have been included in the first edition but was not.


I present to you...





The Airsofter's Guide To Night Vision : 2010 Edition




I. How Night Vision Devices Work

II. The Difference Between Gen 1, 2, 3, And Digital Night Vision

III. IR Illuminators

IV. Which Gen Of Night Vision Is Right For Me?

V. "But ____ Told Me That I Shouldn't Buy A NVD Unless I Can Afford Gen 2!"

VI. Things To Avoid And Things To Look For In A Gen 1 Night Vision Device

VII. Choosing Your Device : Monocular, Goggles, Rifle Scope, Add-On, or Gen 1 Cascade Rifle Scope?

VIII. If You Can Afford Gen 2 Or 3...

IX. Aiming With A Visible Or IR Laser

X. Choosing The Right Airsoft Goggles To Wear When Using Your NVD

XI. Setup And Usage Of Your NVD

XII. Tips For Basic Care & Maintenance Of Your NVD

XIII. Protecting Your NVD From BB Hits

XIV. Conclusion & Links









I. How Night Vision Devices Work



Before we get into options and prices I think it's important for anyone who is interested in night vision to have a basic understanding of how NVDs (Night Vision Devices) work. I won't get into anything too complex here, since you don't need to know all the details and specifics, but a basic understanding of how they function will go a long way in understanding what I'm talking about further down in the guide and eventually making a good purchasing decision if you decide to buy a NVD.


All NVDs, be they monoculars, binoculars, goggles, or rifle scopes, work on the same basic principle. They collect all the light in their field of view and amplify it thousands of times to create a visible image. That's why if you look into a fairly dark room through a NVD it will look much more lit up, because the device amplifies all the little light particles to create in image that's more visible to the human eye.

Night vision devices can also "see" infrared light, which is a spectrum of light that is invisible to the human eye, and the NVD will treat infrared light the same way it will visible light, amplifying it to create a clear image for you.

Say you were standing in a pitch black room with absolutely zero visible light, but that room was filled with infrared (commonly called "IR") light. You wouldn't be able to see the IR light at all and it would still seem pitch black to you. But if you looked around through a NVD in that room you would see everything in the room very clearly, because even though there was no visible light in the room to amplify the NVD could see the IR light and treated it the same way it treats visible light, amplifying it to create a clear image for you.



So how does the NVD amplify both visible and IR light? It's not too difficult to explain or understand really.

The NVD gathers all the visible and infrared light in front of it through a lens in the front of the device, after that the light passes through a "tube" inside the device that amplifies the light thousands of times, and finally the amplified light is projected onto a screen (much like a tiny little TV screen) in the eye piece of the device for you to see.


And that's how all night vision devices, from the cheapest Gen 1 to the most expensive Gen 3 (we'll get into these "Gen"'s later) work. They all collect light particles through the front lens, pass it through a image intensifier tube (we'll just call it the "tube"), and then project the amplified light onto a little screen for you to see. The difference between the cheaper and more expensive devices is that the more expensive ones use higher quality components and have some additional little (and often very expensive) parts thrown in there as well to help the device do it's job of amplifying light better.


There you have it! You now understand how night vision devices work!


















II. The Difference Between Gen 1, 2, 3, And Digital Night Vision



Night vision devices are classified by "Generation"s.

Generation 1 devices work using the basic principles described above and do a pretty good job of amplifying both visible and IR light to create an image of whats in front of it for you to see. A Generation 2 device has a couple additional parts added in that make it do a much better job of light amplification, and a Generation 3 device has a lot of additional parts that allow it to do a slightly better job of light amplification than Generation 2.


So when you look through a Gen 1 (we'll refer to Generation as "Gen" from here on out) device in an area that is mostly dark area with a little bit of ambient light you'll see an image that is quite a bit brighter and clearer than you could see with the naked eye. But if you look at that same mostly dark area through a Gen 2 device you'll see an image that is much brighter and more clear than what you'd see through a Gen 1 device. Look into the dark area through a Gen 3 device and it will be only slightly brighter and more clear than when viewed through the Gen 2 device.


Sometimes you'll see a "+" attached to the Gen of certain NVDs, such as Gen 1+ or Gen 2+. This can be a bit confusing because sometimes the "+" means the device has some additional features or internal components that improve the function and sometimes it's just marketing hype from a company trying to convince you to buy their device over someone else's. The overwhelming majority of times it's just marketing hype though, so disregard any "+" additions to a device's description you may see and just look at the specs and useful features (which we'll cover a bit later).



Now lets talk Digital night vision devices. Simply put, these devices use an entirely different and all digital way amplifying light and at this point in time the technology used Digital night vision devices has not advanced enough to make them practical for airsoft and general use. Currently the only exception to this is the "SuperVision" brand digital device which does work pretty well, but this device is so expensive that for the price you'd be better off buying a Gen 2 device that will perform better and cost roughly the same amount.

In short, ignore the marketing hype any advertisements may claim and avoid Digital night vision devices.


















III. IR Illuminators



Before I go any further on the subject of the different Gens of night vision and choosing the right one for you I thought it would be a good time to talk about IR illuminators. What is an IR illuminator? It's essentially a flashlight with a bulb in it that projects light in the infrared spectrum only. This means that when you turn on the IR illuminator it will project a beam of light that is invisible to human (and most animal's) eyes and can only be seen through a night vision device.


An IR illuminator can be very useful when used with any Gen of night vision, since it acts like a flashlight that is only visible through a night vision device. If you're in a very dark area where there isn't enough visible light for the NVD to amplify to turn into a clearly visible image on the screen you can simply turn on your IR illuminator and it will work like a flashlight for the NVD, giving it infrared light to amplify to create a clear image of whatever is within the NVD's field of view. An IR illuminator can also extend your night vision device's viewing range, allowing the NVD to see farther out into the darkness than you could without the illuminator.

This makes an IR illuminator an excellent tool to have if you're using an NVD and because of this most modern NVDs you'll find come with an IR illuminator built in as a standard feature.


There is a downside to the IR illuminator for airsoft use though. Even though the beam of infrared light it projects is invisible to the human eye the bulb that creates the IR light does give off a dim dark red glow which can be seen by the human eye in the dark. Fortunately most IR illuminators are designed in such a way that this dim red glow can only be seen by the human eye if you're looking straight at the device from the front and if you look at it from even so little as 10° to the left or right you will not be able to see the dark red glow from the bulb.


Still though, it is important to remember when using a night vision device in an airsoft skirmish that if you turn on the IR illuminator anyone who looks at the device straight on from the front will be able to see the dim red glow of the IR illuminator which could give away your position in the dark. Also, anyone else who is using a NVD in the airsoft game will be able to see the beam of IR light coming out of your illuminator lighting up the night like a flashlight when looked at through an NVD.


So while IR illuminators can be very handy it's best to use them with a bit of caution in airsoft skirmishes, since they can give away your position if you're not careful.



The last thing to know regarding IR illuminators is that the ones that come built in to most NVDs are really only effective out to around 75 to 100 feet or so. Just like flashlights that create visible light there's a limit to how far they can cast their light. If your NVD does not come with a built in IR illuminator, or you just want a more powerful one that can cast it's IR light out past 100 feet, you do have some options for turning a regular flashlight into an IR illuminator or adding a dedicated rail mounted IR illuminator to your weapon.


The simplest option for turning a regular flashlight into an IR illuminator is to buy a flip up/down IR filter lens cover that slides over the head of your flashlight and allows you to flip it up for using the flashlight as you normally would or flipping it down to use the flashlight as an IR illuminator. These filters will filter out all the visible light from your flashlight's beam, leaving only the invisible (to the human eye) IR light. You'll still get that typical dark red glow from the IR filter's lens like you would with any IR illuminator though.

These IR filter caps are most commonly found for Surefire 6P & G2 style flashlights (G&P makes a good one priced at about $20) but can be found for a wide variety of popular tactical flashlights. You can also get replacement glass IR filter lenses for most popular tactical flashlights instead of a flip up filter cap if you like.

Unfortunately IR filters can be pretty hit or miss and more often than not won't give your light much more range than 100 feet. Their effectiveness varies greatly from filter to filter so if you buy one you may get a filter that projects a beam of IR light out to 200 feet or you may get one that only projects out to 75 feet. Even the best IR filters (such as Surefire brand IR filters) are hit and miss in this regard, but the majority of the time you can expect them to work out to around 100 feet. Also worth knowing is that an IR filter will not work at all an LED flashlights, since LEDs do not produce hardly any light in the IR spectrum.


Your next option is to buy a IR conversion bulb for your flashlight. Once again these are most commonly available for Surefire 6P style lights and will run you around $15 to $20 generally. These conversion bulbs are LED bulbs (made by CREE most often) that are specifically designed to only emit light only in the IR spectrum. They're generally effective out to around 150 feet and still create that typical dark red glow from the flashlight head that all IR illuminators do. This is a good budget friendly option for getting an IR illuminator with a longer range but it does have a major downside. The downside is that these bulbs tend to be pretty unreliable and don't handle being used for more than a few seconds at a time very well. It's not uncommon to have one of these bulbs only last a few minutes of use before burning themselves out due to the high amount of heat they generate when used. They basically cook themselves to death and it often doesn't take long for that to happen. This doesn't mean that all IR conversion bulbs will be unreliable, but in general I would not trust them to be a reliable solution for an IR illuminator.


Your last option for an IR illuminator is the most expensive but best performing option, which is to buy a purpose built rail mountable IR illuminator. This is going to be out of the price range for vast majority of airsofters, but if you can afford to spend anywhere from $140 to $300 on an IR illuminator than you do have several different options for an IR illuminator that will give you a huge boost in the distance you can see through your NVD.

Your least expensive option in this category is the Surefire M1. It's a very compact and lightweight little IR illuminator that projects a wide angle beam of IR light out to around 300 feet. While this is a huge increase in range over that of any NVD's built in IR illuminator only you can decide if it's worth the $140 retail price tag. Like any IR illuminator this one still generates a dark red glow from it's lens when used.

The next option for a purpose built IR illuminator is to buy the "ELR Torch", which is a dedicated IR only flashlight with a built in rail mount and pressure switch that can project it's beam of IR light out to 1,600 feet and has a variable beam focus for use at different ranges. The "Torch" has by far the longest effective range of any IR illuminator currently being produced, but it still creates that typical red glow from the lens when used. At $200 this IR illuminator will be well out of the price range for most airsofters and is really just plain unnecessary and overkill for airsoft use, but if you want and can afford the best than the "Torch" from TNVC.com is the best IR illuminator there is. But those who live in any country other than the USA should know that unfortunately TNVC.com will not export the "Torch" outside of the United States unfortunately, which could make it very difficult to get your hands on if you do not live in the US.


Finally, Surefire has an interesting option for those with exceptionally deep pockets who would like to have the option of both a visible white light flashlight and a long range IR illuminator together in one compact lightweight package. This option is Surefire's V2 Vampire series of lights, which start at $300 for the handheld version (which is rail mountable when used with standard 1" flashlight mount rings) and go all the way up to $575 for versions with a built in rail mount and pressure switch system. They can project either a beam of visible white light or a beam of IR light which is selected by twisting the head of the flashlight to the desired setting. Each setting has the option of a low power beam or high power beam which can be selected by pushing the button on the tail cap in a little bit for low power or all the way for high power and when you release your thumb from the button the light turns off, making it handy for tactical use. Alternately if you would like to have the light stay on without having to keep your thumb on the button you can twist the entire tailcap a little bit to have "constant on" on the low power mode or twist it further to achieve "constant on" on the high power mode. The low power mode for the visible white light is about 10 lumens and the high power mode is around 100 lumens. The low power mode for the IR illuminator gives roughly 10 feet or so of visibility when viewed through a NVD and the high power mode provides about 450 feet of visibility when viewed through a NVD.

It's a very neat combination tool with some serious power, but it comes at a price tag far too high for most airsofters to consider. Still though, I felt it was worth mentioning if for no other reason than to make you aware of all your options.


















IV. Which Gen Of Night Vision Is Right For Me?



This depends entirely on your budget. The more you can afford to spend the better results you'll get. If you can afford to spend $1,500 to $2,200 than you can buy a fantastic Gen 2 device that will pretty much turn night into day for hundreds of yards without the aid of an IR illuminator in most situations. If you can afford to spend $3,000+ than you can buy yourself a Gen 3 device that will be the top of the line most modern equipment around and offer a slightly better image and longer viewing range than a good quality Gen 2 device.


But lets face it, most of you who are reading this right now can't or simply don't want to spend $1,500+ on a night vision device of any kind. That's a lot of money for even the most hardcore airsofter to consider spending, and so we come to the most affordable and widely used night vision option. Gen 1.


If you can afford to spend $300 to $700, the price of 1 or 2 high quality airsoft guns, than you can get a top quality Gen 1 device that will give you countless hours of night time fun and a pretty good tactical advantage when skirmishing at night. It will have it's limitations though and won't offer that "turn night into day" level of clarity that a Gen 2 or 3 device will. In most outdoor situations with some moonlight overhead your viewing range will be 150 to 300 feet without the aid of an IR illuminator.

If you buy a good quality Gen 1 device it will do a much better job of seeing in the dark at airsoft skirmishing ranges than you ever could with the naked eye and it'll make you feel 10 different kinds of cool in the process.

But if you can't afford to spend at least $300 on a night vision device than you should continue to save up your money, since you just won't be able to get anything of worthwhile quality for less than that.


Now before we go any further an important thing to know is that not all Gen 1 devices are created equal. There are some really expensive ones that produce a horrible grainy image, do a just plain awful job of light amplification, and aren't worth anyone's money. And then there are some fairly cheap $300 or so options that are a great buy and amplify light well to give you a clear undistorted image. Then there's all the options in between the two ends of the spectrum and all those things together can make figuring out what's a good buy and what isn't when it comes to Gen 1 maddeningly difficult for someone who is new to NV.

But that's why I'm here to help.


Before we get into things to look for in Gen 1 devices though I thought I'd give you a frame of reference for how a good quality Gen 1 device will compare to Gen 2 device. Here's a picture comparison made by cj7hawk (who frequents the various online night vision forums) that compares a good quality Gen 1 device both with and without the aid of an IR illuminator to a Gen 2 device under various lighting conditions. This is a scaled down image and you should really click the link to the full size image that is available just below the picture to get a good comparison.




(Link to full size image ---> http://i186.photobuc...eComparison.jpg )


Hopefully that gives you a pretty good idea of what you can expect from a quality Gen 1 device and how it would compare to Gen 2 under a variety of conditions!



















V. "But ____ Told Me That I Shouldn't Buy A NVD Unless I Can Afford Gen 2!"



Than ____ is either an elitist who is too proud to admit that anything of lesser quality than their $1,500+ toy is worthwhile or they just haven't had the chance to use a good quality Gen 1 device.


I've heard the argument of "Don't buy night vision unless you can afford Gen 2" a lot on various airsoft boards and as the owner of both Gen 1 and Gen 2 devices let me be the first to tell you it's utter rubbish. Yes, there is a big difference between Gen 2 and Gen 1 in terms of the light amplification ability and viewing range, but Gen 1 is just fine for use at airsoft ranges and can actually offer better resolution and a clearer image than Gen 2 in some cases.

Gen 1 without the aid of an IR illuminator may not be that great for scouting long range enemy movements in the dark like Gen 2 would be, but for navigating in the dark and engaging enemies at airsoft ranges (up to 300 feet) Gen 1 works plenty well.


And skirmishers the world over can attest to this. In the US we can buy Gen 2 or 3 devices from any retailer (providing we can afford them lol) but in most of the rest of the world Gen 2 and 3 night vision devices are restricted items that cannot be imported and often cannot be sold to civilians. So hundreds (if not thousands) of airsofters all across the world who use NVDs in night vision games almost all use Gen 1. It's only in the USA that you'll hear the argument of "Gen 1 isn't good enough for me and I'll only use Gen 2 and 3 and you should too".


It's also possible that the people who claim anything of lesser quality than Gen 2 isn't worthwhile have never had the chance to use a good quality Gen 1 device. There are a whole lot of really poor quality Gen 1 devices on the market these days, much more than there are good ones actually, so it's quite possible than anyone who thinks Gen 1 is unusable has only had the chance to use a poor quality Gen 1 device. Using a poor quality Gen 1 device makes your ability to see in the dark often no better (sometimes much worse) than if you just use your naked eyes once they've adapted to the dark, so if you're going to buy Gen 1 it's very important that you make sure the device you're getting is a quality one and not some cheap eBay special $50 hunk of junk.



To sum it up, if you get a good quality Gen 1 device it'll work just fine for airsoft, camping, hiking, bird watching, hunting, and most any other night time activity you can think of. :)


















VI. Things To Avoid And Things To Look For In A Gen 1 Night Vision Device



When choosing a Gen 1 NVD there are some things you should look for and some things you should avoid. I made up a little list of 3 things to avoid and 5 things to look for in a Gen 1 NVD. We'll start with the things to avoid first...





Things To Avoid




#1 Avoid Buying Any Gen 1 NVD Used Or Pre-owned


There are a few reasons for this. The first reason is that Gen 1 NVDs are very sensitive to light and the majority of Gen 1 NVDs do not have "auto-brightness control" or "bright source protection". This is software that automatically lowers the voltage to the tube to dim the device or shut it off to prevent the tube from being damaged if it's pointed at a bright light in the dark (such as a flashlight, street light, etc.) or if the device is accidentally turned on during the daytime with the lens cover/cap off. Repeated exposure to bright light over time can cause the tube to develop black spots, blurred patches, focusing problems, reduction in light amplification abilities, and generally shortens the lifespan of the tube. When buying used you have no idea if the previous owner has ever improperly exposed the device to a bright light.

Which brings me to the second reason to avoid buying a used device. The lifespan of the tubes in Gen 1 NVDs is generally around 1,500 hours. Once the tube dies after 1,500 or so hours of use (less if it does not have auto-brightness control or bright source protection and is regularly exposed to bright lights) it can be replaced by sending the device in to the factory that made it to get the tube replaced, but this is expensive to have done. Since you have no idea how many hours of use have been clocked on a used device it may end up costing you more money in the long run buying used and then having to send the device in for tube replacement much sooner than if you would have bought the device new.

The last reason not to buy used is that if you buy a device used you will not get a warranty with it. Good quality new devices come with anywhere from a 1 year to a lifetime warranty if bought from a reputable company, but to use this warranty you must have some kind of receipt or proof of purchase showing you to be the person who bought the device. So if you buy used you do not get any kind of warranty on your device.




#2 Avoid Buying Anything Made By ATN


This is not a personal opinion, but the opinion of the online night vision community as a whole. ATN has a horrible reputation for making poor quality devices of all Generations that are constantly breaking down and riddled with problems with bad components and quality control issues. Oddly enough ATN has one of the best warranty plans out there and very good customer service, but they do use really poor quality components and are well known in the NV community for their awful reliability and it's not uncommon to see an ATN owner have to send their device in for repairs or replacement 3 or 4 times within the first few years of ownership. So a general policy of any NV enthusiast should be to avoid anything made by ATN like the plague.




#3 If It Costs Less Than $300 Don't Buy It


To put it simply, you're not going to get a decent Gen 1 device suitable for airsoft use for less than $300. The very few quality devices you'll find priced below $300 are magnified monoculars that cannot be head/helmet mounted or weapon mounted, and the combination of the devices being magnified (usually 3x or 4x) and having no mounting options makes them unsuitable for tactical airsoft use. Avoid those Eye-Clops and other such night vision toys you see in toy stores as well, they are very low end Digital night vision devices and are unsuitable for airsoft use.







Now that we've covered the things to avoid, time to cover the things to look for!




Things To Look For




#1 Made By A Reputable Company


This one is pretty easy really! There's not that many reputable companies out there making quality Gen 1 night vision devices, which makes the selection simple. There's Dipol and Yukon and that's pretty much it. What complicates things a bit is that Dipol's products are often rebranded, most notably by Night Optics USA. Night Optics USA rebrands all of Dipol's products for sale in the USA and offers the best warranty and price on Dipol products in the USA.

Bushnell and Night Owl are also known for rebranding some of Dipol's products but generally at a higher price and without the good warranty that the Night Optics USA. On the other hand there's Yukon who is not a rebrander but actually makes their own products and has been long known in the airgun and real steel community for making some very good quality Gen 1 rifle scopes. Some of their monoculars and goggles leave a bit to be desired due to the lack of an adjustable objective focus (we'll explain what that is in just a minute) but their scopes are great.

There are other good quality brands you'll see more often in the UK that just can't be found in the USA (like Cobra Optics or Pulsar), but for those in the USA your best choices for quality Gen 1 NVDs are going to be Night Optics USA or Yukon.




#2 Adjustable Objective Focus


This is something I'd consider almost mandatory for any night vision device that would be used for airsoft, and oddly enough it's one of the things you rarely see advertised in product descriptions and generally have to find out by first hand experience with the device or asking someone who owns one. What "adjustable objective focus" means is that the device has a dial (usually just behind the front lens, which is also called the "objective" lens) or some type of knob on it that allows you to adjust the focus to get a clear un-blurred view of objects at various ranges. Unlike the human eye night vision devices do not automatically focus at different ranges. So if the focus is dialed in for a clear picture of an object 10 feet away and then you try to use the device to look at something 100 feet away the image will be blurred and out of focus. So to transition from having a clear view of something 10 feet away to something 100 feet away you'll have to turn a dial or knob to adjust the focus for whatever range you're viewing something at.

A surprisingly large amount Gen 1 of night vision devices do not have an adjustable objective focus and more often than not this feature is not advertised in a product's description so it's always best to talk to someone who owns the particular device you're looking at or ask the manufacturer about it before hand. NVDs without this feature will produce a blurred and out of focus image most of the time.




#3 Auto-Brightness Control Or Bright Source Protection


I mentioned this earlier, but it's worth touching on again. The majority of Gen 1 NVDs do not have "auto-brightness control". This is software which automatically lowers the voltage to the tube which dims it to prevent the tube from being damaged if it's pointed at a bright light in the dark (such as a flashlight, street light, etc.) or if the device is accidentally turned on during the daytime with the lens cover/cap off. The NVD will remain on and still provide you with a clear image, it will just be a dimmed to compensate for the extra light in the environment. "Bright source protection" is software that will automatically cut all power to the tube and shut off the device if it is pointed at a light source bright enough to potentially damage the tube. Repeated exposure to bright light over time can cause the tube to develop black spots, blurred patches, focusing problems, reduction in light amplification abilities, and generally shortens the lifespan of the tube.

Auto-brightness control is found in almost every Gen 2 and Gen 3 device but are rarely seen in Gen 1 devices (currently there is only one Gen 1 device that I know of which as it). However several Gen 1 devices from Night Optics USA do have bright source protection, which while not as versatile as auto-brightness control (since you lose all visibility through the NVD when the bright source protection turns the NVD off, as opposed to auto-brightness control which would merely dim the image) it does offer a good level of protection to prevent your device from being damaged by exposure to high light levels. These features are one of those things that is not mandatory to have but if the type of device you're looking for (monocular, goggles, rifle scope, etc.) has either of these features it would certainly be a big selling point over devices that do not. Having either of these features, while not absolutely necessary, will lengthen the lifespan of your device and give you one less thing to worry about while out in the field.




#4 Good Resolution


Another major thing you should concern yourself with when choosing a Gen 1 NVD is the resolution. The resolution determines how clear and non-pixelated the image you see on the little screen inside the eye piece will be. the Most high quality Gen 1 devices will have a resolution between 32 and 40 Lp/mm (line pairs per millimeter) and that's exactly what you want. Look for a resolution of 32 Lp/mm and up in a Gen 1 device. Devices with lower resolutions will produce less clear and more pixelated images on the screen.

On a side note, oddly enough if you look at the specs for many high end Gen 2 devices they will often have lower resolution than quality Gen 1 devices. This is because the more complicated internal workings of Gen 2 devices cause them not be able to achieve the higher levels of resolution that Gen 1 devices can. The improved light amplification ability and increased viewing range of Gen 2 devices more than makes up for their lower resolution, but it is something I thought was interesting and worth telling you about.




#5 Low Geometric Distortion


This is one thing you'll never find in the product description and can generally only be found out about by asking someone who has used the device in question or trying it out for yourself, but for a NVD it is something important to consider. "Geometric distortion" is something you'll only find in Gen 1 devices (it does not happen with Gen 2 or 3 devices) and is often called "fisheye" or "fishbowl" effect. This is when the center of the image looks sharp and clear but the outer edges seem to be curved and distorted. The best way to explain this effect is with a picture.

The following pictures are of some window blinds viewed through two different NVDs. The top picture shows a NVD with severe geometric distortion and the bottom shows a NVD with very low geometric distortion.






The difference is pretty clear. Most modern and quality made Gen 1 devices will have very little to no noticeable geometric distortion, but most older Gen 1 devices and cheaper low quality Gen 1 devices will have this problem to varying levels. If you buy a quality NVD from a reputable company like Dipol / Night Optics USA or Yukon this shouldn't be something to worry about, but it is still worth knowing about.


















VII. Choosing Your Device : Monocular, Goggles, Rifle Scope, Add-On, or Gen 1 Cascade Rifle Scope?



Now that you know what to avoid and what to look for in a device it's time for the fun part! Time to decide what type of device is right for you!

For tactical airsoft use you have several options : Monocular, Goggles, Rifle Scope, Add-On, or Gen 1 Cascade Rifle Scope.

In this section I will break down the differences between these five types of NVDs, discuss their pros and cons, and give you my personal recommendation for the best Gen 1 device in each category. All of my picks for the best devices will fall between $300 and $660, so they're all about as budget friendly as quality Gen 1 NVDs get.


That said, lets get started!










A monocular is a probably the most versatile device there is and can be used in a variety of ways. For tactical airsoft use I recommend getting a 1x magnification (which means no magnification) monocular with a head mounting harness. When head mounted it will cover only one eye, which allows your other eye to adapt to the darkness which makes transitioning from low light to higher light environments very easy. Having only 1 eye covered by your NVD also allows you to retain proper depth perception and prevents tunnel vision. When head mounted a monocular is usually placed over the non-dominant eye, meaning your left eye if you're right handed or your right eye if you're left handed.


Doing this serves to help with retaining depth perception and also allows you to shoulder a rifle comfortably while wearing the NVD.

The most common and effective method of accurately aiming your weapon while wearing a NV monocular is to install a visible laser (such as a red or green laser) or IR laser (which we'll talk about more in a little bit) on your gun and use that to aim with. Since the dot projected by the laser will be visible through the NVD it is an effective aiming solution and depending on the laser's power and amount of dust particles in the air you can sometimes even see the entire beam of the laser. Which needless to say is quite cool! Be aware though that using any laser to aim with can give away your position due to the glowing light that will be emitted from the laser's lens when it is turned on.


Another method of aiming your weapon while using a head mounted monocular is to have a red dot sight on your weapon and look through the red dot sight at your target with you dominant eye while your non-dominant eye looks through the NVD. For some people their brain will automatically combine the images from both eyes into one clear image that appears as if all they're seeing is the view through the NVD with a red dot floating in the center on target. Understand though that this will only work for some people, since it's much like going partially cross eyed, and most people will not able to aim this way. Thus a laser of some kind mounted on your gun is recommended as the most reliable method of aiming when using a head mounted NV monocular.


Many monoculars can be rail mounted as well as head mounted. This means that if you have a NV compatible red dot sight (such as real Aimpoint, EOTech, or the more budget friendly Vortex Strikefire) you can get a rail mount adapter to mount the monocular behind your red dot sight to create a non-magnified night vision scope if you like. And if you don't have a real Aimpoint, EOTech, or other night vision compatible sight sight (since the overwhelming majority of airsofters do not) you can still rail mount the NVD and then use a visible or IR laser attached to your gun to aim with. It is important to know that rail mounting a NV monocular behind a red dot sight that is not made for use with night vision equipment can result in damage to the NVD's tube since even on the lowest brightness settings most red dot sights produce a dot too bright to safely use with a NVD. So best to not try mounting a monocular behind a red dot sight unless that sight is made with settings specifically designed for use with NVDs.


The last option for using a monocular is to carry it in a pouch and use it as a hand held device for occasional spotting in the dark. This is a much less tactically sound option than head mounting or rail mounting so I wouldn't recommend it in an airsoft skirmish, but if you want to use your monocular that way it is an option.



The downsides of a monocular are that when head mounted they can make going prone very difficult and are not as easy or accurate to aim with as using a NV rifle scope unless they rail mounted behind a NV compatible red dot sight. And if using the monocular in a head mounted configuration your only reliable method of accurately aiming your weapon is going to be using a laser, which can give away your position due to the glowing light emitted from the laser's lens when it is turned on. Another downside is that after an hour or two of wearing the device around head or helmet mounted the added weight of the device on your head can lead to a very sore neck. Also, due to their fairly small objective (front) lens they tend to have less light amplification abilities when compared to a rifle scope with a larger objective lens. This is especially apparent when rail mounting the monocular behind a NV compatible red dot sight, since the red to sight will block quite a bit of light that the monocular's front lens would normally collect.



My recommendation for the best Gen 1 NV Monocular is the...






Dipol / Night Optics USA D-112MG


Originally made by Dipol and rebranded by Night Optics USA this device has a few great features that can be very hard to find in Gen 1 devices. It's a 1x magnification device that has bright source protection software, an adjustable objective focus, 40 Lp/mm resolution, includes a head mount kit, and priced at $390 from various retailers it's a great bang for your buck. It can even be rail mounted or helmet mounted using standard Mil-Spec mounting hardware originally designed for use with the current US military issue AN/PVS-14 monocular with a little bit of modification to the mount. This modification is simply filing down a little triangular nub on the rail mount or helmet mounting arm.

It has all the features you could want in a Gen 1 device. A built in IR illuminator, very good light amplification ability for Gen 1, is light weight, has very little in the way of geometric distortion, and includes a 1 year factory warranty.













Goggles are probably what most people think of when they think of a night vision device. They are 1x magnification devices that can mount to your head or helmet and flip down to work just like a monocular only covering both eyes instead of one. They look darn cool and do have some advantages over a monocular, but I think they really have more disadvantages than they have advantages. Still though, some people really like using goggles so they're a worthwhile option to consider.


The advantages of goggles are that they will give a wider field of view than a monocular would and... well, that's pretty much it! Aside from looking cool and offering a slightly wider field of view there's not much advantage to using goggles over a monocular.

The disadvantages of goggles are many. Since both eyes are covered it can be much more disorienting when moving from a dark environment into one with more light (and vice versa) than it would be when using a monocular that only covers one eye. Also, having both eyes covered tends to cause problems with depth perception and can give you tunnel vision. Another thing to consider is that goggles will be heavier than a monocular so they will cause neck pain when head mounted sooner than if you were using a lighter weight monocular. Just like with a monocular your only reliable option for accurately aiming your weapon while using night vision goggles will be a laser mounted on your weapon. This is by no means a bad option for aiming but it does pose the risk of giving away your position due to the glow produced by the laser's lens every time you turn it on to aim.


Still though, goggles do have their fans and despite all the disadvantages I know some people actually feel more comfortable and better oriented in the dark when they have both eyes "seeing green". But they are a device that you should do your best to "try before you buy" to find out if they're right for you or not. Some people will feel a loss of depth perception and get tunnel vision while wearing goggles, and others may feel more comfortable and better oriented in the dark in goggles than they would with a monocular. It's really a personal preference thing and you'll just have to find out what works best for you.



My recommendation for the best Gen 1 NV Goggles is...






Dipol / Night Optics USA D2-MV Pro


Originally made by Dipol and rebranded by Night Optics USA these goggles use the same tube system as the D-112MG monocular I recommended in the monocular section. Just like the D-112MG it is 1x magnification, but the big difference is that this device has 2 tubes in it (one for each eye) and the field of view is slightly wider. It has all the features you could want in a Gen 1 NVD, including bright source protection software, dual adjustable objective focus dials (one for each eye), 40 Lp/mm resolution, and very little in the way of geometric distortion.

Another neat and unique feature is that the built in IR illuminator actually has a beam focus adjustment dial so the beam from the illuminator can be focused into a wide angle beam for short range illumination or a tight condensed beam for long range illumination. This device includes a head mounting harness and can also be helmet mounted with a special adapter from Dipol / Night Optics USA that allows it to be fitted to standard Mil-Spec helmet mounting hardware. The price is around $660 from various retailers and it features the same 1 year factory warranty as all Night Optics USA devices.










Rifle Scopes



A rifle scope is another very popular option for a NVD. It offers some distinct advantages over a monocular or goggles, but it also comes with it's own unique disadvantages.

The most obvious advantage is that once the rifle scope is mounted to your gun and sighted in you'll have the ability to make precise accurate shots in the dark without ever having to risk giving away your position. If you were using a NV monocular or goggles and aiming with a laser there would always be the glow from the laser's lens to risk giving away your position every time you took aim. Even some night vision compatible red dot sights that you might want to mount a NV monocular behind produce a dim glow from their lens when turned on, but with a NV rifle scope there is nothing that will risk giving away your position when you aim at a target. A less obvious advantage is that in almost all cases a rifle scope will have better light gathering and light amplification abilities than a monocular or goggles. This is because the rifle scope has a larger objective lens than a monocular or goggles. A rifle scope's objective lens is usually between 42 and 100mm wide where as the objective lens on a monocular or lenses on goggles are usually between 24 and 30mm wide. Simply put, a bigger objective lens generally equals better light gathering and light amplification abilities which will allow you to see better in the dark with the device.


Another advantage that a rifle scope has over a monocular or goggles is that since the NVD is mounted to your weapon rather than your head you will not get a sore neck from prolonged use of the device. The magnification of the scope (usually between 1.5x and 4x) can also help you acquire targets more clearly in the dark than you could with a 1x magnification head mounted device.


The last advantage of a rifle scope that I'd like to touch on is that it is also usable during the daytime. All NV rifle scopes will have some kind of cover over the objective lens (usually a flip up lens cover) that prevents the device from being damaged if it is turned on during the daytime. This lens cover will always have a tiny little pinhole in the center that lets a very tiny amount of light in, and the reason for this is so you can sight in the rifle scope during the daytime. The pinhole in the objective lens cover will let in just enough light during the daytime to give you a clear picture through the scope without letting enough light in that you might risk damaging the tube. So as long as you keep that front lens cover on you can use the scope during the daytime. Now I wouldn't recommend pointing it at the sun or any extremely bright light source, since you could still possibly risk damaging the device if you did that for long enough, but for general daytime use in the woods or indoors it is perfectly safe to use the scope as long as you keep that lens cover on while the scope is turned on. A flip up pinhole lens cover also makes it easier to fit a clear plastic lens protector to a rifle scope to protect the lens from BB hits than it would be to fit a lens protector to a monocular or goggles, but we'll focus more on that later.



Now for the disadvantages...

The biggest downside of a rifle scope is that since it is not sitting in front of your eye all the time and because it will have between 1.5x and 4x magnification it is not very useful for navigating and finding your way around in the dark. A monocular or goggles that have 1x magnification and are head mounted can be used to find your way around the dark and navigate with ease, but a magnified rifle scope mounted on your weapon is just not terribly useful for this task. I have used 1.5x magnification NV rifle scopes for navigation in the dark before with fairly good success, but the only 1.5x magnification Gen 1 NV rifle scope currently on the market does not have an adjustable objective focus so everything you see through it will be pretty blurry most of the time.


Another disadvantage of a NV rifle scope is that currently there are no Gen 1 NV rifle scopes on the market with auto-brightness control or bright source protection software. While this is not deal breaker and your device will work just fine without it, it does mean that you should be a bit more careful about where you point the device than you would with a monocular or goggles that had one of these features. You shouldn't worry too much about this, since your device will not be damaged by someone shining a tactical flashlight in it's general direction from time to time, but hundreds of repeated short exposures to bright light will shorten the lifespan of the tube. Not a huge deal, just something to be aware of.


The last disadvantage of a NV rifle scope is the weight. Quality Gen 1 NV rifle scopes weigh roughly twice what a monocular or goggles would weigh. Most Gen 1 monoculars or goggles weigh somewhere around 1 pound, whereas Gen 1 NV rifle scopes tend to weigh somewhere around 2 pounds. This is partially due to the addition of more parts for the reticle, it's adjustment turrets, and the rail mount, but it is also due to the stronger and heavier housing (body of the scope) that is often used for rifle scopes. It's assumed that a rifle scope is going to get banged around a lot more than a monocular or goggles would so reputable companies will usually make the housing of a rifle scope out of a much stronger and more durable material than they would use when constructing a monocular or goggles, which results in the device having a heavier weight.



So there are some pros and cons to a rifle scope. It's a great device for aiming and shooting at enemies in an airsoft skirmish without risking giving away your position, will offer better light gathering and amplification abilities than a monocular or goggles, and it can serve double duty as a daytime scope if needed. But it will weigh more and not be as effective for navigating and finding your way around in the dark as a monocular or goggles would be.



My recommendation for the best Gen 1 NV Rifle Scope is...







Yukon NVRS 2.5x50 Tactical Night Vision Rifle Scope With Internal Focusing


Often referred to as the "NVRS-F" this NV rifle scope is one of the few available that offers an adjustable objective focus. Yukon calls this feature "Internal Focusing" but it means the same thing as "adjustable objective focus".

This device comes in at around $600 and is widely considered to be the best budget conscious budget option for a night vision rifle scope. There are cheaper scopes out there made by reputable companies, but this is the least expensive option that is well made and has an adjustable objective focus (which as I've said before is pretty much mandatory for airsoft use).


It's a tough little unit with a solid titanium housing, easy to reach adjustable objective focus on top, flip up pinhole lens cover, and built in IR illuminator that can be activated either on the body of the scope or via an included remote pressure switch. It also features a red colored crosshair reticle with a wide range of brightness settings, precise windage/elevation adjustment knobs that can be adjusted without the need for tools, and has very good resolution at 32 to 36 Lp/mm. The light gathering and amplification abilities of this scope are superior to any Gen 1 NV monocular or goggles due it it's large 50mm lens and the low 2.5x magnification works very well for shooting at airsoft engagement ranges. Yukon crafts these scopes very well so they offer zero noticeable geometric distortion, the built in mount fits any 20mm rail, and it comes with an excellent lifetime factory warranty from Yukon.












What is an "Add-On"? Simply put, an Add-On is a NV monocular that is usually 1x magnification and comes with a mounting system that allows it to attach behind the rear lens of a daytime rifle scope so the monocular is looking through the scope. This sounds very good in theory, being able to use a regular Leapers/Tasco/Bushnell/Etc. rifle scope during the day and then just attaching your NV monocular behind it when you go into a night time skirmish. But I'm sorry to say it's an idea that just doesn't work well with Gen 1 NVDs.


It can work reasonably well if you're willing to leave the built in IR illuminator turned on every time you look through the device, but doing so is very likely to give away your position in the dark. If you try to use an Add-On system without the aid of an IR illuminator than the daytime scope will reduce light transmission to the NV monocular to the point that you won't be able to see anything at all through it under most night night time conditions.

The unfortunate fact is that Add-Ons require the constant use of an IR illuminator to see anything through them, and because of this they should be considered tactically unsound and unsuitable for airsoft use. For this reason I will not be recommending any Add-On NVDs.










Gen 1 Cascade Rifle Scopes



Just when you thought you had learned everything there was to know about Gen 1 NVDs there's still 1 more oddball category that has yet to be mentioned!

What is a "Gen 1 Cascade Rifle Scope"?

A Gen 1 Cascade Rifle Scope a rifle scope with three Gen 1 tubes stacked back to back inside the housing. This results in an enormously long and very heavy scope that has light amplification abilities near that of Gen 2 devices and can be had for $300 to $500. Unfortunately these devices do tend to have a lot of geometric distortion, but if you can live with that and the size and weight of the scopes they are very practical devices that can really give you an edge in night time skirmishing without having to spend a small fortune in the process.


Here's a comparison picture made by cj7hawk (who frequents the various online NV forums) that shows the difference in image quality under extremely dark conditions between a Gen 1 device, a fairly new Gen 1 Cascade device, and a Gen 2 device to give you an idea of the differences in image quality and light amplification. This is a scaled down image and you should really click the link to the full size image that is available just below the picture to get a good comparison.




(Link to full size image ---> http://i186.photobuc...y-compare-1.jpg )


These type of scopes are no longer being produced new, but were once made and issued by the military of various countries and you can find them in varying conditions on eBay or gunbroker.com regularly.



This time I'm going to be recommending 2 different Gen 1 Cascade Rifle Scopes to fit different kinds of rifles. My two recommendations are....







US Military Issue AN/PVS-2 and Soviet Military Issue 1PN34 / NSPU



The two most common and budget friendly options for these devices are the US issue AN/PVS-2 and the Soviet issue 1PN34 scope, which is also commonly referred to as the NSPU.

This is the one and only circumstance under which I'll say it's okay to buy a Gen 1 device in used condition, since these scopes are no longer in production it can be next to impossible to find one new. They're both built to extremely durable military specifications so the housing of the scopes shouldn't be an area of concern, but the condition of the tubes can vary greatly from scope to scope. It's pretty much a matter of looking for one in as lightly used condition as possible and hoping for the best.


Both of these scopes can be found regularly on online auction sites such as eBay and Gunbroker.com and vary a bit in price depending on who is selling them and the condition they're in. AN/PVS-2 scopes can almost never be found in new unissued condition and generally go for $300 to $550 depending on their condition. The 1PN34/NSPU scope can actually often be found in brand new unissued condition for $300 to $400, since the Soviets had a huge stockpile of these scopes laying around unissued after the cold war and many of them found their way into the hands of private collectors and sellers across the former East Bloc nations.


The AN/PVS-2 can be had with various mounts for the carry handle of a M16/M4 or the receiver of an M14, and sometimes you find them fitted with Elcan brand picatinny/weaver rail mounts as well. The 1PN34 (or "NSPU") scope is designed to only mount to the side rail of an AK or SVD series rifle. Both of these scopes are designed to run on old archaic batteries but fortunately most of these scopes you find being sold by sellers on auction sites will include an adapter that allows them to use AA batteries in the correct number to supply the NVD with the proper voltage it needs to operate.


Another thing worth noting is that the AN/PVS-2 often (depending on which model, there are a few variations) comes with auto-brightness control software as well, where as the 1PN34/NSPU has bright source protection software. The AN/PVS-2 models that have this auto-brightness control software will usually come with a label on the right or left side of the scope that says "ABC". The AN/PVS-2 also has an adjustable objective focus where as the 1PN34/NSPU does not, but it's immense light amplification abilities do make up for this and allows the 1PN34/NSPU to be usable without being overly blurry under most nighttime conditions.



Both of these scopes are enormous, heavy, cumbersome, pretty unsightly looking, will have severe geometric distortion, don't come with any kind of warranty, and if they ever break you're going to have a real hard time finding someone who is capable of fixing them. But darn do they work well and and for the price they're a great buy, since you don't have to spend a lot and you won't get better light amplification from anything else below $1,000.


















VIII. If You Can Afford Gen 2 Or 3...



If you are one of the rare few airsofters who can afford to spend $1,000+ on a night vision device and are not only willing to do so but also legally able to do so in your country than by all means go for it. This guide was written with the average airsofter who would not be able to spend $1,000+ on a NVD in mind, but I know at least a couple of those rare few who can will read this so I decided to make this little section just for them.


If you can afford to spend $1,500 to $2,200 on a device than I have a few recommendations for you depending on if you would prefer a monocular or a rifle scope.


My first recommendation is for a monocular, the Dipol / Night Optics USA D-300 Gen 2 Monocular. This is a 1x magnification device that will run you around $1,500 and give you one of the best Gen 2 monoculars money can buy. The light amplification ability is a huge step up from any Gen 1 device and this NVD will just about turn night into day under all but pitch black conditions. It can be head mounted with a harness, helmet mounted using standard issue AN/PVS-14 helmet mounting hardware, or rail mounted behind a NV compatible optic (such as a real Aimpoint or EOTech sight) to use it as a 1x magnification scope using a standard Mil-Spec PVS-14 rail mount. It will also work well as an Add-On device used in conjunction with a day time rifle scope if you buy the special Add-On adapter for the D-300 from Night Optics USA.

The D-300 comes in both regular and Mil-Spec versions. The only difference being that the Mil-Spec version will come with a tube data sheet and has a hand selected tube inside that may have just slightly better (usually not even not noticeably better) resolution ( 0 to 10 more Lp/mm) than the regular D-300 and costs around $160 more. So is it worth the extra money for the Mil-Spec version? I don't think so personally, since all you get for the additional $160 is a piece of paper and a hand selected tube in the device that may not be noticeably better than the tube in the regular D-300. But ultimately it's up to you to decide if having a "Mil-Spec" device is worth the extra money or not.


My second recommendation is for a rifle scope, and there's actually 2 of them that I think are worth looking at.


The first rifle scope I'd recommend is the Litton L3 M845 Miniscope.

This rifle scope is almost more of a night vision reflex sight than a scope, since it's magnification is only 1.5x and the aiming reticle is a red dot with 3 different brightness settings and adjustable windage/elevation. The lack of magnification makes this not only a great scope for scanning the field and taking on targets at airsoft engagement ranges but also makes it particularly handy for navigating and finding you way around in the dark. If you don't mind holding your gun shouldered while moving around it's fairly easy to stay aware of your surroundings and navigate while looking through the scope, which is something that is all but impossible to do with a higher magnification scope.

This scope has auto-brightness control like most high end Gen 2 and Gen 3 devices, but what makes this particular scope such a fantastic value for the money is the tube they use in it. The tube is a Gen 2 "SHP" tube, which stands for "Super High Performance". What that means is that this scope will provide you with a level of resolution and visual clarity equal to that of the best $3,500+ Gen 3 devices. And since the M845 Miniscope is priced at $1,750 that's a hard deal to beat. For half the price of a top notch Gen 3 device you'll get a rugged and reliable scope with equal resolution and only slightly less light amplification ability. Also included with this scope is a very nice adjustable tension quick detach throw lever mount and a 1 year factory warranty from Litton. The only retailer I know of that currently carries this scope is TNVC.com and they were produced as a limited run, so they may not be available forever.


The second rifle scope is the Dipol / Night Optics USA D-440.

This rifle scope uses the exact same tube found in the D-300, the only differences being that it is now in a 3x magnification rifle scope housing with a built in rail mount and has an illuminated reticle with adjustable brightness and adjustable windage/elevation. The low magnification of this scope makes it great for airsoft use and the large 88mm objective lens gives it even better light collecting abilities than the D-300.

In short, all that makes the D-300 great applies just the same in this device. Only now it's a rifle scope instead of a monocular and will cost you around $1,650. And just like with the D-300 there is a "Mil-Spec" version available that may or may not have slightly better resolution for about $300 more.



Now, lets say you're one of those even more rare types who live in the USA can afford to spend $3,500+ on a night vision device. At this point I'd say just go and buy yourself a ITT Pinnacle Autogated PVS-14 monocular. It's the top of the line current military issue NV device and widely considered to be the best NVD choice money can buy. And if that still doesn't scratch your itch for the best expensive techo-gadgetry than there's always thermal imaging scopes to look into.


















IX. Aiming With A Visible Or IR Laser



If the NVD you decide to purchase is a monocular for head mounted use or a set of goggles you will find that your most simple and effective method of accurately aiming your weapon while using the NVD will be to use some kind of laser mounted on your weapon. You have a few different options to choose from for types of lasers to use for this purpose, so I'll take a couple minutes to fill you in on each of these options and their pros and cons.


Your first option is a visible laser which can be had in red, green, and blue colors. If you decide on a visible laser for NV use I recommend using a fairly low powered red laser and avoiding any green or blue lasers. The reason for this is that since NVDs amplify light thousands of times to create a visible image for you on their screen the dot from even a very dim laser will appear extremely bright to your NVD. Since green and blue lasers are far brighter than red ones the dot they project will look more like a giant glowing orb of light several feet wide rather than a compact little dot to your NVD, where as a lower powered red laser will appear much less bright and the dot it projects should retain a more normal compact shape when viewed through a NVD.

A low power visible red laser can make a good tool for aiming when using a head mounted NVD, and as a bonus it can also prove quite useful for pointing out the location to enemies or objectives to teammates that do not have a NVD and cannot see where people & things are at as well as you can.

The downside of aiming with a visible laser is that your enemy will instantly know when they are being targeted by you, due to the glowing red dot lighting up the night as it is projected onto them.


And so we come to IR lasers. As you may have already guessed based on what you've learned about IR illuminators, an IR laser is a laser that projects it's dot in the infrared spectrum so it will be invisible to the human eye and can only be seen when viewed through a NVD. Just like a IR illuminator an IR laser will produce a dark red glow from it's lens when turned on, but the dot that is projected by the laser can only be seen when viewed through a NVD.


Before we go any further on this subject is important to know that IR lasers, even low powered ones, do carry an inherent element of danger and should be used carefully. As you may well know shining any laser, visible or IR, into someone's eyes for more than a second or two can cause permanent eye damage. This should be an area of concern when using any laser but it is especially important to keep in mind when using an IR laser. The reason for this is because the human eye cannot see the dot being projected by an IR laser, so if someone was to have an IR laser shined in their eye their blink reflex would not activate and they would never know there was a laser being shined in their eye. If a visible laser (such as a normal red, green, or blue laser) was shined into someone's eye they would feel a short jolt of pain and automatically their blink reflex would kick in and make them blink to avoid having the laser shined in their eye, but this is not the case with an IR laser. If an IR laser was shined into someone's eye for a prolonged period of time they would never feel any pain, never have their blink reflex activate, and not know anything was wrong until eventually they heard a loud popping noise inside their head followed by their vision going black in the eye they just lost.

In short, if you're going to use an IR laser be extremely cautious with it and never point it anywhere near someone's head. Even low powered IR lasers can cause eye damage if used improperly, so above all else always keep the safety of others in mind when employing an IR laser.


If you do decide you'd like to use an IR laser to aim with for it's stealth benefits than you may run into one other problem aside from the safety issue, and this problem only applies to those living the USA. In the USA the sale of IR lasers which are in brand new condition is restricted to law enforcement and military personnel only by the FDA. In other words, if you are not a police officer or a solider you cannot legally purchase a brand new IR laser from any retail store in the USA. However, it is 100% perfectly legal for a United States citizen to own an IR laser and use it in any way they see fit. It is also perfectly legal for a US citizen to purchase any IR laser from any country outside of the US and then import it into the US.

So what does this all mean for you if you live in the US and are not a police officer or a solider? It basically means that you can buy a used IR laser from anywhere in the US that sells them, or you can buy a brand new IR laser from another country and have it shipped to you. If you live outside of the US there are lots of options for great IR lasers from lots of different companies, so shop around. But for those in the US your options are pretty limited.


For those in the US my best suggestion for getting a IR laser for airsoft use is to purchase a G&P GP462 IR Laser from a Hong Kong based airsoft shop. Many Hong Kong based airsoft retailers carry them (although they are often out of stock due to their popularity) and they are rugged, reliable, and well built units that are reasonably powerful but not excessively so for airsoft use. The G&P GP462 IR Laser generally costs around $100, includes a KAC style rail mount, and a remote pressure switch. When the pressure switch eventually wears out (as all pressure switches will eventually) it can be replaced with any pressure switch or tailcap that is made to fit the Surefire 6P series of flashlights. This laser may seem a bit expensive, but all the other options for durable good quality IR lasers available for purchase by US citizens will cost anywhere from $300 to $5,000. So when the pricing of the rest of your options is taken into account the G&P IR laser is an excellent value for the money.



Once you've decided on a laser and purchased it now you need to get it mounted to your weapon and properly sighted in. You basically have 2 options for mounting the laser on your gun. If your gun has some kind of rail system you can mount it on a side or bottom rail, or if your gun lacks a rail system you can attach the laser to the outer barrel with a barrel clamp mount. Once you've picked an installation method and installed your laser now you need to get it sighted in so you'll be able to accurately aim and shoot with it. The first thing to do is to tune your hopup so the BBs coming out of the barrel fly on a perfectly level flat trajectory. This means that that the BBs will fly as far as they can without arcing upwards at any point, you want their flight path to be perfectly flat and level all the way through. Now historically most people who sight in a laser pick a distance (say 100 feet or so) and adjust the windage and elevation adjustment screws on the laser so that the dot is perfectly on target at that distance. While that does work great if all your engagements are at around 100 feet, it doesn't offer much flexibility for sighting at different ranges.

For an example, say your laser is mounted on the left side rail of a RIS system and sighted in to be dead on at 100 feet. Since the laser is on the left side rail the laser's beam needs to angle to the right to put the dot in line with where your BBs are going to hit. Because the beam is angling to the right to be dead on at 100 feet that means that if you tried to shoot a target at 50 feet the laser would be pointing to the left of where the BBs are actually going to hit, and if you were to take a shot at 150 feet the laser would be pointing to the right of where the BBs are actually going to hit.

Because of this factor I recommend sighting in your laser in an offset fashion. To explain this I'll use another example...

Say your laser unit is once again mounted on the left side rail of a RIS system on an M4 type rifle. When mounted on the left side rail the laser unit is sitting at the exact same vertical height as the gun's barrel, so vertically speaking the laser is already perfectly in line with the barrel. But horizontally speaking the laser is actually sitting about an inch to the left of the barrel. So if you were to sight in your laser in an offset fashion you would sight it in so that the dot the laser projects is always 1 inch to the left of wherever the your BBs are hitting. This way you will have a perfectly straight beam coming out of the laser that is not angling at all to the left or right, so no matter what range you fire at (10 feet, 50 feet, 100 feet, or 150 feet or more) the laser's dot will always be projected 1 inch to the left of the target. So there's never any question of "do I need to aim the laser's dot left or right at "X" range to have the BBs hit their target?", in this situation you would always aim 1 inch to the left.

If your laser was mounted on a the right side RIS rail you'd sight it in so the laser is always pointing 1 inch to the right of where the BBs would hit, and if it was on the bottom rail or mounted underneath the barrel you'd sight it in so that the laser is always pointing 1 inch or so below where the BBs would hit. I find this offset sighting method to be the most practical and reliable method using a laser to aim with.


















X. Choosing The Right Airsoft Goggles To Wear When Using Your NVD



The last piece of equipment you will need to effectively use any NVD in an airsoft skirmish is the right pair of goggles. Unfortunately NVDs in general do not have very good eye relief, which means your eye has to be very close to the little screen inside the NVD's eye piece to get a good view through the device. Since playing airsoft requires you to wear some kind of eye protection, this means you're going to want to get the lowest profile eye protection you can find that won't fog up on you. If your eye protection is not low profile enough than you're not going to be able to look through your NVD effectively.


A JT style paintball mask just isn't going to work with NV gear (goggles, scope, or monocular) because the goggle's lens is so far away from your eye you wouldn't be able to get any kind of decent view through your device with the NVD's rubber eye cup pressed up against the goggle's lens. So you're going to want eye protection that is as low profile as possible while still retaining good ventilation so you won't be fogging up all the time. If you go too low profile (the WileyX SG-1 goggles for instance) you won't be able to get good ventilation and you'll be fogging up constantly. So it's all about striking a balance between low profile and ventilation capabilities.

For this purpose I'd recommend ESS Advancer V12 goggles. The Revision Bullet Ant goggles are similar in profile and perfectly suitable for this purpose as well, although their ventilation is not quite as good.


Aside from being low profile and having good ventilation there's one other thing that the ESS Advancer V12 and Revision Bullet Ant goggles have in common, and I think it's something important to consider when using a NVD. They are both dual lens goggles with one small lens over each eye instead of one big lens running the full length of the goggles. If the night vision device you plan to use is a monocular or rifle scope I think this is a very important feature to have.

Since all NVDs will cast light backwards out of the rubber eye cup towards your eye it's important to try and contain that light as much as possible if you want to remain undetected in the dark. If you were using a goggle with a single large lens than the inside of the goggle would be instantly filled up with light when you pressed the NVD's rubber eye cup up against your goggle, back lighting the half of your face that isn't covered by the NVD and likely giving away your position in the dark. Where as if you were to use a dual lens goggle with a small lens for each eye the light emitted from the NVD's eye cup would be contained inside the small housing for that particular lens and would not spread across the rest of your face, making it much less likely to give away your position in the dark (especially since the NVD's rubber eye cup will be covering up most of lens that the light will be shining into).


Also, if you use a NV monocular or rifle scope with a single lens goggle you will end up inadvertently destroying your natural night vision (your eye's natural ability to adapt to darkness) in whatever eye you are not using the NVD with every time you look through the NVD, since the light from the rubber eye cup will fill up the goggle. When your eye that that is not looking through the NVD has adapted to the darkness any exposure to light in that eye will cause it to loose it's natural night vision for a few minutes.

So all in all it's best to go with a low profile goggle with a two lens design in order to reduce the chance of giving away your position and to avoid losing your natural night vision in whatever eye is not being used with the NVD.

Even if you plan to use night vision goggles rather than a monocular or rifle scope you're still better off with a dual lens goggle since it will contain the light from the night vision goggle's eye cups in a smaller more discrete space.


















XI. Setup And Usage Of Your NVD



At this point we're going to assume that, armed with all of the information you have learned necessary to make a smart purchasing decision, you have purchased a quality NVD of some kind.


The first thing you're going to want to do is test it out, which I think is best done in the daytime with the pinhole lens cover on for the initial testing. So install the batteries, make sure the pinhole lens cover is securely in place, and turn the device on. At this point you may notice a subtle high pitched humming noise coming from the device. This is perfectly normal for a Gen 1 NVD and is not a problem at all. Some devices will do this and some won't, but if yours does you can rest assured that it's perfectly normal.


Now point the device at a nearby wall (white walls work best for this part) anywhere from 1 to 15 feet away and look through it. You will probably notice that the screen is hard to focus on and a little blurred, so the first order of business is to adjust the eye piece of the device. All quality NVDs will have an adjustable eye piece, usually a textured ring just in front of the rubber eye piece that can be rotated. Rotate this ring until the screen inside the eye piece is in focus and clear and the screen appears as big as possible inside the eye piece without looking out of focus or blurred.


At this point you may notice a few small black spots in the NVD's field of view. It's perfectly normal for a NVD to have a few small black spots here and there on the tube, it just happens as part of the manufacturing process. Sometimes you'll get what's called a "clean tube" that has no black spots at all, other times you'll get a tube that may have as many as 3 or 4 of them. Either way it's perfectly normal to have these little black spots on the tube of all Generations of NVDs and you shouldn't be concerned about it unless you have a dozen or so little black spots all over the place (in which case you should contact the manufacturer about getting the device replaced due to the unacceptably large number of spots on the tube).


Once you've dialed in the eye piece focus to your liking and examined the tube for black spots you can take a look around through the device. If your surroundings look blurry and your NVD has an adjustable objective focus you can now reach forward and adjust the objective focus to get a clear view of whatever you're looking at. Try looking at things close by and adjusting the objective focus to bring the objects into clear view and then try looking at something farther away and adjusting the objective focus to bring that object into clear view.


If all is working properly you can now wait for nightfall and take the device out into the dark, turn it on, flip up or remove the pinhole lens cover, and have fun with it!


The last thing to test is to make sure that the bright source protection or auto-brightness control software is working properly, if your device has either of these features that is. If it does not you can skip this step.

If your device does have either of these kinds of software you can test it out by going out into the dark, pointing the device into a dark area, and then slowly panning it towards a bright light source (car headlight, street light, etc.) while looking through it. If your device has auto-brightness control than as the device pans towards the bright light you should notice the image inside the eye piece start to become dim. If your device has bright source protection than the device should shut itself off completely if the light source it is pointed at is very bright. Many devices with bright source protection will automatically turn themselves back on a few seconds after shutting off, but some will not. So if the device has to be turned back on manually after the bright source protection software shuts it off than this should not be a cause for concern (unless of course the device's instruction manual says it should come back on afterwords and it does not, then you may have a cause for concern). In any case, if the device either dims the screen or shuts off completely when pointed towards a bright light you know your auto-brightness control or bright source protection software is working properly.


















XII. Tips For Basic Care & Maintenance Of Your NVD



Before we wrap things up here I want to share with you some basic tips that will help you get the most enjoyment and the longest lifespan out of your NVD. Some of these tips are pretty common sense stuff, others are things you may not have considered. In either case I hope you find these tips helpful.



- Never turn on your NVD during the daytime if the pinhole lens cover is removed.

Pretty common sense tip, but it's worth repeating. Even if your device has auto-brightness control software you can still damage the tube by turning it on during the daytime with the pinhole lens cover removed. If you want to use your NVD during the daytime always leave the lens cover on while the device is turned on.



- You can remove the NVD's pinhole lens cover during the daytime as long as the device is turned off.

As long as the device is turned off it is safe to remove the lens cover and you will not damage the device in any way by doing this. I always recommend you remove the batteries first though, just to prevent the device from accidentally getting turned on while the lens cover is off.

The only other thing you need to know in this regard is that Gen 1 NVDs will still retain some power in the tube for a minute or so after they are turned off. You can see this by looking into the eye piece after the device is turned off and if the screen is still glowing you know there is still power in the device. You should wait a minute or two after turning off the device, until the screen stops glowing and goes black, before removing the lens cover. If there is still any power in the device when you remove the lens cover it can damage the tube.



- Invest $7 to $10 in a lens cleaning pen.

You've spent hundreds of dollars on a quality NVD, it's worth spending an extra $7 to $10 to get a lens cleaning pen to keep both the front and rear lenses clean and dust/dirt/fingerprint free. Leupold makes a very nice lens cleaning pen that's in the $7 to $10 price range and is the best tool you can get for keeping your expensive optics clean so you'll always get a good clear view through them.



- Never use rechargeable batteries in your NVD.

Rechargeable batteries can be prone to voltage spikes and sudden discharges from time to time, problems which do not generally occur with regular non-rechargeable batteries. If this was to happen while the battery installed in your NVD it could cause damage to some very expensive parts in the NVD, so best to play it safe and only use good quality non-rechargeable batteries in your NVD.



- When storing your NVD always be sure to remove the batteries.

When you're not going to be using your NVD for more than a day or two always be sure to remove the batteries. A lot of people don't think to do this and I've seen more than a few expensive devices ruined when someone left batteries in the device while storing it and the batteries ended up dying and leaking battery acid into the device. Batteries don't rupture and leak acid all that often, but it does happen from time to time so it's better to be on the safe side and remove the batteries before storing your device during times when you won't be using it. You'll never regret taking the time to remove the batteries, but if you don't take the time to remove them you may one day regret not doing so.



- Don't go swimming with your NVD.

Most quality NVDs, including all the ones I've recommended, are weather resistant. This means that you can use them in all weather conditions in any temperature from -5°F to 120°F and they'll be just fine. They'll hold up to rain, snow, and any other inclimate weather you can throw at them. But this still does not mean that they are waterproof! They might hold up underwater for a minute or two, or they might not. Best not to risk it and leave your NVD on dry land in the event you ever decide to perform any amphibious assaults.


















XIII. Protecting Your NVD From BB Hits



This last tip is one that I felt was important enough to be given it's own section. You've spent hundreds of dollars on your NVD and the last thing you want is to have all that money go right down the toilet in an instant if a BB was to hit the front lens during a skirmish! BB hits to the housing of any quality made NVD won't hurt it at all, but one BB hit to front lens and your NVD is now a paper weight.

Making a lens protector for your NVD is very cheap and easy, so there's no reason not to use one unless you've got more money than you know what to do with and don't mind throwing it away.


You can make a lens protector for any NVD, but making one for a rifle scope is the easiest so we'll start there.

If you purchased the Gen 1 rifle scope I recommended all you'll need to make a lens protector is a sharp pair of scissors, a pipe cleaner, and a sheet of clear ANSI Z.87 rated plastic. Where do you get this plastic you ask? Very simple, just go into any hardware store and buy a replacement face shield for a shop mask like this one below.




This should only cost you $5 to $10, just make sure that the replacement face shield you buy says that it is ANSI Z.87 rated somewhere on the packaging. This is the rating given to all plastics that are impact resistant enough to stop an airsoft BB. I've tested these face shields at point blank with a 550 FPS sniper rifle and they held up just fine.


Now that you've got your face shield remove the entire flip up pinhole lens cover from your scope, and use your scissors to cut a circle of plastic out of your replacement face shield that is sized properly to be inserted into your lens cover from the rear and fill up the entire space inside front end of the lens cover. Once you've done this you can take your pipe cleaner and cut it down to the point that it's only a few inches long. Take this short length of pipe cleaner, bend it into the shape of a circle, and fit it inside the front of your lens cover cap around the edges. Now insert your circle of ANSI Z.87 rated clear plastic into the lens cover behind the pipe cleaner and put the entire assembly back onto the scope.


You should now have the entire front lens of the scope covered by a clear plastic lens protector inside the flip up pinhole lens cover! The reason there is that ring of pipe cleaner between the lens protector and the front of the pinhole lens cover is to act as a spacer between the lens protector and the lens cover so that when the lens cover is flipped down it will still securely click into place and stay locked down until you want to flip it up. If you didn't have that pipe cleaner spacer in there the lens protector would sit too close to the front of the lens cover and prevent it from completely closing and clicking into place.



So there you go, for $10 or less your NV scope is now protected from BB hits!



Making a lens protector for a monocular or goggles is a little bit more costly but works the same way. What you'll need to do is take off the front lens cover cap or caps and measure the width of the front of the device's housing where the objective lens sits in. Now go buy a Butler Creek scope lens cover that matches up in size to the width of the housing around your NVD's objective lens. Butler Creek makes these covers in almost every size imaginable so no matter what the width of the housing around your monocular or goggles' objective lens you're sure to be able to find a lens cover that will fit it.

When you get your Butler Creek lens cover you can remove the flip up/down cap that comes with it, cut out a circle of your ANSI Z.87 rated clear plastic sized to fit securely inside the Butler Creek lens cover, slide the clear plastic lens protector inside the lens cover, and that's it! You're done!


If your Butler Creek lens cover is too long to be pressed down all the way over housing around the objective lens of your NVD so that the clear plastic lens protector sits securely sandwiched between the front of your NVD housing and the lens cover there is a solution for this. Just cut down the back end of the lens cover until it is short enough to fit over your NVD's objective lens housing with the clear plastic lens protector sandwiched securely between the NVD housing and the lens cover .


Now when you go into a skirmish just carry your modified Butler Creek lens protector cap with you, and when you're ready to use your NVD just remove the original pinhole lens cover/s and slide on your lens protector in it's place.


This is a very simple and very cost effective way at keeping your NVD safe and protected from BB hits.


















XIV. Conclusion & Links



I thank you very much for taking the time to read this guide, and now that you're done you have learned everything the average airsofter might need to know about night vision to pick out and purchase a NVD and skirmish with it.

I hope you've enjoyed reading this guide as much as I enjoyed writing it and I sure hope it didn't take you anywhere near as long to read it as it took me to write it :lol:


I tried my best to pack every little bit of knowledge that an airsofter might need to know about night vision into this guide, but no matter how much you learn about any subject there is always more to learn if you're interested in it. Just like with airsoft, with night vision there's really no end to how much you can learn about it if you want to.


So if you're interested in night vision and would like to learn more check out the online night vision forums over at







Have fun, stay safe, and own the night!

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I have a Yukon Exelon 3x50 which is considered one of the best non military GEN1+ monoculars out there. Super clear and bright picture with impressive built in IR unit that shows about 75m in the dark so that you can differ a man standing in the forest line.


Here are some pics:

All taken with snow on the ground, few miles out of the city with ambient city lights in the sky. With naked eye could see the fence and the small treeline, but can not differ the planks in the fence and only could differ the bigger trees from the little ones.


IR off:







80m (treeline in the back around the 300 mark):



IR on:







80m (treeline in the back around the 300 mark):



Have recommended this unit to a few friends as well and they have been pleased. At the moment in the sales section sadly. Life presses too hard at the moment. Great piece of kit!

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amazing article, hugely informative. i would love a NV scope, however play in night conditions maybe 3 times a year...! would buy a cheaper model...but would probably constitute as a waste of money if i cant see any further than 20m.!

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Excellent guide, I'm one of those few airsofters that has been given the opportunity to use a higher spec NVG during games, but I will certainly be pointing those that think you "need" gen3 NVG'S for games in the direction of this thread.

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wow what a thorough guide. I can saftly say that Im not going to be getting NV. My bank balance a wife wouldnt allow so much money on one piece of equipment but I bet they are great fun to use and ninja your way round tight, dark corridors with.

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