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Seeing in the Dark: Night Vision

Night vision gear is still expensive, but it's much more accessible than before.

March 15, 2011  |  by Tim Dees - Also by this author

Thermal Weapons Sight

If you're interested in a thermal imaging weapon sight, you can look to one of the Insight clip-on thermal sights from Morovision. It mounts on a MIL-STD-1913 rail in front of the existing daytime sight. All this can be yours for about $27,000, according to a Morovision representative.

Another approach to thermal imaging mounts the camera on a patrol vehicle. The NOPTIC PSV-1000 System from Autoliv mates an IR camera with the pillar-mounted spotlight installed on most patrol cars. Officers use the camera the same way they would illuminate an area with the spotlight, but without backlighting themselves or even alerting an observer to what they were doing. Output from the camera goes to a display inside the car. This can be a computer display already installed, or on a separate LCD display available for about $100.

The PSV-1000 has special value for officers patrolling rural areas where deer and livestock wander onto the highways. The sensitivity of the IR camera is three to five times farther than an officer is able to see with the aid of high beam headlights. Any warm object on the roadway will show up on the IR camera display long before a driver would see it through (or coming through) the windshield. Manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) on the PSV-1000 is $3,900.

Some devices combine light amplification and IR technology. The ATN MARS4x-CGT is a weapon scope that amplifies available light, but has an optional IR illuminator for situations of total darkness. It uses conventional AA or CR123A batteries that provide 40-55 hours of continuous use. It's nitrogen-filled to resist fogging, and will survive immersion in 66 feet of water for up to an hour, which is probably longer than the user would. List price of this scope is $2,789.

Image Intensifiers

Light amplification equipment is generally lower priced than IR gear, so long as you're not buying the latest and greatest. Light amplification or image intensifier scopes are usually characterized as being Gen (generation) 1, 2, 3, or sometimes 4. Gen 1 devices are similar to the Vietnam-era starlight scopes. The image from these devices is reasonably clear in the center, but distorts considerably as you move toward the edges of the field. They are also subject to "blooming" or washout when exposed to a light source, like someone shining a flashlight in the direction of the scope.

Gen 2 equipment is considerably less troubled by blooming and is capable of better performance overall than Gen 1. Gen 3 gear has a service life of two to five times as long as Gen 1 and 2 (a Gen 2 tube has a service life of around 2,000-4,000 hours), and is considerably more sensitive and light-gathering than its predecessors.

Morovision, which distributes night vision equipment manufactured by ITT, contends that equipment characterized as Gen 4 refers to a tube design that was abandoned by the U.S. Army due to high failure rates. On the company's Website is a document that explains the distinctions between the different generations of night vision gear, including the claims of some competing manufacturers. The information there maintains that the most modern and best performing image intensifier technology is the Gen 3 PINNACLE manufactured by ITT.

Morovision says the "best bang for the buck" in image intensifiers is its Night Enforcer NEPVS-14 monocular night vision device. In addition to using the latest technology, the monocular can be used as a handheld scope or with a head or helmet mount assembly. It runs on a single AA battery, rated for 50 hours at room temperature. There is a long list of accessories for the Night Enforcer, including magnifiers from 3X-10X, IR markers and illuminators, coaxial weapons sights, and laser aimers. List price of the basic Night Enforcer device is $3,995.

The SuperVision series from Xenonics are light amplification devices that the company has designed specifically for law enforcement, rather than adapted from military hardware. The line includes a handheld viewer, an attachment designed for output to a video camera/recorder, and a long-range surveillance scope best suited for use with a tripod. Life of its internal rechargeable battery is two hours.

While none of the equipment described here has come down enough in price to be a casual purchase, it's not nearly as pricey as it used to be. In a budget environment where fewer officers are called on to perform more work, any advantage will help. Get some of this gear, and someone else can be afraid of the dark.

Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement Websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached at [email protected]

Night Vision and IR Sources

American Technologies Network

Autoliv NOPTIC

FLIR Systems

ITT Night Vision

Insight Tech-Gear

L-3 Electro-Optical Systems


N-Vision Optics

Night Optics USA

Night Vision Depot




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