There was a time when night vision tools and thermal imaging cameras were so cutting edge and so expensive that only the military and the FBI had access to them.
Today, this equipment is playing a greater role in local law enforcement operations. It's less expensive, though still not cheap, and it's much easier to use.
One of the reasons why night vision and thermal imaging have become less expensive is that both are now available from so many sources. In recent years numerous companies have started selling and even manufacturing night vision and thermal imaging equipment.
Many of the companies contacted for this article sell the same ITT Generation 3 systems as their competitors, but they also sell custom systems and accessories that they produce. Other companies make entirely unique lines using their own technology. Here's a quick look at some of the most innovative products now available in the night vision and thermal imaging market.
American Technologies Network
The big news from American Technologies Network (ATN) is the company's proprietary White Phosphor Technology (WPT). ATN night vision products that feature WPT offer the user a black-and-white view instead of the green of most systems. The company says the black-and-white image output provides clearer information about contrast, shapes, and shadows. WPT is now available in ATN's PVS14/6015 tactical monocular, NVM-14-WPT multifunctional pocket scope/goggle, Mars4-WPT and Mars6-WPT medium- to long-range weapon sights, and on the FIITS14-WPT thermal imaging system. ATN's WPT systems have an estimated tube life of 10,000 hours.
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The NOPTIC thermal imaging camera from Autoliv is a vehicle-mounted system designed specifically for patrol cars. NOPTIC (Nighttime Optical Thermal Imaging Camera) has excellent panning and tilting capabilities.
It uses passive infrared sensing technology that is not affected by oncoming headlights. NOPTIC operates in complete darkness and can handle temperatures of 40 below zero to 176 degrees Fahrenheit. It also has a built-in lens heater that activates automatically when the mercury hits 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
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ITT makes the vast majority of all image intensifier tubes used in law enforcement operations. Regardless of what brand is on your device, if it has a Gen 3 image intensifier, that image intensifier was probably produced by ITT. ITT also sells its own equipment through distributors and directly to large clients. The company's newest product, the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle, is not currently available to anyone outside of the military. It combines Gen 3 night vision with an IR thermal system in an AN/PVS-14 size monocular.
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New Hampshire-based Insight Tech-Gear is best known in law enforcement circles for its tactical flashlights and weapons lights, but the company also makes some really cool thermal imaging sights and monoculars. Its latest thermal monocular is the Mini Thermal Monocular-V2 (MTM-V2), which provides moving man-sized target detection at up to 500 meters and offers adjustable focus, unity magnification, and 2X digital zoom.
Other features on the MTM-V2 include a co-aligned, integrated marking laser, and a menu function for custom operation of brightness, gain, polarization, and calibration. Runtime for the MTM-V2 is four hours on two 3-volt lithium 123 batteries.
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One of the largest manufacturers of military and thermal imaging cameras, L-3 makes a variety of handheld, vehicle mount, and weapons mount systems. The company's latest product is the Renegade-320, a monocular that can also mount on a Picatinny rail for use as an infrared weapon sight.
The Renegade has five selectable reticles and can store up to 200 images, which can be downloaded via USB. Optional equipment includes a laser pointer, Picatinny rail riser, and an AC power adapter. Runtime on four CR123 lithium batteries is six hours.
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MoroVision is one of the world's largest distributors of ITT night vision equipment. The company not only sells ITT systems like the PVS-7 and PVS-14, it also packages these systems in kits that include a carrying case, accessories, and mounts. One of MoroVision's most popular combination systems matches an ITT Night Enforcer PVS-14 monocular with an EoTech holographic sight that features the EOLAD infrared laser.
The NE PVS-14 is a lightweight, single-battery design that features the auto-gated, thin-filmed Pinnacle image intensifier tube and variable gain control that allows the user to increase or decrease image tube brightness for better image contrast in varying light conditions.
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One of the most popular products available from N-Vision Optics is the GT-14 Night Vision Monocular. The GT-14 has a proprietary ergonomic design that makes single-handed operation easier and more comfortable. The monocular also is equipped with an IR illuminator so that the user can easily read maps and other documents.
Features include automatic brightness control. The GT-14 can be used as a helmet-mounted, handheld, or weapon-mounted system. The system is offered with Gen 3, Gen 2+, SuperGen, XD4, or XR5 image intensifier tubes. Battery life is 40 hours on one CR123 lithium.
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Night Optics USA
Night Optics USA distributes a wide variety of night vision tools. The company also makes some really cool accessories for night vision systems. The Day/Night adapter is a nifty sub-$300 gadget that allows an operator to mount a PVS-14 night vision monocular behind his or her rifle optics, converting it into a night vision sight. To use the rifle optics in daylight, all an operator has to do is flip the PVS-14 out of the way.
Another useful accessory offered by Night Optics is the NO/NVG-23 Stereoscopic Goggle/Binocular. This inexpensive device allows the user to take two Mini-14 monoculars and temporarily convert them into a binocular system for driving and other operations that require depth perception.
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Arizona-based Nivisys showed two new products at the recent Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Orlando earlier this year. In the night vision market, Nivisys showed its NVAG-6 Night Vision Aviator Goggle. The FAA certified NVAG-6 has a high-resolution image intensifier and features automatic brightness control, individual interpupilary distance adjustment, 27mm eye relief, and low distortion output optics. Constructed of rugged aluminum, the NVAG-6 offers air crew members a full 40-degree field of view.
On the thermal imaging side, Nivisys showed its Thermal Acquisition Monocular, the TAM-14. Offering multi-use capabilities as a handheld, helmet-mounted, or weapon-mounted thermal device, the TAM-14 uses a miniature thermal sensor technology with a new organic LED display. The lightweight system fits weapon rails, offers extended battery life, and allows a shooter to choose from a variety of reticles. Video can be captured into a computer through the device's video out feature.
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The Xenonics SuperVision is a digital CCD (charge coupled device) night vision system that doesn't use an image intensifier. Xenonics says the device offers all the utility of tube night vision systems for a fraction of the cost.
The company has now paired the SuperVision system with a 400mm scope to create the SuperVision Long Range Surveillance System. In addition, SuperVision is now available with video out capabilities. The SuperVision system has rechargeable batteries that are rated for 10,000 charges, and it can be charged with a car cigarette lighter.
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The tactical surveillance systems from Zistos include pole cameras and networkable surveillance cameras and both offer infrared thermal imaging options. The company's Dual Mode Thermal Camera (THC-50D) detects heat signatures through smoke, tear gas, and fog, and offers a 50-degree field of view.
The Zistos Portable Network Surveillance Camera (PNSC) is a turn-key wireless solution for day and night field surveillance where no power or pre-existing network is available. It can also be used for radiological monitoring when equipped with the optional radiological alarm sensor.
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