If you thought that all generations of night vision technology are the same, think again! While they might all “look” the same, the level of image quality differs heaps and bounds from one generation of night vision optics to the next.
What’s The Big Difference Between Generations?
While there are many different explanations for the differences such as ion barriers, micro channel plates, gallium arsenide and a whole lot more of high tech terms, it basically comes down to image quality.
That being said, let’s have a look at what you can expect from the different generations of Night Vision optics…
Generation 1Generation one is pretty much all about the basic night vision for the least amount of money spent. Affordability is the main objective (check out some of our more affordable night vision gear). With Gen 1, you’ll get some night vision capability. It’s been around for what seems like forever. Almost 60 years and they’re still producing Gen 1 technology, which means just one thing, it is reliable. Before you invest in Generation 1 technology night vision however, you should keep the following in mind:
- Your maximum useful range will be about 75 yards, if you have good enough light conditions
- You’ll get the lowest resolution imaging when compared to Gen 2 and Gen 3. There will also be a lot more static noise present in the images and the imaging just won’t be as bright
- Because Gen 1 technology relies on built-in IR illuminators, you won’t be able to “passively” operate the device without being super visible to other night vision devices
- Generation 1 devices give you a limited field of view and shorter battery life. Not to mention the fact that their life expectancy is only about 1500 hours, compared to Gen 2 which gives you about 5000 hours, it’s a pretty BIG difference
If you’re ready for a step up from the basic night vision imaging, then Generation 2 is the way to go. Generation 2 seems like a world apart from Generation 1 optics, but you also have to keep in mind that Generation 2 has different quality levels, so be sure to check that out first. The biggest improvements that Gen 2 has when compared to Gen 1 includes:
- You’ll get a much longer useful range of about 200 yards, some models bump that up, so it all depends on what model you opt for
- You’ll be getting clearer, cleaner images that are higher resolution and a lot brighter than those you’d get from a Gen 1 model
- You’ll be able to “passively” operate the device, because there’s no need for IR illumination
- There are no more issues with distorted images, so you’ll have a full field of view
- Gen 2 devices generally have a much longer battery life than Gen 1 devices and their life expectancy is 3 times higher than that of Gen 1 models
- Sub compact rugged design with waterproof body built in infrared illuminator and auto brightness control
- Head or helmet mountable for hands free usage
- Ergonomic simple and easy to operate controls
- Utilizes single CR123A lithium battery which is included
- Export of this product outside of the United States of America is not allowed and is controlled by the US Department of State
If there was ever something like the whole enchilada of night vision Generation 3 would be it! The US Military and Special Forces use Gen 3 Autogated technology, so it really tells you a lot about the great quality you’ll get from Gen 3. It is going to cost you though, and we’re talking BIG bucks here, but it will be worth every single cent spent. Again, just like with Generation 2, there are different quality levels in Generation 3 and opting for 3P or 3AG would buy you the best. Some of the main advantages of Gen 3 include:
- You’ll get the longest useful ranges, in excess of 300 yards, and depending on the model and condition of the device, you might even get more
- Gen 3 brings you the best resolution and the cleanest, brightest imaging
- You’ll have the very best low light performance
- Gen 3 allows for completely “passive” operation
- Autogated Gen 3 image tubes allow you to operate the device in any light condition, so there’s a massive reduction in image “blooming”
- Gen 3 gives you the best versatility because you’ll get the best performance with added extras such as magnification lenses, scopes and camera adapters
- Generation 3 has a super long life expectancy of around 10,000+ hours, so these models are built with durability in mind
- Standard Military issue
- Multi-purpose: handheld, head-mounted, helmet-mounted
Generation three is all about outstanding performance and with proper care, it should last you a lifetime. Because these models are used by the US Military and Special Forces, you can rest assured that you’re investing in the best quality.
Then there are the weird classifications….
Okay so technically speaking, there isn’t really a thing such as Gen 4, according to the US Military. The US Army tried and tested Gen 4 technology and found it wanting, which is why they recanted the Gen 4 definition. Strictly speaking, Gen 4 technology is as good as Gen 3 Autogated technology, but its nature makes it more prone to failures and reduces its life expectancy when compared to Gen 3. There isn’t a lot to say about Generation 4 , because honestly, right now Generation 3 Autogated is the best technology in night vision imaging on the market.
White Phosphor Technology (WPT)
Similar to the mid-level Gen 3 image tubes, White Phosphor Technology image tubes give you black and white images instead of the traditional green and black images. The images you get from WPT looks more natural and provide better contrast. The problem with WPT is pretty much the same issue that Gen 4 has…it’s not as widely recognized, adopted of implemented by military and law enforcement, so it’s just not that popular yet, but it seems to be a pretty solid technology of night vision that’s probably here to stay for good.