How Does Night Vision Work And What Are Night Vision Goggles?

Comes darkness on a safari, you feel that you are missing out on a lot of animal activity, since some animals particularly carnivores are active during the night, rather than in the heat of daylight. You might wonder whether your binoculars for a safari would also work during the night: well sorry but no. Therefore, how does night vision work and what are night vision goggles, are 2 questions that we will try to answer today;-)

There isn’t one single solution that caters to both day and night viewings. To enjoy both, you’ll need one to cater to your daytime needs and another for your night outings.

But first, let’s talk about night vision devices and what you need to know about them, before arming yourself with a pair.

Want to know more about night vision goggles and the 9 best night vision binoculars on the market, check out this blog post here!

How Do Night Vision Goggles Work?

How they work depends on what type of night vision device you’re using, as there are two. These two technologies are thermal imaging and image enhancement.

1. Image Enhancement Night Vision

These devices enhance and magnify the available light from sources such as bulbs, moonlight, and stars. The incoming light falls on a photocathode plate within the night vision goggles.

The light is magnified and travels within a vacuum tube to a microchannel plate that results in an illuminated image in the same pattern as the light striking the photocathode plate.

This technology changes the way light particles behave by changing them into electrons then back into light photons, and in the process intensifying or brightening the image.

The image reproduced usually has a green glow to it because the image-intensifying screen is made from phosphor which glows bright green when struck by electrons.

The green phosphor is chosen because the human eye is better suited to seeing green images for prolonged periods of time, and can see more details.

2. Thermal Imaging Night Vision Devices

These devices have a unique technology that allows them to detect heat instead of light. They use an infrared sensor that can locate heat emitted by objects, and the sensor is sensitive enough to pick up the smallest amount of heat in the environment.

The image produced is usually displayed in black and white, with the different heat levels showing as different shades of either black or white.

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Different Types of Night Vision Devices

There are three types of night vision devices on the market: Night vision goggles, Night vision binoculars, and night vision monoculars. These three types of devices can either use thermal imaging or image enhancement to produce their night vision.

1. Night Vision Goggles

Night Vision Goggles have dual eyepieces and no magnification which makes them and allows them to be mounted on a head piece and to be used while in motion.

These are good for use on a night drive in the savannah, whereby you observe the animals at a very close distance. These come with headgear or straps so they can be fitted onto the head and used without hands.

2. Night Vision Binoculars

These are in a basic sense, night vision goggles with magnification. Their magnification ranges from 2x to 5x, and although this is adequate for many, for some it doesn’t see far enough. Because of the magnification lens, they are quite heavy and cannot be used while in motion.

3. Night Vision Monocular

These are sometimes called night vision scopes, and these devices have only one eyepiece. They are small, lightweight, portable, reliable, and cheap, and they are held over one eye, and if you experience eye fatigue, you can switch eyes.

What To Look For When Purchasing Night Vision Devices

When looking for night vision goggles, you need to consider what you want exactly.

1. Magnification

Based on your needs, some devices have magnification while others do not. Night vision binoculars have magnification whereas night vision goggles don’t have magnification as they are at 1x.

At the same time, Night vision goggles have the widest field of view when compared to other Night vision devices. And another issue that arises from magnification is the difficulty in getting a stabilized image.

2. Detection range

For night vision devices, it is important to know the recognition or detection range. The range decreases with the decrease in the amount of natural light for image enhancement night vision binoculars.

For thermal imaging night vision devices, you need to know how far can heat be detected by the device, which is known as the detection range and is measured in meters.

3. Generations.

The night vision devices that use image enhancement are usually divided into three technological generations; Gen 1, Gen 2, and Gen 3, of which the sharpest, highest quality, and contrast image is usually from Gen 3 image intensifier tubes.

To note is that, the more modern technology offers a lighter, better quality image and robust build at a significant price bump, when compared to older generations.

4. Resolution

Resolution is measured in dashes per millimeter (Ipm), and is the ability of the devices to display close lines or points separately. The higher the value of Ipm, and the lower the angular value, the higher the resolution and the clearer the image appears.

For thermal imaging night vision devices, the quality of the image is dictated by the resolution of the sensor as well as the lenses.

5. Spectrum

This is the range of light wavelength that the night vision device can work with. Night vision devices increase the brightness of the available light, be it natural, or IR illumination.

Resolution can start in the UV range from 100 to 400 nm, to visible light, from 400 to 750 nm to infrared, which has a wavelength of above 750 nm to 1 mm.

6. Weather Resistance 25

Based on where you need to use the goggles or binoculars, then you need to make sure that they can handle a lot of humidity, dust, or even splashes from things like rain. Also, ensure the carrying case is weatherproof to ensure nothing happens to your delicate device.

7. Design, and User-friendliness

Look at your use case scenario and choose what will best suit your needs. If you are going to be spending long periods of time in the dark observing animals or birds, then you’ll need something that doesn’t tire your hands unnecessarily thus night vision goggles.

Also because they are comparatively lightweight, and can be worn on the head using head gear, they are perfect for situations in which your hands need to be free.

But if weight isn’t an issue and you absolutely need the magnification, then night-vision binoculars will do.

8. Recording capabilities

Some Binoculars have features that allow you to record what it is you are viewing, to review at a later date. To those who would like to share, or like review whatever it is they have been observing then, this is a feature worth looking out for.

9. Batteries

Chemical batteries play a crucial role in providing electrical energy to help in the intensifying of the available light. Heavy-duty and long-lasting batteries ensure that your device is working for longer without any failures.

Are you thinking about buying binoculars to have a good look at all the magnificent birds of Africa? You might find what you are looking for here!

How To Take Care of Your Night Vision Device

Make the instructions manual your friend. The instructions manual will give you tips on how best to care for your device, and how to avoid mishandling it. It also has specific instructions on how to use the device and when to prevent accidental damage.

Night vision goggles are electronic devices that require the same attention and care you use while handling your other electronic devices ( phones, smart watches and cameras).

Even though you may purchase a device that is waterproof and weatherproof, it is good to keep them out of harsh environments, as they are usually rated for typical outdoor use.

Those devices that are not waterproof or water-resistant should be kept in a dry place as exposure to high humidity or water will damage them.

Also if your unit doesn’t have a gated tube, then looking at strong sources of light such as vehicle headlights, projectors, strong headlights and so on can damage the device permanently.

Remember that your device uses batteries, and if they are the replaceable kind, then don’t leave them inside the device for long periods of time if you aren’t using the device.

Some dry cell batteries leak when left unused for too long within a device, so to prevent that; don’t leave them in the device if you don’t plan on using the device for a while.

When replacing batteries, ensure they are of the same brand or all have the same charge levels to prevent an imbalance whereby the stronger battery discharges too fast which may cause leakage.

The objective lens in these cameras is usually covered by a special coating that is both sensitive and delicate.

When cleaning the lens, refrain from touching it unnecessarily as the oils from your hands may damage the special coating.

Also use a soft, non-abrasive and clean cloth to clean it, and always refer to the manual on how best to clean it.

How To Turn Your night goggles On?

Night vision goggles or binoculars are not as easy to use as normal daytime binoculars as they are electronic devices.

Most night vision devices have three controls: the front lens focus, eyepiece focus, and the on/off switch.

There are devices that have IR illuminators, to provide some light when there isn’t any available natural light.

These devices may have two separate switches; for the main power and the IR illuminator.

While other night binoculars may have a toggle switch, similar to the ignition key in vehicles, toggling from off, main power on, to main power on plus IR illuminator.

These switches also control led indicator lights, red to show the IR illuminator is on and green to show the main power is on. To note is that the beam from the IR illuminator isn’t visible to the naked eye, and leaving it on even accidentally will drain the battery.

FAQS on how does night vision work and night vision goggles

Finally, I will answer some FAQs on this topic from Google for you.

Can Night Vision Binoculars be used in daylight?

If your night vision device uses an intensifier tube as a means of amplifying available night, then using it during the daytime will damage it.

Since these devices are made to amplify the little available light at night, i.e. from the moon and stars, using them in sunlight can lead to irreversible damage to both the interior and exterior components. Also, they may overwhelm and even damage your retinas.

Thermal night vision devices register heat emitted by objects at night, but they won’t register much in the higher heat levels of daylight. Also using them in the daylight may lead to them overheating and frying their internal components leading to permanent damage.

How long do Night Vision goggles last?

Since most consumer night vision devices utilize generation 1 technology, the intensifier tube has a life expectancy of about 2000 hours.

Gen 2 devices are more expensive than gen 1 and primarily used by law enforcement and professionals and have a life expectancy of about 4000 hours.

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Do Night Vision Binoculars work in total darkness?

No, they cannot. Since they work by amplifying any available natural light. But if your unit has an IR illuminator, then this will provide the necessary light for the device to function.

How far can Night Vision Binoculars see?

Most Night Vision Binoculars have a resolution of up to 1000 and can see animals, or objects at a distance of up to 300 meters.

Is it legal to own a Gen 3 Night Vision Device?

Yes, it is absolutely legal to own a gen 3-night vision device. But in the US, both thermal and image enhancement night vision devices fall under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which means its against the law to take the devices outside the country unless you have a license and approval from the U.S. state department.

What is Auto-gating?

This is a feature in some advanced night vision devices, that helps them to give clear visuals even in harsh conditions; those of sudden and frequent bright lights.

A device is placed within the intensifier tube enabling the amount of light reaching the intensifier to be automatically controlled or gated, which protects the sensors from bright lights.

My Final Conclusion.

I hope that I could answer all your questions on how night vision works with the help of night vision goggles.

Soon, I will write an expanded review on different night vision goggles, so keep posted!

If you have any more questions about this topic, please feel free to ask them down below in the comment section or join me on my social media channels or Facebook group for more pictures of my travels to Africa 😉

I wish you happy travels!

Kind regards,


4 thoughts on “How Does Night Vision Work And What Are Night Vision Goggles?”

  1. This is a great overview of the different types of night vision devices available on the market. It’s interesting to learn about the distinct features of each type, including the benefits and limitations of their design. It’s also helpful that you provided specific examples of situations where each type of device would be useful, such as the night vision goggles being ideal for observing animals on a night drive in the savannah. Overall, this provides valuable information for someone who is looking to purchase a night vision device and needs to weigh the pros and cons of each type.

    • Hello Anoth

      Thank you for your positive comment and I hope that you will find suitable night vision goggles soon when I will write reviews on them 😉

      Kind regards,


  2. Night vision goggles are definitely a worthwhile purchase if you do a lot of camping or even visit wildlife reserves in the evenings. It is amazing how much you can see at night and all the better if you have night vision goggles. If you do it often, it might be worth investing a bit more and getting the ones that have thermal imaging, because then you will also get warned about a change of temperature and could see something you could have otherwise missed.

    I love night vision goggles, but have to admit that I haven’t tried the binoculars or magnification lenses, but not sure it would make a hell of a lot of difference to your experience.

    • Hi Michel

      Thank you so much for your comment and I will see you soon with more reviews and more information about the differences between night vision goggles and night vision binoculars.

      Kind regards



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