I’ve been shooting with my AR-15 for a few years now. About a year back, I realized that I had gotten pretty good at shooting in daylight, and I wanted to try shooting at night. There are a lot of species which you can only really hunt at night—coyotes and raccoons for example. Plus, I just wanted to challenge myself to a higher degree, and it was the obvious next step.
Here is a list of the Best Night Vision Scope
Night Vision Scope
So it became time to search for a night vision scope. I did a lot of research, and I have actually tested a few different scopes. Now that I’m finally getting pretty good at nocturnal hunting, I figured it was time to put together a guide to make it easier for my fellow marksmen to find the best night vision scope.
How Night Vision Actually Works
Before you go shopping for a night vision scope, it is useful to know a little bit about how it works.
There are two major types of night vision technology:
- Image enhancement
- Thermal imaging
Each works differently. With image enhancement, the scope is collecting visible light. This light enters what is known as an “objective lens.” The photons then travel through an image-intensifier tube to strike a “photocathode” panel. This panel converts the photons into electrons.
Now the light has been converted into electricity. It is easy to amplify an electrical signal. This is done using a “photomultiplier.”
The amplified electrons then are sent to a phosphor screen. When they strike the screen, they produce light. Because of the amplification process, that light is much brighter than it was when it entered the lens.
Why is the image you see green? Color information cannot be preserved through the transformation process. The images are deliberately displayed in green instead of black and white because our eyes are most sensitive to green light.
Thermal imaging devices work differently. The infrared light radiated by objects in front of the scope enters through it. A phased array of infrared-detector elements scans it. Using this information, the phased array is able to construct a “thermogram,” which is a pattern of temperatures. This data is sent electronically to a circuit board which in turn processes it into a visual display. Different colors are assigned based on the temperatures, enabling you to detect the heat of living things.
Most people who shop for night vision are looking for an image enhancement device, not for a thermal imaging scope. The reviews I have included here are all for image enhancement scopes.
If you scroll down, you can read my reviews. But I want to answer some frequently asked questions and share a few key features to look for before I get into my product comparisons.
Q: What is an “NVD?”
A: This just stands for “Night Vision Device,” and refers to any optical device which allows for vision in dark conditions.
Q: What are Gen 1, Gen 2, Gen 3, and Gen 4?
A: This refers to the level of technology used in an NVD. Gen 1 scopes are at the bottom of the price range and limit you to around 75 yards for clear, detailed vision (you might still make out large objects or structures at 500+ yards). Images are lower in resolution and you end up with shorter battery life. They are however the most popular devices on the consumer market. Price and capabilities increase with each category. The military and Special Forces stick with Gen 3 and Gen 4, which have a range of 300+ yards.
Q: What is IRI?
Most night vision scopes need at least some dim light to amplify. But a scope equipped with an Infrared Illuminator (IRI) throws out a beam which is invisible to you but visible to your scope. This allows your scope to work in complete darkness.
5 Key Performance Factors in a Night Vision Scope
When shopping for night vision scopes, always evaluate the following key performance factors:
- Range. How far can you see with the night vision scope? How clearly can you see within that range? Remember, the generation labels are a great way to identify the relative range of various scopes at a glance. Just make sure you check the effective range of each specific scope before you buy.
- IRI. This is the technology which allows you to use your scope in completely dark conditions.
- Mounting options. Make sure you pick a scope which will work with your rifle (or other weapon of your choice). Look for ergonomic, comfortable design as well.
- High resolution and magnification (but remember, a night vision scope is not a pair of binoculars).
- Rugged design. You want a durable, compact device which you can easily move around with you. You don’t want it to break the first time you drop it either.
Best Night Vision Scopes
Now that you know more about how night vision scopes work and what to look for in a quality scope, we can look at scopes in different price brackets.
Best Night Vision Tactical Rifle Scope for Under $1,000
Yukon NVRS Titanium 1.5x42
Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
This is by far one of the most popular and highly-rated night vision rifle scopes on Amazon.com. As of the time of this review, more than 90 buyers have given it an average of 4 out of 5 stars. You can get it for just $300-$400.
- Durable, lightweight titanium build
- Ergonomically-designed MIL-STD-1913 long mount for a wide variety of rifles
- 1.5x magnification
- IRI equipped
- 42-millimeter lens diameter
- 20-degree field of view
- 200 yards of range
- Up to 50 hours of battery life
- IPX5 water resistance
- Weight: Under 2 pounds
As a low-cost option, this is not going to offer you the same quality you would get from a military-grade scope. That said, it is outstanding for the price! I’ve heard a lot of people say that Gen 1 night vision is useless, but I can say now from personal experience that is simply not the case, at least not with this scope.
The Yukon NVRS Titanium 1.5x42 is pretty small; I would hate to drop it, but it feels incredibly sturdy. Mounting it onto my AR-15 was a breeze, and it didn’t add a whole lot of weight to the rifle.
The view through the scope is very bright, especially if you have the Infrared Assist on. The view through the scope isn’t as clear as it would be with a Gen 3 or Gen 4 model, but you can make out plenty of detail, and there aren’t any dark spots.
Actually, the only major flaw I’ve noticed with the Yukon NVRS Titanium 1.5x42 happens because there is seemingly too much light from the Infrared Assist under certain conditions. If you are up close to a lot of brush, a wall, or another surface, the infrared beam seems to reflect and scatter the light, creating a washed-out effect. You can just turn the beam off if this is bothering you (or reposition yourself).
All in all, this is an awesome scope for the price.
Yukon NVRS Titanium 1.5x42 Video Review
Sightmark Photon XT 4.6x42S
Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
This is another very popular low-cost night vision scope on Amazon.com. As of right now, there are more than 80 customer reviews with an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars—that is even higher than the rating for the Yukon NVRS. You can buy the Sightmark Photon XT for $400-$500.
- Six different digital reticle options are available
- 4.6x magnification
- 42mm objective lens
- 640x480 resolution
- Range up to 120 yards
- Windage and elevation adjustment system
At first glance, I didn’t think that this scope had infrared capabilities. Upon doing some research, however, I discovered that there is an infrared light built right in. A lot of people do opt to purchase a second infrared light to boost the visible range—which is a good idea. A hundred twenty yards is okay, but the range on the Yukon above is quite a bit longer—which is surprising, considering this is the more expensive scope.
In terms of clarity, there is a bit of graininess, but that is just par the course when you are using a Gen 1 scope. All in all, the detail is impressive and this scope delivers great visibility. It is also easy to mount, lightweight, and durably designed.
Sightmark Photon XT Video Review
ATN Aries Mk.390 Gen 1 Paladin
Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
This is a highly-rated Gen 1 night vision scope with more than 20 customer reviews on Amazon.com and an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. You can buy it in the $300-$400 range.
- 4x magnification
- Range is about 75 yards
- Low F-stop factor provides for a sharper image
- Red on green reticle (brightness is adjustable)
- Windsage and elevation adjustment system
I had to do some extra research on this one before I gave it a try. It was hard to find information about the range, but having tested it, I can say it is around 75 yards. Also, while it comes with infrared, I highly suggest that you purchase a second infrared light to augment it. This will boost both the range and the clarity of the image.
I would say that this is a fine purchase at the price range, but you would be better off going with the Yukon or the Sightmark. Both of those scopes offer a better effective range. They are also smaller and lighter in weight; this one was a little bulky and heavy.
Armasight ORION 5x Gen 1 Scope
Rating: 4.6 / 5.0
Another popular scope in the $400-$500 price range is the Armasight ORION. This scope has more than 25 customer reviews on Amazon.com as of right now and an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.
- 5x magnification
- Optics have shock protection
- Red on green reticle
- Water resistant
- IRI included
- 30-40 lp/mm resolution
- 10 to infinity range of focus
- Windage and elevation adjustment system
- 40 hours of battery life
- Effective range of about 80 yards
- Weight: 3.7 pounds
Like the other Gen 1 scopes on this list, this one doesn’t offer protection, but it is a great value for the price. The effective range is not the best, but you can extend it if you purchase a second infrared light (which I highly suggest that you do). The biggest problem with this scope is its heft and weight. It is one of the bulkiest scopes I have used, and shooting with it takes some getting used to.
Firefield FF16001 NVRS 3x 42mm Gen 1 Scope
Rating: 3.9 / 5.0
This popular night vision scope has more than 60 reviews on Amazon.com as of the time of this writing. Customers have given it an average of 4 out of 5 stars. You can buy it in the $300-$400 range.
- 3x magnification
- IRI included
- 42mm lens
- Body manufactured out of solid titanium
- Reticle brightness is adjustable (red on green)
- Effective range of around 80 yards
I liked this scope somewhat better than the Armasight ORION and the ATN Aries. The effective range is around 80 yards most of the time, but in some conditions I was able to see up to around 100 yards. The infrared light which comes with the scope works very well, and I didn’t feel a need to augment it. My only complaint is that the mount is not all that stable. My scope never fell, but it did wiggle out of alignment at times, and I had to stop and make adjustments before I could get back to shooting.
Best AR-15 Night Vision Rifle Scope for Under $2,000
ATN Gen 2+ Night Arrow 2-2
Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
You won’t find a lot of reviews for this scope on Amazon.com. That is because it sells in a higher price range ($1,000-$1,500), and most buyers cannot afford to shop above $1,000 for a night vision scope. The buyers who have rated it have given it 5 out of 5 stars.
- Lightweight, compact design with non-reflective finish
- Resistant to water and fog
- Red on green reticle system for high contrast
- 2x magnification
- 30 hours of battery life
- 10m to infinity range of focus
- 40-45 lp/mm resolution
- Weight: 2.4 pounds
If you want to take a step up from a Gen 1 scope like the Yukon NVRS, the ATN Gen 2+ Night Arrow 2-2 is the cheapest Gen 2 option out there. I did notice the difference when I turned it on. Like the Yukon, it was bright and clear, but the quality around the edges seemed better. The only drawback? It is significantly heavier than the Yukon. It still isn’t annoyingly heavy, but it’s a little less comfortable to use.
Best AR-15 Night Vision Rifle Scope for Over $2,000
Armasight Vulcan 3.5-7X FLAG
If price is no object, the Armasight Vulcan 3.5-7X FLAG is a powerful choice utilizing Gen 3 technology. You won’t find any reviews on Amazon as of this point, probably because you need to be ready to shell out more than $5,000 to buy this scope.
- Magnification: 3.5 inches
- 64-72 lp/mm resolution
- Remote control available
- Automatic brightness control
- Red on green reticle
- Manual gain control
- Dust- and sand-proof
- Low-battery indicator
- Optics are made entirely of glass and have shock protection
- 2-year warranty included
I could not have afforded to buy this scope just to test it. Thankfully one of my buddies is a former Special Forces guy who has the money and the passion to invest in a Gen 3 night vision scope. He is the one who told me about the Armasight Vulcan 3.5-7X FLAG and let me test it out. He had it mounted on a different type of rifle; it mounted just as well on my AR-15. It’s small, lightweight, and didn’t affect the balance of my rifle at all. I was blown away by the clarity and brightness of the scope and the amazing degree of manual control.
Needless to say, none of the other scopes seem the same after trying out this one, and I will always envy this one. If you can afford it, go for it. But if you can’t, the other scopes I’ve shared with you here are all top-notch choices. They may not offer you the crystal clear view that this one does, but you don’t really need a Gen 3 scope to hunt rabbits.
Overall Best Choice: Yukon NVRS Titanium 1.5x42
As I just said, if you can afford to buy a Gen 2 or Gen 3 scope, you should—there is no denying the higher quality.
That being the case, the reality is that most hunters and defense enthusiasts will do just fine with a Gen 1 scope. And in terms of value, Gen 1 can’t really be beat. A Gen 2 scope will offer you slightly better clarity and performance at a price tag that is around triple what you would pay for a Gen 1 scope. Basically, the cost increases at a rate which exceeds the boost in quality.
For that reason, the #1 overall recommendation I would make to AR-15 marksmen is the Yukon NVRS Titanium 1.5x42, followed closely by the Sightmark Photon XT. While the Sightmark Photon XT has slightly higher ratings on Amazon, it is also more expensive than the Yukon and has a lower effective range. The Yukon NVRS wins by a narrow margin, but between the two, it’s definitely offered me more value.
Just keep in mind while you are shopping that your mileage may vary based on your needs. Think about what you will be using the scope for. Will it be for defense? Hunting? What types of animals will you be shooting? What effective range and what level of resolution will you need to be effective? Do you need to see in total darkness or just near darkness? Are you willing to pay the added cost to tack on an additional infrared light? How important is a lightweight, compact design? Will you need to be able to mount the scope on other weapons, or just the AR-15?
Once you have assessed your priorities by answering those questions, you will be able to choose the best night vision scope for your needs. Good luck and good hunting!