Night vision goggles have long seemed the type of technology you only see used by the military or really questionable characters in movies that have you on the edge of your seat. In truth, night vision goggles are now used by everyone from hunters to campers and hikers to get around at night.
No Hocus Pocus
We all have seen the images returned from night vision goggles in movies. If you saw the movie Silence of the Lambs, the use of the goggles by the villain was enough to give anyone the creeps while also showing how clear the images seen through the goggles could be. Despite all of the Hollywood hype, few people understand whether these goggles really work and, if so, how they do so.
Can you really see with night vision goggles? Yes. A high quality set of night vision goggles will let you see as far as 200 yards on a clear night. 200 yards isn’t much shorter than what you can see with the naked eye during the day.
How does it work? There are two methods – image enhancement and thermal imaging. The type of goggles we have available use the image enhancement approach, so let’s take a look at it in more detail.
Image enhancement works by taking an instantaneous picture of a scene. Instead of capturing the light in the scene, image enhancement converts the light we can and cannot see in the scene into electrical charges. It then instantaneously deposits these charges on a phosphor medium much like a camera reproduces an image on film. In this case, however, the electrical charges are not stored. Instead, they phosphor reacts the charges by giving off bursts of light. This light has a natural tinge of green, which is why everything one sees through night vision goggles is always in green instead of a brighter daylight color. It may sound like hocus pocus to some extent, but it really just science in action.
A Generational Thing
Night vision goggles have evolved in such a way that making a decision regarding which model to buy is fairly simple. It all comes down to generations.
Night vision goggles have gone through three separate generations. With each generation, the technology has improved, but so has the cost of the goggles. Fortunately, it is easy to match one’s budget and required needs to the available generations of technology to determine the best choice for each customer.
First Generation – The first generation of night vision goggles were developed in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. This version is not particularly sophisticated when it comes to imaging items in the dark. In fact, there needs to be some independent source of light such as the moon for these goggles to function. Assuming there is, one will generally see the shape of the target in contrast to the surrounding environment with a moderate level of detail. For example, you will be able to see a fox and indications its fur is darker in some areas and lighter in others. However, everything will have a hazy, blurred feel to it.
Second Generation – Second generation goggles were developed in the 1970s. They are notable for being able to work in what we perceive as complete dark. Second generation goggles provide you with a sharper image of the target you are looking at, but not to the extent of binoculars. If one is purchasing goggles with the intent of hunting at night, this is generally the lowest generation to choose from.
Third Generation – Third generation night vision goggles are incredible. They return an image high in contrasts and detail. If you are looking at an animal, you can often see much of the same detail in the hair you would see during the day. There is obviously still the green tint, but the clarity is amazing.
The rather obvious question is which set of night vision goggles is best? If money is no object, then one should always go with a third generation version of the goggles with as many filters and software improvements as possible. The clarity provided by the goggles is simply that good. For hunters, the third generation devices are a must have item.
If the intended use is for something other than hunting, such as hiking, then first and second generation goggles should more than meet the need of the user. These goggles offer enough clarity to go hiking at night or move around a campground.
Night vision goggles have evolved significantly over the years. The initial versions made available to the public were, to be frank, low in quality. This is no longer the case. Whether purchasing first or third generation night vision goggles, one is sure to be see night turned into day.