"We have four boxes with which to defend our freedom: the soap box, the ballot box, the jury box and the cartridge box." - Congressman Larry McDonald M.D.
(1 April, 1935 - 1 Sept., 1983)


God Save The Republic

17 July 2010

Night Vision Scopes

Last year, I started putting serious thought toward the purchase of a night vision rifle scope. Due to their prices, I first had to justify that an NV scope fell under a need rather than a want. I had done some internet "window shopping" and found prices from just under $400.00 for a 1st generation model to just under $7000.00 for a 4th generation scope. Of course, I made the uneducated assumption that a 1st gen designation and $400.00 price equaled poor quality, especially since 2nd gen units were up well over one thousand dollars in price. At that kind of price, I'd really have to do some serious justifying.

I've always been a true believer in the old adage, "you get what you pay for," and I have never had a problem paying more for an item, as long as I could see it being of higher quality. But in this particular case, I didn't have hands and eye on scopes for comparison. Add to that, I didn't know anyone who had purchased an NV scope, so I came to the conclusion it was possibly a need I didn't want to bother with.

A few months later, a guy who I am acquainted with on an internet firearms forum mentioned he had bought one of the 1st gen scopes and was not only surprised, but was quite pleased with it's performance. He was good enough to take photos through his scope, and post them, to show the focal quality it produced. Needless to say, I too was surprised and impressed enough to reconsider as a purchase.

Briefly, and I do mean very briefly; a night vision scope gathers available light from any minute source, such as the moon, stars or an infrared light source. That light is then intensified 1,000 times (in a 1st gen scope, 20,000 times in higher gens) by a photo cathode tube, making objects visible through the viewing end of the scope, by way of a projection type process. This process causes everything to be seen in a light green hue. The 1st gen units tend to have low, fixed lens, magnification and a fuzzy view quality around the edges. In each of the succeeding generations, however, lens magnification has been increased, internal power generators have been made with higher output ratings, a more advanced cathode tube version installed and viewing quality has become almost crystal perfect, although still in a green hue.

I decided to purchase an MK 350 Guardian scope manufactured by ATN Corp. based on several factors; the company's reputation, warranty policy, customer feed back through third party sellers and the scope to rifle mounting system. The scope ran $395.00 plus shipping from Optics Planet. The time from order to in my hand was five days.

The MK 350 has an integral Picatinny mount interface that requires a 13 mm wrench or nut driver for installation / removal. This gives it an acceptable height in relation to the rifle barrel, and makes it a perfect match up with an M-4 flat top receiver. The scope comes with an infrared light emitter, two CR-123 batteries (one for the scope, one for the IR emitter) an adjustment tool and a heavy duty shoulder strap type carry pouch. According to the specs, the scope weighs in at almost 3 pounds.

The IR emitter is about the diameter of, but shorter than, a pack of breath mints. It too mounts to a Picatinny accessory rail or, to the top of the scope body. The IR emitter is used to provide a light source to the scope when heavy cloud conditions block out the moon and stars, and when there is no background lighting from even distant street lights or urban lighting reflecting off the cloud cover. IR is invisible to the unaided eye BUT could be a dead giveaway in a sniper / counter-sniper showdown where both, or more, are using NV scopes but only one is using an IR emitter. In this situation, it would be like turning on a giant neon arrow letting your location be known.

There is a thick black rubber lens cover over the front lens of the scope. It is important to understand that it should not be removed in bright light conditions even when the scope is powered down or the battery is removed as this can damage the cathode tube. However, there is a small hole in the cover that allows the scope to be used in daylight conditions. It can be easy to assume otherwise since nothing can be seen through the scope, day or night, while it is powered down. Remember, it uses a projection type viewing method. The scope is also equipped with a lighted standard cross hair style reticle with an on / off / brightness control dial.

According to the user manual, continuous on battery life is about ten hours using the scope only. Turning the reticle on and running it during the same time will shorten battery life to about five hours. The fact that it does require replacement or recharged batteries means it would have some application drawback issues that would require a bit of forethought.

How well does it work? Looking out through a closed window, I can make out the oval "Ford" logo (but not the letters) on the grill of a pick up truck, parked in an unlighted carport that is about 125 yards down range.

Worth it? Oh, you betcha!!!



  1. Sounds cool, Mike.

    You are close to exactly describing my thought processes on this, with the exception that I pretty much decided I wouldn't get one with an IR emitter. Well, probably not. It is like a submarine using passive sonar vs. active pinging, which essentially gives their location away.

    I have had the opportunity to look through IR cameras used on guided missiles, which only use emitted IR, and have worked with thermal IR imaging extensively at work. We have a really neat handheld thermal imager from Flir Systems that runs about $3k; add rifle scope optics and ruggedness to it, and I'm sure you're talking past $4k. That's way beyond my budget.

    Think you can get some camera photos with it? It would be interesting to see what it sees.

  2. Graybeard,

    I've put my camera on charge and will give it a try tonight.


  3. Sorry GB,

    I tried. I just couldn't see anything past the camera's viewfinder because of it's lighted display.


  4. I've been looking at these night vision gadgets from Yukon and I'm very impressed with the quality. I've seen the review of the Varmint Hunter and I'm quite taken with it. I plan to give this as a gift to my dad who loves game hunting and patrolling the farm with my brother to ward off a mean wolf that's been terrorizing the livestock. I hope this night vision does the trick. For more of the product, see reviews on this site: http://opticgearlab.com/night-vision/best-night-vision-from-yukon.html