Night Vision vs. Thermal Optics – What is the Ideal Setup?

Night Vision vs. Thermal Optics – What is the Ideal Setup?

The ideal setup between Night Vision vs. Thermal Optics depends significantly on the type of hunting intended. Night vision or image intensifiers and Thermal Optics each have unique performance abilities. Night vision is best for identifying objects, while thermal helps in detection. Individually, both works great, but when working together, you can’t stop them. Although it is difficult to buy all at once, it’s an investment worth making. You can use the thermal to scan for targets or threats. When you use thermal imagers and night vision together, it guarantees you cover all bases and effectively monitor, identify and engage. 

Night Vision vs. Thermal Optics – What is the Ideal Setup?

Night Vision

If you’ve never viewed a target through a night vision optic, you must have seen military clips on TV with a green-colored screen. Night vision collects light, moonlight, sunlight or any other light in the sky and intensifies it so you can see in the dark. Most night vision optics come together with an infrared light that helps you illuminate a target or field in the blind darkness, especially nights when there’s no moon. You can see The infrared light with the eye but using a night vision scope resembles a spotlight. High-end night vision scopes don’t depend on the infrared illuminator, unlike the cheaper ones. 

Gen. 1, 2 or 3 Night Vision: If you look through night vision devices, you’ll discover that they have different ratings; Gen 1, 2 or 3. Simply put, Gen 1 is a budget-friendly scope. The following steps up from Gen 1 will cost you more, but you’ll get a better image, more clarity and more extended detection, as well as less ambient light with a more comprehensive battery and shelf life. Gen 2 and Gen 3 models are your top-level scopes. 

Digital Night Vision: Night vision has a new classification, and that’s digital night vision. Unlike conventional night vision, which uses an intensifier tube, digital night vision detects light using an objective lens and processes it using a charged coupler device. It then transfers an image to an LCD screen. Digital night vision is displayed on the LCD screen as black and white, unlike the typical green and black traditional night vision. It is also cheaper than normal night vision and offers a clearer image. You can use digital night vision during the daytime. 

Night vision offers an excellent tool for night hunters, so you don’t have to shine any light into the field. Though it has its limitations, you can expect to identify targets over many hundred yards, depending on the power of infrared light used and the optical quality. Nonetheless, night vision can’t see through smoke, fog, foliage or tall grass. So, if you want to scan through a field with tall grass, you may only see a short distance, just like shining visible light into a misty area. 

Thermal Optics

Thermal Optics, unlike night vision, can read heat. They have high-tech processors that can detect the most minor and most significant heat difference and create a digital image of the landscape and object in the optic. Thermal Optics often have color pallets that are switchable, like black-hot, white-hot etc. Thermal Optics that read heat signatures show animals as White or grey when viewed through the optic. When it’s in white-hot mode, cold objects appear darker while hotter things appear cool. So, if you go into a field on a cold night and look through your best thermal optic, the ground or grass will look black or dark, while a warm-blooded animal like a hog will look. Like a spotlight, bright White against black surroundings. 

Thermal Optics has an overnight vision because you can see through anything; fog, smoke or tall grass because it does not use light to see the image; instead, it reads heat. Warm-blooded animals are always detected by thermal unless they stay behind a cover. 

Also, thermal optics has the advantage of detection range overnight vision. Thermal Optics can detect warm targets at a greater distance. With a high-end thermal, it can sight friendly blooded animals at a distance beyond 1,000 yards. Although you may not quickly determine if it is a cow, pig or deer at first, you’ll know there’s an animal at a distance, so you can either choose to go closer to confirm the target. 

But, it’s important to note that these advantages have a price attached to them. Top-notch thermal optics cost some thousands of dollars, while night vision can go for a few hundred dollars. Night vision optics can also cost more, especially top-shelf units. 

Difference Between Night Vision and Thermal Imaging

  • Night vision requires visible light to function well. In comparison, Thermal Optics don’t need any light for proper functioning. 
  • Night vision amplifies visible light. On the other hand, Thermal Optics uses infrared sensors in detecting temperature differences in objects along its line of sight.
  • Night vision gets a scene and intensifies its light, then translates it to images of green tint. Thermal Optics translate heat readings into clear pictures of view and shoes object with higher heat signatures as orange, bright yellow or red. 
  • Night vision is affected by conditions like rain, fog, dust, smoke and cloudy nights. Thermal Optics is not affected by these conditions and can view objects in total darkness. 
  • Night vision is outdated technology, although it is still in use. It is also cheaper but has lower quality. Thermal imaging is a highly advanced technology that, although it is expensive, can improve safety at night more than its competitors. It is also very affordable.

The Bottom Line

Which is Better, Night Vision or Thermal Imaging?

You can see the notable difference between night vision and thermal optics. A combination of both is a formidable force to reckon with and use in your shooting. Clear night vision and thermal heat sensors are perfect for any hunting experience.