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Budget Night Vision Comparison

July 13 2017 at 2:22 PM
Odogster  (Login Odogster)

With the recent technological advancements night vision scopes have finally become affordable enough for someone like myself to purchase. I don’t have a specific intended purpose such as hog hunting, so I purchased these solely for the coolness factor and to do some shooting at night. For my first night vision scope, I bought the ATN X-Sight II 5-20. I subsequently sold that one and purchased the 3-14 model after as it was blurry over 14 X anyway and wanted the increased FOV. The weight of the scope forced me to sell and pursue other options within about two months. Next I bought a Photon XT 6.5 X 50 from Ebay, and quite frankly it was no better than the X Sight II but had way fewer functions. It was the 6.5 X 50S which is the LED illuminator version as opposed to the 6.5 50L which is the version with the Laser Illuminator. The 4.6 version only comes with an LED light. With both the X Sight and the Photon the quality of the night vision was very much dependent on an additional IR light source with the video clarity about the same for both holding all other variables constant. It was promptly returned and instead of the Pulsar N750 which I was considering first I bought the Pulsar N550 with the price being in the middle of the Photon and the N750. I am aware of the shortcomings when comparing the N550 to the N750, but couldnt justify the extra cash for the 1.5 Zoom, OLED display, and wireless remote. It is brand new at least and if needed I figure I can always upgrade in the future and the deal I got made it well worth it. So…..I decided that I will write this review as I have had a decent subset of cheap night vision devices to play with so I should have a decent baseline for comparison. Here is what I have found so far.

ATN X Sight II (3-14 or 5-20)

Incredible amount of functionality crammed into one device. This is both a blessing and a curse. As is typical with software releases, ATN has over promised on features and is playing catch up constantly with firmware updates. This can be a very frustrating process as during the upgrades other functionality tends to break and requires subsequent patches to the software. Being that almost everyone uses MS Windows, we have become to accept this lacking level of software development product as the standard. Don’t get me started on that crap. A lot of the software features are stable on the X Sight however, with my favorites being the color Medium Definition (they say HD but that’s simply not the case) recording in daytime onto an SD card, the One Shot Zero, the passing of distance and angle parameters from their range finder via bluetooth, the ability to use the passed data or manually entered parameters to do ballistic calculation, the ability to broadcast what the rifle scope is seeing via wifi, digital zoom either 3-14 or 5-20 with an extended but semi useless Extended Zoom, and the ability to change reticles. I have had both the 3-14 and 5-20 as I initially bought the 5-20 but once I realized I was sacrificing some field of view for shabby magnification that was too blurry at high levels to effectively use the scope I sold it and bought the 3-14. There are other features as well but to me those were the most noteworthy. From a negative perspective, it is a very heavy device, I think it was over 3 pounds with the IR Illuminator, the software tends to hang when performing certain features, and it rips through batteries like no ones business. The night vision is OK, the IR illuminator I understand has recently been updated and functions well, but as with any of the Gen I or cheaper digital devices it becomes very grainy and/or blurry at decent distances and to me was pretty unusable past 35-40 yards at the very most. I would probably add an aftermarket illuminator. Something else that I found unique and pretty cool was the ability to use the scope in Day Mode in dusk and even shortly after to still see in color. I pretty much found that if there is enough ambient light to see perfectly without the IR illuminator, one could use the scope in Day Mode.

Photon XT 6.5 X 50S

This is also a decent device, much more purpose built than the ATN X Sight. It is much lighter than the ATN X Sight coming in at around 23 ounces. Still not super light for a scope, but more manageable than 3 plus pounds with IR attached for ATN. It has fewer functions, but what it does do it does well as one can expect with a Gen 1 device. No notable functions as compared to the X Sight. As I am noticing is the case with many of the digital NV Optics, the manufacturer did not include the ability to record to an SD card instead providing video a video out jack. There are a few reticles to choose from on this scope as well. The scope is zeroed using the same basic principles one would use to zero a normal scope, with the exception that the windage and elevation are both adjusted using one knob and menu item selection. This scope does not have one shot zero, but I am pretty sure that they will incorporate that soon as it is catching on with all the digital scopes. The IR illuminator functions OK, but I would definitely purchase an aftermarket more powerful one. Yes this scope can be used during the day, but I found it pretty much unusable with nowhere near the picture and definition of the X Sight.

Pulsar N550

This is a much more expensive device, costing around twice as much as the two aforementioned models. I do however feel that it is the next step in a natural progression of testing cool stuff. Once again this scope too can be used during the day. All of the digital scopes I have tried use a CCD (Charged Coupled Device) to absorb light, convert it into digital format, and then amplify it. The CCD in a night scope is configured to have a higher sensitivity to the IR part of the light spectrum then one in a normal digital camera, hence the night time functionality. This is why they can be used in the day as there is no tube being used to amplify the light. When I first got this thing it was driving me nuts, as I thought I had received a broken one even though it is new. I tried all of the normal (non-rechargeable) batteries I had including the Energizer Lithium ones that worked the best in the X Sight, some of those red Duracells with the tester included on the battery, and some normal Duracells. None of them worked. The scope seemed like it would try to turn on for a second then turn off as would the IR light. The instruction manual alludes to this somewhere non-intuitive, but it appears that only rechargeables work. I found this odd as a fully charged normal battery has a slightly higher voltage then the rechargeable ones. I guess its the running voltage that is most important for this scope. The day image is better than the Photon, but not as good as the X Sight. There are 5 reticles to choose from, a video out jack and it weights around 34 oz. It also comes with a wired remote to adjust contrast and turn the IR light and scope on and off. Tonight I will test it’s intended functionality once it gets dark and report back for all that are interested. Some of the features I intend to test are the Sum Light feature which amplifies the image in very low light situations, a color inversion function that is used when one cannot see the reticle because it is blending in to the background, and Pulsar’s version of the one shot zero. The coolest function so far is to be able to use a program called Pulsar Reticle Manager where one can create his/her own custom reticles.

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Bill Day
(Login dayjd2)

I recently purchased the ATN 5-20 .................

July 14 2017, 7:32 PM 

from Cabela's. It never worked well for me so I returned it for a full refund at Cabelas.

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(Login Odogster)

I bought my first one at Cabelas too

July 15 2017, 1:49 PM 

And the second AT SWFA

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H.E. Potter
(Login Hepotter)

Night Vision experiences over the years...

July 14 2017, 9:49 PM 

I'm 74. Over the years, as I grew older and noted my night vision was fading, I tried a number of night vision devices.

The Gen I infra-red scopes were only as good as the illumination you provided. Still, even with supplemental lighting, the image was "grainy" and not easy to stare at for prolonged periods of time. I sold each Gen I that I tried and gave up. Then the new digital age dawned and I watched as the price range dropped from $2,000 for the high end scopes, until it got into the $500+ range that I could justify paying. I tried a couple of them and eventually sold them. The optics were SO marginal compared to a glass day scope.

The Brits have a good time shooting rats in their barns. Lots of videos, fun to watch, would be fun to do. All I can say is there must be a ton of rats in England...they never seem to run out.

If you have an identified pest problem...one guy owned some "low end apartments" and he would go to the second story roof and shoot rats by the dozen that were located on/in the trash cans in the alley behind his apartments, then it might be worth the cost. Pigeons that roost in specific areas would be another good shooting ground. I used to go to the local railway storage sheds, abandoned, and found dozens of pigeons roosting there. This was in the '70's and all I had was a single shot HW55 and a flashlight. Still, we could get a couple before the rest took off into the night.

Some of my friends out West have nocturnal critters that come and do damage. To me that would warrant the investment and putting up with the marginal image quality involved, especially with old eyes.

With no, or very limited targets, nothing is more boring than staring into an expensive, battery sucking device, only to see bushes, leaves and trees for hours on end.

Here's the summation of my personal experience...don't buy one unless you have an identified nocturnal target rich environment in which to shoot. It's too much money, too little use, to simply store in your closet most of the time.

Oh...one other thing...using a night vision scope, with aux. batteries and extra lights, was akin to attaching a brick to the top of your rifle.

This message has been edited by Hepotter on Jul 14, 2017 9:51 PM

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(Login Odogster)

Agreed on all fronts

July 15 2017, 1:55 PM 

I have yet to see any night vision scopes that compare to the image of a day vision, even at gen 3 level. As far as the weight goes I have been using the Pulsar without the battery pack and it comes to 33.6 ounces and I get around 3 hours. The Pulsar is miles ahead of the others I tried but still needs IR light to go any distance.

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David Enoch
(Login DavidEnoch)

It would be fun to rent a quality unit for a month

July 17 2017, 3:35 PM 

I think it would be fun to rent a quality unit for a month. That would allow me to see what opportunities are available around my house.

I think the ones the guys are putting together on YouTube may be better for the money than what you can buy but you have to put it together and have a mess of wires to deal with. I don't know if Rolaids Bench's builds are out of date now. They are several years old.

David Enoch

This message has been edited by DavidEnoch on Jul 17, 2017 3:39 PM

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(Login mark2cars)


July 18 2017, 8:53 AM 

The info here saved me a TON of grief !!! I was headed down the ATN path and had paused to ponder. After reading this thread I am waiting. Not sure for what, probably to determine if I really have as big a need as I think. I live in west Texas and there are alot of night time varmints. I just need to see what access I may have to them. The other issue that was addressed here was weight ! The face that I would really have to dedicate one of my rifles to a after dark rig also gave me pause.

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