Night Vision vs Thermal – Explained

If you’ve ever decided to hunt at night, you may have experienced the difficulties that come with it. Most animals have seen in the darkness, but the human eyes are not receptive to view in very low light levels or complete darkness, so night acts against us. 

Many animals like to feed at night because they can use night time to protect them from hunters, so what can you do for a successful hunt?

So you can use thermal optics and night vision devices for the night time hunt. Today, these devices are widely used by hunters, shooters, or predators. These devices are also used in law enforcement, home defenders, and military forces. Night vision is the capability of viewing in low light or complete darkness.

There are two different technologies used in night vision, such as thermal imaging and night vision. Both technologies have significant differences, advantages, as well as disadvantages. Knowing the variations and types of each of the most suitable environments will help you choose the best option between night vision and thermal imaging.

Night Vision

Night vision devices (also known as NVDs) allow visible light and some nearby infrared light to be seen in a dark environment. Despite World War II’s night vision, there are many improvements as new, cheaper, and more superior technology leads to image improvement. 

The night vision devices are classified into four generations; the gen2 is one of the most popular on the market. Most hunters and shooters like Gen 2 night vision devices. 

The night vision device has an image intensifier tube, which collects and intensifies infrared and visible light. This process involves photosynthesis, which transforms photons from light energy into electrons.

As the electrons pass through the tube, they are improved using a microchannel tray that contains identical electrons emitted from the particles inside the tube. At the end of the tube is screen coated with phosphors. 

When electrons hit the screen, phosphors emit photons that create a green image. Gen 3 has further enhancements to this process that give sharper pictures, lower noise levels, and a longer lifespan.

Generation 1 is the least expensive night vision than other generation night vision devices; Gen 1’s maximum useful range is 75 yards depending on the night situation. It comes with lower resolution images, a smaller field of view, and are typically restricted to 1500 operational hours. Gen 1 night vision images are not bright and more static in the pictures.

Generation 2 night vision has some additional features than the Gen 1 night vision. It gives a perfect balance between performance, durability, and cost. It provides a more extended usable range of about 200 yards based on the model. 

It comes with better resolution, a full field of view, and it offers cleaner as well as brighter images. It has three times longer lifespan and better reliability compared to Gen 1 night vision. The operational range of the gen 2-night vision is 5000 hours.

Generation 3 night vision technology provides excellent night vision than other generations, and they are widely used in Military, law enforcement, and other purposes. 

Gen 3 offers superior image quality, reduction of blooming effect, and outstanding low light performances. The maximum usable range of gen 3-night vision devices of about 300 yards. 

The operational capacity of the gen 3-night vision devices increased by 10000 hours. It has autogated image tubes, which offer excellent performances in lighted areas like urban environments.

Generation 4 night vision technology is one of the modern and latest technologies, and it utilizes film-less image tubes that enhance performance. 

The Generation 4 night vision device is autogated. This technology enables a user to achieve more excellent performance in light-polluted areas. 

This night vision technology provides superior performance in low light or very dark conditions. It also gives a brighter image to the user compared to 3rd generation night vision technology and is simple to use and easy to handle.

Digital night vision is a newer development technology; it overtook Gen 1 technology and is close to Gen 2 and Gen2+ quality. 

Digital night vision utilizes a CCD to increase light rather than a photo tube. It is used both day and night with no fear of breaking the photo-tube. Digital night vision is capable of recording videos and images quickly and it is very popular for hunting. 

The animals cannot detect the IR illuminator; Larger caliber gun recoils can’t damage the digital night vision scope, but the digital night vision has some drawbacks like lower quality and increased power usage than Gen 3 night vision.

Thermal Vision

Thermal imaging devices use infrared scanners that detect thermal IR light, and it displays the difference between temperature variations and radiation in a different color. Thermal IR wavelength ranges from 3 to 30 microns. 

Technically, objects beyond absolute zero release infrared radiation. The higher the temperature of an object produces more radiation, so thermal imagers only show temperature variations. The modern thermal imaging cameras can identify objects from -20°C to 2000°C with a margin error of 0.2°C.

Most of the hunters and others use thermal devices because it needs no light to function. The strenuous weather situations don’t affect its function, so that you can use these devices in the dust, fog, and smoke. 

It displays more reliable, bright, and clear pictures to the user and also detects road hazards. The thermal vision has unique features compared to other devices. 

Law enforcement and military use thermal technology, which helps to detect or identify suspect people, or animals in obscure places, shrubbery, and other places at night. You can use thermal vision in both days and complete darkness.

Thermal Sensor: The thermal sensor is one of the essential parts of all thermal devices. It comes with a higher resolution, which displays clear images. The thermal sensor is utilized to monitor gases, solids, and liquids over an extensive temperature range.

Refresh Rate: The refresh rate is measured in Hertz. It refers to the number of images displayed per second. The thermal imaging devices have a lower refresh rate compared to the night vision devices. It varies from 9Hz and sometimes goes up to 60Hz. The higher refresh rate is more useful for hunting, so you can easily detect fast-moving animals.

Types of Thermal Imaging Technologies

Thermal imaging comes with two different technologies, such as cryogenically cooled thermal imaging and un-cooled thermal imaging. Cryogenically cooled thermal imaging is a high-tech technology, mostly used in thermal cameras; they provide expensive details. The un-cooled thermal imaging is a standard technology, widely used in rifle scopes.

Cryogenically Cooled Thermal Imaging

This is the most expensive technology that keeps sealed internal elements in a particular container to manage a temperature under 32°F. The essential advantages are the resolution and improved sensitivity to detect temperature differences of 0.2 F.

Un-cooled Thermal Imaging

It is one of the standard techniques used in thermal imaging devices, and it also works at room temperature. Due to this design, no additional equipment is required to cool the pipe elements for performance and function. This creates a quiet and secret device for hunting. In addition, the power source is configured.

What is IR Illuminator?

IR illuminator is like the flashlight, which focuses on IR light on the scenes or target areas. It is invisible light, so it does not make it visible to human eyes. 

Most of the rifle scopes are designed with IR illuminators, which are beneficial for 30 yards. The IR illuminator is also used in the Gen 1 scopes to offer a brighter image for the hunter or user. 

Nowadays, most of the high-tech Gen 3 scopes are designed with an IR illuminator used for various situations like shaded spots, dark areas, and dark buildings to view the objects. The long and medium-range IR illuminators give long-distance ranges up to 400 to 500 yards.

Which is better for you: Night Vision or Thermal Imaging?

Both night vision and thermal imaging devices are considered night vision devices within themselves, but they work differently. 

Night vision devices require minimal light to use, and thermal imaging devices use infrared light in the target area and do not require light to operate. It is time to confront these two-night vision devices with each other and recognize who is more reliable than the others.


It is essential to know what position you are hunting for. Will you be in an area where a thick brush or fog is often the problem? Thermal imaging can easily detect or identify an animal in the deep cover or cover it with moisture so that it would be an excellent choice for these conditions. 

Do you hunt in places where the temperature can freeze, or do you have your glasses blind? Excessive cold can change the thermal image quality, and thermal optics do not have the ability to see through a mirror, so night vision is a great choice.

Identifying Game

Night vision relies on ambient light to create an image; a more detailed picture can be created to identify and recognize the game. 

Thermal imaging is excellent for identifying games, but it does not give as positive recognition as facial features for night vision.

So you can purchase a high-end night vision scope, which offers superior image quality and resolution compared to low-end thermal imaging scope. The low-end thermal imaging scope may only give color bubbles.

Both Day and Night Use

Night vision and thermal devices will be used mainly for nighttime use. They are used to identifying your target in low light or dark conditions. 

Most of the night vision devices are only harmonious with night use, while bright light situations can damage internal components. But some of the high-end night vision devices have been used for daytime use. 

The thermal imaging devices have both functions, such as day and nighttime. It is also more compatible, and it does not rely on light to perform.

Home Security

Many factors favor the night vision devices to use in home security. The first thing is the startup time, the night vision devices begin immediately when pressed down, but the thermal devices have taken a few time to start up. 

In the case of home security, time is critical. The second factor is threat identification. The night vision devices provide clear and bright images to the user, but thermal imaging doesn’t give a clear picture; it displays the heat differences.

The third factor is less concrete. The night vision devices require a small amount of light to work, but the thermal imaging devices don’t need any light because they work in all lighting conditions.


The night vision devices come in various generations. It is more durable and reliable than thermal imaging devices and comes at an affordable price. So most of the hunters and other people widely used night vision devices. 

Thermal imaging is one of the modern technologies commonly used in Military and car manufactures; So, it has become very expensive products. As mentioned earlier, you can purchase a high-end Gen 3 night vision device at the cost of the low-end thermal devices.

Final Words

Whether you are searching for thermal imaging or night vision devices? There is no doubt that both thermal imaging and night vision devices are essential equipment in hunting. These tools are used for wildlife hunting, varmint hunting, tactical, and security purposes. We have to give a comprehensive guide to make sure you can get the best one for you. You can see that there are many ways to choose from. Our guide helped you make the best decision for your personal needs.

Leave a Comment