Saturday, November 7, 2015

Taking back the night, my introduction to night vision gear

Most of us overlook the dark. We're accustomed to it. Our sense of normalcy accepts it.

At night, we have streetlights and other outdoor lighting, so we feel like we're seeing what's around us.

But that sense may be more an illusion than reality.  We tend to focus on what we see, overlook what we can't.

In recent months I've seen some critters just a couple hundred yards or less from my house. An owl, a fox, maybe a coyote. My  car headlights caught the four legged ones dashing across the street in the dead of night. The owl was sitting smack-dab in the middle of the street just after dawn.

Also,  in a subdivision only about a mile away, there's been some late night burglary attempts. Forced entry or otherwise, bad guys have gained entry through basement doors while home owners slept on second floors.

Each of these circumstances have triggered me to notice the darkness more, taking time to see how quickly artificial light gives way to shadows and opaqueness in the still of the night.

Curiosity got the better of me. So I finally indulged in some basic, budget night vision gear.

The first try was an Equinox Z 4.5x40 digital monocular from Bushnell. Kind of a disappointment. First off, I'm farsighted, and to focus any kind of sharp image with my eyes, I had to wear reading glasses.  The eyepiece put off almost glaring light, and with irregular terrain in my neighborhood, the 4.5 minimum magnification was awkward, in need of constant refocus. Also, because of the magnification,  the field of view was uncomfortably narrow.  Strikes me, it's a device better suited to open fields and long distance viewing. Not completely sure if the focus issue was a defect or design flaw, I shot an email to Bushnell. I didn't really get a clear answer to my question, but on their advice, I've returned the unit to where I bought it.

While evaluating the digital unit, for comparison, I grabbed a Bushnell Equinox 2x28 refurbished monocular through eBay.  The wider field of view is more practical for scanning tree lines and fence lines, or getting perspective as I look up the street where the critters were spotted. The Equinox 2x28 is a Gen 1 analog unit using a traditional intensifier tube (don't expose an uncovered lens to daylight when turned on). This is more to my liking, and can be focused to a sharp enough image without wearing glasses despite my farsightedness. Ambient light (street lights, porch lights) around the neighborhood allows me to make out objects 200 or more yards away without using the built-in infrared light. We've been in a long rainy streak, so I haven't been able to evaluate use under pure moonlight/starlight conditions.

Clearly, this isn't a Gen 2 or Gen 3 device. It's not police or military grade. But it does provide vision in what would otherwise be blind darkness.  And yes, I find this Gen 1's clarity completely acceptable.

Fact is, I liked the little Equinox so much, I nabbed a used, older Bushnell 2.5x42 Gen 1 device off eBay when I saw bidding was absurdly low.  Paid about 40 bucks delivered. The viewfinder image is a tad grainy, and the IR light not as bright (it is an older, used device). But working with ambient light, the image provided isn't as green as the newer unit, seems a bit easier on the eye. The older unit was made in Russia, the new Equinox came from China.

Really wished I'd taken the leap into night vision when I was managing close to 20 rental properties, most of them in declining neighborhoods. I now feel it's almost must-have gear to surveil one's yard and neighborhood.  These things could also prove indispensable post-storm or in any other grid-down situation to take a quick look around without lighting up the night with a traditional flashlight, without disturbing one's natural night vision.

One more perk about having night vision devices that see infrared: They'll let you know if anyone else nearby is using IR. That alone seems like a must for hunters to help protect against mis-identification in the field.

Now that I know what fits my needs, I might be tempted to pick up another unit, while dedicating one of my existing ones to my work truck.

I'd love to hear from others who have experience with gear of similar type and range, especially from those who have budget devices they'd love to rave about.


  1. If the image is getting noisy, the tube maybe going bad. But WTF. You got it for $40. Use it til it dies. It may have years of life left.

  2. Hey Doug;

    THis is a good idea of you using night vision....It reminds me that I need to get me some gear also. It don't have to be fancy. It does show hoy much Americans take for granted the "nightlight" in the neighborhood and in the darkness most will be helpless to figure out what to do.

  3. You say cheap night vision is better than no night vision. More thought along that line.