Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is Night Vision / Thermal Legal?
A: Yes, here in the United States, citizens may own and use Night Vision and Thermal Optics. However, it is against the law to take these devices out of the country for any reason. It is also against the law to allow a non-U.S. Citizen to look through these devices. Night Vision and Thermal devices fall under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR for short. To make a long story short, the goal here is we don’t want these powerful devices to fall into the hands of our enemies. If you have questions on any of this information, we will be happy to discuss and clarify.
Q: What is Night Vision?
A: Traditional Night Vision, also known as Image Intensification Technology or I2, has been around for a long time and has progressed over several generations. The basic process is a special device inside of an optic, called an image intensifier tube, gathers ambient light through the lens of the optic and passes it through other electronics within the device onto a screen within the eyepiece. There’s obviously more to it than that but that’s basically the process. Night vision comes in several generations, but most commonly today we use some variations of Generation 3. Generally speaking, the higher the generation and higher the specs (more on that later) the better the picture through the unit will look. Night vision is commonly presented to the user in either a green or white image. If you would like to discuss in more technical detail please let us know.
Q: What is Thermal Imaging and how does it differ from Night Vision?
A: Thermal hasn’t been around for as long NV but over the last few years has seen a tremendous increase in the amount of users. To keep this in fairly basic terms, thermal sees heat, and night vision sees light. A thermal imaging unit uses a special lens, usually made from germanium, which focuses infrared energy onto a detector. The detector then passes the information it collects through other electronics and ultimately onto a screen. The user sees a pictures based on the variations of heat within the image. Most thermals allow the user to control many aspects of the image including color pallet, contrast, digital zoom, etc.
Q: What are the generations of Night Vision available today?
A: Today’s night vision units broadly fit into generation 1 through generation 3. There are variations within each. Gen 1 was the first that was widely used starting around the Vietnam War. It is still available today but it pales greatly in performance to gen 2 and 3. Generation 2 night vision is very useable for hunting purposes and is more economical but it doesn’t compare to the performance of gen 3 in most cases. Also, if you decide to sell your gear at some point, gen 3 will hold its value considerably better than gen 2 will. The highest level of night vision available today is generation 3 and Gen 3+, also known as Auto-gated Gen 3. Not only do these units produce the best image but the auto-gating feature protects the unit in the event it’s exposed to a bright light source, such as a muzzle blast or a flashlight. These units will last the longest, produce the best image but will also be the most expensive. All of the technical specifications of each generation are widely available online, so we won’t go into much more detail here.
Q: Can you ship out of the United States?
A: The majority of night vision and thermal units are regulated under ITAR and thus, by law, cannot be exported. Even though there are some units that are exportable, our policy is that we will only ship our products within the United States. This is for the protection of our men and women in uniform.
Q: What’s the deal with IR Lasers?
A: An infrared laser is a device that focuses an intense beam of light that isn’t visible to the naked eye. It can, however be seen with night vision. There are many difference types and uses but most commonly they are used to aim a weapon while using a night vision device. Class 1 IR lasers emit a less powerful beam than their more powerful, military counterparts and are available to the public. IR lasers are regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration, or the FDA. While we only sale civilian legal IR lasers on our website, we can acquire other units for Law Enforcement or Federal Agency use only.
Q: What about IR Illuminators?
A: An IR illuminator is an invisible flashlight for lack of a better term. When using a night vision device in an extremely dark environment, there may not be enough ambient light to allow the unit to perform adequately. An IR illuminator will produce a beam that can only be seen through night vision and not by the naked eye. Many night vision devices have an illuminator built in but most users prefer a more powerful, stand-alone illuminator to accompany their devices. This is particular crucial with gen 1 and 2 devices.
Q: Do you accept trade-in equipment?
A: We will consider accepting trade-in night vision and thermal devices under certain conditions. The owner must be able to prove that they are in fact the rightful owner and acquired the unit by lawful means. It must also be a unit of recent production and in good working order. The unit must also still be under warranty by the manufacturer. If we agree to consider your trade, it will be subject to inspection and valuation period by our staff. Once your trade is accepted and a valuation agreed upon, store credit to be used at nightvisionoutfitters.com will be issued. The owner will be responsible for all shipping expenses, if applicable. This includes instances where Night Vision Outfitters declines to accept the unit and it is to be returned to the owner.
Q: Do you sell pre-owned equipment?
A: Yes we do! We often carefully accept quality, lightly-used night vision and thermal units and in turn pass those savings onto our customers. We generally only accept pre-owned units that are still within the manufacturers original warranty period.
Q: Do you have a retail storefront?
A: No, we are an online retail shop only. By operating under this business model we are able to offer the best pricing to our customers without the larger overhead costs of a physical sales location. However, our home is McKinney, Texas and if you are local to this area and wish to purchase from us, please send us a message. We would be happy to work out a way to meet you in person, if that would be helpful to you.
Q: What is ITAR?
A: ITAR is short for “International Traffic in Arms Regulations”, under which night vision and thermal devices are regulated. The majority of NV and thermal devices cannot leave the United States without a special export permit. We will not ship our products outside of the United States, nor will we sell any items to anyone we believe may intend to do so.
Q: Do you keep everything you sell in stock?
A: While we do stock some of our more popular items, a lot of our gear will ship directly from the manufacturer. We especially prefer to do this with our thermal and night vision products. New firmware updates and options are added all the time, particularly to thermal, and we don't want an out-of-date unit sitting on our shelves. We want our customers to have the latest edition of any unit we sell, and in order to ensure that, we usually will request the manufacturer to drop-ship your unit, with the latest firmware revision included.
Q: Do you offer guided Night Vision and/or Thermal Hunting Trips?
A: Not at this time, however we have several references, depending on your location.
Q: What do you charge for shipping?
A: Most orders ship free. Smaller orders are usually subject to a nominal shipping charge.
NV & Thermal Terminology
When a night vision device is said to be “auto-gated”, that means it has the ability to quickly dim itself by rapidly shutting and turning on the unit, to protect the tube, if bright light is inadvertently encountered. A second feature of an auto-gated unit is it will reduce the “bloom” seen around lights.
All night vision tubes are slightly different from the next and this is normal. Most have some sort of blemishes in the form of small black spots, usually on the edge of the display. As long as they aren’t directly in the center of the field of view, or large then there usually is no issue. We strive to provide the best units with the least blemishes and best specs. Blems don’t affect the performance or reliability of a tube and are purely cosmetic.
This is the washout a night vision device experiences when exposed to light. Also, it is common to see a “halo” around lights. High quality, auto-gated gen 3 tubes limit this effect but it’s normal to experience it to some extent.
A somewhat common, hexagon shaped arrangement of lines faintly seen through a night vision device in certain conditions.
The lens of an optic that is closest to your eye. Most optics, including night vision and thermal, usually have a diopter adjust to adjust the lens to your particular eyesight for the best image.
How far away from the diopter lens a person’s eye must be to get the best image.
Short for, “Field of Merit”, which is the measure of line pair per millimeter times the signal to noise ratio. It’s a common line item on a data sheet for a night vision unit.
This stands for, “Field of View”. This is similar to any typical day optic. The larger the magnification, the narrower of a field it will see. Typically in thermal units, 6-30mm lens are wide and meant for close range viewing, 30-50mm for mid range and above 50mm for longer ranges. Similar to a regular rifle scope. There’s other factors other than lens, but it’s the main part. FOV is measured in degrees.
This is typically the brightness adjustment on a night vision unit, or on some thermal units adjusts the sensitivity.
This is the effect of a circle seen around lights as viewed through night vision. Typically, if you see much of a halo around a light, chances are you’re looking at something that’s a little too bright.
This is another common measure found on night vision data sheets. This stands for “line pairs per millimeter”, it’s also referred to as resolution. Only thing important to remember is the higher the better. Gen 3 is typically at least 64, which high grade units exceeding 70.
This is a measure of how well the night vision unit can convert light into an electrical signal. Good gen 3 units should have at least 1800 or so.
Resolution (Night Vision)
See LP/MM, they are one in the same. The higher the better.
Thermal units process their data through a “core” which consists of pixels. Thermals available to the public usually have resolutions of 160, 320, 384 or 640. 640 is the highest grade of thermal sensor commercially available today. To highlight the difference, a 320x280 core has 89,600 pixels while a 640x512 core has 327,680 pixels. The long and the short is the better the resolution of the core, the better the image will be. The quality of the display plays a part as does the lens and firmware, but the core is the most important component in determining how good of an image the thermal will produce.
This stands for “Signal to Noise Ratio” and is one of the main line items in a night vision data sheet. The higher the SNR, the better the tube will perform in poor lighting conditions. Usually this is the main indicator of how good a tube will perform. Good gen 3 units usually have an SNR of at least 24, with high spec units even over 30.
This occurs in low light conditions using night vision and presents itself similar to static on an old television with a bad signal. It’s a sparkling effect and can sometimes be remedied by reducing the gain.