A Comprehensive Night Vision Generations Comparison

Technological advancements in NVDs ( Night Vision Devices) see them classified into three broad categories:

  • Generation I
  • Generation II
  • Generation III
  • Generation IV
night vision generation comparision

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses in each category will help you pick the best NVD for your needs. Here, you will learn all about NVDs and make a comprehensive Night Vision Generations Comparison Guide.

NVDs are also known as NODs (Night Observation Devives). They are gadgets that allow men to see under low light environments.

Enhanced Night Vision NVDs have a very broad scope of application.

  • 1. Hunters use them to hunt nocturnal prey.
  • 2. Bird watchers use them to watch shy nocturnal birds.
  • 3. Military men use them to execute night ambushes.
  • 4. Fishers use them to spot schools of nocturnal fish.
  • 5. Night vision capabilities of security cameras enhance their applicability.
  • 6. Thermal Imaging can spot out overheating parts of electrical gadgets.

As you can see, their application is very extensive!

NVDs are, however, not all the same. First, let us learn about their history. Only then can we understand the variety therein.

The History Of NVDs/ NODs

The idea of night vision was there in the 1920s. 1929 saw the invention of the first NOD. It was an Infra Red (IR) sensitive camera. A Hungarian Physicist invented the camera. His name was Kálmán Tihanyi.

The Tihanyi NVD, like most early cameras, was made for the military. It could detect planes through their IR radiation. World War II saw great advancements in the technology. NVDs that could blast IR rays onto targets came into being.

These gadgets substantially increased Night Vision capabilities. IR is invisible to the naked eye. Targets were, therefore, illuminated without any visual evidence of the same.

The NODs of this period are known as Generation 0 devices. They mounted onto sniper rifles and tanks.

Commercialization of these rigs was, however, a failure. Dr.Vladimir Zworykin attempted to commercialize the technology for civilian use after the war. His attempt failed.

The equipment was too bulky and expensive. Generation 0 night vision is, in fact, the only NVD not available on the current market.

Generation I Night Vision Devices

These NVDs made their debut in the Vietnam wars. They were an improvement of the Generation 0 devices. Unlike their predecessor, these rigs were passive in nature.

What does it mean for an NVD to be passive?

Passive means that the rig did not blast light onto objects. These gadgets worked by amplifying the ambient light from objects.

N.B.: Ambient light is any light that bounces off bodies.

IR light sources of the Generation 0 devices were quite bulky.

The exclusion of the IR sources saw the NODs reduce in size.

Lack of IR blasts also made the gadgets impossible to detect. Infra Red sensitive cameras had the ability to pinpoint the location of Generation 0 devices.

Generation I devices employed the use of S-20 Photocathode. A Photocathode is a negatively charged electrode. This electrode has a coat of light-sensitive material.

Photocathodes are used to convert light into electric signals. They are also used to amplify light. Generation I NVDs give ambient light an amplification of about 1000 times.

Despite the many improves, these devices still had some glitches. Generation I gadgets are only useful to ranges of about 75 Yards. They also need a lot of night light to perform satisfactorily.

You will find them to be almost useless on moonless nights.

Generation II NVDs/ NODs

These devices use S-25 Photocathodes. S-25 is an improvement to S-20. As a result, Generation II enjoys much higher amplifications of ambient light.

These NVDs also integrate a Microchannel Plate (MCP) into their image intensifier tube. MCPs further improve the amplification of ambient light. Generation II NODs enjoy light intensifications almost 20 times more than Generation I NODs.

The images are, therefore, sharper and more illuminated than images from Gen I. Gen II NVDs have the added advantage of performing even on moonless nights.

Some Generation II devices are termed as Generation II plus. They improve on Gen II NVDS by introducing:

  • i. Super Gen Tubes: These tubes further enhance light amplification and overall imaging.
  • ii. Improved noise reduction on images.
  • iii. Improved resolutions.

These enhancements make it harder to differentiate Generation II Plus from Generation III.

Generation III NVDs/ NODs

Generation III NVDs use Gallium Arsenide Photocathodes.

These Photocathodes significantly increase imaging. They are a recent technological development.They allow Generation III devices to amplify light for ranges of up to 50,000 times.

The MCP in Generation III is also improved. It has an iron coat that increases the Intensifier Tube's life. Power consumption is, however, very high on this gadget.

The iron coat also has its disadvantages. It resists the passage of electrons. This resistance lowers the amplification due to Gallium Arsenide Photocathodes.

Generation IV NVDs will probably see an end to this stalemate. A better option to iron would vastly improve NOD imaging capabilities.

Generation IV NVDs/ NODs

NVESD (Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate) is a body that names Night Vision Generations. They are yet to name NVDs as Generation IV.

The NVDs termed as Generation IV are Generation III Plus Devices. NVESD terms these NODuppls as Generation III Autogated Tubes.

These gadgets have a thinner iron coat on their Photocathodes. The metal barriers usually cause 'halos' to appear around bright targets. Thinning the coats, therefore, improves imaging.

The Photocathodes of this NVDs connect to a regulating power supply system. This power system adjusts power output with changing light intensities. The overall effect is that 'Generation IV' NODs adapt instantly to changing light conditions.

These are hypothetical Next-Gen NVDs. They are theorized to integrate a lot of Artificial Intelligence. The NVDs will probably come fitted with digital tracking systems, GPRS, and what have you.

To Describe Generation IV, imagine yourself to be a Sci-Fi, movie director. Let your imagination go wild!

Generation V NVDs/ NODs

Generation V is a hypothetical arena where all ideas are acceptable. Generation III is, in fact, the last accepted NVD Generation.

The Battle Of The Generations

night vision generation

image credit: http://www.onpointpreparedness.net/night-vision-considerations-for-prepping/

Now a Night Vision Generations Comparison is due. Reading the history alone will not answer the most pressing question.

So how do I know which night vision generation is right for me?

Read on for a review of the results when the generations go head to head.

Gen 1 VS 2

Gen 1 is cheaper than Gen 2. It is also very easily available. If you want range, you should go with Gen 2. Gen 1 only applies to up to 75 Yards. The Yardage is also subject to alteration by available light. The lower the light, the less the yardage.

If, however, you are not after long distance vision, save some bucks. Go Gen 1. Gen 1 is also very bulky. It comes with IR sources of light that are very bulky.

On the bright side, IR light ensures you of a better view of images within the field of view. In this regard, Gen 1 outperforms Gen 2.

Gen 2, on the other hand, enjoys longer battery life. It also has a longer life expectancy. It also has a much higher yardage of about 200 Yards.

Finally, it is good to note that Gen 2 is closer to Gen 3 than it is to Gen 1. It is a significant improvement over Gen 1 for those who can afford it.

Gen 2 VS 3

Generation 3 NVDs cost more than Generation 2 NVDs. The extra bucks are, however, worth it. Generation III is the masterpiece of NVD engineers. Quality is assured.

These NVDs are military grade. They last longer than Gen 2. The also offer sharper images with a yardage of over 300 Yards.

They are, however, not for the casual user. If you are one, go with Gen 2. Gen 2 has everything you need for a night out. If, however, you are after the ultimate NVD experience and do not mind the extra cost, buy Gen 3.

Gen 3 will leave you feeling like a spy!

Gen 3 VS 4

There is nothing like Gen 4. What you call Gen 4 is an improved Gen 3.

Gen 4 differs from Gen 3 in two areas only:

  • i. Gen 4 adapts instantly to changing light intensities. Gen 3, on the other hand, needs more time to adjust.
  • ii. Gen 4 also have thinner iron coats on their photocathodes. This coat improves their amplification of ambient light.

'Gen 4' NVDs, however, cost more than Gen 3.

The price is, however, only slightly higher. In my opinion, if you decide to go Gen 3, go the whole ten yards! Buy Gen III plus.

Gen 4 VS 5

This duel is a battle of the ghosts. Both classifications do not exist. Gen 4 ( Gen 3 Plus) is the best NVD so far. The hypothetical Gen 5 will probably fix the Photocathode glitch of Gen 4.

A suitable replacement to iron coating is the most suggested trend. Let us wait and see what the future holds.


"Smith is an outdoor enthusiast and Just loves everything about binoculars. Since his childhood he has been a fan of optical gadgets & going into the Jungle with his uncle was his favorite pastime. Besides, He loves watching & studying birds & animals. He is a mechanical engineering graduate and New Jersey Resident. He loves to review binoculars and related optical Instruments and loves testing each one of them." When he is not fiddling with one of his binoculars, you can find him playing his favorite sport Pickleball."

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