Night Vision vs. Thermal

Night Vision vs. Thermal 


One of the most current heated topics (no pun intended) among many night hunters worldwide is optics choice. There are multiple factors to consider in determining the right scope. What type of game you are hunting, where and in what conditions will the scope be used and price range are just a few of the things to consider before determining if you should go night vision or thermal.

Both night vision and thermal assist hunters in detecting, recognizing and identifying targeted animals. But they also both have their pros and cons, so it’s important to understand the differences in the technology before making your decision.  



Thermal optics detect radiation or heat. The higher the temperature, the more radiation something gives off. Since thermal detects radiation, it does not require any visible light to provide an image of your target. You are able to make out even small animals in deep cover or concealed by fog which is one great advantage. On the flip side of that though is since you are looking at a thermal image, you will have less detail. This imposes the problem of not always being able to determine what type of animal you are looking at right away, especially from longer distances, therefore also making it more difficult to determine proper shot placement. Thermal scopes also tend to be heavier than night vision scopes and handling your weapon may take some getting used to. When it comes to pricing, thermal is definitely on the higher side since its newer and costlier to manufacture.




 Unlike thermal, night vision requires a light source to provide an image. In many cases, the stars and moon will provide enough light to produce an image, but shadows can make it more difficult to see. Modern night vision optics come equipped with an IR Illuminator which can make images a lot clearer and more detailed. The IR Illuminator works like a flash light but is not visible to the naked eye. Night vision images tend to be a lot more detailed and natural than thermal. Night vision is only problematic if the game is camouflaged or standing still. The technology has been around a lot longer as well and is used to being mounted on rifles and is more rugged and more readily absorbs recoil.  



Before making up your mind, you should ask yourself these questions:

    •  Knowing what conditions you will be hunting in is crucial. Will you be in thick brush or an area where fog is often a problem? Thermal imaging can detect an animal in deep cover or hidden by fog easier, so it would be a better choice for these conditions.
    • Are you hunting in an area where the temperature can be freezing, or you keep the windows closed in your blind? Extreme cold can affect the quality of a thermal image and thermal optics are not capable of seeing through glass, so night vision is a better choice.
    • Cost is usually a determining factor for most people. On average, a quality night vision scope is roughly a quarter of the price of a thermal scope. Not to mention the additional features like color thermal which can bring the price up even higher.
    • Usually, either scope can record, but you have to ask yourself if you want to be able to record directly with an SD card, a cord from your scope to your camera or if the scope has built-in wi-fi capabilities (like the Accufire Noctis V1 digital night vision scope). How easy is it to zoom in and out? Will the scope you want work with the rails on your AR? All of these are important questions which can drive up the price of your purchase.