Infrared Binoculars

Binoculars, for those you may not know, are simply two mirror symmetrical telescopes really, they are fused together side by side and placed in alignment so that they point towards to exact same point. Infrared binoculars allow night vision. In limited use, from the beginning of WWII in 1939 the German army had access to infrared technology. It was used mostly in the Panther class tanks and on some of the rifle scopes. The U.S. and allies were also experimenting with infrared binoculars during that war and had sniper scopes on a few of the M1 and M3 rifles, reserved of course, for the snipers.

Infrared binoculars, monoculars, and goggles all make it possible to see images very clearly in close to total darkness. There are varying degrees to which these devices will work and there are five distinct generations of technology that have been developed over the years, the stuff used back in WWII is considered Generation Zero technology. This technology used an anode and a S-1 photocathode made from silver, caesium, and oxygen to produce vision during the darkest hours of the night. It wasn’t great, but it was a big improvement over the naked eye. Infrared binoculars or night vision binoculars have actually been in existence far longer than most people realize and have a long and very interesting military history. The first experiments with infrared binoculars go all the way back to 1935 in Wehrmacht Germany.

The Generation One level technology began to be used during the Vietnam Era. This technology used ambient light and an S-20 photocathode for greatly superior clarity and light amplification of 1000x. Although very good for its era a decent amount of moonlight was still necessary in order to produce a clear result, however this was obviously a vast improvement of over Generation Zero technology.

Generation Two technology uses a micro-channel plate or MCP and an S-25 photocathode, increasing the light amplification to twenty times better than Generation One technology, or 20,000x light amplification. This was obviously and amazing leap forward, but there was still greater improvements to come.

Generation Three technology made two interesting improvements on Generation Two, coating the MCP with an ion barrier film and creating the photocathode from a gallium arsenide source instead of the usual silver, casesium, and oxygen. This increases the light amplification to 30,000 to 50,000x. As you can see the advances have been huge, although there is one final step that has been taken in order to take it up to the next level.

Generation four infrared technology uses a gated power supply to allow the device to easily adapt to changing light conditions, this is referred to as autogating. As you can imagine this is very handy for military uses and for sniper kills.

Even today Generation Three and Generation Four technology is extremely expensive and thought of as military grade. Most people can’t afford to purchase this technology and in some countries there are even restrictions on its use. For example in the EU, Generation Two infrared technology or higher is restricted to military use only. And in Germany no infrared devices can be attached onto firearms. However, no such restrictions exist in the U.S.

In civilian life infrared binoculars have many practical uses for many different people. There are often used by hunters, campers, cave explorers and others. Most of these folks won’t need anything beyond Generation One or Generation Two technology in order to get a great deal of satisfaction out of their binoculars, monoculars, or goggles. These are fairly expensive items but the costs pale in comparison to Generation Three and Four technology binoculars. You’ll see that in the following examples.

The Night Owl National Geographic Night Vision Monocular NGM3X (Generation One) uses infrared technology to allow its users to see at night. It retails for around $200 to $300 dollars and lights up objects at around a distance of 100 yards. This model comes with a case, hand strap, lens cover, and two AA batteries.

By comparison The Bushnell Night Vision 26-0400 infrared binocular set costs at least $400 dollars or more (Generation One). It weights around 28 ounces and is used by night watchmen in warehouses and can be used successfully for surveillance in almost completely dark situations. Policemen and private detectives would find this model a good choice.

Now, look at the pricing on a high end Generation Three military infrared goggle device, this one costs around $11,500 dollars! The US Nightvision USNV-14B model is Generation Three technology, it’s waterproof, fog resistant, and gives military grade clarity to its user. If you’re still interested it comes with a strap and an automatic two year warranty.

Infrared binoculars have many uses both military and civilian and as you can see the costs involved scale up dramatically the higher the quality gets. Of course, there are many models and many more price points, but you should have a good overview now.

This Infrared Binoculars Review is Written/Updated on Dec 27th, 2010 and filed under Consumer Electronics. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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