Why Go Digital?

Hunter with Digital Scope

With the rapid pace of development nowadays, there is so much to consider when buying Night Vision technology.

Balancing your budget and needs with the enormous lists of tech specs is nothing less than daunting. And, as if just to throw fuel onto the fire, there is always this lingering question:

‘Have you considered Digital Night Vision?’

It seems that throwing digital into a conversation just sparks animosity and confusion. The main concerns that people harbor are a lack of quality, and an overly complex learning curve to use a digital device. The truth of the matter is, like all night vision, there are pros and cons to digital.

How Does Digital Work?

CCD Sensor
A CCD Image Sensor

In true night vision, an intensifier tube is used to amplify ambient light. The device converts photons to electrons, and multiplies them through a micro channel plate before they are displayed through a phosphor screen. Digital works a little differently. Rather than amplifying natural light, a digital night vision device converts an optical image into an electrical signal through a Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) image sensor.

A CCD sensor has millions of tiny pixels that collect incoming light. The sensor then registers a value for each pixel, and converts it into a picture on an LCD screen. This screen in most digital devices is within the eye piece, and displays the in the same fashion as true night vision devices.

These fundamental differences in how the different devices operate, inform the pros and cons to buying digital night vision.

Pro: Price

The general rule here is: digital is cheaper. CCD image sensors are cheaper to produce than image intensifying tubes. Digital units are therefore a more cost effective product to make. Unfortunately this is what influences stigma around buying digital. It is easy to assume that a cheaper product represents poorer quality. The truth, however, is not so black and white (and green). It is easier to produce digital units, and so the lowest cost digital unit would probably be poorer quality. However, the same budget as an entry level true night vision device, would buy a far superior digital unit.

It is a complex little dance around price for digital, but the rule stands. Digital is cheaper. If you are in the market for entry level, considering digital could deliver a far superior option.

Con: Refreshing the Image

Drone Pro Footage
Image Through A Digital Scope

True night vision displays amplified natural light as soon as it enters the intensifier tube. This process does not impede the speed at which light is traveling towards the eye. With digital night vision the same cannot be said. A digital unit is creating an electric signal that needs to be refreshed to account for changes in the picture. The result is that a slight lag is produced while the device tries to keep up with changes in the observational target.

This does not represent a drastic disadvantage for most applications, but it certainly can impact while tracking and moving.

Pro: Durability

Due to how intensifier tubes amplify light, the components within them wear slowly over time. Overexposure, like direct daylight, results in faster wear and damage. This means that intensifier tubes lose effectiveness over their lifetime, and occasionally require replacing after extended use.

CCD sensors do not wear the same way. This means that digital has a longer active lifespan than true night vision, subject to the quality of the other electrical components within the unit. The way CCD sensors register light also means that a large majority of them can be used day, night, and all lighting conditions in between. While this might seem to have limited application to ‘night’ vision, it becomes useful when considering hunting and security applications.

Con: Dependency on Infrared

Long Range Infrared Illuminator
Long Range Infrared Illuminator

True night vision devices work in all lighting conditions down to just before total darkness. Without any natural light an infrared illuminator can be used to disperse additional light to aid sight. Digital units require infrared in any level of darkness. The result does not mean too much for image quality, but there is significant drain on battery life.

Result:

Value for money makes digital better suited for people looking for an entry level unit. Specific application will also impact whether digital night vision is the right solution for you. For example a fixed digital scope for hunting means not having to re-zero a rifle between day and night shooting.

Having put some of the most apparent drawbacks and benefits on the table, it is easy to see where digital gets its mixed reviews from. However getting the most from a digital unit is not hard to do. It is simply time we gave digital night vision the time of day.

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