Facts About Night Vision Technology


Night vision technology gives us the ability to see in almost complete darkness. It is mainly used by the military and police forces, but night vision technology can find its use in the civilian world. In this article, we will cover some interesting facts about night vision goggles and other devices.

Who invented night vision?

The German army was first to introduce night vision devices on the battlefields. They started producing them in the mid-1930`s, but it wasn’t until the mid-1940`s that the first Panther tanks used them in action. These devices are often referred to as Generation 0. Also, there were infantrymen with mounted night vision devices on their Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifles. This system wasn’t very practical because of huge batteries mounted on soldiers` backs.

The first commercial night vision device was created by Dr. Vladimir K. Zworykin who was working for Radio Corporation of America, at the time. While it was intended for civilian use, it wasn’t a commercial success because of its size.


Different types

There are three different types of technology used in night vision goggles. The first and most popular one is image intensification, the second is thermal imaging and the last one is active illumination. Image intensification, as the name says, intensifies available light to produce a clearer image. Thermal imaging, on the other hand, measures the heat difference between the object and its environment to produce an image. Active illumination combines image intensification technology with an active source of illumination in the near infrared band.


The US manufacturers classified night vision devices in five generations, starting with generation 0 and ending at generation 3 . We talked about Generation 0 devices in the paragraph about the invention of night vision, so we’ll skip ahead to Generation 1.

GEN 1 devices were introduced during the Vietnam War and were an advanced version of their predecessors from GEN 0. They didn’t use infrared light source and instead relied on ambient light. GEN 2 improved image quality even more by utilizing micro-channel plate in its image-intensifier, enabling a clear image even in low ambient light environments. GEN 3 and 3 use the latest technology in night vision devices. They have greatly improved light amplification – to 50,000x from the previous 20,000x. There are two main differences between these generations. The first one is the automatic gated power supply in GEN 3 that allows instantaneous adaptation to changing light conditions, and the second one is removal of the ion barrier in GEN3 devices, resulting in near perfect image. Other than these differences they work on the same principle and technology.

Different image qualities

The biggest difference between good and bad night vision device is their image quality. Depending on the type of technology night vision device uses, you need to look at a resolution for thermal devices or optical characteristics and image intensifier tube for image intensifier devices.

For thermal devices, all you need to have is high resolution. The best one is 640x480 for handhelds, but even 320x240 or 240x180 will do the job in some cases. Also, you can check for additional functions like image and video capture.

When it comes to image intensifier devices, things are a little more complicated. You need to have good optical characteristics and image intensifier tubes, if one has weaker characteristics you will have poor image quality. The quality on these devices is measured in lp/mm and average is 45 lp/mm. Look here for more in depth night vision goggles review and for specific models.


Future of night vision

Next big thing in night vision technology is a short wave infrared cameras or short SWIR. These devices can extend the vision to levels normally invisible to other thermal imaging cameras. They reveal details in clear, lifelike form even through glass and in almost complete darkness. They will probably see use in police forces actions for identifying potential suspects.

There are many more interesting facts about night vision technology, but in this article, we covered these five facts to give you a better understanding of the history of devices, how they work, and what is their future.  

Blog GabbyDi 24/06/2016 9:44am BST