Different Generations of Night Vision Scopes Explained!

Last Updated on March 9, 2021

Night vision scopes have evolved by generations since its invention. The distinct generations are classified primarily according to their intensifier tube used in the devices. An image intensifier tube is actually a vacuum-sealed that gives the device night vision capabilities. The tube consists of рhоtосаthоdе, рhоѕрhоr ѕсrееn, and а mісrо-сhаnnеl рlаtе.

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This article will explain different generations of night vision scope and differences among generations of night vision scopes. Let’s go in for the main discussion!

Different Generations of Night Vision Scopes and Their Distinct Features

Different generations of night vision scopesGenerations of night vision scopes can be classified into several categories as Gen O, Gen 1, Gen 2, Gen 3, and Gen 4 night vision scopes. Some other generations are Gen 1+, Gen 2+, Gen 3+ that actually designate the improvement versions. We will now discuss the individual descriptions of the prominent generations.

Gen 0 Night Vision Scope

The night vision technology is originally developed by the US army in world war II and the Korean war. Also, the technology is developed by the German army parallelly in the 1940s to 1950s to assist snipers. Night vision scopes Gen 0 was the researched phase device, not the commercial night vision actually.

Technically there are no zero generation night vision scopes but according to the evolution periods they are termed as Gen 0. They are considered obsolete so companies don’t produce them nowadays.

How Do They Work

Gen 0 night vision device relied on IR light source so their projection unit is called IR illuminator. Actually, Generation 0 needs powerful external IR lights to illuminate the scene.

The tubes used an anode and an S-1 photocathode, made primarily of cesium, silver, and oxygen, and electrostatic inversion with electron acceleration was used to achieve gain. Electron’s acceleration makes distortion of the image and greatly decreases the life of the tube.


  • PAU-2
  • SU49/PAS 5
  • T-120 Sniperscope, 1st model (World War II)
  • M2 Sniperscope, 2nd model (World War II)
  • M3 Sniperscope, 4th model (Korean War)
  • AN/PAS-4 (early Vietnam War)


  • Opened the new technology era
  • Use IR illuminator
  • Can be copied easily


  • Need a powerful external IR light source
  • Tube decay soon
  • Short-range
  • Quite bulky

Gen 1 Night Vision Scope

After World War II night vision devices were started manufacturing commercially. The 1st generation night vision devices were introduced by the US army in the 1960s during the Vietnam war. These devices are sometimes called “Starlight scopes”. They eliminated the need for a source of projected infrared light. Most of the Generation 1 night vision scopes have 75 yards maximum range.

How Do They Work

Night vision scopes Gen 1 used ambient light sources like a beam of normal flashlight rather than the IR light source. This technology also used the same image intensifier tube as the Generation 0 NVDs with both anode and cathode. Their image intensifiers produce light amplification of around a thousand times to see objects in dark.  But they required moonlight to function properly and they were quite bulky too.


  • AN/PVS-1 Starlight scope
  • AN/PVS-2 Starlight scope
  • PAS 6 Varo Meta scope


  • Use Passive infrared
  • Low price NVS
  • 1000 light amplification
  • Good for close-range vision


  • Don’t work well on cloudy or moonless nights
  • Little battery runtime compared to upgraded models
  • Unable for versatile applications
  • Small FoV

Gen 2 Night Vision Scope

The 2nd Gen devices developed in the 1970s. They provide a brighter image than before and make it possible to see on a moonless night. Second generation night vision scopes can be used for tactical purposes. They also developed the battery life and overall quality that make these sensible investments for serious night vision users.

Generation 2 night vision scopes will allow 200 yards maximum range. The Gen II+ devices used SUPERGEN tubes that improved the resolution as like as Gen III NVDs.

How Do They Work

Night vision scope Gen 2 tubes improve mainly in the image intensifier tube using a micro-channel plate (MCP) with the S-25 photocathode. They provide a brighter, high resolution, and reliable image. Their light amplification is approximately twenty thousand times.


  • AN/PVS-3 Miniaturized
  • AN/PVS-4
  • AN/PVS-5
  • PNV-10T


  • 20000 light amplification
  • Provide high resolution, brighter images
  • Reasonable price compared to Gen 3 and 4
  • Larger FoV compared to the earlier versions
  • Versatile applications
  • Longer battery lifespan


  • No significant improvement in the photocathode

Gen 3 Night Vision Scope

Generation 3 night vision scopes developed in the 1990s. They can be used for any outdoor night vision purposes that the former version can’t do. These devices have the longest range capability of 300 yards. Due to great performance, third generations night vision scopes are highly-priced units.

Gen III Autogated is an outstanding NVD used by the US military and special forces.

How Do They Work

Night vision scopes gen 3 use the MCP as Gen 2 but the main improvement portion is in the photocathode. They used the gallium arsenide that improved image resolution largely. An ion barrier film was also added to enhance the life of the image intensifier tube. They are the best NVD in low light conditions.


  • AN/PVS-7
  • AN/NVS-7
  • AN/PVS-10
  • AN/PVS-14
  • AN/PNVS-14
  • AN/PSQ-20
  • CNVS-4949
  • PN-21K


  • Longest 300 yards range
  • Light amplification 30000–50000
  • Great performance
  • Larger Halo effect
  • Maximum battery life


  • High power consumption of tube
  • Pricy NVS

Gen 4 Night Vision Scope

Generation IV night vision scopes are developed later in the 1990s. Actually night vision scope gen 4 is not yet recognized by the US army. After testing the reliability and lifespan they don’t pass the US army’s standard. But some companies use the ‘Gen 4’ term for this we include the generation here. However, they are definitely Gen III+ night vision scopes.

How Do They Work

Fourth-generation NVDs use ‘filmless’ terminology that removes the ion barrier and use generation 3 image-intensifiers. Their photocathodes significantly increased its signal-to-noise ratio. The auto gated devices make it possible to use it in the day also.

These devices used SMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) sensors or CCD (charge-coupled devices) sensors which have sensitivity near the infrared spectrum.


  • AN/PVS-22
  • NVS-22


  • Provide both day and night vision
  • Improve image resolution
  • Good at low light conditions
  • Less expensive
  • Unfilmed technology


  • Lower battery life than Gen III

Ending Words

We’ve discussed different generations of night vision scopes with their ins and outs. These guidelines will help you a lot in choosing the perfect night vision scopes. Since the invention of night vision, image clarity, resolution, brightness, image color, etc. are continuously improving over generations. Nowadays, digital night vision devices with great features are also available. We’re eagerly waiting to get outperforming NVD in the near future.

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