Different Generations of Night Vision Binoculars: What Are Their Prime Features?

Last Updated on March 9, 2021

Night vision technology is a great invention that lets you see the furthermost targets at night. On the other hand, you can’t see anything situated a few yards’ in the naked eyes. When it’s time to choose the finest night vision binoculars, you may be confused as there are lots of generation variations.

Check This Out
Grab The Latest Deals on Night Vision Goggles,  Scopes,  Rangefinders, or Hunting Lights!

So, you should know the advantages as well as shortcomings of each generation. That’s the reason, we’ve come to clear up your confusion regarding night vision binoculars generations. Read the whole article and get the exact ideas!

How Generations of Night Vision Binoculars Differ

Generations of night vision binocularsNight visions binoculars generation can be either 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th. So, which generation NV binoculars are the most suitable devices for you? Let’s get the facts that each generation provides.

Generation 1

The first-generation night vision binoculars were developed after WWII. They were first used in the Vietnam war by the US army in the 1960s. These NVDs used the ambient light source and eliminated the gen 0s external light source.

Night vision binoculars of gen 1 use intensifier tubes that work depending upon the IR illuminator. They relied largely on moonlight, starlight, or streetlight. Sometimes they are called Starlight-scopes also.

You may know, the first generation researched phase NVDs are sometimes referred to as generation zero-night vision devices. But they are not available nowadays.

What Makes Gen 1 Night Vision Binoculars Unique from Other Generations?

The feature that you like most of the 1st gen NVDs is their affordability. If you are concerned with the budget, this binocular will be the right choice for you. Moreover, you can use them for short-range hunting and wildlife observation.


  • Uses intensifier tube
  • 75 yards maximum range
  • Less than S200 price tag
  • 1500 hours lifespan
  • Around 1000 times light amplification
  • Little magnification and low-resolution images
  • Bulkier than the advanced models

Generation 2

Generation II night vision binoculars were developed with more advanced features in the 1970s. Several versions of this generation NVDs are IIT, CGT IIT, and HPT IIT. The HPT IIT units are more advanced than the other twos. These devices ensure high-resolution images instead of blurry images of first-generation NVDs. Also, they come with powerful batteries, more ranging, and limited tactical application.

The main difference between 1st gen and 2nd gen NVD units is the MCP that is a micro-channel plate. Second generation NVDs used MCP with an S-25 photocathode and eliminated the need for IR illuminators. Moreover, the MCP is coated with an ion-barrier that increases the ‘halo-effect’ largely by preventing extra electrons from leaving.

What Makes Gen 2 Night Vision Binoculars Unique from Other Generations?

Night vision binoculars of gen II are capable of seeing objects at the moonless night that the earlier generation can’t do. These devices allow using them in tactical tasks and limited military purposes.


  • Introduced ion-barrier MCP
  • Multi-alkali photocathode
  • 200 yards maximum range
  • $1000 average price
  • 5000 to 10000 hours tube life
  • 20000 times light amplification
  • 40 to 72 lp/mm resolution
  • Better images than gen I NVDs
  • 12 to 24 signal-to-noise ratio

Generation 3

Night vision technology of 3rd generation comes with more upgraded features that increase the image resolution largely. They were developed in the 1990s. The key difference between 2nd and 3rd generation  quality night vision binoculars is that generation 3 night vision binoculars use Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) photocathode that helps in achieving brighter images than gen 2 units.

The GaAs photocathode also increases image resolution and signal-to-noise (SNR) ratio than the multi-alkali photocathode. Plus, the ion-barrier film extends overall tube life. Several versions of this generation are Standard IIT, 3A Gen Premium IIT, 3P Gen ITT Pinnacle, etc.

What Makes Gen 3 Night Vision Binoculars Unique from Other Generations?

The third-generation NVDs are largely used for military purposes all over the world and they are US military standard units. They provide excellent vision at the low-light condition.


  • GaAs photocathode
  • $2500 average price
  • 300 yards effective range
  • 10000 hours tube life
  • 30000 to 50000 times light amplification
  • 22 to 30 SNR ratio
  • 64 to 72 lp/mm resolution

Generation 4

The fourth-generation night vision devices were introduced after the year 2000. They aren’t recognized yet by the US army but some manufacturers leveled their units as Gen IV. They use the most sophisticated technology than other generations.

These devices are truly GEN-III OMNI-VI/VII that work differently in two ways than Gen III NVDs. Firstly, the auto-gated method controls the photocathode voltage which provides the excellent night as well as day visions. Another system eliminates a thin ion-barrier that increases the SNR ratio.

What Makes Gen 4 Night Vision Binoculars Unique from Other Generations?

Military personnel always prefer the most advanced night vision technology. So, this ultimate night vision generation binoculars are used mostly by the militaries and law-enforcement agencies for military and surveillance purposes. Generation IV night vision binoculars allow night as well all day vision that you don’t get from the previous generations.


  • GaAs filmless photocathode
  • Good for day and night vision
  • $4000 average price
  • 15000 to 20000 hours expected lifespan
  • More than 60 lp/mm resolution
  • Better in quality in almost every aspect than Gen III


Going to the higher generations of night vision devices develop the image quality but increase the price at the same time. For budget constraint users, the first and second generations NV binoculars are highly recommended. But if you want the highest resolution outputs then the 3rd and 4th generations night vision binoculars are the convenient options.

We hope the future generations will sum up all the good points of each generation and will eliminate the limitations of existing generations. Till then, choose the most suitable night sighting binocular from the available generations.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Expert Night Vision