Transformation of 5 Generations of Night Vision Monocular

Last Updated on March 9, 2021

Going hiking, birdwatching, backpacking even hunting, you find monocular as handy outdoor stuff in keeping with. A good pair of night vision monocular can take you closer to nature to look at the flying birds or observe the terrain. However, there are a few dissimilar generations of night vision monocular and they are still changing.

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When you plan to pick the best night vision monocular, you may be confused about choosing the most perfect one. However, we are here to inform you all about the night vision generations, so that you can understand the facts easily. Stay tuned!

Generations of Night Vision Monocular

Generations of Night Vision MonocularNight vision monocular can be classified in different generations such as Gen 0, Gen 1, Gen 2, Gen 3, Gen 4, and few improved versions. With the changes of NV monocular generations, their photocathodes, ion barriers, micro-channel plates, and several things are also progressing. With these technical things, we will explain each of the generations according to their actual performance in practical life.

Night Vision Monocular Gen 0

Night vision is successfully developed over various trial periods. Initially, a retrospective night vision device was introduced by the US army during World War II and the Korean war. Parallel to that, the German army also developed them in the time between the years 1940 to 1950.

Gen O night vision monocular is not a commercial version, it is just a researched phase version. The NVDs which were developed from earlier to the end of WW-II were described as Generation 0 monocular sometimes. They are no more available.

You may have heard the name Sniper-scope or Snooper-scope, which are zero generation M1 and M3 IR night viewing devices.

Working Principles

Night vision monocular of gen 0 depended largely on external infrared light to illuminate objectives. That’s why their projection unit is known as the IR illuminator. The image intensifier tubes utilize the anode and S-1 photocathode that is mainly made from cesium, silver, oxygen, and electrostatic inversion with electron acceleration to achieve gain.


  • Make it possible to see targets at night
  • Open the new era of technological developments
  • Sensor controls electrons exit


  • Shorter range and lifespan
  • Distorted image generation
  • Hostile groups can easily copy this tech
  • Without an external light source, it won’t work well

Night Vision Monocular Gen 1

The practical commercial NVDs were invented after WW-II and they are referred to the 1st gen night vision monocular. During the Vietnam War, the US army developed these devices in the 1960s. Sometimes they are called Starlight-scopes. Their average range is 75 yards and life expectancy is 1500 hours.

These devices are best for observation and casual use. Typically their price starts from $250.  Several Gen 1 NVDs are AN/PVS-1/2 Starlight scope, PAS 6 Varo Metascope, PNV-57E tanker goggles, and much more.

Working Principles

The Gen I night vision monocular relied on the ambient light source rather than the external light that the zero Gen devices used. But they used the same intensifier tubes as gen 0 NVDs. Their advanced image intensifiers also produced around a thousand times light amplification.


  • Overcome the essence of the external light source
  • Quite good for the price
  • Lifespan boosts greatly than the earlier model
  • More than 1000 light amplification
  • Good for small range target viewing


  • Need moonlight to function properly
  • Not ideal for versatile application
  • Low magnification and resolution
  • Lower life and bulkier than the advanced models

Night Vision Monocular Gen 2

The 2nd generation night vision monocular truly opened the improvement era of NVDs. These devices came between the years 1960 to 1970. The earlier NVDs weren’t good for tactical purposes, but this makes things possible.

Gen II night vision monocular advanced optical clarity, battery life, range, etc. Their maximum range extended to 200 yards and the average life expectancy at 5000 hours. On top of that, light amplification prolonged to 30000 to 50000 times.

They are best suited for hunting and limited law enforcement purposes. Their price usually begins at $1000. The AN/PVS-4/5, SUPERGEN, PNV-10T are few of the examples of gen 2 NVDs.

Working Principles

The main notable technological advancement that comes in this Gen 2 NVDs is in the image intensification system. These devices make it possible to see the objects at the moonless night.

They introduced the micro-channel plate (MCP) with the S-25 photocathode. Plus, the MCP had an ion-barrier coating film that prevents extra electrons from passing through so that the tube life is increased greatly. The ion barrier also widens in “halo effect” either bright spots or light sources.


  • Overcome the limitation of seeing at moonless night
  • Introduces MCP and ion-barrier technology
  • Ensures maximum field of view
  • Higher resolution and crystal clear outputs
  • Longer battery life and viewing range
  • Extends the “halo” effect


  • Good but not advanced as the upgraded versions
  • Not ideal for tactical purpose

Night Vision Monocular Gen 3

Generation III night vision monocular comes with the astounding features that make them usable for military purposes as well as other aspects. The NVDs that developed in the 1990s is considered as the 3rd Gen night vision monocular.

These devices extended the overall ranges at up to 300 yards. They provide the longest life for more than 10000 hours. In addition to that, these devices are greater in quality in all sides and performance compared to the earlier NVDs.

The 3rd gen NV monocular can be used for hunting, observation, and all tactical purposes. Their average price is $2500. Several gen 3 NVDs are AN/PVS-7/10/14, AN/NVS-7, AN/PSQ-20, PN-21K, etc.

Working Principles

The gen III night vision monocular used the same MCP as gen 2 but they improved in the photocathode portion. The gallium arsenide enhanced the image resolution extremely. Like the 2nd gen night vision monocular, the ion barrier enhanced the image intensifier life.

Many models of Gen III will allow choosing between auto-gated or manual gain tubes. The advanced Autogated devices allow using all lighting conditions for long.


  • Best for military uses
  • Highest lifespan
  • No blurry images
  • Best performance in low-light


  • Pricier than the former NVDs
  • Consume lots of power

Night Vision Monocular Gen 4

There is no recognized gen IV night vision monocular, but few manufacturers leveled their NVDs as gen 4. The NV monocular that developed later in the 1990s is the 4th gen night vision monocular. Most of the Gen 4 leveled NVDs are Gen 3+ devices. The average theoretical life is 15000 to 20000 hours.

These optics are best for military personnel and surveillance uses. They are the most expensive units among night vision monoculars generations. Their price begins at $4000. Some popular Gen 4 NVDs are AN/PVS-22, NVS-22, and many more.

Working Principles

Manufacturers claimed they use ‘filmless’ image intensifiers that also eliminate the ion barrier. For the unfilmed construction, they are referred to as “Filmless Gen 3” devices sometimes. The NVDs photocathodes increased signal-to-noise ratio greatly. Autogated technology helps to use them in the daytime also.

These advanced optics used SMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) sensors or CCD (charge-coupled devices) sensors in which sensitivity is closer to the infrared spectrum.


  • Offers advanced military features
  • Good for day and night vision
  • Super optical clarity
  • Uses filmless image intensifier


  • Not recognized yet
  • Lower battery life
  • Pricier than Gen III

End Words

Night vision technology is an ongoing development process. We believe the limitations of today’s night vision monocular will be solved soon. The above-discussed guidelines on generations of night vision monocular will help in choosing the topmost NV monocular.

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  1. Excellent article…no fluff, just clear facts.
    One item though…the first mention of ‘NVD’ did not define the ‘D’. I assume (perhaps incorrectly), that the D stood for Device. Am I correct?

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