Elephants - photo taken with a Night Vision Camera
Photographed with a Night Vision Device (Starlight Image Intensifier Camera)
Hyenas are far more active at Night
Night vision binoculars can help you see many animals like hyenas at night
Lions and Hyenas at Night
Night vision can help you view wildlife without disturbing their natural behaviour
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Night Vision for Safaris and Wildlife Observation
When I was working full time as a safari guide in the past, I never actually owned my own pair of night vision binoculars, monoculars or indeed any other night vision device - which was a real shame. The main reason for this was because in those days, a really good pair was just a little too pricey for the average field guides salary and to be honest probably out of the reach of most ordinary people.
So back then, to really enjoy observing wildlife with out disturbing them at night, I had to rely on the very few guests that would bring a pair of night binoculars with them on holiday.
Thankfully since then things have changed: As night vision technology has improved and the amount of manufacturers producing night vision goggles, binoculars, scopes and monoculars has increased, the prices for really good quality devices ideal for use on safari has come come significantly. So much so, that in my opinion you really should consider taking one with you on holiday. Night vision monoculars or binoculars are definitely something that I now always take with me on safari.
Night Vision Binoculars Reviews
Below are detailed tests and reviews that I have personally conducted using night vision binoculars.
The 3x magnification Luna LN-PB3 is one of the most compact and lightweight full size night vision binoculars available. Featuring an aluminum body, with high-quality optics, multicoated lenses and multi-lens elements to provide best possible image under any light conditions. The Generation 1 PB3 also features a built-in IR illuminator that allows for use in total darkness. You can accessorize your PB3 with an optional Extended Range IR Illuminator and makes in my opinion an ideal safari holiday companion.
Night Vision Monoculars Reviews
Below are detailed reviews on night vision monoculars that I have personally conducted and that I highly recommend for safaris:
The 3x magnification Luna Optics LN-SX3 is a great value for money, compact, light weight and water resistant 'Generation 1' night vision monocular.
With a built-in IR illuminator that allows for use in total darkness, one-touch controls as well as being able to be attached to SLR cameras, the SX3 really is an ideal safari night vision monocular.
Why use Night Vision on Safari?
The wildlife that we see during the day is only a fraction of what is actually there and as the African sun sets, so much of it's famed wildlife comes alive:
For example: Most of Africa's great predators mostly hunt at night and spend much of the day hiding and resting in the shade (exceptions to this include cheetah and wild dogs). So if you are lucky enough to see something like a lion or leopard during the day, they are most likely going to be sleeping or at best resting in or under the shade of a tree, which is still incredible, but you have to agree it is not as exciting as if they are on a hunt.
Then there are all the animals that are probably listed as being at the reserve or national park that you are visiting, but you will almost certainly not see during the day. These include animals like wild cats, serval and the very beautiful caracal. Then there are the Hyenas, Jackals that are common, but not that active during the day and what about the cute little bushbabies (Galagos/Night Apes) that will probably be in the trees around your camp at night, but that you will probably never ever see.
Another example and one you may not of thought of would be hippos that most people only ever see wallowing in the water. At night they leave the water and come out onto the land to graze. Why only usually at night? Well their skin is actually very sensitive and easily gets sunburnt!
If you need any more reasons or inspiration, take a look an article that I wrote describing some of the experiences I had with the excellent Luna Optics LN-PB3 Night Vision Binoculars that I took with me on safari
How Best to View African Wildlife at Night
The traditional way to view wildlife at night is to use a spotlight or searchlight. The major problem with this technique is that you startle whatever you are looking and because of this, it stops acting in a natural way.
In some of the worst cases as with owls for example, a spotlight shined in their eyes actually temporarily blinds the bird, it then flies off because it is startled and crashes into branch, possibly breaking a wing, dooming it to a terrible and certain death.
It also can give some animals an unfair advantage. For example, I have seen unethical field guides shining a bright light on a heard of Zebra to show their guests. This then affects their behavior, blinds them and effectively blows their cover, making them a far easier target to the lions hiding in the undergrowth.
The solution to the problems that a searchlight causes is obviously a way to see the wildlife without them knowing that you are looking at them and this is why a night vision device like a pair of night binoculars or monoculars is ideal. You can view the animals in their habitat acting completely naturally... be that scavenging for food, hunting or just trying to get some sleep!
Night Vision Safaris
The videos below highlight just how useful night vision binoculars and other equipment can be on a safari.
Whilst most safari lodges will take you out on night drives (using spotlights), there are only a very few safari lodges that have their own night vision equipment and so unfortunately there are very few companies that specialise in night vision safaris.
This means that as with your standard safari binoculars, you will have to take your own gear with you, but if you do, I am sure that most lodges would be more than happy to then take you out after dark - just ask.
You will also probably be amazed by just how much you will see just around the lodge at night. Most of the better lodges are located right in the bush, possibly overlooking a waterhole, where at night there is bound to be plenty of action.
How Does Night Vision Work?
Almost all night vision devices, like Night Vision scopes, monoculars and binoculars are electro-optical devices that amplify existing light. They are sensitive to a broad spectrum of light, from visible through infrared.
When you are looking at something, you don actually look through the Night Vision binocular, as you do with standard "daytime" binoculars. You actually look at an amplified electronic image on a phosphor screen. The little light that is available (from stars and the moon for example) enters the night vision monocular/binocular through an objective lens and strikes a photo cathode. This cathode has a high energy charge from the power supply. The energy charge accelerates across a vacuum inside the intensifier and strikes a phosphor screen which is basically similar to a TV screen. Here the image is then focused and the eyepiece then magnifies the image for you to see.
What if there is no available light?
Most good night vision binoculars and other devises like scopes, monoculars and goggles usually come with a built in Infrared illuminator (IR illuminator) - what these do is increase the light available at the infrared end of the spectrum by casting a beam of light onto the subject, which is then reflected back to your device. This infrared light is not visible to the human eye.
Why are the images green?
Because the human eye can differentiate more shades of green than other phosphor colors. A few of the newer devices now use White Phosphor Technology and the image viewed is in black and white.
How Well Does Night Vision Work?
How good your view is at night largely depends on the quality of the device, the size of it's objective lenses and which technology it uses (see Generations below).
I think the best way to demonstrate the average view you can expect is with the type of equipment that most people are going to be using, rather than professional night vision video camera gear that is well out of the reach of most average persons budget.
The video below I feel fairly accurately represents the kind of quality you can expect and is the kind of quality that I have experienced when using and reviewing the night vision binoculars and monoculars on this site. It was taken using a Gen 1 Luna Optics Night Vision Monocular:
Best Night Vision for Safaris
As with most other travel and safari equipment, I highly recommend that you look for a night vision device that is compact and light enough for you to easily carry with you, both in your hand luggage when on the plane and then whilst you or on safari.
That is why in some cases a night vision monocular may be more suitable for some than a binocular, although there are some fairly compact NV binos on the market as well.
Not all nightvision equipment is equal, but what is helpful is that there is an Internationally accepted terminology that classifies and grades the Intensifier Tubes into Generations: Generation-I, II, III and IV with intermediate levels of Generation-I+ and II+
These Generations indicate the level of technology used in the unit and the resulting image quality. In general the greater the generation, the more expensive the device and in some cases like most 3rd generation devices, their use and sale is restricted to government departments.
I would suggest that for most people going on safari and using the equipment for recreational purposes, a good quality Gen 1 device will be more than adequate.
For you information I have added a bit more detail about each generation below:
Gen 1 night vision night vision binoculars monoculars & goggles are the least expensive units and are probably what most people will have with them on safari.
This technology was actually first introduced during the Vietnam war, they have improved since then and the light amplification of these tubes is now 120-900 times the ambient light.
Most Gen 1 night vision devices have a higher power requirement than higher Gen devices and often emit a high-pitch, low-level noise. These products are not suitable for photography and typically have a drop off in quality around the edges of the image. They have many practical applications and are useful for many types of wildlife observation.
Somewhat confusingly there can be a big difference in performance within 1st Generation tubes. this is because during the manufacturing process all tubes are evaluated and graded according to their quality and performance and are sold at significantly different prices depending on their light amplification and image clarity. This of course is reflected in the final price of the Night Vision device, so it does not always pay to get the cheapest instrument.
Night vision devices with Generation 2 are primarily used by law enforcement or for professional applications, they offer good performance in low-level light conditions and have very little distortion, making them well suited for use with video or still cameras. They are excellent for prolonged observation of wildlife at a distance and for close observation of small animals. Generation 2 night vision devices amplify light about 20,000 to 30,000 times, which makes them very good in low light conditions. To give you an idea, you can see a man at 600m with a full moon, 300m in starlight and 90m on a dark overcast night.
These units use gallium-arsenide for the photocathode and a micro channel plate for gain. In Europe their sale is generally restricted to government departments and the military. (Generation 3 is the standard for the USA military)
For more about night vision technology and some of the best devices available take a look at this Guide to Night Vision Glasses & Devices: Binoculars, Monoculars, Goggles & Scopes >>
|Generation 1 Night Vision Monoculars|
|Yukon 5x42 Ranger Digital Night Vision Monocular - Approx: £290
Features an upgraded Sony CCD for improved imaging. Coupled with the addition of a variable gain control dial (brightness/contrast control), this offers noticeable performance advantages over the previous model.
Because the unit uses a CCD with the image viewed on a built-in LCD screen, the unit cannot be damaged by bright light sources.
Variable gain control allows you to adjust the image based on an individual scenes lighting level.
The built-in high power Infrared Illuminator - the right-hand lens of the device - is covert (invisible to the human eye at approx. 940nm) and throws a beam out to over 100m. In ultra low light levels this provides the unit with its own light source. The power output of the illuminator is also controllable offering maximum flexibility in image brightness/contrast.
The unit offers true 5x optical image magnification through the left hand lens of the device. Currently competitive products can only achieve higher magnifications through digital magnification which means a loss of resolution.
A Video Out facility (lead included) means that the unit can be linked to a recording device such as a DVD Recorder/Video Recorder /Camcorder or alternatively to a monitor.
Running on 6 x AA sized batteries, the unit is supplied with two battery cradles (for quick battery change), a 12V car adaptor and a UK mains lead. The unit will happily accept the latest NiMH rechargeable batteries (2700mAh) - in fact, these are the recommended power source when out in the field.
A screw thread is built-in to the base allowing attachment to a tripod.
> > Buy now on Amazon.co.uk
|Generation 1 Night Vision Binoculars|
|Yukon Tracker RX 3.5x40 Night Vision Binoculars Approx £419
The Viking RX 5x40 utilizes dual IR illuminators (long and short range), on/off mode, IR setting and battery level.
Yukon Advanced Optics engineers kept versatility and comfort in mind when creating the Viking series of night vision binoculars. Each of the Viking series of night vision binoculars are similar yet different.
The Viking RX 5 x 40mm is the most powerful night vision binocular in the Viking series. Yukon Viking RX 5x40mm Night Vision Binoculars 25024 come with removable, individual, collimated, doubler lenses, and can be transformed to a 2x24 unit by removing the 40mm lenses.
The Viking RX 5 x 40 night vision binocular has a 5x magnification and an 40mm objective lens. Yukon Viking RX 5x40mm Night Vision Binoculars 25024 12 mm eye relief allows for comfortable viewing while the 400 m to 500 m range of detection makes this unit perfect for long distance viewing.
Viking RX 5 x 40 mm Night Vision Yukon Binoculars 25024 are ergonomically-designed with rubberized body and are perfect for a long expedition; the lightweight (21 oz.), compact binoculars (without doubler: 6.9 x 4.8 x 2.8 in.; with doubler: 8.8 x 4.8 x 2.8 in.) Yukon Viking RX 5x40mm Night Vision Binoculars 25024 is surprisingly comfortable, making your viewing experience that much more enjoyable. Like all Viking models, the Yukon RX utilizes a dual eye diopter adjustment with central focusing, and a wide field of view (30 degrees with doubler and 15 degrees without doubler).
The water resistant Viking utilizes a soft, one-piece eyecup to prevent external light distortion and light leakage from the device, allowing the user to remain hidden in the night.
# Compact, Lightweight, Ergonomic Styling
# Partial rubber armouring, comfortable slip resistent grip
# Multicoated optics
# 2x image magnification
# Built in Len caps
# CR123A 3v Lithium Battery (not included)
# Independent eyepiece focus
# Centre dial front focus control
# Built-in Infra red illuminators for use in very low light/total darkness
# Green LED 'Tube on' and red LED 'IR' on indicators
> > Buy now on Amazon.co.uk
|Similar Night Vision Binoculars and Monoculars available:|
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