In a few weeks time, I will be going on Safari in Zimbabwe and I am on the look out for a new pair of night vision binoculars to take with me.
I need a pair that will really help me to see what the wildlife is up to once the famous African sunsets disappear and the stars come out.
Update - I have since returned from my trip to Zimbabwe where I did take these Luna Optics LN-PB3 Night Vision binoculars with me and so I thought it would be worth while me updating this review to give you some of my findings. All my updates will all be highlighted in this colour for this review.
In this review I won’t go into why I highly recommend that you take a night vision device with you on safari – you can read it in my article on Night Vision for Safaris and Wildlife Observation, but I would just like to say that I wouldn’t go without a good pair of night binoculars or monoculars as there is so much going on at night and it is just a shame that most people never get to see it.
- Intensifier Tube: Top Grade Generation 1
- Magnification: 3x
- Objective Lens Diameter: 50mm
- Weight: 26.8ozs (760g)
- Length: 6.5in (16.5cm) Height: 2.2in (5.6cm) Width: 4.5in (11.4cm)
- Real field of view: 9.9°
- Apparent field of view: 60.0°
- Field of View: 364m at 1,000 meters
- Field of View: 1092ft at 1,000 yards
- Close Focus Distance: 6.5ft
- Maximum Viewing Distance: 300m (978ft)
- Waterproof: No – weather protected
- Fogproof: No
- Excellent built-in quality and craftsmanship
- All-aluminum weather-resistant body
- High-quality all-glass optics
- Built-in IR illuminator and light protection sensor
- Close focusing system and wide field of view
- Power: 2xLR1 type (N-size)
- Operating Time: 30 hrs
In the review below, I have taken all the main features that Luna Optics highlight in their marketing material and give you my own personal explanation and opinion. I also discuss the main features I am looking for in a great pair of night vision binoculars specifically for safaris.
According to Luna Optics: One of the most compact and lightweight night vision binoculars, the PB3 features a sturdy all-aluminum body.
The Safari Guide opinion: The first thing that struck me when I took the LN-PB3 out of the box and then out of it’s soft carry case is the very aggressive styling, that I guess is aimed more at the male consumer.
As Luna Optics say, the body is constructed from aluminum, which makes them a lot lighter than they look. It must also be said that they feel very sturdy to hold, unlike some others that I have reviewed that have a plastic type body.
Their actual weight is 760g (1.68 lbs/26.8oz) which puts them at about the same weight as most standard full sized binoculars. Their dimensions of 165mm x 115mm x 56mm (6.5"x4.5"x2.2") also means that apart from their length they are pretty much the same size as most roof prism 42mm binoculars.
What is different to most standard daytime binoculars that you find these days is Luna Optics has left the body exposed as apposed to covering them in a rubber armor.
A point to mention is that the LN-PB3 is not fully water or fogproof, they are what Luna describe as being weather resistant. This is something that you should take into consideration if you may need them for wet weather night surveillance.
Whilst you can get lighter and more compact forms of night vision – I am thinking of something like a pair of night vision monoculars, I found that the advantages of these binoculars and the fantastic insights they gave me after dark well outweighed the amount of space they took up in my travel bag and I will definitely be taking them with me on safari again.
Again this is where these Luna Optics night binoculars differ from most day binoculars in that to focus, each barrel has to be focused individually.
This is a little more time consuming than having a central focusing dial and is achieved by turning the ends of each barrel, similar to how you would on a large telephoto lens of a camera.
The extra time it took to focus each lens individually became much less of a problem once I got used to using these binoculars more and within a few nights it became almost second nature.
Each ocular lens on the eyepieces can also be adjusted separately using the ring just under the eyecup. This plays an important part in setting up these optics binoculars to suit your eyes and only really need to be done once, unless you will be sharing them with someone who’s vision is a lot different to your own.
The eye-cups on these Luna N-PB3’s are made from a rubber that have a more plastic feel to them than most others that I have tried. Before trying them I was a little put off by this, but bringing them up to and pressing them firmly to my face, I was pleasantly surprised as they are pretty comfortable and I also really like the "wings" on the sides of them that ensures no external light enters from the side.
The Image above has been used with the permission of BestBinocularsReviews.com, you can read their full Luna Optics LN-PB3 Night Vision Binoculars Review here.
50mm Objective Lenses
Larger objective lenses means more light gathering potential, which usually equates to brighter images. On the down side, the larger objective lenses are not only more expensive to make, but will mean that your binoculars will become much larger and heavier.
I think the 50mm objective lenses on these Luna night vision binoculars strike a good compromise between light gathering ability and size as they are still small enough to fairly easily carry around with you and to pack into your hand luggage. This is an important consideration for any binocular that you are going to be taking with you on safari.
Only a 3x Magnification?
Many people may wonder if a 3x magnification is powerful enough for them and why you don’t really find night vision binoculars with much more powerful magnifications like 8x or even 10x (There are a few with 7x)
The main reason for this is to make higher magnifications, the objective lens elements need to be thicker. This means that they will transmit less light than thinner lenses. As every little bit of light transmitted is so important during the night, to make night vision viable, the magnifications have to be lower, usually under 7x, thus preserving the best possible balance between image magnification and the light.
I feel that the 3x50mm combination on these LN-PB3’s is for me is a great compromise between the size of the binoculars, light gathering potential and the brightness of the image.
According to Luna Optics: The LN-PB3 Night vision binocular has a close focusing system and wide field of view.
The Safari Guide opinion: I totally agree with this as the field of view for is an excellent 364m at 1000m / 1092ft @ 1000 yards (20°) which if like me, you are more used to looking through standard binoculars, the width of the view through them is massive. It also compares very well with other night vision binoculars on the market.
The minimum close focusing distance of only 2m (6.5ft) on the PB3 is also excellent for a night vision binocular.
According to Luna Optics: They feature high-quality all-glass optics with multi-coated lenses and multi-lens elements to provide best possible image under any light conditions.
The Safari Guide opinion: Testing them for the fist time, I started by looking at the back of my garden which is 120ft away and everything back there was easily visible.
Compared to other devices that I have tried, I would say that the quality of the image was really good and there were far less black dots that what I have seen in other night vision devices.
I live in an area that does not have that many street lights and there was almost no moonlight and a fairly overcast sky, so I was really impressed by the brightness of the image as well as the contrast. If there had been a lion back there, I would not only have been able to see it, but would see every bit of detail!
The second time I used them was before sun rise at about 4am (I have a daughter who is just 2 months old!), at this time there was far less light from peoples houses and once again image brightness was what I would describe as excellent for a Gen 1 device.
I used these LN-PB3’s almost every night whilst I was on Safari in Zimbabwe and some of the places I went to out in the bush had no light sources other than the moon and the stars once the lights at the camp had been turned off. Understandably their performance improved on nights where there was a full moon, but even with a new moon, I was able to see very effectively. This is also where the built-in IR illuminator and the additional LN-ELIR-1 laser illuminator really came into their own and I was really blown away by just how well they worked together.
An example of just how well they worked was a night that I was staying on a house boat on Lake Kariba in northwestern Zimbabwe.
We were moored up against the land for the night and shortly after going to bed (I usually sleep out on the deck under the stars) I heard the unmistakable sound of a hippo coming out of the water onto the land to feed. Hippos usually feed on land at night because their skin is very sensitive to the sun and they can even get sunburnt.
I have often seen them eating at night, but never without a light, so I quickly reached for my Luna Optics binoculars and what I saw was a revelation. Sure enough there was a large hippo munching on the grass only 20 meters from the boat, but what I also saw astonished me. As I could clearly also see a bat flying around it again and again. I came to the conclusion that it must have been an Insect-eating bat (Microchiroptera) that was taking advantage of the fact that the hippo was flushing insects from the ground.
For me this was incredible and I just wonder if anyone has ever seen this behavior or even if it has been documented it before?
For more, take a look at >> My Personal Experiences of using Luna LN-PB3 Night Vision Binoculars on Safari
Night Vision Performance
For those who have never tried night vision before and whilst the video below was not taken through the Luna Optics LN-PB3, instead it was take through one of their monoculars. I think that it fairly accurately reflects the view that you can expect to get when looking through them and is similar to the quality and brightness that I experienced with them during my test. (without the IR illuminator switched on)
Luna Optics say that these Luna LN-PB3 night vision binoculars use high-quality all-glass optics with multicoated lenses:
Multicoated lenses mean that at least some air to glass surfaces – usually the first and the last, have multiple layers of antireflection coatings that help to transmit as much light as possible. Fully Multicoated would have been better as that would mean that ALL air to glass surfaces have antireflection coatings, but even so this is better than then not being coated at all.
I presume that the reason that they highlight the fact that these use "all-glass optics", they are saying that there are some devices on the market that use other materials other than glass, but I am not sure?
According to Luna Optics: The built-in IR illuminator allows for use in total darkness.
The Safari Guide opinion: Turing on the built in Infrared illuminator for the first time is a real treat as it transforms what must be said is an already fairly bright image to something that almost jumps back at you.
The way this works is to emit Infrared light onto the object that you want to view, this is then reflected back to the binoculars and is amplified by the tube in the same way as ambient light.
To test if you can actually see in complete darkness, I took them indoors, to the darkest room in my house and tried them out and yes, with the IR on you can easily see in complete darkness.
Even though the LN-PB3 night vision binoculars come with a built-in IR illuminator, they have an accessory slot on top of device where you can mount the Luna Optics LN-ELIR-1 laser illuminator.
This optional accessory is a much, much more powerful illuminator than the built in one and said to be capable of resolving targets at an incredible distance of 800m away. It has 9 power settings that are adjusted by turning the dial at the end of the device and a fully adjustable beam (width and position along the axis), so that it lines up exactly with the view that you are looking at through the binoculars.
I tested it during my review of the binoculars and I was completely blown away. Whilst the built in IR illuminator works well, it is nothing when you compare it the the LN-ELIR-1.and takes view through these binoculars to a whole new level.
The best way to describe it is to say that it looks like someone has pointed a powerful spotlight in the center of whatever you are looking at. This beam can be narrowed to increase the viewing distance, or widened to illuminate up the entire field of view (depending on the viewing distance).
I highly recommend getting one if you get the binoculars as it really makes a huge difference.
After my trip to Zimbabwe, where I used these a lot more, I would like to stress that if you are going to get the LN-PB3 night vision binoculars, you should also get this accessory. An example of how the LN-ELIR-1 really helped me was on a night where I was woken by noise in a tree behind the lodge we were staying at. It was a sound that I had never heard before, very loud, a little like a human child crying and rather scary!
I decided to go and investigate. Using just the binoculars, I could see that there was something fairly large in the tree, about the size of the cat, but because it was fairly high up, I could not identify it. Turning on the LN-ELIR-1 laser illuminator to full power, I was able to immediately identify it as the Greater Bush Baby (Galago crassicaudatus). I was thrilled to have seen it and to have been able to put this eerie noise to a face – after watching it for a while it moved on out of sight and I went back to bed – fantastic!
Something that is also worthmentioning is that because you are using an illuminator to light up an area, even though it is invisible to wildlife, their eyes shine back at you almost like cat eyes on the road. This makes locating animals in the bush soo much easier than when you are not using the illuminator.
For more, take a look at >> My Personal Experiences of using Luna LN-PB3 Night Vision Binoculars on Safari
The video above is part of a full review that I did for the Best Binocular reviews website, you can read the full Luna Optics LN-PB3 Night Vision Binoculars Review here.
Whilst the price of night vision equipment has come down significantly over the past few years, a good pair of night binoculars are still not what I would describe as cheap. I would however stress that I now feel that the price is worth what you get in return. I don’t recommend that you go for the cheapest night vision binoculars as many are little more than toys. These Luna Optics LN-PB3’s on the other hand are quality optical instruments.
I think that it is also worth mentioning here that not all Generation 1 tubes are created equal and you can find quite a large difference in performance.
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, but as a consumer you cannot always be sure what quality of Gen 1 tube is in your device, which is rather confusing and more than slightly annoying!
Luna Optics are proud to point out that they only buy the top grades of the intensifier tubes, and so even though some of their models may be a little more expensive than other Gen1 devices on the market, you can be sure that you are getting the best quality possible. Additionally, as a part of their quality control, every Luna Optics device is inspected twice: once at the factory level and once again at their US warehouse prior to shipment.
The Safari Guide Verdict
Overall I was highly impressed with the LN-PB3 night binoculars and if you are looking for a good quality and relatively in-expensive 1st Generation night vision binocular that is ideal not only for safaris, but for general wildlife observation, home security and things like camping trips then these are ideal.
I know that I will now definitely be getting a pair of my own and taking them with me on my next safari. Once I get back in a few months time, I will also do a follow up report, just to let you know just how I get along with them.
To say that I loved them is an understatement – I have used other night vision devices on safari before, but none have even come close to these Luna Optics binoculars. They were truly excellent and provided me with many memories and talking points that I would not have even known about had I not had them with me. I also highly recommend that if you do get a pair that you also get the optional LN-ELIR-1 laser illuminator as they really take the view through them to another level.
I would like to thank Opticalia Ltd, the UK distributors of Luna Optics for providing me with the sample to review. I would also like to point out that all the reviews on this site, including this one, are my opinion and are not influenced in any way by manufacturers, distributors or suppliers.
Below are other night vision devices that you may be interested in:
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.