Monocular Nightvision Buying Guide

When you are looking for MNVD (Monocular Night vision device), then most probably you have a lot of unanswered questions like:
  • How does Gen2+ compare to Gen3?
  • Should I buy Gen3 instead of Gen2?
  • How about Gen1?
  • Can you have cheap and good night vision device?
  • There are so many different Gen2+ devices – how to compare one against other?
  • What accessories to consider?
Let’s try to answer those questions….
Why you should not consider Gen1+?

Initially, we did not exclude Gen1 devices from our product portfolio and were promoting Armasight Core Spark as really decent Gen1+ MNVD.

Here is a video we once did about Armasight Core Spark (as being Kaliiber):


Based on customer feedback, we stoped selling Armasight Core Spark due to its need for high power IR light. The IR light was visible to naked eye and Gen1 users revealed themselves to other players who had no light amplification ability (beside their trained eye). Basically, using Gen1 NVD gave no major advantage against players without any device. 

Since a performance gain on moving from Gen1 to Gen2+ was huge and Gen1 did not help at all, we stopped selling Armasight Core Spark and put our focus in promoting wide range of Gen2 devices. 

Why we don't provide Gen3 devices?

First – It requires additional licences to sell those devices and requires licences for owners to travel with Gen3 NVDs. Some of EU countries don’t allow exporting your NVD without government provided export licence (like Germany, France, etc).

Second – In our honest opinion – for Airsoft users in EU the Gen3 is an overkill (explained later). Unless your life literally depends on it, the price jump from decent Gen2+ (Photonis Commercial / ECHO) to Gen3 does not justify the performance gain.

Third – We have seen a lot of devices based on Gen2+ technology that beat the crap out of Gen3 devices in some environments. Especially – when comparing Photonis Gen2+ against used Gen3 devices without any understanding about its specifications and used hours. Yes, there are also low-end Gen2+ devices, but if you know what to look for, you can get really good devices (close to Gen3 performance) with 2x less costs then Gen3.

We are not saying that Gen3 is a bad choice. For example – new Gen3’s made by Harder Digital are really good units. Just, don’t buy a Gen3 without being sure about its history and having a data-sheet. Our main message is that in our opinion Photonis Commercial or Photonis ECHO is everything you need for Airsoft, no limitations on travelling in EU and approximately 2 times cheaper than a decent Gen3 (eg. Harder Digital FOM 1800+).

P.S In the US, the story is completely different. Their price jump to Gen3 is small and they don’t put much focus on developing devices in Gen2+ technology (like Photonis does in EU). In the US we would go for Gen3 without any second thought.

COMING SOON (end of June 2019): Night Vision footage: Photonis Gen2+ ECHO WP FOM1500 vs Harder Digital Gen3 WP FOM2100. 

What to consider when buying an NVD?

Stepping-stone or end-goal?

How long you are going to keep the device? Do you plan to up-grade every year or do you plan to keep this device?

If you plan to sell it:

  • Buy White Phosphor (WP), its much easier to sell it. Most NVD users consider WP as an up-grade to GP (even though it is not)
  • Buy a unit that has a data sheet, since your future buyers will ask for it (even though data sheets provides only half truth)
  • Keep a log book – if you can prove that you have used this unit for 50 hours, instead of unknown hours, it is much easier to sell it.

If you don’t plan to sell it:

  • Try both Green Phosphor and White Phosphor – you never know which works best for you. Me and Kevin, we like Green Phosphor more.
  • Consider NVD as 5+ year investment. Even though you warranty is long gone after 5 years, those devices last for thousands if not ten thousand of hours. There are still devices from 90s used well in military.
  • Never share it with anyone. If anyone asks to lend your device, you can always answer – “There are two things that one does not lend – your NVD and your girlfriend”<- in that priority. Jokes aside – well kept NVD will work for 10 000+ hours, while it can be ruined in 2 seconds – even with AUTOGATED..
Start with Why?

Does your life depend on seeing an opponent 10-15% further away? Why? Because – the more you pay, the less additional value you get from NVD.

Photonis 4G WP = ~6500€
Photonis Commercial WP = 2 550€

Photonis 4G vs Commercial

How much usage the device gets?

If you use your NVD less than 500h / year (40 hours / 6 nights a month) – does it really matter if the tube lasts 7 000h or 14 000 hours? 

For example – most Airsoft players use it less than 10 nights (60 hours) a year. How much you are willing to invest per hour? 

Our suggestions for monoculars (without going into detail)

PurposeScoutingMove & shootDominate other Gen2+Compete with Gen3Beat Gen3! YOLO!
RecommandationSiriusN-14GT-14 Photonis CommercialPVS-14LTE Photonis ECHOPVS-14 Photonis 4G
Good light amplification
Decent resolution
Good price
Good light amplification
Decent resolution
Small size
Good optics
Reasonable price
Better light amplification
Better resolution
Small size
Good optics
A bit expensive, but worth it!
Great light amplification
Great resolution
Small size
Great optics
High min specs
Money comes and goes!
Superb light amplification
Great resolution
Small size
Great optics
Ultra fast autogating
Superb minimum specs
Manual Gain
Wide wavelength
ConsInferior optics
To big for helmet use
Mediocre resolution
Mediocre S/N ratio
Low minimum specs,
but mostly awesome tubes
Expensive as hell
Falconclaw’s score
for performance gain
on previous model
(on average)

You wanna learn more? Lets talk about optics and IITs (going into detail)

Optics and housing

Let’s start from housing / optics. There are different housings out there and Falcoclaw provides IITs with 4 different monocular housings (Sirius, N-14, GT-14 and PVS-14LTE).

Falconclaw’s score for optics:  Optics performance is a really important part of your NVD. In our opinion, N-14, GT-14 and PVS-14 have pretty similar quality while Sirius has lower optics performance. We have scored the optics of those devices in order to help you with your decision. It is important to point out that Sirius has fish-eye effect, which means that it is difficult to move around with this device without your head getting dizzy.

Weight: Gen2+ and Gen3 devices usually weight around 320-340g. Sirius weights 460g and therefore is not convenient to use with helmet, but is usable as a hand-held or weapon-mounted device.

Length: The shorter the device is, the more mobility you have.

Adapter: PVS-14 uses J-ARM to connect to helmet / headset. Sirius, N-14 and GT-14 uses standard night vision adapter (ATN, Armasight etc) to connect to helmet and headset.

Eye relief: Usually not specified, but really important attribute. Basically it measures what is the dimension of your eye sside optics. The higher the dimension, the bigger the “picture”.  When you are playing airsoft, then “screen size” is really important because you have protective glasses between the device and your eye and eye protection pushes your NVD further away.  Exactly like TV screen size. The further away you are the bigger screen you need. 

Falconclaw’s score for optics 4/10
Weight 460 g
Length 167 mm
Adapter Standard
Eye relief 21.5 mm
Manual gain N/A
Falconclaw’s score for optics 7/10
Weight 340 g
Length 117 mm
Adapter Standard
Eye relief 25 mm
Manual gain N/A
Falconclaw’s score for optics 8/10
Weight 320 g
Length 120 mm
Adapter Standard
Eye relief 25 mm
Manual gain N/A
Falconclaw’s score for optics9/10
Weight335 g
Length107 mm
Eye relief25 mm
Manual gainN/A
Good example how big difference optics can make.
IITs resolution, S/N ratio, sensitivity is same.

Image Intensifier Tube (IIT)

Everyone knows that Gen2+ IIT outperforms Gen1 without braking a sweat. This is due to the fact that in devices starting from Gen2+ you have MCP (Micro-channel plate) which amplifies electrons in addition to having better optics than Gen1.

But it is not a known fact that high-end Gen2+ IITs like Photonis 4G can even outperform a new and high FOM (2100+) Gen3’s in some environments!

What are the parameters to look for in NVD devices?

The ability of an image intensifier or night vision system to distinguish between objects close together. Image intensifier resolution is measured in line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm). Typically, the higher the line pair, the better the image resolution. Both higher quality Gen2+ and Gen 3 tubes generally have a resolution between 62 to 72 lp/mm, therefore line pair measurement does not indicate the generation of the tube. 

Photocathode Sensitivity
Photocathode sensitivity is a measure of how well the image intensifier tube converts light into an electronic signal so it can be amplified. The measuring units of photocathode sensitivity are micro- amps/lumen (?A/lm) or microamperes per lumen. 

Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR)
A measure of the light signal reaching the eye divided by the perceived noise as seen by the eye. A tube’s SNR determines the low light resolution of the image tube; therefore, the higher the SNR, the better the ability of the tube to resolve objects with good contrast under low-light conditions. Because SNR is directly related to the photocathode’s sensitivity and also accounts for phosphor efficiency and MCP operating voltage, it is the best single indicator of an image intensifier’s performance.

Figure of Merit (FOM)
Image Intensification tube specification designation, calculated on line pair per mm x signal to noise. (FOM=lp/mm * SNR).

Autogated offer the tube better protection and preventing resolution loss in high light conditions.

Black & White Image (White Phosphor, WP)
By using a different kind of phosphor (P45) the image looks like a black & white picture in high definition. For some people these seem to work better than for others. Personal preference.

Standard Gen2+

By Standard Gen2+ we consider regular Gen2+ tubes. There are a lot of vendors who provide devices with standard tubes like Armasight, ATN etc.

Usually you will get a decent device with resolution 45-55 lp/mm, sensitivity around 450-550 ua/lm, SN ratio between 20-22 and EBI around 0.15.

In our opinion – those tubes are decent tubes to use in Airsoft and give you huge advantage against players without or with Gen1 NVD.

Standard Gen2+ devices are not Autogated.

Products we provide with Standard IITs:

IIT specifications for Standard Gen2+
Luminance sensitivity 2850 K.350500/
Resolution center3250/
Signal to noise ratio1220/
Equiv. Background illumin./0.15/

Super-ish Gen2+ Photonis Commercial

Then there are Photonis Commercial tubes. They are too good to be considered as Standard Gen2+, but due to low minimal specification requirements, we can not categorise them into Super Gen2+ category. 

Even though we have never seen a Commercial IIT that has FOM below 1100, due to low minimal requirements (min fom 380), you can never be sure. If certainty is important, then you should consider ECHO. If budget is limited, going for Photonis Commercial you can always be sure that this devices is enough for Airsoft and is better than Standard Gen2+. 

Usually the resolution is round 55-65 lp/mm, sensitivity around 500-650 ua/lm, SN ratio between 20-22 and EBI around 0.15. 

We provide Photonis Commercial in GT-14 housing.

Photonis Commercial devices are not Autogated. 

GT-14 Photonis Commercial Green:

GT-14 Photonis Commercial White:

IIT specifications for Photonis Commercial:
Luminance sensitivity 2850 K.270570/
Resolution center3260/
Signal to noise ratio1221/
Equiv. Background illumin./0.15/

Super Gen2+ Photonis ECHO

With Photonis ECHO tubes you can already be sure about their high quality. Minimum FOM is 1500.

Photonis ECHO devices come in reality from XR5 and 4G production line. The main difference between ECHO and 4G / XR5 is that ECHO did not met the high quality standards that 4G and XR5 has, but when using those devices in Airsoft, you can hardly tell the difference.

Why not go for 4G or XR5? Simple – hey cost 2x more than ECHO. If your life depends on NVD performance, you should pay 2 times more for higher quality specs, but for Airsoft the difference in specs is very small compared to difference in price. 

We provide Photonis ECHO that is Produced by ACT. ACT is leading Night Vision monocular and binocular producer in Europe. 

Usually the resolution is round 57-70 lp/mm, sensitivity around 500-700 ua/lm, SN ratio between 24-28 and EBI around 0.12.

Photonis ECHO devices are Autogated.

ACT PVS-14LTE  ECHO white:

IIT: Photonis ECHO
Parameter Min Average Max
Luminance gain (at 20 μlx) 8000 / 12000
FOM 1500 1625 1800
Resolution center 57 64 74
Signal to noise ratio 24 25 /
Equiv. Background illumin. / 0.12 /

Questions? Something does not make sense?

Please feel free to contact us in Facebook Chat below. If some of your questions remain unanswered, please ask. Based on your questions we will update the guide and help everyone to get better understanding about Night Vision. 

Best wishes,

(a Night Vision fan like You)