Night Vision vs Thermal: Which Is Right for You?

Thinking of buying a smart digital optic like those from ATN? How do you know if night vision or thermal is the way to go?

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Night Vision vs Thermal: Which Is Right for You?

Hunting with the use of night vision and thermal has gone mainstream as prices come down while hunters are realizing the tremendous benefits this technology offers. If you hunt at night for hogs, coyotes or other legal game, you might be thinking of diving into the high-tech waters — but how do you know if night vision or thermal makes the most sense for the kind of hunting you do?

Both technologies have advantages and disadvantages, and you’ll want to consider the pros and cons carefully before making a purchase. Thermal and night vision both allow you to “see in the dark,” but they do so by different means. Night vision harnesses ambient light — the light of the moon, the stars and other sources — and intensifies it to illuminate the image you see through the optic. Traditionally, this was a problem on moonless nights, but infrared illuminators now provide an invisible source of light any time. On the other hand, thermal “reads” heat, or more specifically, it reads differences in heat, so that the image generated is a sort of heat map. It can even see residual heat, like a recent handprint left on a vehicle. Because it reads heat, thermal imaging doesn’t require a totally clear line of sight, which means you can see game through fog, smoke, tall grass and brush. This is not possible with night vision.

What night vision has going for it is that it is often cheaper than thermal, and the fact that it allows you to see recognizable details of your target. On the other hand, thermal is great at long range detection but struggles with target recognizable details. Also, thermal performance relies on environmental conditions, and things like moisture and humidity reduce the performance of a thermal device. 

Thermal often has a farther detection range than night vision, and in many cases, it’s available in multi-color, whereas night vision is usually just black and white or that glowing green you’ve seen in military movies.


Two Great Scopes

If you’d like to start with a night-vision riflescope, check out the X-Sight models from ATN. Both the LTV and 4K Pro models in the X-Sight line feature Enhanced HD night-vision mode, and both offer ATN’s handy one-shot zero feature that makes sighting in fast and easy. Multiple reticle options are available in each scope, and a two-year warranty is included with both scopes as well. The 4K Pro is a smart digital optic, which means it has Bluetooth and wifi capability. You can record and live-stream video. The LTV also allows recording, but not live-streaming. It is more of an everything-you-need-and-nothing-you-don’t scope, simple to use right out of the box, and it retails starting at $599. For an extra $100, retailing starting at $699, the X-Sight 4K Pro includes handy features such as a ballistic calculator, a smart rangefinder, a smart mil-dot reticle, a profile manager, smooth zoom, and recoil-activated video.

While both scopes feature enhanced day/night vision, the LTV uses ATN’s cutting-edge QHD+ Day/Night sensor (2688x1944 ) while the 4K Pro uses the ATN Revolutionary Ultra HD Day/Night sensor (3864x2218). The upgraded sensor in the 4K Pro is higher-resolution and allows for a crisper, higher-quality image. The LTV uses ATN’s Obsidian LT Core, while the 4K Pro features the Obsidian IV Dual Core, which processes data more quickly, which is why this scope can perform multiple functions at once (such as streaming and recording). The LTV is a little smaller and lighter, but the 4K Pro has considerably better battery life. Both scopes offer excellent day and night performance. The 4K Pro will appeal to tech-savvy hunters who want loads of options and features. The LTV, with its smaller size and simple-to-use function, is ideal for those who just want to mount a scope and start hunting.

If thermal interests you, take a look at ATN’s ThOR line of thermal riflescopes. The ThOR LT 160 3-6X, for example, retails for just $899. As an entry-level thermal riflescope, it has a detection range of 475 yards, an HD display, ultra-low power consumption, and ATN’s Obsidian Core LT. The detection range, sensor quality, field of view and magnification range all improve as you move into more advanced units, like the ThOR 4 line, which starts at an MSRP of $1,799. Imagine how much better your nighttime hog hunting would be if you could clearly see your targets in the dark, hundreds of yards away, and use the on-board ballistic calculator, rangefinder and mil-dot reticle to make a good shot — recording and streaming the whole thing in high-def?

ATN's ThOR LT offers an affordable way to get into thermal hunting optics.
ATN's ThOR LT offers an affordable way to get into thermal hunting optics.

The ThOR LT and ThOR 4 lines are designed to fit and feel like traditional scopes, making your transition to thermal seamless. They’re easy to mount on standard 30mm rings, and a simple, intuitive design makes them easy to operate with minimal buttons and controls to worry about. You can even get most models in a variety of Mossy Oak camouflage patterns. With a battery life pushing 18 hours depending on the model, you can literally hunt all day and well into the night without worrying about a recharge.


Two Great Binos

If you’re in the market for binoculars, ATN has you covered there, too. The ATN BinoX 4K 4-16X is a “smart” ultra HD day/night-vision binocular with a laser rangefinder built in. It offers crisp black and white images, thanks to the ATN Obsidian Core and cutting-edge 4K Ultra HD sensor. During the day, that same technology offers clear, crisp, color images. The BinoX 4K weighs 2.5 pounds and offers 15+ hours of runtime on a single charge. A two-year warranty is included, and MSRP is just $899.

The BinoX 4T series, on the other hand, uses thermal technology rather than night-vision. It comes with your choice of two Gen 4 sensors (384x288 or 640x480) and three lenses (a 1.25-5X, a 2-8X and a 4.5-18X). Swap between black-and-white and color modes as you prefer, and take advantage of the infrared illuminator and 1,000-yard laser rangefinder. With an impressive 16+ hours of run time, you can hunt all day or all night without a recharge, and forget about single-use batteries. The BinoX 4T line uses an internal lithium ion battery that recharges via a USB. These binos weigh 2.5 pounds and have a three-year warranty. MSRP on the BinoX 4T starts at $2,699.

Both models are smart digital optics, which means ATN’s BIX (Ballistic Information Exchange) technology let the binoculars communicate with other ATN gear, including BIX-enabled riflescopes. Properly set up and utilized, this tech eliminates holdover by adjusting your optics according to the distance measured by the built-in laser rangefinder. No app needed! Both models can also record video in full HD, and you can live-stream and record to a micro SC card at the same time. The day/night-vision model even offers 120 fps slow-motion video — the only digital binocular on the market to do so.

Though thermal and night vision both have advantages and disadvantages, both can be very useful tools to the hunter and land manager. Many hunters will eventually land on thermal as their top choice based on its ability to “see” through fog and foliage, which is a tremendous advantage when searching for game. On the other hand, night-vision is more affordable and provides more recognizable details of the target, which might be a priority for hunters in certain locales. Either way, you won’t go wrong with a night-vision or thermal scope or binocular from ATN.


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