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What to get? Night Vision, Thermal or both?

We often get asked "What should I get? Night Vision, Thermal or both?". So we figured a blog post is in order, but if you don't want to read through the entire post and money is not a concern, BOTH is the short answer and IT DEPENDS - on your budget and envelope of applications - is the more nuanced answer, at least in our view.

As always, please note that the experiences and requirements that our decisions are based on might substantially differ from yours.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Night Vision (and why you should probably get it first)

Before diving into it, let's be clear on terminology and what we mean when we talk about night vision. For the purposes of this blog post, when referring to night vision, we are talking about traditional analog night vision devices (i.e. the green or white phosphorus tubes inside of various formats of monocular or binocular housings that all the cool guys use). 

 Image Source: CNN

To understand the advantages and disadvantages of night vision we must first understand what night vision actually does, which - without getting lost in the technical weeds - essentially is amplifying light and enabling us to see in conditions that we would normally not be able to see in.

So obviously, the biggest advantage of night vision is that we can see at night (or in other low light conditions) without having to use a white light source such as flashlight. While this is stating the obvious, the advantage of being able to see at night and being able to essentially do everything that we can do during the day is so profound, that, especially for the sake of readers that may not have any experience with night vision, it deserves to be emphasized.

The capability to see at night is especially advantageous when it comes to maneuvering. As long as we are in a fixed position we can illuminate our surroundings with white light sources (i.e. flashlights, spotlights or illumination rounds) and (while still at a disadvantage) won't be completely outclassed by an opponent that utilizes night vision. That said, things change quite dramatically as soon as we have to venture outside of our fixed positions and have to maneuver. If we are forced to utilize a white light sources while maneuvering, an opponent, whether equipped with night vision capabilities or not, will see us coming from "miles" away, will be able to track our movement and will have the ability to react to it without us knowing. If we however have night vision capabilities, we are able to maneuver in a stealthy manner, essentially just as we would during the day.

Without jumping too far ahead, thermals, which - again without getting lost in the  technical weeds - produce an image based on temperature differences of the objects being observed, are generally not as good as night vision when it comes to maneuvering rapidly, as thermals may not always produce a thermal image with sufficient information to so. For context, when temperature differences between objects are not large enough they may appear as one and/or their outlines may not be clearly distinguishable (imagine a stick, rock or small hole having the same temperature as the rest of the ground). Furthermore, when one object within the thermal image is very hot or very cold, the other objects may fade into the background and be harder to make out. 

In terms of disadvantages, as we have already outlined, night vision amplifies light meaning it requires at least some residual light to effectively work and is rendered ineffective in complete darkness. While this can be mitigated through the use of an IR emitter such as an IR laser or light, our IR emission would be visible to opponents that are also using night vision, effectively negating the benefits of night vision that we have outlined thus far. Again without jumping too far ahead, thermals, are not subject to any limitations around light conditions.

Another disadvantage of night vision is that it can not see through smoke or dust, neither of which affects thermals. Furthermore, while night vision technology has come a long way, detecting stationary and well concealed opponents can be more difficult than during the day. Detecting opponents using a thermal is generally significantly easier. 

So why do we recommend to buy night vision first? If we can only have one, in our view the ability night vision gives us to maneuver rapidly at night, is generally more valuable than a thermal's superior detection ability. While we would choose a thermal over night vision if we know we will only be in a fixed position, any position, as defensible it may seem, could become unsustainable requiring us to maneuver away from it, at which point night vision is what we would prefer to have.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Thermal (and why you should probably get it second) 

Before diving deeper into thermals, we first have to understand what they do, which - without getting lost in the technical weeds -, essentially is producing an image based on temperature differences of the objects being observed.

As we have already outlined, thermals have an advantage over night vision devices when it comes to seeing through smoke and dust and using them in no light as well as daylight conditions. That said, in our view, the by far biggest advantage thermals have are their unparalleled detection capabilities at any range. While it can be just as hard (or harder) to detect a stationary opponent that is well camouflaged using night vision as it is during the day, it is significantly easier to do so with thermals. Yes, sufficient thermal barriers can also conceal an opponent from detection, however, it is substantially harder for an opponent to achieve and maintain this level of concealment, especially when on the move. Furthermore, thermals often feature additional features such as digital zoom or onboard video recording.

In terms of disadvantages, thermals can not see through glass, which especially in more urban environments can be an issue and is a limitation night vision does not have. Additionally, while thermals excel at target detection, target identification can be more difficult versus with night vision, as the thermal image displayed will not show the same level of detail of a night vision image of for example faces or uniforms. Furthermore, thermals tend to have a significantly shorter battery life than night vision and tend to require us to carry a large amount of spare batteries depending on the expected usage duration. That said, the biggest disadvantage of thermals, at-least in our view, is that they are not as conducive to conduct rapid movement as night vision, as previously outlined.

As such, we recommend acquiring a thermal device only after having already acquired a night vision device, unless we know that we will only be operating from a fixed position. One thing to note is that the technology behind thermal devices is advancing rapidly and their capabilities, such as battery life, image detail and clarity, are constantly improving.

Advantages of having both (and why we are broke)

Ultimately, however, combining thermal and night vision capabilities is ideal as it gives us the best of both worlds and money permitting acquiring both is what we recommend. 

In next week's blog post we will explore the different types of thermal devices available in the marketplace today and explore the various ways in which we can combine thermal and night vision devices.

We hope you found this blog post helpful, if you did, give us a follow on Facebook and Instagram for more to come. 

The Woven Apogee Team
About Woven Apogee
Image Source: Woven Apogee
Woven Apogee is a boutique gear developer based out of Toronto, Canada. As end-users ourselves, we focus on identifying gaps in the product offerings currently available in the marketplace and strive to fill these gaps through bespoke solutions. If you want to have a look at our product offering just click here.

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