Night Vision Scope Vs Thermal Scope – Which One is Best?

Night Vision Scope Vs Thermal Scope

Isn’t it amazing that technology has allowed us to perform nighttime activities excellently? But, what if a person is unable to make good use of them? There is a vast variety of night vision devices that are used for hunting, security, photography, exploration, etc. Though these products serve the same basic purpose, many features are still different from each other such as construction and magnification.

Night vision scope and thermal scope are also of these devices. Both of them differ in multiple aspects including parts, cost, and functioning. One scope that works perfectly in a certain situation might fail in another. Selection of the best option between these will save your day and lead to the successful completion of a certain task. I hope you will find this article helpful and comprehensive.

Night Vision Scope Vs. Thermal Scope

Table of Contents

Main Differences

Build up

One of the awesome pieces of equipment for improving vision at night is the night vision scope. It consists of a black metal body, mostly aluminum or an alloy of aluminum. It has a characteristic matte finish. Companies manufacture it in this way since there is the least chance of attracting the attention of prey animals.

Mirrors or protective lenses are present at the edges. These are called the optical parts of the scope. Another feature that exists in this tool is the Infrared illuminator, which emits light in the IR spectrum. Night vision scopes are made compatible with rifles or pistols as well as with telescopic devices.

On the other hand, thermal scopes are built in a similar fashion as night vision scopes but have some added specifications. The most important component of this device is a sensor for thermal imaging. Moreover, the optics involve mirrors and lenses. They ensure balanced transmission of heat and function to minimize noise. The housing system is highly water-resistant. Lastly, these scopes include a tube termed an image intensifier. The housing is mounted on this part. It facilitates the construction of bright and high-resolution images.

Light Source

In the case of night vision scope, some light source is required in the environment one is using this scope. This can be dim moonlight or the light coming from a nearby facility. On the contrary, the other type of scope does not require any kind of light source and can perform perfectly in the pitch dark.


A night vision scope employs complex technology. It carries out light amplification, which means the increase in the size of an object or living organism. It absorbs the IR light from the target. After this, the photoreceptor transforms all the absorbed light into electrons. A clear monochrome green image forms at the screen when these electrons strike the cathode present near the screen. Thus, in short, it works to zoom the vague and unclear image to a large picture in bright light. For all this to happen, not much energy is required.

The thermal scopes for night vision include two basic types of technologies: image enhancement and thermal detection of IR. Image enhancement involves the collection of the light at the sight and infrared light from objects. It is followed by the multiplication of absorbed radiations. This allows highly clear views. Image intensifier performs this crucial function. The sensors in thermal scope allow thermal imaging. Sensors absorb some heat that depends upon the amount of heat that living and nonliving bodies release. The image that forms is of bright green shade.

Magnifying Power

Usually, the night vision scopes have a magnification of a minimum of 3x and a maximum of 30x. It is adjustable according to the requirements of consumers. Most of the thermal scopes show optical magnification power of 5x to 8x. Thus, in this aspect night, vision scopes take the lead. However, one must consider the fact that zooming to a really high level can affect resolution negatively if there is a large distance.


Before choosing between these products, you must have sufficient knowledge about their suitability in different situations. To facilitate you in this aspect, I have compared their performance in some conditions. For hunters, two important factors are weather conditions and response from prey.

Though night vision scopes are made to resist water, there are high chances of damage to its parts if the weather is extreme. In this regard, thermal scopes are highly preferable since atmospheric conditions do not affect their functioning. Hence, you do not have to worry in case of thunderstorms, fog, or blizzards.

When it comes to a light source, you must only choose a night vision scope if there is some moonlight the day you are thinking of catching some prey and showing your hunting skills. However, you do not have to think about packing a thermal scope when all you observe is clouds. The same is the case if you are a passionate cave explorer.

night vision scope for hog hunting

In the case of animals, you might know that they exhibit multiple different reactions to different vision devices. Some of them will ignore it. They both are suitable for aiming at raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, rabbits, and hogs. For hogs, you have to be careful and maintain some distance since a closer look at them will notify them of someone’s presence. Night vision scopes are not suitable for foxes and deers. Actually, thermal scopes are better in detecting the prey, while for improved identification, one should choose the other scope.

Another crucial field where these devices are used is surveillance. Security officers commonly utilize these scopes. However, thermal scopes are better here due to their outstanding imagining in extreme weather. In addition, disaster management teams can find affected or injured people or animals more effectively through these heat imaging devices.

Examples of Night Vision and Thermal Scopes

Following are some examples of best night vision scopes and thermal scopes. They offer high-resolution pictures of objects and animals, include mount for rifle, and have considerable detection range. Also, you will notice that some of them offer better visibility in daylight too.


Special forces and the military use premium quality night vision scopes that are highly expensive. They have Generation 3 and Generation 4 devices that feature advanced technology functions. Also, these scopes are not available for civilians.

As deers can react to blue, yellow, white, and ultraviolet radiations, one should choose either red or green light. These colors are used by red hunting devices and thermal scopes respectively. These colors do not spook them away.


My stance in selecting between the two is that both are efficient in providing the output. However, thermal scopes are ideal for working in complete darkness and locating prey in thick woods. Also, the atmosphere does not affect their functioning. When it comes to zooming and recognizing the animal kind, night vision scopes are better.

If you have to purchase while considering the limited budget, then cheap night vision scope is a better choice. You will just have to be careful in not using them on rainy days; otherwise, they function well and will satisfy you. Thermal scopes are a better choice if a person is focusing more on advantages than cost. For professional hunters, I will suggest they might keep both of these scopes since they assist in their own ways.

Additional Questions

Which is superior: a thermal or night vision scope?

In my opinion, as an experienced user of both types of scopes, **thermal scopes have a clear edge when it comes to object detection** while **night vision scopes are unparalleled for object identification**. I prefer using a combination of the two – an ATN OTS Thermal monocular for detection and an ATN X-Sight 4K for identification and shooting. This method has proven its effectiveness time and again in various scenarios.

Is night vision capacity included in thermal scopes?

Yes, it is a common misconception that thermal scopes are only useful during the day. Quite contrary to that, **thermal scopes are highly versatile and can be effectively used both during the day and at night**. What sets them apart is their unique capacity to detect objects based on their heat signatures, making them useful for spotting concealed or camouflaged objects. Some of the newer models show images in color which further enhance their utility.

Do military personnel use night vision scopes?

As a former military specialist, I can confirm that **most soldiers are equipped with night vision devices**. These devices resemble binoculars and use image intensification technology to identify potential threats in darkness. There are also versions that function more like telescopes in their operational capacity.

Can a thermal scope function in broad daylight?

Yes, thermal scopes do not only function, but often excel when used during the day. But keep in mind that unless your device switches to color mode, which most newer models like Pulsar Digex C50 can, you might not want to use it during the day. This is because **the traditional two-color spectrum can restrict your vision to some extent during the day**. Nonetheless, their ability to spot objects based on heat signatures gives them an advantage over other types of scopes.