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Night Vision Gen 1 vs Gen 2 vs Gen 3 – All You Need to Know

Night Vision Gen 2 vs Gen 3
Written by Erik Himmel

­Since its invention, night vision has come a long way. Currently, it comes with three separate generation classifications. It is defined by the specific image intensifier tube made for night vision devices.

Image intensifier tubes are a vacuum-sealed tube which contains a photocathode, microchannel plate, with a phosphor screen that enables at night.

Night vision technology was conceived in the early 1960s, with the invention of the Gen 1-night vision. Gen 1 is still pretty common because of its affordability. However, we can question the range, resolution, and the versatility of the Gen 1 when compared with other later generations.

Gen 1 also relies heavily on built-in illuminators just like top-notch flashlights. But this time they are invisible to the naked eye, which also make the user seen by others with night vision technology.

Night Vision Generations: Everything You Need to Know


What Makes a Generation?

A generation is simply measured by the quality of the output of the night vision. The part which is most know for the quality output is the photo-multiplier tube—they are also known as the Image Intensification Tube (IIT)

Subsequently, when the device catches the little available light, they arrive through the objective lens and hits the photocathode. The photocathode changes the light further into photons to electrons. This photocathode part changes light into a piece of usable electronic information for the night vision device.

However, these electronic signals need amplification and acceleration for them to be valuable. The photo-multiplier does this. The tube amplifies, speeds up, and changes the electronic signals into an image that is clear enough to be visible through the ocular lens.

The advances in multipliers define each generation. Hence, later generation produces better and clearer images than the variant prior, and also defines the price of each.

Night Vision Generation 2 Explained

Gen 1 is a popular option in civil operation. However, the major difference between Gen 1 and Gen 2 is the introduction of the microchannel plate to the apparatus.

The microchannel plate is the component of the IIT system that has a multitude of individual photons-detectors and amplification passage. Instead of having a few channels which work at once, you can have efficient night vision.

Also, depending on the model, they create visuals of more than 200 yards, and when they are compared to generation 1, they show better, cleaner, and brighter images. Importantly, you can use them without IR illumination.

As they create a bright image, there is no part of the image that is distorted, especially in the outer area that in earlier generations would produce distorted images. If the battery is your concern, the battery life of the Gen 2 goes way longer than the gen two and is not prone to “blooming” the way they are in others.

If you can afford to get a gen two-night vision, then it is worth it. Even though they are pricier than Gen 1, Gen 2 shows more promises for effective night vision.

Night Vision Generation 3 Explained

The Gen 3 distances itself in terms of quality, from the rest. Just like Gen 2, Gen 3 comes with a similar microchannel plate. However, the microchannel comes with an upgrade. The Gen 3’s night vision photocathodes, holds a layer of gallium arsenide.

The crystalline chemical layer of structure does a better job of semiconducting the basic photocathodes. Hence, Gen 3’s upgraded photocathodes are even better and can transfer a higher quality of electronic signal.

The extra ion barrier on the Gen 3’s microchannel plate shows something spectacular. They do not just extend the lifespan of the night vision, but they limit the amount of electric signal obstruction that might mitigate the efficient usage of your night vision.

The Difference Between Each Generation

night vision gen 2 vs gen 3: differences, latest, upgrades

The best night vision device on the market is the Gen 3. They have a better resolution than the Gen 2 and show a cleaner and brighter image. The Gen 3, not only wops the Gen 2 in the quality of the images it produces, but also in the range of sight, of more than 300 yards while the Gen 2 boasts, a meager 200 yards.

The life expectancy of Gen 3 and Gen 2 also is no match. While a generation 3 owner, expects their device to last more than 10, 000 hours, the Gen 2 owner can only hold on for only about five thousand hours.

The Gen 3 and the Gen 2 boasts similar layers of photocathodes, but the Gen 4, boasts an upgrade with a layer of photocathodes. Furthermore, the Gen 3 night vision devices cost more than the Gen 2, but considering the superior quality of the Gen 2 night vision, they are justifiable.

The gen three-night vision device is military-grade equipment and not for the casual user. If you intend to get one for yourself, the Gen 2 is what you need. But, if you do not mind the cost, and are looking for the ultimate experience, Gen 3 provides that.


Both Gen 3 and Gen 2 NVDs feature top-notch technology. However, the price difference justified by the quality difference will make for a head-scratching-pick.


Q. 1: Who Invented Night Vision?

Ans: After the Second World War, the earliest commercial night vision was invented by Vladimir K. Zworykin.

Q. 2: How Many Generations of Night Vision Are There

Ans: Night vision devices can either be 1st generation, 2nd generation, 3rd generation or 4th generation depending on

Q. 3: Does Night Vision Work in Total Darkness?

Ans: The digital intensifiers of night vision tubes are passive devices. They require the natural light from the sun, moon, and the stars for an image, hence they will not work effectively on cloudy nights and in total darkness.

Q. 4: Can Civilians Own NVGs?

Ans: Yes, you can own NVD gears like night vision binoculars or monoculars. However, depending on where you are, they are illegal to attach them to a gun or weapon.

Q. 5: What’s the Latest Generation of Night Vision?

Ans: The latest generation of night vision is the generation 3 device. However, there are others marketed as generation 4. But they not hold a substantial upgrade to be considered generation 4

About the author

Erik Himmel

A Part-Time Firearm Instructor

Hi, this is Erik. We all know firearms are dangerous, but only when one doesn’t know how to use and care for them. I have 15+ years of experience with different types of guns and for the last 10 years, I have taught numerous people how to hold and shoot a gun while staying safe and keeping the surroundings unharmed. My neighbors are some of my biggest admirers who enjoy talking to me about their guns, firearms safety and maintenance.

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