Rex Reviews Night Vision and Thermal Scopes

BY Herschel Smith
2 weeks, 5 days ago

I confess that I know little to nothing about the difference between thermal and night vision scopes. If some enterprising reader would like to give me a rundown of the advantages/disadvantages of each with the basics of operation, that would be welcome.

Also, in all of my [without a doubt several dozen] readers, surely someone has purchased and used an Arken Optics scope.

What do you think of them? Rex seems to like them, especially for the price point. I’m asking for a friend.

If Arken wants to send me one for review for my next deer and hog hunting trip, I’ll be happy to oblige.

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  1. On June 5, 2024 at 6:09 am, ZERO[F2G] said:

    I have 2 Arken scopes, and I am hoping to acquire their day/night scope in the coming months. For the money they cannot be beat. Their are dozens of comparisons from Rex and others pitting them against a few other budget optics such as Primary Armsas well as some very expensive high end models. And the Arken either wins or comes in equal on nearly every test.

    I also have two shooting companions that also use them. Before their popularity exploded shipping was fast, now their sales are sky rocketing and they are a small team and they ship based on order placement as stock comes in. Took 2 months to get my last one, but well worth the wait in my opinion.

  2. On June 5, 2024 at 8:42 am, Pat H. Bowman said:

    On the recommendation of Mr. Rex, I ordered an early SH-4 scope a few years back. I figured, for under $400, what was there to lose. Boy, was I surprised. The glass is perfectly fine for my use out to 1000 yards, and the tracking–which is arguably more important–is spot on. When I dial 8.2 Mils, I get 8.2 Mils. The glass is as good or better than the higher end Athlon scopes that I have that I paid 2-3x for, and I would say 85-90% as good as my friends Zeiss (a $2K scope). I’ve looked through Nightforce, Leopold 5s, high end Vortex, and the Arken is not quite as good, but it would really only matter in the last 10 minutes of daylight. I ordered another SH-4 when they were blowing them out last year, still love it. My only real criticism of the SH-4 is that it’s heavy. They’ve lightened up the SH-5 and now have the lightweight hunter versions, which I would assume you would be more interested in. I have the SH-4s on precision rifles, so I’m not as concerned about the weight.

    Based on Rex’s recent review, I just ordered the Zulus digital night vision scope. I’m very curious to see how it does. I just picked up a PVS-14 analog night vision rig, and it is an amazing force multiplier. I was looking into thermal to augment the PVS-14, but that’s another $2,500+. I figured I’d gamble $500 on the Zulus and see if it will work for my use case. I’m taking a course with NC Scout in a few weeks; I am really hoping the Zulus will arrive before then so I can take it with me and compare to his thermal collection.

    Quick rundown of night vision: Analog night vision–NODs, Night Observation Devises– (eg. PVS-14) is for movement. You get a wide field of view, 1:1 magnification and analog light intensification. Hard to PID targets beyond 50 yards, but you can see them. Ideally, once you spot a target with your analog, you would switch to thermal or what I hope to do, the Zulus for PID and engagement. Thermal is harder to hide from in the woods, but not impossible. Analog NV can be defeated by camo. Hog hunters love thermal because the pigs make a great heat signature, so you just engage directly. Though if you’re tramping a ways in, having NODs makes it possible to move without external light. To truly own the night, you need layers of tech, and a deep pocketbook. But, it’s where we’re at right now.

  3. On June 5, 2024 at 9:17 am, Herschel Smith said:

    According to what I can ascertain from the Arken web site, they have a heavier version (SH4) 6X24 FFP for $440 which comes in at 36.6 oz. (with a larger tube at 34 mm), and a lighter scope called the ELP which is also 6X24 FFP for $440 which comes in at 23.7 oz. intended for hunters. It’s a 30 mm tube.

  4. On June 5, 2024 at 12:50 pm, Steven Y. said:

    A couple of things to be aware of regarding both types.

    NODs and NVGs require some source of light…IR or low level ambient to work by light amplification. And they aren’t much use if it’s daylight and you’re outside.

    Thermals detect temperature differences between objects, so they function just fine in complete darkness or bright daylight. Better at night when everything is usually cool except for the things moving around in the dark. But it’s also useful to determine which vehicle has just pulled up with a hot engine during the day.

  5. On June 5, 2024 at 1:20 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    @Steven Y,

    Yes, that’s my understanding (limited though it may be). NV scopes work by ambient lighting. If there is none, your equipment has limited or no usefulness. Thermal works by delta-T.

  6. On June 5, 2024 at 2:24 pm, Georgiaboy said:

    The earliest night-vision technology, in military use, dates back to the Second World War, when the Germans and Americans both fielded early versions of this equipment.

    The Germans equipped some Panther tanks with infrared projectors/spotlights and the means for visualizing IR-illuminated targets, which saw service late in the war. Including some at the Ardennes campaign, “Battle of the Bulge,” as well as in the defense of Germany in the last few months of the war. They also had a small-arms NV system called Zielger├Ąt 1229, nicknamed “Vampir,” which saw limited action atop MP43/StG44 assault rifles.

    Both systems utilized an IR spotlight or illuminator as well as the detector/scope itself.

    The U.S. Army and Marine Corps fielded early night-vision equipped M-1 Carbines on Okinawa in 1945, where they were used for night-time interdiction of Japanese attempting to move about at night on the battlefield. Like the German system, it utilized an illuminator and scope as separate components.

    By the time of the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army had standardized their NVG such that their scout-snipers could operate at night using starlight scopes, as well as during daylight hours. The top-scoring sniper of the war, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Bert Waldron, scored many of his confirmed kills in this manner.

    “Active” night-vision is that which utilizes some sort of IR spotlight or illumination, whereas “passive” refers to systems which can utilize ambient light ~ even small amounts of it ~ sufficient to provide an image without an external source of IR light.

    This distinction is potentially important tactically, since if your adversary possesses night-vision or IR gear, he can see your illumination or IR spotlight, which points back to its point of origin.

    Infra-red sensing does not depend upon emitted light in that portion of the spectrum, per se, but instead upon differences in temperature, i.e., emitted radiation as heat. Since IR systems sense heat, they can be used during the daytime as well as at night.

    If no IR/NV gear is available, or the environment is non-permissive as to their use, then the old methods still work. The human eye can function well in conditions of low light, in particular if one goes to the trouble to do it often-enough to develop some expertise and experience. Conventional optics, if they possess the requisite resolution and light-gathering capability, can be useful in low-light conditions.

    The old-school way to conduct military operations at night is via the use of parachute flares dropped by aircraft or illumination rounds from naval or land-based artillery, mortars, or hand-held flare guns.

    And if your enemy has NVGs and you don’t – there are a variety of ways of spoofing, defeating or confusing such technology.

    The scuttlebutt is that these advanced forms of technology are now showing up routinely in the hands not just of soldiers and cops, but the drug cartels and other top-end criminal organizations now possess them, as do many of the Islamic terrorist/jihad groups.

    As IR/NV become ubiquitous, learning to neutralize/defeat (when necessary) it will become a matter of paramount importance.

  7. On June 5, 2024 at 2:29 pm, Georgiaboy said:

    Arken Optics are a good value for the money. Their written instructions on how to set-up/use their elevation & zero-stop left a bit to be desired IMO, but a quick phone call or two fixed that and their customer service/tech support was to-notch. I own a couple of high-end scopes, and Arken compares favorably to them – delivering 90-95% of their functionality and quality at substantially less financial outlay.

  8. On June 5, 2024 at 10:39 pm, Dan said:

    Both have specific advantages. Thermal is generally better at finding and identifying things. NV is better at general activity. You can identify what your looking at. With thermal you see heat signatures. And thermal resolution is generally less than NV resolution. With both you get what you pay for. Going for inexpensive always results in disappointment.

  9. On June 7, 2024 at 6:26 am, TampaMan said:

    I have the Zulus and think it is an incredible value. I’ve had it on a bolt 308, 300 BLK AR, bolt 300 BLK and a 10/22 plinker.

    Backyard plinking with cci standard velocity 22 + can + Zulus is good as a day time backyard rig for short ranges. There are a lot of videos of Brits using them to eradicate rats with pellet guns such that the 5X native zoom still works at relatively short ranges.

    The one shot setup is good. I don’t bother linking it to my phone. The freeze frame is a cool feature. Shoot, navigate to the menu and then align the crosshair to the intended point of impact and push the button to freeze the frame. Then adjust to the point of impact and save.

  10. On June 7, 2024 at 8:52 am, Dindo said:

    Passive night vision can see thru glass(vehicle windshields). Thermal cannot see through glass(unless it is Germanium). Movement=NVD(PVS-14), Scanning for heat=Thermal.

    Make sure the device is recoil rated. Both can be mounted in front of a low power scope.
    Thermals have a refresh “stutter”, the picture freezes for a second. Fast movement is difficult.

    NVDs are analog, there is no delay. Running, driving, flying, shooting and moving is easy with PRACTICE.

    Get GEN3 analog tubes first, then get a 640 thermal. PRICELESS.

  11. On June 16, 2024 at 2:43 pm, Pat H. Bowman said:

    My Zulus arrived last week and I thought I’d post my initial thoughts on it in case anyone is interested. It seems like a well build optic. Smaller and lighter than I expected, which is nice. Typically (for Arken) solid mount. Daytime image is quite good at 5x, decent up to about 12x and gets pretty pixelated past that. Still usable, but not fantastic. Zeroing, while somewhat poorly documented, is really easy and usable. Took me 4 rounds to get an acceptable, repeatable zero. The multi-color, multi-reticle feature is nice. You’ll find something you like.

    Night capability is wholly dependent on the illuminator. This is OK from a hunting perspective, however in a tactical situation, it is a spotlight indicating your position to others with NODs. There is now quick way to switch the IR on/off without shifting grip.That said, the IR illuminator is crazy powerful. I have line of sight to a couple hundred yards, and it works at least that far. The other downside is the illuminator will illuminate anything on the front of your gun, say a laser aiming module, and splash that IR all over the front of the lens making it useless. It took me some time to figure out how to mount the LAM and a white light so the IR ilum is still useful.

    Overall, for the money, it’s solid. I’m still weighing the pros/cons of the IR illuminator from a tactical standpoint. I think it has a place in a layered NV system, even if a stopgap until I can save up for a good thermal. YMMV, FWIW.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Guns and was published June 4th, 2024 by Herschel Smith.

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