Night vision has made much progress in the decades since its development, most notably in the launching of the Gen 3 Night Vision White Phosphor. Currently, existing devices can be divided into three generations based on the type of image intensifier tube utilized in the night vision equipment.
An image intensifier tube (in technical words) is a vacuum-sealed tube that contains a photocathode, a microchannel plate, and a рhоѕрhоr screen, which gives the device night vision features. In layman’s words, the image intensifier tube is what allows for night vision.
Night vision technology stretches back to the early 1960s with the invention of Gen 1 night vision. Because of its low cost, Gen 1 night vision is still common today but lacks the range, resolution, and versatility of succeeding generations.
Gen 1 additionally uses built-in infrared illuminators (similar to flashlights but invisible to the human eye), which make the user visible to others using night vision equipment.
FLIR manufactures night vision equipment for generations 2 and 3 (including the Gen 3 Night Vision White Phosphor). These versions represent a significant improvement over the 1st generation of night vision equipment; Gen 2 devices perform substantially better than Gen 1 devices. For comparative reasons, we’ve emphasized the difference between Gen 2 and 3 Image Intensification.
Generation 2 night vision devices provide a clear, bright image with good clarity and a range of up to two hundred yards, depending on the model. They may work passively (without using an IR illuminator), have a full visual field (no distorted image on the outer 1/3 of the viewing area similar to Gen 1), and are not as vulnerable to “blooming” (image distortion produced by strong lighting) as Gen 1 devices. A Gen 2 device has a life expectancy of roughly 5,000 hours.
The finest night vision on the market right now is Generation 3, and this includes the Gen 3 Night Vision White Phosphor. The best resolution, clearest and brightest images, low-light performance, and reliability/durability are found in Gen 3 devices. The range is 300+ yards depending on the model, and Gen 3 night vision is ideal for functioning without the use of IR illumination in covert operations. A Gen 3 device has a life expectancy of 10,000 hours or more.
Various grades/types of night vision are available within the Gen 2 and 3 classifications. Below are a few key ones to remember:
Gen 3 Auto-gated (3AG and 3F)
All Gen 3 products are cutting-edge technology, but Gen 3 Auto-gated is what the US Military and Special Forces utilize. It provides some of the most advanced night vision available today. Auto-gated Gen 3 image tubes operate in all lighting circumstances and resist “blooming,” or image distortion induced by bright lights. This enables greater performance in urban situations or anywhere artificial lights, like vehicle lights or flashlights, are present.
FLIR sells Gen 3 auto-gated devices (3AG) and Gen 3 filmless auto-gated IIT (3F), which competitors sometimes advertise as Gen 4. FLAG devices eliminate the ion film barrier within the picture tube, leading to sharper imagery, increased light sensitivity, and less halo effect surrounding strong lights.
White Phosphor Technology (2QS and 3G)
White Phosphor Technology (WPT) generates black and white pictures rather than the more familiar green and black and is increasingly used in the military and law enforcement. FLIR sells WPT as Gen 2 Quick Silver (2QS) and Gen 3 Ghost (3G). It is significantly more costly than typical night vision, but it offers the advantage of producing more natural-looking images and delivering higher contrast in some conditions.
The White Phosphor tube employs a P-45 phosphor screen, producing a coloring closer to black and white pictures. This color change has been reported to enhance overall object recognition while providing contrast sensitivity equivalent to the green phosphor. Users have observed using white phosphor produces a brighter image and higher contrast in nighttime scenes. White light reduces eye tiredness, which is important for long-term use.
Gen 3 Alpha (3A)
Gen 3A devices aren’t as advanced as Gen 3AG or 3F, but they function better and have cleaner image tubes than standard Gen 3 devices.
Gen 2 (SD, ID, HD)
FLIR Gen 2 devices come in a multitude of grades, including 2HD (High Definition) and 2QS (Quality Standard) (White Phosphor).
Manual Gain (MG)
Some FLIR Gen 2 devices feature a Manual Gain Adjustment, a control knob that allows the user to increase or decrease the image’s brightness. Increasing the Manual Gain too much may cause the image to become grainy.
Gen IV: When Gen III tubes were upgraded with a gated power supply and used un-filmed or thin filmed photocathodes, the producers attempted to designate these improvements as Gen IV image intensifiers.
However, the Department of Defense didn’t consider these advancements significant enough to warrant the creation of a new Gen IV category. Nonetheless, some manufacturers continue to utilize the Gen IV designation as a marketing tactic to charge more for the same Gen III picture intensifiers already available at a far reduced cost from other manufacturers.
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