Thermal Scope vs Night Vision Scope – Which One is Better?

What is the difference between a thermal imaging scope and a night vision scope?

ATN X-Sight II - Day & Night Scope
ATN ThOR HD 640 Smart Thermal Riflescope With Image Stabilization

We have put this page together to help you choose between a thermal imaging rifle scope and a night vision rifle scope - these scopes are very different and depending upon your needs and budget you want to ensure you select the proper scope. We have put together our top 3 thermal imaging scopes as well as top 3 night vision scopes along with some of their most popular features to help you decide. We have also created a quick reference table to help you select the best type of scope for you needs. 

Additionally, we have added many more details and information about each type of scope so that you can ensure you are selecting the best scope that may even be a DIY solution which is very new to the market.

Our Top 3 Thermal Imaging Scopes:


BEST PREMIUM

ATN ThOR HD 640 Smart 5x50 Thermal Riflescope

$$$$

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    640x480 Resolution
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    Ballistic Calculator
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    Smooth Zoom
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    WiFi Streaming
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    Recoil Activated Video
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    Laser Range Finder
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    HD Video Recording
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    IOS & Android Apps

BEST OVERALL

ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Riflescope

ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart 4.5x18 Thermal Riflescope

$$$

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    640x480 Resolution
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    Ballistic Calculator
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    Smooth Zoom
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    WiFi Streaming
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    Recoil Activated Video
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    Laser Range Finder
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    HD Video Recording
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    IOS & Android Apps

LEAST EXPENSIVE

Armasight Predator 336 Thermal Riflescope

Armasight Predator 336 2-8x25 Thermal Riflescope

$$

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    640x480 Resolution
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    FLIR Tau 2 VOx Microbolometer
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    LED VGA Display

Our Top 3 Night Vision Scopes:


BEST PREMIUM 

Armasight Nemisis 6x-SD Night Vision Riflescope

Armasight Nemisis 6x-SD Gen 2 Night Vision Riflescope

$$$$

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    6X Magnification
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    Water Resistant
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    Picatinny Mount
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    60 Hour Battery Life
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    Gen 2 Night Vision

BEST VALUE SCOPE

ATN Gen 2 Night Arrow 4-2 Night Vision Riflescope

$$$

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    Water And Fog Resistant
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    Light And Compact Design
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    Gen 2 Night Vision

LEAST EXPENSIVE

Sightmark Photon XT Digital Night Vision Riflescope

Sightmark Photon XT Digital Night Vision Rifles​​​​cope

$$$

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    33% Longer Battery Life
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    4.6X Manification
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    30% Lighter Than Other Digital Scopes
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    Reasonable Price

Our Quick Selection Guide:

Still Not Sure Which Scope Is Right For You?

If you are still not sure which rifle scope is right for you and your unique situation we have put together a comprehensive list of the features, pros, and cons of thermal imaging rifle scopes and night vision rifle scopes - read on to find out which one is best for you!


Thermal Imaging vs Night Vision Scopes?

First we need to understand what the difference is between night vision and thermal imaging. Many of people think they are the same thing however they are most definitely not. Night vision scopes and other devices amplify visible light (even if there is only a very small amount) allowing you to see in very dark environments however if there is no light then you will see nothing with a night vision scope as there has to be at least some light to amplify.

Thermal imaging on the other hand detects thermal energy or radiation that objects radiate and shows the difference in temperature variations in different colors. This allows the viewer to see animals in complete darkness. Thermal imaging will even allow you to see “through” certain objects such as dense foliage or fog and detect animals or people that may be hiding. This is one of the reasons that thermal imagers are gaining increasing popularity with law enforcement officials and security department

Night Vision Scope Image

Night vision Scopes will produce a clearer image which helps in recognizing the type of animal you are hunting provided there is enough light. A Thermal Imaging Scope however will allow you to spot the game much easier. While thermal imaging technology has come a long way and the imaged are much clearer night vision still holds the edge in details provided. Because of this if you are primarily hunting game from long distances and need to able to identify it then a night vision scope is your best choice.

You also need to be mindful of what generation of night vision technology your rifle scope is using. While night vision has been around since the time of world war 2 there have been several improvements as newer, cheaper, and better technology has lead to continued image improvement. The newer the generation of technology the more expensive your night vision scope is going to be; which is why you see some night vision scopes for less than $300 and some for more than $3,000. There are currently 3 levels of night vision available, some will argue that there are 4. The takeaway here is the generation one is the least expensive and generation 3/4 is the most expensive, this is what the military uses. The differences between the generations is an entire page itself however the best rule of thumb is that it best to at least try to go for generation 2 as the quality is much closer to generation 3 and huge step up from generation 1. Generation 3 is the most expensive and should be considered if you will be routinely shooting long distances (300 yards plus) and operating in very low light situations.

While thermal imaging scopes in the past have not been nearly as durable as night vision scopes many people have gone with a night vision scope now however they thermal imaging scopes are as durable as night vision scopes.

What Kind Of Environment Will You Be Hunting In?

Depending upon the environment that you will be in a thermal imaging scope may make more sense than a night vision scope and vice versa. Extreme cold can make make a thermal imaging scope not function properly; additionally if you are in a shelter to stay out of the cold you will not be able to use your thermal imaging through the glass you will need to go outside of your shelter. A night vision scope makes the most sense if you will be hunting in an extremely cold environment

How Much Light Will You Have While Hunting?

Night vision scopes amplify the ambient light whereas thermal imaging scopes detect radiation or thermal heat and show the differences in temperature as an image. If you will be hunting in little to no light then a thermal imaging scope will be your best choice. If you will be hunting in a variety of light situations from daylight to night a thermal imaging scope will also be your best choice as a night vision scope can be damaged by bright light

What is Your Budget?

While we would all like to be able to buy both a thermal imaging scope and night vision scope along with the rifle for each however most of us do not have the budget to enable us to do tha

Thermal imaging scopes are more costly than night vision scopes; excluding some of the latest generation 3 military grade night scopes. If you are springing for a thermal scope do you need or want it be show images in color? You will also need to decide if you want a scope that can store images & video directly on an SD card or if you are okay with a USB transfer wire going from your scope to a storage device. How large of a zoom do you need your scope to have? All things being equal a thermal imaging scope with the same features as a night vision scope will be more expensive.

This is one of the hardest areas to figure out what you need as it may be worth spending a couple hundred dollars over your “budget” if you will get the features you NEED and make the scope usable for your circumstances; staying within your budget and buying a scope that you never use because it does not have the features you need will only waste your money. Amazon also offers payments options and discounts that can help ensure you don’t break the bank.

How Far Away Will Your Target Be?

While thermal imaging scopes can help you find animals hidden in cover or through dense fog at longer distances they do not have the clarity of a night vision scope. As such if you will be hunting at long ranges and need sharp images then a night vision scope will be your best choice. You will probably want to consider at least a generation 2 or if you can swing it generation 3 night vision.

Color Thermal Monocular
BW Thermal Imaging Monocular

Do You Need To Be Able To Identify Your Game?

This ties into the above point about thermal imaging scopes not producing the clearest images; if you are simply hunting nuisance animals such as feral hogs or prairie dogs then you may not need to explicitly identify your intended target. You must be able to identify your target though if you are hunting a deer or other animals that have strict parameters around which ones can be shot. If you need to be able to clearly identify your target before shooting then a night vision scope will be your best bet.

What If You Could Have Thermal Imaging & A Night Vision Scope?

Still cannot decide if a thermal imaging scope or night vision scope is best for you; if so then maybe you need both! Some hunters who need sharp images in the dark but also need to locate targets that typically hide in cover or in foggy conditions will use a small thermal imaging monocular to spot their target and then use their night vision scope to take their shot. Below are a couple popular thermal monoculars that pair well with night vision scopes.

What About a DIY Night Vision Rifle Scope?

For those of you looking for the absolutely cheapest option and are willing and able to put in a little bit of assembly work there are also a couple do it yourself options for night vision scopes that are of decent quality for the money. Keep in mind these will not replace a purpose built night vision scope but for bargain hunters and those looking to really only shoot at targets 30 to 40 yards away this is a viable solution.

Our Top 2 DIY Night Vision Scopes:


BEST PREMIUM

NiteSite Wolf 330 DIY Thermal Imaging Scope

NiteSite Wolf 330 DIY Thermal Imaging Scope

$$

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    DIY Thermal Imaging Scope
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    High Capacity Lithium Ion Battery
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    Rugged Water Resistant Construction
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    330 Yard Identification Range

LOWEST PRICED

Bestsight DIY Rifle Night Vision Scope

Bestsight DIY Rifle Night Vision Scope

$

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    DIY Night Vision Scope Adaptor Kit
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    Very Reasonable Price
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    DIY Night Vision Scope Adaptor Kit

Our Final Thoughts:

Whether you are looking for a thermal imaging monocular or rifle scope we have put together the comprehensive guide to help ensure you are able to find the best one for you and your budget. If you have already purchased one of these or a different one please let us know what your experience has been.

As you can see there are several options to chose from; hopefully our guide has helped you make the best decision for your unique needs.