There are plenty of myths and rumors surrounding
Thermal Night Vision, as it is relatively rare and new to the open
market. We've gathered five of the most common misconceptions here.
I've heard this from all kinds of people. That you shouldn't even
ask for night vision or thermal kit; no one will sell it to you because
unless you're in the armed forces you couldn't possibly have a
legitimate use for it. This is a little narrow-minded, but more
importantly its just plain not-true. Civilians in the United States and Canada can certainly buy thermal night vision.
There may be restrictions on high frequency models and weapon mounted
units, and there is a dedicated line for Law Enforcement, but there is
still a wide range of thermal imagers available for the general public.
Thermal technology has applications well outside the military, such a
search-and-rescue, firefighting, outdoor adventure, or pest control.
Part of this comes from confusion between night vision devices
that are "infrared assisted" and thermal devices that are "Forward
Looking InfraRed (FLIR)" Standard night vision devices amplify existing
light but are "infrared sensitive" and see infrared light like a
flashlight. They see existing visible light, and use IR beacons and
illuminators as a light source that only broadcasts to the device. This
is not the same as a thermal camera that detects infrared energy
signatures! Forward Looking InfraRed isn't looking at light waves in the
same way. Instead it outputs according to internal heat signatures,
which creates a high contrast black and white image. Instead of
everything being the same green tone but brighter, FLIR separates out
different aspects of an image into different brightnesses which
effectively highlights anything warm or cool in the scene.
The image intensifier tubes in conventional night vision will over
expose in daylight, and can actually overheat and damage themselves if
hit with bright light like the streetlight in Iraq you see here. This
leads to expensive additions like auto-gating so that a image
intensifier will shut itself down upon exposure to damaging daylight or
bright flashlights. FLIR has none of these problems. In daytime it reads
heat exactly the way it would in the dark. The thermal information
gathered cannot be "over-exposed" and its highlighting ability is still
very valuable in daylight. A target in camouflage or far out will still
emit heat that the device will pick up, regardless of whether the sun it
That rainbow color scheme we know from the Predator movies shows
up all over the place. Its a super popular filter for youtube videos or
phone camera programs. With the varying layers of red hot and blue cold
it looks pretty convincing. But it is in no way a real thermal image.
Instead the program just interprets regular color differences and layers
a rainbow gradient over them, making a "fake-FLIR" type of image. No
heat information is being recorded or presented when you apply that, its
just some interesting colors over a standard photo. With a fake FLIR
image parts of a face will look cold and other parts will look hot, even
though its all the same skin. Also, try using that cellphone feature at
night and you'll see immediately how that program needs light to do
Thermal night vision is based around the idea that different
things emit different amounts of radiation. So its true that when things
are the same temperature they will appear as the same tone. I've
interview soldiers who've returned from using FLIR in Afghanistan, and
sure enough there are times of day when the ground is the same
temperature as body heat. In those conditions, FLIR can be tricky, but
that is only for fifteen minutes a day in a hostile environment. You can
still use FLIR units in warm locales by changing your pallets to change
how the camera displays existing temperature difference. Choosing
white-hot or black-hot can help differentiate warm and cool objects, or
the Instalert setting which will highlight the hottest objects in the
scene. There are three levels of Instalert, where you might choose the
most sensitive for a cool environment and the least sensitive for a warm
From James Bond to Jurassic Park,
night vision has been a staple of American pop culture for decades. So,
when it comes to the notoriety of high-tech optics, thermal imaging
doesn’t really hold a candle to night vision. That being said, when you
step back and analyze the components and uses of each, thermal imaging
may very well be the most interesting and practical of the two.
While night vision devices require at least a little bit of light to operate, thermal monoculars detect radiation to project an image, rendering light unnecessary. Thermal imaging technology allows you to see extremely small differences in temperature — the hotter the object, the brighter the image will appear on the screen.
Because of this, thermal monoculars make it easier to detect things
that are hotter than their surroundings, even in environments with
little to no light. This is considerably useful for a range of
applications where vision is paramount.
For example, firefighters need to be able to see people and pets in
smoky conditions, often with debris blocking their line of sight.
Thermal monoculars also help them identify areas within a burning
structure that are the highest in temperature, which shows them where
the blaze is at its fiercest.
Law enforcement professionals benefit from thermal imaging devices, as well. During tactical operations, officers are able to reveal potential threats
where they would have otherwise been blind. Many of today’s police
officers and military personnel are even equipped with thermal imaging
rifle scopes for this very reason.
As you can likely imagine, thermal monoculars are widely popular
among hunters. Lots of commonly hunted animals — such as deer and hogs —
are most active at night or in low-light situations. A lightweight,
versatile thermal monocular is a valuable asset for a hunter, allowing
the user to hold it steady for long periods of time without succumbing
Because it’s equally effective during the day as it is at night, a thermal monocular is a useful tool for surveillance purposes. The same goes for performing energy audits
on homes and buildings, where identifying an area that’s leaking heat
can lead to repairs that will save users a hefty wad of cash on utility
Which thermal monocular you ultimately choose will depend on
your intended use, your budget, and the level of portability you
require. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most powerful options
are typically larger and more complex than small, versatile models.
Whereas a hunter may spend an entire day using the device, a law
enforcement official may only need it for a quick operation. In this
case, the hunter — or someone tasked with long-term surveillance
responsibilities, for that matter — will probably opt for something
lightweight with a long-lasting battery. Conversely, the mission-focused
soldier may prefer a heavy-duty monocular with multiple viewing modes,
high resolution images, and the ability to store video.
For some, the device’s magnifying power will factor
heavily into which option they select. Thermal monoculars feature less
magnification than standard monoculars, and the price tends to go up as
the image gets sharper. Some of the most powerful options have zoom
capabilities that can detect heat signatures at more than 1,000 yards
Since outdoor applications are some of the most common for these devices, they’re usually fairly durable and resistant to the elements.
If there’s a chance you’ll be spending an extended amount of time
outside in wet weather, you’ll want to make sure your model is fully
waterproof. Some models can even adeptly cut through rain, snow, fog,
hail, dust, and debris to detect heat targets — which is ideal for those
who operate in extreme conditions.
You’ll also have to decide how important a color screen
is to you. Some models come in full color, some only feature black and
white, and others allow you to toggle between the two. Color mode may
attract the most attention, but you can often observe greater detail
when in black and white mode.
As technology advances, the selection of potential nifty features
that accompany thermal monoculars gets more expansive. Some offer
different operating modes tailored to the specific environment you’re
in, such as a forest or a city. Others have Bluetooth capabilities,
feature external back-up batteries, or come with tripod mounts. To narrow down your choices, prioritize attributes that are essential to how you’ll use it.
When you set out to use a high-tech device such as this, it’s
crucial that you possess a satisfactory understanding of how it works —
particularly if you’ll find yourself in an intense law enforcement or
Everything out there in the world produces energy in the form of
heat. The amount of infrared energy an object radiates is proportionate
to its temperature. Thermal imaging technology detects very subtle differences in temperature to reveal things to the user that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye.
The crown jewel of the thermal monocular is its special lens that
focuses on the infrared light of all objects within its field of vision.
When in use, numerous infrared detecting elements are active within the
device. Working together, these elements pull from thousands of visual
points in the lens’ view, then use this temperature information to
create a detailed pattern called a thermogram. This all occurs within a fraction of a second.
The monocular quickly converts the thermogram into electric impulses.
The circuit board inside the device processes these impulses,
translating this data into images that will display on the digital
In addition to monoculars, companies use thermal imaging technology to produce handheld thermal imaging devices
and to create cameras for security and surveillance systems. Handheld
models are convenient when long-range vision isn't important, and
thermal cameras serve as a nice complement to standard cameras, allowing
security and surveillance systems to offer comprehensive threat