By Simon whitehead
Thursday, 01 November 2012
The latest in digital night-vision technology
I am a keen advocate of night-vision technology and have used various incarnations over the years. With good fieldcraft and an intimate knowledge of your terrain, being able to see in the dark gives you the ultimate advantage over your quarry. In the past, I was frustrated by the limitations of using an image intensifier tube. From shooting an air rifle to a .243, the frailty of these systems — in terms of muzzle flash, recoil, handling and light pollution — often curtailed my nights out. Both financial and technological restrictions dictated what I could achieve. But this has now changed — the Internet has provided the opportunity to buy almost any product from around the world.
In 2010, the Pulsar N550 brought digital night-vision to the masses. Though it was digital, it was still a dedicated sight, so any day scope already fitted to your rifle would have to be removed in order to fit the N550 — a time-consuming and costly process. What I wanted was a digital night-vision system that could be added on to any existing scope, on any rifle, without altering its set-up. But was that asking too much?
Around the same time, DIY digital night-vision set-ups were starting to gain popularity. However, you needed to know about electronic circuitry in order to build a usable adapter, so that ruled me out. Last year, Nite-Site produced a professional version of the DIY night-vision kits that was ingeniously constructed.
The unorthodox style of shooting with a DIY set-up — with the screen perched on top of the scope — made it impossible to shoot your rifle in the proper manner. And more alarmingly, the light pollution from the screen enabled the quarry to see you as easily as you could see them, which defeats the object of a night-vision system.
I am particular in how I operate, so after much research and trying out several variants, I had grown frustrated. All I wanted was a digital night-vision device with an eyepiece so I could shoot any rifle safely without giving away my position, altering my scope or having to change my comfortable, static shooting stance.
Initially I used a system constructed out of a Yukon Ranger monocular. This enabled me to shoot in the manner I wanted and, along with the Night Master 800 (NM800) torch, it has served me well. Creating a DIY set-up is both fun and educational, but it is also time-consuming and potentially expensive, while issues of reliability and the ability to withstand a harsh environment are an unknown quantity. What I, like thousands of other shooters, want is a compact, lightweight, reliable yet affordable digital night-vision add-on system.
Clive Ward of NV Scopes (www.nvscopes. com) has presented a possible solution to this request in the form of his prototype DNVA-1 digital night-vision adapter, which enables any rifle with a parallax-adjustable scope to be adapted almost instantly into a night-vision scope.
This compact unit comes with a built-in day scope adapter and a variety of shims to ensure a tight fit on any scope, and it takes just seconds to fit. The early example I used had an on/off toggle switch on the top, but after noticing that it would carelessly switch itself on as it was placed inside a bag, this is to be replaced with a tactile push-button switch. The device’s rechargeable battery is enclosed in the unit to ensure it remains weatherproof.
Image clarity is complemented by the dioptre adjustment on the eyepiece and, as it comes pre-focused, the adjustment is minimal. As the normal eye relief is around 60mm, with a length of 80mm, the unit doesn’t impede on either eye relief or shooting posture, as no movement of the scope is necessary. Ergonomically, everything is in the ideal position for ease of use in the dark and, as it weighs only 400g, it felt right sat on my scope.
No matter how good your digital nightvision device is, however, it is only as good as the infrared illuminator. Sat on top of my set-up was the NM800 torch, which ensured that the clarity of my images was never in doubt. I was able to watch rabbits feeding in acute detail, long before they were within range.
But the technology is not limited to use on rabbits, and it has enabled me to change my foxing practices dramatically, too. Aided by my DIY night-vision spotters, I can spot a lamp-shy fox fields away, which gives me the luxury of either driving to a better vantage point for a safe shot or simply waiting to ambush it. This technology brings alive the night-time world, adding a new dimension to shooting in the dark. It has reached the point where the only time I use a lamp is when picking-up the dead rabbit or fox.
Because Clive has previously been critical of his device, the DNVA-1 has been designed and tested to fulfil exacting requirements. When I compare the adaptability and advantages it brings to my shooting with other systems, it is clear that it offers great value. Priced at less than £500, it will be adorning not only my rifle, but also those of many of my friends when it hits the market next month.
Increasingly, I am shooting in delicate locations and I have been using my digital night-vision equipment to spot my quarry or observe its activity more frequently, before driving into a better position and, once I have clearly identified the quarry, pulling the trigger.
As for the future of digital night-vision, due to technological advances in the equipment we use, I can envisage a time when both night-vision and thermal imagery are integrated into a single unit, which I’m sure will only get smaller, cheaper and more widely available.
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