If you spent any time researching night vision devices, you have probably noticed that prices seem to be all over the board. One unit can cost several thousand dollars while a unit that appears to be similar in size and magnification costs a couple of hundred dollars. It can become very confusing as to why the prices could be so vastly different. The reason why prices vary so much is primarily because different generations' of technology are being implemented into the many night vision devices that are available.
There are currently 3 generations available on the commercial market. Each generation has brought about performance improvements, but the improvements have also increased the retail prices of these units considerably. Do the improvements justify the cost increments? That is really a personal decision you will have to make depending on your needs, and what you are willing to spend.
Night vision technology was initially developed for military applications, and over the years the technology made its' way into law enforcement uses. Today this technology is available to anyone that can afford to use it. While the most common uses of these devices are still military and law enforcement; they are becoming increasingly popular with security companies, private investigators, hunters, photographers, and nature enthusiasts.
First generation instruments are most common, simply because they are the most affordable. It is hard for most people to justify spending over ,500 for a night vision scope to be only used recreational use, especially when 1st generation technology provides a passable image for most applications.
One distinctive characteristic of a 1st generation unit is the high pitched whine that is heard when turning it on. This sound is usually very soft, and it is not a problem for most users. You may also notice that the edges of images are slightly blurred or distorted. Both of these features should be expected with 1st Generation Technology.
Second and third generations are very similar, and many times you will see them included together within the same product description. Beginning with the 2nd generation the micro-channel plate, or MCP, was added to the image intensifier tube. The addition of the MCP resulted in a clearer image, and reduced the amount of natural and infrared light that was necessary in order to see an image.
The most current 4th generation has made giant strides in improving the technology. It has made significant improvements in contrast levels, and has reduced the amount of light needed even further. As this technology becomes commercially available, you should expect even more of a drop in 1st and 2nd generation products.
At the end of the day, picking the right unit is mainly a matter of preference. Think through what you need, and what you can afford, and then find the right unit for you. Take the time to do your research. In the long run, it is well worth your time.