Night Vision Intensifier Tube Showdown - Arkayne


Night Vision Intensifier Tube Showdown

  • June 4, 2024
  • By Jared Daub
Night Vision Intensifier Tube Showdown

Our industry needed a fresh Night Vision Intensifier Tube Showdown. In fact, nobody else has done what we just did. We took four major intensifier tubes, descended into a calibrated dark room and created one of the most valuable videos to date. Buckle up, it’s time to analyze tubes in a way nobody else is willing to do. We put L3, Elbit, Photonis Echo, and Photonis 4G tubes head-to-head.

The Setup:

We packed up and drove over to our friends at Photonis HQ. They kindly allowed us the use of their calibrated dark room for this video. One thing I wanted to get out of the way up front: They didn’t pay us a single penny to do this video. There were no contracts. We didn’t guarantee anything other than we’d give each tube an equal shake. Folks will claim we are shilling for Photonis, and that is untrue. We have never been shy about professing our love for Photonis intensifier tubes, but we came to that conclusion on our own accord. We utilized our Canon R5C camera with a PVS-14 adapter. The lens we used was a Sigma Art 35MM set to a 2.8 aperture.

Important Camera Settings:

For the camera settings we used the dual base 1600 ISO. We set the shutter to 1/5o and filmed at 23.976 FPS. The Color temperature was set to 8000K for this entire exercise. I know some people will get butt hurt about the settings or camera setup, but keep in mind a few things:

  • The objective of this, while we did try to show the units as you would see them with your own eyes, wasn’t to be as close to real as possible. You should measure each image you see AGAINST the other tubes. Maybe we didn’t nail the color or some other characteristic to your liking, but remember how they show against one another. NO camera settings were changed between the tubes, other than focus on the units.
  • We utilized 3 different people to triple check settings and setup to make sure that everything remained consistent through this exercise.
  • The dark room we used was calibrated and tested to specific settings. Because of this, our team was able to avoid changing light conditions mid shot. In the natural world (where most of us film), we cannot control the lighting shifts.

Night Vision Intensifier Tube Showdown

Why this test is important:

We often post photos through units, but in the wild it is impossible to control and stabilize lighting conditions. Additionally, in the wild you will never experience a stationary single night level. So when comparing units, you are constantly comparing MULTIPLE lighting conditions at the same time. Because of this reality, there is no way to compare unit to unit in the wild. You will constantly be faced with strengths and weaknesses that overlap, cross paths, and muddy the water. A Calibrated Dark room solves all that. Let’s talk about the different night levels.

  • Night Level 1: This level equates to a clear, full-moon night.
  • Night Level 2: This level equates to a cloudy, full-moon night.
  • Night Level 3: This night level equates to a quarter moon night.
  • Night Level 4: This night level equates to a clear night, no moon, with starlight
  • Night Level 5: This night level equates to a cloudy night with only starlight.

Night Level 5 is the darkest night level and the one that is nearly impossible for ANY intensifier tube to function within. Please understand: In Night Level 5, you cannot see your hand in front of your face. It is INCREDIBLY Dark! One thing to note: For this Night Vision Intensifier Tube Showdown, the images in this blog are LOW RES. For the FULL context, please watch the full video!

What people expect from Night Vision

Folks expect night vision to just solve all their nighttime problems. The reality is: SOME ambient light MUST exist for analog night vision to function. This means in extremely dark conditions, ALL tubes will suffer. Interestingly enough, Elbit and L3 suffer TREMENDOUSLY in terms of center resolution in high light conditions. We’ll talk about that more soon. Just understand this: You MUST have some sort of ambient light for an intensifier tube to function properly.

How NV Works
A quick graphic of how night vision works.
Which tubes were chosen for this test:

When looking at the specifications, you will see that this is a very solid grouping of intensifier tubes. But none of them are irregularly high performance. We have solid contenders. In other words: These are the specs that you might typically encounter when purchasing a quality night vision unit. We did NOT stack the deck against any one brand or type of tube. Our team has no interest in doing that. We want to share facts, not theory. Study the specs, then give the below graphics a look. Let’s continue with this night vision intensifier tube showdown.

Night Vision Intensifier Tube Showdown
Here are the specs of the intensifier tubes we used for this comparison.
Night Level 1:

Night level 1 is the brightest setting for the calibrated room. In these conditions, all modern analog night vision intensifier tubes will function to a high level. These conditions would be considered ideal for night vision use.

Night Vision Intensifier Tube Showdown

As you can see from the image, all the intensifier tubes represent a very clear image that would allow you to move and navigate with ease under these conditions. I want everyone to be honest with themselves: Is there a clear winner here? We will note that in high light conditions, like NL1, Photonis intensifier tubes offer more contrast and better understanding of depths and details. We will talk about high light performance even more as we get into darker conditions. Does this image look like what the internet claims? Does Photonis really suck? Is L3 really king? That’s up to you to decide.

Night Level 2:

NL 2 will still be very good conditions for any modern intensifier tube. Looking at the tubes across the screen, it’s no secret that the Photonis Echo has the lowest gain of the bunch. L3 and Elbit still have a bit “brighter” image. But note the performance of the Photonis 4G tube and just how close it is to the other “Gen 3” tubes. You will often find yourself in NL2 conditions. Although this is a fairly dark scenario, you likely will not need supplemental infrared illumination, regardless of the intensifier tube you run. At NL2 you WILL start to see older gen tubes and VERY low spec tubes dropping off. The darker it gets, the more this becomes evident.

Night Level 3:

Night Level 3 is really when the men come out to play and the boys go home. Oh did that joke offend you? GOOD. Nobody cares. You aren’t special. Moving along:

While it might be hard to understand from the low res image, the three top contenders (4G, Elbit, and L3) are still VERY much on a similar level. NL3 is where lower FOM units (think 1400 – 1600) will become less and less usable. Additionally, NL3 is really where you might find yourself needed some IR illumination. Please understand: These are very dark conditions. One thing we mentioned in the video is that the Dark room is especially powerful as it is fully contained. A Night Level 3 in the desert on sand, the mountains on snow, and a field that is covered in grass will look very different. Real world scenarios usually have some reflectivity and light pollution that further enables night vision to do its job. In this dark room, it’s darkness in a controlled manner. In NL3 you will be able to move, navigate, shoot, drive, etc if you have a modern, high performance tube. Your buddies who pack carrots down their throat because they spend too much time on reddit? Yeah, they can’t see. Figuratively..and literally.

Night Level 4:

The party goes on with Night level 4. Again, PLEASE watch the video so you can see real world performance of the tubes. Screen grabs don’t do justice. In case you were blinder than your blue berry infused buddy who swears carrots give you natural night vision, the video is embedded at the top of the page. Night level 4 is VERY dark. If you hold your hand up in front of your face, you’ll barely see it. It is a very difficult night level to navigate with night vision. In NL4 you will often find the need for supplemental IR. Because of the low light, some tubes will have a VERY hard time creating a usable image. Although it may not seem like it from this screen grab above, EACH tube was usable in this situation. The Echo would be the hardest to navigate. The Elbit does have a clear increase in gain.

Let’s talk out of band lasers.
IZLID 1064 infrared full power laser. Notice how dim the L3 and Elbit tubes are. The Photonis tubes display the 1064 VERY clearly.

A little known fact about Photonis intensifier tubes is that they can see “out of band” up to 1100nm. Gen 3 intensifier tubes (Think Elbit and L3) can BARELY distinguish these out of band lasers. This is a clear advantage to Photonis intensifier tubes. In a world where more and more people are running night vision, every advantage matters. Photonis users can take advantage of more and more 1064 illuminators and lasers that are coming to market. This gives them an edge over L3 and Elbit. Additionally to all the haters who say “BUT I CAN SEE THE DOT!”: Understand that in the real world you would NOT be able to see the IZLID laser in the image above. Add shadows, textures, cover, etc. and that dim dot disappears. Additionally, move towards an illuminator instead of a laser and the ability to see out of band diminishes further.

Let’s talk High Light performance.
In this image all tubes were illuminated with a DBAL D2. Notice how the photonis tubes retain their center resolution. The L3 and Elbit images are very over exposed/blown out. Something to think about!

When looking at an L3 spec sheet, notice the high light center resolution. Often L3 tubes will dip to about 50% of their low light capability. This is SUBSTANTIAL. Nobody is talking about this! What happens when you are driving and a car is in the oncoming lane? That’s a highlight scenario. What if you have an OPFOR hitting you with an illuminator or white light? Hight light. Street lamps? Highlight. Photonis is able to retain its center resolution, clarity of image, and resists blooming, over exposing, or experiencing temporary burns better than any Gen 3 tubes in our opinion. Does your favorite night vision company talk about this? Nah. They don’t want you equipped. They just want their money.

Illuminators are an amazing tool, but they are the same as flipping a potent white light on to your naked eye. You need a tube that has the performance to handle the darkness, and a highlight situation. Which tube would you be choosing at this point? Let’s go even darker.

Night Level 5:

Night level 5 is so dark that you would not be able to see your hand in front of your face. While in PERFECT NL5 conditions you “could” navigate, it would be tremendously difficult. This is about one of the worst scenarios for intensifier tubes. As you can see from the image, even the almighty L3 barely shows any image. These situations are where you can really see how noisy a tube is, which can further distort the dim image you would scarcely be able to decipher. NL5 is extreme darkness. Right on the edge of dysfunctional for all intensifier tubes. It doesn’t matter what gain tube you have. Even super gain tubes would just be noisy in this condition. You absolutely need a good illuminator in darkness like this, or you need to move very, very slowly.

1064 Laser + NL5:

Check out the IZLID/out of band capabilities (or lack thereof) in the image below. The common misconception is that high gain means better low light performance. What we often find is tubes with crazy high gain levels are simply more noisy at low light levels. In fact, we often end up dialing back the gain from its max setting in all conditions. It’s why we are not fans of super gain tubes. We simply think it is more of a marketing gimmick vs an actual advantage in the darkness. What are your thoughts on this night vision intensifier tube showdown?

Once again: showing the IZLID 1064 laser through all four units. Notice how the L3 and Elbit can barely see the laser? Crazy, right?
Summary of our findings:

In summary, we proved what we already believed: Most people posting on reddit and even many companies selling NV are super biased and have no clue what they are talking about. We said what we said. They don’t have YOUR best interests in mind. The industry cares more about the “flex” of owning L3 tubes and standing in front of Wendy’s versus owning an affordable option and training. Ultimately, we do NOT care what tube you run. We hope that this blog and video dispelled some common myths and got you pointed in the right direction. No matter what intensifier tube you want, we can help you out. If you want to dive deeper, watch the video above and listen to our dialogue. If you want to dive even a bit further, check out this video below that we posted on the TA Targets YouTube Channel. We think it will be helpful. Until next time: Seize the Darkness.


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