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Sara Ahren’s OffBeat: Seeing the error of my ways with night optics

I have never been a big investor in any type of optics. This includes optics for my firearms, binoculars and night-vision. I have always equated the contemplated amount of money I would spend on optics in terms of how many more guns I could purchase with that money.

I guess it seems silly that I would not want to invest in products that would help me see, especially since the majority of my life tasks such as seeing the alarm clock proved impossible (pre-Lasik). Seeing also tends to be pretty important for my job.  Still, I have resisted purchasing optics and I am now playing some catch-up.

Sara Ahrens in Top Shot. Photo courtesy of History.com.

My lack of experience and familiarity with optics was certainly a factor for me on Top Shot, if for no other reason than it added stress. I immediately noticed this was going to present problems for me during LaRue OBR challenge. It was equipped with a Trijicon AccuPoint. The Blue team decided to have the magnification up high, so any little movement made you feel as if you were off the target. I wonder if more experience with scopes would have helped me adjust to this irritating sensation?  Who knows? As our team sighted in the LaRue, we were given some binoculars (Trust me that I wish I had looked at the brand so I could let everyone know not to purchase them!). These binoculars were such poor quality that it was impossible to see the holes on targets 50 and 75 yards away. When seeing our targets proved impossible, we were provided with some spotting scopes. These scopes were difficult to get on target and we wasted a lot of practice and weapons handling time trying to orient ourselves with them. I was not surprised to see Mike Hughes hit his targets blindfolded, I am sure he was pretty skilled shooting blind at that point.

Since Top Shot, I have taken advantage of opportunities to try out some different optics, specifically ATN NVB5X-2 Night Vision Bi-ocular and Swarovski SLC 10 x 42 HD binoculars. For this blog I’ll discuss the night vision and describe my experiences with the binoculars in my upcoming post.

ATN night vision bi-ocular.jpg

ATN NVB5X-2 Night Vision Bi-ocular


ATN NVB5X-2 Night Vision Bi-ocular 

Night-vision is an indulgence in my line of work. Everybody wants them but as police officers, most of us can’t afford them. We tend to believe that night-vision is the cure-all … that if we had a pair we could catch every criminal (I wish!). Night-vision certainly serves a bona fide law enforcement purpose, but conditions for their use in Law Enforcement are pretty restrictive. For me, their limited uses do not justify the expense. Still, they are super cool and maybe someday I can justify that expense.

I don’t have any other experience from which to base my review on in regards to night-vision, so take this review from that perspective. The first thing I did was to read the directions. I felt very nervous about damaging the Bi-ocular and the warnings plastered in the user manual certainly didn’t ease my discomfort. This was an expensive and delicate piece of equipment. This particular model of night-vision has an MSRP of just over $2,000.

When I first tried out the ATN night-vision bi-ocular, it was on a golf course near my home. I was immediately impressed with the technology. Who wouldn’t be …  being able to see at night? Nice! My first thought was – SOLD! I did notice that I had a bit of trouble getting clarity when I attempted to focus it. I didn’t find this too troubling because for me, the purpose is to see an object not necessarily describe every detail.


ATN NVB5X-2 Night Vision Bi-ocular

The next time I used the night vision was for hunting and I lost a little love for night-vision.  First of all, I was looking far ahead, not right where I was stepping … dangerous. So, I gave that idea up quickly, plus it made me nauseated. I then got into my tree stand and as I heard the typical forest noises, I tried to focus in on what the sources of the noises were and I encountered another issue. Turns out, using night-vision in a wooded area is not so easy. Every leaf and tree branch stole the focus and made it difficult to see through the foliage. Even if I could have make out an animal, it’s not like I could shoot it until there was daylight anyway. Nevertheless, I would like to observe animal behavior under the cover of darkness, but I didn’t have any success seeing any animals.

I currently work dayshift, but next year I will be going back to night shift. I think that the night-vision could come in handy for me on nights. The issue becomes working in an urban environment. Light sources influence the effectiveness. I suppose as more communities start to remove streetlights to save money, the more practical night-vision will become in that environment. Right now, it’s a little too bright for them in an urban environment. The one feature that I am glad that ATN included in this model is a bright light sensor. If a light source becomes too bright, it will shut off the night-vision so that damage to the device and the user’s eyes will not occur. That was a smart feature.

So for my purposes, if I hunt or work in the dark where there are big open fields, I think these would be terrific. I had trouble using them in environments with too much lighting and too much foliage. Unfortunately, environments with heavy foliage are typically where bad guys and animals run to for concealment. I’m still enamored with the technology, but I understand it’s not the magic bullet I thought. For the record I would LOVE to own a pair, but considering the limitations and their cost – I  don’t feel completely heartbroken that I have to send them back.

Sara Ahren’s OffBeat is sponsored by Otis Technology. From the front lines to the hunt of a lifetime.





The Conversation

One Comment
  • mike ahrens says: December 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I would love a pair of night vision for Christmas if your still looking to get me something.