Being a professional journalist, James knows how to turn any topic into a comprehensive, easy-to-digest text. Even if you've never dealt with telescopes before, rest assured James will explain everything you wanted to know about them better than your physics coursebook.
Charles holds a Master’s degree in Physics Engineering (optics and photonics specialization), has been teaching physics at school for almost 15 years and recently has started teaching a course on optics at a local university. Our irreplaceable website expert.
Last updated: April 04, 2022
The Optics is reader-supported. We may earn a commission through products purchased using links on this page. Learn more about our process here
When hunting at night, are you someone that becomes incredibly frustrated at missing easy shots or letting your targets get away because you can’t see them properly? If this is you, then you need to find a night vision scope to increase your chances of spotting and hitting a target. But some of them can be quite expensive. Luckily, there are plenty of great budget options to choose from. In this review, we’ll go over the best night vision scopes under $500.
A night vision scope is an excellent addition to any night hunter’s arsenal. It will offer you a wide field of view and exceptional sharpness. Below, we will take a closer look at the top-rated models and the features we’ve identified as important. These include magnification, objective lens diameter, eye relief, reticle, resolution, detection range, length, and weight. Do you want to learn more? Continue reading, and we’ll provide you with more information about these individual features and parts. Let’s get started!
"This marvelous model features an ergonomic design with duplex reticle and adjustable brightness. It also has a quick detach weaver mount.42 mm objective lens diameter.3x magnification.164 yds. detection range."
"As an affordable night vision scope, we recommend this one with exceptional image clarity and IP55 water resistance level.50 mm objective lens diameter.4 – 32x magnification.200 yds. detection range."
More features: high power IR illuminator, quick detach weaver mount, reticle brightness adjustment, ergonomic design and quick power-up
The Firefield NVRS 3×42 Gen 1 Night Vision Riflescope takes home the top spot and our Editor’s Choice award. For us, this is the best night vision scope under $500 for many reasons. First, it has a 3x magnification to go along with an objective lens diameter of 42 millimeters. It has an eye relief of 45 mm and a duplex reticle, which makes it easier to hone in on your target. Also, the reticle features a brightness adjustment in case you want to make it brighter for night hunting. This model offers a high-quality image and a great resolution that measures 36 lp/mm. The detection range is also very solid at 164 yards, which is probably an ideal range when you’re hunting at night. In terms of its overall size, it measures out to just a shade over 9-inches with a very lightweight construction at 31 ounces.
Why did it make our list? We really enjoyed the ergonomic design of this night vision scope, as well as its quick detach weaver mount.
What is not ideal about it? One of the main issues we experienced along with other owners was that the batteries could get extremely hot to the point where it felt like it’s burning your fingers. This can be incredibly frustrating to happen while you’re hunting.
More features: IP55 water resistance level, 9 reticle color choices, 8x digital zoom, HD photo or video recording, covered by the SightMark 3-year warranty
For hunters searching for a night vision scope that offers the best combination of specs and value, they need to check our Best Value pick, the SightMark Wraith HD 4-32×50 Digital Riflescope. What stands out the most about this scope is its amazing resolution and image quality that can be quite hard to find in this price range. At 1920 x 1080p, it offers the clearest resolution picture allowing you to hunt with comfort. It also has a terrific magnification level and lets you to zoom in as much as 32 times to get a better look at your target. When looking into the scope, you’ll be able to get a detection range of 200 yards. This scope isn’t all that big either, which makes it even more impressive. At just 10.5 inches long and 36 ounces in weight, it’s one of our shortest and lightest scopes.
What are our favorite features? Aside from its crystal-clear picture, we really enjoyed the 10 preloaded reticles this scope came with. This versatility makes it an excellent choice for all types of hunters that prefer a certain reticle on their scope.
What could be better? If there is one improvement we would like to see, it would be the windage adjustment.
Reticle: 3 black and white reticles (second focal plane)
Resolution: 480 x 640 pixels
Detection range: 100 yds.
Length: 13.19 in.
Weight: 1.3 lbs.
More features: built-in infrared illuminator, weatherproof, 1/4 inch at 50 yards windage and elevation adjustments, Weaver and Picatinny mounting
If you happen to be hunting with a quite high-powered rifle, you should always remember about blowback or recoil upon firing your weapon. Needless to say, you won’t want your eye anywhere near your night vision scope when this happens because the blowback can cause some severe damage to your eye. To avoid this, you can go with our pick for the night vision scope with the best eye relief, the Night Owl Optics NightShot NV Riflescope. This scope offers eye relief with a 68.6mm gap between your eye and the scope to leave plenty of distance there. Apart from this great eye relief distance, this scope has an objective lens diameter of 40mm with a 3x magnification. The resolution could be a bit better, as it is only clear enough at 480 x 640 pixels. Still, this scope is one of the longest ones on our list at 13.2 inches, and its weight is somewhat very light at only 1.3 pounds. Thus, you’ll hardly feel this weight on your rifle.
What stands out? The overall visibility with this scope is excellent. Even though the specs say it has a detection range of 100 yards, it’s still very easy to shoot at 200 yards at night with this scope.
What cons did we manage to find? What really could be better is the durability and location of the batteries. You’ll only get a few hours of life with the batteries, and what’s worse is that they are located on the underside of the scope, which means you’ll have to detach it from the rifle to take them out and insert new ones.
Reticle: 6 reticle options with 4 different colors (second focal plane)
Resolution: 640 x 480 pixels (768 x 576 CMOS Sensor)
Detection range: 220 yds.
Length: 16.57 in.
Weight: 2.5 lbs.
More features: IP55 water resistance level, 2x digital zoom, video/sound recording, Wi-Fi remote view via Pulsar Stream Vision app, limited lifetime warranty, shockproof
With technology rapidly advancing, modern night scopes come with many functions. Our pick for the best digital night vision scope is the Night Owl Optics NightShot NV. This model comes with a 2x digital zoom along with video and sound recording. But perhaps the best feature of this night vision scope is the ability to connect to it via Wi-Fi using a smartphone app to watch your last hunting trip. It can play back up to five hours worth of video, giving you an idea of how to improve your hunting for next time. Also, this scope comes with terrific specs, such as its 4.5-9x magnification and its 70mm eye relief distance. It is the longest and heaviest scope on our list as it measures out to 16.6-inches long and weighs 2.5 pounds.
What makes it stand out? We really enjoyed the 220 yards detection range that could be extended by adding a long-range infrared rifle (IR) illuminator. This makes it ideal for night hunters that want to achieve even better results.
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind? It is a bit bulky at 2.5 pounds, and this extra weight might turn some customers off. On top of that, the battery life is not that impressive.
More features: 2x digital zoom, 1-year limited guarantee, Wi-Fi streaming mode, built-in gyroscope, rechargeable battery
For hunters looking for a night vision scope under $500 with the absolute best detection range, they should check out the WANNEY Smart Colorful Digital Night Vision Scope. This model comes with a magnificent 328-yard night vision range thanks to the fantastic infrared illuminator, which enables you to see through the dark up to nearly 1000 feet away. You’ll be able to capture perfect shots with 1080p high-definition image resolution. This is the best detection range of any night vision scope on our list and is great for hunters that need to be able to see their targets from far distances. This scope also has a magnification of 3.9-times and an objective lens diameter of 50mm. Like the previous scope, this one also comes with a Wi-Fi function as you can also record your hunting activities.
What are our favorite features? We especially loved the ultra-far detection range with this night vision scope. It far surpassed our expectations, and we feel that this feature alone should make this scope worth more than $500.
What could be better? Despite being a rather short scope at only 11.8-inches long, it’s also one of the heaviest on our list at 2.3 pounds. Also, the eye relief distance is quite short.
Things to Consider
Now, it’s time to turn our attention to the buying guide portion of this review. In this section, we’ll dive into more detail about the individual components of a night vision scope and why they’re important. As such, we’ll be talking more generally about what makes these night vision scope effective for the price that you pay for them. After that, be sure to stick around, as we’ll answer three of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to night vision scopes. If you’re still unsure which one to buy after that, our verdict, where we choose our top three night vision scopes under $500, may be able to help you make a final decision.
What to expect from night vision scopes under $500?
While some might think that getting an affordable night vision scope doesn’t sound like a good idea, the models we’ve just checked prove the opposite. With one of those models, you will get excellent image clarity along with the impressive magnification and proper detection range that will allow you to spot your targets from afar. You can adjust the illumination brightness to your needs to achieve that accuracy during your hunt. As for advanced functions, modern scopes feature video recording capability, and some of them allow you to send them to your phone using a Wi-Fi connection. Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that these devices are quite durable and can withstand harsh weather conditions.
How to find the best night vision scope under $500?
Simply put, while a night vision scope may be relatively small, there’s a lot going on inside of it that makes it a tremendously effective hunting tool. We’re going to touch on all of the important features that make a night vision scope a handy tool to have for hunting. Below, we’ll explain in more detail the following features: magnification, objective lens diameter, eye relief, reticle, resolution, detection range in nighttime, length, and width, weight, durability, battery, and any extra features or functions that stand out.
The magnification on any night vision scope is perhaps, the most important feature that comes with it. You’re obviously going to want to know how far out you can see when you’re hunting at night. But when it comes to magnification, more is not always better.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, a smaller magnification number or range will actually produce a much clearer image of your target. This is because if the target is farther away, the scope will have a harder time trying to collect light – for closer targets, it will be much easier.
In any case, we see a broad range of options available on the market. Some have a small magnification in the range of 3-4x, whereas others allow you to adjust it anywhere from 4x to 32x.
Objective lens diameter
The objective lens diameter on a night vision scope is very much intertwined with the resolution as well, which we’ll address in a few sections below. The objective lens diameter is a figure provided in millimeters, and it refers to how much light a night vision scope can collect. The more light it gathers, the clearer your image will be. For example, the SightMark Wraith HD 4-32×50 Digital Riflescope SM18011 has an objective diameter of 50mm, and this is more than the Night Owl Optics NightShot NV Riflescope, which only has 40mm. As such, the SightMark Wraith will be able to produce a much clearer and brighter image of your target.
The eye relief is another critical feature of a night vision scope. This figure simply refers to the amount of space between the scope and your aiming eye.
The eye relief is a parameter shown in millimeters and is the optimal distance in order to give you the best vision of your image. The larger this number is, the safer your eye will be even if your rifle has a strong recoil.
You want to protect your eye from any recoil, but there is a drawback to this. A distance that is too far can bring about a very uncomfortable position in that it may be harder for you to see through the scope. The eye relief figures we see in our five night vision scopes range from 38 to 70mm.
The reticle is a crosshair or an aiming point of scope and can either be a dot or a cross (some have patterns too). The purpose of a reticle is painfully obvious: to assist your aim in shooting a still or moving target. One of the more common reticles on scopes is a duplex reticle. This reticle shows a cross that has thick lines except in the center of the crosshair, where it is much thinner. Some of the best night vision scopes come with multiple reticles, and you are able to choose between them for better results.
Night vision scopes are much more reliant and dependent on a high resolution because hunting at night is drastically different from hunting during the day. The higher the resolution is, the clearer your image will be. This will lead to a much higher level of accuracy when hunting. Thus, it’s crucial to find a night vision scope that offers a great resolution. Some of these night vision scopes offer a crisp and clear high-definition image. The SightMark Wraith HD 4-32×50 Digital Riflescope offers a resolution of 1920 x 1080, while the WANNEY Smart Colorful Digital Night Vision Scope has a resolution of 1080p HD.
Detection range in the nighttime
When hunting with a night vision scope, you’ll want to know how far the scope can pick up targets. This is the detection range can vary wildly between different night vision scopes. For example, the WANNEY Smart Colorful Digital Night Vision Scope has a detection range of nearly 330 yards, whereas the Night Owl Optics NightShot NV Riflescope only has a detection range of 100 yards. A much higher detection range doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing. While a scope may have a detection range of 330 yards, it may be hard for the shooter to recognize what kind of target it is.
Length, width, and weight
The length, width, and weight of a night vision scope can also vary quite a bit depending on the model you elect to go with. Some are much shorter and lighter than others. For example, our Editor’s Choice, the Firefield NVRS 3×42 Gen 1 Night Vision Riflescope, only is 9 inches in length. This is, by far, the shortest night vision scope on our list. If you are looking for the lightest night vision scope, check the Night Owl Optics NightShot NV Riflescope, which only weighs 1.3 pounds. The construction and materials used to make these night vision scopes matter a lot as some materials weigh more than others.
You’ll be happy to know that despite the fact that these night vision scopes cost less than $500, they are still incredibly durable, and some of them have features to prove this. Whenever you’re out hunting, you’re not only battling with the animals and targets, but you’re also fighting the weather. Any hunter will tell you that hunting can get quite gnarly because of the weather. Some manufacturers take that into account, such as seen with the SightMark Photon RT 4.5-9x42S Digital Night Vision Riflescope. It comes with a water resistance level of IP55, and this makes it incredibly resistant to rainy weather while you’re hunting. Other scopes, like the Night Owl Optics NightShot NV Riflescope, come fully weatherproof and can withstand all of the different elements Mother Nature can throw your way.
All of the best night vision scopes run on batteries, and the type of scope you purchase can use different types of batteries to power them. When using a scope, it’s always best to carry extra or spare batteries with you. The batteries that usually come with nigh vision scopes are very good, and they will generally last you a long time. But, like anything else powered by battery, it will eventually run out, and it’s just a wise idea to have spare ones around.
If the night vision scope you buy requires AA batteries, it’s important to have a replacement at hand. This is not the case if your model uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
If you know your way with hunting rifles, installing and adjusting a night vision scope should not be any issue whatsoever. If this is your first time installing a night vision scope, that’s fine too, because they all should come with installation instructions. If you simply follow along with the instruction manual, you should have it all set up within 10-15 minutes. A few helpful tips, however, before you begin installing your night vision scope are to ensure your rifle is empty and to have a wrench handy in case you need to tighten screws.
The maximum detection range in darkness for night vision scopes under $500 is 300 meters, as we have seen with the WANNEY Smart Colorful Digital Night Vision Scope. As we mentioned earlier, the detection range should not be the most important factor when hunting at night as you may be able to detect something that is 300 yards away, but it might be very difficult to discern what exactly that target is as well as to aim it.
You may have to check with each night vision scope exactly what is covered in the warranty, but most night vision scopes should come with a protection plan. The warranty can cover the entire night vision scope, or it can only cover individual, mechanical parts. The length of the warranty can also vary as well, so if the safety of your investments is something you’re concerned about, it’s best to check with the original manufacturer to see the exact details and the policy.
In our verdict, we present to you our top three models. Our Editor’s Choice, the Firefield NVRS 3×42 Gen 1 Night Vision Riflescope, is our top pick because of its overall great specs. It comes with a short and lightweight construction, and its weaver mount is quick and easy to detach.
The SightMark Wraith HD 4-32×50 Digital Riflescope is our next top choice, and we feel that this is the best overall value for budget shoppers. It has the best magnification of any scope on this list, at up to 32 times, and it comes preloaded with an amazing 10 reticles, giving you plenty of options to choose from.