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How Night Vision Works - ITT Industries


Night Vision technology consists of two major types: image intensification (light amplification) and thermal imaging (infrared). Most consumer night vision products are light amplifying devices. All ITT Industries Night Vision products use image intensification technology.

This technology takes the small amount of light, such as moonlight or starlight, that is in the surrounding area, and converts the light energy (scientists call it photons), into electrical energy (electrons). These electrons pass through a thin disk that's about the size of a quarter and contains over 10 million channels. As the electrons travel through and strike the walls of the channels, thousands more electrons are released. These multiplied electrons then bounce off of a phosphor screen which converts the electrons back into photons and lets you see an impressive nighttime view even when it's really dark.

All image intensified night vision products on the market today have one thing in common: they produce a green output image. But that's where the similarities end. ITT Industries Night Vision is the leader in night vision technology, and we want you to know that all night vision is not created equal.

In the night vision world there are generations that reflect the level of technology used. The higher the generation, the more sophisticated the night vision technology. The first units were Gen 0 and 1, and they were used until the 1960's. The "Starlight" scope used by many U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War was a Gen 1 device. Gen 2 was introduced in the 70's for military use. Gen 3 was developed in the early 80's and remains the highest technology available today to consumers. Most of the very inexpensive consumer products today use Gen 1 technology developed nearly 40 years ago.

If you're using night vision to find a lost person in the woods, to locate boats or buoys on the water, or to stargaze into the wilderness, you need Generation 3 because it creates the best images when there is very little ambient light.

Night Vision Generations
Generation 3 is the most sophisticated night vision technology available. The photocathode is coated with sensitive gallium arsenide, which allows for a more efficient conversion of light to electrical energy at extremely low levels of light.

Generation 3 ULTRA-Features a clearer, sharper image than the standard Generation 3 viewer provides at night. The ultra units have a higher-performing image intensifier tube with a minimum 51 lp/mm resolution, compared to the 45 lp/mm minimum of a standard Generation 3 unit. Line Pairs per Millimeter (lp/mm) are units used to measure image intensifier resolution; the higher the lp/mm, the clearer the image is. Check our product pages to see if the night vision viewer that fits your needs is offered in an ultra version.

Before the innovation of Generation 3, there was Generation 2. Generation 2 marked the development of a microchannel plate, which multiplies the number of electrons thousands of times. This produces a clear image in nighttime situations without the distortion of Gen 0 and Gen 1.

Generation 1 has problems with distortion and short-lived intensifier tubes. It uses materials that are better than Gen 0 to convert light to electrons. During the Vietnam era, these units operated at lower light levels than the Gen 0 and became known as "starlight scopes." Imported night vision viewers usually use Gen 1 even though they may be advertised as Gen 2.

Generation 0 technology depended on external light to increase available light energy. After the light was converted to electrons, electrical components focused these electrons through a cone-shaped device (anode) and accelerated them such that they hit the phosphor screen with greater energy, creating the visible image. Unfortunately, accelerating the electrons in this manner caused distortion in the image and decreased the tube's life.

All Generation 3 products require an export license from the US Department of State, Office of Defense Trade Controls, in accordance with International Traffic in Arms (ITAR), Title 22, Code of Federal Regulation. Most Generation 2 products are controlled by the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Export Administration, Commodity List Number 6A002.

Performance Attributes
There are three important attributes for judging performance. They are: sensitivity, signal, and resolution. As the customer, you need to know about these three characteristics to determine the performance level of a night vision system.

Sensitivity, or photoresponse, is the image tube's ability to detect available light. It is usually measured in "žA/lm," or microamperes per lumen. ITT's advanced technology and processing enable us to give our customers products with outstanding sensitivity. That's why many of our products do not come with standard IR illuminators. With many applications illuminators aren't necessary. Some competitors put IR illuminators on their products in order to get acceptable performance under low light conditions.
Signal plays a key role in night vision performance. ITT's microchannel plate technology is unsurpassed in its ability to transfer a strong signal from input to output. Just as high-end stereo equipment gives you quality sound, ITT's night vision gives you a quality output image without "noise."

Resolution is the third major consideration when purchasing night vision. This is the ability to resolve detail in your image. High quality optics and the latest processing methods give ITT Industries Night Vision the edge. Some of our competitors put magnified optics in their systems to give the illusion that they have high resolving systems. In the trade-off, field of view is sacrificed. ITT gives the option of higher magnification so you can have it if you want it, not because your system needs it to function effectively. Our technology offers a uniquely formulated phosphor to create the highest contrasting images, therefore generating the highest resolution products available to the consumer.

ITT Industries Night Vision provides you with the best night vision performance on the market. That's because we have highly trained engineers dedicated to continuous process improvements in state-of-the-art development of night vision image tubes and systems. We are the world's leader for Gen 3 U.S. military image intensified (amplified) night vision products. Keeping our military the best in the world requires excellence in product and technology development, and we pass that excellence on to all our customers. You get the latest technology and the assurance that our products meet or exceed all others on the market.

Characteristics of Night Vision Using intensified night vision is different from using regular binoculars and/or your own eyes. Below are some of the aspects of night vision that you should be aware of when you are using an image intensified night vision system.

Textures, Light and Dark
Objects that appear light during the day but have a dull surface may appear darker, through the night vision unit, than objects that are dark during the day but have a highly reflective surface. For example, a shiney dark colored jacket may appear brighter than a light colored jacket with a dull surface.

Depth Perception

Night vision does not present normal depth perception.
Fog and Rain
Night vision is very responsive to reflective ambient light; therefore, the light reflecting off of fog or heavy rain causes much more light to go toward the night vision unit and may degrade its performance.

This is a faint hexagonal pattern which is the result of the manufacturing process.
A few black spots throughout the image area are also inherent characteristics of all night vision technology. These spots will remain constant and should not increase in size or number. See example below of an image with black spots.

* Do not be concerned if you see this feature-it is an inherent characteristic found in light amplification night vision systems that incorporate a microchannel plate in the intensifer.


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