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Night vision equipment for mortals (2 Viewers)

Thanks to everyone who has posted on this thread. Interesting information, and technology can be fun. My thoughts on the subject after some google searching are below. If anybody has experience or feedback on these ideas let me know.

In sticking with the topic of "equipment for mortals" and a general frugal approach, it seems that using existing equipment as much as possible could be a way to go. I don't need or want to pay for zoom and light-gathering optics or a display. I already have binoculars, a scope, and a smart phone to cover these functionalities. What is actually needed is the detector with good low light / IR / thermal sensitivity that with a little elbow grease, could be compatible with our existing equipment. I'm looking at this as analogous to where digi-scoping was a decade+ ago. As a mere mortal, I'm usually satisfied with my mid-range smartphone and spotting scope, especially if it saves 1,000s if not 10,000s of dollars on camera equipment. Could I be satisfied with "digi-scoping" with an IR sensor also?


Some options with my quick takes:

- A few smartphones such as the google pixel 4 have an NIR imaging sensor that can be accessed through some free apps in the google play store. Not many phones have this option, and it doesn't seem to be a trend to start including an IR imager as a feature. If I had such a phone, I would give it a try. The downside is that digiscoping adapters that work for the normal (vis) phone camera would need to account for the different sensor/lens location

- Phone and "regular" cameras have some sensitivity in the near IR, but they include a filter that reduces transmission in this spectrum. How about taking an old phone or camera (or a new one if you are brave) and removing the filter? This would be especially convenient one already has a scope adapter that works with the equipment. On the down side, I'm not sure how great the sensitivity would be, and this option involves carrying more gear into the field (e.g. your regular camera plus your altered IR camera).

- If you don’t want to implant the above suggestion yourself, this company will apparently do it for your phone and provide their custom software, for a decent markup of course: https://www.eigenimaging.com/collections/frontpagevis). As a frugal mortal, I’m not too excited to pay significant above original retail price for a phone that is a couple generations old. Also I’m more likely to take “normal” that “night-vision” pictures, so I wouldn’t want to impair my go-to camera – the one on my phone. There are IR filters that can be added back on, but to me, it’s not worth the price

- An option for both “night vision” and thermal imaging are the small IR sensors sold for scientific and industrial use. They are often made to be mounted to other equipment, which is convenient. There are a number of vendors offering these, but the potentially suitable ones I came across were either too expensive ($1000+) or did not list a price, which was the case most often. As the saying goes, if I have to ask, they are too expensive for me. If anyone is aware of some cheap options here, please let me know.

- A cheaper and more labor intensive option of the above is to buy board-level or perhaps even focal plane level components and construct your own camera. Beyond the optics and software challenges, building a suitably sturdy package and mount could also take some time, and at least for me, is less fun. We’ll see how stir crazy I go with the pandemic and how busy work keeps me, but I’m considering giving this option a try if I get bored enough this season.

- The final option is buying a consumer grade thermal sensing attachment for smartphones. The two brands that seem to be the best cheap option (sub $1000) are made by Seek Thermal and Flir. They both have a few models in the $250 - $500 that might do the trick. The main question here is how to mount them to your scope or binoculars. This may take a custom holder or perhaps a one-size-fits-all digiscoping adapter could be repurposed.


Thoughts or first hand experience anyone?
 

MarkHows

Mostly Mammals
Just a couple of comments on a few of the points

Thermal imaging does not work through glass so it would have to be before the binocular / scope which will be problematic to implement. The cheap ones have very poor resolution so beware they are not much use for wildlife or for distance work. The ones designed for phones are positioned before the phones camera lens.

Some digital camcorders have nightshot mode (I have an old Sony one but I am sure other manufacturers have this function as well) second had ones are very cheap sub £100, mine needs an additional IR source for any distance but they work well.

I have a IR modified camera it cost £100 to do (12MP Nikon compact) not used it yet something I am planning on doing soon.

Mark
 

wllmspd

Well-known member
Digital (non thermal) stuff you could take anywhere. Thermal you’d need to check, but most of the EU should be fine. Illuminator NV would be OK, but I’d buy a separate 900nm IR flashlight as it would be a lot less visible to the creatures, you could use this to help a sionyx Aurora of it got too dark as well.! You can get trail cams with 900nm LED illuminators that can take some great images/videos... find some signs... leave a camera to see who’s about, same as the BBC and other wildlife surveyors use. Good ones are <£200.
After many years waiting for thermal costs to come down I am happy with my axion xm30s, small field of view so a lot of sweeping round for close stuff... almost fell over a Badger recently! Of course a wide field to view gives far worse resolution at longer range... more pixels, more cost. So distant ID can be challenging, but it’ll show stuff you would have no way of detecting otherwise. Found where the owls hide in the park... it happens that they’re even more skittish than foxes - hence it never seen one before.
You certainly don’t need (or want) binocular. Keeping one eye dark adapted is actually an advantage when you’re walking about, bright screens will trash you dark adaption and make it hard to safely walk about. (Turn the screen off when you walk about so things don’t know you’re about).

Don’t get cheap really low resolution thermal (also tends to have <30Hz refresh rate), you will be disappointed!! The pulsar axion range are probably the lowest cost reasonable set. You won’t do a better/cheaper job building your own.
You cannot “digiscope” night vision, the reason the sionyx Aurora works is that it has a very fast lens, huge pixels and a custom sensor coating that hoovers up photons, smartphone and other cameras have tiny, noisy pixels in comparison. Some camera phones are using huge processing power to enable them to do amazing things at night, but I’m not sure how you’d get on if you tried to pop one on the back of an optical instrument and use night mode!

The options are getting better if you can save enough pennies, but as always there is a lot of cheap stuff that’s really not worth investing in. A good trail cam and patience might be the best option, not as live as other options, but you can get closer to the action.

PEter

Ps I’d love to live in a country that is “bibically infested with mice “, there stuff about in the U.K., but far less abundant.
 

wllmspd

Well-known member
Still not cheap but photonis echo tubes can get you in the right league to the American Gen 3. https://deep-dark.co.uk/ Seem to sell these, better than the £5-7k I’ve seen for the finest photonis/Gen3 stuff new.

Peter
 

Mono

Hi!
Staff member
Supporter
Europe
The near IR in modern smartphones are designed for use in the face recognition unlock function. They are not designed for image taking, 3rd party Android apps can access them for images but as far as I'm aware the NIR camera on iPhones can't be accessed for image taking.

Most cheap(er) thermal imagers are designed for close up work, for examining circuit boards, heating systems etc, you can get add ons for smartphones and even smartphones with thermal imaging built in https://promo.blackview.hk/thermal-imaging-camera-rugged-phone-bv9800-pro/?lang=en

But as said above you can't point a thermal camera down optics designed for visible light, you need specialist lenses. Magnified thermal cameras have started to become more mainstream, mainly aimed at the security and hunting market but they are a lot more than the non-magnified thermal imagers.

The best cheap option is active IR, the viewers are cheap they are firmly in the consumer realm. You can add on as many illuminators as you want and get good range if you can carry the batteries.

Image intensifiers seem to be at a dead end for the consumer market. They remain very expensive and difficult to use, the one advantage they have over active IR, covertness, isn't important in the wildlife viewing or even most of the security market. They remain a military focused solution and as such have no market driving the price down.
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Poland
Could you point to a specific example of hardware to get for the "consumer grade cheap active IR"? Just looking up the offers is quite confusing. If someone would provide a "known to work" setup, that would be a great start. Do you get the viewing device and IR illuminator separately, or as one package for example?
 

wllmspd

Well-known member
Xm30S is amazing (though sometimes you want a bit less zoom, often you are thankful for the detail), more pixels costing £££. I’ve picked up owls on the ground and hedgehogs that I would never otherwise have known were there. Temperature contrast with the sky makes looking into trees to see things a little hard, but so much better for spotting warm wildlife at night than normal night vision.
Peter
 

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