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Night Vision Image Tubes - Grade Differences
Generations Levels Guide - Night Vision Tube Grades
This quick guide will help you understand the differences in image intensifier tube clarity and performance within the different quality levels of night vision. Image tubes are the high tech part of a device and there is great variation in image tube quality. Clarity refers to the size and amount of blemishes or imperfections (black specks) you will see that are inherent in all image tubes. The performance refers to how well the optic will see in low light, this is distance and brightness.
Note that different manufacturers refer to these quality levels with different abbreviations and that each manufacturer has their own criteria for grading their tubes. This guide is only a general outline and image tube quality can even vary from month to month based on image tube availability. Remember image intensifier tubes are unique like diamonds in that no two are the same. For the most accurate and current info on what products are best, give us a call and we can recommend the best products for your budget. Here at Nightvision4less we are sort of night vision geeks and between our being one of the largest dealers and our passion for optics, we can give you the inside scoop on the best gear to buy.
Gen 1+ :
Most Gen 1 equipment uses similar technology and thus image tube performance does not vary too much between similar Gen 1 products. What does make a performance difference in Gen 1 products is the quality of the lenses, the controls, and the devices’ design.
Gen 2+, Gen 2ST :
This is base quality Gen 2 that is a huge step up from Gen 1. Comparing base level Gen 2 to Gen 1 would be like comparing a motorcycle to a bicycle – they both have 2 wheels but that’s about it. These image tubes will have more imperfections and lower performance than higher level Gen 2 gear. These are known as standard Gen 2 or standard tube.
Gen 2CGT, Gen 2MS :
This level of Gen 2 is a good choice as they are cleaner and generally perform better than base Gen 2 but usually don't cost much more for the increase in quality. These are sometimes referred to as custom grade tubes or mil-spec grade.
Gen 2HPT, Gen 2HP :
This is extremely good Gen 2 equipment. Big step up from the two lower grades of Gen 2 in performance, getting very close to Generation 3 performance. However the price of this high level of Generation 2 gets very close to some Gen 3 and with the much longer life expectancy of Gen 3 image tubes, the Generation 3 is often the better choice. This Gen 2 grade is called high performance tube or just high performance.
Gen 3 :
This gets you the real deal, Gen 3. These will usually have more imperfections/blemishes and lesser performance than the higher levels of Gen 3 however they still give great overall performance and will last you about 10,000 hours plus, which is much longer than the lower generations.
Gen 3ST :
These Gen 3ST image tubes are technically at the same grade level as Gen 3. However from what we have seen of these image tubes is that they tend to be a bit nice. These tubes are a great buy for low cost Gen 3 when available.
Gen 3A :
This is a better grade than standard gen 3. The image tubes will typically be clearer and they will usually come with image tube data test sheets (detailed test data on each image tube).
Gen 3P/Gen 3AG :
These tubes are like Gen 3A tubes except that they have autogated power supplies. They allow for vastly superior performance in light polluted areas. This grade/type of image tubes is what's currently used by our US military and special forces. These are what we prefer to use as they work great in all lighting conditions, including dusk and dawn. These tubes are often referred to as Pinnacle or Autogated.
Gen 3 with HS :
HS is our abbreviation for hand selected image tubes. This is an option that you will see on some of our Generation 3 equipment. This is the absolute best in night vision equipment performance. Our hand select quality image tubes have a minimum Signal to Noise Ratio of 27 or higher and extremely good clarity. The Signal to Noise Ratio is the best indicator of how well the device will see in low light and the higher the number is the better. Less than 5% of Gen 3 image tubes meet our strict hand selected standards. These tubes are stronger and clearer giving you better performance in low light, which in turn gives you longer distance capability. If you are looking for the absolute best performance possible our Hand Select image tubes are it.
Buyers should be careful when buying Hand Select units form some dealers as many will state "Hand Select" and charge you more however they don't state a minimum Signal to Noise value. This is usually a bad sign as these tubes are simply selected from whatever batch of tubes the dealer currently has and the best of the batch is chosen, often resulting in a mere 23 or 24 S/N ratio. We are fortunate to be drawing from a large pool of high quality image tubes so we are able to cherry pick the 27 and higher S/N image tubes for our customers.
*Note: If you order an HS (hand selected image tube) from us and one that meets our strict standards is not available at the time of order placement, we will immediately notify you and let you know if there are any good alternatives. We will not just ship you something that is very good if it does not meet our HS criteria. Upon customer approval, as an alternative we will select you the best of the non-HS tubes which are often just shy of meeting our HS standards and adjust the price down to the non-hand select price.
As always feel free to contact us if you would like help. At NightVision4Less we understand that choosing the right product can be a difficult decision and we are here to help. 1-800-771-6845