What's the matter? Can't see in the dark? Flashlight won't work? NSA/FBI/ATF not noticing you? Pesky rodents and other pests invading your premises and getting the best of you? Never fear. I've found a great way to build affordable real night vision that works great. Actually, this thing is kickass, so if you're ready for a fun project that won't kill your bank account, then have a seat, get your snacks, and get ready to take some notes.

Basically, I've been interested in night vision for awhile. I also play airsoft (Like our page! https://www.facebook.com/Point3Airsoft), so having night vision is a highly coveted advantage at night games and is probably the dream of every Battlefield/Call of Duty playing airsofter to have working night vision. I've heard of the toys that use infrared light and cameras to see in the dark, I've seen the expensive Gen 1 units that require infrared illumination to see anything, and I've gawked and cursed at how expensive the Gen 2 and Gen 3 units are. However after doing some research about how night vision works, some sourcing for parts, making a bit of an investment, and waiting for items in the mail, I've managed to build probably the best performing DIY night vision device you can get for the money. In the end, I spent around $200 building this and probably could've saved even more money if I had cut a few corners here and there. You can only imagine how happy my inner child is every time I power mine up.

Inspiration for this project originated from the cascade night vision thread on the AR15 forum and the Australian night vision forum. Both threads are run by David Kitson (cj7hawk), so big thank you for him for answering some of my questions and providing open source information about the project. I'll provide links to the threads at the end of the instructable. :)

Before I start, please be responsible. Depending on where in the world you live, possession of night vision may actually be illegal. This can also potentially be weapons mounted, so don't be an idiot.

People who play with fire get burned; people who play with guns get shot.

Let's get started! :)

Step 1: The Science and History Behind the Tube

In order for you to build night vision, you need to know how night vision works. I'll try to summarize it for you.

So basically night vision uses what is called an Image Intensifier Tube. This electro-optical vacuum tube essentially gathers incoming photons through the objective opening into a photocathode, and converts those photons into electrons. The electrons are amplified across a microchannel plate and then are reconverted back into photons when they hit a phosphor screen.

I'm not going to get into details about the different 'generations' of night vision, but Gen 1 is the most affordable commercially and usually the weakest and lowest performing on the market. The tube I used in this project is also Gen 1 and is called a cascade tube. Essentially, it contains three gen 1 tubes as three 'stages' for a single tube.

History time. Sometimes called 'starlight scopes', these cascade tubes were developed in the 50's and 60's and were used in the AN/PVS-2 rifle scopes during the Vietnam War. In fact, an AN-PVS-2 eyepiece will physically fit like a glove to the end of the same tube we'll be using. Cascade night vision was also the first true passive night vision system, not requiring any IR illumination.

Cascade tubes were very large however, and were outmoded by Gen 2 tubes and systems because they were smaller with less geometric distortion (fisheye). Gen 1, 2, and 3 night vision devices are still manufactured and used today, however cascade night vision is not. In fact, there are lots of new old stock cascade tubes unused and unissued in surplus (you can still buy these tubes today if you know where to look).

Let's get what we need. :)

I looked up the tube and there are 2 different kinds. Whats the difference between the two?
<p>super cool! i'm sick of the difficulty of gen 1 tubes. cant wait to build my own!</p>
<p>Good <a href="http://www.opticsplanet.com/nightvision.html" rel="nofollow">night vision</a> you can buy in this <a href="http://www.atncorp.com/night-vision-goggles" rel="nofollow">http://www.atncorp.com/night-vision-goggles</a></p><p>Hope you can choose something !</p>
<p>if i had found this page prior i would of let you all know about Anchor Supplies. in UK.</p><p>they had Gen 1 tubes from british tanks the </p><p>EEV P8070HP legandary cascade as good as gen 3 with correct lens 100.000 times gain...and class leader..they was &pound;40 but have now sold out.The UK military would rather smash them than allow us to have them now. So they are hard to come by.</p><p>Starlight Night vision sell the tubes alone for &pound;80 but they are guaranteed..</p><p><a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10205315642402044&set=a.1596828772100.79894.1577415356&type=1" rel="nofollow">https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1020531564...</a> </p><p>https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10205169285223206&amp;set=a.1596828772100.79894.1577415356&amp;type=1&amp;theater</p>
<p>Great build, overall i spent 160$ on it. Works better than any GEN1 i have. </p>
<p>Very cool project! I'm wondering how this would perform in an experiment to replace the eyepiece of a reflecting telescope. How much more light would it gather from the stars, I'm wondering? :D Or would it overwhelm, being on such a telescope that already is gobbling up and focusing billions of photons?</p>
<p>Great job with this instructable. In theory could one use a fisheye camera lens (still c mount) or would the distortion be way too much? Thanks!</p>
<p>Yep! Not sure what it would do to the distortion, actually. But because it's C-mount, you can just plug and play lenses as much as you want to see what happens. The faster the lens (f2 or less), the better.</p>
<p>Do you know of anywhere else to buy the cascade tubes?</p>
<p>Look on ebay. I'm not sure about cascade tubes, but I know that you can get Gen 2 intensifiers for between 300-600 dollars quite often on there. It's probably a bit more than you want to pay for night vision, but Gen 2 is the next best thing and will still make a high quality DIY night vision optic.</p>
<p>Hi! Thanks again for this great build idea. I finished my a few months ago and it is very successful. One thing I want to warn people about. I poked a tiny pin hole in the lens cap so the device could be tested in daylight. This works fine. But after sitting on the shelf for a few months, the photons leaking through the pinhole have damage the intensifier leaving a small black dot in the center of the tube. So, FYI: put some electrical tape over the pinhole when in storage.</p>
<p>Ouch, hope you can still use the tube! One thing, photons can't damage an image intensifier tube without the device being powered, so really, just be mindful of leaky batteries or accidentally turning it on during storage. The tube was probably overexposed because it was used during the day-<em>regardless of the pinhole cover</em>-so it burned a spot on the phosphor screen. </p><p>Pinhole covers are only intended for <em>low light</em> applications (e.g., indoors, late dusk after sunset, early dawn before sunrise) to help further protect the tube. You're better off using a standard lens cap and using the lens aperture to control the light exposure. Bottom line, if you can see just fine without night vision, then don't power it on. :) </p><p>Thanks for trying it out and be sure to post some photos! We want to see it! :)</p>
<p>Sure! Here you go. I cannibalized the eyepiece from an old studio style camcorder. It has a handy flip open feature.</p>
about how much $ total do you have invested into this project and what currency? <br>I'd love to do this project and would like a reference cost.
Around $200 USD after the spinning rims. The tube was $130ish, the objective was $35, and the eyepiece was around $6-8 bucks. Add 6VDC power from a battery pack in a box with a switch and you're ready to go.
awesome, thank you.
I just bought a cascade tube from Anchor for about 108$. The value of the Euro isn't doing so well. Better for us!
Hey mate this is great very detailed . I am also an avid airsofter i was actually playing just this sunday. Nice HK SL8 btw
Thanks mate! Hopefully I'll get the chance soon to test it out at a night op some of the guys in our group are hosting at our field we play at! :)
Darn YOU! I HAVE to build this now! Thanks for taking the time to document the effort. The hardest part is dealing with the optics and you certainly made that easy.
Hahaha, once you've seen the green, you gotta have it! :) Make sure to check out the other threads if you have any questions about optics. Those guys on there have all the measurements and numbers figured out, while I just moved it a little bit until it looked sharp!

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Bio: I'm a college student studying design and entrepreneurship in Southern Indiana, I've been an award-winning DJ on my campus radio station, I'm ... More »
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