I've been involved with airsoft for about two years being affiliated with a large local group of people in our community who meet regularly and have scheduled games, ops, and events. Airsoft is a great sport and hobby that encourages teamwork, honor, respect, communication, and discipline (as well as how to wisely make purchases). I recently played a game at night and realized how cool it would be if I could utilize some form of night vision. The more I researched it, the more I wanted to see in the dark somehow.

Unfortunately, true night vision in even the lowest quality can cost hundreds of dollars just for the optic alone, excluding hardware necessary to mount the optic to a helmet or airsoft rifle. It's expensive technology. However, there are alternative methods for seeing in the dark. There are several versions of educational night vision viewers and toy spy binoculars available on the market for kids and...um...well, geeks like me. They utilize low-lux cameras, infrared illumination, and a display for a more affordable $50-$80 system that can still see in the dark. This is the system I chose to utilize.

Being inspired by DIY'ers like Kipkay, and reading books like 50 Spy Gadgets for the Evil Genius, I chose to invest the money to build my own infrared night vision viewer. Besides, both of those night vision builds use parts that can only be scavenged, not purchased individually. I wanted to show how to build a unit from stuff you can buy online easily or at the store.

For more information on how to build this type of system, here's some helpful links:

KipKay's Night Vision instructable:

Longwinter's Steampunk Night Vision Periscope build:

Lucidscience (50 Spy Gadgets for the Evil Genius) Night Vision build:

Alex1M6's IR Night Vision illuminator:

So let's get started. Remember, don't get into any trouble with this, and don't expect this to compete with real night vision devices. This is intended to be a proof of concept. Let's begin!

Step 1: What You'll Need

To quickly summarize how our device will work, it is simply a camera that can see infrared light that is invisible to the naked eye, and can utilize the infrared light like a flashlight. Usually a form of display is required. Often times, the use of a viewfinder from an old camcorder is used for this purpose, however these are hard parts to find without buying an entire camera, and I didn't have any cameras lying around, and I certainly wasn't going to waste money on an entire camera that I was only going to use for a viewfinder. So I used an LCD screen for this purpose instead. Here are the parts you'll be needing for this project:

I spent about $60-$70 on electronic components for this project (excluding replacing a part that I ruined), and around $25-$30 for the boxes for the enclosure. If you build your own enclosure, you can probably save a lot of money. If you build this exactly like I did, you'll probably expect to spend around $100 give or take.

Electronics (Prices as of 5/16/13):
-3.5" TFT LCD screen....... $20.00

Takes 12V, has two video inputs- yellow and white. The white input will override the yellow making the white input suitable for other external axillary usage for other AV equipment.

-Low lux video camera module...... $31.40

Other cameras will work so long as they can connect to the RCA video input on the screen. This camera is .008 lux rated. The lower the lux rating, the better it will see in the dark and the easier it will be able to detect IR light. I wouldn't go any higher than .008 for this, as the camera won't be sensitive enough to pick up the IR light effectively to create an image.

-30 LED Infrared illuminator..... $13.95

IR illumination is usually available in 840nm and 940nm wavelengths and the intensity is measured in watts, not lumens. 840nm IR light will also produce a visible red glow when viewed with the naked eye, however 940nm IR is completely invisible and undetectable. I chose a near infrared illuminator because it was easier to find, and it was more affordable than other IR illuminators.

I also picked up a Cree Ultrafire WF-501b Infrared Torch (850nm, so there is a red glow)..... $19.96

I ended up getting one of these for my rifle to use in addition to the infrared illuminator for longer distance viewing. Remember, more IR = more viewing distance.

-12V Battery

I was able to get an 8 AA battery holder that adds up to 12V for a few bucks at Radioshack. So long as you use 12V DC, you'll be fine.

-5V voltage regulator.....$1.99 from Radioshack

This is very important because the camera will only accept 5V DC power. Any more voltage than that will fry it and cost you another $30 camera. Trust me, it's not a good feeling to realize that you accidentally ruined your camera and have to buy another one. That's why this instructable is here for you, so you can learn from my mistakes and save money...and probably some profanity as well.  :)

-Male to male RCA video adapter:

You'll need this because both the screen and the camera have female plugs for video and need to be connected. You can find one of these at Radioshack for around $5.

-Switches: You'll need a  switch for turning on the camera and screen and for turning on the infrared illuminator. Switches are cheap and usually only a buck or two a pop.


-Soldering iron
-Wire strippers/cutters
-Heat shrink tubing
-Lighter or heat gun
-Electrical tape
-JB weld
-Hot glue/Hot glue gun
-Drill and bits or access to a drill press
-Dremel tool and cutting attachment
-Black spray paint

Enclosure: This step is completely up to you. I used several ABS project boxes in various sizes from my local Radioshack electronics store and mounted them together to create my enclosure. The sizes I used were 5x2.5x2", 6x3x2", and 8x4x2". You could probably use PVC pipe, wood, plastic containers, etc and it would work just fine.

Completely optional, I also used some cheap 3M full-seal chemical protection safety goggles (lab goggles) to make the faceplate of the viewer and to help prevent light from the LCD screen from leaking and giving my position away (as if the glowing red IR LED's weren't enough). Plus....it does improve the look of the finished unit a bit.  :)

<p>how did you mount it to your rifle?</p>
This is awesome! There's a cheaper way to make one though. At Walmart you can get a car dvr for 20 dollars with night vision. If you had the ir spotlight, you'd be halfway done. That's 30 dollars in electronic parts.
<p>top !!</p>
would you be interested In selling them
although this post is a couple of years old, I thought I'd add something that might help concerning the power supply issue.<br>a while back, i built a not-so-powerful portable amplifier which i used whilst renovating the house. i also had the drama of my mp3 player's battery dying at the most inappropriate moment. there's nowt worse than being in the throes of death-metal induced ecstasy and suddenly....silence ;)<br>i had a box of rechargeable batteries which were leftovers from broken/burned out portable drills. inside each battery pack is a barrage of rechargeable batteries connected in series. the amplifier needed a different voltage than the mp3 player, so i tapped the power somewhere along the line. i kept the recharge function by using an old transformer who's output was more than the combined voltage of the new batteries, and added a circuit for trickle charge.<br>i found that using this type of battery had the advantage that they lasted longer. after a days usage, I'd put the 'box' on charge overnight and was good to go the next day.<br>hope this helps mate. also, I'm pretty sure that ebay etc. must be full of knackered portable drills. <br>happy hunting! ted
<p>Will too may leds (say 70-80) affect the camera? Will it be too bright? I have a 72 led shell and was wondering if i could use it. Thanks</p>
So i just found this researching cameras that can see infrared. Great instructable for diy-ers. I was curious though, if the camera would work down to 4.5 volts? If so, the battery pack could simply be tapped at that voltage, eliminating any need for regulation. There might be a trade-off in how long it would work effectively though, seeing as how it will be starting at a lower voltage. Just a thouht.
Could the camera be mounted to the back of a rifle scope to extend the range and use as night scope?
<p>Sorry for the delayed response; you could certainly do this. Something to keep in mind is to keep your IR illumination outside of the scope that the camera is looking through so that the glare does not obscure your visibility. I would recommend one of the IR torches for this. :)</p>
<p>Or, you could just buy an Eye Clops - and spend less. A toy that's not really a toy and actually works quite well. Tough, too. Advertised range is 50', I think, but it does better than that, and with additional IR light (like your flashlight) will easily reach out to 100' or more. Also, you can record photos/video with it. </p><p>I've used it while camping with excellent results. Get it for your kids and let them see if they can pry it out of your cold dead fingers.</p><p>Just sayin': <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007TG2POM/" rel="nofollow">www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007TG2POM/</a></p>
<p>Yeah well, a lot of people like me would rather make it ourself</p>
Of course. Nothing wrong with alternatives, though.
<p>Of course not. I do think it's important that <br>people gain an understanding of how technology works so it can be improved, modified, and recreated to further progress innovation. :) </p>
<p>If you look closely at the screen's manual (or at its circuitboard with a strong magnifier), you'll see your screen works perfectly at 5V (and probably less, following the +Vcc on the circuit board quickly falls down to 1.8V) so you can use much lower voltage for the camera+screen (that's how I get my RaspberryPi and its screen on the same 5.2V PSP adapter), e.g get 5 rechargeable AA batteries (6V) and regulate power to the camera with a 5V Zener diode and a resistor (costs next to nothing, except if you source your components at Radioshack or Maplin).</p><p>Now, powering the LEDs is something else, but you don't really care about the voltage, only the watts count, so there is no problem in feeding your LEDs with 6V, it'll just drain your battery faster (but a 7805 regulator by itself kills a rechargeable 9V in 48 hours or less, lesson from personal experience...)</p>
<p>I think I read about people running the screens off of 7V DC, but I never tested to see how little power it would take to run it. I'll try to keep this in consideration for the next one!</p>
<p>im working on buying the parts right now and was wondering if there would be any difference in compatibility if i got a led screen. i know LED wont heat up as much and usually have better quality, will this work??</p>
<p>the 5V regulator should have 2 capacitors (if using LM317 use a 100uf and 10uf) to smooth out the current. otherwise it is not good for the camera to have that pulsing current :) </p><p>http://www.instructables.com/id/Pocket-Size-Power-Supply/</p>
<p>Also there is a slightly larger screen on e-bay for about $5 less</p><p>http://www.ebay.com/itm/4-3-TFT-LCD-Car-Reverse-Rear-View-color-Monitor-for-backup-night-vision-camera-R-/181443603621?pt=US_Rear_View_Monitors_Cams_Kits&amp;hash=item2a3ee1aca5</p>
<p>Here's what I've learned about screens: TFT LCD's are usually low-res and are only suitable for near-sighted vision because of the loss of picture quality with distance on a fixed objective camera. 3.5&quot;, 4&quot;, and 7&quot; are the dimensions for TFT's for automobiles that I've seen on Amazon and can easily hack to work for these sorts of devices. I usually go with the smaller ones since I intend on using eyepieces with them so they can be helmet mounted. Larger screens (although have more pixels) take up too much room for that. </p><p>If they had any small VGA displays at a comparable size to the 3.5-4&quot; TFT's and had a higher resolution (at a reasonable price), they do make VGA camera boards that would work with them. Which would be awesome to use. :)</p>
<p>Interesting. Is it because the regulator has to pulse the current to step it down? I could see why that might be hard on the camera. Thanks for the tip!</p>
<p>You know i am not really sure lol. i think so but it might be to just smooth out the input supply.</p><p>it seems the caps are more important if you are using an AC/DC <br> wall power supply because they are usually not the most clean ones. if <br>using batteries you still should have the caps but it wouldn't have beat <br> the camera up as much :)<br><br>a friend is going to give me 3 dead <br>laptops so i am going to take the smallest screen, buy a driver and use <br>it beacause it will be higher res.</p>
<p>I love this build! Working the kinks out of mine now. I was wondering how do you adjust the focus on this camera?</p>
<p>This uses a smaller lens that can be adjusted by screwing the threaded objective lens in or out from the lens body until the desired focus is reached. I had to loosen a tightening screw on the lens body before I could adjust mine. :)</p>
<p>Hello, recently I work with the diy NVG project too, I met a problem, The problem is: it is okay when I connect the camera and the monitor, but when I connect to 2 3W, 2-2.4V IR light bulb, a 56 ohm resistor and a switch as a IR illuminating system. The power supply is 12V 3A li-battery. When I turn on the illuminating system which is parallel to the camera and the monitor, The screen will turn white and nothing can be seen, even I turn off the IR light bulb. Some people said I should check for the noise reduction, but I don't know how. Please advice. thank you.</p>
<p>Well, I've noticed that when my batteries start getting low and need to be changed, my IR's will get too dim to illuminate a usable field of view and my screen will fade to solid white. The weaker the batteries, the faster it fades to white, until it's white as soon as it's turned on. Double check your power supply and make sure you're getting the 12V you want for testing your wiring. Hope this helps!</p>
<p>Thanks for your advise, I will go double check for that</p>
good project frnd, could u please explain how lux of a camera .001 as u have mentioned above, how is it linked to night vision
minimum lux of 0.001 is much more sensitive than minimum lux of 0.1. The lower the minimum lux, the more sensitive is the camera. As you know, nvg is used in dark or total dark, which means there are lack of photons with visible light frequency, so the camera need to be very sensitive.
sorry for the late reply frnd, and thanks i will try to get the lowest lux possible
What is the power of your infrared LED array? And the rated current? I think of using one or maybe more 1, 3 or 5W infrared LED's (wavelength 940nm). You can buy them for a few bucks.
The spec sheet says the array is 3W, but I have no idea on the current draw other than that it's relatively low. I don't have it opened up to check at the moment, but I'm sure you'd be ok using a couple of the the high intensity LED's.
Hi i was wondering how i would go about giving these the ability to record video rather than just view it. also i am only 13 so it has to be relatively cheap.
You have to split your camera video RCA connection to go to both your goggle display and some form of DVR. They probably make RCA splitters that you can get for a couple of bucks, but I'm not sure about DVR's being small, affordable, and recording like you want. Hope that helps! :)
What's the purpose of the middle project box? did you keep the rca cables full length and thats where you put them?
Yeah, I kept them full length. You can probably just use wires or make them shorter if you want, but the middle box helped create more space for everything. Like I said, the enclosure is totally however you want to make it. :)
Interesting. I built something similar (before I saw this), but I used a night vision security camera. The funny thing is, I used a 5v voltage regulator because my CRT viewfinder can only handle 5, but the camera needs 9+. <br> <br>9v is OK, but to get the quality I am looking for, I need 12v. I've been looking for a 12v rechargeable battery, but they are all too big. The 8 AA batteries is a great solution. I should have thought of that. <br> <br>I finally got the circuitry off of my solderless breadboard and onto some protoboard! That made me really happy. Now I just need to get that battery clip you suggested. <br> <br>As you can see, I'm still working on an enclosure. I originally had the prototype in cardboard, haha. <br>
I'd look into this as your camera source. Lower lux, supports 12v, and includes the IR light source. http://www.amazon.com/TaoTronics%C2%AE-TT-CC12-Universal-Waterproof-Distance/dp/B005C6NM0M/ref=sr_1_28?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1369009556&amp;sr=8-28&amp;keywords=backup+camera+lux <br> <br>Plus, it's cheaper than the one you used by a few bucks. <br> <br>Also, you might can find a cheap camera at Goodwill or a Pawn Shop to get the eye piece. Other than that, cool build.
Thanks for the link man! It does say that this particular unit is .2 lux required for minimum illumination. Not too bad, but it's not going to be nearly as sensitive as the .008 lux camera I used for this. Another problem I've run into with these cameras with built in LED's: the glare prevents you from looking down any optics or through any windows. It may not seem like a big deal, but there are a lot of times when you just want the IR off or away from your lens. Other than that, any automobile camera could be useful for close-up night vision video projects.
Something else I have just noticed on that camera in the link. In the description under the &quot;Notes&quot; section it states that the camera produces a &quot;mirror Image&quot;, meaning you could not use it for a personal night vision aid as you would see everything reversed (E.G. things you see coming toward you from right would actually be coming from left).
There are some buttons on the backside of the screen that allow you to adjust its brightness, contrast, saturation, and which way it displays. :)
you may add a photoresistor to control the IR LEDs' intensity
At the dollar store there are 5v adapters for the cigaret lighter socket for a dollar or two, easier than making something up as it is all there.
That's a brilliant idea! Now I've got to go get one and tear it apart to see if it uses DC-DC or a wasteful heat-shedder for voltage regulation. <br> <br>Thanks!
very very great instructable. just take care that they don't damage you camera lens if they maybe shoot in your direction.If I can get my hands on a small screen I wouldve build myself a night goggle already.
No worries man. I doubt I'll be playing any airsoft with this thing. Though I do have much more effective DIY (real) night vision plans for the future. :)
i know its cool and all that you built your own but i know alot of distributors can sell you old first gen Russian goggles for about the same price
what distributors? i would be interested
good news everyone! i found the hundred dollar night vision set! and its new too! it can be found through the company i work for, big 5
do you have a link?
Id like to know where I could get a set of Gen.1 goggles for around $100.00 if you have a link Id appreciate it alot.

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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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