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.  :)

About This Instructable


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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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