Night Vision Equipment Recommendations?

My next trip will be to Sierra Leone this December! I’ll be looking for Pygmy Hippo and other West African mammals at Tiwai Island and Gola. At Gola, I’ll be spending a lot of my time in strategically placed blinds, and the staff recommended I get night vision equipment so I wouldn’t have to shine my light to check whether an animal has come in. Do you have any suggestions as to what would be best? I understand that nothing is great for walking in the forest, but I hope there’s a good option for stationary use.



  • John Fox

    I am very interested in this, as well. Any experience at all would be welcome.

    I think professional biologists use these pretty routinely. If anyone has any contacts that might provide some advice that would be great.

  • Charles Foley

    As with everything, you get what you pay for. Gen 1 and 2 models are really pretty poor with a very grainy image which makes it hard to pick anything out. You really want a Gen 3 model, but now you’re looking at several thousand dollars. The best one I’ve used is the ATN PVS7-3. The clarity is great and its really easy to focus. It does come with a head strap for driving, but if you’re going to use it to drive you’re probably best rigging up something of your own making, which is more sturdy. Also note that you don’t see any shadow, so you hit all the potholes. The Gen 3 devices work best when there’s some degree of ambient light – moon or stars. If there is cloud cover the image suffers a lot. The ATN model has an in-built infrared light, but its range is pretty poor. You can buy a stronger light to go with it that you can attach to the device, but it costs another $100+ and the beam is quite narrow. You should be able to buy handheld IR spotlights, but I haven’t tried those. Don’t bother going for any 2 or 3x converters; they cut down on the light and image quality too much. The Gen 4 models are also available and they are excellent, but you’re talking $8000+. Friends of mine have used the ATN PVS7-3 to make entire wildlife documentary films, so they are probably sufficient for your purposes, although of course they were using a pretty extensive bank of IR spotlights to help with the light. Hope that helps.

    • geomalia

      Charles – thanks for the detailed information! Would Gen 1 or 2 be sufficient for stationary spotting while waiting for a mammal at a salt lick? I’d turn my flashlight on only when something came in. Or would a red LED be more effective?

      • Charles Foley

        Yes if you just want to see if the animal is a hippo vs a duiker so you know whether to switch your torch on, then one of the older generation machines will probably do the trick, although you should see if you can find one with an inbuilt infra red beam, or else buy an infra red torch which you can shine over the area, as that will help the image quality considerably. Don’t forget to take plenty of spare batteries with you.

        • geomalia

          Do you think one of the older generation night vision monoculars, or a red LED flashlight would be better for my purposes?

          • Charles Foley

            Red flashlights are pretty cheap, so I would probably get one of each.

  • TimBawden

    I have been fortunate enough to have use of an Avio Infrared G100Ex on a recent trip. If it is cool it is quite effective at picking up small mammals up to 20 meters – on one such night we got a couple of pygmy-possums (mouse size critters) which would certainly have been missed. Less useful when it is warm. Very effective at picking up larger mammals from long distance – ie it will comfortably show sheep in a paddock outside spotlight range. Very expensive however and I think by staring at one of these all night you miss things you would otherwise pick up by spotlighting. Consider some of the new red LED lights (rather than red filter)

  • Brian Keelan

    If the Gen 3 is out of your price range, Gen 1 or 2, though low in quality, are still better than nothing for stationary spotting. One inexpensive ($200), compact unit you might consider is this one:

  • Richard Webb

    I would seriously consider a thermal imaging camera if you can afford one if the main purpose is to locate something rather than to actually view it. They are expensive but having had access to one of the Pulsar Quantum range in Indonesia recently it was excellent. I’m hoping to trial a couple later this month as the one I had access to has been superseded. The XQ19 is the replacement model.

    • geomalia

      I unfortunately can’t afford that right now, as I just splurged on a new lens (Canon 400 f4 DO II). Do you think a red LED flashlight or one of the cheaper (~ $200) night vision monoculars would be better for locating mammals (rather than viewing them)? I think they’d both work for my main purpose (waiting in a blind at a salt lick), but I’d prefer to get the most broadly useful one.

Leave a Reply