Night Owl Optics currently offer three different models in their range of Gen1 night vision binoculars, the largest of these in both size and in power is the impressive looking and rather imposing NOB5X.
The headline feature of these will of course be their massive (for night vision) 5x magnification. However in the world of optics, just about everything involves compromises and so before looking through the Night Owl NOB5X binoculars, I just wondered how many sacrifices they had to make to achieve this, especially in regards to their field of view, image detail and brightness in really dark conditions.
To find out this and just about everything else you ever wanted to know about the device, including all my thoughts and findings, take a look at the full review below:
The main body feels really robust and solid, even though for the most part, the exterior housing looks as though it made from a hard plastic type material with an ultra thin rubberized coating. This gives it a slightly velvety matte finish that just does a little to help with grip, but more importantly makes the surface very unreflective which is an important quality if you are trying to remain unnoticed at night.
The lens housings are slightly different to the rest of the body in that according to the manufacturer, they are made from "molded thermoplastic". I looked this up and it basically means that it is made from a type of plastic that becomes pliable or moldable above a specific temperature and upon cooling reverses to a solid state, but which they say is also very resilient and offers good protection from impacts.
On the top surface are the two main buttons, the front one for turning the device on and off and the rear one nearest the eyecups for turning the IR illuminator on and off. Both are clearly labeled.
At the rear of the unit and in between the two eyepieces is the battery compartment which is accessed by unscrewing an excellent quality spring loaded cap. The NOB5X takes one 3-volt Type-123 lithium battery that does not come included. Night Owl advertise that this should get around 40 to 80 hours of use with one battery, depending on how much you use the IR.
Next to the right eyecup are two led indicators, the top one shines green when the unit is on and the other red when the IR is active.
At the front of the bridge and flanked by the barrels, you first have the wheel for adjusting the focus (see section on focussing below) and attached to the front of that is the lens for the infrared illuminator:
Protruding in front of the focussing wheel and in between the objective lenses is the onboard Infra illuminator (IR). This is aligned so that when turned on it emits and infrared light in the center of the field of view on the device.
Infrared is invisible to humans, but not to the binoculars and it uses the light which is reflected back from whatever you are looking in the same way as ambient light is. This allows you to see objects very clearly when the outside light is very poor or even in complete darkness.
When you turn it on and you are looking at objects at fairly close range (less than about 50m), it is as if you have switched on a very powerful spotlight and whatever you are looking at is completely lit up.
As you view objects further away, the effectiveness of the IR slowly diminishes. Night Owl state that it has an effective range of about 75 and 125 yds (69 to 114m) depending on what you are looking at and the conditions, which in my experience of using it seems about right.
Weighing 38.8 oz (1099g) these are lighter than most other similar 5x night vision binoculars.
Their dimensions are 7.8in (19.8cm) x 5.8in (14.7cm) x 2.9in (7.4cm) (LxWxH) which like their weight is as small or smaller than most other NV bins in this class.
In their marketing of the device, Night Owl Optics don't mention anything to do with weatherproofing, and so whilst I am sure that they are not waterproof, they are probably not rated as being weather resistant either. So whilst they do look like they would be fine in light drizzle, I would certainly be covering them up in the rain, which is something that you may want to keep in mind if your night time surveillance includes all weather conditions.
One aspect that is really fantastic on the NOB5X is that it has a single centrally located focussing wheel! This is something that I for one take for granted on daytime binoculars, but is sadly lacking on most and indeed all the other night vision binoculars that I have used in the past.
To change the focus on most other night vision binoculars you have to turn the end of the objective lenses. This is no problem on a monocular, but on binoculars, having to do it for each lens individually every time you look at objects at different distances, just takes that bit longer and can really get somewhat annoying if you have to do it often.
Unlike most daytime bins that have the focus adjustment wheel located a the back of the body, the wheel on these Night Owl Optics binoculars is still positioned in between the barrels, but is just behind the IR illuminator towards at the front of the body.
I thought that this would make reaching it a little more difficult, but it does not, mainly because of how the device is weighted. The balancing point is a little further forward and so without even thinking about it you automatically place your hands a bit further forward making the adjustment knob simple to reach without changing your grip.
However it does not protrude out of the top of the body at all and so with thick winter gloves on, which at night will often be something you would wear, it is a little more tricky but not impossible and it does have deep grooves cut into it for a bit more grip.
Turning the wheel also takes a little more effort than what you find on most daytime bins and is geared in such a way that you have to turn it quite a few times to go from one focussing extreme to the other.
So for me, even though it may not match the best daytime bins, the fact that it has a central focussing wheel makes it much, much better than the alternative and therefore really is one of the best features on the NOB5X when compared to other similar NV binoculars.
Eyepiece / Diopter Adjustment
Unlike a normal daytime binocular, you do not actually look right through the binocular, you are actually looking at the phosphor screen at the back of the tube.
So by turning the eyecup, you are adjusting the focus of the ocular lens onto that screen. Each of the eyecups can be adjusted independently and left at a different setting to each other, which just like the diopter adjustment on a standard pair of bins allows you to compensate for any differences in your eyes.
In theory you only need to make this adjustment once when you first set up the instrument for your vision. So it is good to see that there are notches in the mechanism and enough resistance to movement that stops them from easily turning accidentally, but not too much so as to make any deliberate adjustments difficult.
As I mentioned at the start of this review that these Night Owl NOB5X night vision binoculars use very high quality Generation 1 Intensifier tube technology, which some may be feel a little disappointed by (especially those influenced by marketing hype) but whilst it is true Gen 2 & 3 devices are better, in my experience the biggest step up to a Gen 2 device was in the price tag as whilst there is an improvement, the difference in image quality is not that huge. However as I have never used a Gen 3 product I can't really comment on those.
So once again there is a compromise to be made, if money is no option then yes, you probably would opt for a newer Gen, but for the rest of us, Gen1 offers a comparatively inexpensive way to really see in the dark - and by "see" I do mean "see":
For those who have never used night vision before, you are in for a treat. In what seems like complete darkness, looking though a Gen1 device like this you will really be amazed at just how much you can see.
What to expect
I did try to take some still and video footage through these Night Owl binoculars, but without much success. However I really want to give you at least an idea of what you can expect, so if you take a look at the video below that is used to highlight the Gen1 Luna Optics LN-PB3 5x monocular, it fairly accurately reflects the same sort of quality of view that you get through the NOB5X.
How the NOB5X Works
I thought it would be useful to give a brief explanation of how this and indeed most night vision devices work:
When you turn the NOB5X on, whatever light there is available (moon, stars, street lights, etc) is reflected off the object you are looking at and is collected by the objective lenses. These then focus the light onto the front of the Image Intensifier Tube which includes a photocathode screen that converts this light into electrons.
The 3 volts from the battery is converted into a very high voltage (17,000 volts) which then sends the electrons flying into the phosphorous screen which illuminates forming an image. You then use the eyepiece optics to focus on this image.
The IR illuminator can be used when the ambient light is insufficient to create a bright image and basically works just like an invisible torch by shining a bright infrared light onto what you are looking at, which is reflected back to the objective lens and amplified in the same way as describe above. For more detailed information, take a look at my guide to night vision.
In the world of Night Vision, a 5x magnification is considered very powerful, which for those of us used to using daytime binoculars and spotting scopes it will seem a little strange and you may wonder why you cant get 8x, 10x or even higher powers.
Higher magnifications require thicker lenses and thicker glass lets less light through it. During the day there is plenty of light, so this is not that much of a problem, but at night with such little available light, every little bit counts.
So in order for night vision to be viable, you have to make a compromise between magnification and the light transmission. With 50mm lenses and Gen1 intensifier tubes, the 5x power is right on the limit of how close you can get to your subject whilst still producing a bright and detailed image.
Larger objective lenses are able to gather more light, so ideally and especially for night vision where there is so much less light available than in the day, you would use massive lenses.
However as with just about everything else in optics, everything involves a compromise: really big lenses not only cost more, but are heavier and to accommodate them the size of the device has to increase. So to get the balance right, you want to have enough light gathering ability but still want a device that is reasonably priced and can be held without the need of a support like a tripod.
After testing and using these for many nights, I think that by using objective lenses with a diameter of 50mm, Night Owl have got the balance about right, the brightness and the details they resolve even on really dark nights and with their 5x magnification is very impressive and yet they are still small and light enough to carry about with you and hold up to your eyes even for long periods of surveillance without difficulty.
Night Owl Optics don't state what coatings are used, but do mention that you should not wipe the lenses with an abrasive material as this could scratch the coatings.
I guess by this they mean anti-reflection coatings which are used to minimise how much light is reflected away from the lens and so the result is more light gets focussed onto the photocathode screen, producing a brighter better detailed image.
Width of View
The angle of view (AOV) on the Night Owl Optics NOB5X is advertised as 15°, which can also be expressed as being 53 feet wide at a distance of 200 feet, which when compared to other 5x devices I have used is pretty good:
But if we compare it to the other Night Owl binoculars with lower powers, it clearly demonstrates one of the compromises you have when increasing the magnification:
However at 15°, I think you still get a really good field of view, that is plenty wide enough for scanning the terrain in front of you. Also whilst using the NOB5X, the tunnel feeling was not anywhere near as bad as I have seen on other devices with very narrow views.
Also remember that most standard day binoculars that people will probably more familiar with, have far higher magnifications and thus far narrower views for example even the very best wide angle bins tend to have an AOV of between 8° and 9°.
The nearest that you can focus on an object is just 2m (6.6ft) away, which for a night vision binocular is excellent and ranks them with the best.
Unlike some manufacturers, Night Owl Optics don't advertise the effective "detection range" or give any real indication of the maximum distance that you can see using these. In the leaflet that comes with the device they rightly explain that the distance is greatly dependant on many factors including the size of object you are looking at and environmental conditions. For example fog and rain will greatly reduce the effective range.
But to give you an idea: During my testing, I was easily able to make out a tree line at about 250 meters (273 yards) away and could very clearly see most objects at about 100 meters (110 yards).
Whilst these distances above are approximate, they do compare very well with other similar products and the max distance did feel about the same as with most others that I have used in the past:
Night Owl do state that the Infrared illuminator has a maximum effective range of between 75 and 125 yds (69 to 114m), which during my testing of the device I would tend to agree with. For example I was able to quite brightly light up the branches of some trees about 100 meters away from me and if there been an owl in it (unfortunately there was not), I would most certainly have been able to observe it.
Before using them, one of my biggest worries with the 5x magnification was just how bright and detailed an image they would produce. This is because you need thicker glass to increase the magnification and thicker glass lets less light through resulting in an image that is not as bright and with fewer details.
On the flip side however is the fact that this is a binocular and not a monocular and so you get two objective lenses to collect light (and two image intensifier tubes) and on top of that they are both 50mm in diameter which are fairly large although I have to say not quite as big as some others out there.
Well I have been using them for just over a month now and have taken them out when there has been a full moon and when it has been completely overcast on moonless nights and I must say that these really have impressed me.
Normally you see quite a few blemishes or spots, which are produced by the Electronic Intensifier Tube, but the first thing that I could not help but notice was that just how few blemishes there were looking through the NOB5X, the view really was extremely clear. This is a big improvement on pretty much all the other Generation 1 devices that I have used in the past.
The next point to note is that with night vision you get far more softening of the image on the edges of the view and only at the center where the resolution is at it's highest is the image completely sharp, this is quite normal and something you get used to. Here again these NOB5X Night Owl night vision binoculars really excel as the image remains sharp almost right to the edges with only minimal amounts of softening and is really a massive improvement when compared to most others I have used.
The image brightness and the details also surprised me, I really was expecting them to not perform anywhere near as well as they do. Even on very dark nights and without the IR activated, you can make out large objects at relatively large distances. On moonlit nights as you would expect they perform even better and undoubtedly rank right up there with the best that I have ever looked through.
The Infrared illuminator also works very well and when it is very dark, it completely lights up quite a large portion of the field of view even over fairly large distances (about 100m).
Overall I would rate the view through the Night Owl NOB5X as one of the best, if not the best Gen 1 devices that I have ever looked through and is absolutely one of their highlights for me.
|Night Owl NOB5X||Luna LN-SB50||ATN Night Scout||Luna LN-PB3|
|Price (approx):||$500 (£725)||$570 (£600)||$540||$599 (£650)|
|Resolution:||35 lp/mm||40 lp/mm|
|Weight:||38.8oz (1099g)||47.6 (1350g)||51.2ozs (1451g)||26.8oz (760g)|
|Length:||7.8in (19.8cm)||7.8in (20cm)||8.3in (21.1cm)||6.5in (16.5cm)|
|Width:||5.8in (14.7cm)||5.9in (15cm)||5.9in (15cm)||4.5in (11.5cm)|
|Height||2.9in (7.4cm)||2.6in (6.6cm)||2.4in (6.1cm)||2.2in (5.6cm)|
|Field of View:||15°||9°||20°||20°|
|Diopter Adj.:||+4 to -4||-5 to +5|
As you can see in most of the main areas, the NO5BX compares very well with other similar devices and whilst it is lighter and smaller than the other 5x products (Luna SB50 and ATN Night Scout), it does have smaller objective lenses.
A large soft carry bag is included with these Night Owl binoculars, it is nice and roomy making the device simple to take in and out. The case is only lightly padded and so will only offer minimal protection.
The bag has it's own basic carry strap and on the rear of the bag is a loop which you could use to thread a belt through.
The inside of the bag is accessed via a large flap that folds over the top and which is held closed with a strip of Velcro.
On the inside rear wall is an elasticated pocket, that is perfect for storing a few personal items and the included lens cleaning cloth.
The neck or carry strap looks to be fairly well made, the padded section is quite elastic and I think is made from neoprene, is about 3.8cm wide and about 6mm thick.
This padded section is then stitched to a couple of nylon straps on the ends with some faux leather details for extra strength. These nylon straps then connect to the binocular through a couple of loops in the body in fairly standard way of folding back on itself and through a slider.
I do like the two quick release clips on the straps that you can use to quickly remove the main part of the neck strap from the device instead of having to untie the connections which can be time consuming.
So if I was testing a standard day binocular, I would say that this neck strap was more than adequate, but the NOB5X weighs quite a bit more and whilst it is not uncomfortable hanging around your neck and the padding is just enough, a little more comfort would be have been just that bit better.
Objective Lens Covers
I like lens protectors which are simple, but work well. They are made of a soft rubber and fit well to the ends of the barrels, easy to tae on and off, but just tight enough so that they wont come away by accident.
They are permanently attached to the unit and just hang down when removed from the lenses, this is great as you always know where they are - there is nothing like scrambling about in the dark looking for a misplaced lens cap!
The two lens covers have a small hole in the center that let in just enough light so that you can use the device in the light when setting up of for demonstration purposes. You can take the caps off in the light, but make sure that the unit is not powered up as you can can be taken off during daylight, but the unit has to be off otherwise you could damage it.
Inside the box you also get a lens cleaning cloth and the relatively comprehensive instruction booklet (download the PDF version below) that includes details like getting familiar with the device, focussing, image quality, main features, FAQ, how to care for the device, main specifications, contact details and a brief explanation on how night vision works.
Night Owl Optics offer a limited one year warranty on the NOB5X that says they will at their discretion, repair or replace defective parts under warranty free of charge.
I started this review by wondering just how much having such a powerful magnification would effect other areas especially the field of view and image brightness. Well I have to say that whilst a lesser magnification would without doubt produce a wider view and probably a brighter image, for those who want to get just that bit closer to the action, I think the trade off is well worth it on these.
Even on a completely moonless night, with no artificial light sources to speak of, I was really impressed at just how bright the image was and just how much detail I could make out and that is without turning on the IR illuminator. I would even go as far to say that these are as good as any Gen1 device I have ever used and to be honest the difference between just how much you can see with these in the dark compared to the Gen2+ device I have used is actually quite minimal.
Also other major highlights for me were just how few defects there are and how sharp the image remains right to the periphery of the view, once gain big improvements on what I have seen and used in the past.
Having a central focussing wheel that adjusts the focus on both the objectives at the same time is fantastic and really is far better than having to adjust each lens separately as with most similar devices
Room for Improvement
I have already mentioned that the central focusing wheel is a real plus point, but it could have been even better if it was geared a little more aggressively, protruded out a little more from the top of the device and turned a little easier which would make it simpler to adjust with thick gloves on.
Whilst the NOB5X is lighter than many similar 5x night vision binoculars, it still weighs quite a bit more than a full sized daytime bin. Yet the best daytime ones come with better padded and wider neck straps, which are just that bit more comfortable which would have been nice to see on these.
With a tough exterior, powerful magnification and bright view this night vision binocular is ideal for most security, hunting, camping and general wildlife observation uses.
However like most other NV bins, they are not fully waterproof. If that is a concern, perhaps take a look at something like the NONM4X-MR for Night Owl, that is not only waterproof, but fully submersible.
Safaris, Travel & Hiking?
I would love to have these with me on safari, with their powerful magnification and bright image, you could really observe loads of incredible nocturnal activity.
The only concern for me would be their size and weight, compared to other 5x NV Bins, these are reasonably light, but they are still a fairly substantial piece of kit.
So as to weather they would be ideal for things like safaris and general travel, will depend on just how you travel and what other gear you take with. If size and weight are not really an issue, then yes, they would be perfect, however if it is a concern, then you may wish to consider a smaller device like a monocular or even the fantastic iGen 20/20 Night Vision Viewer that can also take photos of what you are looking at.
Reviewed by Jason Whitehead
Main Specifications & Features:
C. S. Kelly - Source: Amazon.com
Worth the money
I was blown away at the hundreds of yards of view with these night vision binoculars! Unmatched, as I also own night vision monocular or single sight IR which can barely see 10 feet! I live next to a very large cranberry bog and watched a cayote, at 300 yards in complete darkness, walk along the far bank. Amazing
Wolfman - Source: Amazon.com
NIGHT VISION=DAY VISION
I just purchased these bins from Amazon and before I received them I was fearful of what I ordered. I was more than pleasantly surprised by what I got. First, it took no time at all to get them(2 days!). Second, these things do exactly what they're supposed to do, let you see in the dark. We watched deer for hours in total darkness. It was a 3/4 moon and they gathered so much light, they did not have to be switched on! The infrared is also great! I watched mice running around a brush pile in pitch black. Well worth the money! I compared prices and this is in line with other sellers(better than most).
TX Hunter - Source: Amazon.com
Couldn't be happier
Was kind of worried buying a product that was only in the gen 1 class. All my worry was relieved after looking through them. The IR light isn't always needed, but when used i watched coyotes at 200 yards and could easily tell what they were. Very glad i got these.
Big Les - Source: Amazon.com
The spec did say 70ft or so but I did expect some capability beyond that distance. Also, the sensitivity of the lense means you have to be very careful in any direct light. Also, diagram in book had buttons marked wrong way round!!
Below are similar pairs of Night Vision Binoculars that you may also want to have a look at:
Powerful 5x Gen 1 Night Vision binoculars feels just like a daylight binocular with such features like inter-pupillary adjustment and individual focus
General Price Range: (4/6) Mid-High Value Night Vision Binoculars
Below is a link that will take you to a page with online retailers in both the US and UK that sell Night Owl Optics 5x50 NOB5X Night Vision Binoculars this page makes it easy to compare prices and then to buy from your preferred option:
Buy & Compare Prices for the Night Owl Optics 5x50 NOB5X Night Vision Binoculars
I would love to get your comments and well as your opinions on these optics. Do you want to or do you already own one of these NOB5X Night Vision Binoculars? If so please let us know what you think of them giving both the good and the bad points: