Teardown Of Oddball Night Vision Shows Off Retro-futuristic Vibe

Night vision aficionado [Nicholas C] shared an interesting teardown of a Norwegian SIMRAD GN1 night vision device, and posted plenty of pictures, along with all kinds of background information about their construction, use, and mounting. [Nicholas] had been looking for a night vision device of this design for some time, and his delight in finding one is matched only by the number of pictures and detail he goes into when opening it up.

The GN1 rocks an irresistible retro-futuristic look.

What makes the SIMRAD GN1 an oddball is the fact that it doesn’t look very much like other, better known American night vision devices. Those tend to have more in common with binoculars than with the GN1’s “handheld camera” form factor. The GN1 has two eyepieces in the back and a single objective lens on the front, which is off-center and high up. The result is a seriously retrofuturistic look, which [Nicholas] can’t help but play to when showing off some photos.

[Nicholas] talks a lot about the build and tears it completely down to show off the internal optical layout necessary to pipe incoming light through the image intensifier and bend it around to both eyes.¬†As is typical for military hardware like this, it has rugged design and every part has its function. (A tip: [Nicholas] sometimes refers to “blems”. A blem is short for blemish and refers to minor spots on optics that lead to visual imperfections without affecting function. Blemished optics and intensifier tubes are cheaper to obtain and more common on the secondary market.)

In wrapping up, [Nicholas] talks a bit about how a device like this is compatible with using sights on a firearm. In short, it’s difficult at best because there’s a clunky thing in between one’s eyeballs and the firearm’s sights, but it’s made somewhat easier by the fact that the GN1 can be mounted upside down without affecting how it works.

Night vision in general is pretty cool stuff and of course DIY projects abound, like the OpenScope project which leverages digital cameras and 3D printing, as well as doing it the high-voltage image intensifier tube way.

See What’s Inside Night Vision, And How To Build Your Own

[Nick Chen] shared some fascinating and useful details about building a AN/PVS-14 monocular night vision device from parts. It’s not cheap, but the build would be a simple one for most Hackaday readers, at least the ones who are residents of the USA. Since the PVS-14 is export controlled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), parts are not sold outside of the US. Still, [Nick]’s illustrated build instructions provide a good look at what’s inside these rugged devices.

The build consists of purchasing a PVS-14 parts kit (or “housing kit”) which includes nearly everything except the image intensifier module, which must be purchased separately. Once all the parts are in hand, [Nick] explains how to assemble the pieces into a working unit.

The view through a blemished (or “blem”) image intensifier. Cheaper, and perfectly serviceable as long as the center is clear.

Since the image intensifier is by far the most expensive component, there is an opportunity to save money by shopping for what [Nick] calls “blem” units. These units are functional, but have blemishes or dead spots within the field of view. The good news it that this makes them cheaper, and [Nick] points out that as long as the center region of the tube is clear, they are perfectly serviceable.

How much can one save by building from parts? [Nick] says buying a complete PVS-14 with a Gen 3 tube (sensitive to 450-950 nm) can cost between $2500 to $4000. It’s expensive equipment, no doubt, but deals can be found on the parts. Housing kits can be had for well under $1000, and [Nick] has purchased serviceable image intensifiers for between $500 and $1000. He says searching for “blem tubes” can help zero in on deals.

Knowing the right terms for searching is half the battle, and along with his build instructions (and a chunk of cash) a curious hacker would have all they need to make their own. Heck, build two because the PVS-14 is designed such that two units can be combined to make a binocular unit! Not ready to drop that kind of cash? Check out OpenScope, the open source digital night vision tool.