Night time is freaking scary. I don’t care how tough or how well-armed you are, if you can’t see your targets it’s terrifying. High powered flashlights do much to relieve this, but they make the user stand out as a literal beacon in the night. Night vision would be an obvious solution if it weren’t so damn expensive for more usable Gen2 plus units. Some companies are taking a step back and trying to reinvent IR amplifiers of the Vietnam War with digital products. Surprisingly, they aren’t terrible.
One such company is Bushnell, an established optic-maker that builds mid-range, affordable optics. Its newest product is the Equinox Z 6x50mm night vision optic. Impressive out of the box, it features a monocular that feels solid and is armored with a black rubber-like material protecting it from drops.
The forward element adjusts focus and has a lens cap retained to the unit with a short cord. The eye piece is adjustable to the shooter’s vision, and has a stiff, but functional eyecup. It has enough eye relief to allow glasses-wearing users to see the entire image without removing their spectacles.
The second lens is for the infrared illuminator. Five buttons on top control it and are protected with rubber armor. Three ports and a switch under a cover on the bottom allow users to output to a monitor, upload photos to a computer and select video or still imaging. It also features a Picatinny rail is on the side for mounting a more powerful infrared illuminator.
At 8 by 4 by 2.5 inches and weighing a scant 27 ounces, the unit isn’t tiny but fits in standard BDU cargo pockets. The box includes a protective pouch, a cable to connect it to an external device and a short wrist strap. It runs on four AA batteries, stores images and video on a micro SD card and retails for around $250.
Unlike first generation NVG units, the Equinox is totally digital. It uses a CMOS sensor like a digital camera, except it’s optimized for infrared light. While it’s night vision, these units can’t see in total darkness without help. That help can be moonlight, the light reflected down by clouds from cities or from the built-in infrared illuminator.
Out in sticks, the only usable light source is the built-in infrared illuminator. On the Equinox, the illuminator reaches nearly 1,000 feet with its three brightness settings. Although the light projected by the illuminator is invisible to the naked eye, the emitter has a dim red glow to it. If someone else has night vision, the illuminator is like a flare.
The unit I reviewed has a lot of magnification for night vision. The more magnification you get, the narrower the field of view and this cuts into situational awareness. If you are scanning a large area, it is harder, in other words, to spot something. On the other hand, if you do spot it, the higher magnification makes it easier to figure out what it is.
Bloom on the equinox is annoying, but not any worse than other comparable units. It’s like looking at the sun, then trying to see into a shaded area. The illuminator helps this, but only as long as it can overpower the regular light. Thankfully the illuminator is pretty powerful.
I compared the Bushnell to a Russian Zenit Gen I and the Bushnell was hands down better. The Zenit uses an light intensification tube which gives the green eye view of the world while the Bushnell gives you a black and white TV image which is much easier to see. The Bushnell illuminator is far more powerful. The Zenit seems like a toy compared to the Equinox.
My main gripe with the Bushnell is that it is hard to find the right button in the dark. They could have put something tactile on each one to help differentiate them by feel. It would be great if the illuminator weren’t visible to the naked eye. I think I would be happier with the 3x version as it would be easier to find targets and focus with it. I think I will have to buy one of them.