U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- The legendary Marine Scout Sniper, Carlos Hathcock, once used an early version of a night vision scope called a Starlight scope to keep a group of NVA at bay. At that time in history, night vision seemed like something out of science fiction. In modern times the average consumer has access to night vision equipment at a surprisingly affordable price.
Even though the prices have come down these scopes a lot of them can still be a little pricey for the average consumer to afford. This opportunity is where Sightmark saw a niche that they could fill with an affordable entry into the night vision market with the Photon XT 4.6x42S Digital Night Vision Riflescope that has an MSRP of $499.97.
There are two different types of night vision on the market. The first is called generational night vision (aka traditional night vision) which uses an image intensification tube. The IIT consist of three separate parts which includes a photocathode, a microchannel plate, and a phosphor screen.
Light passes through the front lens and hits the photocathode which converts the ambient light from photons into electrons. The electrons then are released into a vacuum which causes the particles to be accelerated by the vacuum into the microchannel plate.
The microchannel plate has millions of little tiny holes. The electrons enter these small holes and generate secondary electrons. All these particles slam into the phosphor screen. This screen takes the electrons and converts it back to photons.
There are three recognized generations of this type of night vision (technically there is not a Gen 4 classification since it failed to meet the USMIL requirements for the designation). Generation one can run a few hundred dollars, and generation three can run into the $1000s. Each generation is a substantial improvement in quality, but this improvement also comes at an increase in cost.
Digital night vision uses a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) and a microdisplay. Light hits the CMOS and then is converted by the CMOS into an electrical signal. This electrical signal is converted back to show an image on the microdisplay.
Digital night vision cannot match generation three night vision in terms of quality. Where digital night vision excels is when you compare it to the generation one night vision optics. For the same price point, digital night vision outperforms the generation one and comes close to the clarity of generation two. The drawback to digital night vision is that it requires the addition of an artificial light source. Most night vision scopes will use an infrared light.
Sightmark decided that the customer would benefit more from a digital night vision platform than a generational night vision system with the Photon XT 4.6x42S due to the cost savings for the end user. Another benefit is that by going with a digital platform, it allows the scope also to be used by the operator during the day.
The Sightmark Photon XT 4.6x42S runs on two AA batteries, and according to the manufacturer, it has a battery life of four hours with the IR emitter on and 5 hours with the IR emitter off. I tested this out using Amazon Basic AA batteries. I was able to get four hours fifteen minutes out of the scope with the IR emitter on and five hours five minutes with the IR emitter off. This time frame was very close to what Sightmark advertised about the Photon XT.
The resolution of the display on the Photon XT is 640×480 pixels, and it is in a 4:3 format. This 4:3 size is the same resolution of the old square TV that was around before the invention of HDTVs. For a night vision scope, this resolution and format is probably the smart choice for the range of this scope.
The maximum effective range of the Sightmark Photon XT 4.6x42S is 130 yards with a field of view of 22.5ft at 100 yards. I tried shooting out to 200 yards, but the targets were hard to make out through the scope. At 150 yards the target was visible but was still a little blurry. At 125 yards, the objective was clear and easy to shoot. Sightmark does make a Photon RT which as an effective range of 220 yards.
The Photon RT has a broader range because it has a sensor resolution of 768×576 pixels. The sensor resolution on the Photon XT is 656×492 pixels. This difference is that the greater number of pixels make images more apparent at longer distances for the Photon RT. Both scopes have the same display resolution of 640×480 pixels. The Photon RT does have a higher price tag coming in at an MSRP of $659.99.
Another cool thing about the Sightmark Photon XT is that it has a video out. Through a simple RCA cable, the operator can output the image onto a monitor. We used this feature when we were trying to eliminate a coyote that was bothering a friend's chickens. We never did see the coyote.
The shooter can adjust the windage and elevation of the Sightmark Photon XT. Each click of the turret is equal to 25 mm at 100 yards. The scope is capable of a range of 60 clicks. This interval was enough to get us on target out to 150 yards. The scope also has a magnification of 4.6 which is fine since it is only really meant for shooting at 100 yards.
Another great feature of the Photon XT is that it comes pre-loaded with six different reticles. The scope's first reticle subtensions are in milliradians. The rest of the reticles measure the subtensions in minutes of angle (MOA). I ended up using the second reticle which in my opinion is far better than the rest of the reticles, but that is the cool thing about the Photon XT. Every shooter can decide on what reticle works best for them in a given situation.
Sightmark claims the Photon XT is waterproof. This claim is a little misleading. Looking at the Photon XT rating, it is listed by Sightmark as IPX4 which means that splashing water will not damage the scope. I would have liked to see a rating of IPX7 which would mean the Photon XT would survive in three feet of water. In the end, the IPX4 is probably serviceable, but when I see waterproof, I usually do a dunk tank test where a submerge the scope in a bucket of water for an hour. If I had done the dunk test with this scope, it could have been damaged it based on the IPX4 rating.
Overall this scope performs excellently at 100 yards. I like that this scope gives me the ability to shoot at night. The price is right for an entry-level night vision scope, but I would probably save up the extra $160 and get the Photon RT for the increased range that it would give me.
Sightmark Photon XT can be found here.
About John Crump
John is an NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. He is the former CEO of Veritas Firearms, LLC and is the co-host of The Patriot News Podcast which can be found at www.blogtalkradio.com/patriotnews. John has written extensively on the patriot movement including 3%'ers, Oath Keepers, and Militias. In addition to the Patriot movement, John has written about firearms, interviewed people from all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and is currently working on a book on the history of the patriot movement and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss or at www.crumpy.com.