Difference Between Night Vision and Infrared

Seeing the objects in low light conditions is one of the fields where we are enhancing our technology. The most well-known example of this is that the soldiers of the army have to maintain their visibility in severe conditions.

We have different ways of maintaining visibility in low lights, first, using Night vision goggles, second, infrared detectors. In the below sub-sections we will see a detailed difference between Night vision and Infrared.  

Night Vision vs Infrared

The main difference between night vision and infrared is that the night vision device works on collecting the little light that is available and then amplifying it whereas infrared works on detecting heat-generating waves instead of employing visible light. Humans can increase their night vision with a certain technique as well but the Infrared way could only be done via infrared glasses. 

Apart from this, the temperature is also an important factor to bring the difference between them.

Night Vision vs Infrared

Night vision is a technology in which the amount of light is low and a person can see even in low light with his naked eye. Two conditions are likely to occur during the nighttime – the higher spectral range and the higher intensity limit.

If seen in this way, the night vision of humans gets worse as compared to animals because there is a lack of tapetum lucidum in the eyes of humans, which is the main reason for this.

Infrared technology is mainly used when there is no light at all and human has to find the objects in the pitch dark.

It works on detecting the heat signatures coming out of objects compared to objects around them and then it uses those heat signatures to translate into an image. 

Comparison Table Between Night Vision and Infrared

Parameters of comparisonNight VisionInfrared
Definition     Night vision technology absorbs any limited light and then magnifies it which later is seen by the naked eyeInfrared vision technology works on detecting heat waves.
Amount of lightCannot function if there’s no lightIt’s independent of light
Prevention    Bright light is needed to prevent night vision.Infrared is prevented by cooling.
Usages   Night vision is mostly used by military forces only or for trekkingInfrared could be used in bad weather like heavy rain or fog.
ExpensiveNight vision technology is cheaper Infrared cannot technology is more expensive than Night vision.

What is Night Vision?

We all would have heard about the night vision and seen the cool military gadgets used by the cops or undercover agents in the spy movie where the object appears in the green color when they use it in the night.

Nighttime in bad weather is the most dangerous time to drive especially in the hilly area where the sun sets early, headlights are only a little help.

Often they’re not enough to give us enough time to react when something comes up on the road.

In these situations, night vision devices could help where it absorbs the present light then magnify it through an amplifier and portray through the images in greenish color hue.

Seeing in low light requires the ability to have a sufficient intensity range. Animals have more ability to see at night than humans.

The reason for this is that the size of the pupil, lens and optical aperture in their eyes is large and the number of tapetum lucidum in the retina is high. 

The major drawback with the night vision devices is their effectiveness decreases as the intensity of light decreases, which means if it’s the cloudy night that blocks the light from the moon and stars then night vision won’t work well.

What is Infrared?

As we saw how the insight vision devices work and their pitfalls, so infrared tech came into the picture to enhance the vision in a hazardous situation like heavy rain or fog or pitch dark scenarios.

Infrared is a technology that uses scanners that measure the heat waves/signatures of the object and compares it to the other objects around it then it translates those heat waves into the images and wherever the intensity of heat signatures is high it’s highlighted and brighter in the image.

Our body or the moving object around us is slightly warmer or cooler in temperature than the normal environment. Hot objects have more energy, so they emit more energy than cold objects.

That is, whether it is daytime or night, it becomes easy to identify them with an infrared detector. Somewhere people also use the word night vision in place of infrared vision.

Sometimes even misuse it. Designing of this system is mainly for a specific purpose. This system is mainly used to locate enemies. 

The major advantage of using infrared is the fact it does not require any light to function and raw weather does not affect its effectiveness either however building infrared devices is very expensive but very reliable.

Main Differences Between Night Vision and Infrared

The distinguishing factor between Night vision and Infrared can be summed up on the following ground:

  1. Night vision works on amplifying the available light whereas Infrared works on comparing the heat waves with the surrounding objects.
  2. Night vision is impaired by conditions like fog or mist or smoke whereas infrared is not impaired by these conditions.
  3. Night vision won’t work effectively in very low light whereas infrared is independent of light.
  4. Night Vision devices are cheap to manufacture whereas Infrared devices are costly.
  5. Night Vision takes the light and magnifies it then translates into a green light hue whereas Infrared translates heat signatures into a clear image where higher heat signatures are in red or orange.
Difference Between Night Vision and Infrared


So here we conclude that night vision and infrared are very different from each other. The main function of night vision is to detect visible light whereas the main function of infrared is to detect released heat from the object.

Night vision devices are easily available but not reliable in strenuous weather whereas Infrared are costlier but work well in all conditions.

Night Vision works by collecting the light and magnifying it then translating it into a green-tinted image whereas Infrared translates heat signatures coming out of objects and compares waves from surrounding objects then converts into a clear image where higher heat signatures are in red or orange.


  1. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/1033764/
  2. https://www.spiedigitallibrary.org/journals/Optical-Engineering/volume-51/issue-1/010901/Progress-in-color-night-vision/10.1117/1.OE.51.1.010901.short
  3. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/5548089/
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