In short? No. Night vision devices work by amplifying the available light in a given area, so if there’s absolutely no light to amplify, then your night vision device turns into an expensive blindfold. However, that doesn’t mean night vision devices are useless in total darkness.
If a night vision device is equipped with an infrared illuminator, this will provide the necessary light for the device to function. To understand why this works, we must first understand night vision itself.
All objects reflect infrared light from sources like the moon or the stars, and analog night vision devices work by enhancing this light, which typically results in a bright green image thanks to the green phosphor used in their image intensification tubes. Unfortunately, analog night vision goggles will suffer damage if they are exposed to direct sunlight.
By contrast, digital night vision can be safely used in any lighting conditions. This variant works by converting small amounts of ambient light into an electronic signal that is viewed by the user, typically in black and white.
Now, in the case of a zero-light environment, an infrared illuminator can come in handy to provide a light source. These devices operate like flashlights, except they are invisible to the naked eye. Only devices like image intensifier tubes used in analog night vision and digital night vision sensors can detect the light from IR illuminators.
However, IR illuminators aren’t the only solution to seeing in zero-light environments. Thanks to new technology, some devices are now able to offer a blend of digital thermal and night vision. The Fusion Mode available on Pulsar’s Trionyx Multispectral Fusion Binoculars combines heat-seeking digital thermal imaging to detect living things via heat and night vision technology to illuminate the darkness in crystal clear quality. In addition, the Trionyx’s built-in IR illuminator switches on in environments with insufficient light.
Knowing this, users shouldn’t be concerned about whether their expensive night vision optic will function in a zero-light environment, rather they need only worry about what the battery life and quality of their IR illuminator.