The Pulsar Digisight night vision scope range really shook up the market around five years ago when it introduced digital technology at competitive prices, using Sony ‘Prosumer’ CCD sensors, offering performance that in some cases was comparable to NVD (Night Vision Device) systems based on Gen 2 analogue residual light intensification tubes, also offering the many functions that derive from the digital nature of the signal. In fact, digital night vision works essentially on the same principle as any other digital camera; a lens focuses the image on a CCD sensor and transforms it into a digital signal, which is processed by a CPU and then displayed on an LCD Display and if necessary saved on digital memory.
In the case of a digital night scope, the sensor is monochrome, optimised to give the greatest sensitivity to light in general as well as at a certain wavelength (600 - 850 nm). The image is displayed on a microdisplay, observed through an eyepiece, and the scope can of course be mounted on a weapon, while the reticle can be zeroed in.
Note that thermal imaging and digital night vision are very similar in concept: in fact, the only major differences lie in the nature of the sensor and the material the lens if made of -i.e., germanium on thermal imaging scopes.
The advantages of digital night vision compared to traditional Gen 2 NVD systems are the lower cost, the possibility of using it by day without risk, the option of recording what is displayed and being able to manage numerous digital functions that are simply not available on an analogue instrument based on a IIT tube.
In recent years, Pulsar has gradually improved and updated the Digisight series, to now produce what we could call the “3rd generation” of these optoelectronic instruments, with the Digisight N960 and N970 digital night vision scopes we were given to test by the Italian Yukon/Pulsar distributor, Adinolfi S.r.l. of Monza.
The 9xx series Digisight has a 3.5x fixed lens, which, thanks to the digital zoom, can be further magnified by 2x and 4x, resulting in 7x and 14x magnification; intermediate steps are also available.
The integration of laser telemetry, with a maximum measurable range of 400 metres, in Digisight LRF models is a notable addition to the scope's features. The reading is displayed in the eyepiece.
The body of the instrument is made of a glass fibre reinforced composite polymer, which is quite strong. The scope can be used with guns that develop up to 6000 Joules, it is water resistant (but cannot be immersed in water) and a mount can be screwed on to fit the scope to the gun. A Weaver/Picatinny compatible mount is included in the package. There are two Picatinny rails on the scope body, one on the side for an extra EPS3 battery or video recorder, and one on top that can be used for a red dot sight like the Docter Sight.
It is quite bulky; it weighs around 1.1 kg, is 112 mm long, 94 mm high and 340 mm wide.
The difference between the 960 and 970 models is the auxiliary IR illuminator, respectively an 810 nm LED illuminator (just barely visible to the naked eye) and a 915 nm Laser illuminator (completely invisible to the naked eye); both illuminators can be adjusted to three intensity levels.
The system is powered by four AA 1.5V batteries.
The ½” CCD sensor has a real resolution of 752 x 582 pixels and is twice as sensitive to light as the previous generation of Digisight scopes.
There are a number of controls on the instrument; a knob for turning the scope and IR illuminator on, a customisable button, another button that controls the zoom or range measurement on the LRF model, a multifunction knob with a central button for managing all the digital functions, and a focus control for the lens. Compared to the previous generation, the 9xx series offers 30% more field of view at the same level of magnification.
There are also video out and external power connectors.
There are no turrets as the scope is zeroed in digitally. You can save the parameters used to zero in three different weapons or types of ammo, at 15 ranges. Each profile can use any of the 11 different reticles available, lit red or green.
The scope has a large eye relief (67 mm) with – 4 to + 3 dioptre adjustment, and a 6 mm exit pupil. The rectangular screen consists of an OLED 640 x 480 pixel colour microdisplay; the ‘status bar’ at the bottom of the display shows various operating parameters (battery charge, current magnification, active options, etc.) while the image is displayed in black & white.
We mounted the Pulsar Digisight scope on a semiautomatic M4 .223 Remington rifle and on a semiautomatic Benelli Argo E-Pro .30-06 Springfield hunting rifle. The mount can be used to fit the scope body in three different ways, offering various configuration options. The Digisight scope sits higher on the gun than a traditional scope, which means you have to strain your head a bit to use it, something we noticed on the Argo in particular, while on the M4 this was less noticeable.
The system used to zero the sight in could be called a touch of genius although you do have to find your way through a series of menus similar to what you might find on a smartphone: after firing one shot and keeping the main reticle on target, with the gun on its rest, just position the secondary reticle that appears to automatically zero the scope in at the desired range.
The resulting precision is quite good; the reticle (virtual: shown directly on the microdisplay) remains the same size as magnification changes.
There are 100 available clicks (+50 and -50) to adjust elevation and 80 (+40 and -40) to adjust windage; each click is equal to 17 mm at 100 m.
If you assign the zoom function to the programmable button, you can change the zoom from 3.5x, to 7x to 14x every time the button is pressed; if you want you can also change the magnification continuously (by 0.1x increments) selecting the function with the main knob and turning it, but this is slow and not very practical.
Some functions worthy of note include an accelerometer to measure the tilt of the scope and firing angle, the “SumLight” image processor that improves sensitivity notably in poor light conditions, and a wireless remote control to use all the digital functions without having to change your grip on the gun.
We tested the Pulsar Digisight N960 LRF both by day and at night, including in difficult light conditions, using a PVS14 with 3x additional afocal optics as a reference. The experience was very different to a traditional NVD. For example, there is no halo around light sources, but it is easy for a part of the image to be too brightly lit and ‘bloom’, which can completely obliterate all detail. Outside the urban environment, things improve greatly: in the open field, with just a crescent moon, the Digisight wins hands down compared to any night vision system that is not Gen 2 spec.
The resolution is quite limited; it is about one third of what you get from a 64 lp/mm tube, although it is hard to make comparisons as the digital scope behaves in a completely different way, which varies also on the basis of the luminosity of the environment.
With the IR illuminator, the range and clarity of the image is amazing; so much so it encourages you to try taking a shot at a range of over 150 metres. In brush the illuminator does not work well as the light bounces off the leaves, ‘blinding’ the sensor. In starlight, without IR and a with light cloud cover, performance drops off drastically, and you will have to turn the IR back on. In summary, this is an extraordinary instrument, offering performance in line with the price, which can be used both at night and by day (the daytime zero in / training function is excellent) and it is easy enough to use. Highly recommended.