Many years ago before the night vision industry grew to what it is today, buying night vision could be a risky proposition. You didn't always know what you bought until it showed up. Today, night vision has become fairly mainstream with more dealers and people buying night vision than ever before.
Unfortunately, many of the same risks are still present. It can be a complicated, confusing, and muddy process buying night vision. This post refers to image intensified night vision devices because they are almost always put together by builders versus something like new thermal devices which come completely assembled from the manufacturer. People need to know these risks and it is truly deserving of the warning "BUYER BEWARE".
BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front):
Quality night vision is expensive. Buy from a well established reputable seller if you want to avoid risks and get something that is 100% legitimately acquired with the proper parts/components, paperwork, warranty, and after the sale support.
Keep in mind that today's reputable seller can be tomorrow's shit bag seller. I'm not talking about the typical issues that any seller can have such as order delays, personality conflicts, etc. that cause some types of complaints. I'm talking about shady and/or straight up illegal & unethical business practices.
Recently some fairly large names in the night vision industry have been exposed for doing things such as taking peoples money and not delivering the product and other shady business dealings. These are people and companies who at their peak no one would have thought it possible. I will not give names. The information is out there on public night vision web forums and the night vision community. The best thing you can do is research, research, research. Ask as many sources as possible who they bought from, what their experience was, and for their recommendations. Like my previous post also mentions - BEWARE of anonymous advice. Do your best to make sure you're asking actual end users with no affiliations.
There are three major risks when buying gen 3 image intensified night vision from questionable sources.
1. Lower quality
3. Image tubes of questionable origin
There are only two ways to reduce the costs of an image intensified device to increase profits (not including overhead, etc.). Reduce the cost of the image tubes and/or the housings & other components such as optics. The image tube is the most expensive part of the device and generally the lower priced devices being sold as new will have lower quality image tubes. The quality varies, so some of these are good tubes while others are not, at least compared to something of known higher quality at a similar price or slightly more. It's a competitive market so you have to consider why two similar items may have a significant difference in price. It is possible for the same quality tube & device (low or high quality) to be "overcharged" and just because it is more expensive doesn't mean it's higher quality. Like I said, muddy.
Some dealers are up front about the tubes they use while many are vague or provide little to no information. The most common tactic used is to claim the tubes are "mil spec" while not providing or guaranteeing to meet all of the minimum mil spec requirements. The current Omni VIII mil spec minimum requirements are actually pretty low so that's not saying much anyways. Just because a tube is mil spec doesn't mean it is high performing. It may just barely meet the minimums or it could be much higher. You can commonly get commercially sold image tubes with much higher specs than the mil spec minimum requirements. Read my other post about specifications if you want to learn how specs affect performance. A good seller will let you request certain minimum specs or actual specs and select a tube meeting your requirements versus just sending you whatever they have on hand.
It's recently been brought to light that some sellers are using non mil spec lower quality optics and housings. These parts are lower cost than their mil spec counterparts but they are not passing on the savings nor informing customers while including these lower quality parts. Just because a new user won't know the difference doesn't make it right. It's also been brought to light that some sellers on social media (actually very popular ones) are selling devices with absolutely horrific shoddy workmanship. Some of which appeared to be from using defective/damaged components. The buyers discovered this when they sent their devices to different dealers for service. I have also heard of some sellers not including the actual data records of tubes but instead their own version. This is shady as hell and not standard practice. I would not trust that the specifications listed on the data record are legitimate.
I would avoid any seller who will not take the time to go into these details or if they give the run around when asked. A reputable seller will take the time to answer your questions and make sure you are comfortable with your purchase. Shitty sellers just want your money and will tell you what you want to hear. Night vision isn't running out anytime soon so take your time. Good tubes and good deals are always right around the corner
A 10 year warranty has become pretty standard with the bigger dealers nowadays. That is pretty awesome considering that warranties used to be anywhere from 1 to 5 years. The thing you need to know is that the tube manufacturers only offer up to a 2 year warranty on the image tube. Most dealers rely on it because tube issues generally occur within that time period. Beyond 2 years, the dealer/seller is responsible for the remaining 8 years. If a warranty is important to you, then you should feel confident that the seller will be around for that long or even within the 2 years.
One of the dirty secrets of the night vision industry is that A LOT of sellers are just drop shippers, operate out of their homes, and have no brick and mortar location. I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing but it is a lot easier for the seller to close shop since they have a lot less invested in the business. Many sellers don't build the devices themselves, do any repair work, and rely entirely on whoever their builder is. Many sellers use the same builder so this could be a problem if the builder goes sideways. I would ask the seller if they do their own building or who their builder is. If they won't provide that info I would pass on them. The smaller sellers who do their own building are fully responsible for the warranty they offer beyond the 2 years, IF, the tubes were purchased new from the manufacturer or distributor with the full 2 year warranty available.
I'm not trying to fear monger and scare people about "the man" coming after you but this is a legitimate issue you need to be aware of and is by far the biggest risk to buyers.
Some sellers will source tubes and devices by any means necessary. Besides buying them new from the manufacturers or distributors, they may buy them from the used market, re-purpose tubes from devices taken in as a trade in, and from any source that is offering tubes at a reduced price. It is entirely possible that tubes obtained in the used market or inside devices taken in on trade to have questionable origin. Especially if they were obtained in the used market to start with and don’t have data records.
The #1 easiest way to immediately determine if a tube is questionable is to ask if the tubes come with data records (aka spec sheet) and/or ask if you can see it. These come with new tubes that are sold commercially and are provided by the manufacturer. If the seller won't send you a copy or doesn't have it, then the tube was almost certainly not purchased new, which could mean no warranty through the tube mfg. If the tube was sourced used, it's possible that the previous owner lost it, however, the seller should be able to request a copy from distributor who sold them the tube and sometimes the manufacturer.
There are two reasons why having the data record is important. #1 is it lists the tube’s measured specifications which greatly helps in determining it’s quality. It documents the tube’s performance and greatly helps for resale. #2 is that mil spec tubes sold to the DOD (Department of Defense) and other entities by contract do not come with spec sheets. These tubes are the property of the US Government or the entity who purchased them. It is possible for some of these contract tubes that never went to the customer to be obtained legally. The manufacturers typically remove the Mil-Spec label which lists the contract number, etc. and replace it with a commercial tube label. If I was presented with this tube option, I would ask the seller for a picture of the tube's markings so I could confirm which label it has and confirm with the manufacturer that it is good to go if it still has the contract lablel. Even though it might piss off the seller, it would be a huge red flag to me if the seller refused to do it. If there are no markings or label on the tube it is 100% sketchy and akin to filing off a serial number on a firearm.
There was a recent arrest in the online night vision community where an individual sold HUNDREDS of stolen image tubes. DHS (Department of Homeland Security) located all of the buyers, confiscated all of the tubes, and they will not be reimbursed for their loss.
I'm not trying to scare people away from smaller sellers. As I said above, there have been some big name sellers caught scamming people as well. The problem is that the active night vision community is fairly small and this information isn't easily found. Do your research, ask lots of folks questions, and the safest bet is to buy from a well known and reputable dealer with plenty of RECENT positive feedback and recommendations. You should clearly know what you're buying, the specifications/quality of the image tube, and have years of support after you buy it.