There are few things in this world cooler than night vision optics, and next to a Batman-style grappling hook I can’t think of many gadgets I’ve wanted more since I was a little kid. Unfortunately, decent night vision of any sort and certainly night vision rifle scopes have always been prohibitively expensive. Cue the ATN X-Sights, a pair of digital scopes made for day- and nighttime shooting that pack in a ton of technology at a street price starting as low as ~$481 shipped. . .
The X-Sight I received for testing is the 3-12X flavor, which carries an MSRP of $629. There is also a 5-18X that runs $729. Included with the scope itself is an infrared illuminator, micro SD card, lens cover, sun shield, quick start guide (full owner’s manual is online here), and batteries, all in a handy bag.
Admittedly I was slightly annoyed by ATN right off the bat, as there’s a big allergy warning on the paperwork to notify the purchaser that the rubber on the X-Sight is made with natural latex — something that I never saw anywhere on the website’s product pages. While I’m not allergic to latex I know a couple of people who very much are, and that’s because it’s a fairly common allergy. I’d be pissed if I just spent close to $600 on a scope that was completely unusable to me, since using it necessitates pushing one’s eye up against the latex rubber eyecup.
Of course, apparently I’m not allergic to anything — I don’t even react to poison oak — so was able to proceed and put the X-Sight through its paces. And, I must say, the natural rubber latex eyecup and lens cover feel pretty darn nice. Beats lambskin.
At its core, the X-Sight is really a digital camcorder with infrared night vision capability plus software to allow it to function as a rifle scope, all wrapped up in a tough suit. It’s a pretty intelligent way to output a digital scope at a low price point. It’s also packed full of tech:
- WiFi for iOS and Android app connection. Use phone or tablet as a live viewfinder, adjust all settings, update software, initiate and share recordings and photographs
- Captures HD video (1080p) and photographs
- GPS allows geotagging, altimeter, speedometer. Tag photos and videos with this data.
- Image stabilization / gyroscope
- E-Zoom (digital, rather than mechanical zoom)
- Night vision in green or black-and-white
- 9 reticle options
- “One shot zero”
- Micro USB, Micro SDcard, Micro HDMI
- …it even displays time and date!
- Included 850 mW infrared (IR) illuminator has adjustable focus and brightness, as well as windage and elevation adjustments (handy for when beam is focused in tight for illuminating objects at long distances)
The X-Sight attaches to a Weaver / Picatinny rail, so on a hunting rifle with grooved receiver some sort of adapter would likely be needed. The mount itself is functionally solid, but with a 2.6″ eye relief from the display — your face needs to compress the eyecup a bit to get there — I struggled to mount the scope far enough rearwards. In the AR-15 photos here, the X-Sight is as far back as it can be without hanging off the back of the rail and blocking the charging handle.
It’s absolutely in a functional position, but would be more comfortable and allow for a more normally-positioned cheek weld if I could bring it back a couple more inches. Also, the height is just fine on the AR but was on the high side on a couple of other rifles.
Covers on the right side protect the battery compartment and the memory card, USB, and HDMI in/outputs.
The scope itself is powered by 4 AA batteries, while the included IR illuminator uses 2 CR123As.
A section of Picatinny rail adorns the left side for the mounting of the IR illuminator, but that could go elsewhere on your rifle to leave this rail available for a reflex sight or the like.
Diopter (reticle focus) is ±5 adjustable for your eyesight. Image focus is adjusted up front, and in this way the X-Sight behaves similarly to a manual-focus camera lens (although the focus ring is stiffer so it doesn’t move accidently). Considering most of this rig is digital I was a bit surprised to find that focus is only achieved manually.
Unlike a typical scope, when you look into the eyepiece you don’t actually see out the front of the optic. Rather, you’re looking at an 800 x 600 pixel display showing whatever the camera at front sees in addition to the information — reticle included — added by the software.
I attempted to take a photo through the eyepiece but, like most digital displays, it doesn’t photograph well. Thankfully the X-Sight captures its own photos, so here’s a look across the lake — about 720 yards to that tree — at 3X:
And here’s the same spot at 12X:
As you can see, it does get pixelated at full zoom. The image actually looks a bit better on the display than it does in the captured photos, but since this is a digital zoom rather than a mechanical zoom it works similarly to blowing up a small photo to poster size and then cropping out a portion of it.
The X-Sight captures video, too, so here’s a little daytime action. While the scope can record audio, I apparently had mine turned off.
Of course, actually looking through the scope is entirely optional (and so last century). Thanks to the mobile app, a phone or tablet can be used as a remote viewfinder, seeing whatever the scope sees, including reticle:
While the menus on the X-Sight itself are straightforward and it’s simple to find the appropriate settings and options, navigating with the buttons on the scope is a bit cumbersome. Plus you’re stuck with your face to the scope the whole time. Given the option, it’s significantly easier to configure reticle choices…
…night vision modes, brightness settings, time/date, GPS settings, etc etc through the mobile app.
Pretty common among digital optics is a “one shot zero” feature, which is also pretty cool. Basically, take a shot with the reticle centered on the bullseye. Then, use the left/right/up/down buttons to move the reticle over to the bullet hole. Done. Okay, yeah, this is how you’d do it with any scope, but the digital trick is that the original reticle location remains visible on the display in the form of a green dot so you can ensure it remains centered in the bullseye the entire time. Slick. Obviously it’s even better if you shoot a 3- or 5-shot group and then move the reticle to the group’s center, but the utility in that decreases as your rifle’s accuracy increases.
Now, there are some negative reviews of the X-Sight online (e.g. Amazon), and by far the most common reason is that, once zeroed, the reticle remains off-center on the screen. Annoying no matter what, and if enough adjustment was necessary it sometimes meant the reticle entirely disappeared from the screen at higher zoom levels. Well, kindly disregard those reviews as a firmware update from just over a month ago fixed that completely. Now, when you click “enter” to set your new zero, the software rejiggers the image and the reticle is smack-dead in the middle where it belongs.
In fact, one of the biggest selling points to the X-Sight is that it’s run by a fairly powerful processor and its feature set and functionality will continue to improve with nothing more than software updates. Right now there’s a full-on ballistics computer on the software (including in the mobile app) that’s available for beta testing. Once your relevant ballistics information is inputted, simply tell the scope what distance you’re shooting at — even add wind velocity and shooting angle — and it instantly re-zeroes the reticle to compensate.
The Night Time is the Right Time
Okay, okay, we’re all here for the night vision, right? The X-Sight gives you the option of seeing the night world in green or in black-and-white. Night vision amplification is adjustable as is, of course, the brightness of the display. Switching the unit between day and night modes is quick and easy via the quick-access menu on the scope itself or via the app.
Here’s a tree that’s 75 yards away, IR illuminator focused tightly, amplification on medium. In green:
And in B&W:
And some video looking at docks, water, and the far shoreline (again, ~720 yards) at night. Oh, and a rogue 12 oz bottle floated in so it was added to the artificial reef program courtesy of a .22 LR at ~45 yards.
The far shoreline picture would certainly be better if there wasn’t so much crap in the air. Bugs, smoke and particulate from wildfires, etc, screwed with the image and caused the auto-brightness to work overtime.
Once again, I do find the image through the eyepiece to be slightly better than what’s captured in photo or video, but this may be due to adjusting the focus based on my just-about-needs-prescription-vision-correction right eye. Sorry. Worth noting though is that manually adjusting focus is extremely important on the X-Sight and I found the focus to be slightly different whether in day or night mode.
Also worth noting, the first time I played with the X-Sight at night I was quite disappointed. My normal vision was capable of seeing significantly more than the night vision scope was. It wasn’t actually made clear in the manual, but the lesson learned was that the X-Sight requires an IR illuminator. And, although I could identify and engage targets out to ~150 yards with the included IR illuminator, a high-quality, stand-alone unit would further increase performance and utility.
You’ll want to invest in some quality, rechargeable batteries because the X-Sight will suck cheap AAs dry in about 1.5 hours of run time and finish off top-of-the-line AAs in 2.5 to 3 hours. The IR illuminator seems to do better on its [much more expensive] CR123As, but I can’t say how long they last in real use other than they have outlasted two swaps of cheap AAs.
While ATN’s X-Sight provided a few reasons to gripe and nitpick, overall it’s a highly functional night vision rifle scope at a price point that’s actually attainable. As long as the IR illuminator is used, it’s capable of clearly displaying targets out to maybe 150 yards on a pitch black night. In fact, I was quite impressed with the range provided by the included IR illuminator as it’s much more powerful and focused than I would have thought given its size.
At first, I was disappointed to realize the X-Sight is effectively a digital camcorder with a reticle and a Picatinny mount. However, after using it for a few months it became apparent that this is more of a feature than a bug, and is the reason this perfectly functional unit can MSRP for just a hair over 6 bills. As it’s all digital at its core, the X-Sight will continue to evolve, grow, and improve via simple software updates. With the addition of a ballistics calculator and resulting aim point hold compensation, if I could request anything for future X-Sight generations it would be a built-in laser rangefinder that syncs with the ballistics program.
Specifications: ATN X-Sight 3-12X
- Magnification: 3x native to 12x digital zoom
- Weight: 2.3 lbs
- Length: 9.5 in
- Eye Relief: 2.64 in
- MSRP: $629 (Amazon: $481.33)
Rating (out of five stars):
Overall * * * 1/2
The night vision capability (with bolt-on IR illuminator help) ended up impressing me. Folks who know night vision systems much better than I peg this as somewhere between Gen 2 and Gen 3 performance. Performance after the last firmware update has been solid. Stars are docked for the less-than-ideal mounting system, voracious battery appetite, digital zoom that gets pretty fuzzy in the top ~third of its range, manual-only focus and, yeah, failing to mention the whole natural rubber latex thing until after you buy the scope. HD photo and video recording, plus all of the spiffy GPS and other tech definitely adds to the utility and cool factor (although I’d personally forgo the GPS functions for a lower price). A street price under $500 is impressive.