Scot’s Product Review: Armasight Night Vision Accessories

I recently reviewed the $549 Russian-made Armasight Spark Core night vision device and promised to do an update on some of the accessories that can be used with it. If you recall, I liked the monocular unit (which was $90 less when I bought it) and felt it offered a lot of bang for the buck, enough so that I purchased it on my own and then reviewed it. I still like it, but I am very concerned about not being able to get a response from Armasight on several questions. I contacted them both as a purchaser looking for product support and as a SurvivalBlog writer looking for information. I received no reply from emails or phone calls. They also neglected to answer a request to borrow some of the accessories for a review. Even if they don’t want to make anything available, courtesy should mandate a reply. For those reasons, I have doubts about recommending the product, but I want to review some accessories for it in case readers want to take a chance.

The first is the $145 Armasight Quick Release Picatinny Mount Adapter #26. One of the primary reasons I chose this unit was for the weapons mount. It is very useful as a handheld monocular, but like the far more expensive PVS-14 used by the U.S. military it offered the possibility of using it behind a red dot sight at night. This was the only unit I could find on the market in this form in this price range, and the fact that it promised better performance than most Gen I units also appealed to me.

Thankfully, I got the mount for $20 less than the current price, but I was still disappointed at the cost. It is a specialized item, which does drive up the price, but I have purchased other items that were probably harder to make that cost a lot less. Still, if you price mounts for a PVS-14, you will likely pay even more.

When the mount arrived, I was reasonably impressed with the quality. It is not up to what one might get from LaRue Tactical or some of the other American companies, but the finish is acceptable and it seems sturdy. It appears to be an aluminum alloy with a matte anodized finish that has worn off at the contact points, which is not a surprise. It weighs 3.25 ounces and has two adjustable quick release locking levers– one to latch the mount to a Picatinny rail on a rifle, and the other to the 3/8 inch dovetail rail on the Spark. This rail, by the way, works with the tip-off mounts used on .22 rifles. I haven’t figured out a way to take advantage of that, but there might be some use for it I haven’t thought of yet.

When I put it on an AR though, I began to get frustrated. I had hoped to just be able to add it to the AR when needed and remove it when not. Regular readers may have noticed I like backup iron sights (BUIS) on rifles, and the mount absolutely will not go on over the Troy BUIS I use. I have to move the Spark farther forward than I want to keep the rear sight on and that means the Aimpoint M4S my AR wears has to move forward too. Oops, now I just ran out of rail, since my carbine doesn’t have an extended rail.

I thought about the option of spending more money and buying the GG&G Cantilever mount, to move the Aimpoint far enough forward so the Spark can clear the BUIS, but thankfully I realized before doing it that it still doesn’t leave enough space for the Aimpoint on the rail. The only solution is to spend a bunch of bucks and buy a handguard with a full length rail. So much for the idea of getting it to work the way I wanted it to on my AR at no further cost. It always amazes me how projects keep on growing.

The next problem is that the mount does not line the Spark up with the Aimpoint using the Aimpoint factory QRP2 mount. The effect is somewhat like not lining your eyes up with a telescope; part of the view is occluded and in the dark, and that is a real problem. Your field of view is already narrowed by the night vision device and then further narrowed by the Aimpoint. Narrowing it more, by not lining it up with the sight, is a bad thing.

The mount places the Spark slightly lower than the Aimpoint, which is in a co-witness mount, meaning that the red dot is in the same plane of sight as the iron sights. The Spark needs to move up or the Aimpoint needs to move down. Moving the Aimpoint down means the front sight will be in the way of the red dot, which is not a good plan.

Moving the Spark up could probably be accomplished by removing the mount on the Spark and shimming it up a few millimeters; that’s what I was trying to get advice from Armasight about. I’m a bit hesitant to start pulling the thing apart. There is a warranty to consider, and I don’t want to wreck expensive gear. I had hoped that Armasight had an Aimpoint solution or would tell me it was safe to pull off the mount and shim it. I had no such luck, as they won’t answer my messages.

One thing I did discover was that increasing the space between the sight and the Spark helps by allowing me to see around the Aimpoint, which increases situational awareness. My first thought was that it would be best to have the Spark as close as possible to the Aimpoint, but that turned out to be wrong. There was still the problem of occlusion from the Spark not being centered on Aimpoint, though.

I have looked for a number of ways to raise the Spark other than to remove the mount and shim it, but I have not come up with a good answer. It I do, I will report back. In the meantime, it can be used, and it is better than the naked eye. However, it is not what it could be. I have tried holding the Spark in line with the Aimpoint, and it is much better than with the mount. That’s not, however, a usable method in the field.

I have read reviews on Amazon that people are having good luck using it with Eotechs. I have never used them, as I prefer the battery life on the Aimpoint. I also took a class from an instructor with many Eotech failure stories. I wouldn’t mind trying one, but I trust my instructor and have limited funds to spend, so I stick with Aimpoint. I would, however, be delighted to review one if offered.

I did not get a chance to shoot with it as the range I used to use at night is no longer available. I had to settle for dry fire drills, and they simply aren’t the same. One concern I have is muzzle flash and how the Spark will handle it. When I find another location to use at night, I will report on it.

The mount, in short, has been a disappointment. I can use it, but not up to its full potential unless I figure out a way to raise it a bit and add a full length rail to my AR.

Armasight IR810 Detachable Infrared Illuminator

Infrared light really boosts most night vision equipment, and I assumed that having more on tap would be a good idea. The Spark surprised me with how well it sees into shadows and on nights without moonlight, but extra light in the form of infrared will add clarity and definition to what you see when it is really dark. The Spark has a built-in illuminator, which works well indoors, but it only goes about 10-15 yards outside depending on the subject. Items with high infrared reflectivity would show farther away.

As I looked for a supplemental illuminator, I knew I wanted one that could attach directly to the Spark, which has three rails that can be used to mount it on a helmet, weapon, or attach accessories to the Spark. It was natural to check out the Armasight illuminators that, at the time I bought mine, included two Armasight recommended for the Spark– the $115 ($90 when I bought mine) Armasight IR810 Detachable Infrared Illuminator and the $199 Armasight IR810W Detachable Wide Angle Adjustable X-Long Range Infrared Illuminator. Neither product is currently listed on the Armasight web page, apparently having been replaced with newer products that I’ll touch on later. They can still be found, however, so it would be worth describing them.

Thanks to budget, I bought the less expensive one, which was a mistake due to the fact the beam, even though adjustable, was narrower than the field of view for the Spark. While it still gives you good light where it shines, it doesn’t cover everything you can see, and that erodes situational awareness, which is always a struggle in the dark.

Making the wrong choice was my fault, however. Both products have a zoomable lens, and I should have paid closer attention to this. The IR810 zooms from 2 to 12 degrees, while the IR810W zooms from 2 to 30 degrees. The field of view of the Spark is 30 degrees, and that should have given me pause before I clicked the spend money button.

Both units are from Ukraine, which means using illuminators and night vision from warring countries. One of the reasons I decided to buy this gear when I did was a fear that it might become unavailable due to the conflict; I have seen the prices climb substantially in the weeks since I ordered mine, and I would not be surprised if that is an effect of the war.

You use a single CR123A battery in either light. I was unable to determine if it could handle a rechargeable 123. Those normally produce 3.7 volts as opposed to the 3 volts from a primary cell, so there are often issues when using the rechargeables. The Spark instructions warn against any battery that exceeds 3.2 volts, so I am stuck using primary batteries in it as well. I have been trying to transition to rechargeable batteries for all of my equipment using solar chargers, so this is a point of concern.

I think the light easily met the promise of reaching 300 meters, and I suspect it goes farther when set to the tightest beam. How far you can see depends on how well the subject reflects light, of course. There is also the fact that the Spark is 1x, so it does not magnify what you see unless you can afford one of the supplemental lenses for it.

The light appears very sturdy and came with an adapter to convert the 3/8 inch dovetail on the Spark to a Picatinny rail, which is what the mount for the light requires. I have seen references that it is not always packaged with the adapter, so caveat emptor. I didn’t see any claims that it is waterproof, but there is an O-ring on the battery cap. I would most fear water intrusion through the lens, which must rotate in or out as it zooms.

There are four power settings on a rotary dial on the battery cap that serves as an on-off switch. A really nice touch would have been interconnecting it with the power switch on the Spark so you would only have one switch to contend with in the dark, but that would have run up the cost.

Both the light and mount appear made of a sturdy aluminum alloy anodized with a black finish. Together they weight 4.7 ounces, and the light is five inches long with the lens zoomed out and 1.5 inches tall in the mount. The light is 1.1 inches in diameter at its largest point.

The light emits 810nm infrared, which means if you shine it on something at night, you won’t be able to see the reflected light with your naked eye. If, however, you are looking back at the light, you can see a bright red glow, if you are looking directly at it and on axis with the lens. If someone else is using the light and you have night vision, it is as if they were waving a bonfire around, even at long distances. Always remember that you can see a light source farther that the person with the light can see you. This is, of course a major drawback when you have to use illumination.

One of the other questions I was unable to get answered by Armasight was whether higher frequency infrared light sources would work with the Spark. I wanted to know if I could use 850nm lights with it. I didn’t get an answer, alas. The higher frequency lights produce a bit less visible light, which makes it a little more difficult for an observer without night vision to spot the light source. I do note now that both of the lights Armasight recommends for the Spark on their website are 850nm, which indicates they should work. I wish I had known.

I don’t know the real costs of things like infrared light sources, but when I compare this to some of the very nice conventional flashlights on the market, I have to wonder about the price. There are lower cost infrared lights from other countries, but I don’t like to deal with one of them.

Armed with my current knowledge, I would be shopping for an 850nm light that has at least a 30 degree wide beam. It should have multiple power settings, as too much light will wash out your view. Something that would be very nice would be a tape switch that could be placed in a convenient spot to allow you to turn the light on or off with just a press. It would also use rechargeable batteries. Armasight has a new light that meets those specs, but it comes from China, and I am looking for other alternatives.

Armasight Transfer Adapter/Swing Arm to PVS7/PVS14 Headset/Helmet #37 JRH Enterprises PVS-14 Night Vison Helmet Mount Kit

These two products work together, so I will cover them at the same time. As useful as the Spark is as a monocular or weapon sight, I also wanted to try it on a head mount. There are times one wants to move about and have their hands free. There is a $99 harness, but I was more interested in seeing how it might work on a helmet. JRH enterprises was kind enough to loan me two of the $225 helmet mount kits for the PVS-14 night vision unit, and I then purchased the $99 Armasight #37 adapter for the PVS-14 mount.

I will describe the PVS-14 mount a bit before getting to the Armasight adapter. I was extremely impressed with these units, which are the same ones used by the military. They came out of packaging with National Stock Numbers just as if they were to be issued to soldiers and were made by Norotos, a small company that specializes in this sort of equipment for military and governmental organizations. There is a mounting plate that can be screwed to the helmet or held on with a strap, which was not part of the kits I got. You could probably adapt the plate to most any helmet with the strap and some jury rigging.

Once you get the plate on, there is an arm that snaps onto it. The arm allows the user to either flip the night vision unit up and out of the way or down to use. There are additional adjustments to help line it up with your eye. The arm can be used with a variety of night vision devices, having a standardized socket that an arm appropriate to the device in question plugs into. The device itself then mounts on the arm.

I found these mounts to be extremely sturdy and well made with all controls working smoothly. They were as good quality as I expect to find all military equipment.

Not surprisingly, since the Spark is Russian, it won’t work with the standard arm one would use the US PVS-14. Armasight makes the #37 adapter mentioned above, however, to remedy this and thankfully to allow the owner to use standard U.S. mounts.

At first, I thought it was all made of some sort of polymer, but when I scraped on it some parts revealed silver underneath, indicating metal while others were indeed polymer as scraping revealed more black. The metal appeared to be aluminum, and the entire thing was finished in a nicely textured black crinkle finish, which was finer on the polymer parts. They seemed to have chosen metal for the parts that need to endure more stress.

I found it difficult to get into one of the mounts from JRH but persevered in pushing, and it did go in. It got easier as time went on. I was unable, unfortunately, to get it into the second one at all. I suspect tolerance stacking. The Armasight is on the far end in one direction, and the Norotos mounts are on the other, which is not unexpected when dealing with parts from different countries; however, it is still frustrating. I will probably have to take a file to it to get it to go into the second mount if that turns out to be a need.

In use, you click the arm onto the helmet mount and then latch the Spark onto the arm. You flip it up when not using it and down to see through it. You have to decide which eye to put it in front of. Most users place it in front of the non-dominant as it gets in the way when trying to shoot if in front of the dominant eye. Additionally, looking into the glowing green screen doesn’t help night vision, although it doesn’t hurt it as much as lighting things up with a regular flashlight, since green light is less damaging than white light. Being left-eye dominant, I swung it over to the right eye.

Despite the adjustments available on the Norotos mounting arm, I had a bit of trouble getting it to line up with my eye, which made it difficult to use. There were also problems with the glasses I am cursed with needing. Finally, I am strongly left-eye dominant, and my brain really doesn’t like have to switch to the right eye.

Since I chose to use a strap to hold the mount onto the helmet, I was able to shift the mount over a bit to get it to line up better with my eye. If I had bolted it to the helmet, though, I am not sure what I would have to do. It would be great if either the mounting arm or the adapter had a bit of left to right adjustment available.

There isn’t much to do with glasses other than accept the hassle, but the eye dominance is something that I think will take work and practice to get over, which brings us to the learning curve issue with night vision. Do not pop any night vision on and expect to own the night. That would be a huge mistake. It is very different from normal vision and the only way to get used to it is practice. The limited field of view is a big problem as is the conversion of the image from color to a green scale. Things just look wrong and you have to work at seeing. As an example, sometimes objects that appear dark to the naked eye are bright in night vision. A dark shirt, for example, washed in a detergent with brighteners may glow.

When using it helmet mounted, I found I had to move slowly and carefully and take pauses to reorient. You have to do a lot of head swiveling. Blinking my dominant eye a lot helped, too.

Depth perception is also affected, since the image is a monocular one presented on an electronic tube. I have wanted to try driving with it but haven’t had a chance yet. I suspect it will be tricky. It amazes me that pilots, particularly helicopters ones, can fly with them, since depth perception is so critical for things like landing.

I did try it with a handgun, but remember that you have to focus the Spark for the distance to the object being observed. That means other things are out of focus, including a handgun at arm’s length.

As a recap, the place where the Spark helps me is looking into shadows. On a bright moonlit night, if you give your eyes a chance to adapt, you can see quite well, probably better than you can through the Spark since you have full use of your field of vision and depth perception. Deep shadows are a different matter, as is a moonless or overcast night. The Spark can help you see better in those circumstances. Adding infrared illumination helps even more, and being able to mount it to my head or a weapon is a real boon.

I’m glad I have the Spark, but I remain concerned with my inability to get a response from Armasight. That makes me very cautious about recommending it. I will say that, if you can afford the $3,000 or more it takes to get into Gen III, that’s the route you should take, as those units are far batter, but it you have limited means more like me, the Spark and its accessories are worth a cautious look.

– SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Eire