Affordable Night Vision Is in Sight

Sightmark's Photon XT 6.5x50S digital night vision riflescope is a solid performer at a reasonable price.

The Photon XT 6.5x50S Digital Night Vision Riflescope is solidly built and the thoughtful design of the controls and interface make acquiring targets quick and easy.

If you're looking for an affordable entry into night vision for hunting, look no further than Sightmark. They're an optics company headquartered in Mansfield, Texas, that offers an array of night vision devices including riflescopes, binoculars, goggles, and monoculars. In addition, they carry traditional red dot sights, riflescopes, binoculars, rangefinders, and spotting scopes. Their price point is aimed at the middle market, so it won't dry up your wallet.

Like all their night vision devices, Sightmark's Photon series of innovative night vision riflescopes use an image sensor like those found in digital video cameras, but one that is more sensitive to infrared light. Used in conjunction with an infrared (IR) illuminator, you really can unlock the night.

The benefits of using a digital system on a scope allows for the programming of many options, on-screen navigation of menus by rotating and pressing one knob, and the ability to send video signals via cable to a monitor or wirelessly to a smartphone (depending on the model). Also, image sensors are not susceptible to burning in bright light like an image intensifier tube in IR night vision, making them useable in the daylight.

I've been evaluating Sightmark's Photon XT 6.5x50S digital night vision riflescope for the last few weeks. The riflescope measures 15.7x2.9x3.1 inches, has a main tube diameter of 30mm and weighs 26 ounces, with two AA batteries. It's a fixed power scope with a field of view of 22½ feet at 100 yards and has a close focusing distance of 33 feet. The ocular lens includes a diopter and a removable 1¾-inch accordion rubber eyecup, which blocks out ambient light and has ample eye relief to avoid scope eye on recoil. A special flip-up lens cap with a peep hole in the center is included for use on bright days where the light may overpower the sensor and cause washout. The Photon XT 6.5x50S riflescope retails for $660.

The Photon XT uses a CMOS sensor to gather light and an infrared Illuminator.

Technology at Hand

The brain of the system, including the IR illuminator, sits behind the objective's focus ring and is housed in a robust glass-nylon composite enclosure. It uses a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor with a resolution of 656x492 pixels and outputs it to a 640x480-pixel LCD. The video signal can be sent to an external monitor via the included RCA cable. A weaver mount sits on the right side to mount a monitor or additional IR light. The two AA batteries will power the unit for about 4 hours of running time with the IR illuminator on and 5 hours with it off. The riflescope is IPX4 rated, which means it can handle splashes of water, just don't go swimming with it. The maximum recoil it is rated for is 1,000 g.

Using the Photon XT is intuitive and only requires cracking open the manual for the zeroing function. A soft, rubber button protrudes from the rear of the IR illuminator, making it obvious that it's the power button. Pushing the power button once instantly fires up the CMOS, LCD and IR illuminator. Subsequent presses cycle through the four power intensities, including powering off the IR illuminator.

During daytime, the IR Illuminator is not needed, so this mode saves battery life. A small green circular status at the 12-o'clock position shows the power is on. To turn the entire unit off, hold the power button down for 4 seconds.

On the left side of the housing, sits a dial with the words PUSH in the center indicating that it's a secondary control. While looking through the scope and spinning the dial, the LCD screen gets brighter and a brightness setting from 1 to 15 increases or decreases as you rotate the dial. Pushing the dial for a few seconds brings up a vertical menu that allows you to select one of six reticles, to change the reticle color or to zero the scope. Once in the menu, rotate the dial to scroll up and down the three features, lightly pressing the dial will display a submenu allowing you to scroll through those options. A light press secures the selection to memory.

The zeroing function takes the guess work out of zeroing a rifle. Simply align the reticle to an aiming point on the target and shoot a three-round group. While holding the reticle at the initial aiming point, use the controller to move windage and elevation to the center of the point of impact. Shoot again to refine the zero. Each click represents 1 MOA at 100 meters. The windage and elevation have a total of 60 clicks of adjustment.

All the controls are distinct and conveniently located for one-handed use.

Seeing is Believing

I mounted the Photon XT on my Mossberg MVP Scout Rifle, a light, 16-inch barreled rifle chambered in .308 with a Picatinny top rail. This is a great short- to medium-range rifle well suited for the reach of the IR illuminator. The Photon XT's reticle choices make a good paring for the task of the rifle as well. The choices include a Mil-Dot, duplex and a hybrid of a red dot and duplex making target acquisition at ranges from 50 to over 300 yards a breeze.

Scanning the landscape was easy day or night. The objective focus ring turned smoothly throughout its rotation without jerky movements. As I panned up, I noticed a black fuzzy ball moving into a dark part of the field. Focusing the image revealed a raccoon waddling across a field at 161 yards. Because the IR illuminator power button and LCD brightness controls are located close to each other, I was able to quickly crank up the power to isolate the animal from the background. The 6.5 power magnification was more than enough to provide confidence in my shot placement.

Overall, I found the Photon XT to be solidly built and the thoughtful design of the controls and interface made acquiring targets quick and easy. For the hunting distance and environment, I was in, the intensity of the IR illuminator, magnification and reticle choices were just right for the task. If I wanted to shoot out to longer distances, I would consider a higher-powered IR illuminator. The LCD resolution provided sufficient detail out to 161 yards to determine that the raccoon I was observing was not a fat cat.

Although Sightmark offers a more robust version of this scope in their RT line, the Photon XT's price point makes this a great entry to night vision hunting adventures.

Please, note, you need to check your local laws regarding using any type of night vision for hunting. It's illegal in some states.

For more on this scope and other night vision offerings, visit

The reticle menu allows you to change the reticle, reticle color, and zero the scope.


Sightmark 6.5x50S Riflescope

Power: 6X

Objective: 50mm

Tube Diameter: 30mm

Elevation Adjustment: 1 MOA per click

Windage: 1 MOA per click

Reticles: 6

Length: 15.7 in.

Weight: 23.6 oz.

Eye Relief: 2.36 in.

MSRP: $600

Manufacturer: Sightmark, 817-394-1628,

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