Figure 0 - Build the stealthy Night Vision Viewer
Build the stealthy Night Vision Viewer

This easy-to-build Night Vision Viewer lets you see deep into the night without detection. This covert system can light up a room as if you were using a flashlight, yet only you will be able to see the light. The performance of this Night Vision Viewer is as good as some commercially available night vision systems that cost a lot more. Using invisible infrared light, the Night Vision Viewer can see in total darkness, indoors and outdoors, and will operate from a battery pack for several hours. This device can also be used to detect other night vision systems or as a jammer to hide your face to most security cameras. Another interesting effect of the Night Vision system is referred to as "X-Ray Vision", which allows the user to see through certain materials (including clothing) that may be opaque to infrared light. If covert surveillance or countermeasures is your game, then this is one piece of equipment you will definitely want in your spy gear arsenal.

The Night Vision Viewer is built around commonly available parts, most of which can be found new at any electronics store, or taken from dead video appliances. This project is well within the reach of anyone with a desire to do a little hardware hacking, and even includes a basic guide to getting started in electronics. There is a lot of room to add your own modifications as well, so you can create your own unique spy gear in order to further your cause. The truth is out there, and now you will be able to see it even in total darkness!

Figure 1 - An older camcorder with a CRT viewfinder
Figure 1 - An older camcorder with a CRT viewfinder

The night vision system consists of three main parts: a low light (lux) camera, an invisible light (infrared) illumination system, and a video viewfinder. The three components work together in order to extend your range of vision into the infrared spectrum, which is beyond what the human eye can see, allowing you to see in complete darkness. Because the camera sees this infrared light as if it was visible light, the image looks no different on the screen than it would if you lit the dark area with a typical flashlight.

The first part of this project will be the acquisition of the viewfinder, which is nothing more than a tiny composite video monitor that can be powered from a battery. These small video screens can be removed from older camcorders or purchased new from many security supply outlets. *Figure 1 shows an older tape based camcorder, which includes a CRT (cathode ray tube) based viewfinder that can be removed from the rest of the camera. Also shown in Figure 1 is a small ready-to-use viewfinder purchased from an online security store. These ready-to-use viewfinders are sometimes referred to as "camera testers", or "micro monitors". These units will have a jack (RCA jack) marked "video input" on the back of the case, so you can just feed your camera video in as if you were connecting to a standard monitor.

If you do plan to hack up an old camcorder for the viewfinder, it is important that it be a "tube based type" that includes all of the electronics in the actual viewfinder housing. A clear indication of this is the 3 or 4 inch long housing and the white screen, which is actually made of glass. Newer camcorders use an LCD screen, which is rarely hackable, and they can be easily identified by their small size and color screens. CRTs are strictly black and white, and glow blue when they are first powered up.

These older tape based camcorders can often be purchased inexpensively from second hand stores, yard sales or online (check eBay, Kijiji, Craigslist, etc.). Even if the tape mechanics are broken, the viewfinder will probably be fine, and a simple power up will tell you right away. If you see the tube begin to glow, then it probably works fine. We will now cover the viewfinder extraction operation, which will vary depending on your camera model and age.

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