For years I have been trying to get good photos through my ITT PVS-14 night vision monocular. I have tried all kinds of contraptions, mounts…you name it. Most of the contraptions that looked as though they might actually work cost far more than I could afford. I know—night vision is not a cheap man’s game. But come on, I only have so much money.
Years ago when I was a detective on an Agricultural Crimes Unit we tried everything available. We had an ITT 6010 that was great for photographs, but trying to get it in front of a camera was a nightmare. We ended up mounting it to the front of a small camcorder and we were able to get useful video during surveillance operations.
Getting photos off of the video was another issue, given the technology available to us back then. From this experience I have been on the lookout for another way for a very long time.
While searching for a lightweight helmet that I could set up specifically for night vision testing and training, I found something more interesting from US Night Vision. It was the iTelligent, an adapter that screws into the eye pieces of a PVS-14 night vision monocular, allowing the mounting of an Apple iPhone 4 or 4S smartphone camera in line with a night vision device. This allows the user to take night vision photos or video with their iPhone.
I contacted US Night Vision and asked for a sample for testing. The first adapter I was sent turned out to be obsolete before I could finish this article.
The first unit was a single piece of black anodized aluminum with a channel to hold the iPhone and a round threaded ring that screwed into a night vision device. My iPhone slid into the channel smoothly and was held in place quite firmly. The ring threaded into my PVS-14 in place of the de-mist shield easily. This unit did not allow for rotational positioning of the iPhone behind the PVS-14 and was not a perfect fit for every iPhone that was placed into it. I was happy with the unit, but US Night Vision was not. They improved the design and provided me with the current generation model of the iTelligent iPhone 4, 4S Night Vision & Optics Adapter.
The new standalone version is a two-piece design with a ring that is adjustable for 360-degree rotational placement of the iPhone in relationship to the optic or night vision device being used. The two-piece design allows for variations in size of the iPhone so that any iPhone will fit properly in the mount. The new ring allows the user to place the iPhone in any desired rotational position. This means users can put the iPhone body and screen where they need it for whatever optic or mission they are engaged in. An example would be placing the unit on a spotting scope or PVS-7B. On a PVS-7B you can record with the iPhone on one viewer and look through the night vision device with the other viewer. This eliminates the need to use the iPhone screen to view your target, which could cause your position to be illuminated by the screen. The new version is a big improvement over the original from an operator’s perspective.
Using the PVS-14 with the iPhone attached via the mount was easy. Simply hold the body of the PVS-14 and view the screen on the iPhone and take photos or videos as usual. The photos are not perfect, but this has more to do with the quality of the camera on the iPhone and nothing to do with the mount. A number of camera apps are available that may help with this. If I tried to go through all of them this article would go on and on and be out of date as I write it. The good folks at US Night Vision can provide you with some assistance on this issue as they tend to be on top of what does and does not work with their products.
I was asked by several cops, “So how does this help me?” and that’s a good question. When used with night vision you can record what you have seen. This can be very useful for search warrant preparation and execution of places in rural areas like marijuana grows, chop shops or stash sites. I have used apps on my phone that overlay the GPS coordinates and altitude onto the photo of where the photo was taken; this eliminates the need for flash or light for photographs maintaining a covert investigation. Having a location of where the photograph was taken also adds to its evidentiary value.