SCENARIO 5 | Thermal V Night Vision Comparison- Episode 5 Surveillance of Drug Buy

Here, we see another surveillance video that simulates a drug/contraband buy. We show two different takes on this scene. The first one has the suspect enter the truck on the driver’s side. Another subject approaches the driver’s side shortly after and some sort of transaction appears to take place. The second take on this scene shows a subject entering the truck on the passenger side. A transaction appears to take place, the subject exits the vehicle, and leaves.

As we saw earlier, thermal imagers do not see through glass. So, vehicle surveillance becomes almost impossible to conduct. The video starts out with the suspected dealer entering the truck. It is impossible to determine if he is alone in the vehicle. Once he enters the cab, he is completely obscured from view. We watch as the second subject approaches the vehicle. We can see that he is wearing a T-shirt, shorts, flip-flops and hat. His beard can be identified as well. Beyond that, there is no other facial recognition.

A transaction of some sort appears to take place where the outside subject hands something to the guy inside the truck and takes something in return before leaving. As observers, we are completely blind as to what is happening inside the truck through the thermal device. In fact, we cannot even be sure that the first subject who initially entered the truck is the same one interacting with the second suspect who later approaches because we do not know if anyone else is in the vehicle.

Next, we see the same scene play out through night vision. As the suspected dealer approaches the truck, we are able to get clear facial recognition. However, one of the deficiencies in night vision becomes immediately apparent when he unlocks the truck and enters: halo bloom. The headlights and mirror lights are activated when the truck is unlocked and the scene is almost completely bloomed out for a few seconds. A lot of the bloom is actually exacerbated by the camera that is recording through the night vision goggle. If we were to be looking through the night vision device with a naked eye, we would still see some bloom, but not as bad as what a camera adds.

Nonetheless, this issue with night vision must be taken into consideration when filming through night vision for evidence. Once the suspect is in the truck, the lights are turned off and we can clearly see into the cab. We know that he is alone in the vehicle and we can still clearly identify him. We watch as he talks on his cell phone. Later, we see the other subject approach the truck. His face is also identifiable, though there is some extra light from off camera, which is somewhat washing out his face. We are able to see the transaction take place as the driver reaches for something under the dash or in the center console. The object is handed to the outside subject and the exchange is complete. At this point, we have evidence that the original subject that entered the vehicle was the only one in the truck and carried out the exchange with the suspected buyer.

IR Patrol M300W Thermal Weapon Scope

IR Patrol M300W Thermal Weapon Scope

In the next take, we watch a subject approach the truck from the passenger side, through a thermal device. Again, we can make out his clothing and build, but we cannot get detail from his face. He enters the passenger side of the cab and completely disappears from view. The subject stays in the truck for a little while and then exits and walks away. He is not visible again until he is out of the truck. At this point, we have no idea what transpired in the truck, let alone have anything we can build a case on.

Next, we see the same scene play out through night vision. We watch the subject approach the truck which already is being occupied by a male driver, clearly seen through the windshield. As the subject enters the passenger side of the truck, we are again blinded in the video by the excess camera bloom created by white light sources. Again, this is not typical when viewing auto-gated Gen3 tubes with the naked eye, but is a factor you must contend with when filming. In the vehicle, we can clearly see interaction between the two subjects. An exchange appears to have been made and the first subject exits the vehicle with something in his hand and walks away.

This set of videos makes it quite apparent that thermal imagers are not ideal for vehicle surveillance. While filming through night vision has its drawbacks in bloom created by the camera from light sources, it is still the clear choice when one needs to see through glass.

Night vision and thermal imagers are incredible tools that offer undeniable advantages to professionals and amateurs alike when operating in the darkness. However, there is no magic device that will offer a perfect solution for every situation. Like everything else, you must choose the right tool for the right job. The scenarios above were designed to provide overall examples of situations that today’s professional could find himself in. The scenarios were meant to illustrate the capabilities and deficiencies found in these technologies to aid you determining which one is best for your mission. While these videos focused more on the professional end-user, it is easy to look at the data and juxtapose it over the civilian’s mission as well.


This is the first in a series of comparison videos between night vision and thermal that we will produce at TNVC. The next series will focus more on rural applications. We hope you found this data educational, relevant, and enjoyable. Stay tuned over the next few months for more.
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