Bushnell Equinox Z 4.5 x 40 Review
My quest for affordable night vision that actually works started when I stumbled onto Franklin Horton’s book series The Borrowed World on my Audible account, which inspired me through situations in the book to take a new look at affordable night vision technology. Stepping up my hunting and tactical prepping game to include night vision has been on my to do list for a while, but “good” night vision (gen 2 and on) is expensive. And even worse it’s hard to stomach spending that much money on a single piece of electronic gear. Fortunately many new products and innovations in night vision technology and affordability are appearing in the customer market, which has begun to bring the cost of decent night vision technology down to a level normal people can afford. In fact there is so much exciting new night vision products available it’s difficult to really compare them or keep up with them. For perspective on this review, I have pretty extensive and ongoing experience with various gen2 and gen3 issued night vision but this is my first experience with consumer grade night vision. I highly recommend you check out ITS Tactical’s article on Night Vision to get some perspective on the different generations of NODs (Night Observation Devices) and what’s out there technology wise.
Traditional vs Digital
To summarize for the purpose of this review, traditional NODs use an amplification tube to gather light and produce an image to the user. The degree of light amplification, detail (resolution), and how well the NODs can adjust to changing light conditions dictate how “good” the unit is. Traditional amplification tubes on non-digital NODs have a service life that continually diminishes with use and can be damaged by unexpected bright light. Digital night vision is similar to a digital camera, a camera sensor optimized for IR light feeds a processor that amplifies the sensor input and displays it on an LCD screen. Digital systems in are more technologically complicated and can operate in any lighting condition including full day time sun without damage but generally have poor battery life compared to traditional tube designs.
The following are a series of pictures of a park pavilion at 330 yards away in various lighting and illumination conditions.
Quality: Outstanding, for the price it’s very hard to beat. The unit is sturdy, and has a nice rubber feel to it. I love how tactile and stiff the objective lens focus is, the buttons are nice and not mussy. The image clarity is outstanding, the light gathering is decent and on par with this type of night vision technology. The unit works extremely well in the lower IR light spectrums (940>), this unit appears to have a greater sensitivity to low wavelength IR emissions than some newer gen3+’s I’ve used.
Durability: Outstanding, I’ve dropped the unit on accident, and had it in light rain a couple of times. It sense to be durable and within its specs throughout my use over the last few months. Although I’d prefer a waterproof design over a water resistant one I’m not going to take away stars for something the product is not designed or spec’d to do.
Capability: Outstanding. Despite the fact that the unit cannot compare with higher end NODs in terms of light gathering, its capability is offset in my opinion by it’s excellent lower spectrum IR light sensitivity and auto light adjustment. The Equinox Z does an outstanding job automatically adjusting to different lighting conditions (darkness to light to partially lit). In many cases the Equinox Z preformed MUCH better than gen2-3 PVS14s without auto-gating I’ve used. In circumstances where a light source is next to an object you want to observe, the PVS14s would wash out and blind the user but the Equinox Z is able to see much better in vicinity or next to a light source. Unfortunately in darker situations the Equinox needs an external light source to produce the best images, and be used at longer ranges. The built in illuminator has range of approximately 100 yards. I highly recommend used a good 940 IR illuminator like the UF1508 or T20 to maximize the performance of the Equinox Z.
Value: Outstanding, nothing else I’ve tired or seen compares. Although the unit has unique strengths and weaknesses when compared to traditional night vision, the bang for the buck is tough to beat.
Usability: OK as shipped, Good with an upgraded IR illuminator. There is definite room for improvement. Overall nothing stops the unit from functioning as intended but there are some inconveniences and improvements that could make the unit much better. The built in IR illuminator appears to be a conventional bulb with a filter which is inefficient and highly visible to the human eye. To get the most out of this unit you need to add your own IR illuminator. The LCD screen lacks enough adjustment with only two brightness settings, both of which are too bright for my taste. Once you are in recording(video) mode you cannot adjust the light sensitivity or IR illuminator.
Company: Outstanding, Bushnell is an American company specializing in optics and imaging founded in 1948. The Equinox Z is made for Bushnell in China, which I’m fine with as long as the product performs well.
Pros and Cons: Since night vision is a very complicated subject I’m going to provide an itemized list of pros and cons to help understand it’s capability and performance.
-Excellent low frequency IR light sensitivity
-Excellent image clarity
-Excellent range with aftermarket IR illuminator
-Excellent auto lighting adjustment to prevent wash out
-Uses 4 AA batteries, I run mine off NiMH rechargeables
-Able to be mounted to a weapon such as an AR15
-Equipped IR illuminator is inefficient and highly visible to the human eye
-LCD Screen is too bright and only has two adjustment levels
-I wish the Equinox was offered without magnification in 1x
-Battery life is only a few hours
-You can’t change settings while recording(video)
-Is large/bulky/heavy (especially after adding a better IR illuminator)
Conclusion: I’ve found that my Equinox Z is very useful and capable for observing things at night. For the price point it offers outstanding capability and value for the money. I don’t like it’s magnification. If someone would produce an IR optimized digital NOD using the a wide angle like a GoPro I would buy it so fast my pay check won’t even hit my bank account. I wish it did not come with an IR illuminator. The IR illuminator appears to be some sort of bulb with a IR filter over it rather than a dedicated IR LED. This is bad because it’s inefficient leading to shorter battery life (if used), it’s very bright red, and highly visible even from 125+yards. Plus having the IR illuminator built it makes the Equinox Z larger/heavier/bulkier than need be. But despite my wish list the Equinox Z is very capable especially with a better IR illuminator and offers excellent value. I purchased mine with the AR15 weapon mount but decided for now that mounting it to a weapon is too much trouble. If I do mount it to a weapon I’m going to use an IR aiming lazer instead of trying to look through another sight.
-Security or police work: The Equinox Z works very well in partially lit areas where most nefarious people tend to operate. The auto light adjustment makes observation easy and being able to take video of what you are seeing could be a great help in an investigation or prosecution. The Equinox Z excels in urban nighttime environments or observing people around a campfire. The low price point makes the Equinox Z accessible to beat cops, security personnel, and citizens that may not have access to issued NODs. I strongly recommend you purchase a good 940 IR illuminator like the ones I’ve listed below if you plan on using the Equinox Z against someone who may want to hurt you since the build in illuminator is easily seen by the human eye.
-Hunting and wildlife observation: The Equinox Z will work great for observing wildlife and hunting. There are situations where you may want to observe wildlife or game without using a spotlight(which may also be illegal) at night, especially if it’s in the vicinity of other people or houses.
-Testing gear and items for IR reflectivity: I noticed a big difference when looking through the Equinox Z between my clothes and items that where painted in camo paint. It’s a neat tool to see how different things look under IR light.
-Navigating at night: The Equinox Z has too much magnification to be very useful for navigation. It can be used as a navigation tool like binoculars can during the day but not like non magnified NODs can. Hopefully someone will make a good 1x digtal NOD for this purpose.
-Using for long periods: The Equinox Z has a automatic shut off after ten minutes, and the batteries only last a few hours.
-Use against other persons with NODs or good light discipline: To get the be the most out of the Equinox Z you’ll need more light in field settings than the ambient light most likely.
I have tried four different IR illuminators with the Equinox Z, I did testing to find out which ones work best and for what application. To get the most out of an Equinox Z requires that it be paired with the right illuminator as a system. The 850 wave length lights are alittle stronger for the same wattage but are highly visible to a person you point the light directly at. 850’s work great to spot game in open areas as long as the game is not spooked by the higher frequency light. The 940’s are MUCH less visible to the human eye and are less likely to spook game. I prefer the 940’s over the 850’s because they work very well with the Equinox Z and they are much more covert. When using a 940 light source you can see roughly twice or three times as far through the Equinox Z as the 940 light source can be seen in total darkness looking directly at the IR light. The 940 light is also very faint and non noticeable compared to the 850’s. Below I will note how far each IR light is observable to my eyes.
The UF1508 is my favorite IR Illuminator just due to it’s versatility. The UF1508 is very modular and can be configured for any conceivable non-white light employment. This is the reason I prefer it to the other illuminators. I can configure it specifically to my application and it’s like having multiple illuminators. Through my testing I determined that I didn’t really use or need the extra spotting capability of the 67mm and 75mm objectives. Knowing what I know now I would only purchase the 38mm UF1508 IR 850/Red for $42 and add a IR 940 Lamp for $18 putting the total cost of this illuminator at $60 (at the time of this writing). This setup pairs very well with the Equinoz Z and can used in a variety of configurations. All the photos in this article were taken with an UF1508 IR940. My prefered setup is the 38mm lens with a single 16850 battery which performs almost identical to the UF-T20 IR940. The UF1508 works well out to 300-350 yards in this configuration. On low the very faint glow of the illuminator is only visible from about 12 yards zoomed out and 75 yards zoomed in (spotlight). On medium the illuminator is visible between 75-100 yards depending on zoom. And on high the illminator is visible at 175 zoomed in.
I used this 1″ off set mount to mount the various IR illuminators I tested. Not the best fit and finish but it gets the job done. Note the smaller 5w IR light needed an adapter I had lying around for a 1″ vtac mount to make it fit.