Star Light, Star Bright:Morovision Lights the Night
The MONOCAM set-up we received for review included a premium ITT NEPVS-14 night vision monocular. This state-of-the-art nighttime optic features a 3rd generation ITT "Pinnacle" intensifier tube rated at 64 lp/mm, manual gain control, an integral infrared illuminator, and it operates on a single "AA" battery.
The Olympus Stylus 1030 SW is a highly refined 10.1 mp point & shoot camera that's extremely durable and easy to work with. The 2.7" screen is crisp, and the menus are easy to navigate. Having experience with digital cameras is definitely helpful, but a novice would have the 1030 SW up and running faster than you might think; it's a very simple camera to use. The 1030's feature set is quite extensive and satisfying; it allows you to handle most every photographic task with aplomb, style, and grace.
Although the 1030 SW is a pocket-sized point and shoot camera, it's important to note that it's not your garden-variety p/s camera. The sleek profile of this camera belies its prowess as a superior imaging tool; it is more than rugged - think operator/officer-proof. It's constructed to endure use and abuse above and beyond the call of duty. Along with being crush-resistant, this fine little camera is also very well protected against the elements. In fact, this little pocket camera is touted as being water, shock, freeze, and dust-proof. Its imaging capabilities are quite impressive; the 1030 SW captures 10.1mp still images and 30fps video instantly and effortlessly. The 3x zoom racks from wide to long quickly, and even in low light conditions it seems to have minimal focusing difficulty.
The MONOCAM adapter is designed to endure the rigors of harsh environments, and actual field use. It's made out of a resilient aluminum alloy with a refined anodized coating; every curve is smooth to the touch and every cut and fitting speaks of precision design and engineering. The compression ring that holds the PVS-14 is secure and easy to operate with bare hands or gloves – with a little practice assembling the MONOCAM in a cold dark environment would present no problem.
Right out of the box I was able to take photos in low-light conditions without reading so much as a single word of the instructions. While this is not the recommended way to go about using advanced electronic equipment, I wanted to see just how hard it would be for an operator in the field to assemble and operate the MONOCAM. I was truly impressed with every single aspect of construction and operation. The entire assembly fits together extremely well without the use of tools.
Assembling the three parts (MONOCAM adapter, NVD, camera) in total darkness was easier than expected. Operating the assembled configuration in total darkness proved to be way less anxiety provoking than imagined. The simplicity and intuitive nature of the 1030 SW's interface is well suited to this type of environment. Making menu changes on the fly was simple, fast, and glitch-free. Operating a PVS-14 is extremely simple as there are only two knobs to fiddle with, and the design of the MONOCAM adapter leaves no room for doubt as to what goes where. Holding the ready-to-use MONOCAM assembly eliminated any thoughts of it being delicate or needing to be babied. When the assembly is in position for taking images, it possesses that special combination of heft and balance that provides confidence, and eliminates second guessing.
Okay, it's easy to put together and operate. The specs are great, the assembly looks snazzy, and it feels good in your hands; but what do the images look like? Images viewed and recorded with this MONOCAM set-up exceeded my expectations. Sitting in a completely blacked-out room I powered up the PVS-14 and the 1030 SW; almost instantly each piece of furniture and every object in my line of sight was totally illuminated and readily identifiable. The PVS-14 provides unity magnification (1:1) so, even with the camera's zoom set to 3x, spatial relationships and depth perception seem normal. Snapping the shutter recorded the image quietly. Switching the camera to 30fps movie mode provides the ability to pan, tilt, scan the entire area, and play it all back later in a high-resolution AVI file.
Be advised, while the MONOCAM system produces astounding imagery, it does not generate photos or movies with Leica sharpness or Hasselblad contrast. Night vision devices are not intended for capturing the subtle nuances of Uncle Ned's facial expressions at your daughter's wedding. Instead, what we do have is a seemingly endless set of imaging possibilities that were previously impossible to imagine. Everything from photographing a sleeping baby to recording a thief exiting a second-story window at midnight is now a manageable photo-op for anyone who can handle turning on a light switch.