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Review: ARGUS PNVG-18: Panos For The People

Updated: Feb 18

Argus PNVG-18 on helmet

Friday Night Lights is no more but you can find the same content moving forward, here at VF1 Systems. I am the same Nick Chen that wrote all those articles and reviews for the past 5 years every Friday. Anyway let's move on and focus on the present and future. Panos for the people is finally here. Let's take a deep dive into the ARGUS PNVG-18.

Affordable Panos For The People

Almost four years ago I got the first QTNVG, a Chinese designed and manufactured quad tube housing by Detyl. I originally wanted to call it "PTFP - Panos For The Poor". The only other option for affordable panos was to get an old set of ANVIS10. But there are compromises with each system. ANVIS10 uses proprietary parts including the image intensifiers. The ANVIS10 is long since discontinued so there is no hope of upgrading and spare parts are very hard to come by.

With the QTNVG you can use modern 10160 image intensifiers or budget ones. If you change your mind later down the road you can reuse those tubes in another build like a pair of binos. The downside to the QTNVG was the polymer and optic quality. Detyl used 50º FOV lenses and they have a very narrow exit pupil. This means you have to line the lenses up perfectly with your iris. If your eye is off-center, the image starts to blur pretty quickly. Not the case with the PNVG-18.


The ARGUS PNVG-18 is a clone of the L3 GPNVG. But at a fraction of the cost. Real GPNVGs cost around $40,000 USD. Definitely not priced for everyone. ARGUS has priced their PNVG-18 housing kit at $7,500. That is, of course, without image intensifier tubes. Add four tubes and you can figure out the final cost. Depending on the tubes you have or can get you could be starting at around $12,000 up to $20,000 for some really nice tubes.

ARGUS did a remarkable job making their PNVG-18 look like an L3 GPNVG.

The PNVG-18 power switch is that big round button under the dovetail. Around the corner is the Fischer port for the battery pack. Just like a GPNVG, there is no onboard power. It is powered with their 4xAA universal strobe battery pack and a Fischer cable.

The black screw is where you purge the pods.

Pupillary distance markers are molded into the bridge. The knobs on either side are used to adjust the pod pupillary distance. Turn them and the pods will shift left and right.

On either side of the PNVG-18 bridge are loops for hooking your helmet bungees to minimize wobble and bouncing of the panos.

Accessories For The PNVG-18

The ARGUS provides a hard case for protecting and transporting the PNVG-18. It is a clone of the Insight case for the GPNVG.

Just like the Insight version, the hard case has belt loops.

Argus did alter their mold and added a paint pen dot matrix for marking the case.

The PNVG-18 is inserted eyepiece pointed up.

Another minor change to the ARGUS case is the open cell foam that sits in-between the two pods. The Insight one does not have this.

Since the PNVG-18 objective lenses look like the GPNVG/PVS-31A there is no way to mount filters so Argus made slip on high light filters. They are like dark neutral density filters and reduce the light coming in.

I like these filters since they do not change the focus of the objective lens like adjustable iris filters and pin hole day filters. So when you are looking through them it is just like using them in the dark.

Building ARGUS Panos

ARGUS was kind enough to send this housing in for review and it is all thanks to my friend Frank for walking me through how to install the image intensifier tubes. ARGUS designed their PNVG-18 housing so that the buyer can install, collimate and set the diopter of their own unit. Whereas the L3 Harris pano requires lab trained people to build their GPNVG and it involves epoxy. Look at the image below. This is a tube out of an L3 PVS-31A. The GPNVG tubes are similar just without the manual gain pigtail. Do you see the black cylinder jutting out the front? I looks like a top hat. Well that is epoxied to the front of the image intensifier after L3 engineers determine the collimation. GPNVGs are built the same way.

ARGUS designed their housing to be much easer and user friendly. First up is to install the pods if they are not already attached to the bridge. I found the fit to be very tight. So tight that I was not able to slide the pods onto the bridge all the way with just my hands. I had to use a brass punch and tap the bridge onto the pod.

ARGUS designed their bridge/pods a little different from Insight. They added an o-ring that minimizes movement between the pod and bridge.

Also the dovetail of the bridge is wider than ANVIS10 or GPNVG.

Here is the width of the ANVIS10 dovetail. GPNVG is in-between ANVIS10 and ARGUS PNVG-18.

Once you install the pods to the bridge you can now insert an image intensifier of your choosing. The tubes go in through the front so make sure the phosphor screen goes in first. At the front of the tube is the anti-rotation index point. Line it up with the notch in the pod housing.

Once fully seated you take ARGUS' top hat. It is made of two pieces. The brim and the cylinder. They are keyed to each other with a 12 pointed star. That will be important soon in the build. Take the brim and you will notice it has a tab that sticks out. Insert that tab in-between the notch and index point of the tube.

Now you can place the cylinder onto the brim. The cylinder is what the objective lens will screw into. The cylinder is eccentric and you use the twelve positions to collimate the images from the tubes to each other.

When collimating the tubes, start with the two inboard tubes first. These are your main tubes that you will be looking through. Treat them like an ordinary pair of binos. I marked the brim and cylinder with a silver sharpie so I can keep track of the positions. With the objective lenses screwed into the cylinder and focused at something gently pull the lens out and rotate it one position. Keep doing this for each side until you get the images to collimate to one another. Once you find the right position of the cylinder to the brim now it is time to install the tube retaining ring. Remove the objective lens, be careful not to rotate or change the position of the cylinder in relation to the brim. The tube retaining ring will screw into place and press up against the brim. holding the objective lens cylinder in place.

Once you have collimated the two inboard tubes to each other, repeat the steps above to collimate the outer tubes to their respective neighbor. Once you have installed the tube retaining rings, reinstall your objective lenses. Now we will work on diopter. This is a bit harder since you have to do it by trial and error. Unfortunately this can only be done if you have access to a dioptometer. See photo below.

If you have a dioptometer or have access to one, this is how you set the diopter of your tubes. Basically you are setting the back focus of your tubes relative to the eyepiece. Since the eyepiece is fixed and is not adjustable, you have to set the tube distance. When you look at the back of your tubes, specifically the glass of the phosphor screen, that glass is ground at different depths. No tube is the same. that is why we have adjustable diopters or in this case you need to set the distance.

Look through your PNVG-18 powered on. Focus the objectives at something with detail about 10 feet away. Take the dioptermeter and set its eyepiece so you can see the reticle inside. Now place the dioptometer up against the PNVG eyepiece. There is a syringe like slider on the dioptometer. While looking through it to see the image your PNVG is making, slowly adjust the slider so the image in in sharp focus. Do this while looking at something 10 feet away. Now look at the side of the dioptometer and read what it says. You want it to read -0.5. If it is a positive number, you need to move the tube further back. If it is a lower negative number then you need to move the tube forward.

Remove the screws holding the eyepiece to the PNVG-18 pod. You will see black castle nuts can be screwed in or out.

Rotate the castle nut accordingly so when you reinstall the eyepiece it pushes up against the tube. If you need to move the tube forward, you will need to back off the tube retaining ring a bit. Or if the tube needs to move further back then you need to tighten the tube retaining ring a bit to push the tube back. Recheck the diopter setting again. Repeat this process until the dioptometer reads -0.5 or whatever diopter setting you prefer.

Now that ordeal is over with, you can finalize installation of your objective lenses. Slip the infinite/close focus stop ring onto the back of the objective lens. The silver pin should point rearwards towards the tube.

The silver pin will hit the ridge in the tube retaining ring.

Screw the objective lens back onto the black cylinder. When you find the infinite focus, spin the focus stop ring so the pin hits the stop in the tube retaining ring. Tighten the black side screw so the focus stop ring clamps around the objective lens. Once tightened, your objective lens will stop at infinity and if you unscrew it, it will stop at close focus.

Using The AGUS Panos

I am used to my ANVIS-10 and they are different from the PNVG-18. Specifically how close the eyepieces are to my face. If I use a Wilcox G24 mount, I feel like the PNVG-18 is too close. I see too much black around the image. So I prefer using the longer sled rail of the ARGUS LWNVM or Wilcox mounts with extended travel for the dovetail sled. See the photo below. The top image is with a G24 fully extended. Then the image below it is with the ARGUS LWNVM fully extended. It does not seem like a big deal but it makes the images look better to my eyes. I see less black around the images.

COTIs are compatible with the ARGUS Pano. I am able to use the Optics1 GPNVG/PVS-31A mount to attach my ECOSI.

PNVG-18 vs ANVIS-10

The PNVG-18 is heavier than ANVIS-10.

Even with a Nocturn Ruggedized metal Chimera bridge, the ANVIS-10 is lighter weight.

Final Thoughts On The PNVG-18

One of the biggest concerns was "how is the glass?". Just like the GPNVG, the lenses are a hybrid and use polymer elements. Be careful cleaning them. Unfortunately I was unable to get access to a real GPNVG to do a side by side comparison of the lenses but in terms of tubes I have L3 filmless white phosphor for the inboard tubes and Elbit white phosphor for the outboard tubes.

While I was unable to compare the PNVG-18 to GPNVG, I was able to compare an ARGUS PVS-31A to an L3 PVS-31A, both with similar spec L3 filminess white phosphor tubes. The ARGUS lenses had slightly less contrast and exhibited some lens flares when the light source is at the outside edge of the objective lens. L3 lenses have their own lens flares as well but they look different. These lens flares are just me looking to find fault in these lenses. They are perfectly useable and much more forgiving than the QTNVG lenses. I do not see image distortion or blurring if my eyes are not perfectly aligned with the eyepiece.

Here is the lens flare from an L3Harris PVS-31A

And here is the lens flare from the ARGUS PNVG-18.

The ARGUS PNVG-18 is a solidly built housing. the lenses are useable and you won't be disappointed. The price of building one is about the price of two dual tube binos. So should you go out and buy one or build one? That is up to you. Panos are heavier than binos. And while wider FOV is great, it really only helps in close quarters and driving or piloting a vehicle. I recommend having a great pair of binos as your main go to goggle. But if you want to LARP Zero Dark Thirty without breaking the bank,. Get the PNVG-18.

Me standing in front of the Stealth Hawk prop helicopter used in Zero Dark Thirty.

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