Well, like the term "starter" or "beginner", you'll find a wide variety of opinions.
I call the Photon a "great starter scope" because I think it does a great job getting someone started with NV very inexpensively. If that is all you use, one might feel that it is a fully capable option. There is nothing wrong in using that if you are constrained by budget. Nothing at all. I had one as a loaner until recently and hunted it quite a bit when they fist came out. It is a very good digital for the price. However, once you start using something better, and particularly a high end thermal, you realize how much you are missing. You can scan a whole pasture with digital, and often night vision for that matter, and miss so much going on. It is night and day difference.
The same goes for the difference in low and high end thermal. The big thing with thermal is the ID distance. You might detect an object and you might recognize it is alive and moving around, but you have to be able to ID. You can't, or shouldn't, pull the trigger on what you can't ID. Higher end thermals help you ID better throughout the range, especially at distance.
Prices continue to come down. If you want to settle for a 3XX core product, you can get a Pulsar XD50 for around 3 grand. They do a decent job and offer a PiP (Picture in Picture) that really helps the lower end 384 core out. If you want to go to the next level, 640 cores run about 6 grand and up. I own a Pulsar, an ATN, an Armasight and three IR Defense scopes. Two ATN, one Pulsar and one IR Defense monocular. The IR Defense scopes are my favorite hands down. Monoculars are a mixed bag based on use. The two ATN monocs are 6X and better for long distance scanning/viewing. The Pulsar is 2.1X mag and the IR Defense is 1X which makes them better for close in.
Digital is fine if it is what you can afford or if it is what you can justify. No problem. It often gets the job done just fine for many folks. Just understand that you won't be seeing everything out there. Might think you are, but you aren't.