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Sionyx Night Vision Camera at Outdoor Retailer

If you've been waiting for the opportunity to use the phrase “It's like a PVS-14 and a GoPro had a baby that wasn't color blind,” then today is your chance. The Sionyx Aurora Night Vision Camera, the “possibly coming-soon” darling of Kickstarter pre-orders, goes up for real-world sale this week. RECOIL was one of the first outlets to get some hands-on with the device, and it's impressive.

Half action-cam, half super-sensitive low-light color monocular, the Aurora is a curious result of an overactive wish list.

Do you want to video a midnight hog hunt or do surveillance at night? Do you want a waterproof action camera small enough to squeeze into all the usual small-cam snowboard/skiing/motorsports places? But you've also always wanted night vision that has real color capabilities — instead of the harsh green TV you're used to in NV goggles and scopes? This camera purports to do all that, and at an affordable price for NV (or a not-too-high price for an action cam).

While color night vision has been played with for ages, such as the interesting work Tenebraex did almost fifteen years ago, and historical attempts at digital night vision products have mostly fallen flat (I'm looking at you, Xenonics SuperVision), today's tech has pretty much caught up with the wish list. Digital camera sensors have gotten to the point to where some DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can pull in ISO numbers of 400,000 or so. Which, if you don't speak camera-nerd, is basically gathering enough light to see in the dark. With a fat stack of 40 patents, some Ivy-league geeking and tweaking of the sensors, and the will to make night into day, the Sionyx unit will do double that ISO number, sucking in impressive 800,000 ISO ratings.

The teeny (yet very good) sensor and lenses in most action cameras can record nice video, but don't do well at all in low light. Which is why so many GoPro commercials are of snowsports, filmed on dazzling white ski hills  a gazillion lumens of sunshine-on-snow shows cameras at their best, big time. Conversely, the Sionyx unit's brag point is that it works very hard in the dark to grab every available bit of ambient light and the color cues that are hard to see and boost the heck out of them with its sensor and software. For an obvious comparison of what the Aurora brings to the low-light gathering game, check out the size of its 1-inch optical format chip as compared to a normal action cam's sensor below:

CHIP_COMPARISONS

Even though it's not the same thing, people are going to compare the Aurora to industry-standard NV monoculars. When asked to list some pros and cons of an Aurora vs. a PVS-14 (which is about the same size class), Sionyx's CMO Dan Cui immediately got it out of the way that a Gen 3 PVS will see better in pure darkness/moonless environments. The Sionyx unit doesn't have a built-in IR or visible light source like a PVS-14 does to perk up a dark room.

However, on the pro side, it does things the PVS-14 never dreamed of doing: it records 720p video, has a color sensor displaying on an OLED screen, instead of monochrome green or white-phosphorus,  Ip67-Grade waterproofing, and it has image stabilization. There's also added features via their smartphone app: using the camera's onboard GPS tech to locate friends or teammates, the ability to take compass bearings, or even broadcast night vision video live via your smartphone and it's built-in wifi.

Oh, and there is that huge point that it sells for $799 before discounts.

PVS VS AURORA

“Why not 1080p?” is a frequently asked question. Remember that big ol' chip a paragraph ago? To output 1080p with this camera's level of light gathering, a system would require a chip twice as big (a 2-inch sensor) and correspondingly huge lenses. Which would make the unit decidedly larger and pricier. Remember, their system is all about collecting light that's ambient or otherwise present, not shining IR or illuminators to spark up a picture as traditional NV does in super-dark near-field environments. Of course, you can always mount up an IR torch to your weapon or tripod if you want to get even brighter and less grainy video. Digging in, here are the specs of the camera:


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SIONYX_SPECSHEET

Since this is RECOIL, we know our readers have a big thought-balloon over their heads right now, asking “Is it weapon-mountable?” The answer is yes, or at least “soon.” Sionyx showed us a prototype 1913-spec rail adapter that they've already tested a bit on 5.56mm carbines. And doubtless, there will be aftermarket solutions to adapt the camera to other standards like M-LOK, standard NVG helmet mount interfaces, and all those sorts of things that get the readership here all twitchy over. There's no firm word on max recoil rating, but since these guys are all about doing their electrical engineering due-diligence, they not only shot some swine with it, they did mount it up to an M4 carbine recoil simulator. The Aurora took roughly 4000 rounds on the simulator before showing wear on the camera.

Sionyx has a separate Sportsmans YouTube channel that has a video showing the unit's basic promises and capabilities. One video shows them using it on a hog hunt, mounted in front of a traditional day scope. This is achieved same as you would with a traditional clip-on NVD: mounting it up in front of the scope and then dialing in the camera's eyepiece diopter to focus with the magnified optic. If you want to use it alone as a big unmagnified Aimpoint-TM-type setup, there's also an illuminated reticle of sorts – made for boaters to find the horizon. But the crew at Sionyx says there should be no problem coming up with a true gunsight reticle upgrade in the future. On the camera side of things, they made the call to just have it compatible with the myriad of GoPro and aftermarket mounts instead of making proprietary accessories. The Aurora's bottom sports a standard 1/4-20 female thread and angle-locking posthole like you'd find on DSLR cameras.

CAMERA BOTTOM WITH RAIL

The Aurora was more or less designed and completed before it hit Kickstarter. For that matter, the company has been around since 2006, founded by two Harvard University gents with pre-existing chops in the semiconductor business and some inroads into military use of light-sensing devices. While they weren't counting on the Kickstarter money to develop the tech, they did want to utilize crowdfunding as a way to gauge interest. To this end, there are people out there that had been waiting for just something like this– the Aurora met sales goal in 3 hours. Over 600 cameras have been pre-ordered on faith (and a spec sheet) alone. Those backers will get theirs soon  on time  but they also will go live for sale to anyone this week.

For their product info and lots of videos shot with the Sionyx Aurora, check out their site: https://www.sionyx.com/


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Disclosure: These links are affiliate links. Caribou Media Group earns a commission from qualifying purchases. Thank you!

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