Own the night! We hear it often. When the sun goes down and there is no artificial light to aid our vision we are blind. When I was younger I’d venture out once a month to the deepest darkest woods we could find. Our troop leaders were fans of the long hike. You know, the ones with the trail-less peaks. Those woods.
I quickly learned that if I didn’t remember it I didn’t need it and refused to bring it again. One of the first victims of this attitude was flashlights. After my first year in scouts, I left them at home. After a while, your vision dark-adapts and you can see adequately. Well, enough to up a tent and cook a meal.
That attitude as changed as I have gotten older. The older my eyes get, the tougher it is to manage after dark. I now carry a flashlight as a part of my EDC. Out of everything I carry, my little OLight S1 is used the most. This is how I “Own the Night.”
I recently had the opportunity to try out and review a game-changer for my night preparations. I jumped at the chance. What follows are my observations from using, playing, and evaluating the SiOnyx Aurora.
Table of Contents
History of Night Vision
Biologically, we do not have the advantages of most animals. Our eyes are designed for vision in the daytime. We have adapted to see colors in great detail. To accomplish this we have specialized cells, rods and cones in our retina.
Cone cells respond to various colors and pack the center of our retina. With these cells, we see color and detail. This happens only under bright illumination. The rods are much more photosensitive but they do not contribute to color vision.
At night, the rods are active though their abilities are limited. Under a full moon, most people can navigate with relative ease, but it is still a challenge. As noted, rods are most dense in our peripheral vision.
You can see an object better at night by looking to the side of it rather than straight on. This process leverages the rods at the edge of our vision. Try it some dark night.
Humans have sought various means for augmenting their night vision. Two modern methods are image intensification and active illumination.
The original night vision devices relied on passive image intensification. These “Starlight” scopes from the 1960’s used image intensifiers to brighten up the night.
An image intensifier employs an electronic process to multiply the photons it detects. One turns into two. Two turns into four, etc. With enough layers, you soon get a visible image. These “Generation I” devices required strong moonlight to function effectively.
Generation II (the 1970s) and Generation III (the 1990s) devices advanced the state of the art. Current civilian available units provide excellent vision even on moonless nights.
While these do open up the night their biggest disadvantage is cost. A single PVS 14 monocular will run approximately $3,000 and a PVS 14 binocular can run as much $8,000.
The second night vision option is active illumination. For these night vision devices, an infrared illuminator/flashlight assists the detector.
Human vision only extends to the red end of the spectrum. Infrared, being beyond red, is invisible to our eyes. Using a source in this portion of the spectrum, the target is illuminated to the device but remains dark to the human eye.
Most electronic sensors are sensitive into the infrared. This makes the options cheaper and more accessible to the average shooter. One such example is the Bushnell Equinox. This night vision camera uses a built-in IR light to brighten whatever the camera is looking at.
While less expensive than photo-multipliers they remain range limited. You can only see as far as your illuminator reaches. The good news is that you can always get a bigger flashlight.
Enter the SiOnyx Aurora
The SiOnyx Aurora is a recent addition to the night vision market. Founded in 2006, they have provided night vision devices to the commercial, law enforcement, and defense markets. They currently have four devices available to the commercial market.
SiOnyx devices are sensitive enough to provide a color image. This is a huge differentiator. This is in contrast to the ubiquitous night-vision green. Best viewed under moonlight the color capabilities become limited as the available light diminishes.
All cameras in their commercial line have the following features.
- ✅ Day, twilight, and night modes
- ✅ Manual focus ring
- ✅ Color night vision
- ✅ Digital viewfinder
- ✅ Digital image capture
- ✅Digital video capture (via microSD card)
- ✅ On-device image playback
- ✅ Mobile app compatibility
- ✅ Wireless connection to mobile app
As you upgrade through the product line additional features are available, most notably:
- ✅ GPS location tagging of images
- ✅ Improved night vision (Aurora Pro device only)
- ✅ Augmented Reality (AR) Capabilities (display of waypoints or team member locations)
All four devices have a similar form factor. They are monocular style with a digital display inside the viewfinder. All functionality is available either via external buttons, or via the mobile app.
The SiOnyx cameras have generated a nice following online. Several video reviews demonstrate its use and functionality:
Unboxing and Controls
Out of the box, it has a nice feel and fits well in my hand. It’s easy to point, track, and use as a small video camera.
The first task was loading the battery and the microSD. You access both by removing the viewfinder. The viewfinder electronically connects to the body of the camera with a small USB port.
The locking mechanism is a small button. I would like to see a better connection and latch. My fingers are average size and I had a little trouble. I have several friends that would not be able to access the latch due to either size or age. In cold weather, I can see it being difficult to open.
There are several external sets of controls: night vision mode, camera mode, settings buttons. There are three night vision modes.
The first is daytime mode. In this mode, the Aurora acts as a simple video camera. The second is twilight mode. Here the light is amplified, but is assumed that it is not yet dark. The final mode, night mode, is where the magic happens. More on this in a bit.
The camera mode settings control the basic operation of the Aurora. These settings include picture capture, video capture, loop mode, playback, Wi-Fi, and settings.
Picture mode allows the Aurora to capture a photograph whenever the record button has been pushed. There is a similar operation for video mode. Loop mode utilizes an external trigger (motion of the camera) video capture.
WiFi and settings mode provides access to the Aurora general parameters, and wireless access to the mobile application. I’ll leave the lengthy discussion of the settings for the user manual. I’ll discuss the mobile interface in a little bit.
The last controls are the active settings buttons. This includes a matrix of buttons to adjust the current view (increase and decrease the gain, increase and decrease the zoom), and finally a trigger to capture an image or video.
For me, these buttons are a little small. With gloves, I found I missed the buttons, or clicked the incorrect one several times.
The viewfinder is clear and bright. There is a diopter adjustment so that you can use it without glasses. The fact that you are seeing a digital image rather than a live image is apparent with a minor lag in the display. As long as you aren’t using it to run through the woods at night, it is no issue.
The focus ring on the lens controls the focus of the displayed image. This allows the user to manually control the focus from near to far objects. Honestly, this was the one item on the camera that annoyed me.
As I used it in and around the dark woods I was constantly changing from near to far. I’m sure I could have picked one setting and navigated walking around. However, if I needed to quickly react, autofocus would significantly improve the device.
After inserting the microSD and battery I stepped into the basement. The only light source was a small window. With the SiOnyx I could see perfectly into every dark corner.
It fits well in the hand, however some of the buttons were small as stated. The eyepiece fits well and even better after I removed my glasses. This required an adjustment of the eyepiece diopter which made its use more comfortable.
There was a slight lag to the video as I moved around, but other reviews had prepared me for this. I quickly became comfortable however this was in a very limited space. The color aspect of the night vision held up until I went into complete darkness. At this point, I needed to use an IR flashlight (850 NM).
It was time to take it too the woods.
I performed my main evaluation of the camera on several cloudless, near-full moon-lit, nights. I was well away from any population centers and any sources of light pollution.
About 10 pm (90 minutes after sunset) I pulled out the SiOnyx and took it for a spin. The images were amazing given the light from the moon.
First I tested the color capabilities. As seen in the flag picture, the colors are fully recognizable. While nowhere near as vibrant in the daylight picturem they were easily picked out. Without the camera, I had no color vision at all.
The next target was the field and woods. The depth of the field is approximately 75 yards. With the unaided night vision, I could make out individual trees and bushes, as well as the field’s boundary.
If an animal of any size had walked by from rabbit to deer, to bear I am confident that I could have recognized it without any issue.
I turned on the flashlight to get a different perspective. With the added illumination and shadows the field boundary and trees popped!
I could focus and broaden the IR flashlight beam to achieve more concentrated or fuller coverage. Again, none of these features – field, trees, IR illuminator were visible without the gadget.
Finally, I walked over to a fire-pit. We had a fire in it hours earlier, and all that remained were coals. From the vantage of the picture, I could see no signs of life in the pit. It wasn’t until I was directly over the pit when noticed the few hot coals with the unaided eye.
The SiOnyx lit up the firepit. The scant illumination from the coals converted the pit into a beacon. With the IR flashlight, the color was washed out, however I could see great details in the bricks.
The last picture in this area was of my backwoods companion. Again I was amazed at the detail. I switched the camera to capture video and got a good few seconds of her on patrol. Again the only illumination was from the moon. It was nice to experience her version of the world!
Navigating around the yard got progressively easier as the night went on. I was able to walk around on flat and level ground without issue. That being said, I would not be comfortable in the woods without great care. Running was, and will always be out of the question due to the lag in the display.
While it’s more of a parlor trick, the IR flashlight allows you to get a great picture of the veins in your hand. I’m not about to draw blood at night, but it was great to freak out the kids:
I was very pleased with the initial outing of the SiOnyx. It was easy to use, provided great pictures and videos. The last test of the evening was to link it to my mobile phone.
The Aurora provides mobile connectivity via wireless. Turn the camera setting to wireless mode, and use the SiOnyx app from the Google or Apple app store. Making the connection was quick and easy.
The mobile application delivers an interface to all the settings of the SiOnyx. From zoom to mode selection the controls are easy to find, and the application is easy to navigate. The greatest advantage of this is you can place the camera in a remote location, and view the live stream from comfort or concealment.
As long as you are in range that is. One of the above review videos uses this feature to navigate a boat. I can see it being very handy in the right situation.
The mobile app also lets you save movies and still images offline taken by the camera. You don’t need to remove the microSD, just a few clicks on the app and you are set.
Three situations popped up where the camera was very useful. In each case, I would have been limited in my capabilities without the SiOnyx.
The first came up on my initial night at camp. About 1 a.m. we heard a bump in the night. Our place is quiet. The loudest thing is the local trout stream. Any noise louder than the stream gets noticed.
The bump was on the porch so I immediately grabbed the camera and took a look. Looking out the third window I found the culprit. A masked bandit (raccoon) stared back at me while he raided the bird feeder. A few shouts and he was off to his next robbery.
Several nights later and at home the local pack of coyotes woke us from a sound sleep. They were unusually close. So much so that my neighbor called. They sounded like they had downed an animal outside his place. He asked for company to investigate.
I headed over with the SiOnyx in hand, eager to share a bit of new technology. We spent the better part of 30 minutes combing the woods for signs of their kill. Whatever they caught was small (but vocal), and they had taken it fur and all. No signs of blood or fur were found.
Finally, on a moonless night, I brought out the SiOnyx to the top of the hill to see comet Neowise. I met a fellow amateur astronomer who had spent the better part of 45 minutes looking for it.
There was enough cloud cover to mask the comet. Within seconds I had found it, showed him and he was able to re-train his camera and get a good shot.
While none of these events were life-threatening or “prepper-cool.” They each represent a situation where owning the night granted a dose of convenience. Had they been more serious, the benefits of night vision capabilities would have been greatly appreciated.
Is it possible to own the night? Yes. Especially with the budget of the department of defense. For us budget-limited citizens it’s a little harder. The SiOnyx Aurora makes it easier.
Is it perfect? No. Is it good as the current civilian options coming out of DoD surplus? Also no. If you are looking for an effective night vision device that is financially approachable by most, then the answer is a hands-down yes!
From the first time I turned it on in the basement to several unexpected uses, I have found great utility in the SiOnyx. I’ll spend the next few weeks saving up for one of my own. I am already making space for it in my bug out bag and on my nightstand.