Digital recording technology is always impressing in both quality and innovation and has not stopped. The only major problem with this is that the price value of technology has also risen to accommodate both the research and the development involved with purposing this technology for the consumer market. Only when the technology gets old and deprecated, do they become more economical solutions for the consumer, but that is not always the case.
Sionyx is a company that is focused on providing a solution for outdoor enthusiasts who perform in both day and night. The Sionyx Aurora is a product that is designed to function for this demographic by providing a durable camera with the capability of offering both day and night time recording functionality in a compact and economical package.
The SiOnyx Aurora is primarily a night vision camera with the ability to record in three different light settings: day, twilight and night. The camera records in 720p at a frame rate of 60 fps (.mov file format) but can be lowered for more storage space. The photo mode is capable of taking 9 megapixel images. The Aurora weighs 227 grams and is water proof resistant IP67 rated. The included Lithium Ion battery has a life of just over 2 hours of continuous use however also takes that long to charge to 100%.
One of the main features of this camera is the ability to view low light scenes in colour with and without the assistance of IR light. An IR light is not integrated with the camera for extended battery life and retaining the small form factor.
The lens at the front of the camera looks large however as printed on the glass, is a 16mm lens (FOV 48 degrees) capable of F1:1.4-5.6 which changes depending on the scene selection. Unlike action cameras, the Aurora has a manual focus ring which allows for more control over the scene and allows for a potentially higher quality image.
The camera on the SiOnyx Aurora uses the SiOnyx XQE CMOS image sensor which is advertised to enhance light sensitivity by a factor of 10 compared to other sensors in the market. This sensor uses ultra low light semiconductor technology which assist in developing visible low light scenes in a digital format and in a relatively high refresh rate.
At the front of the camera, with the focus ring, is the scene mode ring which allows you to actively switch modes whilst operating the camera. The scene ring is followed by simple cross hair controls which are used to view and navigate the menus in the device’s UI and control the electronic zoom and gain.
The shutter/record button is ergonomically shielded from accidental activation behind the cross hair controls and leads to the electronic viewfinder at the rear of the camera. Next to the viewfinder is a fairly clicky diopter dial which controls the diopter focus adjustment on the viewfinder itself. Included under the viewfinder is an IR sensor which currently does not seem to have a function other than to detect when the eye is near or away from the EVF, however, could lead to further features such as an IR controller.
Underneath the camera is a typical camera mount with detent for a tripod mount. You can also find the cover for the micro-USB port between the mount thread and the camera mode dial which shows four different modes followed by a settings mode. Each mode dictates a different recording function and allows for the user to quickly switch between modes whilst using the viewfinder.
Most of the settings for the camera can be found by clicking on the SET button once for camera mode-specific options and a long press of the SET button for universal options. The photo camera mode has the following features: shutter speed, burst shot, HDR, self timer, panorama and time lapse. The video camera mode has many settings which include: overlay toggle, EVF timeout, night glow colour (greyscale, green, night color), frame rate, and inverting the image on the camera.
The compartment that houses the lithium battery and the micro sd card can be accessed by removing the viewfinder housing. This is an interesting design on the Aurora as it leads to believe that different modular applications will be available to replace the viewfinder in the near future.
One feature of the Sionyx Aurora that has become evident for many re-enactors and enthusiasts is to be able to mount the Aurora on a helmet system relative to how night vision optics would be mounted. This is made possible due to the Lions Gear Solutions dovetail mounts which allow for dual monocular mounting of the Aurora.
The Sionyx Aurora is quite large and looks more like a small handheld spotter than a night vision optic. The camera, however, is light and not as large as many other competitors within its price range. The Aurora is primarily in a polymer housing which does make it look slightly cheap, however, it feels and provides a good tactile feel when operated.
All the buttons on the Aurora feel very nice and are very easy to operate which is great for when you cannot physically see the controls at night. Although the user can see what recording mode they are using based on looking in the EVF, the recording dial has very little tactile identifiers to confirm which mode the camera is in. The focus ring and scene mode ring are very ergonomic as they can be easily used with the supporting hand without visual inspection.
The Sionyx Aurora is designed to film and take photos of both day and night scenes and does so with ease due to the simple function of the shutter/recording button. Videos are recorded in The quality of the photos are not much to be expected however the main purpose of the Aurora is to be able to take night vision recordings and will hence be focused on more within this review.
The photo mode of the Sionyx Aurora is quite basic and feels more like an extension of the video mode than a standalone feature worth looking for. Having said that, having 9-megapixel photos that can be taken without increasing shutter speed is an advantage for those who do want to take outdoor photos in the twilight hours. The picture quality can be quite good considering the manual focus and the lack of over-saturation that most action camera devices are susceptible to doing. There is a need to use IR light sources however when the scene is too dark otherwise the image will mostly comprise of noise.
The quality of the image for both photo and video mode reflect the natural ability of the human eye which is a great achievement considering the eye adapts to the lack of light to take in more of it when needed. Even in day scene modes, the images are slightly brighter than what the eye can see as the sensor is able to bleed more light in for the image. It’s however only when night scene mode is used that the clarity of the image becomes evident. It’s remarkable how colour can make a huge difference for both the naturalness of the image at night and the ability to identify objects in the distance. It is also worth noting that the Aurora is great for spotting IR emitting devices in the distance.
The Sionyc Aurora’s most useful feature is the video mode. Although the images above have shown the capabilities of the Sionyx sensor, it’s when you are filming in low light that the Aurora shows how useful it can be at night. The Aurora is an interesting camera which cannot perform as well as a broadcast camera with IR modes, however, it has a smaller form factor and does not need as much assistance with lighting.
It is unfortunate that the Aurora does not record at 1080p 60f as that is the industry standard. Although the product does not exist anymore, the Tachyon OPS HD Nightvision camera was one of the only economical action cameras out there that could provide in a small form factor albeit not in colour or with a viewfinder. Now the Sionyx Aurora seems to be the main contender in this category.
The time-lapse function is an interesting feature on the Aurora but is essentially the photo mode with automated shutter activation. It’s a feature that can be most useful for security and maintenance related activities however it is an odd choice to use the Aurora as a monitoring tool considering there are other dedicated products in the market. Another use for the time-lapse would be for more adventurous ventures such as hiking and/or other activities.
The battery on the Sionyx Aurora is a little unpredictable in life due to temperature and whether it is recording or not. It’s difficult to decipher why the battery drains more in certain situations but the longevity of the battery ranges between 45 minutes and 2 and a half hours of use. The Aurora was not provided with another battery and hence we could not prove whether this was an issue for all Auroras or just the review sample. One benefit is that the Aurora is capable of charging from an external source, however, the camera seems to be unresponsive when plugged in. This means if you decide to record video with an external battery source, you will have to start recording prior to plugging the cable to the camera.
The Sionyx Aurora is housed in a polymer frame with waterproof resistance that is good enough for you not to worry about dropping it in a pond, but you would be lucky to still have it working after attempting to record something underwater. That is obviously not the intention of the Sionyx Aurora however it could be with a waterproof case.
The buttons, rings, and dials on the Sionyx Aurora are very robust as they should be for a camera that lives in the wild. After a number of vibration and tumbler tests, the Aurora’s housing does not have any major scratches or suffered from any functionality defects that would be expected from mishandling.
The front lens of the Aurora is scratch resistant however is not invulnerable to impacts. Lion’s Gear Solutions have innovated for this problem and have not only provided a mounting solution for helmet mounting but have also created a perspec lens cover for the Aurora. Although it would be nice to see Sionyx provide these accessories with their product, it is nice to see 3rd Parties investing in the product as well.
The Sionyx Aurora is a digital night vision capable camera with a relatively low form factor and recording functionality. A camera like this has a lot of potential, especially when you see the price tag attached to the Aurora. The Sionyx Aurora costs ~£800 and is fairly well priced considering the features and the technology used in the product. There are not many products that can be easily compared such as other night vision devices such as FLIR BNVDs and PVS 14s. These products are not comparable either due to how the night vision technology works or due to the fact that they cannot take photos or video.
We would have done a price comparison with the Tachyon OPS HD Nightvision camera but that would have been unfair due to the unavailability of the product and similar missing features such as a lack of EVF.
The Sionyx Aurora is a very capable camera with some technical limitations which do well with the pricing of the product. It would be nice to see a higher tech Aurora with better technical specs such as higher recording capabilities and a built-in flood IR. This is not a limitation that gives issue to the Sionyx Aurora as it would have created more issues with the inconsistent battery life of the lithium battery provided.
The Aurora is perfect for budget night vision solutions that do not require overly specialised solutions such as adventurers, law enforcement, and games keepers. There is a prevalent Airsoft scene for the use of the Aurora in place of more expensive night vision devices with the advantage of being able to record, however it cannot be compared to them due to the difference in technology used and the specialisation.