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 both day and night. The Sionyx Aurora is a series of products that are 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 PRO 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 in any of the aforementioned modes. The Aurora PRO weighs 274 grams (around 50 grams heavier than the original Aurora) and is water proof resistant IP67 rated. The included Lithium Ion battery has a life of just over 2 hours of continuous use and only takes a quarter of the time to fully charge.
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 44 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 that allows for more control over the scene and allows for a potentially higher quality image.
The camera on the SiOnyx Aurora PRO 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 assists 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 that 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 to detect when the eye is near or away from the EVF.
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 mounting 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 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 the belief that different modular applications will be available to replace the viewfinder in the near future.
One feature of the Sionyx Aurora PRO 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.
Another more prominent feature for the Aurora PRO is the ability to Picatinny mount it to a rifle to be used as an assisted optic for shooting at low light.
The Sionyx Aurora PRO 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 PRO 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.
Comparing the PRO to the other models of the family, you can see that their is a nice bronze detailing which gives it that extra touch of premium factor. Bare in mind, this is just an aesthetic wow factor and a way to identify the PRO from the other Aurora models.
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 720p at a framerate of 60 hz in a Mov format. The quality of the photos is 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 PRO 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 Sionyx Aurora PRO’s most useful feature is the video mode. The Aurora is an interesting camera that 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.
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.
A cool new feature is the availability of a crosshair within the viewfinder. It is not very customizable and is unfortunately not capable of being zeroed to a rifle. However, a clever user would opt to use a riser mount that allows for elevation and windage adjustments to gain the full use of the camera as a night vision shooting optic. With basic telemetry such as compass headings and providing horizontal and vertical readings of angle, the Aurora PRO could definitely fill the role of being rifle mounted with a little bit of forward-thinking and DIY enthusiasm.
Sionyx provides a picatinny mount for the Aurora series and has specified that the Aurora PRO is capable of handling .223 caliber rifles.
One feature that will prove to be useful to many users who would like to use the Aurora PRO as a remote viewing device is the wifi function. This allows for the camera to be mostly controlled by a wi-fi capable mobile device. The app is capable of viewing live views from the camera and control some of the digital features within its software. This unfortunately does not include the focus or the scene modes so those would have to be set beforehand.
The battery life of the original Sionyx Aurora was unfortunately not very reliable and was dependent on factors we could not measure. The Sionyx Aurora PRO however did not show this issue and provided 2 hrs of recording time on both batteries that we had access to. The only time we had found that the battery did not last the full 2 hrs was when the wifi remote viewing was being used.
One benefit is that the Aurora is capable of charging from an external source, however, the camera seems to be unresponsive when plugged into a PC. This means if you can only record video with an external battery source and will not be able to do so plugged into a laptop or mobile device.
The Sionyx Aurora PRO 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 PRO however it could be with a waterproof case.
The buttons, rings, and dials on the Sionyx Aurora PRO 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 perspex lens cover for the Aurora. Although it would be nice to see Sionyx provide these accessories with their products, it is nice to see 3rd Parties investing in the product as well. What’s nice is that Sionyx isn’t shy to recommend these third party products as they have recommended them to customers multiple times.
The Sionyx Aurora PRO 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 ~£1000 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 videos.
The Sionyx Aurora PRO is a very capable camera with some technical limitations which do well with the pricing of the product. It is nice to see a higher-tech Aurora with better technical specs but it would be nice to see new advancements such as higher recording capabilities and a built-in flood IR. This is not a limitation that gives an issue to the Sionyx Aurora series, but an enhancement that we are sure would be most welcome.
The Aurora PRO is perfect for budget night vision solutions that do not require overly specialized solutions such as adventurers, law enforcement, and gamekeepers. 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 specialization.