September 16, 2021
By Richard Nance
Night vision is expensive. Military-grade night vision devices can run more than $10,000, which is clearly cost prohibitive for the average consumer. Additionally, night vision may be subject to International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), meaning that without prior authorization from the U.S. State Department — and good luck with that — traveling internationally with them is a serious no-no. While these factors have kept night vision out of the hands of most Americans, they haven’t quelled the desire some of us have for owning a piece of night-vision technology.
SiOnyx is bridging the budgetary gap to make night vision available to the average American. They manufacture low-light image sensors and night-vision cameras for commercial, industrial, medical and defense industries. Their flagship product is the Aurora Pro, which hosts a slew of features for a relatively modest price tag.
The Aurora Pro features what SiOnyx calls “moonless starlight night vision.” While all night vision requires some degree of ambient light, the inference is that Aurora Pro will work without the benefit of even a partial moon.
The Aurora Pro features GPS location technology and an accelerometer. This makes it a viable option for law enforcement personnel looking to expand their surveillance and evidence-gathering capabilities. Since the Aurora Pro is primarily a digital camera, it is able to record video and take still photos, which could then be date/time/location stamped for later evidentiary analysis. Of course, traditional night vision does not function as a video recorder or camera.
The Aurora Pro can be mounted to a firearm. A Picatinny rail mount interface can be purchased from SiOnyx for $49, which would enable you to mount the Aurora Pro to your carbine, in tandem with a night-vision-capable red dot sight if you wish. According to SiOnyx, it’s rated for up to 4,000 rounds of 5.56 NATO ammunition fired from a modern sporting rifle.
Much like analog night vision goggles (NVG), the Aurora Pro can also be mounted to a helmet. However, for all the Aurora Pro has going for it, I wouldn’t mount it to a firearm or helmet for operational or defensive use. It’s a fun device, but the eye relief is too cumbersome, and the image too slow to adjust and refresh when compared to military-grade night vision. The Aurora Pro is best-suited for recreational shooting or air soft, as it affords those users the benefit of night vision at a fraction of the cost. For those into documenting your awesomeness, it can record for later review.
With the SiOnyx app, you can even benefit from that advantage of augmented reality (AR). Essentially, this creates a heads up display (HUD) that allows you to see tagged team members and designated locations with a mere glance in their general direction. The app also allows you to wirelessly stream content from the Aurora Pro to a smart device. These are pretty cool features that you won’t find with the more expensive night vision products.
An accessory often associated with night vision is an infrared (IR) illuminator. An IR illuminator emits light seen through the use of night vision, but the spectrum is not visible to the human eye. Essentially, an IR illuminator serves as a flashlight to augment the benefit of a night vision device, but unlike a traditional flashlight, an IR illuminator will not compromise your position unless the opposing force is also using night vision.
For this evaluation, I paired the Aurora Pro with the SiOnx Illuminator Kit ($249). While designed for engaging targets out to 150 meters, I’d say that’s a bit optimistic. The lack of ambient light was a factor during my tests.
Whether indoors or out, the Aurora Pro’s display was clearer without the IR illuminator, but when I was in near total darkness, the IR illuminator really brightened the field of view and clarified the displayed image. The tailcap-activated illuminator can be handheld or mounted.
The Aurora Pro is user-friendly, and easy to figure out how to operate. First, set the scene for “Night,” “Twighlight” or “Day,” then turn the On/Off dial to the desired mode. When you bring your eye close to the viewport, the image is automatically displayed. The large red button on top of the unit starts and stops recordings and snaps still photos, depending on your selected mode. You can zoom in and out manually or with the touch of a button, and you can adjust brightness with a conveniently located button located at the top of the unit.
The Aurora Pro is powered by a readily available NP-50 lithium-ion, 3.7-volt rechargeable battery, and the unit ships with a spare. A battery will power the Aurora Pro for approximately 2 hours of continuous video recording. The batteries can be charged in camera by way of the supplied USB cable.
If you’re looking for a means of capturing full-color digital video and stills in the dark, the Aurora Pro is deserving of your consideration. I much prefer the Aurora Pro for use as a handheld observation monocular as opposed to mounting it to a firearm or helmet. Image contrast and clarity performance were definitely light dependent. My fellow law enforcement officers, this is not a duty product.
Comparing the Aurora Pro to a military-grade NV device is unfair, given that the latter cost thousands more. Still, the Aurora Pro gives offers a lot of fun through color digital video, a feature that even most advanced NVG systems don’t. The Aurora Pro is also not subject to ITAR regulations, meaning where you go, it can go. The Aurora Pro also comes with a 2-year warranty.
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