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Almost two decades ago I decided I needed a PVS14 monocular. I had used PVS7’s on the U.S./Mexico border, then been issued a PVS14 in Afghanistan, and after I came home, I went down a rabbit hole. Eventually, I ended up with multiple PVS14s, multiple dual-tube goggles and more equipment for mounting them to your head, your gun, your spotting scope, your camera and anything else than you can imagine. Needless to say, I learned a lot along the way.

In the words of Thomas Edison, “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Let me explain a lot of the misconceptions I had, and you can jump into the world of night vision light years ahead of where I did.

Night vision is cool. If you doubt me, you haven’t tried it yet. It is like giving a four-year-old his first milk shake.

What You Need to Know About Night Vision

First, all night vision is cool. If you doubt me, you haven’t tried it yet. It is like giving a four-year-old his first milk shake; he can’t stop smiling. Next, night vision may or may not do what you think it will. Here are some hard lessons I want you to know:

  • When it is mounted on your head, you can’t look through it and see the sights on your pistol/rifle AND see your target.
  • If you mount it in front of your red-dot sight, it will screw up point of aim/point of impact. It goes in behind the scope (closest to your eye) and your red-dot needs to be NVG compatible.
  • If you mount it on your rifle and try to walk around looking for animals, your arms will be exhausted in 60 seconds. You need to mount it on your head unless you are laying in ambush.
  • If you mount night vision on your head, you need to have some kind of IR laser on your gun to be able to aim it. People think they will be able to look through their red-dot sight or use their iron sights; it doesn’t work.
  • If you have night vision and play hide and seek at night, you instantly become a God among ants. (Ask my kids.)
Sionyx Opsin Digital Night Vision

The Opsin

OK, enough life lessons, let’s talk about Sionyx’s new Opsin monocular and why it is changing the game. First, Opsin is digital. That means it is basically a camera that lets you see in the dark. You aren’t looking through it like a riflescope, you are looking at a little TV screen. Because it is a screen, it can be made larger. It can take photos. It can take videos. It can be Bluetoothed over to a phone or tablet or a really big TV screen. Starting to see why this is cool?

Traditional night vision uses expensive, fragile tubes that gather and amplify light. First, they made everything green.  There were 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation versions. Each generation got more clear and more expensive. Then white phosphor came along and it was black and white, and super clear and even more expensive. So how would you feel about night vision that is in color instead of green or black and white, is built to military standards of robustness, has a ton of features like built-in recording, uses the same mounts for your gun or putting it on your head and costs half the price? Yeah, the future is now old man.

Sionyx introduced their digital night vision a few years ago. Back in 2019, I had the chance to T&E their Aurora Sport, a monocular night vision with color display. Back then, my only complaint was it needed to be built more rugged and have a way to be head mounted. I also noted in extreme low light, it did not see as brightly or as far as a 3rd generation PVS14. I paired it with an IR illuminator, and its performance jumped dramatically and now was on par with the PVS14. It retailed for less than $500 while the PVS14 was over $3,000, which was a game changer all by itself.

The Sionyx Opsin has come a long way from the Aurora Sport. It uses the Sionyx proprietary XQE-1350 Black Silicon CMOS sensor. A single dial turns it on and adjusts the brightness. It mounts to traditional dovetail flip arms that attach to the helmet and the kit includes the arm. A bayonet-style mount can also be purchased if you have a helmet set up with the older style of mount. The Opsin cannot power on without being hooked to the external, rechargeable, battery pack, which provides about 10 to 16 hours of operation per charge, depending on the settings being used.

The unit itself is about the same size as a PVS14. It weighs 10.6 ounces, which is a couple ounces lighter than a PVS14. Anyone who has ever gotten a sore neck from wearing night vision knows cutting a couple ounces is a big deal. The body is glass reinforced polycarbonate and it is IP67 rated, which means it is water resistant to a depth of about three feet for up to 30 minutes. In a nutshell, you would never dive with it, but it will be fine in a rainstorm.

It also passes the MIL-STD-810G drop test, which means five test units withstood being dropped 26 times on all faces, sides and corners from a height of four feet. It takes a micro-SD card up to 256GB for storing pics and videos with sound. A 32GB micro-SD card is included. The eye relief is 25mm and the screen you are looking at is 1920×1080 HD. The dovetail or bayonet mount attaches by sliding onto a mini rail and is held in place by a small toggle located on the mount. The mount then attaches to the Swing Arm via the dovetail or bayonet in the traditional way. If you already have a Norotos or Wilcox swing arm, you can use it.  If not, a Cadex Defense low-profile flip-up NVG mount made from 6061-T6 aluminum is included.

Operating the Opsin

The unit has three buttons down the side. The front button takes a still photo when tapped or starts a video recording with a long press. The center button toggles through 1, 2 or 3 power magnification. A long press will get you into the General Settings Menu. Finally, the rear button adjusts your exposure value and your refresh rate between 30, 60 or 90HZ. That means the display refreshes itself 30, 60 or 90 times per second. You need a fast refresh rate when trying to shoot a running animal or you will constantly be behind it. So why wouldn’t you always have it set on 90HZ? It uses more battery. The screen can be manually focused by twisting the objective lens and it focuses from about 8 inches in front of the unit out to infinity.

The Opsin does not have a battery compartment and must be hooked to included external battery pack. The battery pack comes with a charger and battery level LED lights on top. It is curved to match the curvature of the back of a helmet. A pouch for the battery is included in the kit. The pouch can be hook and loop fastened to the front of a MOLLE storage pouch or removed and fastened to the back of your helmet. It acts as a counterweight to the Opsin. I prefer a little more counterweight so I also added a small-weighted bag when I was using it.

The screen has two, customizable, on-screen menu areas at the top. On the left it shows the refresh rate, the magnification level, the Exposure Value (brightness) and it can show your GPS coordinates. In the center of the screen, it shows a magnetic compass so you can tell what direction you currently are looking. The menu at the upper right-hand corner shows the battery level, whether you are recording video and audio, the time, if wi-fi is on and the number of photos on the micro-SD card.

The built in GPS geotags all stored photos and videos. A free Sionyx app on your phone allows you to see the same image as the Opsin, as well as record it or take screenshots. It also shows the brightness setting and the battery level. Many of the settings on the Opsin can be controlled via the app.

Sionyx likes to point out as advanced as a PVS14 is, it is still using decades old, analog technology. Analog optics begin degrading the day you buy them. Sionyx night vision is digital and actually improves with each firmware update. The Opsin 2.0.0 update recently dropped, and the image actually improved with elevated image processing. Plus, the Opsin offers a full color display, takes photos and videos and simply does a lot more than just let you see in the dark. Yet with all these features, it is easy to learn and use.

The Opsin kit comes with everything you need except the helmet. Now if you will excuse me, the sun is almost down, and I have a hide and seek game scheduled with my kids where I am going to once again, teach them Dad will always be able to find them, even in the dark.

For more information see sionyx.com or call 866-827-8237.

FEATURES:

  • <1 millilux moonless starlight night vision
  • Extra-large 1920×1080 HD micro-OLED display with a custom eyepiece for 25mm eye relief
  • 44 degree field of view for maximum situational awareness
  • Photo, video, and audio recording
  • Manual focus of objective lens and diopter
  • Onboard digital magnetic compass and GPS to document and geo-tag location
  • Up to 256GB on-board storage
  • Battery provides up to fourteen hours of operation with a full charge
  • Flexible helmet mounting options with a standard dovetail interface
  • Adjustable and reversible swing arm with quick-release button
  • Exceeds MIL-STD-810G drop test
  • IP67 rated: water-resistant at 1m/30min submersion, vibration/shock, salt/sand
  • MSRP: $1,995

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45 COMMENTS

    • Mister Furious,

      Believe it or not, there are plenty of conditions/scenarios where thermal is arguably a disadvantage (especially daytime conditions when sunshine is at a somewhat low angle and significantly heating vertical surfaces). I would absolutely LOVE to see an optic that has both thermal and very-low light capability and allows the user to select which one.

      In the meantime a thermal optic is absolutely amazing in the vast majority of situations.

        • “Beacuse why would you need Night Vision in daytime conditions?”

          a really severe eclipse?

          😄

        • JimB,

          If you were planning to install an optic on a rifle, you pretty much have to pick one because you would otherwise have to sight-in your rifle every time that you switch optics.

          If I can have only one optic, I would be tempted to choose thermal as the best all-around optic since it performs really well in most daylight conditions and of course it is amazing most dark conditions.

          Note: I realize that this article focuses on low-light amplification technology which is often (exclusively?) head-mounted and not a scope on a rifle. Regardless, since this article is talking about night vision, it makes sense to consider thermal vision as well.

        • JimB: “Beacuse why would you need Night Vision in daytime conditions?”

          Army tank crews use thermal systems exclusively unless there is some odd reason to go daylight. Sandstorm is one. Odd heat conditions is another. But these things are rare. Over a career in the Army as a tanker, on M60A3’s, M1IP’s, and M1A1’s, we used exclusively thermal sights. Most gunners and drivers reached the point where they just didn’t like daylight optics or find them as useful.

          We also had individual NVG’s … PVS-5’s and PVS-7’s when I served ….. and didn’t find them nearly as useful as the tank mounted thermal sights. And not useful at all in the daytime, obviously.

          For what it’s worth

    • I run both, a pvs14 with an upgraded WP tube, a raptor 6x, and a pulsar thermion. The IR is great for scanning, but you can’t beat the NV for target detail, especially at range.
      Also, once you get behind the windshield, the thermal is worthless. I can drive without lights on pig and varmint hunts with just NV, but not thermal.
      As for this particular tech, my direct experience was that it has a long, long way to go to get close to 3rd Gen NV.

      • Mr. Taylor,

        Your comment that thermal vision is useless when you are trying to look through glass is absolutely spot-on and a definite “weakness” of thermal vision technology.

        I am not sure if you have looked into the higher-resolution thermal imaging available these days. I recently looked through a hand-held monocular of moderate resolution and I could see a LOT of detail on a child, adult woman, and dog at 150 yards without any magnification. There was enough detail that I could even discern small birds from chipmunks at 100 yards without any magnification. Given what I saw without magnification, I have to think that a thermal scope with magnification would provide ample detail for target recognition and discernment at 400 yards and probably even to 800 yards.

        • Yes, the thermion is one if the better high resolution thermals on the market. It can tell you if that’s a pig, or deer, but not if it’s the specific pig or deer, or whatever you are after.

  1. Unless you are independently wealthy, a government agency, or a contractor getting paid to use technology as part of the contract a person can go broke pretty darn quick trying to keep up with the bleeding edge of tech like this. As a hobbyist it is like trying to purchase and collect fine art made out of dry ice.

  2. There’s a genuine market for this.

    The same folks who think nothing at dropping 2,500 clams on a scope will buy these things.

    And in 5 years, the price will be $1,500, and that’s when I’ll be taking a closer look at them…

    • It does seem to be catching up with gen 2 levels of detection range capabilities and that would be upper middle of that generation’s price range so with more time and development you could see this level drop to your price range or become more capable and remain the same relative price. Either way neat to see digital nv advance and start to close the gap. I did notice the color feature can make some clothing treatments reflect in odd and very detectable ways especially with IR light that would not stand out on the green screen analog so there is that for those with this in their wheelhouse to look into (saving up for later).

  3. My experience ended pretty much with the PVS-5. Got to admit though. For a 21 year old fresh out of Airborne School, I thought they were pretty cool. Good article, sir.

  4. I went through the NV phase and had a gen 2 riflescope and made a mini 1x monocular using a gen 2 tube, it attached to a gen 3 monocular flip up headgear. The monocular worked in total darkness as far as seeing a grainie computer keyboard, etc. The rifle scope worked alright; the gen 2 and especially the gen 1 tubes are not going to make a ninja out of you. The Syonix $2,500 MSRP is not too bad with all those bells and whistles however they probably get you on the headgear.

  5. Totally unnecessary. “Nuke them until they glow and shoot them in the dark.
    No questions. ” ― John Ringo, Ghost. An excellent book by the way.

  6. ‘Military Grade Night Vision is Finally Affordable’

    Well… that might depend a bit on whether or not you consider the price of eggs being affordable.

    • I paid $1.93 for eggs last week. I doubt I’d get this but who knows. I see a lot of sketchy chineseum gadgets that “sometimes” work well. Like my cheap LPVO.🙄

  7. Is TTAG devolving into gun magazine puff pieces?

    I agree this is exciting tech… but to really convey useful information to the readers, one needs to compare this to traditional NV goggles on performance, not just weight and cost.

    Answer a simple question – can I run through the woods on a moonless night with the Sionyx?

  8. I think Hop reviewed these on his channel a couple of months ago, and as JWT said, it has a ways to go. Interesting though and I hope it continues to evolve quickly.

  9. What would make this article better would be a comparison of an image of a Sionyx and White-Phosphorus Gen 3 tube in various lighting conditions, up to and including extremely dark, to see the differences.

    • Realistically I think a head to head vs the current production gen 2 range would yield better comparison data for cost to capabilities. With that said it is years before I expected to see that much of an advancement as I would have thought most of the R&D would be thrown at thermal so this is cool in a almost ready to expand the market kind of way.

    • It has been done, the opsin ends up being only a tad less sensitive than a gen 2 pvs. That’s more than adequate for most, especially when adding “color” and ease of care/maintenance.

  10. How much more could they reduce the price if they ditched some of the fancy stuff, like the GPS, taking a pic or video?

    • And have a device that doesn’t data mine your activities? Comeon man you know better. With that said give it a year or two and see what they and competition release.

  11. Is this one fast enough to prevent motion sickness like most other digital night visions; which have just that fraction of delay in processing which makes me want to vomit?

  12. Digital night vision does not compare to “military grade” night vision; its performance isn’t even close. Don’t be fooled.

  13. I’ve got to disagree with the author on one major point. You CAN look through many optics and use them with NVG for passive aiming. In Afghanistan I shot looking through my M68 (aimpoint comp m2) when my IR laser was damaged, with my pvs-14. I’ve shot a coyote trying to kill my chickens while looking through an ACOG with ANVIS/9’s. Likewise I shot a wolf when a pack encircled my brother and I at night in Alaska, using the ANVIS/9’s and a different aimpoint.

    Green dots don’t work with most NVG, mildly illuminated red dots (even non-“nvg compatible” versions) do though.

    • “When it is mounted on your head, you can’t look through it and see the sights on your pistol/rifle AND see your target.”

      Every 1x optic with a night vision setting would like to have a word with you.

  14. 2k$ for “modern” passive NVG and then add an IR illuminator to recreate 1st gen gear or just go buy ATN’s entry level “stuff” for 1/5th the price?

    What glorious non choices

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