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Field Test: Sionyx Nightwave Night-Navigation Marine Camera System

Boaters now have the ability to be on the water safely at night at a reasonable retail price.

Field Test: Sionyx Nightwave Night-Navigation Marine Camera System

The Sionyx Nightwave is capable of being hard mounted to any flat surface either upright or inverted. (Photo courtesy of Sionyx)

For those boaters or sportsmen who have the need to be out on the water at night, the ability to see in the dark is priceless. Anyone who has spent time behind the helm knows that on- and over-the-water hazards abound. These often unseen hazards pose a danger of producing significant boat damage—or worse yet—serious bodily harm.

Options for low-light or no-light navigating are limited to infrared cameras, thermal imaging devices, radar, or gyro-stabilized night vision camera systems—most of which are exceedingly expensive and naturally have their limitations. Another option is some sort of spotlight, which has limited applicability as it degrades the user’s natural night vision. Spotlights are also of minimal value when monitoring the water’s surface for debris or other hazards in darkness. The major drawback is those objects that aren’t highly reflective are not visible (even when "illuminated") to the naked eye (e.g., floating wooden debris).

Sionyx, a silicon-based photonics company that manufactures proprietary ultra-low-light CMOS sensors for defense, medical, commercial and industrial applications, has introduced their all-new Nightwave. The Nightwave is an ultra-low-light, color camera that can be easily hard-mounted—or using a temporary mount—to a vessel. The field of view is displayed on either a boat’s multi-function display (MDS) or via a remote device using Wi-Fi, such as a tablet or cell phone.

Sionyx
The Sionyx Nightwave night navigation camera system comparison images. (Photos courtesy of Sionyx)

THE BUILD

The Nightwave has a rigid, domed polymer shell and base that houses the company’s night-vision camera system (available in white, black and grey). At the heart of the system is a black silicon CMOS sensor, Sionyx’s most advanced to date.

A complementary metal oxide semiconductor, or CMOS, is an advanced electronic chip, or semiconductor, that converts (or translates for lack of a better word) photons (subatomic light particles) to electrons for digital processing. CMOS sensors are commonly used to create images in digital cameras, digital video cameras and digital CCTV cameras.

Powerful CMOS sensors are also used in astronomical telescopes, scanners and barcode readers. This optical technology is also being incorporated into machine vision for humanoid robots, in the processing of satellite photographs and in advanced enhancement of radar images (currently being used for meteorological applications).

The sensor does not require infrared or white light to operate. In fact, the Sionyx CMOS is so sensitive, it provides a color, navigable, live video display using what ambient light is available during darkness. This includes starlight and/or any ancillary light sources along the waterway (i.e., dock lights, shore lights, etc.).

The Nightwave is capable of being hard-mounted to any flat surface either upright or inverted (i.e., upside down). Additionally, the unit can be mounted with any of a number of aftermarket mounting systems like RAM Mounts with its onboard, ¼-20 threaded, dorsally integrated female socket. This feature adds to the versatility and adjustability of the unit. Mounting with these ball mounts allows the user to position the camera in almost limitless directions while under way.

For hard-mount applications, the camera can be adjusted manually with its vertical tilt adjustment. Of course, this feature is best used for adjusting elevation when hard-mounting the Nightwave.

The unit is ruggedly built and is impact-resistant, as well as "water resistant," according to the Sionyx, however it also carries an international IP67 rating. This independent rating from the International Electrotechnical Commission certifies that it is "waterproof" and protected against short periods of total immersion to a depth of 1 meter.

For users who desire to hard-mount the unit to the boat, Sionyx includes a mounting template and all the necessary hardware.

The Nightwave can be hard-wired for permanent installations on hardtops, flying bridges, consoles or anywhere a secure and rigid substrate exists. The unit may also be connected via Wi-Fi to remote displays such as a tablet or smartphone.

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Power is supplied either directly from the vessel’s 12v DC system or from a USB connection. The Nightwave can also be powered via an external power source (power supply/bank), or off a traditional marine cigarette-lighter socket. Using a non-permanent Gamber-Johnson mount allows transfer of the unit from one vessel to another, adding to the versatility of the Nightwave. This feature also affords the user the ability to remove the unit to eliminate the possibility of theft.

Sionyx Nightwave
Sionyx is a silicon-based photonics company that manufactures proprietary ultra-low-light CMOS sensors for defense, medical, commercial and industrial applications. (Photo courtesy of Sionyx)

PERFORMANCE

The ability to mount the Nightwave night vision camera literally anywhere is a big plus. This feature allows users to custom fit the unit to their application with minimal fuss. Hard-mounting the camera takes a negligible amount of work, with cable feeding being the most time-intensive of the installation operations. However, with most applications having readily accessible bus bars, this isn’t an issue for most users.

The software is easily updated using the Sionyx app, keeping the Nightwave loaded with the latest software for hiccup-free operation. Firmware is also available for updating as well. These downloads are available through the IOS or Android app store.

For our application, we mounted our Nightwave using a RAM Mount. We found it—as mentioned previously—a cinch to install. Depending on the MDS you are using, the video-in cable plugs in via the provided adapters for various connection options.

Once installed and powered up, a Nightwave icon appears on the home screen which allows for one-touch access (for MDS’s with touch-screens) to the camera unit and video display. Once activated, the program is directed to the video display, making operation as simple as it can be.

With the video activated, the first thing you notice is how bright a color image the unit displays. Its ability to offer a clean, color onscreen image is startling at first blush. The camera’s capability to produce a navigable video display is very impressive even without ancillary shore lights or dock lighting. The black silicon CMOS sensor, with its ultra-low-light capability, produces a quality image with nothing more than ambient light (i.e., stars, night sky, etc.).

We found that MDS units with the capability of displaying dual screens (split screens) are valuable, as you can display a navigation map/chart on one side for positioning, and the Nightwave video display on the opposite side for real-time running. This allows you to visually monitor your course using the Nightwave while pinpointing your position exactly on the MDS’s GPS navigation map/chart.

Sionyx Nightwave
Sionyx Nightwave

What is also evident when running is the unit’s ability to moderate bright shore lights or deck lights. That is, deck mounted bow lights for instance, are not blown-out and minimally haloed by the unit to any appreciable or distracting degree. This is an impressive feat as most near-field light sources usually blow out with traditional night-vision cameras.

The only drawback we identified with the Nightwave was a very minimal amount of pixelation in the video display. However, while running it is not distracting and is to be expected in a night-vision camera system priced this reasonably at $1,995. Furthermore, it is not any more pronounced than on some considerably higher-priced units.

Additionally, we felt for best performance, using an onboard MDS is the best option as it offers the largest screen and best field of view when monitoring the course ahead in darkness.

 Sionyx Nightwave before/after images
The Sionyx Nightwave night navigation camera system before/after images. (Photos courtesy of Sionyx)

CONCLUSION

In summary, we found the Sionyx Nightwave to be a valuable addition for those shopping for the ability to navigate safely at night. The installation couldn’t be simpler, with the all-in-one wire which carries the positive, negative and video-in cable in one, singular bundle. This feature makes fishing the wire for hard-wired installations a breeze.

At the suggested MSRP of $1,995, we feel the Sionyx Nightwave is an outstanding value, and an affordable alternative to other costly handheld night-vision units or gyro-stabilized night-vision camera systems. Its compact size is also a commendable feature, perfect for installations where space is at a premium. The video quality is outstanding at this price-point, making navigating at night a safe endeavor.

The bottom line is this: For those in the market for a marine night-vision camera system, one which has all the high-end performance of more expensive options, with a budget-friendly retail, we highly recommend looking into the Sionyx Nightwave.

Gamber-Johnson Marine Mount

Gamber-Johnson
We used a Gamber-Johnson (Zirkona) Large Marine Mount E-Type to mount the Sionyx Nightwave unit. (Photo courtesy of Gamber-Johnson)

During our test we used a Gamber-Johnson (Zirkona) Large Marine Mount E-Type to the secure the Sionyx Nightwave unit. Gamber-Johnson (Zirkona) Marine Mounts are precision machined from aircraft-grade aluminum then anodized to protect them from the harsh marine elements. The Gamber-Johnson (Zirkona) 160-1636 (around $175) features a quick-release base for ease-of-removal when not in use reducing the probability of theft. The all-alloy build is precise, with its solid ball socket making micro-adjustment of units extremely simple and secure. If you are in the market for a new marine mount, one that is exceptionally secure and well made, check out the complete line of Gamber-Johnson products at gamberjohnson.com.




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