November 19, 2014

AJA CION Super 35mm 4K Camera Will Finally Begin Shipping in Late December

AJA CION Hero Image
One thing has become clear over the last 5 years with new companies trying to get in on the camera market: building a camera is really, really hard. 

We take it for granted when companies like Sony, Canon, Nikon, and Panasonic churn out new models every year, but it's pretty obvious at this point that even if you've got all the right people in place to do it, it's a complicated process with many potential points of failure. AJA has faced delays with their new CION global shutter Super 35mm 4K camera (which was supposed to be here in the summer), but they just announced that they are taking orders for the $9,000 camera, and the first units will be shipping by the end of December (possibly for real this time).

AJA CION Profile

AJA CION: 4K & Global Shutter Super 35mm

The basic specs:

  • 4K APS-C CMOS Image Sensor with Global Shutter
  • Internal DCI 4K/UHD & 2K/HD Recording
  • ProRes 4444 & 422 to AJA Pak Media Cards
  • AJA Raw via 3G-SDI Output up to 4K 120p
  • AJA Raw via Thunderbolt Out up to 4K 30p
  • PL Lens Mount with Back Focus Adjustment
  • 12 Stops of Dynamic Range
  • Remote Operation over Ethernet
  • Contoured Shoulder Pad & Top Handle
  • Media: AJA SSD Pak $700 (256GB) and $1,300 (512GB)
  • Reader: AJA Pak Dock: $400
  • Availability: December 2014
  • Price: $9,000

If you need a little reminder about this camera, here's a video that goes into some detail:

And our interview with AJA from NAB in April when the camera was first introduced:

Why Did AJA Build a Camera in the First Place?

Let's backtrack a little though. Last month, AJA's Jon Thorn wrote a particularly insightful post on DVXuser about AJA's role in the marketplace and what they were trying to do by building a camera. The idea to build a camera was first proposed in 2010, and here we are four years later finally seeing the fruits of that endeavor. Jon's main idea was to build a powerful camera that had Super 35mm brains inside the body shape of more traditional Super 16mm cameras.

Here's a snippet from that post which offers some terrific insights:

Why were people asking AJA to build a camera? Primarily, people wanted a camera that could record to a post-production friendly codec like Apple ProRes. People also expressed an interest in seeing cameras with a wider array of connectivity: SDI, HDMI, timecode, balanced analog audio, etc., etc. During this time, many of the traditional camera manufacturers had begun to "tier" their offerings; sometimes cameras were stratified by little more than the connection types used on the cameras. 

And:

What should the image look like? Now we enter the most nebulous part of a camera design… Some people talk a lot about a "film look." That is a very, very subjective term and it means something different to everyone. Having said this, most video cameras tend to feel too "cold" to me. Somewhere over the last few years it felt like everyone producing cameras had become afraid of the rich blacks, of the rich colors… things I felt were hallmarks of photochemically produced moving images. I was lucky enough to shoot film in the 1990s, during the rise of Kodak's Vision film stocks. So every time I looked at a sensor for evaluation, that was something that influenced me. I thought that "look" was missing in other digital video cameras that were being offered. Other looks will be possible to produce as well if this isn't something that interests you.

This brings me to the final point, the question that was phrased in a slightly different way, to begin this thread, "Can AJA build it?" Considering how close AJA is to delivering the camera, the answer is yes. Many, many people have poured many, many years into this project. The finish is near.

In closing, the CION camera wasn't produced to compete with the Sony PXW-FS7; it was made to answer the questions noted at the beginning of this post. It was made because it was something people were asking AJA to produce. Any comparison of the AJA CION to the newest Sony product - with our first effort at producing a camera - could honestly be taken as a compliment. The development and introduction of the CION pre-dates the introduction of the Sony PXW-FS7. The AJA CION is a "from the ground up" effort which is why it has taken us time to produce. The Sony PXW-FS7 of course calls on elements that have been developed by Sony over time and can be found in pre-existing products. While both cameras seem to share some similarities, they have many differences. From an included connectivity standpoint, the AJA CION has more in common with the Sony PMW-F55 than it does with the Sony PXW-FS7. To make the Sony PXW-FS7 connectivity closer to the AJA CION, you would need to add the optional XDCA-FS7 unit (roughly $2,000 USD) to the cost of the PXW-FS7. If you want a PL mount for the PXW-FS7, you'll need to source an adapter and factor that into the cost. In fairness, if you want the CION to be comparable to the PXW-FS7, you'll need to source a viewfinder of your choosing for it. (For the Sony PXW-FS7, my understanding is you will need to use the viewfinder specific to that model; the viewfinders designed for the PMW-F5/55 aren't apparently compatible.) These types of comparisons can go on at length. In the end, only you can decide which camera suits your needs. Everyone's needs differ. Everyone's tastes differ. I'm happy AJA will be able to offer you the CION soon.

So with all those things in mind, if you're wondering where the CION stands in relation to other cameras, you should really go back a lot earlier than the past year or so of announcements, as this camera has been in development for quite some time. As Jon says, it's not trivial to build a camera, and it takes a lot of resources and a lot of people working behind the scenes to make it a reality, even at a company like AJA who employs many talented engineers. 

AJA CION Angle Shot

The Look

So what about how the footage looks? We've only gotten a few samples thus far, but hopefully more will emerge in the coming months as people get a hold of one:

How Will the CION Be Received?

It's clear things have taken longer than the company intended, but will that affect how many people actually buy them and use them in the field? It's possible, but there has always been a pretty specific market for a camera that comes natively with a PL mount and doesn't feature a sensor that is all that low-light sensitive (in the 320-400 ISO range natively).

It's aimed at a more film-like workflow where you're shooting in a relatively lit environment, though it does offer some of the best balance and weight distribution I've felt in a cinema camera. At around 10lbs. with a decent lens, that's right about where you'd want a camera like this. Too light and you'll get too much shake, and too heavy and it makes operating for long periods more difficult. For people who actually use cameras for a living, form factor-wise, this is as good as it gets. Yes, DSLRs and some other cinema cameras can fit into tighter spots and probably travel a little easier, but this is something you actually want to use on you shoulder. The FS7 may be the closest comparison in this budget range, but it's slightly more quirky in its design.

If you shoot on a tripod all day, every day, you likely won't care, but once things get fast and loose, a rig with a lot of moving parts is the first thing that can slow you down considerably. 

We'll have to wait and see how this shakes out, but the fact that it records straight to ProRes will make a lot of people happy as far as workflow is concerned. RAW is a whole other story, but I imagine we will see more support over the coming year as people actually get their hands on it. One other important thing to mention is that in the DVXuser thread linked to above from October (our NAB interview is from April), Jon says you'll be able to get a much flatter profile than the "ungraded" test shows above, which is important for grading purposes.

Either way, it's available to order right now, and as stated above, the first units will be shipping by the end of December.     

Your Comment

18 Comments

I really need to see more footage from this camera, as I haven't seen anything yet that wows me. Right now, the URSA is winning for final image. I'm really hoping this thing is a beast just waiting to be unleashed, though, because the more options out there, the better.

November 19, 2014 at 4:15PM, Edited November 19, 4:15PM

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Ben Howling
Writer / Director
663

I've repeatedly heard that this has the same sensor as the Ursa and the Black Magic 4K camera. Is that accurate?

If so, then how is anyone boasting that this camera has a better looking image?

November 19, 2014 at 4:23PM, Edited November 19, 4:23PM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1150

The URSA has already proven to have a better image than the BMPC due to the liquid-cooled sensor that decreases noise in the image. Not sure how this will work in the CION.

The sensors may be the same, but the processing of that raw sensor info is all up to the camera manufacturer. Blackmagic has their own color science and "look" that they've worked out. It's not as realistic as, say, Canon's, but it has its own aesthetic appeal. AJA will develop their own color and look which will be unique from Blackmagic's look.

...Though I'm curious if the raw sensor data could be interchanged between the two systems since they are coming from the same sensor...Probably not, but as a non-engineer, I'm curious.

November 19, 2014 at 4:34PM

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I don't understand all of that so I'll just agree for the most part. However, I still feel like the sensor has to at least carry a significant responsibility for most of that "look."

November 20, 2014 at 12:22PM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1150

I saw this at IBC and with all the new camera's around this one kinda became snowed in. It does a lot of things right though, not the least with its looks - this thing is a beauty!

I also like things like direct D-tap ports on the body amongst other often used ports, but I wonder if it has the specs to stand out nowadays.

I was kinda turned off by the proprietary SSD that is used. Was really hoping for a regular SSD slot.

They are right to feel threatened by the FS7, although they make fair points that maybe the FS7 needs some added options in order to get the same connectivity. When it comes down to it, however, I feel like the FS7 is probably the better choice...

Looking forward to seeing comparisons and reviews!

November 19, 2014 at 4:36PM, Edited November 19, 4:36PM

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Jeroen Rommelaars
Animator - Videographer - Motion Tracking
826

I feel That Sony Fs 7 is more ideal for run and gun and more versatile than Aja cion, I was inclined towards to this camera but the sensor is not good with low light so if some one has money and time to light every shot will go with Aja cion. Definitely Aja camera is wonderful with specs, I prefer to have cion instead of Sony Fs7 but the only drawback I see is, Its not a low light sensor, If it was equivalent to Sony Fs 7 low light capabilities, I would definitely buy cion. I have decided to go with Sony Fs 7. I hope Aja comes with a better sensor in terms of low light.
That would be a killer option.

November 19, 2014 at 5:50PM, Edited November 19, 5:50PM

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Aurelien Brentraus
Director/Cinematographer
262

Sexy camera

November 19, 2014 at 10:58PM, Edited November 19, 10:58PM

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Miguel Sotto
Cinematographer
255

The camera is a beauty, but it was disappointing how much all the extra accessories cost, just look at it: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?Ntt=aja+cion&N=0&InitialSearch=yes&...
Perhaps it would be smarter to just bundle the camera with everything needed (all the baseplates, handles, media, EVF etc.) and charge a bit more, but at least you won't feel you're being overcharged every step along the way for basic stuff - and you get the "all in one" package. Make it a "deluxe" option.

Also, a matter of taste, but still - I was unimpressed by the color science in the few examples provided, and I seem to be not the only one. The codec should be good enough to bring it to your liking, though.

And the ISO 320 is a bit outdated today...They put this whole "connectivity" issue forward, but how many of us really NEED these ethernet and thunderbolt connectors in the field?

Also, 120 fps slow-motion only in 4K RAW externally? That's a bummer...Media management is a nightmare...

PL mount? Only if you own expensive PL glass...Otherwise, the adaptable e-mount on the FS7 is amazing. Use whatever you'd like, including PL when needed, even all the time, with the adapter permanently on the camera.

No log gamma? Bummer...

Lot's of good stuff, too, but these things make it fall short, for me. I really wanted to love this camera, but even fully equipped - which adds like 50% to the price, and even if you own a $40K PL zoom like the 19-90 - you won't get convenient slo-mo and good low-light, which are often the bread and the butter for many of us.

November 20, 2014 at 1:38AM

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Gleb Volkov
Director of Photography
363

Just to comment on the 'accessories' thing: Although you don't get everything with the camera, some of the accessories displayed on that page are replacement parts with added functions. For example, you get a beautiful top handle with the camera, but still that page displays a Vocas top handle with added 15mm rods integrated. I guess it's nice if you want top rods, but in no way it necessary.

In addition, they show the alphatron viewfinder as 'required to operate' at B&H, while in reality you can hook up any viewfinder you want (SDI only? Not sure) The viewfinder that is in all of their promotion material and that was used on the IBC is the much cheaper Cineroid, which is lovely as well.

The main thing about these accessories that I'm really dissapointed with is the 600-700 bucks proprietary SSD where a normal SSD with the same size would cost 150-200 bucks....sigh...

November 20, 2014 at 3:13AM

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Jeroen Rommelaars
Animator - Videographer - Motion Tracking
826

Just to comment on the 'accessories' thing: Although you don't get everything with the camera, some of the accessories displayed on that page are replacement parts with added functions. For example, you get a beautiful top handle with the camera, but still that page displays a Vocas top handle with added 15mm rods integrated. I guess it's nice if you want top rods, but in no way it necessary.

In addition, they show the alphatron viewfinder as 'required to operate' at B&H, while in reality you can hook up any viewfinder you want (SDI only? Not sure) The viewfinder that is in all of their promotion material and that was used on the IBC is the much cheaper Cineroid, which is lovely as well.

The main thing about these accessories that I'm really dissapointed with is the 600-700 bucks proprietary SSD where a normal SSD with the same size would cost 150-200 bucks....sigh...

November 20, 2014 at 4:52AM

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Jeroen Rommelaars
Animator - Videographer - Motion Tracking
826

I completely agree with you. This camera feels like it is behind the times. Its kind of sad because for the most part I love the design. If this camera would have come out 4 years ago it would have been a game changer. Now of days there is nothing that this camera has to offer that would make me jump to it instead of its competition.

The FS7 is going to have a big impact on the sales of "boutique" cameras like this.

November 20, 2014 at 9:16AM

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I prefer the FS7 for many reasons but the AJA records most flavors of ProRes and that ridiculous frame-rate in 4K.

If I weren't so run-and-gun had a more lenient budget, I'd prefer the Cion.

November 20, 2014 at 6:11PM, Edited November 20, 6:11PM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1150

Hey Joe. Have you felt the camera in person? You said, "For people who actually use cameras for a living, form factor-wise, this is as good as it gets," but every photo I've seen of the camera looks like the shoulder pad is in the completely wrong place. It's attached, making it better than a DSLR or C1/300, certainly, but it just looks like a front-heavy camera, just like either of these cameras on a shoulder rig. Are the photos deceptive?

November 20, 2014 at 9:55AM

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David S.
3033

I have a stupid question... I thought APS-C referred to sensor size and was smaller than super 35mm. How is this a super 35mm camera with an APS-C sensor? I don't get it...

November 20, 2014 at 1:26PM, Edited November 20, 1:26PM

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They're in fact very similar in size, so there's no contradiction. Google "Sensor sizes" for visual reference. APS-C comes from the DSLR world, and it's a bit strange they're using this terminology to describe what is essentially a video sensor, unless it's adapted from a DSLR design.

November 20, 2014 at 3:22PM

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Gleb Volkov
Director of Photography
363

Oh look. One I can answer absolutely.

Super 35 film has dimensions 24.89 mm × 18.66 mm. Aps-c is 22.2 x 14.8 mm. So Aps-C is indeed smaller.

I actually checked the Aja website and they say clearly APS-C sensor size.

I'm going to guess that the super 35 comes from the aperture, which being a pl mount the aperture possibility is super 35.

November 20, 2014 at 9:39PM

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joe
1

You're actually asking the smartest question yet, in a way.
There's no such thing as a "super 35" sensor. Super 35 is a format invented (or innovated) in the 90s I believe to get the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of anamorphic without having to use anamorphic lenses and all the extra lights they require. Basically the gate in the camera crops the image vertically and it's perf-to-perf horizontally. That negative, once cut, is opticall printed down about 10% to allow room for the audio tracks. In short, it's shite.
The ASP-C sensor size is - within a millimeter or so - the size of the sensors in the Red cameras, the Blackmagic 4k and Ursa, the Canon 7d, and many others. It corresponds almost exactly to the 1.85:1 flat aspect ratio that most non "scope" movies were shot in during the film era, and now goes by the names "2k" and "4k", depending on resolution.

So called "full frame" DSLRs like the Canon 5d and Nikon D800 have ASP-A sensors, by the way. Still cameras run the film sideways, so a single frame of 35mm still film is 8 perfs wide (that's ASP-A). Movie cameras run it vertically so a single frame is 4 perfs tall (ASP-C, more or less).

So there ya go. As to why camera manufacturers and dilettantes go around calling sensors "super 35"...that I can't answer.

November 21, 2014 at 11:37PM, Edited November 21, 11:37PM

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That's not a stupid question, it's a good question.
There's really no such thing as a "Super 35" sensor. Super 35 is a format that was invented ( or innovated) in the 90s to get the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of anamorphic with having to use anamorphic lenses and all the extra light they require. Basically the gate crops the image vertically and it's perf-to-perf horizontally. For release the cut negative is optically printed down about 10% to allow room for the audio tracks. It's a shitty format.

ASP-C is - within a millimeter or two - the size of the sensors in the Red cameras, Alexa, Blackmagic 4k and Ursa, Canon 7d, and many others. It corresponds almost exactly to 1.85:1 flat, which is what most non "scope" movies were shot in during the film era, and now goes by the names "2K" and "4k", depending on resolution.

So called "full frame" DSLRs have ASP-A sensors, by the way, which correspond to 35mm still film. Still cameras run the film horizontally, so a single frame is 8 perfs wide - ASP-A. Movie cameras run it vertically, so a single frame is 4 perfs tall - ASP-C.

So there ya go. Why it is that camera manufacturers and dilettantes go around calling sensors "super 35"...well, that I can't answer.

November 21, 2014 at 11:51PM

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