We've Got Our First Hint at the Native ISO of the AJA CION

AJA CION ISO Performance
Credit: Cinema5D
Late last week, we got our first look at some ungraded footage from the highly-anticipated AJA CION, and we got word that the camera would begin shipping soon. Even though all of the pieces seemed to be coming together, there was still one piece of critical information that was missing: ISO performance.

In a recent video interview published by our friends over at Cinema5D, Andy Bellamy, the product marketing manager for the AJA CION, let slip what the company expects the native ISO of the camera to be once it starts shipping. As most of us were expecting, the CION is most likely going to be a 320 native ISO camera, which almost certainly means that there's not much chance that it will see use in low-light situations. Here's the interview.

And just in case you didn't see the first footage released by AJA, here it is once again.

A 320 native ISO puts the CION in the same category as cameras like the BMPC 4K and the Digital Bolex, at least in terms of ISO performance. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, considering that those cameras produce beautiful images, it does mean that the CION won't likely see much use as a documentary or run-and-gun style camera due to its limited sensitivity. Of course, we have no idea what the max ISO of the CION will be, and whether or not it will produce a useable image, but since it likely shares the same (or similar) sensor as the Blackmagic 4K, it probably won't be too high.

For me, this puts the CION squarely into the category of "for cinema use only." It's almost certainly going to be a light-hungry camera, which means that it will be most useful (and the images will be best) when artificial light is added to your interior and night exterior scenes. For filmmakers not expecting or needing high ISO performance, however, the AJA CION still looks like it will be a tremendous camera that presents quite a bit of value in terms of image quality and workflow options.

Of course, it's important to remember that 320 is not by any means an official number yet. As Bellamy mentioned in the video, the native ISO when the camera was announced at NAB was 200. The AJA engineers are clearly working hard to pull every last drop of sensitivity out of this sensor, and they have definitely made some progress in the past few months. Now the real question is whether or not they will be able to push that number even higher before the camera begins shipping.     

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Your Comment


If they used the same sensor as BM's ursa they should've went one step further and made it interchangeable too. It's a beautiful crafted camera, timeless design but at the rate we're seeing technology progress it's been outdated almost a year maybe 2

September 14, 2014 at 5:08PM, Edited September 14, 5:08PM

Anthony F. Marino III
produce shoot edit

I agree although that shoulder pad look useless given its position. All cameras around that price range can produce beautiful images (in the right hands) and are far more flexible c300, F5, and now the FS7. Many people are already saying the FS7 has just pounded it in to the dust given what we know about these cameras so far I have to agree. Out of interest I would like to know what Indie film maker would consider purchase this thing, more of a rental cam I think.

September 14, 2014 at 5:35PM

Lee MJ Daley
Animator / 3D & Motion designer / Lighting cameraman

I want them to do well but how can they think the black levels of the video they released is acceptable is a worry.

September 14, 2014 at 6:42PM


Sure looks like there's a lot of contrast in that image for ungraded?

September 14, 2014 at 7:53PM

Clayton Arnall
Camera Pointer

+1. The image is way too contrasty. FS7 just destroyed every camera under the Sony F5. The FS7 is the camera everyone has been waiting for as Sony listened to years of endless bitching and made a camera to quell all that bitching. Ursa and Cion haven't even left the gates and they're already way behind.

September 14, 2014 at 8:19PM

Gene Sung
DP / Director

You are looking at something that was shot in rec709, not log.
You are seeing 10 out of the 12 stops the sensor can capture.
Hence the contrast.

September 14, 2014 at 10:33PM

Ed Jones

Have you seen Philip Bloom's review of the Blackmagic 4K cinema camera? It wasn't positive to say the least - and most of it had to do with the sensor - artifacts and really lousy low light performance. The Cion is said to have the same sensor. Too bad. I had such high hopes for this camera -

September 14, 2014 at 8:38PM, Edited September 14, 8:38PM

Ed Wright
Director, DP, Writer

Apparently it's a 'machine vision' sensor.

If anyone wants to see what a sensor that was designed specifically for image capture looks like, have a gander at the Bolex D16. It's a Truesense CCD that traces its lineage to Kodak, where it was originally developed. The dyes used in the bayer array are of exceptionally high quality (Kodak -> dyes -> film etc) and if you grade the footage properly it shows. The D16 sensor reminds be very much of the F35 and a few colorists have told me that it cuts very well with, dare I even say it, the Alexa...

September 14, 2014 at 10:37PM

Ed Jones

This topic has always confused me. On a technical level, how is the "native ISO" determined?

September 14, 2014 at 8:39PM

Benjamin Lebeau
Cinematographer, Colorist, Editor

I see no reason for all the freaking out ..... Just as Ed said, the BMPC got terrible reviews initially but look how it sold and how many own them today. I see this camera as quite a trump card and no I don't think the FS7 blew everything away. Prores is an upgrade, raw is an upgrade. With Cion you don't need raw cuz u have 12 bit 4444, the only other camera that does that as far as I know is the Amira, you can correct me if I'm wrong. I expect the ISO to go a little higher, I'd say native will be 400, and it goes up to 1600. Which is fine by me ..... I'm getting one

September 15, 2014 at 3:46AM, Edited September 15, 3:46AM

Nigel Thompson
Director / Editor / Producer

I don't have issues like FPN with the BMPC. I've had a bit, but after the firmware update it's gone. The Cion will show us all its possibilities, sooner or later. You can't judge the camera because of this rec709 footage. Perhaps this footage is a tactical decision, to blow us away with the next footage :)

September 15, 2014 at 5:02AM, Edited September 15, 5:02AM

Nebojsa Jokic

I doubt it is a tactical decision. More like lets get some quick footage so we have something to show. The footage doesn't impress me but neither did the Digital Bolex till it actually got into competent DP's hands.

September 15, 2014 at 11:13AM

Joseph Lindsay
Director of Photography/Motion Designer

With the file of 1920x1080.mp4 i felt i still had plenty of room to play with.
Really like the overall image and definitely an exiting camera.

September 16, 2014 at 12:49PM

Director of Photography