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. 


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.