March 18, 2015

Early Footage & Reviews of the 4K AJA CION Are In & They're... Interesting

AJA CION Review
The AJA CION was released into the wild last December, and we've now got our first look at what the hotly anticipated cinema camera can accomplish in a real world setting.

First up, the folks over at Cinema5D recently took the CION out for a spin, and wrote an incredibly in-depth review of the camera. Here's their condensed video version:

While there was never much doubt that the CION would be able to produce beautiful images in the hands of a good cinematographer (almost all cameras can these days), it's surprising and frustrating that the camera seems to have an incredibly limited dynamic range. Cinema5D measured the dynamic range for the CION at 8.2 usable stops using Imatest. This matches right up with the Blackmagic 4K, which also measured at 8.2 stops.

What's important to note here is that this test tends to show all cameras as lower than stated by the manufacturer. ARRI rates the AMIRA at 14+ stops, though this test pegs it at 13.1 stops. A little over a stop might not seem like much, but the CION and Blackmagic are both claimed to be 12 stops by the manufacturers. So it's a little unclear what's going on here, as all cameras seem to be coming in lower than what their specifications state.

AJA CION Review Dynamic Range Comparison
Credit: Cinema5D

Here are a few more early examples of footage from the CION, both of which look fairly good in terms of their color rendition and motion, but which also display the same dynamic range issues, especially in the way the highlights roll off (or don't). The first example is from the Pacific Producers Group and the second by Creagen Dow and Taylor Randall.

Ultimately, it's hard not to be a little bit disappointed with these first impressions of the CION. When it was first announced, it seemed like the CION would fill a niche in the low/middle end cinema camera market by combining high-end image quality and features with proper ergonomics, thus becoming a poor man's Alexa if you will. Unfortunately, despite the lovely naturalistic color rendition and its plethora of features, it doesn't seem like the CION lives up to that description. It's an incredibly capable camera no doubt, but it's going to be most useful in controlled lighting situations. For me, that makes the CION more of a rental option more than anything else.

What do you guys think of the first review and footage from the CION? Where does this camera fit in the current mid-range market for cinema cameras?     

Your Comment

46 Comments

Some great images and I think you get what you pay for! But I agree with him, I would rather go with the FS7 instead.

March 18, 2015 at 1:52AM, Edited March 18, 1:52AM

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Max Ciesynski
Gaffer
653

Yup, for the cost the FS7 seems to be a more capable camera. It's now my go to and I can't see the need for anything else for a few years.

March 18, 2015 at 4:14PM

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Derek Dockendorf
Director/Producer/DP
74

Very disappointing footage from both videos. The latter of which being depressing and poorly made to boot, neither of which helps sell the camera.

March 18, 2015 at 2:22AM, Edited March 18, 2:22AM

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Ben Lynch
Director
81

Hi, Sebastian from cinema5D here.
The reason why manufacturers rate their camera's dynamic range higher is that there is no standard that dictates how to rate it. A camera has a total dynamic range that can differ highly from the actual usable dynamic range. Noise also creates shades of grey that can be measured and taken into account for example. In the case of the Cion this is probably how they came up with 12 stops, but if you look closely at the charts you will see that in a real world scenario 8-9 stops is all there is.

March 18, 2015 at 3:09AM

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Oh my god, would camera manufacturers be lying to gullible consumers who get hyped by fancy numbers and futuristic designs?

Hard to imagine such a world could exist...

March 23, 2015 at 9:07PM

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Raph Dae
Screenwriter & attempted director
496

@Sebastian - has any camera ever been retested after having significant firmware updates?
The original Cion firmware was, well, pretty average.
I shot with it using firmware v1.2, which resulted in much better imagery then displayed here.
Since then, v1.3 came out, and the samples I've seen from it put the Cion well ahead of the 4K versions of BMD's cameras with this sensor.
I'd expect at current prices, it's still much better value then a C700GS ever will be.

Given that NFS has a consistent test methodology in place for assessing dynamic range, I'd hope that you guys n gals could retest cameras after such major updates, both to see how much improvement can be made in the firmware, and to provide fairer and more well informed comparisons once those improvements have been made.

March 28, 2017 at 6:44AM

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Stewart Fairweather
Cinematographer
180

Too late to market with big name competitors now way ahead. I've no doubt that further announcements NAB will further quash AJA's likely success; certainly with the current sensor anyway.

March 18, 2015 at 3:59AM

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Darren Wolff
Self Shooting PD
495

It's very sad in a way that the AJA CION is coming out now, if they would have been able to release before the FS7 I think people would be going crazy over this camera. But it feels like these days, and in that price range, the FS7 is coming out so much stronger than everything else...

If you know your way around color grading, buying a CION seems more or less meaningless.

March 18, 2015 at 5:14AM, Edited March 18, 5:14AM

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Viktor Ragnemar
Director/Cinematographer
1136

"If you know your way around color grading, buying a CION seems more or less meaningless."

Right up until you need to pan sideways quickly ;)
The FS7 and FS5 still suffer from Sony's crappy rolling shutter skew performance, unless you record at higher frame rates and throw away frames.

March 28, 2017 at 6:47AM

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Stewart Fairweather
Cinematographer
180

Bit underwhelming specs wise (dynamic range). Too bad, the codec and and frame rate options are great. If you want a camera for different scenarios, this doesn't seem to be it. Lit narrative film making it'd probably do well especially on the shoulder.

March 18, 2015 at 5:15AM

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Dean Butler
Writer Director Shooter Editor
638

last month we did the first review of the camera in spanish. The results of the CION are VERY disapointing:
https://directordefotografia.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/pruebas-de-camara-...
FAR FAR FAR away from the description of AJA. To me, in a real world is not better than 7 stops at best.

March 18, 2015 at 5:49AM

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Pol Turrents (AEC)
Cinematographer
81

8.9 dr is worse than my 5dm2...lmao.

March 18, 2015 at 6:53AM, Edited March 18, 6:53AM

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hehe, this was exactly my first thought when I saw the above "Wauw... almost as good that the 5D2" :D

They completely dropped the ball on this camera, atleast it didn't take them long to ship it... oh wait.

March 18, 2015 at 9:39AM

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Torben Greve
Cinematographer
903

I own a 5d mk2 and a BM4K and I can say that the BM4K has much better dynamic range than the 5d mk2 when shooting video.

March 18, 2015 at 10:43AM

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TERRIBLE DYNAMIC RANGE! I can only be this opinionated due to the surge of beautiful cameras recently like the A7s and Gh4...That third shot in where she walks across the tracks...and the sky is blown. UNACCEPTABLE this day in age.

March 18, 2015 at 8:30AM

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Jeremy Dulac
Director/Cinematographer/Editor
162

But the color is indeed gorgeous,

March 18, 2015 at 8:31AM

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Jeremy Dulac
Director/Cinematographer/Editor
162

Were you using firmware update 1.1 or 1.0? they changed a lot of things between the two. As well when I did my tests, we saw that the camera at this point is only using 80% of it's latitude and has another 20% to pull from. Through this process we have been testing, and talking a lot with AJA, since right now everyone who buys a Cion is technically a Beta tester, but they support team let us know they are working on pulling the other 20% out of the sensor and will hopefully have that ready for update 1.2.

All his to say is, yeah they have a long way to go in their firmware, but if you look at the changes between 1.0 to 1.1 you can see they are headed in the right direction. I do very much hope they can pull it up to the sensors rating, we shall see.

March 18, 2015 at 11:10AM

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Caleb Pearson
Director / Producer / CEO
177

In the video, he scrolls by a menu that says: SW version 1.1.0.6 Is that the firmware version?

March 18, 2015 at 11:36AM

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seanmclennan
Story Teller
942

Yes the firmware was 1.1
We were in direct contact with AJA and I think they would have told us if they were able to increase DR through a future firmware update.

March 19, 2015 at 2:01AM

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Sorry if I wasn't clear, I was referring to the EI and the cameras IRE, which they didn't lie because that's exactly what they did in v1.2 .

https://www.aja.com/en/products/cion#support

April 13, 2015 at 1:02PM

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Caleb Pearson
Director / Producer / CEO
177

v1.2 is indeed a much better firmware .

v1.3 is pretty much getting the camera to match the claimed specs IMHO

March 28, 2017 at 6:50AM, Edited March 28, 6:50AM

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Stewart Fairweather
Cinematographer
180

Why was the DR tested at 500 ISO....isn't the native ISO 320, am I missing something? I was taught that the best DR in any sensor happens at its Native ISO/ASA?

March 18, 2015 at 1:19PM, Edited March 18, 1:19PM

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Jason Smolesky
Independent Cinematographer/Photographer
95

This is a great point. Also, maybe the most relevant point.

March 18, 2015 at 3:29PM

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Taylor Russ
Director of Photography
654

We tested DR at ALL ISO's with ALL Gamma Settings.
DR measurements for ISO 320 & ISO 500 was identical. We present ISO 500 ratings, because we don't want people to think they have to shoot ISO 320 to get the best out of the camera.

March 19, 2015 at 2:02AM

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I hope this gets a sensor upgrade in the future, because I just love the look and ergonomics of that body.

March 18, 2015 at 3:30PM

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Taylor Russ
Director of Photography
654

Quality article, always love having full coverage of these things as they come to light.

On a note about the camera, I mean, I'm still using my old GH2 more frequently than any other camera, because I know how to get exactly what I want and what it's limits are, so you can tell I don't care too much about having the tippy-top of image quality, but these results are still disappointing. Nice ergonomics though.

March 18, 2015 at 5:08PM

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Jacob Floyd
Writer / Videographer
1231

I had high hopes for this camera. Oh well!

March 18, 2015 at 5:36PM, Edited March 18, 5:36PM

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William Stewart
Director of Photography
534

I did too...but I think Cinema 5d need to RE-DO the Dynamic Range test at the Correct ISO- This test they did is totally invalid its as guaranteed you loose Dynamic range when you go about the native ISO which on this camera the sensor is tuned to an exposure index of 320 I am sorry but I am very much convinced you'll will see much better results at the proper ISO value.

March 18, 2015 at 5:44PM

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Jason Smolesky
Independent Cinematographer/Photographer
95

-Sorry for typos...

March 18, 2015 at 5:47PM

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Jason Smolesky
Independent Cinematographer/Photographer
95

It may just be what the video shows and what they actually tested so again if I am wrong I apologize.

March 18, 2015 at 5:50PM

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Jason Smolesky
Independent Cinematographer/Photographer
95

As mentioned earlier and also in the written article we tested DR at ALL ISO's with ALL Gamma Settings.
DR measurements for ISO 320 & ISO 500 was identical.

March 19, 2015 at 2:04AM

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Disappointing, disappointing, disappointing…..I will choose a Red One (yes, a seven year old camera) over the CION any day of the week….

March 18, 2015 at 8:16PM

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"while there is always a certain organic softness to the image" --- which I like.

$9000.00. :-) I think I can afford it! :-)

I don't have any complaints about its tech capabilities. As far as dynamic range, for example: of course it doesn't match the Arri. The Arri costs 10 times as much, literally, 10 times as much. The capability is still fantastic. It is a shout better than almost everything your find a decade ago, and it's only $9000.00. I am happy with the progress of video.

What is the most attractive thing about this camera? The color science is gorgeous, rich, and appealing. :-)

March 19, 2015 at 2:19AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1656

wow, I hadn't read through comments before I posted mine. Usually when a camera has great flesh tones, and color this nice, it is praised in most comments. Maybe the video world has become a bit spoiled when it comes to tech specs. This image is gorgeous. For me, that is trumping any supposed shortcoming. For goodness sake, it's $9000.00. If this camera existed just 10 years ago, at such a low price, it would seem like it came from another planet. Now, people are saying "meh". The tech specs compared to the Sony f7s (at $1000.00 less) are not as good. But Sony color does not match this camera. Sony looks cold in comparison, not as appealing. The color of this camera is trumping the specs. Like I said, a segment of the video world may have become spoiled about specs. I don't think this camera deserves the palpable negativity it is getting in the comments here. I get criticism. Criticism is fair game. But it does not deserve negativity.

And btw, it has 4K 120fps. How many comments have said, 'give us 120p, come on already'. It doesn't work with ATOMOS yet? There must be an upgrade coming for that. Prores 4444.... let's all collectively smile. :-)

March 19, 2015 at 2:46AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1656

This earlier video, from 6 months ago, is better than both samples above. It's ungraded footage.

https://vimeo.com/105581608

Hope to see some footage done with post professional coloring, that will leave a much better impression than the two samples in the post above.

March 20, 2015 at 5:21AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1656

To put things in a little perspective, here is some prices for the Arri Amira, that does 1080p, not 4k:
7 day rent: $2399.00

Purchase: $58,114.00

Link to prices: http://www.borrowlenses.com/product/ARRI-AMIRA-Camera?mkwid=sezuhVGEE_dc...

Does the Arri look $49,000.00 better than the AJA Cion?

March 20, 2015 at 5:44AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1656

and how about being happy about the global shutter...........

March 20, 2015 at 10:08AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1656

In a word: yes. :)

March 20, 2015 at 1:27PM

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William Stewart
Director of Photography
534

To which question?

March 21, 2015 at 2:25PM, Edited March 21, 2:25PM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1656

Could've told me it was footage from a T2i and I would've believed it.

March 19, 2015 at 10:01AM

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I've been very disappointed at the quality of "test footage" provided by AJA. The disappointment come more from the quality of shooting than the camera itself. It looks like the DPs they're using have trouble executing control basic exposure and focus rather than exploring the strengths and weaknesses of the camera. I don't think its painting the camera in a fair light.

To me, THIS is a test shoot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpWq09bs81g
Shots are carefully executed and documented so the audience can be informed as to the strengths and limitations of the camera (or film stock in this case).

Unfortunately AJA doesn't seem to have - or want to invest in - the marketing engine that SONY has.

March 20, 2015 at 7:32PM, Edited March 20, 7:32PM

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Jeremy Parsons
Director of Photography / 1st Assistant Camera / Crane Tech
171

The reason the CION does so poorly - especially in low light - is because it has the same sensor as the Blackmagic 4K Production Cam. The sensor is not good in low light - (see Phillip Bloom's review of the 4K Blackmagic). I wanted the CION - until I read it had the same sensor as the Blackmagic 4K - I knew it would be a disappointment. Poor low light performance leads to a host of other disappointments...noise, for one thing. How I wish the CION people had chosen a different sensor...this cam had so much promise...maybe next time. Get the SONY FS7 instead - it's better and it's cheaper.

March 22, 2015 at 9:57AM

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Ed Wright
Director, DP, Writer
424

Holy god, those are two of the worst videos I've ever borne witness to. Wow. I just... Wow. Is anybody else astonished that people so unproficient can afford these cameras?

December 6, 2015 at 11:25AM

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I bought this camera (second-hand) a few months ago and I have to say that I am very convinced!

Obviously at the beginning I had to take some time to accustom me to this new camera, in particular to understand what are its limits.

Now I feel very comfortable with, I find that the images are really magnificent and the ergonomics is absolutely well worked.

Concerning the "low dynamic range", personally it was not a problem for me. I mean if you are familiar with a Canon Mark III that will not be the worse!

I find that the critics on this cameras are very severe and inequitable. The advantage of it is that I did not pay a very high price for it!

December 24, 2016 at 10:42AM, Edited December 24, 10:42AM

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Noise Chamber
Producer - Director
81

And besides I find that the videos which present this camera are yucky! Sometimes it is better to refrain rather than presenting images which are not representative of the quality of a camera!

December 24, 2016 at 10:49AM

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Noise Chamber
Producer - Director
81

Which version of the firmware are you using?
v1.0, for which the dynamic range test were done, was,..'limited', in it's performance.
v1.2, and then v1.3 (current) made significant improvements, first in the roll off, and then in the retention of detail in those roll off areas.
AFAIK, there has been no re-test of any camera after a firmware change by NFS, the Cion is one camera that deserves to be retested.

March 28, 2017 at 6:36AM

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Stewart Fairweather
Cinematographer
180