the AJA CION – An exciting entry into the 4K camera world

UnknownThe AJA CION records directly to Apple ProRes 422 and 444 at up to 4K at 60fps or output AJA Raw at up to 4K 120fps.

Ergonomics and as close to out-of-the-box shooting as possible seems to be a major focus of the design of the AJA CION which is a welcome addition to the 4K camera world in my opinion.  That along with the promise of 4:4:4 in camera encoding to Apple ProRes and the simple overall approach to the hardware and software makes this one of my top cameras to keep an eye on in the next few months.

AJA’s reputation is one of the best in the industry and presents a real hope of a camera being delivered on day one that puts some of their competitors past launches to shame.

Top Specs and Features

A number of specs and features of the AJA CION that are attractive include the Global Shutter, The AJA Pak Media, the complete system out of the box and the seemingly intelligent and complete approach to Input and Output of video, data and audio.

The Global Shutter is a given as to the positives of it’s inclusion.  It’s always an issue and gladly AJA made the right choice.

As for the AJA Pak, the cost of the media will be significantly less than Blackmagic’s choice for media in the Blackmagic URSA.  The cost of using off-the-shelf CFast 2.0 cards is one of my biggest concerns with the URSA as I mentioned in my previous Blackmagic URSA post.  A 120GB SanDisk CFast 2.0 card on B&H runs $1999.95 which calculates out to approximately $10 per GB versus the promised $2.50 per GB of the AJA Pak Media.  That is a substantial value plus the fact that you are dealing with warranted, in-house media vs. off-the-shelf media is a major issue as reliability is always a concern with off-the-shelf media.  I’m sure the cost of the CFast 2.0 media will decline but to make up a 75% difference in price will be a challenge and unlikely anytime soon.   Definitely something to think about…

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Most camera systems that are available now require a substantial investment into support gear before they are even remotely ready to shoot on.  AJA seems to have made this a top concern as they designed the base unit by including 1/2 in. – 20 holes throughout the top and bottom, rosettes built into the case,  15mm rod adapters built in on the top, front and back of the camera, included the top handle with the base system and the ability to customize with as many or as little additional accessories as you like all points to a well thought our design.  I’m glad to see this complete system approach happening not only with AJA but also Blackmagic’s design of the URSA as it has always been irritating to me at the amount of accessories one has to purchase just to build out a usable camera system.

Cons of the AJA CION

The biggest missed opportunity with the AJA CION for me is the fact that Raw recording is restricted to an external recorder.  I love Apple ProRes as a format but with projects that require a more attention to detail, Raw is a requirement.

From AJA Website:

AJA CION is also fully capable of outputting frame rates up to 120 fps as either 4K or UHD from its 4 x 3G-SDI outputs as AJA Raw. AJA’s Corvid Ultra in conjunction with TruZoom™ software can take the AJA Raw output and replay it at up to 60 fps. Output up to 30fps AJA Raw via the Thunderbolt™connector. CION can also record HFR 4K 50 and 60p to Pak media, as Apple ProRes 422.

Sadly, the fact that an additional recorder is required for Raw goes against the ergonomic design principles they seem to made a priority.  This is going to put an even greater focus on the cameras dynamic range, ProRes encoding and general performance of the sensor and hopefully AJA gets it right.  Raw has become an expected necessity on most circles and this limitation will be a big hurdle for many.

Early Test Footage

In the official launch video (Embedded below) AJA included a variety of first look clips from the AJA CION.  With the 5 shots that were made available so far, I’m not blown away by the look but to be fair, it was 5 macro shots of a bee and the internal gears of a watch so it is not a lot to base an opinion off of in the first place.  Until the camera has been in the hands of a true cinematographer, I’ll wait to judge the image as the specs and design are worth of respect until then.   Hopefully within the next few months I’ll be able to get my hands on the camera and take it our for a test drive.

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Final Thoughts on the AJA CION

The specs look promising but until we start seeing footage from the camera it is anyones guess as to the quality of the images but with AJA’s reputation for consistency and quality, it is almost guaranteed to be a top-of-the-line camera.  Unfortunately, until I see the quality of images and evaluate the cost and hardware additions it will take to acquire Raw footage, I’m hesitant to be overly excited by the camera.  However, just by virtue of AJA entering the camera market, it is going to require Blackmagic and all of the other cinema camera designers to step up their game in the foreseeable future.  That’s a win-win for everyone.


AJA CION Specs

Current tech specs that AJA has announced on their website as of 4/24/2014

General Specs:

  • 22.5mm x 11.9mm Super 35mm sensor with a global shutter
  • 12-stop Dynamic Range
  • Lens Mount: PL (positive lock), replaceable
  • Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) and IR Cut Filter (combined)
  • Removable Storage: AJA Pak media (proprietary SSD)

Recording modes:

  • 4K (4096×2160), Ultra HD (3840×2160), 2K (2048×1080) (2K limited to 60p)
  • Progressive 23.98 to 120 fps
  • Apple ProRes 4444 or Apple ProRes 422 to 30 fps
  • Apple ProRes 422 to 60 fps
  • SDI output support for 119.88/120 fps (SDI 1-4 Raw) (2K limited to 60p)
  • 1080 HD (1920×1080) progressive 23.98 to 60
  • Apple ProRes 4444 or Apple ProRes 422 to 30 fps
  • Apple ProRes 422 to 60 fps
  • SDI output up to 60p

Output:

  • 4x 3G-SDI (main), 2x 3G-SDI (Monitor) (AJA RAW 4K at 120 fps)
  • 2x HDMI
  • Thunderbolt (limited to 4K at 30 fps)

Audio Input:

  • 2x 3-pin balanced XLR connectors with dedicated line/mic/48v phantom
  • Audio Output
  • 1x 3.5mm Headphone Jack

Inputs:

  • 1x Reference Input (BNC)
  • 1x LTC (BNC for Timecode)
  • 2x 2.5mm LANC connectors
  • 1x LAN RJ45 connector 1 Gbps

Weight:

  • 7.4 lbs / 3.4 kg (with top handle attached)

Power:

  • AC Range: 100-240 VAC 50/60Hz
  • DC Range: 12-18Vdc, 5A maximum, 4-pin XLR or 2-pin input connectors
  • Power: 38-42W typical, 45-47W maximum
  • (Note: does not include power draw from 2-pin output connector)

For more details, check out AJA’s website: www.aja.com/en/products/cion

 


Videos of the AJA CION from NAB:

 

The official launch video including the first test footage from the AJA CION:


Here is a great interview with an AJA rep at NAB from Nofilmschool.com.  Check it out: