AJA Cion 4K Cinema Camera
AJA Cion 4K Digital Cinema Camera (AJA photo)

California’s AJA, well-known for their broadcast and cinema production equipment (like the Ki Pro Quad external recorder, the LUT Box and other mini converters, and rackmount video processors), has entered the cinema camera market with the Cion, an ergonomically designed Super-35 true 4K digital cinema camera positioned for the mid-range cinema and television production market.

Check out AJA’s feature video for the Cion:

The footage called out as captured with the Cion looks terrific: sharp, detailed, lovely color, no noticeable noise.  What I’d like to see in their next demo is people. Lots of people with various skin colors, in varying lighting conditions, especially deep shadows.  I’d also like to see how the sensor handles tight patterns, like houndstooth fabric – does it moiré or not?  Based on the published specifications, and the few brief shots included in the feature video, this camera looks like an excellent choice for moderately budgeted indie productions and owner-operators, assuming it captures pleasing skin tones and its handling of deep shadows doesn’t show fixed pattern noise.  Ideal lighting conditions can make any camera look amazing; most of us are more interested in how the camera handles lighting conditions that are less than ideal.

Some details are not yet public, such as the native ISO rating of the sensor (AJA have only said that the sensor has 12 stops of dynamic range).  However, there are some units in the field being put through the paces on real productions (they’re keeping mum on who has those units), so AJA is getting valuable real-world feedback about this camera while they still have time to fix any problems that are found in real production conditions.  So far, the buzz has been very positive.  AJA have said that this camera has been in the works for about five years now, and it looks like they really paid close attention to what cinematographers in the target market segment want in a camera, how people actually use the camera, and designed around that.

Cion is also capable of high frame rates, up to 120fps in 4K when using an external recorder via 4 3G-SDI outputs.  Some people have expressed disappointment that Cion doesn’t support high framerate recording internally; my take on this is that it’s not very often that most of us need to crank at 120fps, so rarely having to rig an external recorder isn’t a big deal.  The lack of internal ND filters is similarly not a problem in my view, because putting a filter in the matte box doesn’t bother me.  That is, after all, one of the purposes of the matte box in the first place, and this camera is really not a run-and-gun type of camera; Cion is clearly intended to compete with Sony’s F5/F55 and Red’s Scarlet, none of which are designed for guerrilla-style run-and-gun filmmaking.  The PL mount really precludes run-and-gun shooting – PL primes weigh anywhere from 5 pounds to upwards of 12 pounds, significantly more than, say, EF-mount primes.  You’re not going to be grabbing this camera in your hands and sprinting through the lobby of an office complex with it.

I can see this camera becoming very popular with professional independent filmmakers working with moderate budgets.  This is not the camera for micro-budget or no-budget filmmaking – you absolutely need a DIT on-set when shooting with a camera like this one, and the post workflow, even when recording ProRes instead of raw, will be somewhat more involved than it is when you capture with a DSLR.

I’m very excited about this camera, far more than I was about any of Blackmagic Design’s cameras, and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on one.

Cion pricing is set at $8,995 (US) and ships sometime this Summer.  For full information about the AJA Cion, visit www.aja.com.