UPDATES
  • RSS loading...

AJA Cion 4K Cinema Camera

AJA's first cinema camera, and its image quality matches near that of the ARRI. Despite its bad video demos marketing the camera, causing a massive negative word-of-mouth among the community, this camera has found a place with niche filmmakers, including here at KC Universal Network.

Whenever people hate a particular camera, I do all I can to like it. It's sad how low things have gotten to the point where you're not considered a "legitimate" filmmaker unless you own a specific brand of camera. Why is that? Why does it matter what camera anyone, or even myself, uses? Do camera specifics matter, compared to, perhaps, CREATING PROJECTS WITH IT? If people sat around and talked about what camera they own and why, instead of shooting something with it, the entertainment industry would collapse in a yoctosecond. This is why I praise cameras like this—the only camera ever released by the company AJA. We just happen to love this camera for all that it is.

AJA is a company based in the US specializing in broadcasting solutions. In 2014, they made a big announcement releasing a cinema camera of their own—the Cion. With an APS-C, Super 35mm CMOS sensor with global shutter, recording 4K DCI, 4K UHD, 2K and HD, via ProRes codec, and a shoulder-support form factor which reduces the need to invest in a big rigging system to carry it, I find it hard to dislike a camera like this. Granted, with all the necessary additions, the weight does add up so you may want to get a sturdy tripod with you at all times, or go as far as to hit the gym and lift weights (am I the only one who does workouts just to carry a camera?).

Because of the negative feedback this camera has received, AJA went as far as to cut their original asking price in half, appealing more toward the indie/budget filmmaking scene (originally priced at $9,995 upon release, then slashed to $4,995). Why the backlash? Reports stated that the highlights in the shots were so overblown, it rendered "worse than a DSLR," according to some testers. AJA released both the v1.2 and v1.3 firmware to fix the issues. While 1.2 was, for me, the most useable firmware, v1.3 fixed the overblown highlights much better, but presented another problem: Flickering dark spots when low-light shooting. Even as the complaints slowly waned, so was this camera, as AJA announced its discontinuation in 2018. It's depressing how people don't give others a chance, nor take the time to understand a camera's capabilities. (I don't expect everyone to like this camera, but of the complaints I've read, I also wonder and want to ask the level of expertise these people have had in contrast to their negative feedback. Do these people spend the money, test it for 2 minutes, say the camera sucks, then end up returning it? Not even using it for one day, let alone one project?)

Overblown highlights, huh? Yeah, I noticed them when I shot with it. Do ND filters ring a bell? Heck, Fotodiox released an attachment for the Cion that works as built-in ND filters to ease the highlights without a matte box system. While I feel the item was released a little too late, one should always take the time to research, and someone out there will have the solution for it. Wooden Camera has also released accessories of their own to support the camera.

Since majority of these "filmmakers" are hung up on specifics, and not producing much with the camera, they can all be read on the Profile Info below. While AJA says there's about 12 stops of dynamic range, I feel it's a little less than that. The lens mount is interchangeable, from a PL mount to other options such as Canon EF, B4 or even Nikon G. The camera records in AJA's very own Pak Media which are built like tanks—much better quality than Panasonic's P2 cards. There is an AJA Pak Media adapter that takes CFast cards, but it's incredibly hard to find. While there is fan noise on the camera, it doesn't sound as loud as an air conditioner. You'd have to place your ear close to the camera to really hear it, but it isn't a bother when recording. Camera's built-in screen features the entire menu and is very easy to navigate. Some people complained how confusing it is, but after pressing the button, twisting the knob to scroll through the menu options, it makes navigating simple. (Depress the knob to access the shown menu, then it presents various options available for that setting. Twist, then press the knob of your desired setting; It highlights and blinks as yellow, then you scroll to EXIT the selected menu.) It reminds me of the limited menu system back during the NES and Super NES days (shout out to fellow filmmakers who are also video gamers). Menus were programmed in a way where the camera operator can change menu options instantaneously. However, some settings take a while to get to, ending up with constant scrolling, but after selecting the desired setting, it starts from that part of the menu when accessed again. It's cumbersome, yes, but it's not as difficult as you think. I never tested the battery life, but it worked with a battery that had 14.8V/190Wh. Depending on your choice of mounts, there are attachments to take either V- or Gold Mount batteries. This thing does eat up battery juice fairly quickly, so you may want a bigger brick for longer usage.

For audio, this has two balanced XLR inputs which I recommend only for scratch tracks. I'll admit: I, too, take audio for granted and swore to myself to take it more seriously. It also has a headphone jack at the top part of the camera, close to an HDMI port. In my experience, after a considerable amount of usage, the XLR ports seem to emit this subtle 'buzz' sound when powering microphones via phantom power. I'm not sure if it was my camera specifically, since others have made the same complaints. Nevertheless, I recommend recording audio separately anyway; I mean, with high quality footage being shot, makes it fair to pair that with crystal-clear audio.

I like how the camera features an SDI port strictly for external monitors (HDMI is also an option). I used a Lilliput 4K monitor and it loads up perfectly. There are other, much better, monitors out there so you may want to research carefully which suits you best. If you're one of those who still swears by EVFs, be sure to find accessories appropriate for it. Before I added a monitor, I used to use a Cineroid EVF4MSS which had an HD-SDI input. Use whichever you think fits best with your setup.

Image quality? At near full frame, the skin tones and detail is nothing compared to a DSLR (according to what critics/beta testers have said). Some who have spent time with the camera say this is very close to the ARRI look, namely their famous ARRI Alexa camera. That's a huge compliment! Integrating appropriate lighting and proper lens filtration, you're looking at a camera that performs very close to the "big boys" at a price that isn't bank-breaking. I've found no clues as to the sensor type the AJA Cion uses, but I do know the ones used in the ARRI are the Fairchild sensors. Did AJA Cion use the same iteration as the Fairchild? Possible, especially if this humble camera is being compared to the Alexa. Who would've thought that one of the most ignored, yet heavily picked-on camera gets compared to the "cool guys?" There's no doubt ARRI is the brand that majority of us want to shoot with, but a camera that performs just as well as one, along with a friendly price point? It's hard to say no. (Yes, I understand, other companies have their own 'looks,' in terms of image quality. It's all aesthetics at that point, much like there are different kinds of film stocks, giving off different color schemes. In that case, it's up to you which 'look' you prefer most, as there really isn't one that's better than another.) Recording at it's highest setting, ProRes 444, it's a codec that plays nicely with most editing software used today. AJA announced the possibility of RAW recording alongside Atomos, but was quietly scrapped, making [potential] Cion users unhappy. Due to lawsuits about the RAW codec, thanks to disputes make by RED against Apple®, this Cion does not record in RAW, ProRes RAW, nor do they have their own exclusive "AJA RAW" codec. Me? ProRes and its 444 settings are enough for me (Sony F3, anyone?).

Thanks to this camera, I've grown to appreciate the importance of lighting—low light, especially—and planning your shots. Theoretically, you can run-and-gun with this camera, as I sort of did on a pilot episode, but you must think ahead and act quickly. For a cinema camera like this, that's hard to pull off, but there are camera operators who are able to do it, no problem. This camera required to have some sort of lens filtration, whether it's built-in or a matte box, to eliminate the 'hot' highlights (a lot of those overblown spots are tough to recover via editing). Unless you're going for a particular look, the image this camera pulls, along with the skin tones, is absolutely crisp. During AJA's #TryCion promotion, one of their marketing slogans was "Shoot what you see." This made sense since I shot a project with it, and barely did any color grading. If anything, I only bumped up the saturation and that was it. You can check it out right here:



(NOTE: This ended up being slated as a pilot episode. I operated the camera, and edited the entire piece.)

What did I use? If my memory recalls, I used the Video Color Correction setting and set the Gamma to None. I used a Helios 44-2 58mm lens, a Viltrox light at 5600K and two Audio Technica AT897 shotgun mics with windscreens on both. Yeah, when I bought the camera, I knew I had to bump up my equipment a bit after shooting around with a DSLR for some time (a Panasonic GH4, if you're wondering). Since the shoot was getting a little late, as I was scheduled for work that very next day, it was "prepare everything you've got and start shooting" kind of deal. (My colleague enjoyed the video, but due to conflicts with his collaborator, this has been on hiatus for a long while.)

If I can re-invest in this camera, perhaps purchasing another two or three, I likely will. Again, it's a camera you can't just run out and shoot with, even though I did so, but its ease of use and image quality is unmatched. It's one of the most beautiful things I've seen, and being compared to the famous ARRI Alexa says a lot. Oh, and given the fact that I shot that pilot episode, shown above, using my leftover DSLR equipment and still held up, really tells me how forgiving this camera is.

I understand—Canon, Blackmagic, Sony, Panasonic, RED, as well as ARRI, all have their own particular image looks. Even though I err on the side of advocating particular "looks" derived from the choice of lenses, not everyone is going to like this camera. Since this review almost tries to push on the fact that this camera is a God-send, it should tell you one thing: Spend time with the equipment you purchase. Despite the fact that I would love to own it again, taking the time to embrace all the features, the limitations and the stuff it was made to do, really helped me understand what AJA was going for. If you want to shoot plants, animals, your significant other, cars driving by and/or people walking by, fine, but if it's a review, don't be the ones who buy stuff just to make a video about it the next day, then selling it before the week ends, voiding all the time and effort to see what potential a camera has. No, take your time with a camera and push it to its maximum as best as you can. Cameras today have been rendering the best image quality I've seen in years, can pull off excellent-quality images close to film, and it continues to get better. Oh, and if you're one of those folks on YouTube who posts videos such as "What I Think About The [camera brand and model] and Why I'm Not Buying One," save internet bandwidth, and don't even upload such thing. Cameras are just tools, so what? If you're not planning to buy, say, a RED Komodo, then don't. Why dramatize your purchasing decisions to the world? (Luckily, no one is forcing me to watch those videos, much like I'm not encouraging anyone to like this camera, let alone read this review of it.)

After this camera, AJA never made a second attempt to get back into the cinema camera scene. I would've loved to see a compact version of the Cion, much like how RED released the RED One then went into a more compact system such as the RED Scarlet and the RED Epic, and now their RED V-Raptor. If AJA wants to jump back, I'd love to see a miniature version of the Cion. Hey, they're experts in the live broadcasts, so how about a cinema camera that can live stream which can compete with the likes of the Komodo, Panasonic's BGH1 or the Z Cam? I feel AJA deserves another chance, and if the sensor they've gotten a hold of is already in par with the ARRI Alexa, then it's only a matter of time.

Stock full of AJA Cion cameras!
Source: Unknown

If AJA has an overstock of Cion cameras still wanting to seek sunshine like the image shown above, I'd love to take them—maybe 3 or 4 at most. Bummer how folks pick on a camera so much, they don't realize the awesome things it's capable of. Worse, if you own such camera, companies big or small may not be too interested in hiring. If you're on the market for a cinema camera, give this one a try. Be extremely attentive to lighting and/or lens filtration to ease the highlights. (As for firmware, from my personal experience, I find working with the v1.2 firmware to be the best option.) Okay, sure, people will mock you for shooting and owning this camera since not many people know about it, nor does it get rented very often. If you're working for yourself, go out and shoot amazing footage, produce fun projects, and keep working on your craft. (Heck, I still find time to enjoy shooting on HDV tape, since, quality-wise, and in comparison to today's cameras, looks like a sophisticated version of 16mm film. I love tape, and if someone judges/slanders me for such thing, that's their problem. At the end of the day, those people have a problem with other people being themselves, and shooting with what they like. I mean, damn, it's just a camera. Think about that.)

Besides getting back to normal 100%, my wish for the 2022 year is to see AJA take on the cinema camera market again with a fresh take on their Cion. That's how much I love and admire this camera. If you're a camera collector, you may want to snag one while they're still around and available. There aren't many of these in demand, but some of the accessories for these are getting very rare.

Go ahead and shoot with what you like, but give this a try! If you have used this camera, or still own it, let us know about your experience in the comments section below!



NOTE: If you, or someone you know, works at AJA, or if you're any of the product managers/executives at AJA, please contact me if any concerns or reactions you may have partial to this review. Such responses will be kept confidential and will not be shared with any entity or other third-party wanting to intercept the information whatsoever (read our Privacy Policy/Terms of Use page). We understand that our critiques, suggestions and plea don't invoke any requirement for a comment from the company. However, because of our interest and respects for the work done to release such camera, we are always open for communication to bring about the beauty when in comes to cameras. While your company, AJA, working on another cinema camera is very unlikely in the future, it'll be nice seeing a business get back to the competitive camera market, from all the lessons learned. Either way, whatever you—AJA—have to say, we'll be happy to communicate with you at anytime. Thank you so much for this camera, and while we're slowly building our network company along with our massive portfolio, we'll be sticking around to what your company has to offer. Once again, from our hearts, thank you so much!

USER FRIENDLINESS5/5

FEATURES4/5

BUILD QUALITY5/5

COST5/5

PLUSES
  • Image quality has been heavily compared to the ARRI Alexa.
  • Has a shoulder-mounted form factor.
  • Perfect for studio and pre-planned shoots.
  • Records in ProRes 444 internally—highest quality codec on this camera.
  • Interchangeable lens mounts.
  • Great low light quality.
  • Third-party company Fotodiox released a lens attachment that works as a built-in ND filter.
  • Its fan base/user group on Facebook is still active.
  • Versatility. It can be shot the way you see from your own eyes, or shot in a way to be graded in post.
  • Although no official list has been published publicly, this camera became network-approved by KC Universal Network.
MINUSES
  • If cameras were people, the Cion underwent endless bullying and slander for being misunderstood.
  • RAW recording was quietly dropped.
  • Minor buzzing sounds, via phantom power, can be heard from the XLR ports.
  • AJA announced this camera's discontinuation in 2018.
  • Overblown highlights are not recoverable in post production (keep your ND filters handy).
  • Accessories for the camera are becoming more difficult to find.
  • Demo videos used to market this camera didn't showcase its best potential.
  • Despite negative feedback, the Cion was quickly ignored, overshadowed and became the least rented camera compared to its popular competitors.
  • AJA may not re-enter the cinema camera market in the future.
95% (A)
Fan Rating
PROFILE
Brand AJA
Camera Cion 4K Camera
Description CION is a 4K/UltraHD and 2K/HD production camera from AJA. Shoot direct to edit-ready Apple ProRes 4444 at up to 4K 30fps, ProRes 422 at up to 4K 60fps, or output AJA Raw at up to 4K 120fps. CION is the union of great design and functionality, an engineered aesthetic that we are proud to describe as the Science of the Beautiful.
User Interface • 6 x Dedicated menu buttons (STATUS, CONFIG, MEDIA, FPS, EI and WB)
• 4 x Transport buttons (Play, Fast Forward, Reverse Playback, Stop)
• 1 x Media unmount button
• 1 x Record button
• 1 x User Interface control knob
• 1 x User Interface screen, 320x240 LCD
Sensor Type CMOS, electronic global shutter, 12 stops of dynamic range
Sensor Size 4K APS-C sized, 22.5mm x 11.9mm
Shutter Angles Available (by Format) 23.98 & 24: 360, 180 (default), 172.8, 144, 120, 90, 45, 30, 15
25: 360, 300, 180 (default), 150, 90, 45, 30, 15
29.97 & 30: 360, 216, 180 (default), 150, 90, 45, 30, 15
50: 360, 300, 180 (default), 120, 90, 45, 30, 15
59.94 & 60: 360, 216, 180 (default), 120, 90, 45, 30, 15
119.88 & 120: 360, 216, 180 (default), 120, 90, 45, 30, 15
Shutter Speeds Available (by Format) 23.98 & 24: 1/24, 1/48 (default), 1/50, 1/60, 1/72, 1/96, 1/192, 1/288, 1/576
25: 1/25, 1/30, 1/50 (default), 1/60, 1/100, 1/200, 1/300, 1/600
29.97 & 30: 1/30, 1/50, 1/60 (default), 1/90, 1/120, 1/240, 1/360, 1/720
50: 1/50, 1/60, 1/100 (default), 1/150, 1/200, 1/400, 1/600, 1/1200
59.94 & 60: 1/60, 1/100, 1/120 (default), 1/180, 1/240, 1/480, 1/720, 1/1440
119.88 & 120: 1/120, 1/200, 1/240 (default), 1/360, 1/480, 1/960, 1/1440, 1/2880
Exposure Index 320, 500, 800, 1000
Color Correction Normal, Flat, Skin Tones, Video
Gamma None, Standard, Expanded, Video, Cine
Lens Mount Removable PL (positive lock) third party EF, B4 and G-Mount mounts are available.
Filtration Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) and IR Cut Filter (combined)
Removable Storage Pak Media, Pak-Adapt-CFast (only with qualified CFast media)
Video Output • 4 x 3G-SDI main outputs (4 x BNC connectors, 3G/1.485 Gbps)
• 2 x 3G-SDI monitor outputs (1 x front mounted BNC connector, 1 x rear mounted BNC connector, 3G/1.485 Gbps)
• 2 x HDMI outputs (1 x front mounted HDMI v1.3 Type A connector, 1 x rear mounted HDMI v1.4 Type A connector)
Format, Frame Rate, Encoding and Output 4K
• (4K) 4096 x 2160p 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60, 119.88, 120
• Apple ProRes 4444 or Apple ProRes 422 (all versions) up to and including 30 fps
• Apple ProRes 422 (or a lower data rate ProRes version) for 50, 59.94, 60 fps
• SDI output support for 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30 fps (SDI 1-4 YCbCr, SDI 1-4 RGB or SDI 1 Raw)
• SDI output support for 50, 59.94, 60 fps (SDI 1-4 YCbCr or SDI 1-2 Raw)
• SDI output support for 119.88, 120 fps (SDI 1-4 Raw)

UltraHD
• (UltraHD) 3840 x 2160p 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60, 119.88, 120
• Apple ProRes 4444 or Apple ProRes 422 (all versions) up to and including 30 fps
• Apple ProRes 422 (or a lower data rate ProRes version) for 50, 59.94, 60 fps
• SDI output support for 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30 fps (SDI 1-4 YCbCr, SDI 1-4 RGB or SDI 1 Raw)
• SDI output support for 50, 59.94, 60 fps (SDI 1-4 YCbCr or SDI 1-2 RAW)
• SDI output support for 119.88, 120 fps (SDI 1-4 Raw)

2K
• (2K) 2048 x 1080p 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60
• Apple ProRes 4444 or Apple ProRes 422 (all versions) up to and including 30 fps
• Apple ProRes 422 (all versions) for 50, 59.94, 60 fps
• SDI output support for 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30 fps (SDI 1 YCbCr, SDI 1-2 RGB, or SDI 1 RGB)
• SDI output support for 50, 59.94, 60 fps (SDI 1-2 YCbCr or SDI 1 YCbCr)

1080p
• (HD) 1920 x 1080p 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60
• Apple ProRes 4444 or Apple ProRes 422 (all versions) up to and including 30 fps
• Apple ProRes 422 (all versions) for 50, 59.94, 60 fps
• SDI output support for 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30 fps (SDI 1 YCbCr, SDI 1-2 RGB, or SDI 1 RGB)
• SDI output support for 50, 59.94, 60 fps (SDI 1-2 YCbCr or SDI 1 YCbCr)

1080i
• (HD) 1920 x 1080i 25, 29.97, 30
• Apple ProRes 422 (all versions) up to and including 30 fps
• SDI output up to and including 30 fps (SDI 1 YCbCr)
Audio Input 2 x Balanced Analog audio inputs (2 x 3-pin XLR connectors with dedicated line/mic/48v selection switch per input)
Audio Output 1 x Headphone jack (3.5mm stereo mini TRS)
Reference Input 1 x Reference input (BNC connector, analog color black)
Timecode 1 x LTC (BNC connector, 0.5 to 4.5Vpp)
Start/Stop Trigger 2 x LANC (1 x 2.5mm top connector and 1 x 2.5mm side connector)
Network Interface 1 x LAN connector (RJ-45 connector, 10/100/1000)
Data Output AJA Raw via 3G-SDI up to 120 fps or Thunderbolt™ up to 30 fps
Size (w x d x h) 4.4" x 12.5" x 5.5" (112mm x 318mm x 140mm)
Weight • 6.4 lbs / 2.9 kg (without top handle attached)
• 7.4 lbs / 3.4 kg (with top handle attached)
Power • AC Range: 100-240 VAC 50/60Hz (AC adapter)
• DC Range: 12-18Vdc, 5A maximum (4-pin XLR connector or 2-pin input connector)
• Consumption: 38-42W typical, 45-47W maximum (Note: does not include power draw from 2-pin output connector)
• Output: 2-pin power output connector, 10W recommended maximum
Environment • Safe Operating Temperature: 0 to 40 degrees C (32 to 104 degrees F)
• Safe Storage Temperature (Power OFF): -40 to 60 degrees C (-40 to 140 degrees F)
• Operating Relative Humidity: 10-90% non-condensing
• Operating Altitude: <3,000 meters (<10,000 feet)
ISBN / Bar Code number ????
Released 2014
Licensed by AJA
Product / Item Number ????
Other MADE IN USA

Write a Comment