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NAB 2014: 4K Gets Cheap Thanks to AJA’s CION

There's a new camera in town that may have Arri seeing Red

At the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show, an interface and convertor company called AJA threw its hat into the digital cinema ring, with the CION camera product that looks—from the specs, at least—like it may contend with industry-leading Arri and RED cameras at a fraction of the price.

Is RED about to have its stratospheric reign at the low-end of the digital cinema price point usurped? We’re not quite sure, but the signals are trending towards the positive. Here’s why.

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New Design, New Price

AJA won’t release CION until August, but already the design and price are setting tongues wagging. Many show floor visitors are talking about the fact that AJA designed the camera in-house. It’s a natural step in the process of digital cinema, though, as a crop of traditional media interconnect companies—such as Blackmagic Design—are moving further down the digital supply chain.

“Bringing this sophisticated camera to market underscores our passion to support filmmakers, broadcasters and content creators,” said Nick Rashby, President, AJA Video Systems.

Pricing is the other thing that’s gotten everyone worked up, given the feature set. Rashby notes that the camera will start at $8,995 when it is available later this summer. 

We are incredibly proud of CION,” said Rashby, “which represents a new direction for AJA. We believe that the thoughtfully considered design, along with a powerful feature set, will make it extremely useful and versatile for productions worldwide.

What It Does

One thing was clear about this camera, when viewing it in the AJA booth: It appears capable of shooting in a variety of formats, possibly rivaling those of Arri’s Alexa and RED’s Epic cameras.

Media is record to an AJA Pak, which is SSD media available in capacities of 256GB and 512GB. The company offers direct connections on the AJA Pak via Thunderbolt or USB 3 (see the G-Dock modules we reviewed a few months back for the type of form factor) or these AJA Paks can be transferred using an optional AJA Pak Dock.

AJA went for a complete 10-bit and 12-bit workflow, from HD to 4K, so the CION is capable of recording content using Apple ProRes 4444, something that no other low-end digital cinema camera has done to date. In addition, CION can record in Apple ProRes 422 (HQ), Apple ProRes 422, ProRes 422 (LT) and Apple ProRes (Proxy).

From a format perspective, the camera shoots in Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) 4K at 4096x2160 as well as the television 4K format, better known as Ultra HD, at 3840x2160. DCI 2K and HD are also available, at 2048x1080 and 1920x1080, respectively, but with a nice twist: The entire 4K sensor is used, and then 2K and HD are scaled down—via hardware, according to AJA—to retain the highest possible acquisition quality. These over-sampled images also allow for field-of-view retention, according to the company.

Will Griffith, creative director with Creative Energy in Johnson City, Tennessee, had this initial reaction: “The AJA CION is a fascinating new product,” said Griffith. “I have used the RED Epic and Arri Alexa extensively on shoots around the US, and CION seems to be a direct replacement for those cameras. Like Arri, AJA is a trusted company in video/film space, and I look forward to testing this unit in the near future.”

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Back at the show floor booth, another sentiment was being tossed around. “Do you think this is a new direction for streaming and digital cinema?” one attendee asked another.

“I don’t know if it’s as much a shift for those markets,” the other attendee replied, “but it’s for certain a shift for AJA.”

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