Content Insider #333 A New Capture
AJA Catches Eyes, Images in 4K at NAB
By Miles Weston
With the content industry in an era of rapid transformation, AJA Video Systems showed NAB attendees it isn't just one of the best disk recorder producers around, it's also destined to be on the cutting edge for cinematographers.
At its press breakfast, Nick Rashby, AJA President, proved that he and his team have been listening to customers by unveiling the company's new CION 4K cinema camera, which should be available for delivery mid-year.
Priced at $9,000, the CION sits between BlackMagic's new URSA and the 6K Red Dragon Scarlett; but it offers the best features of both cameras and even outshines them in a number of ways.
Rashby explained that the elegant camera cradled on his shoulder was the result of several years of development that enabled them to not only incorporate the features and capabilities production people want but also some of the latest advances in camera design/manufacturing. Ultimately, they were able to make the CION a long-term solution for folks in the studio and in the field.
While you wouldn't call it rocket science, one of the first things you notice is that the camera's built-in shoulder mount looks as though you could carry it for hours. With the ULTRA HD CION's 6.4 lb. magnesium chassis, it's also remarkably light and should stand up very well in the most rugged field use.
The CION features an internal Apple ProRes 444 to directly record 4K video and also enables slow motion shooting at frame rates up to 120fps via 3G-SDI.
That's thinking like filmmakers, broadcasters, content creators who simply want to point-and-shoot.
Designed for people who make their living staring through the viewer, the CION features 12-bit recording, a PL lens mount, APSC-sized global CMOS sensor and 12-stop dynamic range.
Showing they gave a lot of thought to the real world user, all of the interface controls are on the side of the camera, facing the operator so you have full control of all of the camera's functionality.
The AJA software is also very elegant and doesn't have the old-fashioned sub-menu navigation you usually had to wade through, which is a refreshing change for a seasoned camera person and logical for today's up-and-coming indie filmmaker.
CION's confidence monitor is nicely integrated so it not only displays the menu information but also real-time imaging, putting the camera person in full control of all of the operations.
The camera also offers some impressive network-based control with the LAN (local area network) connection and web-browser UI (user interface) for complete remote configuration/control whether you're shooting on a crane, jib or car mount.
The camera will output AJA Raw video at up to DCI 4K at 120 fps, via quad-link 3G-SDI output; and up to 30 fps over the new high-speed Thunderbolt connection.
There are a number of subtle but important design features that show the company really thought about the end users rather than just their environment/control as so many seem to do today.
For example, their integrated steel rosettes allow for mounting industry-standard accessories such as handgrips and handle extensions directly to the camera body. The open approach to design also includes integrated cheese plates with standard tapped holes. These cheese plates are fitted to both the top and the bottom of the chassis, to provide easy mounting of accessories from both AJA and third parties.
Introducing the CION just two years after their main competitor Blackmagic, Rashby noted the new camera was a logical progression for the firm because they were already doing a great job of delivering the back half of the cameras.
It often escapes many people when they're talking up a new camera, but one of the things we understand is that it's not just about capturing great images, it's also about storing them and moving them easily, securely to post production.
That's one of the reasons we are really impressed with AJA's CION.
The CION uses AJA's proven SSD-based Pak storage, while some cameras have opted for smaller, more expensive and arguably faster Cfast flash memory storage.
Recording RAW with Cfast at 380mb/s would mean you can record five minutes of 30fps material to a single 120gb card. Recording 60fps would need two cards.
You end up spending about $2,000 for storing five minutes with 60fps.
Do 30 minutes of content and you have a stack of 12 cards costing about $13K, which doesn't make a whole lotta' sense for a camera that was cheaper.
Suddenly the CION is "a little less" expensive to own/use.
Currently, the AJA Pak 256 and 512GB SSDs are only available from the company; but hopefully, they'll do like Blackmagic did with their earlier cameras (and others do, as well) and certify third-party suppliers.
That will make the storage of more 4K/UHD and 2K/HD content a lot less expensive and you can easily transfer footage over high-speed Thunderbolt or USB 3.
The people at SanDisk, Micron, OWC and others offer 10s of millions of general- purpose, high- performance SSDs every year and when camera manufacturers work with them to develop higher-capacity storage solutions for cinematographers, it sure has a positive impact on the project budget.
Just saying CION might be a more economic, more open solution to consider.
More to Offer
While Rashby was justly proud of the soon-to-be delivered CION, AJA had a couple of other impressive announcement for behind the camera.
For those folks who do more than just shoot great stuff, AJA released a new mini-converter - LUT (look up table) box for precise color and look management.
The new units allow monitors to display accurate color and look for any SDI video signal.
As Rashby noted, it is becoming increasingly important that post people know they are displaying the right color space because of the high dynamic range capture and post workflows.
Users can load 3D LUTs at up to 17X17X17 points using the device's integrated USB connection and free MiniConfig software on either a Mac or Windows-based post production system.
A single AJA LUT-box can simultaneously support outputs from both HDMI and SDI monitors.
Available next month, the AJA 3D LUTs are essential to map one color space to another to ensure the preview colors are the same as will appear on the final digital image or release print.
Using the company's technology for broadcast and post production workflow, the company also introduced their new Hi5-Plus and HA5-Plus Mini-Converters for HDMI and SDI monitoring.
Frame Rate Control
To show the post production team that AJA hadn't lost sight of its roots, the company also unveiled what they called the next-generation frame sync and FRC rack.
The new FS1-X is a compact single-rack mount frame synchronizer, converter. It allows you to match up disparate audio, video formats in your workflow.
Using the company's conversion algorithms, the unit supports up-down and cross-conversion between SD and HD signals to deliver the best output possible. It works simultaneously with 3G/HD/SD-SDI 10-bit video as well as a large number of embedded audio, AES, MADI and analog audio channels.
Dolby's success with 5.1, 7.1 and beyond audio is significantly increasing the number of audio channels that need to be efficiently/effectively managed in a production and the MADI standard, an easy solution to transporting up to 64 audio channels over a cable, streamlines and speeds audio processing.
All in all, Rashby and his crew were kept busy talking to a lot of seasoned and indie shooters and producers at NAB.
For a guy who cut his teeth as a camera assistant, you could see he was pretty proud of the new CION and the other products they unveiled.