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Brian Drysdale

AJA Video 4k camera - Cion

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I used one for a week. It's a great camera for the field. I found the menu to be very simple and straightforward, and the camera itself to be versatile for run-and-gun shooting.

 

The expanded gamma is nice, but one thing I found was the highlights tend to clip rather quickly. Very little headroom, which I didn't expect from a 2015-made camera.

 

I'll post some low-light tests soon, shot with candles and a 40w bulb. The 1000ISO setting is pretty clean, which I liked. It's a pretty robust image, but the clipping highlights killed it for me. Not that it's a deal breaker, I just didn't expect it with a modern sensor.

Edited by Kenny N Suleimanagich

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Thanks for the report, Kenny.

 

Do the shadows @1000 ISO look okay when they are boosted in post, or do they get noisy?

 

Maybe the sensor would benefit from "exposing to the left" and protecting the highlight?

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On CML it was said that, subjectively, 320 and metering for 400 or 500 with a small gamma adjustment in Speedgrade got great images. So it seems to be one that needs a bit of testing regarding the clipping.

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Tim,

 

I'll post a clip over the weekend with some of my results. I didn't find the shadows to be terribly noisy at 1000 ISO, and depending on the amount of adjustment, the high bitrate capabilities go a long way in retaining color information. As to your point Brian, I will definitely play around with gamma a little bit more and make a workable image.

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I don't have Speedgrade, but Resolve has been useful in highlight recovery. It's quite unlike other digital cameras I've used, in that the Log image it creates still sort of looks and feels like a Linear-gamma image. Difficult to explain. That said, it does gather a great deal of information so it is still very gradeable. I'm eager to hear what others think, and will report with footage soon!

Edited by Kenny N Suleimanagich

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I just got done with a short film on the Cion, 8 days of shooting. Full 4K, Prores 422 HQ. I can attest that the highlight issues are true, though you can still underexpose a stop and push it no problem in post. But sometimes you get a weird flicker in the shadows, some sort of fixed pattern noise. It's mostly in the completely black areas of the frame, though I saw it creep into the lower mids. It happened inconsistently, sometimes 2 scenes with nearly the same lighting would come out differently concerning the noise, which leads me to believe it might be an overheating of the sensor causing it.

The camera is Fairly easy to color grade, though the white balance settings are crap. I shot everything at Unity, which to my understanding is no white balance, and it's easy to correct that using the gamma wheel and vectorscope. But the tungsten setting causes a nastly blue tint over the entire screen, as with the fluorescent. Daylight (corrected from Unity) looks beautiful on this camera, as long as you're able to expose for your subject and the sky at the same time. Sometimes to do this I had to underexpose a stop or 2 on my subject because blown out highlights on the Cion are the worst I've ever seen on a camera, with a NASTY bluish fringing surrounding the pure white blown out area. Basically the highlight rolloff is crap, happens way too early above good exposure.

It's very hard to shoot in a location and balance for the windows, and letting them blow out is absolutely not an option with this camera. For reportedly having the same sensor as the Blackmagics, they're basically a step behind where Blackmagic was with the 2.5k, with the only advantage over that old camera being framerate and resolution. I don't know about you, but framerate and resolution don't sell cameras for me, the integrity of the image is what sells.

ISO wise, you cannot use this camera over 500. Don't even try. You gain almost no exposure because you're not able to use Log gamma on 800 and 1000.

I wish I got the chance to use it with AJA Raw. We have 2 Cions at school now, so I'll probably be testing that in the spring to see if it improves the image. But honestly the Ursa FAR outperforms this camera at a comparable price point, even with the $5000 summer price. And CFast is barely more expensive than AJA Paks, though the price is dropping while the price of AJA Paks is likely to remain what it is.

 

That being said, in a controlled environment, yes I'm sure you can create a beautiful image with this camera. I know I did some of my best work ever with it. I'll post a trailer once we get it cut and graded and get the website up. Maybe some of you will feel inclined to donate to the campaign, we'll likely be offering both an HD and UHD download.

If anyone has any questions or would like clarification, please ask, I'd love to answer as well as I can.

On the flipside, just started 8 days on the RED Dragon and I'm in love.

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I could be wrong, but I would say the Cion seems like the most disastrous camera in modern times. Given the price of it, and the experience of the company behind it, the camera's uptake has been shockingly poor. I haven't heard anyone actually enthusiastic about it.

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Everyone who touches it at my school is very disappointed. I predicted at the beginning of the year that no one besides me would be able to make it work for them, because I'm the only one who actually read up and was able to avoid the flaws of the camera. Even then, I wish I had been able to capture my lighting efforts more accurately, and should've just used the FS700 for the whole thing.

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I could be wrong, but I would say the Cion seems like the most disastrous camera in modern times. Given the price of it, and the experience of the company behind it, the camera's uptake has been shockingly poor. I haven't heard anyone actually enthusiastic about it.

Hence why they are literally giving them away for free. I know several people who have them on semi-permanent loan. AJA is probably hoping to use the footage shot with those cameras to build their reel online and attract more customers. However, I don't see that strategy paying off unless they can somehow significantly improve the dynamic range and specifically the highlight clipping and roll off. I'll take a highly compressed HD codec with good highlight handling any day over 4K Prores with highlights that clip hard the minute you point the lens at anything white.

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Just gave the Cion a second chance on a webisode. Updating my thoughts to say the camera's lack of dynamic range is still highly problematic but with the right camera settings I found it workable as long as you carry enough lighting and grip to compensate. In that sense, it's sort of like going back to shooting reversal film.

 

I went with Expanded Gamma, Color Correction Normal, EI 500-800, and Prores HQ 1080p. Found in my prep that I much preferred the camera with a bloomy diffusion filter on the lens to cut some of the contrast and improve highlight rolloff. I ended up using a Tiffen Pearlescent 1/4, Mitomo True NDs 1.2 and 1.8, a Sapphire Blue SE 2 Grad, and Antique Suede SE 2,3 Grads to control the highlights as much as possible.

 

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Even so, it was quite a bit more work to shoot day exteriors than I think many of us have become used to. Here, I had a 12x12 Ultrabounce on frame right, two grips flying a 4x4 Half Soft Frost on camera left over the talent, and a beadboard just under the lens for more fill. There is a Blue Grad on this shot to hold the sky - this is all one shot and there was no opportunity to slide the grad out during the shot. The actors' faces are a little down, the grad is probably why. I exposed for the highlights and brought up the shadows in post.

 

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For the reverse, we flipped the 12x12 to a silk and used a 4x4 shiny board direct for fill. A lot of younger actors are not used to having this much light blasted at them and it can be challenging to make them physically comfortable while still getting the exposure that you need. The global shutter was a nice benefit, no flash banding effect.

 

post-5721-0-23299600-1448692950_thumb.jpg

 

Here you can see what happens if you overexpose the same setup by one stop for "correct" exposure on skintones, highlights gone. I did pull the grad for this shot so that might have been part of the problem.

 

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Here, I had the 12x12 Ultrabounce on frame right, a shiny board on frame left for the wide, and 4 filters stacked. Pearlescent 1/4, ND1.8, with Antique Suede 2 and 3 taped together to the front of the matte box. I feel like applying that much 'force' to the image in order to keep some detail in the highlights results in an unavoidably stylized image, but it was appropriate for this particular project. Roger Deakins would probably hate it.

 

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Just a note, I was not happy with the lighting on the man's coverage. Ideally, the key would be coming from frame left so I would have tried to bounce with a shiny board from futher away and then maybe soften it. However it was one of those weird angles where it was impossible to get a bounce angle so my gaffer put it in the only place he could catch a bit of sunlight. Wish I had ordered a 1200w HMI. For the woman's coverage I used a Bag-It plastic rain cover over the shiny board to at least diffuse it a bit.

 

Anyway, the camera is fairly nice to operate other than not being able to control menus through the viewfinder, scrolling through menu pages on the little side panel is frustrating. The 60fps over-cranking is nice. We did have one shot with corrupted frames, not sure why. Luckily it was a shot we had coverage for, but it made me think twice about using the camera on a bigger job. I do appreciate the smart placement and selection of ports and the design of the accessories. There's really no extra rigging required anywhere, other than adding a viewfinder with a 15mm mount like the Wooden Camera UVF system. The battery run-time is not bad at all, but boot up time is in Red One territory. I still think the amount of grip, lighting, and filtration required to produce a comparably well-exposed image on other similarly-priced camera systems is a deal-breaker though.

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Yes, glow is the last refuge of a scoundrel in regard to over-hot skies.

 

Having shot day exteriors on Cion, I can't imagine how much fill you must have added to make it look like that!

 

P

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According to AJA at NAB:

 

“Our new firmware update and promo were created in direct response to community feedback. CION v1.3 offers a more gentle roll off of highlights, and a greater level of detail in the blacks, while the new promo makes the camera even more accessible to shooters looking to capture stunning footage,” said Nick Rashby, President, AJA Video Systems. “We’ve seen great adoption of CION from the commercial and industrial production community and we look forward to getting this update into our customers’ hands.”

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Maybe Im biased, but to hear reviews from students blowing out the highlights on a cinema camera -- as a judgement of the camera-- is a really bad look for this community. IMO the image coming out of the Cion looks amazing. Yeah, it's a cinema camera if you are blowing out your sky you are exposing incorrectly. This is not broadcast... go film something in REC 709.

When properly exposed this is destroying the thin look coming out of Sony Red and Panasonic, and BM in the the price range.

I have been happily shooting on my Digital Bolex for the past 4 years-- and it's sadly being rented out for the next 6 weeks-- so I need something-- and nothing is giving me that thick cinematic look of the D16-- the Cion is close though.

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