What Happened to the AJA CION 4K?

It seemed to have appeared and vanished in the blink of an eye, but did you know that AJA created a full-fledged cinema camera called the CION?

Feeling similar in style and coming around the same time to when Blackmagic started fully diving into the camera world – which was probably part of the problem for AJA – the CION was a well-spec’d 4K-shooting full-size camera that looked exciting at the time. So what happened to it?

Frame Voyager has been creating a series on abandoned cinema cameras and they took a look at the AJA CION in their latest video.

The CION was targeting the same markets that ARRI and RED have been dominating. It was Super 35mm and had a global shutter—something still rare today. It could do 4K up to 120 fps. And, the price point at the time was relatively cheap for what they were offering. It probably would’ve done well, if not for the Blackmagic URSA.

AJA has a lot of parallels to Blackmagic Design. They made a name for themselves with mini converters and similar hardware for post-production. People very much appreciate AJA products. They wanted to simplify video workflows and also started offering their products in price ranges where the average consumer could pick them up. Super similar.

Fast forward to NAB 2014 when AJA first announced the CION. It was meant to fill the gap between high-end cinema cameras and prosumer cameras.

The global shutter and 4K 120p output were impressive. While full size the camera was lightweight at around 6 lb with a magnesium alloy exterior. Operation was simple and designed for single operators who likely would also be the owners.

The other advantage of the CION was all the connections. Makes sense considering the companies roots. It had six SDI outputs, two HDMI outputs, two XLR inputs, Thunderbolt for PC direct recording, two LANC connectors, and a D-Tap output for accessory power.

It could be built up to work for any workflow you needed. Ergonomics and flexibility were the goal and that was based on the fact that similar offerings in the affordable tier were finicky to use and general not optimized for true productions. 

Image Credit: AJA

Unfortunately, Blackmagic happened to be working on a very similar product with their URSA. Still, competition isn’t always a death sentence.

One area where things started to go wrong was with the sensor. As we were talking about the rarity of some of the offerings you could see that the CION was limited by the potential of the sensor they were able to acquire. Global shutter is a nice feature, but at the time it came at the expense of more important things like dynamic range.

It was only 8.2 stops, which was much lower than the listed range and tested poorly compared to the Blackmagic URSA that was released in the following years.

Price was another point of failure. It was launching at nearly $9,000, which made it one of the more expensive 4K options out there. Blackmagic came in swinging with the very similar URSA at $6,000 and even the Production Camera 4K with similar quality was only $3,000. There were more compelling options for much less money.

Competition hit AJA at the worst possible time and Blackmagic was relentless. Year after year Blackmagic was dropping new, even better cameras at amazing price points. Even with price cuts and firmware updates, AJA was fighting a losing battle. In 2018 AJA decided to discontinue the camera.

Timing was what really killed the CION. If it had not sat in production for as long and released a year or two earlier they might have gotten a jump on the market and could’ve used that momentum to make advancements. AJA was so close.

The interesting thing is that even the URSA in its original form didn’t have too long of a life either. But that’s a whole other video if you are interested.

Do you remember the AJA CION? What are your thoughts on how its release was handled?

[source: Frame Voyager]

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