Review: AJA CION camera first look

Review: AJA CION camera first look

It’s not long now until AJA’s CION 4K camera finally hits, and for me (and majority of video professionals), this is VERY EXCITING NEWS. Having got my hands on the CION back in April, I’ve been waiting for a chance to really put it through its paces, and start grading some footage. 

For anyone who’s looking into the AJA CION, or thinking about updating their video production workflow in general, this is why we’re all getting so worked up…

What is the AJA CION camera?

The AJA CION is a brand new professional camera from AJA – their first foray into actual cameras. Put simply, it’s a fantastic-looking shoulder mount production camera that’s designed to give a cinematic look to your footage. It’s able to output 4K raw data at up to 120fps via 4x 3G-SDI outputs (shoot directly to edit-ready Apple ProRes 4444 at up to 4K 30fps over Thunderbolt, ProRes 422 at up to 4K 60fps, or output AJA Raw at up to 4K 120fps), and records directly to AJA Pak SSD media at up to 60 frames per second.

Sensor-wise, you get an APS-C sized 4K CMOS image sensor with an electronic global shutter, 12 stops of dynamic range, and there’s a PL lens mount with manual back focus adjustment for attaching your glass.

What I first thought…

We first got our hands on the CION back at NAB 2014 in Vegas, and I had another chance to check it out just after too. The first thing you notice about it is the form factor and build quality. AJA are renowned for their design (check out what we think of their products here), and the CION is no different. Its sleek black body is complemented by a nice suede shoulder mount and wooden handles, which make it a real looker as well as being fantastically ergonomic.

Without compromising on quality, AJA have also managed to make it as light as they possibly can. The body weighs in at just 6.4lbs/2.8kg, but that will obviously ramp up once you start to add viewfinders, battery packs and a lens (the amount of glass in your lens especially affects this).

What I do really want to see is the actual quality of the footage. There has been some speculation around the ISO on the CION, with native ISO put at 200 on the pre-production camera. But AJA have put people’s fears to rest and let out that the final camera which ships will crank the ISO up to a more respectable level, making it brighter and better for shooting in low light. This should put it on a par with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, and close to the EOS C range at 850 ISO.

Lewis from Jigsaw24 gets hands-on with the AJA CION

Why the CION is special

The real selling point of the CION is its all-in-one, all-purpose ethos. While similar cameras like the Sony FS700, PMW-F5 and Canon C500 match it in terms of specs and similar pricing, the CION is really designed to give a more traditional ergonomic feel, with each section such as audio and option menus allowing for multiple users. The audio inputs are strategically placed so that a sound engineer can visually monitor the sound directly on the side of the camera without the camera getting in the way.

It also already has a built-in recorder, so you can shoot directly to AJA’s Pak SSD media – the same as you get with the fantastic Ki Pro Quad.

Perfect for large sensor lovers

I can see the AJA CION being perfect for the large sensor market. So anyone working in advertising, music videos, documentaries or that sort of thing, will benefit from the cinematic look and feel that the CION’s 4K CMOS sensor will afford them. The shoulder mount also gives it a bit more flexibility, and makes it much more portable than some other large sensor cameras. I wouldn’t say it’s the ideal option as a run and gun camera, but we’re almost into ENG-style ability and form factor here.

My recommended peripherals

When you buy the AJA CION, you are essentially paying for a chip and recorder based in a very stylish production camera body. Everything else is modular. With an expected price tag of $8999, it’s a big investment, so you should really think about your options before you take the plunge.

First of all, it’s a good idea to think about audio. Although the XLR and preamps are the same as the ones from the Ki Pro and are top-notch, considering your audio monitoring options is a good place to start. Because the CION already has its own recorder built in which records to Pak SSD (again, from the Ki Pro), you don’t need a separate recorder.

You will, however, need a lens and viewfinder. Lenses will vary depending on what you want to be doing with the CION, but I can definitely recommend the Cineroid EVF-4RVW EVF with retina display as a really good option, as well as the Alphatron EVF-035W-3G hi-res 3.5″ LCD EVF with 3G HD-SDI input. Battery-wise, I would go with the Anton Bauer or IDX battery plate. Lastly, you’ll need something to carry the whole lot around in. We’ll soon be looking at putting together special shooting kits with everything you’ll need to get up and running.

Shut up and take my money!

Hold on just a minute – the AJA CION isn’t actually shipping just yet, but we are taking pre-orders now. AJA’s official line is that it’s shipping in ‘Summer 2014′ which, judging by the length of British summers, should be imminently. As one of the UK’s largest AJA partners and biggest stockholders, it’ll be a good bet to get in touch with us for more information when it does drop though.

AJA CION on Jigsaw24

Want to know more about AJA and pre-order the AJA CION 4K production camera? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

First impressions: Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera

First impressions: Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera

Blackmagic Design’s Cinema Camera was one of the most talked-about products at NAB 2012. Now that the Twitter storm has died down and the first pre-orders are coming in, we thought it was time to ask our camera expert, James Graham, to give it a once over and see what chance it stands of living up to the hype.

The key specs

One more time for anyone who missed they key facts: the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera has a 2.5K resolution, Micro 3/4″ size sensor and is capable of shooting 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW footage at 2432 x 1366 and ProRes and DNxHD at 1920 x 1080. It records to an internal 2.5″ SSD recorder (the SSD itself is removable, but Mac OS formatted, so PC users will need to install MacDrive to read it). You get four channels of HD-SDI audio and video (4:2:2 with a choice of film or video dynamic range), a Thunderbolt port to speed up transfer, two 1/4″ audio jacks and a headphone out, and DaVinci Resolve and UltraScope are thrown in, too.

Image quality

Image quality is the dealbreaker for any camera, and Blackmagic Design are promising great things. The Cinema Camera has 13 stops of dynamic range, which is more than most cameras and will hopefully mean we get detailed shadows and highlights, with plenty of latitude to work with in post (the below image, snagged from Blackmagic’s site, seems to bear that out – it looks really flat with the highlights and lowlights nicely exposed).

Currently the sensor is still an unknown quantity, so we don’t know its limitations, how organic any noise is, moire and where the signal to noise ratio might take over – but we’ll be the first in the UK to get stock, so we’ll do some experimenting and get the results to you as soon as. A definite good sign is that it’s compatible with Canon EF and Zeiss ZF lenses, giving you access to some really beautiful glass.

Battery and recording time

According to BMD’s specs, the camera has a 90 minute battery life and takes two hours to charge when not in use. However, there’s a 12-30V port for external power and a 12V AC adaptor, so you should be able to use additional external batteries if need be.

Blackmagic also reckon you can get 30 minutes of 5MB per frame RAW footage at 24p on a 256GB SSD, and about five times that amount of ProRes or DNxHD.

Audio

This is the other big question mark over the Cinema Camera. It’s got two 1/4″ audio jacks, so you’re obviously supposed to be able to attach a mic, but there’s no hot shoe on the camera or the official BMD stand, and no way to know how much a mic in the jack will rattle. Given how compact and lightweight it is (1.7kg), people are probably going to try using it handheld, and for that you’d ideally want a more stable audio setup.

You’re probably going to want to pick up a BeachTek adaptor and attach your mic via that. This is no bad thing in itself – the high end DSLRs this is competing against (5D MkIII, D4, 1D-C) need them too, and using an adaptor at least ensures you’ll have a flexible audio setup.

Build quality

Let’s be honest, it looks amazing, and from what we’ve heard so far it’s nice and ergonomic. It’s machined out of solid aluminium with a rubber facing and grip, and the members of our team who saw it at NAB were enthusiastic. We’ve haven’t had a chance to drop it from a great height in the rain or drive a tank over it yet, but so far it seems solid.

Metadata, logging and software

The bridge to post is where the camera really shows its Blackmagic roots. Resolve and UltraScope software is included, so you can hook your SSD up to your MacBook Pro and monitor your picture view, audio levels and phasing, or perform rough grades while you’re still on-set – great if you’re working to tight deadlines or in close collaboration with a post-production team and want to give them an idea of the look you’re after.

There’s also the slate, an intuitive interface that looks a bit like an iPhone keyboard but lets you log metadata directly into the camera, then search shots by tag, timecode, shot number or scene number. The metadata you input here should be compatible with your NLE, so your post team will get all your tags and shot info at the same time as they receive the footage, which is a great timesaver.

Is it for you?

If you’re considering buying a 5D MkIII or using something like a Nikon D4 with an Atomos Ninja, this is at a similar price point and seems to offer far more functionality (all that metadata management, plus extra dynamic range). However, if this camera is as good as Blackmagic say, it will be a worthy contender to the AF101 or FS100, making it well worth further investigation. Using 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW files will mean you to re-evaluate your workflow, but that’s another conversation. In the meantime, we can’t wait to get our hands on the first stock

Want to know more? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. For the latest NAB news, follow @Jigsaw24Video, ‘Like’ our Facebook page or take a look at our roundup.

Video Review: The Canon XF300

Video Review: The Canon XF300

We’ve been big fans of Canon’s XF300 since it came out last year, so if you’re looking to add a new camcorder to your production workflow, here’s why we think it’s a great option…

For a start, the XF300 is the only 50mbps 4:2:2 video camera in its price range. You get great image quality for your money (the L-series lens more than makes up for the 1/3″ sensor), manual controls that are a breeze to use for anyone with a basic knowledge of camcorders, and a durable build with durable metal hinges and no internal moving parts. All that, and more, adds up to an affordable camcorder that’s perfect for anyone shooting outdoor scenes, sports or wildlife. Watch the video above for more details.

– Like what you see in the video? The Canon XF300 camcorder is available from Jigsaw, and for a limited time we’re throwing in a free Kata case and two 16GB Compact Flash cards!

Find out more about the Canon XF300 by calling 03332 409 306 or emailing broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. You can also keep up with the latest video news and offers by following us on Twitter (@Jigsaw24Video) and ‘Like’-ing our Jigsaw Video Facebook page.

Studio Lighting for Chromakey

Studio Lighting for Chromakey

When you’re shooting against a chromakey backdrop, good lighting can be the difference between being able to pull a really clean key from your final image and shooting something that’s mostly noise and falls apart as soon as you attempt to do anything to it in post (shooting in 4:2:2 will also help). Here are a few things you’re going to want to keep in mind…

1. Aim for soft, even, overhead lighting

To pull the cleanest possible key from anything shot against a chroma wall, you need your backdrop to be evenly lit, with no obvious of areas of highlight and shadow (any variation will translate to noise in your image, and make it far harder to get usable footage. The easiest way to do this is to light your chromakey backdrop from above, as this will reduce overlap, using a soft light like a KinoFlo or Ianiro 5502 (we actually put together an Ianiro kit specifically for chromakey lighting)

2. Position your subject carefully

You want to keep your subject about two metres away from your chromakey backdrop, because you don’t want their shadow to mess up your carefully balanced backdrop lighting. If you’re working on an infinity curve (a curved green, blue or white backdrop that has no corners and so can be used to give the impression that the space behind your subject goes on forever), you might want to hide their shadow there, too. Using something like a fresnal should help with this – just be careful not to give them bright and shiny legs, as that will look strange.

3. Remember the inverse-square law

There’s a scientific explanation of this that you’re welcome to go and Google, but it practical terms it means that the closer your subject is to your lighting, the brighter their face will be and the darker the backdrop will be, as you have to expose for the subject. The brighter and more headache-inducing your chromakey backdrop is, the easier you’ll find pulling your key, so try and light your subject from as far away as possible without splashing your subject lights over your green screen and creating hotspots.

4. Backlight your subject from above, key from 45 degrees above the eyes and fill from 20 degrees below the eyeline

Like your chromawall, you want to try and light your subject from above. As well as helping you get enough shadow to avoid their face looking completely flat (for classic portrait lighting you want one side of their face to be a stop darker than the other), this will also make it easier to avoid having your subject lighting affect your nice, even backdrop. You can now get flexible lamp arms that will allow you to position your light directly above someone (Dedo’s DSTFX stand is a safe bet), but a ¾ light will do if you don’t have the budget for extra kit. In chroma your back light serves two purposes: cutting down on green fringes (if you’re shooting with a less than ideal camera for chroma) and separating the subject from the background.

Want to know more? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or ‘Like’ our Facebook page.

Simple Chromakey Setups

Simple Chromakey Setups

Believable chromakey (or Chroma Key) is now not only reliable but, provided it’s used properly, is also pretty attainable in most situations. With this being the case, plenty of manufacturers have begun to produce chromakey kits, which is pushing the technology forward and the price down. So, with the reality that every studio is now able to have a decent and cheap chromakey set-up, the question is no longer “Can we afford a chroma key set-up?” but rather:

“How much should we pay for it and how should we use it properly?”

There are basically two types of chromakey set-ups available at the moment; traditional green screen and reflective. They both work on the same principle of creating super-imposed keys on just one colour channel, R, G, or B.  Green (sometimes blue) is normally chosen as it is a less common wardrobe choice and modern cameras are generally more sensitive to green, meaning a higher level of accuracy can be achieved. Green and blue are also considered the colours least like skin-tone.

The subject then stands in front of a matte background of the selected colour and the signal is altered to replace that colour with an alternative signal – a nice weather map for example!

The signal alteration can be done in post-production through software with various editing packages and plug-in software solutions, but for live productions the foreground and background video must be combined using a hardware keyer.

And there it is – it’s as simple as that! Well, sort of…

Back to the two main types of chromakey set-ups. In a traditional green screen set-up the subject is in front of a bright green background. Set up correctly, this can produce amazing results, provided there is good even lighting on the screen and at least 3 point lighting on the subject. As such it is well-suited to a permanent set-up in a spacious studio. Lastolite’s collapsible backgrounds are great for this. Vivid colours and a wide range of sizes are available, or you can simply paint the background with Chroma paint.

With a reflective chromakey setup, the subject stands in front of a background containing millions of glass micro-beads that reflect light put out from a ring of green (or blue) LEDs mounted around the camera lens. The previously grey screen then becomes green. To the eye, the screen doesn’t appear particularly green; the camera picks up the single frequency light emitted by the LEDs creating a pure green matte background. At close range this can give fantastic results. Predictably, with increased distance the light drop-off means the screen may start looking grey again but, in terms of budget solutions, this method really can’t be beaten.

Backgrounds come in all sizes and, perhaps more importantly, so do the rings – meaning that a ring can fit any lens you care to mount it on and if it doesn’t fit immediately then the supplied adapters will make sure it’s snug. One of the main advantages in this set up is that lighting is only required for the subject. As with a traditional green screen the subject will require the usual key, back and fill lighting, but unlike a traditional set-up the screen itself doesn’t require lighting at all.

With the option to switch between a blue and green light ring, you can easily change the colour used for your chromakey (just in case a guest arrives in the studio wearing a bright green jump suit…). All light rings come with a control box to adjust the level of light emitted, and all that remains is the “tuning” of the keyer into your setup.

For smaller cameras (72mm) the Datavideo CKL-200 kit is good value and produces great results for professional corporate videos or educational projects. It has the added benefit of changing between green and blue at the flick of a switch. However, the keyer only has composite in and out, so isn’t of the highest quality available.

For larger cameras and broadcast standard kit (still at an attainable price) the Reflecmedia kits are not to be sneezed at. With the option of collapsible backgrounds it makes putting up the kit a cinch and taking it down only slightly less so! The light rings come in small (72mm), medium (112mm) and large (147mm) and with the whole gamut of adapters for differing lenses.

The Ultimatte DV keyer supplied with these kits has not only composite in and out, but also DV in and out. Admittedly not at the same time, but with the onboard frame store, it’s possible to import the background required, store it, and then digitally output the keyed video unlocking a whole new level of quality for affordable and reliable chromakey.

With great solutions at low-end prices there’s now no reason to miss out on a chromakey set-up whatever situation you’re in, and for a simplicity on a budget the reflective set-ups are so user friendly it’s pretty hard to go wrong.

Want to know more? Call us on 03332 400 222, email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com or take a look at our full broadcast range.