This is just a fun spec-to-spec comparison between the Blackmagic Design URSA and the AJA CION, two cameras with remarkably similar features (who was spying on whom?), but not similar price points.
Warning: Information provided in the comparison might be inaccurate or wrong, even though most of it has been obtained from the official press releases and websites. For actual data refer to the manufacturers’ websites.
Let’s start with the camera bodies:
|Price of Camera body||$5,995 (EF), $6,495 (PL)||$8,995|
|Included Accessories||Turret Dust Cap, 12V AC Adapter, Tripod mounting plate adapter||Not announced|
|Included Software||Resolve 11, Media Express, DiskSpeed Test||Not announced|
|Warranty||12 months||24 months|
|Lens Mount||Active EF mount, PL mount (B4 mount coming soon)||PL mount (replaceable)|
The fact that the CION only ships in the PL mount is a huge let down for many filmmakers wanting to upgrade from DSLRs, Blackmagic cameras or the Canon C100. They do say that the PL mount is replacealbe and third-party manufacaturers are free to build an EF mount if they chose. However, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon, so one can’t assume an EF version will ever come.
And let’s not ignore price. Even comparing PL mount versions, the CION is $2,500 more than the URSA, and $2,500 buys a lot of gear nowadays. Above that, the URSA ships with Resolve 11, though not everyone uses or prefers it. What we need to see then is, does the CION deliver $2,500 more value?
Comparison of sensors
The CION has a slightly larger sensor:
|Sensor||21.12mm x 11.88mm||22.5mm x 11.9mm|
|Horizontal Crop Factor based on FF 35mm||1.7||1.6|
|Required lens resolution||182 lpmm||182 lpmm|
|ISO Range||Not announced||Not announced|
Is it just me or is it extremely curious why neither mentions the ISO range anywhere? In any case, going by technology and the price point, I’ll be extremely surprised if either camera can shoot beyond ISO 1600. In the case of URSA, it looks like it’s using the same sensor as the Blackmagic Production Camera, and that means you can’t go over ISO 400 and expect perfect quality. Mind you, this characteristic is not a negative for either camera, because the trade-off is a global shutter. Global shutters reduce the ability of the sensor to collect light, simple as that.
Overall, the differences in specifications are insignificant. You would need stellar lenses on either camera to take full advantage of 4K. This means high end still lenses or cinema lenses. Neither camera is truly Super 35mm. A Super 35mm 3-perf frame is 24.89mm x 14mm, with a crop factor of 1.45. The difference in horizontal resolution is insignificant – nobody on planet earth will see the difference if one were uprezzed or downrezzed to the other.
Let’s look for differences elsewhere!
Comparison of video features
Two cameras with totally different ‘video’ philosophies:
|4K Resolutions||3840 x 2160||4096×2160, 3840 x 2160|
|Frame rates at 4K||23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 30p, 60p||23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 30p, 50p, 59.94p, 60p, 119.88p, 120p|
|Frame rates at 1080p||23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 30p, 50p, 59.94p, 60p, 50i, 59.94i, 60i*||23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 30p, 50p, 59.94p, 60p, 50i, 59.94i|
|Additional resolutions||None||2K (2048×1080) at 23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 30p, 50p, 59.94p, 60p|
|Claimed Dynamic Range||12 stops|
|Internal Recording Formats/Codecs||Lossy CinemaDNG RAW and Apple ProRes 422 (HQ)||Apple ProRes 4444 and 422 (All versions)|
|External Recording Formats/Codecs||Not announced||AJA RAW (uncompressed) and uncompressed RGB/Y’CbCr|
|RAW Data Rate||120 MB/s**||304 MB/s (24p) to 760 MB/s (60p) to 1.5 GB/s !! (120p)|
|Prores Data Rate||880 Mbps for Prores HQ||1,320 Mbps (Prores 4444), 880 Mbps (Prores HQ)|
|Color information||12-bit RAW, 10-bit 4:2:2 in Prores||12-bit RAW, 12-bit 4:4:4 in Prores, 10-bit 4:2:2 in Prores|
|SDI/HDMI||12G-SDI x 1, 3G-SDI x 1, BNC x 1,||3G-SDI x 4, 3G-SDI x 2, 3G-SDI x 1, HDMI x 2|
*What the hell is 60i??**Uncompressed 3840×2160 RAW at 30 fps would have a data rate of about 360 MB/s. The fact that Blackmagic Design claims the codec is ‘visually lossless’ implies that the CinemaDNG compression is indeed lossy. If the Pocket Camera has an approximate compression ration of 2:1, I suspect the URSA will have a compression ratio of about 3:1. This will equate it to the compression setting on a Red Epic (3:1 being the smallest setting for Redcode R3D). The data rate at 3:1 would be about 120 MB/s at 30p. Even if you’re shooting Prores, the data rate is 110 MB/s. This would also place it below the 150 MB/s data rate of the BMCC, so you can use the same kinds of SSDs.
Right, what can we gather?
- The dynamic range is similar, and I suspect one will see very similar image quality from these cameras.
- The CION is definitely ready for all types of productions, including 2K. It has multiple SDI and HDMI ports, but the URSA is no slouch either.
- Regarding codecs, the CION definitely has the better options, with both uncompressed RAW and Prores 4444, which puts it squarely in Arri Alexa territory.
- Finally, the CION can go up to 120 fps in 4K, which is as good as you can ask for in a camera that costs below $10K (Though you need an external recorder to get 120 fps).
Who wins? Even though the URSA is capable of handling a wide variety of productions, the CION can handle a whole lot more.
Comparison of audio features
Here’s a look at the audio features:
|3.5mm TRS headphone jack||1||1|
|Microphone inputs||2 x XLR analog switchable between mic and line levels. Phantom power support.||2 x Balanced XLR analog switchable between mic and line levels. Phantom power support.|
|Audio Specs||LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 24 bit||Not announced|
They might as well be twins. Until an actual test is done, it will be impossible to tell. Draw.
Comparison of miscellaneous features
Of course, there is much more to a camera than its audio and video features. Here are a few important things that affect usage:
|Connectors||USB 2.0 Mini-B||1xLAN RJ45, USB|
|Monitor||10″ 1080p LCD and 2 x 5″ 800×480 touchscreens||1x 320×240 LCD|
|Still image shooting||No||No|
|Dimensions||12.34″ (length) x 6.12″ (width) x 9.63″ (height)||Not announced|
|Weight with card and battery||7.5kg (16.5 lbs)||3.4kg (with top handle) (7.5 lbs)|
^Does the URSA have Thunderbolt? It hasn’t been announced or explicitly stated. Neither is the Ultrascope bundled with the camera.
The URSA has the following advantages:
- 10″ LCD and two more 5″ LCD screens for every kind of monitoring possible. The CION doesn’t even have a decent screen.
- That’s it!
The CION has the following advantages:
- LAN control, just like a CCTV camera.
- Genlock (the URSA might have it too, but it hasn’t been explicitly stated)
- Two LANC controllers
- Half the weight! Those extra monitors on the URSA really make this camera large and heavy.
This last point is pretty important. The Arri Alexa weighs about the same as the URSA. To rig such a camera, you need a whole different system of plates, tripods, jibs, dollies, etc. On the other hand, the CION packs pretty much the same features while being less than half the weight!
If I wanted to add three monitors to the CION via SDI, how much would that add in weight? The Odyssey7Q weighs about 600 grams, so we’re adding another 1.8 to 2 kg to the CION. It would still be lighter than the URSA by 2 kg (4.4 lbs).
So, is this an advantage or a disadvantage? Hard to tell. Just to put things in perspective, the C100 weighs just about 1 kg (2.2 lbs) and the C300 weighs 1.5 kg (3.2 lbs). So, neither the URSA nor the CION is light in DSLR terms.
The URSA is designed to be used by two or three individuals. If any of these monitors are not used, then it is wasted in that space. Finally, we must also consider ergonomics. The CION is built for shoulder mounted work if required, while the URSA needs to be adapted for the same. How many single person shooters would find it convenient to use the URSA? Hardly any, in my opinion.
That leaves larger productions with bigger budgets. In that case, the CION offers far more features and options. I’ve got to give this to the CION. It seems as if it was designed as a practical tool at a terrific price point. The URSA, on the other hand, seems like a bunch of parts thrown together quickly. For whom? That, Blackmagic Design will find out when the camera finally ships.
Which is cheaper to own – media and power included?
The URSA records to CFast 2.0 cards, which are probably the most expensive CF cards out there. E.g., version 1.0 costs about $1,200 for 120 GB, which makes it $10/GB. 2.0 will be more expensive, though neither Sandisk nor Lexar have announced pricing yet.
The CION records on proprietary AJA Pak SSDs. The price for these are $695 (256GB) and $1295 (512GB). This equates to about $2.5/GB – four times cheaper than the URSA. However, the URSA compresses data by about 3:1 in RAW, and in Prores shoots only up to 880 Mbps. Its data needs are smaller. To shoot AJA RAW, one will need an external recorder as well.
Therefore, for media needs, I give this one to the Blackmagic Design URSA, for the following reasons:
- Smaller and more generic cards
- Smaller data rate (though you could record Prores HQ on the CION if you wanted to)
- No need for an external recorder
- No need to buy a dedicated SSD reader (The AJA proprietary dock costs $395), though a CF reader is needed (cheap!)
What about power?
The URSA does not have power requirements specified anywhere. Well, running three monitors does not come cheap. On the other hand, the CION has a teeny-weeny monitor, so its power draw tops out at 47 Watts. This means, on a 90 Wh battery, you could expect about two hours’ worth of power.
Both cameras support third-party batteries, mainly via a 4-pin XLR connector. The CION has an additional 2-pin input connector. Both cameras have output power as well to supply an electronic viewfinder, etc.
I must give this one to the CION. There’s no way the URSA can draw lesser power, and the fact that Blackmagic Design haven’t mentioned the power rating is a cause for worry.
In the long run, as far as media and power combined is concerned, it seems the CION is slightly cheaper, though it comes with a more expensive upfront buying fee. Draw.
Who wins? Here’s a recap:
|Sensor size and ISO||Draw|
I find it maddening that the camera company that revolutionized indie filmmaking and heralded the beginning of the end for DSLRs can’t win in a single category. If both these cameras were kept next to each other, and I had to pick one up and shoot on the go, I’d pick the CION every single time.
What about the extra price? Is the CION $2,500 better? Here are the advantages and disadvantages of the CION against the Arri Alexa:
- The Alexa has 14-stops of dynamic range, and is the best video camera in the world, period.
- The CION shoots 4K at 120 fps. The Alexa tops at 3K.
- The Alexa has a slightly larger sensor and is more in line with Super 35mm.
- The CION is half the weight of the Alexa.
- The CION comes with a two-year warranty.
- The Alexa costs about $80-100K. The CION costs about one-tenth the price.
This is why I said the CION had the Alexa in its sights. Not only does it have practical features, it also has the ergonomics to support every possible production type. If I had a $10K budget, and I wanted a camera that is solid and can handle any type of client, I’d take a good serious look at the CION. If I only had a $6K budget and a bunch of EF lenses, I’d look at the original BMCC or the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K. Heard some updates are coming.