Head to Head: Blackmagic Design URSA vs the AJA CION – Which one’s better?

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.

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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.


The basics

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
Maximum Resolution 3840×2160 4096×2160
ISO Range Not announced Not announced
Shutter Global Global

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
Audio levels Yes Yes

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
Thunderbolt? No^ Yes
Genlock? Unclear Yes
Monitor 10″ 1080p LCD and 2 x 5″ 800×480 touchscreens 1x 320×240 LCD
LANC inputs 1xLANC 2xLANC
Weather-sealing Not announced
Viewfinder No No
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
Video CION
Audio Draw
Features CION
Price 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.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free swipe file on how to shoot night scenes well (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

20 replies on “Head to Head: Blackmagic Design URSA vs the AJA CION – Which one’s better?”

  1. This is the only article mentioning the Cion Raw is 12bit.
    Sample files recorded via Thunderbolt show as 16 bit in Lightroom and Resolve.
    Atomos and Convergent Design both bailed on recording Cion Raw on Shogun and 7Q devices.
    Canon, Sony and Panasonic all use 10 or 12 bit Raw, and get support, so the assumption now is, 16 bit was too much for the external recorders to handle.
    The user group for the Cion is located at –

  2. Got the EF mount with my AJA Cion (yes, they do make one for $35.00) It took about three minutes to take the PL mount off and put the EF mount on(not such a headache). For what it is, the AJA CIon is an amazing camera and you can make a great film with it. The URSA is a good camera too, but the shape an balance of the AJA Cion is much more conducive for on the shoulder use. Especially for those who like to shoot cinema verite style.

  3. Now things have changed a lot,Ursa from 4k to 4.6k sensor(only in Ursa mini now,would be a future upgrade for Ursa,I hope), the price for cion slashed to 4995USD or lower,so what is ur final verdict on both these cameras now-dr asok,India

    1. The CION is exceptional value, and is the only camera in this price range that can shoot 4K at 120fps. If you don’t need that, the URSA 4.6K is obviously the better option.

  4. Info that’s missing,…
    The launch price of the Cion is listed. Current list price is $4995. (Without taxes)

    Cion, Ursa4K and BMPC4K all use the same sensor. If appears to be mounted 180 degrees rotated in the Cion.
    Both manufacturers claim 12 stops range. Some tests suggest it’s 8 in the real world.

    Cion is not rated in ISO, but EI, and they’re different – one user test suggests the base 320EI is roughly equivalent to 120ISO.

    The top handle, rails kit, quick-release plates, lanc start-stop button and viewfinder mount are included with the Cion. IIRC, so is the Pak Dock.

    MFT make multiple mounts for the Cion for Nikon, Canon EF and B4 lenses.
    (There is 1 only E-mount, and 1 only M4/3-mount for the Cion, and they are not for sale, and they wear my K-to-E and K-to-M4/3 adapters.)

  5. Great review, just made my day in deciding which one I want to buy. Now I know better. Great work.

  6. Spot on. Great summary. Totally agree with your thoughts on the Cion. It’s still out of my budget to buy, but I’d hire it.

  7. I don’t think the URSA is a good choice for reality TV… It’s a steal for the money and has some great features, but it’s not good in low light (400iso) and is fairly big and heavy.  A better choice would be the Canon C300 or maybe C100, tiny and unobtrusive, amazing in low light, etc.  50Mb/s is probably fine for reality or use an external recorder.  Another good choice would be the AJA Cion, much lighter and better balanced than the URSA and only $3k more.  And it’s too early to tell if the URSA (or Cion) has comparable quality to the Alexa even under ideal conditions… The Alexa has a beautiful roll-off in the highlights and BM cameras are known for a bit of noise in the shadows.  Two things that aren’t obvious from the specs.

    I neglected to mention another good feature of the URSA, you can pick up a B-camera that matches perfectly for next to nothing ($3k for the Black Magic Production Camera).  Plus the great price, free monitor, dual format recording (I think), internal 4K Raw recording, user-swappable mounts/chips, and free DaVinci Resolve (the $1k version).  It is an amazing deal if you don’t mind the weight/size, poor low-light performance, and lack of ProRes 4:4:4:4.

  8. Some random useful information:  I spoke with reps from both companies
    at NAB… Black Magic is rating the camera at 400 iso, AJA is rating
    theirs at 200 currently but expects it to be 800 on release.  If you add an Atomos Shogun 4K recorder/monitor, which won’t be shipping until August or September, that’s another $2k to the price of the Cion.  I believe the
    recording media for the Shogun is proprietary SSDs, but they claim to
    have a CFast adapter in the works.  So for $11K you get the full
    potential of the Cion (plus whatever 3rd party mounts might cost). 
    Expect the BM mounts to be more expensive because the chip is also in
    the mount block.  That’s a good thing in some ways (back focus,
    upgradeability).  Dynamic range is supposed to be identical for the two, about 12 stops.

  9. Excelent post as usual https://plus.google.com/116840542711977892147?rel=authorMy thoughts are that 2 or 3 o 11 cameras may well give a lot of production value for a TV Series Production, the price point of the URSA makes me think that they are trying to get that kind of market, of course an Alexa at nearly 60K will give as you well said the best video, but for that amount of money a TV Producer might buy 11 ¡¡¡ URSAS with nearly the same quality, the savings on time and the added value that these might bring is worth considering for a lot of productions, vg: reality shows, TOP Gear like shows etc.

  10. matty1 The “4K sensor” that your talking about is considerably smaller than those found in most consumer DSLRs since 2008. I often use a EF mount Zeiss 55 otus which is much sharper than any PL mount lens on the market.

  11. matty1 Sareesh Sudhakaran We’re told that there *might* be a third party mount, but it is a lot to take on faith. EF glass can certainly work well with 4k sensors since much new glass is being designed to do just this. There is a shoe range of affordable EF mount cine lenses from Samyang, and even Canon themselves are starting to make EF mount cine glass. Don’t forget that most DSLR lenses are designed to handle far higher resolutions than 4k.

  12. Sareesh Sudhakaran SimonWyndham  The PL mount is removable and there will likely be 3rd parties making other mounts (EF). Whether EF glass can make best use of a 4K sensor and the CION in general is another matter

  13. SimonWyndham Agreed! It would be a shame if the EF mount version isn’t announced soon. I hope for AJA’s sake that they aren’t that stupid…or ignorant.
    If they do announce an EF version – I’ll dump my C300 in ten seconds flat.

  14. We have been using Canon DSLRs for a long time waiting for the right camera to come along to upgrade to. The Cion seems great but the PL mount makes this camera not quite attainable for us yet. Otherwise, we would buy several.

  15. A couple of other things that the Cion has over the URSA is an IR cut filter and an OLPF filter built in. But I think that AJA have made a big mistake by not offering an EF mount out of the box. This cuts out most of the early adopter market who may be upgrading from DSLRs or even FS700’s. AJA cannot expect people who are used to using Alexa’s or who may have gone for an Amira to give up the 14 stops of range those cameras offer for the cheaper Cion.

    The main user base for the Cion would be at the lower end, no matter who AJA are aiming the camera at, and that PL mount pretty much ruins the whole deal.

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