An average quality video camera is a high-performance system with the right field monitor/recorder. Just in time for IBC 2012, Australian firm Atomos releases its inexpensive video monitor and recorder. Here’s my Atomos Ninja 2 review.
The Ninja2 is a 10-bit 4:2:2 field monitor/recorder and it’s a huge step forward from the original Ninja. It comes with AtomOS 3, an OS that includes the $995 Ninja 2 features you only see in far more expensive monitor/recorders such as the $9000 Cinedeck EX.
Like the Cinedeck, the Ninja 2 is a programmable unit that can be expanded with new features through firmware. It connects to your camera’s HDMI and has HDMI out so you can connect a second monitor.
It records directly to 2.5-inch disks using Apple’s ProRes codecs. It solves a real problem there.
Consider: Most consumer vid cams shoot in AVCHD format, a format jointly developed by Sony and Panasonic. It compresses video to bit rates as low as 17 Mbit per second. It’s possible to fit two hour-recordings onto a single SDHD card using AVCHD, but it has drawbacks.
The first AVCHD issue is quality. Say you shoot the reporter for your online video show against a backdrop of trees moving in the wind. With AVCHD, it will likely look like the trees are a broccoli mash.
But record it using Final Cut’s native ProRes 422 — or any other high-end codec with a bitrate of 100Mbit/sec or better –and background objects will always look right.
There’s a second reason to work with a ProRes recorder: DNxHD and uncompressed capabilities. Most Non-Linear Editing systems (NLEs) such as Final Cut Pro X and Media Composer do support the direct ingestion of AVCHD files, but there’s always some kind of conversion going on in the background.
That takes time.
While the uncompressed setting is apparently the best bet, it isn’t. This requires huge bandwidth to render without dropping frames.
The best solution for both quality and fast turnaround is a codec that offers light, intelligent compression. There are two candidates to choose from: Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD. Excepting the special needs of pros, most people will find that the two offer the best of both worlds.
Back to Atomos. It worked with Apple on supporting its three ProRes 422 codecs in the Ninja and Samurai video monitors/recorders. This month it will also offer the option to record to DNxHD.
The Ninja 2 came on the market on a limited scale just three weeks ago. Now, for AtomOS 3, Atomos once again worked with Apple to develop “SmartLog,” a feature that lets you mark In and Out points — and also Good and Bad sots right on the Ninja 2 itself. You’re able to do this while recording or while you’re reviewing a shot.
The pre-edits you make are exported in FCPX’s XML format and show up automatically in Final Cut after ingestion. During my two weeks of testing, I found this feature to be quite useful, but I can only guess what it’s like when shooting hundreds of takes a day.
SmartControl was previously designed specifically for use in James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenge. Cameron used 30 Atomos Samurai video monitor/recorders (these come with a professional, more robust SDI-HD interface) all connected to each other. He could trigger start, stop and pause actions for all recorders from any one of them.
In theory, SmartControl found its way into the Ninja 2, but there aren’t any devices yet that send the control commands over HDMI. A working new feature is its automatically triggered timecode. For this, you’ll need a supported camera that sends timecode over HDMI, though.
Another new feature is SmartMonitoring. SmartMonitoring is Atomos-talk for four capabilities that allow you to control the quality of the shots: focus peaking, zebra stripes for exposure control, false color and blue only to check exposure across the whole scene.
It’s obvious these features are actually essential for a semi-pro field monitor. They were sorely lacking from the first Ninja.
Furthermore, AtomOS 3 offers automatic file recovery — accidentally remove the disk from the unit and upon re-insertion the OS will try to rescue your shots.
The Ninja 2 has a cast aluminum body, a continuous power system — you channel power input to any of two batteries — and DTap support. It has a 170-degree viewing angle and a high-res screen. It comes in a sturdy carrying case, complete with batteries and charger, disk cradles, cables (all except HDMI) and a docking station.
The only thing that I wished Atomos would include? A sun visor.
Bottom line: This is a great deal and I recommend it highly.