I checked out a lot of cool new stuff at NAB 2011; however, one of the coolest pieces of tech that I got up close with was the new Atomos Ninja HDMI-based recorder. In short, the Atomos Ninja captures the uncompressed stream from your camera’s HDMI output. The stream is captured as Apple ProRes HQ in a much higher quality than what goes through your camera’s compression onto the CF or SD card.
That said, you need a camera that sends an uncompressed full-res signal out of the HDMI port. As you may know, most DSLRs don’t do this. In fact, the Canon 5D Mark II, along with other Canon models, actually sends out a less-than-HD signal once you hit the record button.
The Panasonic GH2, however, sends out a clean HDMI signal. The down side is that the GH2 wraps the 24p footage into a 60p frame rate as it goes out. This means you have to strip the 3:2 pulldown off in post. Fortunately, some industrious GH2 fans have figured out how to automate this process and get some really nice high quality footage out of an inexpensive camera. For those GH2 users interested in learning more, a bit of Googling will lead to the available options.
Another great benefit of the Atomos Ninja is the fact that it sports a live view 4.3-inch monitor. You can mount it on top of your camera’s hotshoe with an appropriate adapter and use it as an all-purpose storage device and external monitor. The resolution of the display isn’t really good enough to use for reliably pulling focus (it’s a 480 x 270 resolution); however, it will work for a lot of run and gun users in a pinch.
Best of all is the price point. It’s $995 and it includes everything you need to start shooting except for the hard drive. You can put SSD or spinning disk hard drives in it, which you can pick up from the likes of B&H Photo and Amazon for less than the price of a decent memory card. You can find several configurations of the Atomos Ninja at B&H Photo.
For those using higher-end camcorders, Atomos makes the Samurai, which offers HD-SDI input and a 5-inch, 800 x 480 resolution display. The Samurai is prices at $1495 and comes with everything you need to shoot (except for the 2.5″ drives). The Samurai should launch this Summer.
The folks who are going to see the biggest immediate benefit to devices like the Atomos Ninja are those recording on a proper pro-level camcorder like the Pansonic AF100, Sony NEX-FS100 or other models with clean HDMI-out. For those of use using HDSLRs, we really have to wait and see what Canon and the other players deliver in the next round of HDSLR releases to know whether we are going to be able to take advantage of something like the Ninja. If Canon offers clean HDMI-output on the 5D Mark III, the Atomos Ninja could become a must-have storage solution.
You can learn more about the Ninja and Samurai at the Atomos website.