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April 16, 2011 / nicotvandenberg

Atomos Ninja HDSLR Friend or Foe?

Recently I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the new Apple ProRes recorder from ATOMOS, called the “Ninja.” This has been a device I have been waiting to get my hands on for a long time. It was speculated to be the first recorder that would be able to decode the HDMI feed from a HDSLR and capture the full quality output. With the release dates pushed back and back videos, discussing the “Ninja” DSLR compatibility seem to disappear. After my first test I saw exactly why those videos may have been taken down.

Before I bring up the issues of how the DSLR interacted with the ATOMOS Ninja, I wanted to point out the beautiful design qualities that I did enjoy when working with the recorder. For starters, beyond a recorder, the device houses a preview monitor, allowing for live preview and playback. The device was constructed from airplane grade aluminum which made the recorder extremely light weight and durable. Even with the two provided battery packs that attached to the rear of the device didn’t add an overwhelming amount of wight. Second, the Ninja provides two caddie for 2.5″ hard drives. Making this device very versatile. You can run down to your local compute store and pickup almost any 2.5″ hard drive throw it in the caddy and start capturing Apple ProRes 422 (HQ). Next, the Ninjas screen is an interactive touch screen. I am always hesitant and worried when touch screens are incorporated. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how responsive it was. Lastly, the menu design was very simplistic and easily comprehensible. Within a few minutes I could easily navigate through the menus without confusion. I was especially happy with how it organize the media in addition to  naming convention it constructs. The Ninja creates folders based off of scene, shot and take, making your post-production workflow extremely efficient and streamlined. Transferring media from the Ninja is a breeze too. Eject the drive the from the Ninja, then slot the drive into the provided caddy from ATOMOS, via USB 3.0 or FireWire 800.

Now for the sad news. The Ninja, originally speculated to be a HDSLR “friend,” is more of a “foe,” at this moment. The Ninjadoes not decode the HDMI signal, it does recognize the signal however it reads the signal as 1080i 60fps. Which the camera has always output, and wasn’t major news. But it was believed that the ninja would be able to decode the signal to recorder the 1080 24p signal. “What you see is what you get.” I make this statement meaning, whatever menu’s or info setting you have  enabled on your HDSLR (my case Canon 7D) will be recorded on the images as well. Even including the grey safety bars are captured. Even when recording simultaneously on the 7D the red REC light was captured by the Ninja. It is rumored that there is an unofficial firmware update floating around that solves some of these issue, however I have not found or come across it. So I cannot speak to its success or failure.

I know many of us have been eager for a recording device to crack the HDSLR’s but it looks like we will have to wait longer. Keep your eyes and ears open though because this is a really cool device that will not break the bank once they figure out how to accommodate the HDSLRs.


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  1. Dave Shapton / May 11 2011 8:29 am

    Thanks for the great review, and for appreciating the design that went into the Ninja – it makes it all worthwhile when you hear feedback like this.

    We are disappointed as well the the HDMI outputs from most DSLRs contain so much junk. There’s no way to remove this; it’s in the image. So that rules out a lot of cameras for use with the Ninja or any other external recorder. Of course, we get great results with dedicated video cameras like the FS100, and as still cameras and video camcorders move ever closer together, you can only wonder when the manufacturers will stop putting this stuff in the signals they output.

    We have seen footage from some people who crop their images to remove the most offensive viewfinder artifacts, and these can look pretty good, but watch out for the effects of the in-camera scaling, which can produce nasty-looking aliasing on diagonal lines.

    We are pretty optimistic that the next generation of cameras will output clean, usable HDMI; but we’re not holding our breaths. Meanwhile, many serious users have migrated to the new Large-Sensor cameras like the VG10, the FS100 and the AF 101, and are getting great results, albeit with cameras that cost significantly more.

    Dave Shapton
    Atomos EMEA

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