As time passes, society goes through different fads; or popular items, ideas, or activities.  Some of these things It was once suggested this internet thing was a Fad, but  considering you’re reading this I think we’ve past the possibility of it dieing out.  Zombies are an IN thing right now, as are vampires thanks to things like True Blood and The Walking Dead on AMC.  Ninja’s were a big thing for a while, and in some cases still are.  For a while my website here’s top referral from google was the phrase, “Ninja attack on all sides”.  I’d like to think that google had decided that my work was an awesome assault on the readers or viewers senses.  But alas to this day I have no idea why that phrase was referring me for that period of time.  I digress though, as I personally think Nina’s are cool.  They are fast, they are useful, they are shrouded in secrecy and are like the swiss army knife of the olden military world.  The new Ninja-2 from Atomos absolutely lives up to the reputation the name of Ninja brings it; and then some.

(Click to Biggify for a closer look)

That’s it there.  I had no idea what it was when Roberts in Indy called and wanted to know if I wanted to play with it.  It looks like a portable monitor for shooting video on a HDSLR, and while it can do that; like a real ninja it’s so much more.  The largest problem with shooting video on an HDSLR is conversion time.  Anybody will tell you that.  Let me throw some numbers out there as a quick “get everyone up to speed” for the importance of this little black device.  My D4, (or any canon equivalent like the 1Dx) records video using the H.264 compression scheme.  Absolutely beautiful compression when it comes to final delivery, but compression means that you take A LOT of data, and compress it into a bite sized package.  While that’s great for email or internet; it’s difficult for a computer to handle.  For the lesser than tech saavy imagine this.  Every day, you get up and unpack a suitcase that is packed with 500 outfits in order to get dressed, and then repack this 500 outfit suitcase in order to leave your own home.  That’s like using a H.264 compression.  Even Adobe Premier CS5.5 has to unpack the files in order to edit them despite the fact that it edits them “natively”. Even the best editors still convert the file to a more uncompressed (or intermediate) file format in order to edit it because it saves a lot of time and is a lot easier for any computer to do it.  Oh yes; back to my analogy!  Imagine now that you get up, and you have a 500 square foot walk in closet.  All the of the clothes are easy to go through, and you don’t have to do anything but close the door when you’re done.  That’s like using a more uncompressed (or intermediate) file size, like Apple ProRes or AVID’s DNxHD Codec. Using an absolutely uncompressed codec (just having clothes all over the house as opposed to using a suitcase or a closet at all) is sometimes preferred for speed but at the same time you’re looking at an incredibly massive amount of data to store.

(what could be a common sight when trying to work with BIG H.264 files)

OK so that’s the techie backup.  Why is this all important?  The Atomos Ninja 2 converts RAW HDMI Signal from a Nikon D4, D800, Panasonic, Arri, or Red camera and records it DIRECTLY to a hard drive of your choice in ProRes HQ, which for the record is 220 mbits/s.  (Just shy of 30 megabytes per second for your video or roughly 12x larger than directly to flash card in the camera).  It also does this for as long of a hard drive as you have in the Atomos as opposed to the cameras internal limit of 12-30 minutes depending on the model.  Our 120gb Pyro SSDs were capable of a little over an hour of recording at Prores HQ.  Best part?  Plug it into the computer with Fire-wire and edit the files on the fly.  No Conversion time.  Roberts and Patriot memory were  kind enough to loan me a couple of Patriot Memory’s PYRO SSD’s to go with the loaner Atomos, and the whole system was pretty impressive.  Better yet, watch the video to get a better idea of all the pieces and more importantly what the Atomos kit comes with, which seems like just about absolutely everything except for a HDMI to MiniHDMI cable.

Check out the video of what comes in the box, a little bit about the ninja 2 and take a look at how fast our very rough cut of a video was accomplished as I throw something together in real time!

Seriously.  The Atomos kit comes with everything.

Hard drive caddies (any 2.5″ hard drive will work, but I would recommend SSD’s if your camera is moving at all because the last thing you want is to scratch a hard drive you are recording your video to).

Two batteries and a dual battery charger.

Power Adapters.  This is a big one if you travel.  The Atomos 2 comes with an adapter seemingly for every outlet on earth.  This way you don’t need to have or buy a world travel adapter. (NICE!)

USB3/FW800 SATA drive reader.

and a few other cables/extras.

The case should be listed in this stuff though, it’s an ABS Plastic Hard case that you could easily ship through the mail or potentially use to stop a bullet if you were in the habit hanging out with those of less than desirable character.  It comes with everything except for an HDMI cable and hard drives to get you going.  If you shoot a lot of video, this is something that you NEED.  Speaking of need, lets talk mounting.  When you’re going to put this onto your tripod, or onto an arm or railing someplace you’ll need to stick it there somehow.  May I recommend a Manfrotto Dado unit.  They have 3 and 6 arm units, but the aluminum sphere lets you putt he arms anywhere you like, and they are strong enough to hold 3 Elinchrom Style heads to a railing with a Superclamp.  Holding an Atomos, Shotgun Mic, Marantz, and or any number of other things to a tripod at one time should be no problem for it.  I only had to hold the Ninja 2 so I used a Manfrotto 386B Nano Clamp with a Manfrotto Mini Hydrostatic arm.

(Wait there’s a Version 1?)

Some of the more Astute readers may have noticed that I’m reviewing the Ninja 2, but where is the Ninja 1?  Good news as it is that my very good friend Brad loved the Ninja so much he immediately started out on the hunt for his own to go with his D800 (which we used for most of the video anyway).  Brad however is a very smart shopper, and noticed that there was a Ninja 1 before there was a Ninja 2 and that he could get a used Ninja 1 for about 2/3 the price of a Ninja 2.  That being said there are some very good reasons to get a Ninja 2 over a Ninja 1.  Will the Ninja 1 record uncompressed video like the Ninja 2?  Absolutely.  The biggest drawback is that it requires the files to be cut into 4gb chunks.  Imagine doing a long cut (since the external recorder has no time constraints like the camera body itself).  About half way through your video is broken into a second chunk right in the middle of someone doing the perfect take.  How annoying is that?  Of course you can put the cuts back together in Final Cut, Avid, or Premier but wouldn’t you rather have just one file to cut up?  I sure would…That’s the make or break for me actually.  I did use the Ninja 1 while working on this project, and it did perform admirably.  Frankly though if you’re going to buy, Get the Ninja 2.  The extras that it comes with, and the single file capability is absolutely worth the little bit extra money.  It just so happens that also at his price Brad got a 120gb SSD, and a 750gb Mechanical Hard drive to sweeten the deal.  The original owner of his Ninja 1 though made it clear however that he was selling his Ninja 1 in order to get a Ninja 2 of course, and was so up front with that information Brad didn’t even have to ask…  Moral of the story?  Even if you have a Ninja 1.  Get a Ninja 2.

(Click to Biggify)

What can’t this thing do?  Well not a whole lot.  I am not sure I’d recommend it for remote cameras, or a camera that is attached to the side of an airplane.  For things like that you want as minimal of a footprint as possible, and unless you can wire this thing to go inside the plane, car, train, or whatever……. You’re probably stuck using the native compression of your camera.  Really though if you’re doing a big video project with an HDSLR, and you’ve got a newer Canon or Nikon I can’t imagine doing it without the Atomos.  That to be said I use a Canon 5D Mark II regularly for video at the Indianapolis Star and it doesn’t have the RAW HDMI out.  I wish it did, because I’d have made the push to buy one of these things ASAP in order to utilize it for my video work daily.  Of course, you’d never know that I did video work daily by the video I put together with the product description, but that’s another story.  Still trying to find my presence in that aspect….. Point is that the Atomos is a MUST HAVE told if you’re doing HDMI Video.  Call Roberts or go in and check em out.  This is one piece of tech that’s NOT to be missed.

Here is the rough cut with speaking audio overlay for Ultrasun.  It still needs the title/intro up front and the safety info but that’ll all be assembled out of pieces when a few more videos have been made.  We have made roughly 12 of these so far and the Atomos has saved a significant amount of time being able to edit in Prores Natively, Even when using Final Cut X.  It was uploaded in FULL HD (2gb file), but at the time of this writing wasn’t displaying at greater than 480P.  If the HD upload doesn’t take than I will replace it in the next 24 hours).

Something else to be aware of is that when you’re recording to a Ninja any setting changes you  make to the cameras exposure are changed in the Ninja 2, but any changes you make to the picture settings ARE NOT.  So if you set the camera to VIVID color, it’s still going to output the HDMI at neutral, as opposed to when you record it to a memory card, which will put these changes into effect.  Not sure if that’s because the camera makes software changes to the files after shooting, or if the HDMI is really just a Sensor dump out the port to achieve the files approximately 12x larger than you would get than if you recorded them to a CF card.

One last word of caution before I go.  MAKE SURE THAT YOU LEAVE NOTHING UP TO THE CAMERA OR ATOMOS.  Manual settings are best here.  I say this because I shot about 2 hours worth of video at 1080P that ended up having ALL OF MY SHOOTING DATA overlayed on top of the video as if I were copying things between two VCR’s.  This video here is instructions as to how to Shut that off in your D800’s Menu.  Don’t be a fool.  RTFM.  More Soon.