Atomos Ninja Field Recorder Review

One of the major challenges of videography is the recording limitations. Not only are CF cards expensive and easy to fill, most DLSR cameras won’t record a continuous video file longer than 12 minutes. Tape formats on the other hand, such as Mini DV and HDV, add up when you are purchasing new tapes for every shoot. Hard drive cameras are constricted by codecs and lack the ability to change the drive once it’s full and you don’t have the time at the moment to copy it, or might not have a place to copy it to. Here is where the Ninja strikes! Particularly crucial in DSLR shooting, the Atomos Ninja is the perfect match for nearly every shoot.

One of the great advantages of video on DSLR cameras is the incredibly high resolution. Utilizing a camera with super- high resolution far beyond standard definition NTSC, DSLR cameras are quickly becoming the popular kid on the block. These DSLR cameras however, are not built ergonomically or feature-wise for video. They lack audio inputs, shoulder mounts, and longer record lengths.

Not only does the Ninja work as an excellent LCD monitor, but the Ninja records in full high resolution HD. The Ninja doesn’t stop there; it records for upwards of 11 hours at a time. Simply incredible. Yet the question stands, “Is the Atomos Ninja the mighty production warrior it claims to be?” Let’s take an in-depth look.

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Total Package

The Ninja ships in a neat little waterproof case with all the elements tucked tightly away. Ninja, batteries, charger, hard drive cases (master caddy), and docking station, it’s all there and easy to carry. Two master caddies make it easy to have unlimited storage, switching out hard drives is even quicker than loading a tape. Maybe 500GB is enough. The equivalent in tapes would be about eleven, and with current prices being around $5 per tape… that’s a comparable price of $55 to fill the drive (in tapes), which can be used again and again without the loss of quality.

The docking station makes it simple to get that footage directly into the computer. While you are still shooting on one drive, you can access video files on a second drive you just recorded footage to. Bam! You don’t have to tie up your camera or device to capture the footage, and it all ships in a neat little black case.

Solid Build

The Ninja is surprisingly rugged. Its solid body instills confidence for any user. With few buttons and no dials, this device is sleek. Aside from a few A/V inputs and release buttons, the Ninja’s access is entirely touch screen. The touch screen however does take some getting used to. Unlike a smartphone, the menu is less responsive to touch. This could be a great advantage to avoiding accidental start/stop actions of this device.

The menu overall is simple and intuitive. There is little that isn’t self-explanatory. The only menu issue that may not come intuitively is the hard drive initial setup. When a hard drive is first attached, it must be selected and formatted. This is simple enough once the process is understood. Two battery mounts allows for continuous record. Both batteries are hot swappable, meaning you can use one while charging the other and then switch without interrupting the recording.


Ninja Skills

Quality is key. Capturing that quality is imperative. Even the best cinematography skills might not look as fine if viewed on a VHS system. That’s where the Ninja comes in. The Ninja records the uncompressed HDMI signal that comes out of your camera. When the light travels through the lens it is interpreted by the sensor and then is either compressed for recording within the camera, or passed through the HDMI cable. Our tests show impressive quality. Having a clean HDMI output is necessary, however.

MIA

There are a few small crucial items that don’t come with the Ninja. An HDMI cable is necessary to connect the Ninja to the camera; however the Ninja doesn’t come with one. Why? There are three different types of HDMI depending on your source type. Standard HDMI, mini HDMI, and micro HDMI. Most DSLR cameras and other camcorders have type C mini HDMI ports. Type D micro HDMI is used in small devices such as smartphones. Also be aware, the Ninja does not come with a hard drive.

Lastly, the Atomos Ninja has standard thread holes on top and bottom so it may be mounted to any standard mounting accessory. Once again, be aware this device will not mount to the camera unless you purchase accessories to do so, such as a hot shoe adapter mount. The MSRP price does not include cables, storage media, or mounting accessories. Don’t be caught with any of these extras missing in action.

Tech Specs

Dimensions:4.53″ W x 3.43″ H x 1.61″ D (without batteries)

Operating Power: Approx. 6.8W (screen on), Approx. 6.3W (screen off)

Color TFT Touch Screen: 4.3″ diagonal, 480×270, 16:9 Native / 4:3 Letterbox

Video Input: HDMI Uncompressed

Supported Input Formats: HD (1080i 59.94, 1080i 50, 1080p 25, 1080p 24, 1080p 23.98, 720p 59.94, 720p 50) SD (480i, 576i)

Recording Time (based on 500GB HDD Master Caddy): ProRes HQ – 5 hours, ProRes 422 – 7.5 hours, ProRes LT – 11 hours

Line In: 2-channel line level audio with analog gain adjustment

Headphone: 2-channel 0.5W balanced or line level output

LANC: In and Out for integration with camera

LANC Accessories: LANC Controller feature, LANC Loop feature

Ninja Master Caddy Specifications

Dimensions:2.95″ W x 4.13″ H x .47″ D

Supported Storage: 2.5″ Hard Disk Drive minimum 5.4K RPM, 2.5″ Solid State Drive (maximum height – .37″)

Ninja Compatibility

Master Caddy Dock connects via FireWire 800, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and 3GB eSATA

Master Caddy Dock supports all MacBook, MacBook Pro, iMac and Mac Pro modes and PCs with USB 2.0, USB 3.0 or eSATA compatibility

Strengths

  • Monitor and recording in one
  • Continuous battery
  • High resolutions

Weaknesses

  • Touch Screen has lag

Summary

Impressive digital recording warrior! The Atomos Ninja is an excellent addition to any camera rig and is a cost-effective means of media recording. The simple math of tape cost should interest anyone shooting on tapes to make the switch.

ATOMOS Global Pty. Ltd.

atomos.com

Price: $995

Luke Scherba is a video producer and production studio owner.trainer.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

1 COMMENT

  1. Although the specs are great and this is a plus, the issue comes from the cameras capability to produce the results needed. The Canon 5D has issues big time. Moire, sensor heat, bad audio, soft resolution due to reading only 1/10 of the 21Mpx, H264 codec. You can’t hook up a hdmi and get great stuff on the 5D – doesn’t work. But on the other hand, hook it up to a Sony FS100 for instance and YES, the info is recorded because the camera has a sensor designed expressly for stunning film reproduction – waaay ahead of the 5D.

    I wished the Canon 5d could do what the FS100 CAN do. Like trying to put a square peg in a round hole, no matter what you have recording it, you will still get a square peg in a round hole look on this recorder. Unless someone has figured out a hack to make the Canon 5D drop dead gorgeous off the sensor and output it to HDMI without the background information on the screen and good audio. Do that and you will get rich!

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