Atomos Ninja Blade case study: How to Buy Equipment

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Buying any piece of equipment is a big deal. It is easy to get lost in the sea of new equipment and what you feel you might need on your next shoot. So using the Atomos Ninja Blade as a case study, here are the things I am always looking for when buying new gear:

– Do I need it on a majority of my jobs?
– Can I use it for more than one thing (not always possible but nice when it happens)?
– Does it have the flexibility to work with different cameras/ workflows?

Today I am using the Atomos Ninja Blade as my case study for evaluating a piece of equipment you might be looking at to buy.

Atomos Ninja Blade

Will I use the Atomos Ninja Blade on a majority of my jobs?

Do you need an external recorder for a majority of your jobs? In my case, I don’t need an external recorder for a majority of my jobs. Some clients don’t want the larger Prores files and others are not equipped to deal with SSD drives in their workflow.

With the above said, the number of jobs I am getting requests for the external recorders are growing. So I do take that into consideration. So on this particular point I am calling it even.

Ninja-Blade-On_Camera

Can I use the Ninja Blade for more than just an external recorder?

Can you use an Atomos recorder for anything else? Yes. I think just referring to the devices as external recorders is short sighted. I view the Ninja Blade unit as follows:

– External recorder
– Real time backup
– External monitor
– Color accuracy and waveform device

I start with the use as an external recorder. That is nice. If you are shooting with a DSLR, you are generally recording to a single CF or SD card. This means if there are any issues with the card then you are just out of luck.

5D3_CF_SD
When I shoot the C300 I use the dual CF slots to record to two cards at the same time to make sure I have a real time backup.

C300_Dual_CF

The Atomos Ninja Blade allows you to record externally while at the same time recording directly to your camera's internal cards as abackup. If something happens with your Atomos device then you still have the video files on the internal camera cards.

Just note you do lose the Prores and higher bit rate recordings and are back dealing with whatever video files are created by the camera directly. I’ll take that over lost footage any day.

For most of my jobs, I use an external monitor. I do like my 7” monitors but for most applications a 5” monitor is more than fine for many of my needs. So if you are on a budget and buying a monitor, why not buy an external recorder and give yourself added features to your monitor that you can make more money with. Sounds good to me.

dp7pro-oled-smartkey-14

Color accuracy in an external monitor is critical. One of the biggest problems on set is when people are looking at monitors and they are not properly balanced. The blacks may be crushed too much or the saturation might be set too high. Until recently it was very difficult to color calibrate an external monitor (there have been great tools to calibrate your laptop or studio monitors but not field monitors).

Datacolor has a new device that allows you to color calibrate your stand alone external monitors. If you choose to buy an Atomos device they are currently the only manufacturer to be integrated for optimizing the color calibration of the devices. This means an easier time and a more accurate end result than some other leading monitors.

spyder_blade_front

Additionally the Atomos has built in signal test tools. A full waveform monitor, RGB parade display, luma overlay, vectorscope with zoomand test pattern gererator for signal calibration. Also, you get focus peaking with multiple levels and colors for ease of use, false color in two modes, zebra 0-100% fully adjustable and blue-only for that quick exposure check! These are essential tools to help you capture the perfect images everytime.

VectorScope

Finally, my test of does the device have the flexibility to work with a multitude of cameras? In the case of the Ninja Blade (or the older Ninja 2) to some extent it does meet my requirement. Any camera that has an HDMI out signal can be used with these devices. So in that case it passes.

Let me just note however, many of my jobs are now swinging between the DSLR world and with cameras that have SD-SDI video outputs. That means if I buy a device that is HDMI only (the Atomos Ninja Blade and the Ninja 2 both are HDMI only units), then I need to buy an SD-SDI unit (Atomos Samurai Blade) to be able to useon both types of sets. This is an extra cost I would prefer not to incure. If you too work on both HDMI and SDI sets then consider investing in their soon to be released Atomos Shogun.

Atomos_Shogun

That will save you a couple hundred bucks over buying two units and the Atomos Shogun will have a 7” screen, be true 1920×1080 display and will be 4K compatible.

I hope looking at the Atomos Ninja Blade has helped you think more about your gear and how you can extend its life to save you $ long term.

Happy shopping!

(cover photo credit: snap from Atomos)

Barry Andersson

Barry Andersson is an award-winning director and cinematographer. Mr Andersson takes his real world experiences and shares those images and lessons with everyone from the US Marine Corp combat camera teams, many of the leading teams of the four major sports leagues, leading universities around the US as well as leading productions looking to take advantage of the latest technology.

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