Yet another reason why the Atomos Samurai is one of the best things to hit the video market since DVCProHD: If you have an all-day video job, you don’t have to worry about media, and you don’t have to use tape. A cheap 750GB 2.5″ HDD means I can bypass in-camera compression and record from uncompressed HD-SDI for up to 15-hrs straight in 720/30p if I need to. Hooray for cheap media!
I love to support local filmmakers, especially students and those just starting out on their independent film careers. Last night, Branden, a friend and local film student, needed some help with a camera yesterday to finish shooting some scenes for his current film project, so I brought over my Samurai and AF100 for he and his crew to use. While I was there, I snapped a few pics for fun.
The very talented Lawrence Mercado (http://notbotfx.com) was on hand to make up the lead actress to look like she’d been abused, and I must say Lawrence outdid himself. What an amazing job! The best part of the story is that she had to walk into a Walmart after the shoot, looking like that, because she needed to get makeup remover. Unfortunately, none of us had a GoPro to stick on her for that so we could record people’s reactions!
I’ve decided that since there is so much cool new stuff to see at NAB, the best way to get the most bang for my buck on coverage is to make highlight reels of my favorite attractions. So that’s what I’m doing. Here is the first highlight reel, featuring products like the Blackmagic 4K Production Camera, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, the Atomos Samurai Blade ProRes & DNxHD field recorder, and the new Cooke 2X Anamorphic Prime Lens.
The next highlight reel will feature the Digital Bolex, the new MoVI camera stabilizer, and more! I’m heading down to the show floor as soon as I finish typing this coming exclamation point!
As some of you may already know, I started working on a new feature film called “Champion,” as Dir. of Photography/Cinematographer. It stars Dora Madison Burge (Friday Night Lights), Cody Linley (Hannah Montana), and… wait for it… Lance Henriksen (every awesome movie, ever). I’ll cut to the chase: I’m approaching 40, and had no idea who Dora or Cody were before they signed up for this film (but it turns out they’re awesome). But Lance Henriksen?! How effing sweet is it that I get to have one of my all-time favorite actors in front of my lens? I never would have thought I’d get this opportunity. Strap in, because I’m going to gush about this for a while.
Like many people who are about my age, I first saw Lance in James Cameron’s “The Terminator” and again in “Aliens” in 1986, as the
android synthetic human called Bishop. We all know how bad-ass the knife scene in that film was, and so far, everyone on set has been able to keep their cool and not ask him to do it. No-one wants to be “that guy.” He really did do it, BTW, and he said that Bill Paxton didn’t know about it beforehand; Paxton’s surprised expression while Lance was stabbing the knife between his fingers was authentic.
Since “Aliens,” Lance has been one of my favorites. His roles are always just so cool. But what I really love about working with him is the fact that Lance Henriksen the man is simply a dream to work with. He’s incredibly nice, laid-back, professional, and his experience really adds to the production. All of us on the crew of “Champion” will be better filmmakers after working with him. During breaks on set, Lance can often be found “holding court” as the crew gathers around him to hear his stories.
Now, on to the tech: We’re shooting “Champion” on two Panasonic AF100 cameras capturing footage to Atomos Samurai recorders. Day One was a test of our patience, however, when one of our Samurais kept spontaneously turning itself off. After a firmware update failed to fix the problem, it was determined by the Atomos LA office that it was a faulty unit. They overnighted a new one to us the next day. I call that some pretty sweet customer service. Since then, both units have been flawless. Using the Samurai in the field is a dream. I wish they had brighter screens, though.
Both of our Samurais are running AtomOS 3, which adds some awesome and much-needed features to the unit, including peaking, zebras, false color, and the ability to not only mark clip ins and outs during playback, but also export XML so you can then open your rough cut in Final Cut Pro. Talk about a time saver: you can do your rough edit in the car on the way back from the set! I still wish the screen on the Samurai was brighter, but I can live with it, since I’m using my Cineroid most of the time anyway.
Since our MacBook Pros do not have eSATA ports, one piece of new technology that has made life easier on set is the new LaCie Thunderbolt to eSATA hub, which makes things flow much faster and allows us to save a lot of money in the storage budget. Footage can be backed up on multiple eSATA drives by our dailies editor without wasting any time. Before, we had to use USB 2.0 or FireWire docks, which was excruciating, considering we’re shooting about 100GB of ProRes footage per day. Yay for Thunderbolt. I just wish the Thunderbolt architecture would mature faster with third party suppliers. There aren’t many Thunderbolt products out there, which really confuses me, considering how fast it is.
I’ve been modifying my Panasonic AF100 to work with ENG lenses, and it’s finally taking shape. The only thing I have left to install is a Y-cable that will power the lens as well as connect to the camera’s LANC port in order to activate REC start/stop from the lens. Abel Cine makes such a cable, but it’s 260.00, which is considerably more than I was hoping to pay. However, I don’t think anyone else is making it, so it looks like I’m going to have to fork over the cash to them.
The latest addition to the kit is a Cineroid Metal HD-SDI electronic viewfinder, mounted on a NOGA articulated arm. The Cineroid arrived a couple of days ago from B&H and it really makes all the difference regarding usability of this rig in the field. Prior to getting the Cineroid, I pretty much had to mount the camera on a tripod to shoot anything. Moving the entire rig back on my shoulder and using the EVF makes all the difference, obviously. When I mounted the Cineroid, I moved the Atomos Samurai recorder from the front-left rail to the right-rear since I no longer needed to use it as a monitor when shooting. In its new position, it can serve as a secondary monitor for the director, and also provides some needed counter weight to the right side of the rig, since the EVF made everything shift left a bit. The Samurai is very reliable, and the battery life averages ten hours on a full charge, so I’m not too worried about not being able to see it while shooting hand-held footage. I know that if the camera is rolling, the Samurai is rolling. It tucks in nicely next to the Anton Bauer battery. You may recognize the AJA accessory plate and rail mount that the battery is bolted to; it used to hold my AJA Ki Pro Mini, which I ditched in favor of the Samurai. BTW, if anyone wants one, I’m selling a Ki Pro Mini…
To mount the ENG style Fujinon lens, I ordered an adapter from eBay user ciecio7. I highly recommend his adapters, as they seem to be very well built. In fact, this B4-M4/3 adapter is the highest quality I’ve yet seen from any of the adapters I’ve ordered for my AF100; I wish I’d found him earlier. Ciecio7 offers two flavors of this adapter; one with and one without the tripod collar. I ordered the one WITH the tripod collar, as I knew I was going to have to fashion some sort of lens support, since the camera’s lens mount is only rated at four pounds. Otherwise, it’s a sure bet I’d rip the mount right out the first time I used it in the field. I initially feared that it was going to be costly to get a really good lens support that would secure the lens in all directions so I could use the ENG grip, but as it turned out, the threaded 3/8″ hole in the mount adapter’s tripod collar (it also has a 1/4-20 hole) aligned perfectly with a threaded 3/8″ hole in the Redrock Micro M2 baseplate, so all I had to do was get a threaded stud from Home Depot and hacksaw it to 2.75″. That was $1.75 well-spent.
I really, really love having a proper ENG lens to use on the AF100. It really takes this camera from being quirky and odd to being a serious camera for pro video work. When Panasonic released the AF100, I was elated at the thought of what was basically a large-format HPX170 (although without my beloved P2 media), but then I was immediately puzzled when they kept demo-ing the camera with those horrible, slow, M4/3 stills lenses. What?! No servo lens? Unbelievable. So, for a long time, I used my Canon EF 16-35/2.8 L zoom with the Redrock Micro Live Lens adapter as my go-to run and gun lens, and it worked great. Not much reach, but it had the wide-to-medium area covered fairly well, and it was just fast enough to use in low light. It sucked not having a servo zoom though. With this ENG setup, now I have the best of both worlds. Granted, with all of the kit, it makes the AF100 about the same size as my HPX2000, but it’s still lighter.
So, what about image quality? ENG lenses are designed to be used on three-chip cameras, which means the glass projects onto a prism that separates the image into red, green and blue paths. There are two methods of adapting your ENG lens to a Micro 4/3 camera: the “cheap” way, which is to use a lens with a built-in 2X extender that will double the size of the image circle to cover M4/3, or the “proper” way, which is to use Abel Cine’s HDX2 adapter, which not only doubles the size of the image circle but also optically corrects for the three-chip projection so you don’t get color fringing in your highlights. Considering that, it seems to be a no-brainer on which method you would choose, until you consider cost. I got my B4-M43 adapter from ciecio7 for 240.00. That’s the entire cost of the “cheap” method. The “proper’ method is going to belt you for $5500.00 for the relay lens plus the cost of a PL adapter, because – btw – the HDX2 relay lens only comes in PL mount. SO, including the cost of PL/rails support for your AF100, we’re looking at a total cost of $7000.00 to be “proper” if you go with the HotRod-esque option. Ciecio7 also makes a PL-M43 adapter if you already have rails that would work, like I did.
I figured from the start that I was just going to put up with a little color fringing in my highlights. But then, I had a pleasant surprise. The Fujinon 10×4.8* is a really high quality piece of glass, and also considering that it’s so wide, fringing is very minimal. In fact, I don’t notice it at all unless my highlights are totally blown out, and even then, not all the time. In short, the picture looks pretty damned good. I’m sure the “proper” method is better, but I’m not positive that it’s $7000-better. Note that if you use the cheap method, your ENG lens MUST have a built-in 2X extender. With the HDX2, your lens does not need an extender, as the HDX2 doubles the size of the lens’ image circle.
* A note about the Fujinon 10×4.8 ENG SD lens: Some variants of it have a 1.7X extender and NOT a 2X extender. These will NOT WORK. You must have a 2X extender to expand the image circle to 22mm in order to cover the Micro 4/3 sensor.
I had the chance to interview Atomos CEO Jeromy Young at NAB, and he told us some very cool news about some upcoming products and updates, including the new Ninja 2 and the AtomOS 3.0 update, which will be released on April 30, free for Ninja 2 and Samurai users. Original Ninja customers will not be able to apply the upgrade (I’m betting due to hardware limitations), but Jeromy says that an economical upgrade path will be provided for original Ninja customers. Check out the video below!
My Atomos Samurai arrived yesterday, and after trekking to AllTex Electronics to pick up an SSD drive, I finally had a chance to try out the little recorder that I’ve had my eye on since I first saw it behind glass at NAB in 2010. The only SSD that AllTex had in stock that was fast enough, and not insanely expensive, was the 90GB Corsair Force SATA 3. It was not on the Atomos approved list of drives, but I figured with a peak write rate of around 500MB/sec it was plenty fast to record ProRes422 (HQ), which puts data down at around 220MB/sec, give-or-take. It was strange, though, that there was absolutely no information in the Corsair tech specs at the store about the drive’s sustained write rate. I decided to take a gamble on it, and sure enough, it seems to work just fine. After recording a single fifty-five-minute take in ProRes422 (HQ), I didn’t get a single glitch from the drive.
If I had to choose one word to summarize my unboxing experience of the Atomos Samurai, it would be, “impressive.” The unit comes in its own custom hard case, similar to a Pelican, with custom foam inserts and an included shoulder strap. In this case is everything you need to get started using your Samurai, including the recorder, SSD dock, batteries (2), charger, USB cable, USB bus power cable for the dock, and a FW800 cable. An especially-appreciated inclusion were two (2) BNC to Mini BNC adapter cables for your camera’s SDI feed, so that’s one less thing you would have to order separately, as you would with other recorders on the market. In fact, the ONLY two things you have to supply separately of what is in the Samurai’s case is the SDI cable that leads from your camera, and the hard drives to record to.
Immediately after opening the case, it was obvious how nice the build quality is. The Samurai unit and the dock are both very well put-together, and I immediately fell in love with the fact that the dock is bus-powered; you don’t have to plug it into shore power, and this is so incredibly handy for field work. I was also impressed with how well the SSD fit snugly into the drive caddy. Tolerances through the system seem to be engineered very precisely; seams are nice and even, components fit together tightly, and the drive caddy fits into the Samurai with a nice snug click that inspires confidence.
There were some other features about the package that I thought were just plain cool right out of the gate. The battery charger not only has two slots for batteries, but it also charges those two batteries simultaneously, which most dual chargers do not do. Also, Atomos has included four different standards of plug adapters for the charger, so if you’re traveling, you don’t have to worry about powering your Samurai… Just the rest of your gear, which likely did not include this amenity at time of purchase. Yet another nice touch.
I didn’t think I was going to have anything to shoot that first night after getting the Samurai, but as luck would have it, my friend, comedian Jay Whitecotton called, and had something to shoot. We’re working on a documentary together, and it turned out that night was opportune to shoot something. I recorded a single take that was fifty-five minutes long in Apple ProRes422 (HQ). The file size was about 60GB. At the end of the night, the power meter on the Samurai showed that I had used less than 1/4 of one battery. Good power consumption? Check.
Next: Using the Samurai
The more I use my AJA Ki Pro Mini, the more annoyed I get with it. It doesn’t do anything wrong, per se, or even anything poorly, but its workflow requires a little too much effort for my tastes.
For instance, I really wish it recorded to SSD instead of Compact Flash. I would be happy with one SSD port. But, the thing that really bothers me is how it is so easy to lose recorded clips if you lose power to the unit or if the CF card gets pulled before it has been unmounted. Essentially, the cards mount just like a Mac volume, and if they get yanked without first unmounting them by hitting the SLOT button, then you will assuredly lose at least the last two or three clips that were written to the card. This means that you have to unmount and remount the card after every take if you want to make sure you never lose a file. Too much trouble on a busy set. Plus, someone will inevitably pull power to the unit on occasion, which also really hoses it up.
I think I’m going to order an Atomos Samurai when they start shipping this summer. I glanced at it and talked to the dev team at NAB earlier this year, and the little box shows great promise indeed. I can’t wait to get my hands on one. Has anyone used the Atomos Ninja with an AF100 with good results? How do you handle recording 24p thru the HDMI port? Do you have to do a pulldown in post, and if so, do you see motion jutter? Please let me know, and if you can, send a link to some clips. I wonder if the Ninja would be a good substitute until the Samurai comes out.