The Atomos Ninja 2 is a brilliant field recorder for videographers or reviewers needing an easy way to record an HDMI source.
The Atomos Ninja 2 is a deceptively simple device for field recording from an HDMI source. On the surface, the Ninja 2 is simply an HDMI recorder that writes directly to 2.5mm disk drives. Learning from their popular first-generation Ninja, the Ninja 2 is smaller, lighter, and has many more requested features that makes it a fully featured tool for filmmakers.
Portable Field Recording Combo
The core function of the Ninja 2 is it’s ability to do raw recordings of HDMI feeds in a variety of different formats, including all flavors of ProRes and many formats of DNxHD raw, for the cleanest and purest feed from the camera you can get outside of an in-camera raw recording. The quality of the files are as you’d expect, and becomes a great time saver eliminating a format conversion step in your video editors.
Where the Ninja 2 shines is from the quality of the device as a whole. The Ninja 2 contains a 800×400 touch screen control panel with 170 degrees of viewing for the nosiest of micro-managing directors. Not just a field recorder, the Ninja 2 can easily act as a field monitor as well, containing Focus Peaking, Zebra, False Color, and Blue Only exposure modes, all of which are easily selectable via the touchscreen. While not the best and clearest LCD screen on the market, it is more than adequate to for its capability and price point and fortunately has an HDMI passthrough to attach a high-quality monitor if desired. At 670g / 23.5oz with onboard batteries, the Ninja 2 easily mounts on top of cameras or onto rigs with minimal weight gain.
The Ninja 2 also contains clear-to-see audio meters for monitoring with indicators for both the stereo HDMI embedded audio as well as the external 3.5mm line input. The Ninja 2 can effectively act as a 4 channel recorder and provides the same feed out via another 3.5mm headphone jack.
Using a pair of Lithium Ion batteries, the Ninja 2 acts as a self contained system capable of running for long periods of time (up to 9 hours on a pair of standard camera batteries) and the dual battery panel allows for hot swapping packs without having to stop your recording. (16 hours on a 750GB disk!)
The ease of use of the Ninja 2 is unparalleled. Simply attach your camera or other HDMI source to the Ninja 2, and its inteligent operating system, AtomOS 4, will detect the format of the input and adjust its mode as appropriate. I found that it had no trouble reading a wide variety of devices, such as laptops, cameras, and iOS devices, but I was never able to get it to work with certain Android devices (mostly centered around the MXL HDMI spec).
New to the Ninja 2 is also a greatly upgraded operating system, the AtomOS 4, which includes new features such as Rolling Timecode starts, smart logging to easily mark favorite clips, and a clever shot counter that auto increments your file names for easy recognition later.
Workflow Simplified, Money Saved
All editors today already have to convert their ingested footage into an editable format such as ProRes or DNxHD, which is a time consuming process. The Ninja records natively in these formats, directly to a hard drive, cutting out this time-consuming transcode process. Using the included USB3/Firewire caddy, you can even edit the footage directly from the drive if you’d like. I would have liked to have seen an optional caddy with Thunderbolt though, as editing via USB3 is hit or miss.
Additionally, one of the greatest limitations to camera systems is recording media. Recording raw from the camera onto compact flash cards is not a cheap proposition, with cheap 64GB cards starting at $100 and going up from there. Alternatively, you could get the Ninja 2 for about $800 and a 5400RPM 1TB drive for an additional $100, giving you nearly 20 hours of continuous recording.
As a comparison, a 64Gig P2 or SxS card runs $600, and quality 64Gig compact flash cards run $200, both of which require constant card shuffling and relatively short recording times. For a fraction of the cost, you can get a Ninja and a hard drive to record for hours on end.
Likewise, you can also revive your older HD cameras that relied on tape workflows to function. If your older HD camera has a clean HDMI output, simply use a Ninja 2 to capture instead of tape (which you can use as a backup), and get an instant tapeless workflow upgrade for your older tape based cameras.
While using the Ninja 2, filmmakers should note that while it is capable of recording 10 bit 4:2:2 video, you have to remember that it’s still up to the camera itself to output a 4:2:2 signal. Generally, most less than professional grade cameras will only output 8 bit 4:2:0, and while the Ninja 2 will record at 10 bit, the data itself is still only 8 bit.
Also, at the time of writing, Canon’s low budget filmmaker darling the 5D Mark 3 still does not have clean HDMI output, a feature slated to release in “April 2013”, post-NAB, much to the disappointment of filmmakers. You wouldn’t be able to use the 5D with a Ninja outside of a field monitor, and there are plenty of better dedicated options in that regard.
On the other hand, Nikon’s high-end DSLRs are capable of clean HDMI output, and the Ninja 2 ends up being an excellent recorder in those situations.
While the Ninja 2 doesn’t boast the best LCD screen on the market, the fact that the LCD functions adequately as a field monitor is a great boon on top of an already stellar product. From the simplified post production workflow to the integrated monitoring feature set, the functionality and usefulness of the Ninja 2 far exceeds the $800 retail pricing and is a high recommendation for any film maker capable of supporting that type of workflow.