Atomos Ninja Flame and Shogun Flame: High brightness 4K monitor/recorders for the HDR generation

It’s a common enough scenario – if you’re shooting outside in bright sunlight it can be a struggle to make out the image on even the best on-camera monitors. And if you can’t see what you’re shooting then you’re obviously at risk of missing focus or getting your exposure wrong. Not ideal.

But Atomos might be about to change all that with their next generation of external 4K recorders. The Flame series builds on the strengths of the original Shogun and Ninja Assassin and adds several significant improvements. The new models are the Ninja Flame (with HDMI) and the Shogun Flame (with HDMI and SDI).

Ninja Flame
Ninja Flame

The headline feature is the new high brightness High Dynamic Range capable (HDR) 10-bit display. It has a 1500-nit brightness screen that is bright enough to be used in daylight – addressing one of the major usability issues that hinders every other external recorder I’ve used. It is also capable of taking a Log image and displaying it in HDR so you can see a vivid image that’s easy to focus.

Shogun Flame
Shogun Flame

Both monitors feature a calibrated 7” 1920×1200 325ppi IPS panel with 10-bit colour accuracy. They are capable of resolving 1.07 billion colours compared to the 16.7 million colours of traditional 8-bit panels. The majority of TV displays and field monitors are only 8-bit, so even if you’re recording a 10-bit image you can’t see those extra gradations of colour when it comes to displaying them. There are of course professional displays and 4K/5K iMac screens that are 10-bit, but not everyone has access to these.

Both monitor/recorders are also equipped with what Atomos are calling the AtomHDR engine. By utilising the power of the 1500nit panel in tandem with this new processing engine, you are now able to resolve the brightness detail and colour accuracy of 10-bit HDR images. This means that you can view a HDR image when you are recording, and replicate it in a post work flow if you are required to deliver or master in HDR.

Getting your head around HDR can be a little confusing, but I’ll explain more about it further down in the article. For now let’s focus on what else is new in the Flame series.

Shogun Flame
Shogun Flame

As I mentioned earlier the new display is 1500-nit. To put this in perspective the Atomos Shogun and Assassin are only 400-nit. The only other 7” field monitor I know of that has a brightness of 1500-nit is the SmallHD DP7-Pro High Bright, but that only has an 8-bit 1280×800 resolution screen. You can use the new display in two ways: if you have scenes that call for HDR, activate the AtomHDR mode. If you don’t, switch to High Bright mode for outdoor monitoring without needing a sun hood. The thing to be aware of is that the image will look different depending on which mode you are in and you will probably still need to use a sunhood in HDR mode. Newsshooter has seen the new screen and we were very impressed by what we saw.

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One of the main complaints that users had about the Shogun and Assassin was build quality. Atomos have addressed this and the new Shogun and Ninja Flame come with rugged built-in armour protection, feeling a lot more sturdy as a result. The screen is now much better protected against knocks from the side. This new re-design has also made the screen less vulnerable to braking. The downside of this better build quality is that the new monitor/recorders are heavier than before. The new Shogun weighs 1094g (38.6oz) with batteries and media. The Ninja Assassin is 1064g (37.5oz) in the same configuration. A lot of people praised the lightness of the original Ninja Assassin, and may not be fans of the increased weight. Personally I welcome it, as I would much rather have better build quality when it comes to a external recorder/monitor than something that is lighter but more fragile.

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The other welcome addition is that both models can now take twin batteries instead of the single battery that could be used on the Shogun and Assassin. I was very critical of the battery performance on the Shogun when I first tested it and to their credit Atomos did start shipping the Shogun with a larger battery. It is good to see that they have now gone a step further and included twin battery support. This also gives you the ability to hot swap batteries so you never have to power the unit down. There is also a new battery charger that Atomos claim will charge the batteries 3x faster.

As far as recording options go, the Shogun and Ninja flame feature all the same capabilities of the original Shogun and Ninja Assassin. Both units record 4K/HD direct from the sensor to 10-bit 4:2:2 Apple ProRes or AVID DNxHR/DNxHD. You can record 4K UHD (up to 30p) or record high frame rate HD (up to 120p). There is also Raw to ProRes/DNxHR recording for select Sony and Canon cameras.

Shogun Flame
Shogun Flame

There are still no mapped hardware buttons and both units still rely heavily on the touchscreen controls and AtomOS user interface. One thing to note is that the waveform and scopes when your in the HDR mode only display the HDR image info, you can’t set it to show the scopes for the log image while Viewing the HDR.

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The Ninja Flame is a HDMI only model with all of the above features and ships with accessories including a HRPC hard case, a snap-fast HDR sunhood, fast battery charger, control cable, 2 x NP-F750 4 cell batteries, USB 3 Docking Station, D-Tap Cable, 5 x Master Caddy Cases and a 12 V 3A AC-DC Power Adapter. MSRP is US $1295

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The Shogun Flame is an HDMI & SDI model with bi-directional SDI/HDMI conversion, Raw to ProRes/DNxHR recording for select Sony and Canon cameras, balanced XLR audio input/output and LTC/Genlock connectivity. It features the same accessories as the Ninja Flame as well as an XLR breakout cable for an MSRP of $1695.

Comparison between the Flame series and the original Shogun and Ninja Assassin
Comparison between the Flame series and the original Shogun and Ninja Assassin

I spoke to Atomos CEO Jeromy Young about the new Shogun and Ninja Flame, and you can listen to that interview below.

“HDR is simply amazing, it’s the next revolution for filmmaking. Once again Atomos are first with the technical solution to make it quicker, easier and more affordable for filmmakers,” says Atomos CEO and co-founder Jeromy Young. “Anyone that sees HDR, from content creators to consumers are immediately sold, – more life like shots and real world detail. Our job is to open up HDR to all filmmakers by removing the technical and affordability hurdles that might slow its progress.”

HDR
With existing Rec.709 monitors we are limited to 100 nits or roughly 6.6 stops and so to be able to realise the capabilities of the Log image you’ll need to have a monitor that can display more of the brightness range. UHD Premium specifies this should really be over 1000nits but along with that you’ll need to have some processing that understands the specific ‘recipe’ for the Log curve you’re working with.

This is where the AtomHDR engine provides an evolutionary step in on-set monitoring. It offers the 1500nits of brightness that gives you the ability to view just over 10 stops of dynamic range, and also provides 10-bit colour processing that allows you to see realistic bright and vibrant colour as apposed to the low contrast desaturated tones of Log.

By using the AtomHDR engine on the Atomos Flame series you can correctly expose for HDR without rules of thumb or exposure charts. The luma parade waveform shows the expanded dynamic range allowing you to see all the points of detail, and keeps the highlights from clipping. At the same time as providing on camera HDR monitoring the highbright 1500nit display also provides easy daylight viewing for SDR (Standard Dynamic Range). Simply switching between the the modes will allow you to see the SDR exposure which is typically a couple of stops under exposed, but with the the 10bit 4:2:2 recording you’ll have the overhead to expand this out in post. In SDR mode you can also quickly switch between LUTs to preview any filmstock or stylised looks you want.

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As AtomHDR is a monitoring-only function, it’s completely non-destructive to the Log footage. As such you’ll be able to go into the post process with your footage unchanged. The HDR image that you are seeing on the Flame series can’t be hooked up and displayed on a HDR TV. The Flame series does not output the correct metadata flags for it to work.

Dedicated HDR tools are emerging within the likes of Adobe Premier Pro and Avid Media composer, and other NLE systems are set to follow. In terms of editorial you’ll be able to make the exact same edits as you would when working in SDR. Adobe has tools such as HDR to SDR conversion, and Nit scales on Luma wave forms that are already in place to help edit for HDR distribution. AtomOS also provides the ability to start to prepare rushes for the edit by marking in and out points and cut tags. It also allows you to mark timecode based metadata tags that can all be used to export an EDL in XML format, that can be imported with the content to save time on clip wrangling. In an HDR workflow as with many other existing workflows it’s also perfectly acceptable to use offline proxy and then reconform to the RAW or high resolution files via XML or AAF for the colour grading process.

The new Flame series looks to have set the bar quite high for a field monitor, let alone one that also records. If the 1500nit and 10-bit display weren’t already enough, the addition of the AtomHDR engine was quite a surprise. Atomos have been working to develop the next phase of their product to be able to facilitate the needs of SDR productions but also be able to provide a new generation of tools for producing HDR content. From my perspective I think it is a good move, despite HDR being still very much in its infancy: Atomos are betting on widespread HDR adoption, and by adding monitoring support for it in the Shogun Flame and Ninja Flame they are creating products that are likely to have a longer lifespan than some of their competitors.

Flame series key features from Atomos:
• With a Dynamic range to match that of a 10-bit camera Log footage, AtomHDR monitors deliver the detail in highlights and shadows usually clipped on traditional monitors.
• A highly advanced field monitor even in non-HDR scenarios with 1500nits brightness for outdoor shooting, native full HD resolution and optional calibration to ensure natural LCD colour drift can be corrected over time.
• Record direct from the sensor in 4K UHD (up to 30p) or record high frame rate HD (up to 120p)
• Along with recording the high pixel density of 4K, the Ninja and Shogun Flame also record higher resolution 10-bit colour information and more precise yet efficient 4:2:2 colour encoding.
• Recording to Apple ProRes and AVID DNxHR visually lossless edit-ready codecs ensure you capture full individual frames like film, providing more flexibility and creativity in post. Can be delivered to any standard – never worry about having your footage technically rejected due to the format again.
• Ready for real-word conditions with built-in armour protection, dual battery hot-swappable continuous power system to ensure you always have power and a raft of included accessories including a new fast charger and snap-fast sun hood.
• Our patented hot-swappable dual battery system for continuous power is backed up with the included power accessories (2 x 4-cell batteries, D-Tap adaptor and blazingly fast battery charger)
• An arsenal of creative weapons including focus and exposure tools, 3D Custom Looks, Waveforms (LUMA and RGB) and Vector Scopes ensure you set the shot up perfectly every time.
• XLR audio via breakout cables for Shogun Flame or 3.5mm line level input with audio delay, level adjustment and dedicated audio meters with channel selection for Ninja Flame.
• Use affordable, readily available SSDs from the world’s most trusted media brands.

The Flame Series is shipping (March 28th) for a MSRP of:

Shogun Flame
US: $ 1,695 ex. TAX
EU: € 1,695 ex. VAT
GBP: £ 1,295 ex. VAT
AUD: $ 2,695 Inc. GST
Ninja Flame
US: $ 1,295 ex. TAX
EU: € 1,295 ex. VAT
GBP: £ 995 ex. VAT
AUD: $ 2,049 Inc. GST

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