The Atomos Ninja Assassin’s best feature? No, it’s not ProRes recording capabilities

The first generation Ninja monitor/recorders sent a shock through the market. Here was a company that came out with a monitor/recorder for a very affordable price with features that, until then, were available only for the price of a small car. The first Atomos product was HDMI-only, but recorded to Apple’s ProRes 422 HQ on cheap and commonly available 2.5in media. The Ninja Blade once more was something of a first with its high-res screen. And now in addition to the Blade for HD, we have the Ninja Assassin for 4K. The new device is a clear break with the past. It has a different form factor and comes with only two accessories.

Atomos started its product range with a Ninja, but the Ninja soon became secondary to the SDI-capable Samurai. From that moment on, new Ninjas would be introduced after the flagship SDI-capable monitor/recorders. That’s no different with the introduction of the Ninja Assassin. To be later has one major advantage: the Ninja Assassin comes with AtomOS 6.5 — the latest version of the OS that also drives the Shogun. AtomOS 6.5 delivers many more benefits than any AtomOS before it. The only difference between the Shogun and Ninja Assassin is the latter lacking features that only make sense when interfacing via SDI and/or with some higher-end cameras.

Three previous generations Atomos Ninja

The Ninja Assassin is a HDMI-only monitor/recorder. It shares the 4K/60fps capabilities and its huge screen with the Shogun. The screen size is a must to evaluate 4K video. It’s a boon for HD shooters who plan to shoot 4K in the foreseeable future. The Ninja Assassin comes in a soft EVA carrying case. Inside you’ll find the device with one Master Caddy installed and a red removable silicon rubber bumper. You’ll also find a power adapter, but no batteries or any other accessory. If you are upgrading from a Ninja Blade you’ll have all the accessories you need. If not, you’ll probably want to buy new extra Master Caddies (the older ones aren’t compatible with the new Ninja), a USB 3 disk station and a battery.

Is the Ninja Assassin tough? Tough enough!

The Ninja Assassin has been made of ABS polycarbonate, which is quite strong. The first brightly coloured iMacs were made of this material. The use of polycarbonate has advantages: it keeps weight down (to about 400g).

All Atomos devices, including the Assassin, come with a LANC port and HDMI in/out ports. The Assassin also has a DC power port, and 3.5mm jack audio-in and headphones ports. The grand screen is awesome, but if you’re used to working with a Blade or Ninja 2, it’s enormous. If you haven’t much vertical space to mount a monitor, you’ll have to mount it sideways off the camera. For me that meant I had to replace my flimsy articulated arm that was robust enough for the Blade to be mounted on top by an Ultralight Control Systems arm, which allows for much, much stronger attachments. (I love the UCS arms for their strength but not their looks.)

Atomos Ninja AssassinAfter a few days I wondered how I could ever have found the screen of the Ninja Blade generous enough to comfortably view the colour scopes. Once you have experienced the Assassin, it’s hard to go back. Part of that agreeable experience comes not from the hardware, but from AtomOS 6.5.

AtomOS 6.5 is simply brilliant

As is often the case with technology, the software is what makes the hardware tick, and it’s no different with the Ninja Assassin. AtomOS 6.5 is a different world as opposed to the previous version.

It has metadata like AtomOS 5.x, but instead of “Good” and “Reject”, it now has 10 Final Cut Pro X XML keywords you can apply while recording or during playback. Having the ability to tag clip ranges with “Talent 1″ or “Bad Audio” on location lets you shave off considerable post-production time.

You get eight HDMI audio channels and two analogue. As with older Ninjas you can control the analogue channels and turn up the gain by 12dB. However, even with the gain all turned up, I would have liked my Rode Videomic Pro and certainly my sE Electronics ProMic Laser to be amplified more. An Apogee Duet iPad/Mac used as pre-amp can help, but it would be nice if Atomos would enable us to turn up the gain with 20dB, as the Assassin’s pre-amps are decent enough to use for production. Still, I personally believe you should always record to a dedicated sound system if possible, such as a Sound Systems recorder if you can afford it. A wise professional once told me the difference between pro and amateur shows itself in the sound quality of the result.

As with the Ninja Blade, you can monitor colour, white balance, exposure and focus using customisable overlays. However, due to the size of the screen you get easier access to the controls, while the overlays themselves are less obtrusive when viewing the scene you’re shooting. Just as with the Blade, you can colour calibrate the screen if you have the optional Atomos calibration accessory.

Atomos Spyder calibration unit

With regards to colour, the new AtomOS also supports 3D LUTs. If you have a LUT you’d like to use, you just copy them to one of your recording SSDs and load them into the Assassin from the very user-friendly interface. You can then apply them to the display output, to the HDMI out port, and to the recorded result! When displaying a LUT, there’s two modes to cycle through: split view with the LUT applied on one side, and full view with the LUT applied to the full frame. If you want the recorded result to have the colour characteristics as defined by the LUT, it can be burned in. In that case it will be automatically applied to the ProRes file. This can save much time when colour grading, as well as allow you to match footage with other cameras you might be using.

Another feature that is related to how you view your recordings on the Assassin, is the anamorphic desqueeze capability. I couldn’t test that feature as I lack a camera or lens that would make sense me desqueezing it, so if you want to know how it works, take a look at the video explanation of the AtomOS 6.4 release by Atomos’ CEO. It has more options than just desqueeze 2x, including multiple screen display ratios.

In the same interface panel you’ll also find options to set a whole bunch of frame guides and more. By the way, the screen quality of the Ninja Assassin is so good, you can actually zoom in by a factor x2 and even when recording HD lose almost no detail at all.

Recording with the Ninja Assassin can take on many forms

The recording tab has many options — many more than there used to be, and nicely ordered as well — of which one is the ability to add a pre-roll recording of 8sec to any HD recording and 2sec to a 4K recording. The pre-roll option being turned on is made visible by displaying an icon, just as when you’re applying a LUT to the recording.

A great addition to the AtomOS is the ability to create time-lapse sequences. The time-lapse feature allows you to use your videocamera and shoot any number of frames per any number of time or frame units. The interface to this feature is user-friendly and efficient, but requires some thinking through of what you want the result to look like.

In the time lapse panel you build sequences of frame shots at specific intervals. For example, you can make a simple “shoot one frame every five seconds for an hour” sequence and the Assassin will record accordingly. However, the interface allows for a much more complicated setup, such as creating multiple sequences. For example, you might create a sequence of 10 frames that only trigger every five seconds for an hour, one that triggers every five minutes for a day, etc. An option enables you to smoothly transition between every sequence.

The time-lapse functionality was added in AtomOS 6.4. In AtomOS 6.5, an extra option was added: the motion blur capability. This feature takes 65 consecutive frames and merges them together into one. This is great, for example, to shoot a night recording of a motorway and get those smooth car light streaks everybody loves.

Finally, the play feature of AtomOS 6.x is brilliant as well. Instead of just playing your recorded clips one by one, you can create entire playlists. This comes in handy when you want to show your clients (or yourself) a rough cut, but it’s also a means to prepare footage in-between the production and post-production phase. For example, when you’re flying back home from a day’s shooting clips, you can use the Assassin as a video screening device to save time and prepare for the post-production phase.

The Playlist capability is entirely based on the powerful, multi-keyword metadata functionality. A Playlist with clips of which none have metadata is simply a list of clips one after the other, ordered by time/date. With metadata, you can start sifting through clips using the metadata set. For example, if you want to view a rough cut of all the clips that you haven’t rejected, you can check those in the Playlist panel. Or you can only view the clips that have “Talent 1” in a scene, etc.

Conclusion

The Ninja Assassin is not just an evolution of the Ninja Blade. It’s a clear cut with the past. The form factor and size, the materials and even the standard accessories in the box have all changed. Except for accessories no longer being included with the device, the changes made to the hardware are a leap forward.

Backside of Blade and Assassin
Atomos Ninja Assassin

The most important reason to go with an Assassin, however, comes from the ability to run AtomOS 6.x. On the Ninja Assassin, the current AtomOS 6.5 gives you a lot of power to work with, resulting in a lot of time saved in post-production — and Atomos has stated more is yet to come. You’ll also notice that you get a lot more control over your results, even as you’re shooting.

In short, the Ninja Assassin is the best Ninja so far and in my opinion destined to kill the competition. A Ninja Assassin costs around €1450.

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3 Replies to “The Atomos Ninja Assassin’s best feature? No, it’s not ProRes recording capabilities”

      1. Originally in reply to Kerry Phillips whose comment I did not reply to because it seemed obvious — but apparently it isn’t [Another explanation is that the two gentlemen have not RTFM ;-).]

        This is what the user guide says: “Capture – Specifies the number of sequential frames to be captured. Every – Specifies the frequency of the capture.
        For – defines the amount of time to repeat the process for this entry. Play time – this will display the playback duration for the above settings.”

        And: “Video Time lapse provides the ability to create seamless time lapses without capturing individual images that require compiling in post. Utilizing video also takes away the wear on you camera shutter that can be expensive to replace if you are doing lots of time-lapse work.”

        Conclusion: Assassin’s time-lapse feature is meant to be used with a video camera, or any camera in video mode to create time lapses. As a result, if you want to have long exposures you will need to set the exposure time in-camera. There is no method offered on the Assassin to set time-lapse exposures in the Assassin.

        Answer: Those of us who have a camera that allows us to set exposure time for video at a length that is equivalent with the bulb exposure setting of a photo camera will be able to create long exposures. Personally, I don’t know of any camera that can be set for such long exposure times in video mode.

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