When do you need an external monitor/recorder? I analysed the NLE support for different formats, the difference between various subsampling methods and between 8-bit and 10-bit colour depth, and compared the internal recordings of different cameras with the footage shot with the newest Shogun Flame. My verdict is that it is always better to shoot to a production codec. It saves a lot of post-production time when you edit with Final Cut Pro X or Da Vinci Resolve. The new Atomos Shogun (and Ninja) Flame support all the ProRes and DNxHD output types, are HDR-capable and come with a number of extras not found anywhere else.
The Atomos Shogun and Ninja Flame are Atomos’ newest video monitor/recorders. Atomos sent me a Shogun, while Sony sent me an A7S II1. For this report on the Shogun Flame I’m going to assume you already know about its features and technical specs. If you don’t, please pay a visit to the Atomos website.
The Shogun Flame hardware
Atomos made the Ninja Assassin, the original Shogun and the Flame series Ninja and Shogun of polycarbonate plastic, but that doesn’t suggest they’re fragile. Polycarbonate is the same plastic Apple used for its CRT-based iMac range. It may look less robust than a metal casing, but it’s about as strong. The only disadvantage is that it doesn’t dissipate heat well. The built-in armour of the Flame series is a lot tougher than the preceding series’ removable silicon bumper. The whole monitor/recorder looks, feels and is more robust.
After having used it for a couple of weeks now, I’m sure any member of the Flame series will survive any sort of ordeal. The DC-power port is around the back of the device and the plug is firmly seated. The same goes for the batteries in the two battery slots. Especially those of the Sony NP-F970 type are difficult to install, but equally difficult to break loose.
The media slot is another tight matter. Inserting a disk cartridge is OK because you can push, but as you have no space to put your fingers around the outer edges it can be a bit of a struggle to remove it. The trick is not to cover the glossy part of the caddy with anything but a small sticker if you must.
Even if you rough-handle the Shogun Flame, the system won’t fall apart. I do have some reservations with regards to the air vents along the top of the unit. If it rains, I think you should protect them — taking care not to block them.
The Shogun Flame’s Lemo breakout cable
The Lemo breakout cable has two or four heavy XLR Neutrik plugs dangling from it. I tested this part of the Shogun Flame with two microphones on 3m mic cable and the weight seemed not to affect the connector. Nevertheless, I fear the day when someone trips over one of them.
My first idea was to secure the microphone cables by looping them through a small Dinkum clamping top. I made sure I fixed the Dinkum clamp high enough so the Lemo plug isn’t stressed. When someone would trip over the cable, the clamp should keep everything in place. On closer inspection, this will only work when there’s something to hold on to — a tripod leg or a slider foot.
A general fix is to secure the cables by inserting a velcro strip between the Shogun’s top mount using the screw that fixes the sun hood’s base. This is good only if the Shogun isn’t lying flat onto a table top. There’s a risk the cable would drag down the Shogun when tripped over. Placing the Shogun on the floor if you can is best if you aren’t using a mounting system.
Atomos 1500 nit screen and the sun hood
The screen at 50% brightness looks the same as the Ninja Assassin’s. It’s only when the sun shines straight at it that the Flame screen starts showing its superior quality. I tried that and it’s simply unbelievable.
On the Shogun Flame I could crank up the brightness to and even in direct sunlight, I could see clearly what the camera was doing. I doubt if you are ever going to use the sun hood just to see clearly.
However, the sun hood comes into its own when you’re evaluating colour, tonal curve information and focus. For example, to see the coloured focus edges clearly in bright daylight, you’ll need the sun hood.
The user guide has it wrong, though. There are not three but four elements to the hood. You first fit the mask (the smallest part), then screw on the hood’s base with the two double-duty screws, then squeeze in the hood itself, and then finally attach the magnetic front. Without the first part, which isn’t mentioned in the manual, you will keep having light leaks.
Other accessories you get with the Shogun Flame
Atomos promised us a battery charger that’s three times as fast as the old ones. The company hasn’t lied. It’s a single battery charger, which made some people in Youtube unpacking movies complain. I don’t see what the problem is if you know you can power the Shogun and Ninja Flame with three power sources readily switchable. You can install the two batteries and the DC input all at once, with two sources on standby. When one battery dies, you can start charging straight away as there are two power adapters delivered with the device.
There’s a D-Tap cable, five empty media caddies, a remote control cable and the USB 3 disk/caddy dock in the box as well. Separately — so outside of the high-quality HPRC resin case — you’ll also get two country-specific power cables.
I have never used Atomos’ Power Station, but with my Powertraveller’s Powergorilla set at 12V, I can replace the DC wall adapter by a high-capacity DC-power capable battery instead of the wall plug adapter. By the way, the two wall adapters are of a better quality than the ones of former models as well.
The AtomOS 7.03 version which my Shogun Flame test unit came with lacked some of the juicier features you want this new monitor/recorder for. Sure enough, it already had some of the HDR features. For example PQ (Perceptual Quantisation) capability wasn’t included yet. AtomOS 7.1 fixes this.
PQ input allows you to monitor and grade PQ in NLEs with ST2084 output. PQ output is for play-out to HDR displays and televisions. You can have Da Vinci Resolve send its PQ output to the Atomos Shogun Flame’s HDMI input. You can then adjust the Shogun’s PQ display from 100 to 10,000 NITs to mimic a Dolby HDR compatible screen.
AtomOS 7.1 also delivers a simplified HDR waveform system. It includes a graticule to easily adjust the slider position for the dynamic range of the scene when in AtomHDR mode. There are also new options for AtomHDR such as the ability to let the Shogun set the HDR level for the scene’s maximum brightness. The waveform monitor will now display a percentage scale based on the input log mode as well.
Tonal curves — Log-C, S-Log2 and many more
The automatic HDR mode works wonderfully well when you first set it to a scene that has a full dynamic range, but without blown-out areas. If you include the latter, the Auto HDR will set maximum brightness level at the highest level and that’s not what you want. After having set the HDR brightness level in Auto mode, you can simply turn it off and further adjust manually.
I quickly went through all the different Log curves the Shogun Flame lets you use. The list is pretty complete: Sony, Arri, Canon, JVC, RED, Panasonic, etc. Within each camera brand the Shogun supports several log curves — S-Log2, S-Log3 and more — but for example also several ASA settings for Arri and more.
Atomos hasn’t left out 3D LUT support now that the Flame series support HDR. While HDR can’t be baked in, a 3D LUT look — which are typically used for output to Rec.709 luminance levels — still can.
Entirely new to AtomOS 7.1 is a slow motion playback mode. Pausing video playback will automatically display a slider above playback controls and give access to forward and reverse speed adjustments.
Perhaps it’s due to my Asperger Syndrome brain, but I found the slider a bit confusing. It’s a slider that goes from 0% to 100%. My first idea was that 100% is full speed and 0% is no motion, but it’s actually the reverse. 0% is no slow-motion while 100% is the slowest you can go.
Finally, an old goodie has returned: from the battery page, the option to manually override battery selection is back. This is designed for use with the Atomos Power Station or other external power solutions such as my Powergorilla.
Conclusion and epilogue
Atomos devices are easier and more user-friendly to use, with a more often updated operating system and cheaper hardware than its competition. No wonder so many productions use Atomos devices.
The reason why you’ll want to buy an external recorder that supports 4:2:2 codecs and 10-bit hasn’t changed since the first Ninja Atomos released: even with gorgeous picture capable cameras like Sony’s A7S II, 4:2:2 is visually much better than 4:2:02.
A viable question is why you shouldn’t want to buy a Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q+, which is the closest competitor of the Shogun Flame. The Odyssey does a few tricks the Shogun doesn’t, like Arri Raw and lacks a ventilator to cool the unit, but it doesn’t support HDR yet, comes with an awkward menu system, insists on you using ‘certified’ media and is more expensive.
Why I think Atomos has the edge
I must admit the Odyssey has some appeal, but to me its price and you having to use their certified media are important deal breakers. Then there is the absence of disaster control every Atomos device has.
For example, yesterday I shot 30 minutes of 4K footage with a Kingston HyperX instead of an Angelbird or SanDisk SSD. The last recording on that disk failed. I only noticed after offloading with Hedge for Mac and deleting the files on the medium itself.
I remembered Atomos has its own file recovery system. So what I did was this:
- I copied all files back from the offload location to the HyperX
- I loaded the SSD into the Shogun and turned it on.
- The Shogun started up into a warning window offering me the ability to recover the broken file.
And that was all there was to it.
True, the Odyssey wouldn’t work with Kingston media, but in tech there’s a rule: it’s not if it will fail, but when it will fail. And when it does, I’d rather have a second chance at recovery than none at all.
Another reason that speaks for Atomos devices is their “Continuous Power”, which means you can switch batteries in mid-operation. The Odyssey 7Q+ comes with a Convergent Design AC power supply with several interchangeable plug connectors. But here’s a catch: you should only use a Convergent Design AC power supply on the Odyssey.
In fact, the only real advantage I see an Odissey has over a Shogun is heat dissipation. The Shogun must use a ventilator. It’s hardly noticeable, but you can’t make a spinning fan 100% silent. The Odissey hasn’t — it uses its aluminium shell to dissipate the heat.
The newest Ninja and Shogun Flame monitor/recorders are the best Atomos devices so far in every respect — hardware, AtomOS and included accessories. A Shogun Flame costs around €1550, a Ninja Flame around €1170.
- If all goes well, Sony will also be sending me a Sony FS5. I’ll be discussing those experiences too if it comes to that. ↩︎
- I covered subsampling and bit depth in this piece: The mysteries of bit depth and chroma subsampling. If you want to see screenshots of the difference between a Sony A7S II recording vs. the Shogun capturing the same scene, see the Sony A7S II review. ↩︎