The Atomos Shogun

How The Atomos Shogun Shows Filmmakers What They Are Capturing – by Michael Head

DSLR filmmakers have a distinct need to see what they are shooting, including framing, exposure and focus. The challenge is, DSLRs typically have small screens on the back of the camera, which are not ideal for viewfinding (even with the movable screens many DSLRs now feature.)

Enter the viewfinder. A viewfinder is basically a screen that takes an image from the sensor and lets you put it where you want it. Having a viewfinder is a great tool. Since the advent, many manufacturers have now incorporated the ability to record images directly from the viewfinder as well.

Doing this avoids the compressed video taken internally by the camera and allows for greater flexibility of recording format and media.

One of the leaders in this field is Atomos.

In the past, I have utilized the Ninja 2 recorder for about a year now, and I have never regretted the purchase. But with the increasing accessibility of 4k video, Atomos has stepped up to the plate with the soon forthcoming Atomos Shogun.

Atomos-Shogun

Atomos Shogun

Atomos made some very smart choices for their recorders.

While there are no shortage of monitor or recorders, many manufactures went the route of specialized, dedicated media. This basically amounts to an SSD (solid state drive) in a specially designed package.

Atomos went another direction with the Atomos Shogun.

For starters, the Atomos Shogun utilizes off-the-shelf 2.5 inch SSDs and spinning disk hard drives – the kind you would put into a laptop. I think that is brilliant because it means that while storage media must be considered, it is also generally affordable and coming down in price all the time.

The Good of The Atomos Shogun:

  • 1980 x 1200 DPI 7 inch screen – above HD to allow for additional controls
  • Records 1080P from 23.98 (24) fps to 120 fps – high defintion slow-mo!
  • Records Ultra HD 4K up to 30 fps – even over HDMI
  • Records in flavors of Prores and in Cinema DNG raw files – for cameras that can out put raw
  • HDMI, 3G-SDI, and Genlock for timecode inputs
  • Audio breakout cable with 3.5mm and XLR inputs – Who needs dual system audio?
  • Variety of battery solutions – use what you’ve already got (with adapters)
  • Records to Hard Drives and SSDs, including the option to use two disks in a RAID 0 array for increased speeds
  • Monitoring, including histograms, focus peaking, false color, blue only – just about anything a DP could hope for Audio Monitoring
  • In monitor play-back, with the ability to mark good and bad takes – start your edit early

The Not-So-Good of The Atomos Shogun:

  • Not cheap – $2,000, plus media!
  • Running audio into the recorder might introduce more need for cable wranglers during shoots.
  • Can it record Cinema DNG raw files over HDMI or only SGI?

Final Thoughts on The Atomos Shogun:

At NAB this year, Atomos representatives announced they were working with Sony during the development of the Atomos Shogun and the Sony A7s – so these two were just about made for each other! The A7s can output 4k over HDMI, and the Shogun records higher quality Prores then the camera can record internally.

Atomos has hit on a great market – accessible recorders and monitors, all in one. The Atomos Shogun is only their latest offering, but it is going to be a great addition to a cinematographer’s toolkit!

– –

Michael Head is a filmmaker and full-time geek living the the Dallas-Fort Worth Metromess. Follow him at @michaeldhead. Check in every Tuesday for Micheal’s “tech-Tuesday” articles. Check out his website at michaeldhead.wordpress.com.

The Sony A7s Camera

Thoughts On The Sony A7s Camera by Michael Head

I once had a cinematography professor tell me that the video DSLR trend is just a fad. But for whatever reasons, camera manufacturers didn’t hear his message.

New and more powerful cameras are coming out everyday, and each model strives to be better then the one before it. This makes it hard to be a tech-nerd in the film industry! (I want ALL this gear!)

One DSLR-style cameras with excellent video features is the Sony A7s.

The A7s comes out of the Sony A7 mirrorless SLR camera family that includes the A7 and the A7r. Both of these are great full frame (large sensor) cameras. While it might seem odd at first, the A7s, has the smallest number of pixels, weighing in with 12 MP.

However, while it is “only” 12 MP, it is a full 4K sensor – which means the pixels are bigger and can therefore actually be more sensitive to light then the same sensor with more MP.

How much more sensitive?

Some early tests have shown video taken in the woods at night with no lights.

And the image OVEREXPOSES – in the DARK!

As filmmakers, we live in an interesting time.

The extended ISO of the A7s’s sensor lets you record downsampled 1080P video at up to 409,600 ISO (yes, you read that right) and 60 frames per second (720P up to 120! FPS). That’s an amazing sensor.

Sony A7sThe Sony A7s Camera

Although shooting that high of an ISO is not likely to happen often, it is an amazing option for making sure that dark shadow in the corner of your room is only a jacket and not a vampire or something. And surprisingly the sensor doesn’t line-skip like many of the popular video DSLRs. This means moire and alaising are reduced.

But that’s not all!

The full frame sensor gives you the same depth of field you can get with other Full Frame sensors, but it also will shoot in a crop sensor (x1.6) mode. In other words, you can choose to use a smaller sensor size. Why might you do that?

Some lenses don’t cover full frame sensors, and those lenses can still be used on the A7s. In effect, you can double your number of lenses using full-frame lenses and the crop fame shooting. Your 35mm full frame sensor can shoot as a 50-ish (56mm) lens is crop sensor mode. While this does affect your depth of field, it’s a nice for those with limited budgets.

Sony also seems to have moved away from the A-mount lenses. Instead, the A7s has an e-mount, which has numerous adapter options for almost any lens.

Another video-centric feature is the inclusion of S-Log 2 built in. That’s right, the flat Sony picture profile that was included in the FS700’s $400 upgrade is built. If you haven’t seen what S-log is capable of in the hands of a skilled shooter, do some research on Vimeo – it’s an amazing option.

The Good of The Sony A7s:
– Full-frame (and crop) 4k Sensor with no line skipping 1080P/60fps internal video
– Ultra-HD 4K Output through HDMI (see wrap-up)
– Highly adaptable e-mount len mount
– S-Log 2 picture profile (native 3200! ISO) at around 13 stops of dynamic range
– Clean ISO up to 64000 (although I still don’t recommend shooting that high)

The Not So Good of The Sony A7s:
– No 4k Internal (see wrap-up)
– Extremely sensitive sensor (a Sony quality) means you need to invest in some quality ND filters
– Limited Battery Life

Final Thoughts on The Sony A7s:
I asked Philip Bloom about the dynamic range, and he said that it gets up to about 13 stops. This is a similar dynamic range to the outstanding Blackmagic Pocket and Cinema Cameras.

While the The Sony A7s is priced between the Blackmagic 2.5K and 4K Production cameras, it has a 4K powerhouse of a sensor and I am very excited to see what good cinematographers can do with it. Internal downsampling is nice, but being able to output full Ultra-HD 4K over HDMI is a great option.

Is The Panasonic GH4 Your Dream Camera?

Is The Panasonic GH4 Your Dream Camera? By filmmaker Michael Head

The future of production for the foreseeable future is 4K.

This is true even if the majority of distribution will remain at 1080P and 2K for a while. But each day we get closer and closer to wide stream 4K distribution, be it through Netflix or even YouTube.

That leaves camera manufacturers in a very precarious situation.

The majority of consumer users are still not ready for 4K, but clients will soon demand 4K video (even though they might not really know why) and professional video producers can use the extra resolution to make their lower resolution projects look better.

Enter the Panasonic GH4, a camera which has already generated a lot of buzz.

Panasonic GH4

The Panasonic GH4

The Panasonic GH4, is a Micro 4/3 mount DSLR (ok, mirrorless) form factor camera that shoots up to 4K and Ultra HD video, and it already has a lot going for it.

Panasonic has a great pedigree of DSLR (mirrorless) video.

Keep in mind that the GH2 and GH3 are both good video cameras, and that was before users hacked the software and increased data rate and therein the detail saved in the video file.

If you need an example of the hacked GH2 on set, check out Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color – The second feature from the imaginative director, and the choice of camera was unique, but well made.

The Panasonic GH4 caters to video producers and photographers in a very unique way.

Where Canon loaded out two similar DSLR cameras which individually focus on photography (1D) and cinema (1D C), the Panasonic GH4 took novel approach to the divide – Produce a separate unit that focuses on what video producers need, that photographers do not need.

Enter the DMW-YAGH Interface Unit – a separate device that attaches to the underside of the Panasonic GH4 and includes XLR inputs, audio meters, and SDI output for professional external recording and monitoring.

The advantage of making a separate unit is that the photographers who don’t need it can skip it and videographers who might not be able to afford it at the start can use the camera without it and pick up the interface unit later.

I think that is a brilliant move on Panasonic’s part and shows a thoughtfulness and consideration of their broad client base that some manufacturers (*cough*Canon*cough) are missing out on (and PS, I’m a fan of Canon – my first camera was a 60D).

The Panasonic GH4 is not perfect – the camera features an 8-bit recording, which is somewhat limiting. And 4:2:0 cool subsampling in internal recording limits you a bit in post. But the Panasonic GH4 can output 8-bit 4:2:2 over HDMI and full 10-bit 4:2:2 4K video over SDI with the interface unit.


The Good Stuff
– 4k and Ultra HD resolution (4K – 4096 and UHD – 3840 selectable)
– 1080P at up to 60 (59.94) FPS
– MOV, MP4 (4k/UHD) and AVCHD (1080p) recording formats
– High Data rate – 200 MBPS at 1080, 100 MBPS at 4K
– Interface Unit with XLR inputs including phantom power and SDI output
– No 30 minute time cap on video
– NTSC and PAL selectable
– Highly adaptable M4/3 lens mount
– 10-bit 4:2:2 output over SDI, 8-bit 4:2:2 over HDMI

The Not So Good Stuff
– Separate Interface Unit (yes, I think it’s a good and bad thing because it ups the cost)
– 8-Bit 4:2:0 internal recording
– Internal recording to 4k requires class U3 SDHC cards (a new standard)

Questions About The Panasonic GH4:
– My number one question is this: What’s the dynamic range?

Final Thoughts On The Panasonic GH4:
As I get more and more experience with video, I am more and more convinced that dynamic range is vitally important to achieving the fabled “film look”. Panasonic’s choice to produce a special interface unit initially struck me as odd, and it does add to the cost of shooting for the professional videographer. But it also lets users choose their level of need and investment, and gives them a goal to aim for for increasing their possible output.

A while back, I was looking for a DSLR for video, and after extensive research, I had narrowed the choices down to the Canon 60D and the GH2. I went with the Canon for a variety of reasons including wider array of lenses and no overheating problems. But, if I knew then what I know now, the choice might have been different.

There has been a plethora of M4/3 mount cameras, and while camera bodies change rather rapidly, good glass can last for decades, and investment in dependable glass that can go across camera bodies is a large consideration these days. Good cameras like the GH4 are great, but don’t forget… The first thing your images pass through is your glass.

DSLR filmmaking guides

If you’re part of the filmmaking stuff community, you probably saw my email about a DSLR resources that I was evaluating.

After sending the email, one of our readers (named Jonathan) responded with another good recommendation. So now instead of just one DSLR resource, I can provide you with two.

1. http://www.HdslrActionGuide.com – Overall, it’s a no fluff guide for any DSLR filmmaker who wants to learn how to use his or her camera. It includes modules on how to get the most out of your camera. You can grab it for a few bucks and the creator provides some easy to follow videos.

2. http://nofilmschool.com/dslr/ – This book details both technology and technique. I like it because the writer is very passionate about both filmmaking and (while I don’t yet know him personally), he seems to subscribe the modern moviemaker mindset. Additionally, I found his website to be full of useful “tech” tips.

Assuming you think DSLR technology is awesome, you’ll probably want to check out both of the DSLR resources. And in full disclosure, these are affiliate links. So do your own due diligence prior to making a purchase.