Canon recently announced a firmware upgrade scheduled for release in April 2013 for the 5D MK III which should result in a significant improvement in both Image Quality (IQ) and work flow of their popular HDSLR camera.
More specifically, the MK III will have the capability to output a 4:2:2 / 8-bit clean signal via HDMI and thus avoid the compression which occurs when video is recorded internally on a CF or SD memory card.
In addition, since recording is external rather than internal, embedded length restrictions suddenly become a non-factor. This opens up new horizons for the 5D3 … for one, the HDSLR suddenly becomes a bit more viable as a documentary and event camera.
However, according to Robert Rozak from Juiced Link, there will be no change or impact with regard to the quality of the recorded audio signal in this new production scenario. But the updated output signal and subsequent new work flow will obviously require an external recording device to capture the video/audio signals.
When using an external recorder, one important variable to consider early on is the type of drive you will deploy for recording purposes. A spinning 7200 rpm Hard Disk Drive (HDD) will certainly perform well enough for stationary use (such as in-studio productions). However, for remote location shooting where conditions may be rugged, mobile and unpredictable, a Solid State Drive (SSD) would tend to be a more reliable solution.
While one might argue over which manufacturer delivers the most value and builds the most reliable HDD, it appears at present that Intel SSD’s are the clear choice for flash memory.
One thing to keep in mind is that SSD capacity is invariably tied to drive performance; the smaller the drive, the slower it will perform. Whatever flavor of drive you prefer, be sure to include redundancy/duplication of your material in order to ensure project reliability and longevity.
Many recorders function in 10-bit color space, while the output of the 5D MK III will be 8-bit. What does the differential do to your video? Initially, nothing much. However, the conversion from 8-bit to 10-bit ultimately results in a greater dynamic range and will enhance post processing of your video … from adding effects to providing more latitude in grading. 10-bit resolution provides 1024 levels of color per channel, rather than 256 which is found in 8-bit media.
Another benefit to recording to external video recorders, in general, is that you are recording directly to an intermediate editing codec (such as Apple’s ProRes) which eliminates the need for transcoding.
Here is a summary of some of the more popular external recording options on the market:
You have a computer, so why not use it as a capture device? As a matter of fact, one common work flow is to ingest video with Final Cut Pro using “Capture Now” via Firewire connection.
One advantage is that recording directly to your computer hard drive eliminates the need for data transfer during post in order to initiate the editing process. However, be aware that performance of this process is not always flawless; Reported issues include failed captures as well as skipped or missing frames. Moreover, the size, scale and bulkiness of your desktop computer – or even a laptop – is another factor to take into consideration when compared to the more conventional, exponentially smaller external field recorder.
Atomos is an Australian-based manufacturer which sells multiple external recording products. And their products are not just recording devices: Atomos units include a confidence monitor, complete with Focus Peaking, False Color, Zebra and Blue-Only Exposure Check functions.
The current product lineup includes the $995 Ninja-2 – their 2nd generation field recorder – which incorporates uncompressed HDMI input and loop through. One important point to be made concerning HDMI connectors: They were not originally designed for professional video recording applications. SDI connections are much more reliable and stable.
Atomos also offers a more expensive, SDI-only $1595 Samuri model. As a testament to their reliability, 30 of these units were used in the recent James Cameron “Deep Sea Challenge“.
In addition, Atomos has announced the soon-to-be-released Ronin model with an MSRP of $2195. Like the Samurai, it can operate on location with battery power and it can also be used in a fixed facility, rack-mounted environment using AC power.
The Ronin has balanced XLR inputs and outputs, along with a front panel headphone jack with channel monitoring selections.
A sun hood will be offered as an optional accessory … an essential field accessory which you should take into consideration when purchasing other external recorder/monitors.
While the Ninja-2 sports a slightly smaller 4.3″ monitor compared to the Samurai’s 5″ display, they are actually identical in resolution.
The AtomOS 4.01 firmware upgrade (announced on November 30th 2012) added the DNxHD codec to the Ninja-2. As a result, the Atomos units record to Apple’s intermediate codec Pro-Res HQ 4:2:2 (220Mbps), 422 (150Mbps) and LT (100Mbps), as well as the Avid DNxHD codec, including DNxHD-220X (10-bit), DNxHD-220 (8-bit), DNxHD-145 (8-bit), DNxHD-36 Proxy (8-bit).
Recording and playback of the following Avid DNxHD codec profiles are supported:
• 1080i59.94 220x/220/145
• 1080i50 185x/185/120
• 1080p29.97 220x/220/145
• 1080p25 185x/185/120
• 1080p24 175x/175/115
• 1080p23.98 175x/175/115
• 720p59.94 220x/220/145
• 720p50 180x/180/120
The Atomos recorders format drives as ExFAT file system compatible with both PC and MAC.
SOUND DEVICES PIX 240i
A true professional recorder (with a price point to match), the $3295 Sound Devices PIX 240i is their latest offering – with improved monitoring capabilities due to its IPS “In-Plane Switching”, 5 inch, 800×480 display. You can not only deliver timecode to the PIX 240i via BNC, SDI, HDMI, or LEMO 5-pin, but it also has its own built-in time code generator as well.
The PIX 240i records to compact flash media for portable convenience. For more storage capability, you can also record to a removable 2.5″ solid-state hard drive. It records HD-SDI and HDMI v1.3 input signals up to 1080i/p.
A pair of XLR Mic/Line inputs are built-in to the device, enabling you to bypass the camera’s audio inputs altogether and perform live field mixing of multiple sound signals. The unit also includes limiters, high-pass filters, and 48V phantom power for high quality audio with low-noise.
Another interesting feature of the PIX 240i is an external eSATAp connector for a direct, powered connection to large SATA storage volumes. Also included are both Firewire 800 and USB 3.0 connections. It can be powered using an external DC power (10-18 V) or 2 Sony L-type batteries.
Note that Sound Devices also sells a non-SD, HDMI only unit (also without timecode): The 220i which retails at $2295.
AJA KI PRO MINI
The Ki Pro Mini from AJA comes in at $1995 and offers support for both SDI and HDMI input. AJA markets their recorder with the phrase “extreme portability” due to a very small form factor. And small it is, with dimensions of 1.8 x 5.4 x 3.5″ weighing in at a little over one pound.
End users report that the unit is “built like a tank”.
This unit records to (2) CF cards in 4:2:2 / 10-bit color space utilizing all four ProRes codeds (HQ, 422, LT, and Proxy) and Avid DNxHD formats. And like its other high-end counterparts, the Pro Mini offers a pair of XLR inputs, audio metering and a headphone jack.
The Pro Mini features the added benefit of Ethernet connectivity with built-in DHCP, allowing control and configuration to be performed via web browser at distances up to 100 feet. Networking multiple Ki Pro Mini units together means they can all be controlled from a single interface and locked together for gang recording, status monitoring and playback.
The recorder formats media as HFS+ and thus plays nicely with Apple OSX computers. Interestingly, AJA maintains a fluid list of approved CF cards and only recommending specific cards at 600x and greater. The price point of media storage is subsequently high, to say the least.
It is portable and can be made camera / tripod mount friendly; A universal mounting cheeseplate will set you back an additional $75 (AJA recommends you invest in a pair of these for both front and back installation).
The unit requires 12v power supply, with the maximum draw at 18 watts. There are a variety of power configurations available for the Ki Pro Mini, such as an Anton/Bauer Dionic 90 battery 3-stud battery (providing 5-6 hours of record time) attached via a mounting plate.
Aja has been a well known manufacturer over the years and subsequently markets other acquisition recorders, including their standard Pro model and the Ki Pro Quad which unites the components of a 4K workflow with on-board monitoring.
BLACK MAGIC HYPERDECK SHUTTLE 2
The Black Magic $327 HyperDeck Shuttle 2 touts itself as “the world’s smallest uncompressed video recorder” and is one of the more cost affordable solutions you will find on the market. It can record 4:2:2 10 bit uncompressed with two HDMI and SDI I/O ports. It also has a USB port for firmware updates in order to accommodate a “future-proof” upgrade path. It sports a built-in rechargeable battery which powers the unit for 60 minutes, while external 12v batteries can also be used.
The HyperDeck Shuttle 2 offers recording the SMPTE standard codecs of Avid DNxHD and Apple ProRes 422 (HQ). However, it should be noted that it cannot record in the more compressed (albeit more efficient) ProRes422 or ProResLT formats. But as Black Magic’s press release points out, “A 64GB SSD is less than $70 and will record 50 minutes of the highest quality ProRes video. That’s broadcast quality recording for less than $2 a minute.”
And similar to the Atomos products, the HyperDeck Shuttle 2 utilizes the ExFAT files system; ExFAT formatted disks can be plugged into both Windows and Mac OS X machines without any third party software required.
Even though the unit uses mini-SDI connectors for I/O, they are a definite improvement over their HDMI counterparts.
There is no denying the price point on this unit makes it a great value. If you are not in need of a monitor or the additional ProRes format compressions, the HyperDeck Shuttle 2 is a very desirable choice.
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