Atomos Ninja 2 video monitor/recorder (review)

Just in time for IBC, Australian Atomos released its inexpensive monitor/recorder Ninja 2, which records directly to 2.5 inch disks using Apple’s ProRes codecs. In case you doubt the need for an external field monitor/recorder vs. an AVCHD camera, I’ve written a good overview of the why’s at (and a review). There’s one reason I didn’t mention, and that’s colour grading. Colour grading on compressed footage will quickly run you into trouble; that won’t happen with high quality formats like ProRes, DNxHD and Uncompressed.

Atomos worked with Apple on supporting its three ProRes 422 codecs in the Ninja and Samurai monitor/recorders. In September it will also offer the option to record to DNxHD.

The Ninja 2 came on the market on a limited scale some three weeks ago. It comes with AtomOS 3. It connects to your camera’s HDMI and has HDMI out so you can connect a second monitor.

For AtomOS 3, Atomos worked with Apple to develop “SmartLog”, a feature that enables you to mark In/Out points, and Good/Bad Shots right on the Ninja 2 itself. You can do this while recording, or while reviewing a shot. The pre-edits you make are exported in FCPX’s XML format and show up automatically in Final Cut after ingestion.

SmartControl, previously designed specifically for use in James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenge found its way into the Ninja 2, but there aren’t any devices yet that send the control commands over HDMI. A working new feature is automatically triggered timecode. For this, you’ll need a supported camera that sends timecode over HDMI.

Another new feature is SmartMonitoring. SmartMonitoring allows you to control the quality of the shots: Focus Peaking, Zebra Stripes for exposure control, False Color and Blue Only to check exposure across the whole scene. It’s obvious these features are actually essential for a (semi-)professional field monitor.

Furthermore, AtomOS 3 offers automatic file recovery — if you accidentally remove the disk from the unit, upon re-insertion the OS will try to rescue your shots.

Tests revealed the Ninja 2 performs better than the first generation. Its screen has a far better viewing angle of 170 degrees. The screen has a higher clarity too. The SmartLog features are great; they save time — the more clips you shoot, the more time you save.

SmartMonitor is my all time favourite, because it allows you to focus and expose exactly as you want it. It reminded me of much more expensive video monitors. Finally, the Ninja 2 records more than 4 minutes at a time. You can now create clips of hours, if you wish!

Except for these features, the Ninja 2 has a cast aluminum body, a continuous power system (you can channel power input to any of two batteries) and DTap support. It has a 170 degrees viewing angle and a high-res screen. It comes in a sturdy carrying case, complete with batteries and charger, disk cradles, cables (except HDMI) and a docking station. The only thing that I wished Atomos would also include, is a sun visor.

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J.D. – Copywriter – Tech. Writer – Editor at Visuals Producer – Contributor at Photoshop User, Studio Daily, POST Magazine – Sub-editor at RedShark News