By Jon Pratchett
I love my Sony EX3, I know itís been around a while, but the picture it produces is fantastic for its price range and I have tricked mine up with a shoulder mount, v-lock battery kit, matte box etc. However I am still stuck with 35Mbps XD-Cam EX codec.
Don't get me wrong, it works well and the SXS cards are robust, but very expensive. What I wanted was something I could plug in a and give me 50mbs + on cheaper stock.
Up until recently there was very little choice. Unless you wanted something big and bulky attached to your camera, most people went for a nano-flash. A very nice piece of kit, but not cheap, and used CF Cards.
Well now Atomos, may have saved the day with their new Samurai recorder. Their earlier product the Ninja has been very successful, this was an HDMI recorder, that recorded onto SSD drives, with a built in monitor. This of course was no good for me as I ran an EX3 which does not have HDMI out, and I also have a problem with using HDMI; I simply don't trust the connection. This is one of the TWO main areas where the Samurai differs from the Ninja. The Samurai has an SDI input and output.
As with a lot of my reviews, I am going to leave the really technical details out as this can easily be found on the web. I will also probably do some updates to this review
over the coming months, as I see the Samurai in different scenarios. For now here is a quick overview.
So what do you get when you purchase a Samurai? Well Atomos seem to have thought of everything you would need and beautifully packaged it in a solid
(Peli style) case. I'm a bit of an Apple fan and love the fact that Apple have spent time considering the packaging of the product, well Atomos have done the same in
The Samurai recorder
Two NPF Batteries
A DUAL Battery charger
TWO caddies for you SSD drives
A dock for connecting your Drives to your computer
All necessary cabling
All you need to do is get yourself some SSD drives and youíre ready to go.
Letís look at the unit itself. Itís not large, only 14cm x 8.7cm and a near 4.1cm deep, has a nice 5" 800x480 touchscreen which doubles up as a monitor. On the side we have two mini BNC's one for SDI in and the other for SDI out, a LANC control input, headphone out and a stereo line in audio input on mini jack.† On the back of the unit we have TWO battery slots. This is great as it means you can change batteries without the unit having to be powered off.
Mounting on your camera should be a relatively simple procedure. As the unit only weighs 630g with drives and batteries installed you can use a simple cold shoe mount to attach it. Atomos have provided a standard screw mount at both the top and bottom of the unit, to give you more options. On my EX3 I have mounted it on the rear cold shoe, just above the battery. Sits there perfectly.
Here though is my first little gripe with the unit. The controls are all touch screen, which is great, but I would love the ability to be able to flip the screen. In the case with mounting on the EX3 it would be great to mount the unit upside down in order to have the SDI connectors on the other side of the unit, as when mounted the correct way, the cables get in the way of the viewfinder. This is not a major issue, and of course a simple firmware upgrade could sort this out.
As the Samurai uses Mini BNC connectors, they provide you with a couple of short little adapter cables allowing you to connect it to your camera. Itís a bit fiddly, I would rather they used full size BNC connectors, but itís far from a deal breaker. I can also see the advantage of a lighter weight cable, when you use the device with their soon to be released HDMI-SDI converter that simple clicks on the back. I think I will get a short mini BNC to full size BNC cable made up specifically for my EX3.
Of course one advantage of SDI over HDMI, other than the connector, is that SDI sends timecode. This means you can have the Samurai start and stop recording when you press the REC button on your camera. The Samurai recognises the ability to remote activate, and gives you a simple on/off switch on screen, enabling you to toggle if you want to control the record from the Samurai or the camera, works a treat. I do know that not every camera is supported yet, but I also know that Atomos are constantly working on adding camera support for other camera's, so keep your firmware up to date.
The Samurai currently records in Pro-Res format only, at 100,150 and 220Mbps and Avid DNxHD is to be added shortly. From a workflow point of view the ability to just pull out the SSD, slot it in to your Caddy and start editing is a joy. The dock has of course USB connectivity, but it was also great to see they added firewire 800 connectivity as well. The footage recorded on the Samurai was excellent. I have had audio sync issues with some other recorders before, but the Samurai was perfect.† Not having to transcode footage and have far less compression on my content is great.
I mentioned earlier the SDI being one of the differentials between the Ninja and Samurai recorders. The other main difference is play out. Yes thatís right the Samurai has full play our functionality as well! You have effectively got yourself an SDI recorder/Player you can fit in your pocket!
Touching the Play button on screen switches the Samurai to the player mode, here you get a playlist of files, and you can simply touch the name of the file you want and it starts playing on screen and of course out of the SDI out. It also gives you the ability to play your footage to your client with ease or plug into a mixer and use as a play out device.
One big advantage with getting a Samurai is Atomos themselves. They are constantly striving to improve their products, and listen to customer feedback. The Samurai is a solid, well made piece of equipment, and Atomos will constantly bring out firmware upgrades for it, adding even more functionality to the Unit. You will not be left behind if you were to purchase a Samurai now.
I am so far very pleased with my Samurai, and look forward to extra functionality that I know Atomos will be adding to if over there coming months.† It is an amazing product and amazing price of less than £1000