21 Mar 2016

Atomos' new Flame series opens the floodgates for HDR production

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Flame on! The new Shogun and Ninja recording monitors Flame on! The new Shogun and Ninja recording monitors Atomos/RedShark Publications

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With two new HDR recording monitors, the Shogun Flame and the Ninja Flame, announced today by Atomos, the missing link in the HDR production chain is fixed. Now you can see your rushes in HDR, on set. A short while ago, we had an exclusive hands-on preview. Here’s our report. 

You might think our headline is over the top, but it’s not. Because up to now, it’s been impossible to get a representative idea of what your HDR footage looks like until it’s been post produced and shown on an HDR display, somewhere inside a facility.

It’s a tricky problem, and a particularly frustrating one, because everything else you need to make HDR productions is in place. Moving to HDR is not like going from SD to HD, or HD to 4K. There’s no four fold increase in bandwidth. Many cameras are capable of more than the 10 stops of dynamic range that you need for HDR. Virtually all of them can better Rec 709, which has a mere 6-7 stops of dynamic range. Post production software is starting to incorporate HDR modes, and HDR televisions are in the shops now. 

Before going into the new Atomos HDR range in detail, let’s quickly look at exactly what we mean by HDR. 

In real life, we’re exposed to an incredibly wide range of lighting conditions: from bright sunlight to starlight — which is to say: virtually no light at all. Just think about sunlight for a minute. In bright, direct sun, you have to squint or wear sunglasses. Have you ever had that experience from a TV screen? Of course you haven’t, and nor would you want to. But outside of those extreme conditions, an awful lot of information is lost when natural lighting is compressed down to the extremely narrow range of light that a conventional display can handle. While video can look extremely good on a Rec 709 display (in other words, virtually every HD display you’ve ever seen that isn’t HDR capable) it lacks highlights and true blacks. And without those extremes, all the information in between them and “normal” video is completely lost. This adds up to a drastically reduced picture quality, which is why when you compare Rec 709 with HDR, there’s a massive difference.

And it’s this obvious-to-see improvement that is the reason why HDR is so important. You don’t need to explain anything for people to appreciate HDR. It doesn’t matter how close they sit to the screen. You can’t miss it. It works in HD too — you don’t need 4K for HDR (but if you do shoot in 4K, the picture will look even better).

To show HDR images on set it’s not enough just to boost the brightness to increase the range between whites and blacks. The way modern cameras produce HDR material is to use LOG recording modes that squeeze more real world information into the available numerical capacity of the recording format. It’s a proven technique, but it does involve some additional steps to be able to see the material properly. 

The new Atomos Recorder/Monitors have an extremely high brightness screen that is able to take an HDR video signal and show a very good approximation of how it would look after post production. Both the Shogun Flame and the Ninja Flame have Full HD screens that have a maximum of 1500 Nits brightness, and, importantly, they have ten bits of resolving power. That means that they have 64 times the number of digital levels with which to show HDR video compared to 8 bit monitors.

The new HDR-capable Shogun Flame and Ninja Flame are much more than monitor/recorders with a bright backlight. In order to process Log Video and display every HDR detail on the screen, Atomos has developed its HDR Engine, which it calls AtomHDR. Essentially this takes a Log output from a camera, processes it, and displays it on the high brightness monitor, ensuring that every HDR nuance is visible. 

It’s important to understand that all of this is completely non destructive and is solely for the purpose of monitoring. The captured signals are not affected in any way and are recorded as normal on the Shogun Flame and Ninja Flame’s recording media. 

As has become traditional with Atomos products, the Shogun Flame has more higher end features than the Ninja Flame, which is nevertheless still a well equipped device. Specifically the Shogun Flame has SDI and HDMI inputs and outputs (with cross conversion between the two), and can record raw video from Sony’s FS700 and FS7 as well as from Canon’s EOS Cinema C300 MK II and C500. The Shogun Flame also has balanced audio inputs and controllable Mic pre-amps, including phantom power. The Ninja omits the SDI I/O, the balanced audio I/O and the phantom power.

Both devices come with the ability to record to Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHR/DNxHD.

SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) users will benefit from the Shogun Flame and Ninja Flame too, because both recorders feature a High Brightness setting for us with conventional video in bright outdoor conditions. 

Atomos has redesigned the chassis for both devices with a more effective fan cooling system and built-in armour, and the screen is recessed. Atomos’ Patent Pending “Continuous Power” is now provided, meaning that batteries can be swapped without powering down - even while recording. 

The full suite of monitoring facilities that comes with AtomOS is provided, including focus and exposure tools, 3D Custom Looks, Waveforms (Luma and RGB Parade) and Vector Scopes.

We have seen and handled the new products. They’re going to be familiar to anyone who’s seen a standard Shogun and Ninja. but they’re better designed, better protected and better balanced. The addition of continuous power is a big deal: running these screens at full pelt is going to use a lot of juice.

Images on the Shogun have always looked good, but we weren’t prepared for the HDR pictures. How did they look? More stunning than any picture we’ve ever seen on a screen this size. Looking at these images, we instantly wondered why anyone ever bothered with 3D. This is the thing about HDR: the pictures are so engaging that your brain fills in the rest. 

We saw SDR pictures in high brightness mode. These were saturated, contrasty and — well, very bright; easily bright enough for anything including direct sunlight. 

This could be a pivot point in the history of HRD production. Atomos has filled a gaping functional gap in the HDR workflow with a highly specced HDR monitor and a recorder that has more functionality than ever.

The new Shogun Flame and Ninja Flame will be available worldwide from 28th March.

Rather than reproduce all the details here you can see Atomos’ press release and prices on the next page. In the meantime, here's some video introducing the new units.

 



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David Shapton

David is the Editor In Chief of RedShark Publications. He's been a professional columnist and author since 1998, when he started writing for the European Music Technology magazine Sound on Sound. David has worked with professional digital audio and video for the last 25 years.

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