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Review: Atomos Samurai

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#1 William Demeritt

William Demeritt

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 12:37 PM

After seeing the ATOMOS Samurai and Ninja back at NAB 2011, I was actually rather excited to see it come out. The Ninja came out rather quickly, but the Samurai was delayed and delayed for quite a while. I received mine in December, and have had it for a few months now.

Heavily discussed here: http://www.steadicam...showtopic=13759

I'm writing my review based on the newly released AtomOS 2.8 firmware upgrade, which in my opinion makes the device exactly what it should have been upon release.

NOTE: 2.52 or 2.6 firmware, which I believe it shipped with, had some nasty handling issues with jitter over HD-SDI, where it would misread it as the HD-SDI record trigger, so you'd wind up with a hundred small files from it triggering on and off.

REVIEW: As I found my work increasing on features and longer shoots, I realized my operating and survival as an operator necessitated an onboard recorder. Simply put: I wanted to be able to review my shots and determine what I needed to fix WITHOUT reviewing playback with the DIT, without asking everyone to watch it with me, and especially without the DP needing to come ask me for those improvements.

Problem was most of my work was HD: RED One, RED MX, Alexa, Epic, even the occasional Varicam shoot. Investing in an Archos to use with my Decimator, while cheaper, wasn't future proof. Also, taking home high quality footage to edit into my next reel was a priority.

I bought a BlackMagic Hyper Deck Shuttle back in September 2011, but I was never thrilled with it. DIN pins for HD-SDI in and out required I build cables ONLY for use with that box. Recording time on SSD drives was crap (11-12 minutes on a 120GB SSD). The biggest problem: cannot format the SSD, nor pick clips to keep. To format the SSD, you must plug it into a computer or laptop and format like an external hard drive. The device was, as Eric has described, a "bit bucket", but without any practical way to dump out the bucket. F or the price it's decent, but I needed something with more control to let me get through the day.

To me, the Samurai is a great device: HD-SDI recording, records to SSD or HDD, you can select your quality of Apple ProRes codec (and I believe you can get an upgrade to include Avid DNxHD for $149US), etc. The quality of video is just what you expect, it has a menu and file system where you can watch playback on the touch screen, delete clips you don't want/need, or format the SSD/HDD entirely to keep shooting. Of course, quality and functionality come at a price: $1599.

Doesn't have an internal battery, but instead runs off two small Li-Ion battery packs. When you register the device, ATOMOS says they'll send you a D-tap to dummy battery cable (still haven't received it yet). I think the external battery only is the biggest drawback, as it made mounting to my sled a bigger pain than it needed to be. I just velcro it to the video recorder mount of my PRO2 battery base, and add a bongo tie for added security.

You can read all the specs of the device, but here are the things that immediately come to mind with why I like the device:
  • Long recording time: on my same 120GB SSD, recording to Apple ProRes HQ, I get 1 hour 30+ minutes recording 1080p24. That's a great improvement over the BlackMagic.
  • Screen lock: with the 2.8 firmware, you can enable a screen lock that also turns off the display (via the power button). You can do this while recording, which saves battery life. As much as I didn't care for the battery, a single brick made it through my whole day by screen locking the display during takes and between shots.
  • Weighs about as much as the HyperDeck Shuttle with a single battery, once the D-tap to dummy battery cable comes, I expect it will weigh less?
  • Better HD-SDI jitter handling, which the RED One/MX have terrible problems with.
  • Trigger over HD-SDI, so you could keep the display off and it will take the record command on its own.
  • Transport controls are easy: when manually rolling, I just hit the enormous red, on screen button (instantly turns grey and timecode runs) and then press the power button once to kill/lock the display.
  • Has a screen to watch playback of previous clips. The screen isn't anything special, but it's better than the options of other recorders out there.
  • 1/4-20 screw holes on top and bottom mean I have a variety of mounting options, so it opens up possibilities for the future when velcro and bongos get old.

Attached a picture of it on my sled. My future plan is to use the D-tap to dummy block for powering and a single battery for backup, which will let me move the recorder more centered over the recorder mount (and also spin it around so the mini-BNC pigtail off the back of the recorder isn't sticking out behind the sled.

p.s.- I know, I need an Alexa adapter block, it wouldn't have helped me on this job: lots of last minute BS, no clip-on matte box, had to have the bottom rails, blah blah.

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