Atomos Samurai Blade Review

The Atomos Samurai Blade is an excellent addition to a DSLR video workflow. We recently used the Blade on a shoot recording 4:2:2 ProRes from a Canon 5D Mark III. This codec eats up about 43% more storage compared to native files created by the 5D. So, for example, if you're used to using 128GB worth of CF cards on a shoot, a 128GB SSD won't cut it. You'll need a 256GB SSD to account for the increased data rate that the Blade requires.

So is it worth it to have another box hanging off your DSLR rig? For the most part yes. One of the reasons we like shooting with the C300 is the audio is captured directly which saves us a step in post. The 5D of course has the mini jack for audio but in most cases benefits from using recordings made to external audio recorders.

Now with the Samurai Blade we capture in ProRes or DNxHD and we have the audio in synch with an edit friendly codec ready for post. Best of all, we capture to SSD which is more rugged and plenty fast to plug right into our workstation. We would never advise using HDDs in the Blade. It's just silly to risk a hard disk failure when SSDs are available at $99 for 128GB.

Atomos really pimps the Blade as a multifunction devices, especially the quality of the monitor. Our DPs agree. The Blade is sharp, crisp and has beautiful color. The screen on the Blade is 5 inches in size, runs at a native resolution of 1280 × 720, and also works as a Waveform monitor/vectorscope and includes other functions such as peaking, zebras, blue only, false color, it's all pretty much here.

The screen is bright and is good for shooting in most conditions. Atomos has a sunshade option which should significantly improve shooting in bright conditions but we didn't use it.

We're liking the waveform/vectorscope. Simply switch it on and choose full-screen, bottom right as an overlay, or show the scopes as a horizontal strip down the bottom of screen.

When we shoot with the Canon 5D Mark III we like to capture DNxHD or ProRes to the Blade and a backup copy in the native Canon MP4 format direct to Compact Flash.  Capturing the audio in synch with the video can be done by adjusting the settings on the Blade.  In our tests we were able to synch the audio by adjusting the Blade +5.   Of course we also capture audio to the Sound Devices 664.  This way we have multiple copies of both audio and video.  Capturing the audio with the DNxHD and ProRes video saves us the task of synching it in post.  Depending on your geat you may have to experiement a little before you get everything synched up.  

The BNC connectors are full-size, industry standard. This device is built to connect to anything in a post production or broadcast environment. The unit feels light and solid. The recorder will trigger over SDI from camera giving you seamless start/stop recording. We used the dual recording feature to capture to CF and SSD simultaneously. The ProRes footage is cleaner. It doesn't have that darkening effect of the MP4 codec inside the 5D. Yes, it's subtle difference and without having side by side footage to compare they both look great. But, if you want the cleanest footage and better performance in post ProRes 4.2.2 or DNxHD are both excellent choices.

So how do you know you're getting the good stuff? The Blade is a great unit for reviewing and pre-editing your footage. You can quickly review footage, marking clips as Favorites or Rejects; you can also mark "in" and "out" points for each of the clips you select this information can then be exported as an XML file readable by your NLE. We didn't use this much but nice for organization.

One of our DPs said, "My view on the Blade is that it is so good as a monitor I would use it for this reason alone. ProRes recording is something I don’t always have to have but good monitoring is essential."

The Blade is light and portable and runs off light-weight Sony batteries or compatible batteries. You can use the Blade on-camera, off-camera, or attached to an arm and position wherever you wish. We used it with our Zacuto rig.

The accessories that come with the Blade seem a little unrefined. We have the external box the SSD slides into and the external connector that the SSD just snaps onto. The box could use some refinement, such as softer rounded edges. You could easily cut open a cardboard box with the sharp corners on this thing.

Other than the accessories the overall Samurai Blade package is dynamite and is a good addition to most any video acquisition and post workflow, especially with cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark III or similar.

Visit Atomos for more information and all the specs.

Sorenson Squeeze 9 Review with 360

The Squeeze 9 pro bundle with Sorenson 360 is a powerful solution for encoding, sharing, getting approvals and streaming. Sorenson has added standard post production codecs such as DNxHD and improved the speed of the engine taking better advantage of multi-core systems.

On the surface it's not so obvious why you would need 360. YouTube and Vimeo make it pretty easy to share, stream and embed content. And in many regards that's true. If you have a fast connection and upload a video using a master quality codec such as ProRes or DNxHD, YouTube or Vimeo both do an excellent job of encoding and streaming content at all levels of quality, whether it’s to your smart TV at 1080p or your mobile devices at 360.

However, once you experience the complete Sorenson Squeeze/360 workflow you quickly realize the value in the solution. Essentially, it boils down to quality, control and brand. There's more, but those three qualities are what drives adoption at agencies and the enterprise. Plus, it's easy to use. So non-production geeks will have no trouble getting up to speed and managing assets.

The 360 UI is gorgeous. The team at Sorenson really did an outstanding job of packing in a lot of functionality but making it intuitive and even fun to use. 360 does not feel like some bolted on FTP and CMS utility with limited functionality. It's so much more than that. It's a media platform that allows full customization of your content for nearly any kind of playback device.  Still pics don't do it justice.  So it's best to test it in action for yourself.

With the 360 platform you have complete control of your brand and assets. There will not be arbitrary recommended videos displayed alongside your branded content. Logos and bugs can be dynamically updated. The player can be customized in endless ways to work with your brand. Setting up emails lists for approvals is seamless. It's clear that the development team has a profound understanding of professional workflows.

Also included with 360 is nicely designed dashboard that gives you everything you need to know about your content at a glance: encoding profile, metrics, live status, video thumbnail, password protection, format and download, closed captioning, SEO, permalink, review and approval status. Yes, if you've done any kind of content development for a Fortune 500, agency, or even a busy startup you know how important all this stuff is and how often you'll use it.

So back to Squeeze 9. Yes it's better than previous versions. Sorenson updated Squeeze with more production codecs such as DNxHD and faster performance. We were able to push our 12 core Xeon workstation to full utilization while performing multiple encodes. The h.264 and x.264 options
are improved with more customization and take full advantage of CPU and CUDA cores for very good performance.

So the Squeeze/360 bundle delivers. Sorenson really understands today's video workflow and it shows in its latest offering. While we like Squeeze what really impressed us most was the well thought out design of 360. The beautiful UI, features and seamless workflow make this an attractive solution where quality, control and brand come first.

Visit Sorenson for more information, all the specs and to take Squeeze/360 for a spin.

You can check out a recent batch of encodes featuring common Squeeze presets here.

SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive Review

The SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive is a clever little device that allows you to store and stream content to popular mobile devices. Think of it as a personal cloud to store extra stuff when you’re running out of space on your iPad, Kindle or smart phone.

We tested the Connect Media Drive using an iPad during a recent trip. The iPad is running low on storage so we figured it would be a good solution to load a few movies on the SanDisk connect and simply stream them to the iPad.

Making sure all electronics are charged before a trip is the first step. The connect uses a standard micro USB cable for data transfer when connected to a PC and charging. We loaded a few movies onto the media drive we encoded from DVD and Blu-ray over the last few years.

The Connect ships from the factory in unprotected wireless mode. So anything you put on the drive will be visible to anyone in range with the media drive app installed. The media drive app has basic options to allow you to toggle through different type of media.

We found all our videos but not all the codecs were supported. So in the end only 2 of the 4 videos we loaded would play. That could be a major bummer for anyone that loaded a bunch of videos expecting them to play on a long trip.

Next we added an SD card to the Connect. It takes a bit of effort to fully engage the card in the slot. It could be because we received an early production unit but we’d like to see a smoother operating slot. Despite that it was a cool way to instantly share pics over wifi to anyone with the app that wanted to grab them while at a recent gathering. We made an effort to fully format the card before taking pics so we didn’t share any old stuff by accident.

The SanDisk Connect Media Drive is an interesting device that helps bridge the gap when your mobile device is out of storage or you simply want to share content in an easy way to multiple devices and connectivity to the larger internet or what we traditionally think of the cloud is lacking.

Visit SanDisk for more information about the Connect Media Drive and all the specs.

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