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doddle Review: Atomos Ninja Star

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

I received a new Atomos Ninja Star external recorder recently and I have to say, while I knew it was a small recorder, it didn’t really hit me just how small it was until I pulled it out of the case and held it in my hand. About the size of an iPod classic, it’s not nearly as heavy -- weighing in at 130G. Atomos says it’s essentially the Ninja recorder without the LCD screen, and it was designed to be ideal for DSLR shooters and maybe even quadcopters. In fact, Jeremy Young from Atomos told a panel at NAB that the Ninja Star was built with the GoPro and DJI Phantom in mind, to cater to users who want to record in ProRes and still get a mobile action option.



"We had a lot of customers coming to us and saying we can’t record to the Ninja, it’s too heavy," said Young, "so we made a 100g version of the Ninja with the same functionality just for them."

Recording-wise, the Ninja Star offers a choice of recording in 1080p HD with ProRes HQ, 422 or LT. There’s HDMI in and an out loop to output to an LCD monitor when you’re camera is locked down and you want to monitor the recording anyway. There’s also a mini-jack for audio. Users can use the microHDMI cord that comes with the Atomos Ninja Star, but it rather sticks out, and I think it was just included because you don’t want users to have to buy their cable in order to start shooting. However, consider buying one of Atomos’ coiled cables, anyway. They’re cool.

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The design layout of the Ninja Star is very simple… Four buttons. Rec -- Play -- Prev -- Next. And they’re color coded in the classic Atomos Red, Green, yellow and Blue respectively. You can also use the bottons to also Power it on/off (Red); format your Cfast card (Red/Green); change your codec (Yellow); and change the conversion mode (Blue). There’s also LED meters for audio levels, battery life, and recording time. A note here, the Ninja Star does support automatic trigger recording with certain cameras, as well as recording in time code.

The Ninja Star also takes Atomos’ own Cfast 1 cards. The reason they went with Cfast one is simply because it was fast enough for ProRes recording and it kept the price down. If you’re not recording in 4K, and this is not a 4K recorder, there was no real need to push for Cfast 2. Also, these cards are the middle man between Compact Flash cards and SDD drives.

An SDD drive would obviously be too large for the Star’s compact design, and a flash card simply couldn’t reliably keep up with ProRes recording. And thus, Cfast was born. And it’s also being used by the ARRI Amira, and also the BMD URSA?for the same reason. A 64GB Cfast 1 card will give users about 1 hour of recording. Buy a couple of these and you have a days worth of shooting as you swap out and offload your files without stopping.

The Atomos Ninja Star can be mounted to a camera or other device via Cheese Plate, which actually feels heavier than the recorder itself. But many camera operators or opting for gaffer or rescue tape to mount to save on weight or where a cheese plate can’t be mounted. I think you could also use cable ties if you do it right.

Power-wise, the Star uses a Sony L-Type battery for up to two hours of battery power, but there’s also a P-tap DC Adapter to leach power off other supported batteries. Users have found that with some batteries equipped with a PTAP connector built in, users can power both camera and recorder simultaneously. Nice feature. There’s also an AC adapter for charging or direct power along with international adapter plugs. You can also power it with car cigar lighter adapter, which is nice for those looking for mobile power or solar power options.

The common complaint is that Atomos relied on a microHDMI connector, which is exposed and can be easily be damaged should it get snagged. Atomos has addressed this a bit by offering their own coiled HDMI cables to reduce the footprint of hanging cables that can be pulled out. The coiled cables also have a right angle microHMDI to HDMI plugs, which will keep the cables tight against the Ninja Star housing. Still, I rather think that users have a good suggestions of adding an HDMI cable lock or protector. And there are third party options for that. Meanwhile, I think the coiled cables are worth the investment.

I think that for users who are spending a lot of time out in the field, and who don’t want to lug around a ton of gear, or who are shooting action shots with GoPros or Quadcopters, the Ninja Star is a brilliant mobile option. And that doesn’t even get to the fact that it’s perfect for the low budget crowd who are looking for affordable external recorder options to move away from smaller SD or CF cards, and want better quality recording without having to jailbreak their cameras and deal with a Raw workflow. It’s a pity it won’t record in 4K, though, because I have a hunch that those who are investing in the Panasonic GH4 or 7s would gobble these up in droves! Maybe Atomos will see that too and release a 4K version down the road.

Using the Star, I found it to be very simple to set up. It was extremely light, even with the battery, and I could mount it to my DSLR with a cold shoe mount and rocker arm. And I like that I have a myriad of power options for the device. This means I don’t have to just record on the battery and then stop when it’s depleted and wait until it charges again.

The attached plate is a bit heavy, though, and I can’t help but wonder why Atomos didn’t go for a more lightweight metal. But I do like that I can attach it to the top or bottom of the Ninja Star for greater mounting options.?Recording to the Cfast card worked fine, and although I do share the same bit of trepidation that I do with the GoPro, without the app on my