The Many Advantages of Using the Atomos Shogun External Monitor/Recorder

For the past couple of months I’ve been using an Atomos Shogun. While I had very clear reasons to pick up this device, I’ve found some other very valuable and attractive features that I want to share.

Longer recording times

The first and most obvious reason was to record 4K and HD for extended periods of time. The Shogun utilizes 4K HDMI and 12G-SDI inputs to record clean output signals at resolutions up to UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, and 30p, as well as Full HD (1920 x 1080) video up to 120 fps with some cameras.

We’ve been shooting a lot of corporate interviews and live events lately and swapping 32GB or 64GB cards is cumbersome and inefficient. The additional steps in post, to log each and backup each card are fairly simple but time-consuming.

I was expecting Solid State drives to cost a pretty penny, but you can get an “Atomos approved” (the complete list is available here http://www.atomos.com/drives) SanDisk Pro 240GB drive for only $130 or rent a 480GB drive for a fraction of the price. Actually, ARC’s Shogun kits include two (2) 480GB Extreme Pro SS drives, and if you rent the Sony A7s w/Shogun package you get a backup 64GB SD card as well. A no brainer if you ask me.

It is worth mentioning that shooting 1080 in ProRes 4:2:2 on a 240GB drive (with the Panasonic Lumix GH4) gives you almost 3.5 hours of recording time. Using the same drive but recording in ProRes LT gives you almost five hours. The Shogun also allows other systems like the SonyA7s, which are not capable of recording 4K internally, to send the 4K signal to the external device via HDMI.

Add XLR ports to your cameras and no need to sync audio in post

My first “ah-ha!” moment was recording audio directly into the Shogun via the provided XLR breakout cable (with two 3-pin male and two 3-pin female XLR). The Shogun provides Phantom Power which is essential when using our Lavalier mics.

This device can record 8 channels of digital audio embedded in the HDMI signal and 12 channels of digital audio embedded in the SDI signal. There’s also a 3.5mm output that doubles as a Line Out or Headphone jack. The headphone’s volume can be controlled separately within the menu. Clever!

We have used the Shogun mostly with Panasonic GH4s effectively adding XLR ports to our cameras and we noticed a delay or off-sync between the footage and the audio being recorded into the Shogun. After extensive tests we also noticed that the audio delay was different for Cam A and Cam B even though both were the same brand and model (Panasonic GH4s) and running the same exact firmware version.

Thankfully Atomos includes a very easy fix; simply go to the Audio menu and navigate to the “Audio Options” where you will see an “Audio Delay” preset. We finally settled on 4 frames for the audio delay.

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Using the Shogun to capture video and sounds works great, but our very first attempt was not successful and we almost lost a very important recording. It took a bit of tweaking to find the correct settings but it all worked out in the end. I highly recommend you do a test run a day or two before your actual shoot to avoid losing precious time with your client. Time, after all, is money.

For our one-person interviews and Lynda.com courses we used one boom mic on XLR A and a wireless lav on XLR B. This is what the correct settings on the Shogun should look like:

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Standardized editing codec and no need to transcode

On most projects we try to use the same camera model throughout. Meaning: if we need three cameras, we’ll use three Panasonic GH4s or three Canon C300s or three Sony FS7s. This helps maintain a singular “look” to the project as well as speed up workflow since the settings for each camera will be identical.

However, on a recent shoot in Portland we were shooting with two Canon C300s, we had a “behind the scenes” crew using two GH4s, one A7s working on time-lapse, and one Sony FS7 for a few slow-motion sequences. Normally this would be a post-production nightmare for our editor or a huge time hog for us to transcode all that footage, every night, on-location. Yet, with the Shogun, we simply attached one to each camera, shot ProRes 4:2:2 with clean audio, and the only post step required on our end was backing up the Solid State Drives into our two (one master and one backup) G-Tech drives.

We made sure to bring more than enough SS Drives with us to store our footage as a third backup. Keep in mind that you don’t need to buy a ton of additional drives, I normally rent them. A 480GB SSD costs only $28 per day!

A handy tip: if you will be renting SSDs often, as we do, I suggest getting a battery-operated screwdriver to make the process of getting the drives into the Master Caddy II much faster and easier.

The only disadvantage I see from this approach is the huge file size of the ProRes compared to the native on-camera files, but when taking into account the time wasted transcoding and syncing audio the investment for bigger and faster hard drives more than pays for itself.

Here’s something VERY important to consider when using the Shogun with the GH4.

1. In the camera’s “Motion Picture” Menu, navigate to the fourth screen.

2. Go to “HDMI Rec Output.” If for any reason you are planning to record in 4:2:2 8-bit, make sure to go to “Info Display” and turn it off. Failing to do this will record the camera’s menu into the footage.

3. If instead you are planning to record in 4:2:2 10-bit, go to “HDMI Rec Output” then “Bit Mode,” select “4:2:2 10-bit” and then “yes.”

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Focus, Exposure and LUTs

We also purchased the Shogun thinking that it would be much easier to monitor focus on a 7” screen. And it works wonderfully in that respect, but we got a lot more than we bargained for. The touchscreen is very minimalist and easy to navigate. The color accuracy is great. Actually, the monitor’s color standard is REC 709 and it can be calibrated with an optional Atomos Spyder.

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The additional benefit of having more reliable and customizable focus peaking is very handy. There are three flavors for peaking: Color, Monochrome, and Outline. In terms of monitoring exposure, especially when shooting outdoors, False Color is key. This feature assigns different colors to areas of different exposure in the image: overexposed areas appear as red, and underexposed appear as blue.

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The ability to load LUTs and show the client what the footage will look like after grading is priceless. It is important to know that the LUTs loaded into the Shogun simply previews what the footage would look like, but the media being recorded is not affected. Here’s a short film featuring Panasonic’s recently released Anamorphic mode, and the yet to be released V-Log L gamma file color space:

 

Get plenty of juice

The battery provided with the kit only lasts about 45 minutes, making it mandatory to buy additional ones. We went the “cheapo” route and purchased a too-good-to-be true Kastar kit on Amazon that included two batteries, a charger and a car charger for only $34. Unfortunately this time the “you get what you pay for” maxim held true. The batteries last about the same as an original Sony NP-F970, but the Kastar charger is completely worthless. An original Sony battery costs $130, but you can rent it for only $5 per day.

We got stuck on location with a ton of dead batteries and a bad charger. Not a pretty day. The lesson: buy at least one good charger and always bring the Shogun’s AC charger with you (it is included in the kit).

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Room for improvement

Nothing’s perfect. So, while the Shogun is very light (a mere 16 ounces without batteries), which is great when used on a monopod or gimbal, it is also very fragile. Our monitor broke during our second on-location shoot and we always take great care of our gear. We have been using Varavon cages for the GH4s and they have proven outstanding, so our next purchase will most likely be their new cage for the Shogun.

If you are planning to use the Shogun in broad-daylight I’d also recommend getting a sun hood. It’s not included in the original kit, but it’s worth saving your eyes on those long outdoor shoots.

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Extras

There are at least a couple of additional features we haven’t tried yet: the optional Wi-Fi Remote Control to start/stop recording from an iOS or Android device, and flagging the footage on the Shogun as favorite/reject. Apparently this gets exported within the footage’s metadata and will work with Final Cut X and Adobe Premiere Pro CC. I can definitely see this as a time-saving feature, especially while working on interviews and marking sections with the best takes or sound bites.

Conclusion

For a couple grand, you get a lot of value out of this device. Longer recording times, no need to sync in post, a standarized editing codec (with no transcoding… Yay!), easy to navigate touchscreen, excellent color accuracy, and on-screen LUT preview. Overall, a great product and one I am very excited to continue exploring.

I’ll be shooting with an Odyssey 7Q+ on upcoming shoots and will report back if there are enough differences between the two. Stay tuned!

 


Eduardo Angel is an independent technology consultant, educator, and Emmy Award-winning visual storyteller based in Brooklyn, NY. He currently teaches at The School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography, and mentors the photography program at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

He is a co-founder of the idea production company The Digital Distillery, author of popular filmmaking courses on Lynda.com, and regularly shares his thoughts on technology, photography, and cinema on his website eduardoangel.com.

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