I've mentioned the AJA Ki Pro Mini ($2,000) and Nanoflash ($3,000) in the past as the new kids on the block when it comes to compact field recorders. However, there's a startup by the name of Atomos who is now shipping a $995 field recorder. The Atomos Ninja records an HDMI output direct to ProRes (HQ, 422, or LT), and despite its lower price, it also offers a touch LCD screen. Here's a look at the announcement of the Atomos a few months ago from UrbanFox.tv:
The Atomos uses 2.5" notebook HDD or SSD hard drives (I'm not clear on whether the $995 includes a drive or if you provide your own), has a hot-swappable dual-battery system, and records 1080i59.94, 1080i50, 1080p25, 1080p24, 1080p23.98, 720p59.94, 720p50, SD 480i, and 576i. However, Canon DSLR shooters will apparently be disappointed, due to the lack of a clean HDMI-out signal (even on the 7D?). While we'll have to wait to get some in-depth reviews, it does look like the Atomos should work well with the Panasonic GH2, Nikon D7000, Panasonic AF100, and Sony F3 (as well as other cameras that offer an uncompressed HDMI output).
Before I get too far ahead of myself, why would someone want to use an external field recorder? Well, one of the ways large camera manufacturers like Canon, Sony, and Panasonic differentiate their consumer/prosumer offerings from their more expensive cameras is by saddling the cheaper models with a low-bitrate codec. Some of these cameras, however, come with an uncompressed HDMI output, and by recording the signal to a higher-quality codec (like ProRes HQ), one can get a better image than what would be recorded internally. For more on bitrate and codecs, see the free eBook of the DSLR Guide.
Atomos have announced on their site that the Ninja is shipping, though there's still not a "buy now" button, and availability is a bit confusing:
The first production run of Atomos Ninjas was completed 30 January 2011. The Ninjas have made their way from factory to Hong Kong and are currently awaiting dispatch to our worldwide distribution centres. We expect a short delay due to Hong Kong closing for Chinese New Year (3/2/2011 - 6/2/2011) and delivery starts from HK on 7 February 2011. In the week following this, the Ninjas will be forwarded to local distribution centres and then to resellers and customers. All pre-orders will be fulfilled through the authorised Atomos sales and support network to ensure your product is locally supported. Those who have pre-ordered will be contacted during the week ending Feb 12, and given details on where to purchase their Ninja. Information about the Atomos sales network will be posted online in the coming weeks.
Link: Atomos Ninja