January 25, 2019

Hands-on Review of the Atomos Ninja V 5" Recorder/Monitor

Atomos hits the sweet spot with the compact and feature-rich Ninja V.

Atomos has been unlocking the potential of small cameras since their inception in 2010 when it created the "world's first video monitor-recorder." Since then they have grown to one of the most recognizable brands in the industry with their Sumo, Shogun and Ninja recorders.

However, my own personal interest in their products was not fully piqued until last year when they unveiled the Ninja V, a small, compact, near-perfected version of their on-camera monitor/recorder. I have a background in shooting with small cameras throughout my career, and none have impressed me more lately than the Sony mirrorless A7 line. Naturally, when I saw the Ninja V and it's obvious pairing with the A7 series, I was excited to test it out.

My rig for shooting feature film 'Lost Angeles' with the Ninja V and Zhiyun Crane 2
My rig for shooting feature film 'Lost Angeles' with the Sony A7iii, Ninja V & Zhiyun Crane 2

After a month long shoot on a feature film in LA — almost entirely shot at night — I was able to put the Ninja V through its paces in a real world scenario. Here are my impressions:

Pros:

  • Small, lightweight, perfect fit for mirrorless and small cameras.
  • Record a 10-bit external signal from Canon EOS R, Panasonic GH 5, Fuji X-T3 and Nikon Z6 & Z7.
  • Dense with features you expect from a professional monitor, including framelines, anamorphic squeeze and 3D LUT capability.
  • Monitor is bright and viewable in daylight.
  • Very good battery life (Up to 2 hours on a 5200mAh battery) + DC dummy battery option.
  • Expansion port for additional pro features, including broadcast delivery (Ethernet/NDI module) and wireless timecode (Sync module).
  • Bypass some manufacturer imposed recording limits.
  • Affordable price-point at $695.

Cons:

  • HDMI Only.
  • HDMI Output has compatibility issues with some wireless transmitters, namely some models by Teradek and Paralinx (which share some internal components).
  • The internal fan is a bit loud, but not too bad.
  • Mic inputs require powered microphone.
  • Recommended (AtomX) SSDs relatively expensive @ $350 / 1TB.
  • Only 8-bit recording with Sony mirrorless cameras (not a fault of the Ninja V — this is on Sony's end. Still, worth noting).

Mounting the Atomos Ninja V Monitor/Recorder
While shooting 'Lost Angeles' directed by Jesse Dvorak starring Jessika Van.

Build Quality & Mounting

One of the only small products I've seen come with native 3/8 holes with 1/4 20" adapters to allow for a variety of mounting options — pretty cool. I used the Ninja V in conjunction with a Zhiyun Crane 2 to excellent results, and the rig never got too heavy. Despite the Ninja V being very light — even with SSD and a big NP-F battery attached — the aluminum build quality is solid to the touch. In the month of constant use I was never worried about damaging the unit with an inadvertent bump or drop.

Atomos Ninja V Build Quality w/ Sony AtomX SSD Mini

Media

The new super slim AtomX SSDmini is a 1/4 inch tall and 3" long solid state disk made in collaboration with Angelbird and Sony. Small, low profile and feel solid. I don't have to worry about my footage getting recorded correctly when I pair the Ninja with this media, despite being almost twice the cost of traditional SSD media. However, the mini SSDs do perfectly compliment the unit remove the ugly notion of a standard SSD protruding past the monitor itself. With recording up to 150 minutes on a 1TB card, you can get a lot out of one card. We shot the entirety of the feature length 'Lost Angeles' with only one 1TB SSD.

Usability

At first glance, the Ninja V looks a little complicated, but once you dive in you quickly see how simply everything is laid out. Within minutes you should be able to figure out most of the major features that you will be using. There are a few things that will require some time with the unit, such as tweaking audio meters and adjusting your input / output settings for optimal quality. Overall it's very simple to use and works right out of the box to capture beautiful ProRes out of your small camera.

Cameron Arnett and Micah Van Hove on set of 'Lost Angeles'
That vexed look on our faces when something isn't working when it should be working.

In my run with the unit during the shooting of 'Lost Angeles' I ran into some issues with the HDMI output function on the Ninja V. The only information I got from Atomos about it is that some products that don't meet HDMI production standards are not compatible with the Ninja V's output. I couldn't get a list of units with known issues except that select Paralinx units (two that I tried) won't work (and by extension, some Teradek units, since they often share components). This was a major bummer and my biggest complaint about the unit. Had I known about this issue I would have tried using other brands for my wireless monitor instead of succumbing to the mystery of the malfunction. The worst part is not knowing what is compatible and what is not; without an official list from Atomos, we'll just have to find out from users which pairings to avoid.

Summary

The Ninja V is a great monitor at an amazing price point with so many features that it's worth the price alone as a monitor. Add the fact that you can get more mileage out of your DSLR and mirrorless cameras makes this thing a no-brainer. After shooting with it for a month, it's hard to imagine recording to SD cards again. I can't think of a better monitor for a mirrorless camera when you consider everything that comes with the Ninja V. The SmallHD FOCUS 5" is a great option as well, but when it comes down to the ability to record up to 4K 60p directly to ProRes out of your small camera (Not Sony, though) for under $1,000 — I really can't recommend the Ninja V highly enough. If you plan to use this in conjunction with a wireless transmitter to feed a director's monitor, for example, be careful which wireless transmitter you pair this with; talk to Atomos or other users and find out what works.

Atomos Ninja V Review on No Film School
Ninja V Specs

  • 1920 x 1080 resolution touchscreen
  • Records 4K 10bit 4:2:2 ProRes & DNxHR
  • 5-inch display with 427ppi
  • 4K HDMI Input
  • 1000 nits brightness
  • Records to Mini SSDs
  • Supports Slog2/Slog3/V-Log-L/C-Log
  • Powered by Sony L-Series Batteries (NP-F)
  • Expansion Slot for Accessories

Price: $695     

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