Atomos Shogun Review

This is the complete review of the Atomos Shogun specifically for use with the Sony A7s. This review is correct, as far as I know, as of version v6.2.

Goals

Before reading and watching the review, it is important to first understand the goals of the review. Here are the important questions I wanted answered:

  • Is the Atomos Shogun worth the $1,995 investment?
  • How good is the monitor really? Can we call it professional-grade?
  • Is there an advantage in recording to Prores or DNxHD/HR?
  • What if Sony releases the A7s Mark II with internal 4K recording, or if you currently own the Panasonic GH4? Is the Shogun still a worthwhile investment?
  • Can you replace the Atomos Shogun with an external monitor, recorder and audio recorder and still get all the same benefits?

Let’s get started.

Important: Prices, specifications and my observations and analysis can be totally wrong or incorrect. Please refer to the manufacturer’s website for correct information. For important and new FAQs relating to firmware updates, please refer to Atomos. You are responsible for your own actions. Results seen here might only apply to me personally and may not reflect your experiences.

Atomos Shogun Review

First, watch my Atomos Shogun review:

Notes:

  • I’ve updated to firmware version v6.2, which is a huge improvement overall
  • UPDATE: The SSD Dock issue was a false alarm, and my comments should be disregarded. The problem was an underpowered hub from my iMac. Since this review I have purchased a USB dock and a Sandisk Extreme Pro, all of which work fine now. However, if you’re getting lo transfer speeds like I still do when I connect it directly, you can first try to power the device using both its ports. If that doesn’t work, then purchase a USB 3.0 hub and it’ll be fine.

  • You can view “thumbnails” during playback, but they are in the background. Still, better than nothing!
  • Do not take my observation on audio levels seriously, check with pros.
  • With v6.2, the touch response is better with my index finger, but nowhere near as good as mobile phones.
  • For a comparison with the Odyssey 7Q+, click here. For Sony A7s and GH4 users, the Shogun offers the best value for money.
  • All footage for Goa Susegad 2015 was shot in Prores HQ, UHD, 23.976p, S-Log2/S-Gamut using the wolfcrow system. During the night beach scenes, it was impossible to follow the system because the light levels were too low. I couldn’t even get a decent exposure at f/1.4 at ISO 400,000! You can see the underexposed color noise and posterization, especially in the last shot. It isn’t there in the actual footage, but will raise its head on grading if it’s an incorrectly exposed image. For daylight scenes, I mostly had a 3.0 ND on. It was a run-and-gun setup, with a cheap tripod used for most shots.

Speaking of the Goa video, here’s the graded final video in full 4K/UHD:

Notes:

  • ‘Susegad’ is an integral part of Goan culture, and is a word you can’t miss if you’ve ever been there. It signifies a contented life. I’ve tried to capture a little bit of that in my first visit there.
  • Edited in Premiere Pro, and graded in Speedgrade. The tracker in Speedgrade sucks. Can you spot which clip I’ve used it in?

Important information about full swing and super white levels for post production

There have been many complaints that the S-Log2 out of the A7s via HDMI is different than what is recorded internally in XAVC S. For many weeks I struggled with this too, but here are the takeaways:

  • There is no problem with the HDMI output*.
  • The Atomos Shogun does not manipulate the image in any way.

*Unfortunately, the A7s does not allow you change black levels for HDMI out, not that it’s important anyway. The default S-Gamut/S-Log setting is best.

So, where is the problem then? To understand it, you must first understand the difference between studio swing, full swing and super whites, and how Adobe Premiere Pro handles these levels. This “problem” is only an issue when shooting S-Log2, and is not there with any Cine or Rec. 709 profile.

My test involved recording footage in XAVC S internally, Prores HQ (both 1080p and 4K), and DNxHD and DNxHR (this last one is only supported by Avid Media Composer). I exposed correctly using the wolfcrow system, and then overexposed the scene by 2 stops and underexposed by 3 stops. Here are the results (I’ll try to make things as simple as possible!):

First, here’s the waveform of the HDMI signal as shown on the Shogun:

Now, here’s the waveform of the recorded Prores HQ file when played back on the Shogun:

So, you can see that the Shogun does not change the signal while writing it to file. This is true of DNxHD as well, so I’m not showing it separately (though I’ve tested it). Also, everything is true of 4K as well.

Now, here’s how the waveform looks like in Premiere Pro:

Premiere Pro recognizes Prores HQ correctly. When you publish via Premiere Pro to Speedgrade, something weird happens:

Speedgrade assumes the incoming signal (Prores HQ) is between 0-100 IRE and ‘expands’ it accordingly, but the image does not change (look on the right)!. If you bring down the levels using the Offset tool, you’ll see the information is preserved.

But what about XAVC S? The “problem” is that XAVC S “does not match” with Prores HQ. This is what XAVC S looks like in Premiere Pro:

XAVC S is read as full swing, and the information is all there. But because the image is squeezed it looks flatter.

And this is what DNxHD looks like:

Premiere Pro squeezes DNxHD just like it does with XAVC S, even though DNxHD looks fine on the Shogun:

Hold on for a little longer! How do XAVC S and DNxHD look in Speedgrade? Here’s how (first XAVC, then DNxHD):

Wow. Just to confirm if I’m still sane, I also tried using Color Finesse in After Effects, and here’s how they look (XAVC S, Prores HQ, DNxHD):

Same thing with one fundamental difference. In Color Finesse, the highlights in Prores HQ cannot be recovered.

What the hell is happening?! Here’s the chart of sanity:

 

Premiere Pro

Speedgrade^

Color Finesse (Including Direct Import)

XAVC S

Squeezes to 0-100 IRE

Squeezes to 0-100 IRE

Maintains original levels

Prores HQ

Maintains Levels

Expands data, but maintains levels.

Expands data, but blows out!

DNxHD

Squeezes to 0-100 IRE

Squeezes to 0-100 IRE

Maintains original levels

^Speedgrade when used along with Premiere Pro via Direct Link will follow its lead. Speedgrade doesn’t support XAVC S independently.

When you shoot in Prores HQ, Premiere Pro interprets the image correctly but while going to Speedgrade or Color Finesse it can’t hold its own interpretation. Even if you import separately into After Effects, the same problem applies. This clearly shows the problem is with Adobe not being able to interpret levels correctly. There is no setting in either Speedgrade or Color Finesse that I know of that can help reinterpret levels correctly (The Limiting tool doesn’t work in this instance).

Luckily, it doesn’t matter. The problem (only a deal breaker with Color Finesse) becomes pronounced when clipping occurs. Imagine a scene that is borderline being overexposed. When the levels move up and down (by at least two stops!!) in Color Finesse, this is blown out, and any amount of reducing gain or recovery won’t bring it back. The image is really blown out.

This is definitely not just an Adobe thing. To verify, I tried DaVinci Resolve. First, you must make sure you have Video monitoring set to Data Levels:

Here are the waveforms (Resolve has its own way of showing waveforms, XAVC S, Prores HQ and DNxHD):

Resolve does something similar. The information is preserved and if you bring down the gain you will see it’s all there. However, XAVC S is natively squeezed here as well. Here’s a chart on how Resolve works:

 

DaVinci Resolve

XAVC S

Squeezes to 0-100 IRE

Prores HQ

Maintains Levels

DNxHD

Maintains Levels

So, what’s the takeaway?

  • If you’re working with Premiere Pro and grading with Premiere Pro or Speedgrade, you can continue to work normally with all codecs.
  • If you’re working with Premiere Pro and grading in Color Finesse, avoid Prores HQ. There’s no way to change black levels via HDMI, so you can’t see what you’re doing while shooting. You could try to underexpose by reducing exposure to prevent highlight clipping, but that introduces noise and negates the wolfcrow system.
  • If you’re working with Resolve, no problem.

If you’re on a PC, DNxHD is the better codec to use. If you’re on a Mac, both DNxHD and Prores are fine, though I’d always choose Prores for its compatibility and industry acceptance. I’d avoid DNxHR until it becomes mainstream.

I hope others will test this on FCP-X and Media Composer and see how it fares.

Review of 3D LUTs and DNxHD (v6.2)

DNxHD

DNxHR is only compatible with Avid Media Composer, so is irrelevant to most of Atomos’ users. I’ve tested both 220x (10-bit 220 Mbps) vs Prores HQ (10-bit) and they look similar. I’d have no hesitation in using either.

3D LUTs

The ability to load 3D LUTs is a welcome relief. The LUT must be in the *.cube format. I tested loading LUTs created in both Resolve and Speedgrade (16, 32 and 64 cube LUTs). Just copy the LUT to the SSD and insert it on the Shogun. It doesn’t fill the LUT slots automatically, you have to click the folder icon under ‘Select LUT’:

Then it shows you the compatible LUTs stored on the SSD:

Select the LUT and it gets inserted in the slot. There are 8 slots available. A 64 cube LUT takes about a minute to load, the others just a few seconds:

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a LUT made in Resolve to work. I’m not sure what the problem is, but maybe somebody else can chime in. All Speedgrade LUTs work great!

One temporary problem?

With firmware v6.2, there’s a new problem. When you go to the Monitor Assist menu, the focus zoom option vanishes:

However, if you touch the area with your index finger, it appears one by one. I’m sure this will be fixed soon.

Comparison of cheap monitors

Right, I said I’d compare cheap monitors in the video and here’s the comparison table:

 

Price

$370

$999

$1,499

 

Features

Delvcam DELV-WFORM-7

ikan D7W-C

SmallHD DP7-Pro

Monitor

1920×1080 (Shogun)

1280×800

1280×800

1280×800

Waveform

Yes

Yes

Yes

Vectorscope

Yes

Yes

Yes

False Color

Yes

Yes

Yes

Zebra

No

Yes

Yes

Screen Guides

Yes

Yes

Yes

Focus Assist

Yes

Yes

Yes

Blue Only

No

No

Yes

400 nits

Yes

Yes

Yes

1:1 Mapping

Yes

Yes

Yes

2:1 Zoom

No

No

No

100% Rec. 709

Maybe

Maybe

Yes

Calibration

No

No (Internal presets)

Unknown

Gorilla Glass Screen

No

No

Yes, Very tough

Color

3D LUTs

No

No

Yes

Audio

Audio in XLR

RCA

No

Yes

Headphone jack

Yes

Yes

Yes

SDI

12G-SDI

No

Yes

Yes

SDI Loopthrough

No

Yes

Yes

Genlock

Genlock

No

No

No

HDMI

HDMI Loopthrough

Yes

Yes

Yes

And here’s a quick comparison of recorders:

 

Price

$295

$695

$1,295

Recording

Prores/DNxHD

Atomos Ninja Star

Atomos Ninja2

Odyssey7

1080p60

Up to 30p

Up to 30p

Up to 30p

4Kp30

No

No

No

FCPXML

No

No

No

Accessories

HPRC Case

Not as sturdy

No

No

SSD to USB 3.0 connector

No

No

No

P-tap Adapter

No

No

No

XLR Breakout Cable

No

No

Yes

DC Adapter

Yes

Yes

Yes

It’s pretty obvious you can’t replace the Shogun with anything, unless it’s way more expensive.

Why I don’t trust the firmware update schedule from Atomos

As I stated clearly in the video, I don’t trust Atomos’ firmware schedule anymore. Reasons:

  • v6.12 came and was taken down soon after. They rolled back quietly to v6.11, with no news to customers.
  • Too many promises of release dates, especially from top management, but no news when delays happen. Why announce it publicly to your user base?
  • Would the firmware updates have come at the time they did without competition from Convergent Design? Right now, both companies are producing firmware updates like breeding rabbits, but I can’t help but feel like a sucker all the same. Do you share the same feeling?

Being an engineer and former marketer myself I know how hard it is to produce and market a worldwide product. Congratulations to the guys at Atomos for bringing out such a wonderful product. In the last year Atomos has tied up with Nikon (filmmakers kit), Datacolor and Sony (to launch the Shogun at the same time as the A7s). This by itself is a great feat.

10,000+ units is also potentially 10,000 angry users who will move to a competitor next year.

Bottom line

As I said in the video, this review is about the Atomos Shogun. It’s a winner. There is no alternative, except at a much higher price point, all things considered.

Even though it costs $1,995, it still offers tremendous value, any way you slice it, and the engineering is good enough for professional level shooting. This is why own it.

Well, that’s the end of the Atomos Shogun review. I hope you have found it beneficial for the kind of productions you’re doing.