If you follow cinematography culture and news, you’ve heard about the Atomos Shogun, the most affordable 4k video monitor and recorder currently on the market. Here we take a detailed look at the Shogun and share our experience recording 4k with it and the Sony a7S.
The Atomos Shogun is a 4K video monitor and recorder designed to record ultra high definition footage from various digital video cameras.
4K is just starting to become the new standard for video resolution. With four times the number of pixels as a regular 1080p HD video, 4K is bringing higher quality images to motion pictures. Display manufacturers have started pumping out 4K capable TVs, Apple recently released an iMac with an even higher resolution 5K display and Youtube and Vimeo have supported ultra high definition video for years now. It’s just a matter of time before 4K video is what we will all expect from our video device on an everyday basis.
The technology needed to record 4K is also becoming much more accessible. There are now several consumer oriented cameras available on the market that showcase the ability to shoot 4K resolution. We have a few micro 4/3 sensor cameras like the Panasonic GH4 and Panasonic LX100 that can record 4K internal recording. And one of the biggest product releases in the enthusiast oriented cinematography world was the 4K capable Sony a7S. It’s the first camera to support full frame (36mm x 24mm) 4K video production. But the a7S requires an external recorder to be able to actually capture the 4K signal from its sensor and, at the time the a7S was released, there were no portable or practical 4K capable external recorder options available on the market.
The newly released Atomos Shogun is one of a few products on the market that is making full-frame 4K recording over HDMI possible. (The other being the recently released Convergent Design 7Q+.) We got our hands on one of the first copies of the Atomos Shogun in late December 2014 and put it through its paces to capture 4K video with the Sony a7S. We spent 4 weeks recording footage for The Photon Collective launch trailer, giving us a great hands on project to test the user experience and performance of the Shogun. See what we think below.
We received our loaner Atomos Shogun courtesy of B&H Photo & Video for this review so props to them for making this project possible! While already versed in what was included with the Atomos Shogun from the official Atomos Shogun Introduction video, we were still impressed with how well equiped the package was once in front of us. Atomos includes almost everything you need to shoot save for: a Solid State Drive (SSD) and an HDMI cable. Everything arrives neatly packed in a robust latching case reminiscent of a standard rugged Pelican case.
In the case:
- Atomos Shogun
- 5x Atomos Master Disk Caddie II’s + mounting hardware for SSDs
- SSD docking station with USB 2/3 cable
- 9V AC adaptor for the Shogun
- Single battery charger and AC power adaptor
- 6x total international compatible AC adapter convertor plugs in 3 types
- 1x 7.4V 2600mAh battery
- XLR mic break-out cable
- Shogun quick start guide
The Shogun kit feels like a superb value at the price, especially when compared on paper to the competing Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q+ which only ships with an AC Adapter and no other peripherals to speak of. Furthermore, Atomos has promised that the Shogun will be updated to support Cinema DNG raw recording for free. Most raw recording options for the 7Q+ will only be available via purchasing an expensive license.
Build and Handling
When we first picked up the Shogun itself, it felt surprisingly lightweight. It might seem a little bit light in the hand for such an expensive peripheral but overall it seemed tough enough and our backs are happy that it wasn’t any heavier.
All of the user interface (UI) functions are navigable via the 7″ touchscreen on the Shogun. In a few cases we found the user interface to actually feel a little cramped, especially for such a large display. It certainly looks good but a few of the UI elements like the top bar buttons are too small and not very conducive to a touch interface, especially after being accustomed to the excellent UIs on common tablets like the iPad. At times it seemed to require multiple presses to nail the right spot on the touch screen. Tapping buttons that are smaller than what you’d expect makes it possible to occasionally miss the tap altogether. Maybe an additional area of sensitivity beyond the visible graphical buttons would make this less of a problem.
We think Atomos could improve the interface of the Shogun by increasing the size of its UI elements and buttons for maximum touchscreen friendliness. It would make navigation of the interface faster and less time interacting with the recorder would mean more time shooting. They’ve been very responsive to the community so far and their policy on support and firmware upgrades have been positive enough that we’re confident they can some changes in later firmware updates to improve the experience on the Shogun.
But even with these small gripes, the overall user experience is very simple and that’s a good thing. Everything is right there at your fingertips and we never found too difficult to find a function. Nothing is really hidden from the user and most functions require at most two taps to navigate making operation of the Shogun very fast overall, even for those initially unfamiliar with the interface. The most used interface element is the record button anyways and nearly everything else is just icing on the cake.
Our Rig Setup
While at the bare minimum an SSD and an HDMI cable are the only additional peripherals you need to start shooting 4K with the Sony a7S, the Shogun needs some sort of mounting solution. The simplest solution for tripod shots would likely be using a hotshoe mounted ballhead like the Manfrotto 492 but those wanting a more supportive video rig may opt for a more rail based rig setup or a multi axis gimbal rig.
We built up our a7S and Shogun rig with the Movcam a7S cage and the Ikan Tilta TT-03 shoulder rig. We used several different configurations of the rig, swapping out parts as we saw fit. The Shogun was usually mounted to the camera cage with a 10″ Ikan articulating arm which allowed us (with some practice) to switch from a shoulder rig shot to a tripod or slider based shot without needing to remove and remount the Shogun.
The Shogun provides two 1/4-20 threads, one each on the top and bottom of the monitor depending on whether you wish to mount it atop the camera or underslung. The interface also makes it possible to flip the orientation of the screen should you need to flip the orientation of the unit while shooting.
One note if you’re shooting with the a7S: the micro HDMI plug on the camera is rather delicate (a poor choice on Sony’s part in our opinion) so it’s very important that you use some sort of cable strain relief to prevent the plug from being bumped or pulled. The supplied cable protector that comes with the a7S is adequate but you’ll need an HDMI cable that fits into the strain relief. We recommend the 1.5′ Pearstone HDMI to Micro-HDMI cable. It’s one of the few cables with a plug overmold that’s small enough to it properly in in the cable protector on the a7S. Another viable but much more expensive solution is the LockPort for the a7 or the Vavaron a7S Cage which has a built in strain relief.
With our short 4 weeks with the Shogun, we did not have a viable strain relief solution (our HDMI cable for most of the shooting was too large to fit into the stock Sony cable protector) so we had a number of instances where the cable got bumped and we lost a shot. It’s no fault of the Atomos Shogun but we’re not happy with Sony for making such a capable camera with such a terrible HDMI connector. We even saw a problem where the camera would not properly trigger the Shogun to start recording due to the bad HDMI connection.
The very first thing we did with the Shogun was install and format our Sandisk SSD, connect it to the a7S, enable 4K output on the camera and hit the record button. Frankly, that’s all that really needed to happen in order to start recording 4K. It’s surprisingly simple.
Depending on the configuration of the a7S, it was possible to initiate recording from either the Shogun directly or via the camera’s dedicated record button (if HDMI control was enabled on the a7S).
The Shogun provides a plethora of video assists including zebra stripes, false color, focus peaking, vectorscope, waveform monitor in both luma and RGB Parade, and focus zoom to 2X for precision focusing.
We found that color focus peaking was helpful in some scenarios but also varied a lot depending on the settings or scene. It’s possible to select various colors for peaking but not adjust the threshold of peaking. Furthermore, the peaking seems to have fine, smoothly rolled off edges which makes it a little hard to discern the indication in certain scenes. I think it would be great if the Shogun could show hotter/thicker peaking indication as well as provide a threshold adjustment or intensity adjustment. Certain lenses and aperture settings as well as different video picture profiles provide differing levels of sharpness so being able to adjust the peaking threshold is almost essential. The monochrome and outline focus peaking modes makes it a little easier to see the peaking lines but we think they are still a little too fine for super effective focus indication. For comparison, the peaking utility built into the Sony a7S and other Sony cameras is a really great example of focus peaking done right. That said, the resolution of the screen on the Shogun was so good that we generally didn’t even need to use focus peaking to be confident of our focus.
We preferred to keep the zebra threshold at 105% to highlight overblown areas of our exposure. This assist made it super easy to push our exposure towards the bright end of the spectrum without blowing out highlight detail for the best results when shooting with the a7S’s Picture Profile 7 S-Log2 gamma profile.
The screen is downright beautiful to view but it’s also a glare-ridden affair. We shot all of our footage outside in the daylight and wished constantly for something like a Hoodman glare shield, instead resorting to placing Cody’s brimmed hat on top the recorder to help shade it. Keep the glare in mind when building up your setup with the Shogun. Hopefully some glare preventing accessories like a matte screen protector or glare shield will be available for the Shogun in the near future. UPDATE: Atomos now offers a glare shield for the Shogun!
At the end of our time with the Shogun, Atomos released a much anticipated firmware update for the Shogun (available at atomos.com/support) that enabled playback on the Shogun. Most of our shooting was performed with the early generation firmware that couldn’t playback but the experience was fine. The a7S supports dual video mode which allows it to output 4K via HDMI and also internally record a 720p HD video to the camera’s SD card for reviewing and proofing footage on the a7S. Once the Shogun was updated with the latest firmware, reviewing footage is as easy as pressing the playback button and it’s also possible to insert “Favorite” or “Reject” tags and “In/Out” cut tags to the footage, exportable to an XML file for easier reviewing when editing.
Overall, once fully set up to our preferences, the Atomos Shogun was relatively transparent in operation. It was just a matter of hitting the record button when starting or stopping a shoot. Of all the minor gripes we could find in our month with the unit, it still felt like an excellent tool built with a very high standard of quality. Its overall ease of operation made it extremely easy to use even for someone who is brand new to the world of video.
The most obvious shortcoming of the Shogun out-of-the-box is the battery life. The singular 2600 mAh NP-F570 battery pack that ships with the Shogun is only good for 45 minutes of recording and monitoring 4K footage and in our experience that’s pretty much exactly how much we got out of it. That’s not very long at all. Unless you’re really good at planning your outdoor shots to fit inside of that 45 minute window, some kind of external power or purchasing extra batteries is an absolute must. Of course, if you’re recording in studio you can use the supplied AC adapter to power the unit directly off a wall outlet.
Since we were recording in the outdoors away from our cars or power outlets, our chosen solution for power was the use of an Anker 9/12V external lithium ion battery pack that we strapped to the back of the Shogun. The Atomos shogun has a DC power port that can accept an input of 6.2V to 16.8V so it’s relatively easy to power with an external source. If you’re looking at buying the Shogun, definitely pick up some extra NP style batteries or put together an external 9/12V power solution like we did. Once we were setup with the external battery pack we had no worries about running out of power in the field and any serious user of the Shogun for outdoor work will need to consider a similar solution.
The Shogun supports most off-the-shelf 2.5″ SSD drives. It comes with 5 caddies for SSDs so there’s plenty of room to expand storage if you’re shooting a lot of footage. We opted for one of the drives officially recommended on the Atomos website, the 480GB Sandisk Extreme II SSD, which is relatively affordable and it worked without a hitch. The Shogun can also support most brands of SSDs while the 7Q+ must use Convergent Design’s proprietary (and very expensive) SSD media drives.
Most of our footage was shot in the Apple ProRes 422 (non-HQ) format which gave us an excellent balance between storage space and 4K quality. We never felt constrained by the capacity of our single drive and we’re happy that the Shogun supports so many affordable media solutions by being able to use nearly any off-the-shelf SSD.
We shot the majority of our 4K footage on the Shogun using the Sony a7S’s S-Log2 gamma profile. It produces a very flat image with smooth details and subdued colors and almost always requires color correction to make the footage look its best. We personally like using a simple 3D LUT to make color grading the S-Log2 footage relatively simple. Some of the best and easiest to use LUTs for the a7S are available from Alister Chapman of xdcam-user.com.
Just looking straight at the real-time video feed on the beautiful 7″ screen of the Shogun is a great experience. The monitor is full HD (1920 x 1200) and it’s very very sharp looking. Focusing can be relatively easy even without the use of on-screen aids like focus peaking just because the image on the Shogun monitor is so sharp.
We shot our 4K footage on a variety of lenses with the a7S including the Sony E 10-18mm/4 OSS, Sony Zeiss FE 55mm/1.8 ZA and various adapted Nikkor glass. You can check out all of our graded 4K footage on our Atomos Shogun video review on Youtube or at the top of this page. We’ve also uploaded a (huge) raw ProRes file below. Download it if you want to see what the raw S-Log2 footage looks like straight out of the Shogun.
Download a reel of raw demo footage here. (1.6GB .mov)
(Atomos Shogun, Sony a7S, PP7, S-Log2 Gamma, 3840*2160, 24p, Apple ProRes 422, .mov)
We frankly think that the footage capable with this rig is downright beautiful. There’s not much else to it, it looks damn good and we don’t really need to say much more about it as the footage mostly speaks for itself.
The Shogun + Sony a7S is one of the only ways to capture true full-frame 4K HD video at this time and that alone puts the Shogun into a very special category. It’s operation is pretty easy, and even though we could wish for some UI tweaks (like larger graphical buttons), complete newbies could easily mount the Shogun to their a7S and start recording full-frame 4K within minutes. That said, this is not a product targeted toward newbies or enthusiasts and it instead pushes straight into the realm of the hardcore enthusiast and professional cinematographer.
The true cost of entry for effective use of the Shogun is more than just the sticker price. To get the most out of the Shogun, it still needs a decent mounting solution, an SSD, HDMI cable and we also highly recommend buying extra batteries or an external battery pack for uninterrupted shooting in the field. Combined with the a7S, a complete full-frame 4K rig with the Shogun can push well past the $5000 range and that really makes it a tool that you can’t just use for shooting goofy videos with your friends. It’s a hardcore piece of kit that we would only recommend for the committed videographer. In that scope of use, the Shogun creates excellent results previously impossible in this price range.
Overall, the Atomos Shogun is a well executed tool and we’re excited to see the films that will inevitably be filmed with it. Even though it still needs some additional items to make it a complete kit, the Shogun ships extremely well outfitted with most of the essential peripherals and in a brilliantly good carrying case to boot. The footage of the Shogun and the a7S is downright beautiful and if you purchased the a7S for serious video work and you want full-frame 4K recording at the best value possible, the Atomos Shogun is the tool to make it possible. 4/5 Stars. Highly Recommended.
Don’t stop here — Keep reading!
Check out our list of launch articles here:
- Atomos Shogun Review
- My DSLR to Mirrorless Switch: Affording More Glass with Sony’s Shapeshifting Cameras
- The Quantum Collection: Free Presets for Adobe Lightroom and Camera Raw
- Enter to Win a One-Year Membership to Skillshare
- How-To: Levitation Photography
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