Getting to know the Atomos Shogun

The day before Christmas, the Atomos Shogun was released in the Netherlands, so there’s one next to me on the table now. The Atomos Shogun is an external video recorder with a beautiful full-HD, 7-inch screen, with which you make high-quality, 4K and full-HD slow-motion shots with system cameras such as the Sony A7s, Panasonic GH4 or the Samsung NX1.
Panasonic and Samsung have put on a top performance with all the cameras introduced in 2014 that take 8-megapixel (video) shots 30 times per second—without having to stop after a few seconds because the camera buffer is full.


View tip: Unboxing the Atomos Shogun

It is an unimaginably large amount of information that a Samsung NX1 or Panasonic GH4 saves directly to the SD card in the camera when you film in 4K or slow-motion full-HD. Who would have thought it possible a few years ago? SLR and mirrorless system cameras from other brands are not yet able to film in ultra-HD/4K, let alone to save 4K recordings in the camera.
If you don’t have a Samsung or Panasonic 4K camera, then for 4K you need specialized video cameras, which are many times more expensive. Many thousands of euros more. Even for the equally attractively priced Sony A7s, you need an external recorder in order to be able to make 4K recordings. With other cameras, you can store the video recordings on the Atomos Shogun with a higher image quality than you can store directly in the camera. The Panasonic GH4 thus offers the unique ability to store your video recordings in 10 bits (more about that later) with an Atomos Shogun.

The Atomos Shogun is delivered in a beautiful, solid hard-plastic case, in which there are two layers of rubber housing the Shogun and its accessories. A lot of hardware comes standard, like a battery pack with charger, a power cord for the Shogun, a hard disk docking station (USB 2 and 3), XLR Push-Pull circular break-out cable and 5 Master Disk caddies for your hard disks. A large number of travel plugs and a connection for the cigarette lighter of a car are also in the box.

Must See: In 40 minutes, Stefan Czech gives you a fantastic review, including explanation and practical examples!


Even so, despite all the included accessories, you cannot get to work immediately with the Atomos Shogun. For that, you also need:

You will also certainly need an extra battery, as soon as you seriously get to work.


View tip for pros: Atomos Shogun review on EosHD

This article is not a review of the Atomos Shogun. This is a first introduction to the capabilities of this revolutionary product, written for photographers who are getting started with video. An experienced videotape has a large number of option at his disposal that a photographer does not know or use. In this article, these extra options will be explained, so that in a few weeks/months, I can share my experiences with a practice test of the Atomos Shogun.


A larger screen than your camera

Videographers like to have a large screen, in part because they usually focus manually. Then you automatically come to an on-camera field monitor, which you place in the hot shoe of the camera. The Atomos Shogun offers one of the largest (7 inch) 1920 x 1080 Full-HD screens with a high resolution (320 ppi) and accurate color reproduction. The monitor can be calibrated with an Atomos Spyder. You secure the battery and the hard disk behind the screen in order to save the recordings.
With the Atomos Shogun, you can save 4K images at 30 images per second. That alone is an important reason why so many happy owners of a Panasonic GH4, Samsung NX1 or Sony A7s have waited with baited breath for the moment when the Shogun would actually appear. The Atomos Shogun is also designed to facilitate future technology. At this time, there are, for example, not yet any cameras that can do it, but the Shogun is able to save full-HD recordings at 120 images per second, so that you can save high-quality slow-motion images. The Shogun is a also not yet fully functional at this time. For example, you cannot yet review recordings, and the DNxHD file format is not yet available. For me, that doesn’t matter; there is still enough to discover on the Shogun to keep you busy for months. In the FAQ section on the Atomos website, a great deal about the Shogun is explained in a very accessible way. Atomos has promised to further supplement and expand the functionality of the Shogun with updates. In time, 4K in 50p/60p, 4K – 4096 x 2160 support, 4:4:4 10-bit (HD Only) are even possible, when a new version of the OS for the Shogun is released, as you can read on page 8 of the Atomos Shogun brochure.
Next to the storage of these large file formats, the Atomos Shogun offers various options for higher image quality. In this article, I only indicate where the quality improvements can be found. In the coming months, I am going to select what you will actually see of this in practice.

Higher video quality with an Atomos Shogun


In a video camera, various tricks are applied in order to be able to save as many images as possible while at the same time keeping the stored files as small as possible. Most of threes tricks lead to loss of quality, which fortunately is usually not visible in regular video recordings. As soon as you start intensively editing video recordings, or want to print individual images from a video recording, then the chance of an artifact becomes greater. Here too, the Atomos Shogun offers advantages (see the picture above as well):

  • Lose nothing: Sequential video frames often include in large part the same information-in a video of a camel walking in the desert, the largest part of the image remains unchanged. By fully saving the first image but thereafter only documenting the changes with respect to the previous frame, video files become much smaller. A possible disadvantage of this method is that any artifacts will be carried along to the following image. Because the Atomos Shogun is sufficiently fast and has sufficient memory space, you can set up the camera in such a way that every individual image will be saved. Certainly if you extract an individual image from a video, you will then get—in theory in any case—better photos.
  • More precise brightness and colors: A video camera uses a different color model than a photo camera. A photo camera works with pixels where the color will be described as a mixture of red, green and blue light (RGB). A video camera does not use RGB, but describes all colors on the basis of the brightness/luminescence (Y) and two color channels (Cb and Cr). The human eye is the most sensitive to the brightness. You can practically get away with throwing away information from the color channels (Cb and Cr), without it being visible. With a video camera, the color information will be stored per group of 4 pixels. If you were to save all the information, then that would be indicated for video with (4:4:4). For a normal video recording, the brightness of all 4 pixels will be stored, but only a part of the color information (4:2:0). Some cameras, such as the Panasonic GH4, offer the option when using an external recorder to write the video images with more accurate colors (4:2:2). This makes the color gradient display more fluid, less blocky.
  • More color: All the individual pixels of a sensor describe an image in more than 16,000 red * 16,000 green * 16,000 blue (=4*1012) colors. In a 14-bit RAW file, all 4 billion colors will be saved, but it is much more information that the human eye can distinguish. An 8-bit jpg file with 17 million (256*256*256) colors is much smaller, but good enough for our eyes. Only when you start to edit shots can it become visible that an 8-bit file includes insufficient information in order to maintain nice gradients after video editing. Instead of a nice gradient, bands are created (posterization). The best video cameras offer the option to save the recordings in 10 bits with the Atomos Shogun, so that you will less quickly suffer from posterization when post-editing.

Atomos: High-tech with simple operation

What I noticed when installing the Atomos Shogun was the user interface. This is very simple and clear. You are almost disappointed that you have a high-tech device for which you can easily and quickly find all the functions! Even so, the Atomos Shogun offers all the functions—including very advanced ones—that you need in order to get accurate exposures and focus sharply.

Manual focusing with the Atomos Shogun

With video, use will be made of manual focusing much more often than with photography. First, as the camera operator, you can very nicely and slowly shift the focus. Second, you prevent the overshoot-and-return of the AF, which can always happen when you leave the camera on AF.
Manual focusing with the help of an image screen offers important advantages with respect to focusing on a focusing screen. First, you can zoom in on an image screen on that part that you want to have sharp. With the Atomos Shogun, you can zoom in to 1:1 or 2:1—which is an incredible luxury on a 7-inch screen—so that you immediately see whether the focus lies where you want to have it. In addition, you can make use of “focus peaking”, where it will be marked on the screen where the focus in the shot lies.
The Atomos Shogun offers, in the “Focus Assist” menu, three different methods of focus peaking. You can set the color that will be used for focus peaking yourself, so that it contrasts as well as possible with the subject. Even so, this form of focus peaking, for example with multi-colored subjects, is not always easy to see. Then it’s easier to work with a black-and-white image, where focus peaking will mark the sharp subjects in color on the screen. Your recordings will of course be stored in normal color.
In order to be able to better see how much focal depth you have, you can use the “Focus Assist Outline”. The image on the monitor will be converted to a contour drawing, whereby the contours that fall within the focal depth will be marked in color. You can choose the color that is used for this yourself.

Histograms a thing of the past?

When I take pictures, then I use a histogram in my viewfinder in order to check the exposure. The electronic viewfinder also marks which parts of the shot threaten to become overexposed. On the basis of this information, I can adjust the shutter time if needed, in order to get the exposure that I want. The Atomos Shogun does not offer a traditional histogram, but it does offer various other—more advanced—options. That the Atomos Shogun does not show a histogram does not have to be a problem. The histogram of the Panasonic GH4 is still there.
The Atomos Shogun has a Zebra function with a threshold value that you can set yourself, and with which you will be warned of overexposure. The parts of the image that threated to become overexposed will be marked with a zebra pattern, so that you can immediately adjust the exposure. Instead of a histogram, the Atomos Shogun offers four different and very advanced options for checking the exposure and color. For experienced videographers, who do a lot with color-grading, Vectorscope and the Luma overlay/RGB parade may well be a piece of cake. But for me as a photographer, it’s something new. My experiences with this will be covered in the Atomos Shogun review, after I have worked with the Atomos Shogun a bit longer.


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