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Convergent Design Gemini

We’re living in some very exciting times when it comes to film technology as the “big boy toys” that are being created are finally in grasping distance of the independent filmmaker, something that was merely just a dream 5 years ago.  I recently had an email conversation with a good friend about the variety of portable digital recorders available for pro cameras and thought I’d share the info with you guys here on the blog.  These newer portable recorders allow you to take the output of certain cameras (i.e. Panasonic AF100, Sony F3, Arri Alexa) and record it to a portable hard/flash drive for instant playback and transcoding (since the transcoding is done on-the-fly with some recorders).  The time-saving aspect of transcoding on-the-fly alone is already being seen in many major productions since transcoding to an editable format is one of the most time-consuming parts of post-production.  My friend had just purchased an Arri Alexa with AJA’s Ki Pro Mini to extend recording times and was curious at what I thought of the set-up.  Here’s a brief synopsis of our conversation.

Basically, it really depends on how/what you are shooting.  For instance, there is only one recorder available under $10,000 that records at 2K, the Cinedeck Extreme Recorder but Convergent Design has the Gemini coming out this summer for about $6000.  These two are also the only ones that can record a RAW output, which will give you the best possible image file to work with as no compression is necessary but it will also take up the most hard drive space and be the most troublesome when editing as many NLEs don’t work well with RAW codecs yet.  Also, only the Cinedeck currently records at 1080p60 and (from my limited research) only the Ki Pro (not mini) records Variable Frame Rate (VFR) 720p so those features are out of the question on the others I’ll mention below.  In case you are wondering, the difference between the Ki Pro and Ki Pro Mini (besides size and storage) is that the Ki Pro can do Up/Down cross conversion and has analogue component inputs.

One of the best features of the Arri Alexa is that it has native ProRes support plus can record to ARRIRAW, though an external recorder for ARRIRAW is needed and extremely expensive.  Codex is coming out with one that should be less expensive but no one knows for sure when that will be.  More after the break.

4:4:4 is finally becoming more widely used.  (Here’s a good link that explains what 4:4:4 is if you’re unsure.)  This is why I am extremely excited about Sony F3’s new 4:4:4 output.  When you combine that output with the 12-bit 4:4:4 RAW of the Cinedeck, you looking at a very high-dynamic-range camera for only $16,000!  I haven’t been a Sony fan for years now, but the images I’ve seen are outstanding.  They are so much better than the native XDCAM output.  And to top that off, they just announced the F65 camera with an 8K sensor!  Maybe they are turning themselves around.

Below I tried to give the very basic features of each of the major players right now in the portable recorder arena so you can see the differences.  I understand that not all these qualify as “affordable for the indie filmmaker” but it’s much closer than it has ever been and most can be rented.  Feel free to email in any updates/corrections.

FYI: All of these record to Apple ProRes except the Gemini and HyperDeck Shuttle.  The Gemini transcodes to ProRes when you transfer to your computer.  The HyperDeck Shuttle only records to an uncompressed QuickTime file and must be converted manually.

Cinedeck Extreme Recorder

  • est. $9995
  • 4:4:4 12-bit RAW or 10-bit 4:2:2 in avi or mov at up to 2K and with 1080p60 support
  • Has a SI-2K 12-bit RAW upgrade for $3495
  • This is the creme de la creme of recorders right now.  Basically does it all and just added 3D capability at NAB.

AJA Ki Pro Mini

  • est. $1995
  • 4:2:2 10-bit video up to 1080p (no 1080p60 support)

Convergent Design Gemini 4:4:4 Recorder (Summer 2011)

  • est: $5995
  • 4:4:4 10-bit RAW video up to 2K (and 1080p60 support in future firmware)
  • Some say could be as good as the Cinedeck but at lower price point
  • Has the potential to record a 4:4:4 S-Log output from the Sony F3 AND record to a low-res proxy format like ProRes AT THE SAME TIME! This is game changer territory when we’re barely breaking $20,000 to get this capability.

Sound Devices PIX 240 (Summer 2011)

  • est: $2500
  • 4:2:2 10-bit video up to 1080p (no 1080p60 support)
  • High Quality audio inputs (better than the others)

Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Shuttle

  • est: $345
  • 4:2:2 10-bit video up to 1080p (no 1080p60 support)
  • Only records uncompressed QuickTime files

Atomos Samurai (Summer 2011)

  • est. $1495
  • 4:2:2 10-bit video up to 1080p (no 1080p60 support)
  • Cheapest solution but untested

Cinemartin SFV (TBD 2011)

  • est. TBD but talk is that it will be $5000
  • 4:4:4 10-bit RAW or 10-bit 4:2:2 in avi or mov at up to 2K and with 1080p60 support
  • This one could be vaporware but fun to see competition.  May do ProRes but no one knows yet.

As you can see, there are a bunch of impressive options coming this year.  Time to pick one and go make some pretty pictures.