I recently picked up a 5.2” Atomos Shinobi Monitor to use as part of my run and gun filmmaking kit. I’ve been quite impressed with it (especially given the $299 price tag), so thought I would share this short review to unpack my findings.
As a rule, I don’t review any product based on technical specs alone. There are thousands of camera/gear review websites and YouTube channels that serve that purpose quite well.
Technical benchmarks are of course important, but so is subjective experience in the field. Often what looks good or bad on paper doesn’t really correlate to the real world experience.
That’s why this review – like most of my others – is based entirely on my experience using the monitor on real world sets. This is how I get to know any product, and determine whether or not it will actually work for my needs.
Hopefully this helps some of you decide whether or not the Shinobi might earn a spot in your filmmaking kit.
The Shinobi is constructed using polycarbonate, which gives the monitor a very lightweight feel.
This was a big selling feature for me, as I always intended to use the monitor top-mounted on my Fuji X-T4. Since the monitor itself is only 1.5 lbs, I’m able to mount it directly to the camera’s hot shoe without worrying about any damage. This could not be done as simply with many heavier monitors that are constructed out of metal.
The polycarbonate material does make the monitor feel very delicate in your hands, but rest assured that it’s actually quite durable in the field. If you do want some added peace of mind though, you can always pick up a cage.
Both the top and bottom of the Shinobi features 1/4 20” holes for mounting purposes, and you’ll find a single HDMI input on the left side, just above the headphone jack.
On the opposite side of the camera you have a remote control input, along with an SD card slot that can be used to load custom LUTs. And on the back there’s a single locking battery slot compatible with Sony L-series batteries.
That’s really all there is to the monitor. It’s very simple, very small, and minimalistic. For my needs, it does the trick.
Image Quality & Performance
The monitor is incredibly detailed, sharp, and most importantly very bright. It’s rated at 1000nits, which means you can still see a clear picture, even when shooting in direct sunlight.
I’ve used the monitor outside in broad daylight several times now, and I’ve never had an issue seeing the image (even without a hood). For me, this is a make or break factor. If the monitor couldn’t perform in sunlight I would have sent it right back.
The only area where the Shinobi struggles a bit with regard to image quality, is in the color department. That’s not to say the Shinobi doesn’t produce aesthetically pleasing colors, but they just aren’t perfectly accurate.
The built in EVF/LCD on my Fuji X-T4 produce colors that are very close to the final image recorded on the card. The Shinobi on the other hand seems to add some additional contrast and saturation, making the images look a bit punchier.
In the future, I might create a custom LUT for the Shinobi that slightly reduces contrast and saturation. That way, I can more closely match the colors I’m seeing in my camera’s EVF/LCD and on the Shinobi Monitor.
I do want to point out though, that the color shifting is somewhat minimal. I’m just extra picky given my background in color, but in a real world shooting environment the difference is not major.
Atomos Shinobi Features
Considering it’s incredibly low price point, the Shinobi is packed with some pretty amazing professional features.
Most features you might find on a higher end monitor can be found on the Shinobi, with just some rare exceptions. Some highlights include: anamorphic de-squeeze, false color, focus peaking, histogram, RGB Parade, vectorscope, waveform, zebra, and frame markers.
All in all, the features are really intuitive to use and work quite well. The peaking is easy to read, the scopes are accurate, and you can even shoot with obscure aspect ratio markers like 1:1.9.
The three features I use most (by far), are the custom LUTs, peaking, and frame guides. All three of these are crucial to my workflow, especially the custom LUTs which were the main selling feature of this monitor.
It would be nice to have some additional hardware features – namely an HDMI output/passthrough so you could tether it to another monitor or a wireless transmitter. But presumably, that would make the monitor larger, which would not be ideal for other reasons.
Again though, given the price point of this monitor it is very feature rich. You get a ton of bang for your buck.
Using Custom LUTs
The Shinobi allows you to load up to 8 custom LUTs in the monitor. To do this, you simply load your desired LUTs onto an SD card and them import them into the available slots on the Shinobi.
There are really two main ways you can use LUTs with this monitor (or any other) from a practical standpoint:
- To convert your color space (let’s say from Log to Rec 709)
- As a creative look building tool
Important note: If you simply want to shoot in log on your camera and monitor in Rec 709, you may not even need to load a custom LUT on your camera.
Under the input tab on the Shinobi, you can select your camera and its Gamma/Gamut settings to match the monitor to the camera for correct image processing.
In other words, rather than converting your color space via a custom LUT, you may be able to do it natively in the Shinobi using their operating system.
But if your camera is not supported, or you simply want to create your own LUT to get a more desirable visual result, you can do so using the custom approach.
Personally, I like to use the LUTs more as a creative tool. With 8 different looks loaded into the monitor, I can quickly audition different visual palettes – high contrast vs. low contrast, warm vs. cool, and so on.
To streamline this process, I hand picked 8 of my favorite CINECOLOR LUTs and loaded them into the monitor. This allows me to quickly toggle between different looks, and see how my lighting and composition holds up against them.
Atomos Shinobi Battery Life
The Shinobi’s battery life is by far and away the best thing about it. I am so used to monitors that will die in 20 minutes on a standard Canon/Sony battery, or that need to be powered by a larger V-mount brick.
With just a single Sony L-series battery attached, the Shinobi can literally run all day. They are rated at about 12 hours of use, so on an average shoot day you may not even need to swap batteries. At most you would just do a single battery swap.
For some, battery life isn’t a deal breaker – particularly if they use their monitor on a larger rig that is powered by another source. But for anyone who needs to keep their kit as small and low maintenance as possible, the full day battery life is truly awesome.
Before purchasing the Shinobi, I also considered the Atomos Ninja V – which is very similar to the Shinobi but also acts as a recorder.
As much as I would have loved having the option to also record on the monitor, the tradeoff was battery life. The Ninja V would draw substantially more power, meaning lots more battery swaps and charges. Ultimately I decided to sacrifice recording capability for battery life, and I definitely haven’t looked back.
The Atomos Shinobi is a fantastic monitor, especially considering the $299 price point. Is it perfect? No…. But then again, what monitor is?
The best way to assess any gear purchase is to look at the pros and cons and see which actually impact your workflow.
For me, the Shinobi had all the features I wanted, could produce bright images in sunlight, and was really compact and easy to use. All of that made up for it not being able to record internally and having some minor issues with color accuracy.
I would suspect that many other run and gun filmmakers may come to the same conclusion. At least for the time being, I don’t see any other competitors on the market that can deliver these results at this price point.
What are your thoughts on the Atomos Shinobi? Leave a comment below!