Normally, this discussion would be in person. But the new normal in our Full Frame 4K world is a sometimes fuzzy video image of dubious resolution, beloved by, among many others, exercise-at-home Zumba instructors and bunkered executives. One of these executives, Jeromy Young, CEO of Atomos, was on screen from Melbourne, the far side of the world where many of us hunkered down here would prefer to be. Dan Chung, Chief Marketing Officer of Atomos, was also online.
Jon Fauer: For anyone not already cheering wildly about this announcement, why is Apple ProRes RAW important?
Jeromy Young: Apple ProRes RAW advances the levels of quality and ease of use to RAW video that ProRes brought to conventional video. When you record in the Apple ProRes RAW format, it’s like having a camera original negative. Apple ProRes RAW offers great flexibility to adjust the look of your image, brightness and shadows. Best of all, file sizes are relatively small and easy to manage.
Apple ProRes RAW was the first step into a truly RAW workflow for the mass market. I think the reason we were chosen as one of the initial partners was to help democratize it. The original concept was to get the performance of ProRes in a RAW format, with more flexibility than a video codec.
Can you explain ProRes RAW for readers who have not waded through Apple’s white paper?
Sure. You take the values from the sensor that the camera makers usually keep to themselves, then they send it to us to record with the associated metadata. We pack the RAW data into the ProRes codec format, basically making it compressed RAW with significantly reduced file sizes. This allows it to be recorded at high data rate onto reliable SATA disk, either our AtomX SSDmini drives or other affordable media. That is the market they were aiming for, and that we service. And that is what ProRes RAW is all about: a RAW codec for the mass market that’s perfect for HDR deliverables.
I do. It will take some time as the tools evolve. There are other RAW formats out in the world. RED and ARRI and other formats may provide wider traditional film style tools. ProRes RAW was not initially envisaged to be used like that. However, the requests were thick and fast from users who were working with it, especially from our users. Now, we record a lot of metadata—white balance, ISO, camera information, etc. It is frame by frame, pixel by pixel, line by line data that is in the file—it just isn’t being read in the post-production applications as yet. We will be able to add those capabilities as we work with new cameras, but over time it must be enabled by the software makers to be able to read it. So that’s where we’ll see a plethora of tools opening up for the ProRes RAW ecosystem.
How did your project with the Panasonic S1H camera start?
We visited them every couple of months, until recently, in Japan and sat down with the engineers and the team. We discussed being able to output RAW over HDMI. Previously, we had enabled the Nikon Z6 and Z7 to record ProRes RAW on our Ninja V. That allowed us to have an example to show what we’d done. So, that was the starting point for the discussions.
At IBC 2019, you said, “We are very proud to continue developing new ground-breaking technology with a company of the caliber of Panasonic.” Please comment.
We are both highly committed to the democratization of filmmaking. The ability to transmit RAW over HDMI from the S1H to a Ninja V is a major leap forward in this endeavor.
A few months earlier, at the launch event in LA in June 2019, Panasonic representatives said, “One of the leading brands of external monitor-recorders is definitely Atomos. We both have a very good working relationship. We are very proud to be developing RAW output via HDMI with Atomos for the S1H.” And now Apple ProRes RAW.
Our advancements in screen technology now allow creators to accurately monitor RAW video in real-time as it would be viewed in the home or cinema—with the original creative intent preserved. Our Atomos HDR screens are excellent in color accuracy and representation of brightness from RAW signals. The ability to record ProRes RAW offers new possibilities for filmmakers.
When did Atomos begin working on this project?
Usually cameras are a couple of years in development. I’d say we started in March 2019 after we had already proved that we could do it together.
Did Panasonic approach Atomos? How did it all evolve?
It was mutual timing. It takes a little while to develop. I usually ask, “Have you thought about HDMI RAW to record ProRes RAW?” And, they’d say, “You know, we’ve been thinking the same thing.”
This was a team effort between two companies. Who did what?
A path of data that isn’t specified at the beginning of a camera project, or any complex project, is usually a work-around. We take certain standards for granted, like HDMI and SDI. You can rely on those specifications and make one product that can connect to everything. This is not that. Each camera has its own unique way of working. Of course, we’d like there to be a standard and we’ve given it out to others that they’re now building for. The more efficient the process is, the faster the development is for us, the faster the frame rates can be, and the more data we can pack in a short interval of time.
It wasn’t as simple as some that we’ve done before. There was a bit of work on our side and challenges appeared on the engineering side. When you’ve got two teams working together, it’s never as easy as if the teams are working right next to each other. But the beauty is when you finish the project, you do something that no one else or any other group has had a chance to do before. And that really does bring some amazing results, which you’ll see in the footage that we’ll be releasing at launch.
I saw the demo and it’s gorgeous. Wonderful production value, look and quality of the images.
I’m glad you liked it. We’re pretty proud of it.
You and Panasonic have developed something that will thrill the entire filmmaking community.
Faster development is obviously desired, but often the best things come out of challenges. Panasonic has an amazing camera with the S1H. They’ve packed a lot of knowledge into that device. They have combined great consumer knowledge and professional knowledge—the best of VariCam and the best of Lumix GH5 in one camera. My prediction is that it will be the B Camera of choice.
That’s what they said about ALEXA Mini at launch: just a B Camera. I think the S1H and Ninja 5 system shooting ProRes RAW is also going to work as an A camera. Just look at the great work Chris Sieniawski did on his short film Blind Love. Imagine that kind of quality on indies, features, commercials, TV.
With the camera’s L-mount, readily available adapters enable shooting with almost any lens on the planet: PL, Panavision, LPL, M, EF, F, Spherical, Anamorphic.
That’s an interesting angle, Jon. We might think our market’s one thing, but then we might walk into another market. It would be totally acceptable to shoot anamorphic on the S1H, and you could record in ProRes RAW on our nice little monitor.
As Chris showed us with the quality of the short he shot on the S1H in ProRes RAW on Ninja V, this could be very good.
I think you announced last year that the Shogun 7 might record ProRes RAW from the S1H.
It’s still on the roadmap. It won’t happen at launch. We’ve been a little bit busy over the last six months. We do plan to open up HDMI RAW on the Shogun 7 because I think for rigging and for focus pullers, having a 7-inch Monitor-ProRes RAW Recorder will be an important step.
The more choices the better. I assume it will also be available on Atomos Neon 4K HDR monitors?
Are you launching ProRes RAW Recording on Ninja V simultaneously with Panasonic?
Yes, on May 25. There will be a firmware update update necessary for the Ninja V. It’s free. There’s no license fee.
Are you going live with Blind Love on Monday along with the launch announcement?
Yes, the video will be on the Atomos website beginning Monday, April 20 at 8pm EDT.
Not trying to flatter or ask a leading question, but why is Atomos one of the few companies doing ProRes RAW monitor-recording?
I think there’s a challenge in the communication of trust. You need to have the trust of your partners. You need to have, at the same time and on both sides, Apple’s trust and the camera maker’s trust. I think that’s why we encourage this Atomos United team. The camera manufacturers that we deal with know that we try to be camera agnostic, to work with everyone. What we can help them with is connecting the dots on the workflow.
I think the reason we’re the ones doing it is that we have both of those relationships. We take all comers, we don’t pick and choose favorites. Equally, they can go to any other company to do RAW recording if they want. I am open-minded. I just want to support people with a dream I have, which is to bring those workflows together for customers. And if a camera maker shuts us out, then we’d probably have to make a camera. If a software company shuts us out, we’d have to make software. But right now it’s much easier to deal with our friends.
I believe in choice. I believe in one’s ability to make a decision. Unfortunately that requires a lot of management in the real world, which I’m learning as I get older and wiser, but I still believe in it.
You’re almost becoming something of a universal standard capture company. In some ways, you almost remind me of Kodak in their prime, which was 100 years as a universal standard, supplying motion film that would run through the gate of almost any camera.
I appreciate that. At this time, it’s good to hear you’ve built something that’s reputable and valuable in some way.
I think what’s happened is the budgets for many productions will be going down. This may be a very good opportunity to up-sell prosumer products, because that’s really been a bread and butter market for us. And in our world, now may be the right time and the right place for the S1H, Ninja V and ProRes RAW.
This article first appeared in FDTimes April 2020 Issue 101.