AJA's Ki Pro Mini
Based in Maryland, Cocklins Video Services is an Emmy Award-winning company that has been in business for more than 30 years. Our work runs the gamut from broadcast documentary video production to corporate training videos to Web video for clients including ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, PBS, National Geographic, and corporate and government agencies.
We brought AJA's Ki Pro Mini digital recorder in house a few months ago, pairing it with the Sony PMW-F3 camera. We do all of our editing and finishing on Avid Media Composer 5.0.
I first heard about the recorder last year when we put in our order for the F3. The camera natively captures XDCAM 8-bit 4:2:0 35Mb/s but outputs via HD-SDI or HDMI 10-bit 4:2:2. We wanted a recorder capable of recording at 10 bits with the 4:2:2 sample rate because most of our clients want broadcast standard or higher. At the time, the Ki Pro Mini was the only 10-bit recorder available and was within our price range. I had never edited in ProRes before, and after reading Apple's white paper, I was clearly impressed with their approach to the codec. When I got the recorder in for testing, I was blown away. ProRes is a great codec, and the output from the recorder is high quality.
A lot of DPs swear by Sony's XDCAM codec out of the F3, which at first looks just as good as ProRes coming out of the recorder until you start doing color correction. With 10-bit ProRes out of the recorder, you can dig further into the highlights and shadows, easily correct over- and underexposure problems, and the video doesn't break down. Recording 10 bits over 8 bits increases your color value from 256 colors to 1024 colors per RGB channel, giving you a lot more data, or shades of colors, to work with during color correction. You are literally going from millions of colors at 8 bit to more than a billion colors at 10 bit (1024 × 1024 × 1024). The color-corrected material out of the recorder looks fantastic.
The Ki Pro Mini is one of the few recorders that is able to record the S-Log option out of the F3. S-Log is what Sony refers to as its digital negative. S-Log provides 13+ stops of dynamic range. This enables the editor to pull readable images out of the highlights and shadows, and allows for a more balanced grade of the image. Sony's S-Log stretches out the gamma curve, providing more data to work with — especially at the upper portion of the graph where the highlights live. S-Log, until now, was only available on Sony's more expensive F23 and F35 digital cinema cameras. Needless to say, recording S-Log in the past was an expensive option.
One of the big benefits of the recorder is that it detects time code from the SDI signal coming out of the camera. When you start the F3, it detects time code and starts to record the video and time code coming out of the HD SDI/SDI ports. Physically, the recorder is small and lightweight, and the case is made out of powder-coated aircraft-grade aluminum — not plastic. The recorder supports all resolutions and frame rates coming out of the F3 via HD-SDI. The range of crossconversion options from HDMI and SDI to HD-SDI make it convenient when working with add-on accessories. I recently purchased a SmallHD DP4 EVF (electronic viewfinder) for the camera. I feed HD-SDI out of the A port of the dual-link BNC connectors on the F3 into the recorder and take HDMI out of the recorder to run the EVF. I can now run my onboard viewfinder via HDMI and run my client monitor via SDI out of the recorder. I could even use the HDMI loop-through out of my EVF to power an additional HDMI monitor.
Our typical workflow is that we shoot with the F3, capture with the Ki Pro Mini — usually to ProRes at 145Mb/s — and then transcode to Avid DNxHD for editing in Media Composer. You don't have to convert; you can edit on the timeline in ProRes with Media Composer 5.0, but for my purposes, I do the conversion. That will soon be a thing of the past as AJA announced at IBC2011 that it is adding Avid's DNxHD codec support to the recorder. An upcoming firmware update will enable DNxHD support and a “super out” feature for SDI and HDMI. This superimposed output shows the transport state of the media (recording, playback) as well as the time code value. This new upgradable feature will allow those using the recorder to confirm recording and see time code out of the recorder via their accessory EVFs or client monitors. This was a popular request on the various forums, and AJA support listened.
We built a rig for the camera and recorder, and mounted both the recorder and the batteries with the Ki Pro Mini cheese plate. I shoot with two 64GB and two 32GB Extreme Pro CF cards, which are recommended by AJA. I swap them out as each card reaches capacity. The CF cards are relatively inexpensive compared to P2 cards, and they offload faster.
I'm a big fan of the setup. I always have my computer with me for media management on shoots, and I can just plug the recorder in over an Ethernet cable and easily navigate its menus to delete clips, reset take numbers, personalize with the client's name, etc. It's easier to work on a computer than with the button/menu system on the device, but if I can't get to my computer, navigating with the button menus, once learned, works well when shooting in the field.
The recorder is a piece of gear we work with day to day. We just finished a number of corporate productions with executive interviews for IBM, Mythics, the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the National Audubon Society. We have been working on a pilot episode for a reality series on drag racing, some green-screen work and jib shots of the U.S. Capitol for a WETA documentary. They were all shot using the recorder.
One of the less visible benefits of owning the recorder is AJA's great customer support. Any time I've called with a question, I have either spoken to someone right away, or I quickly received a call back. We are happy with the Ki Pro Mini and the way this whole rig has been working for us.
Professional videographer Steve Cocklin and his wife/soundperson, Anne, run Cocklins Video Services.