This is an insight into how we make our purchasing decisions. (To find out what AJA Ki Pro we bought, click here.)
We’re thinking about buying an AJA Ki Pro to help extend the life of our Canon XH-A1′s. They’re great cameras, but they are a little long in the tooth. We want to go tapeless with a camcorder, but aren’t ready to invest in a new one in the middle of DSLR mania. (Of which we have also succumbed… we love our 7D, but it’s not good for everything.)
The AJA Ki Pro is a device that allows you to capture straight to Apple Pro Res from almost any video recording device…
From the AJA website:
“The AJA Ki Pro is a tapeless video recording device that records high-quality Apple ProRes 422 QuickTime files onto computer-friendly Storage Module media. Because it features SD/HD-SDI, HDMI, and analog inputs, you can interface with virtually any type of camera you might own or rent. Enjoy monitoring flexibility through Ki Pro’s numerous simultaneous outputs, connecting to both professional and consumer monitors. Ki Pro is portable and rugged; designed for real production environments. With the optional exo-skeleton it can sit below your camera—out of the way of your battery adapters, wireless mics and other accessories. Offering up/down/cross-conversion and a multitude of connections, integration with your other production gear is seamless.”
That all sounds great, but it clocks in at just under $4k. Which is about a grand more than a brand new A1. Enter the AJA Ki Pro Mini.
From the website:
“Ki Pro Mini is the smallest and simplest way of connecting production and post, anywhere shooting takes you. With a miniature form factor that makes for the smallest camera and recorder package available, Ki Pro Mini is powerful, supporting all four types of Apple ProRes 422 (including HQ, LT and Proxy). The newest member of the award winning Ki Pro family, Ki Pro Mini simplifies the link between production and post by unobtrusively fitting in small spaces and acquiring on the best codec for use with Apple Final Cut Studio, from any SDI or HDMI camera, regardless of format. With its high quality digital connectivity, you’ve got the perfect solution for portable on-set digital capture.”
This one comes in at just under $2k and ditches all the up/down cross conversion features. That’s a much more attractive price point to extend the life of our A1′s. However there is one caveat. It only accepts HD/SDI or HDMI. The A1 doesn’t output either of those. It will output Component. The plot thickens.
We can buy a Black Magic: Analog to SDI adapter to convert the signal. That little device costs $500.
That ups the cost to $2500. Still less than the standard Ki Pro, but with more points of potential failure and we still need to buy compact flash cards. 64GB cards cost $550. If we record in Apple ProRes LT (the smallest sized equivalent to the HDV our cameras record natively) than we can record 1.4 hours on one card, which we would then need to dump. In a continuous recording scenario like a conference, that would mean a minimum of two cards. Luckily they are hot swappable.
With two cards the price goes up to $3600. That’s still less than the standard Ki Pro which actually costs $4800 with a 500GB hard drive for all day recording and the cage that let’s you mount it to a tripod. However, if we go the mini route, we need a way to mount it as well:
Zacuto Univerasl Base Plate $530
AJA Ki Pro Mini Rod Accessory Plate $150
AJA Mini Mounting Plates x 2 $150
New Total: $4400
And if we ever want to take it handheld we need to power it:
Anton Bauer Dionic 90 Battery $900
Ikan M-A Universal AB Mounting Plate $57
New Total: $5387
We have far surpassed the cost of the standard Ki Pro and we haven’t figured out a way to mount the Black Magic box… maybe velcro. For more than 5K we could buy a new camcorder… We can lose the mounting (with room to grow) and settle at $3600, but the lack of a cohesive way to keep it all together is worrisome.
We boiled it down to these pro’s and con’s:
AJA Ki Pro
- Less points of failure
- Quicker set-up
- All day recording
- More features (that we have no immediate use for)
- More expensive
- No good way to adapt it to handheld
AJA Ki Pro Mini
- Less expensive
- Upgrade to portability
- Uses the same recording media as our DSLR’s (and the XF-300 if we were to invest in that camera in the future)
- Uses similar accessories to our DSLR rig, so investing in it would also be investing in our other gear
- More set-up time
- More monitoring in order to continually swap out cards
We are purchasing this week, we’ll let you know what we decide. Insight is appreciated.
If you’re interested in a wider look at how we came to these considerations:
Over the years we’ve put together a healthy stock pile of video gear from cameras to final cut plug-ins. We’re always on the look out for new tools that will improve the quality of of our work. However, professional video equipment is expensive so “cost/ benefit” is always a consideration.
At this particular moment, we’re taking a look at our camera arsenal. We are primarily using DSLR’s for client work, and looking forward to using them for documentary projects. They are wonderful cameras, but they have drawbacks when compared to traditional camcorders that make them less than desirable for some jobs. To name just a few; they can’t auto focus in video mode, they can only record in 12 minute bursts, and saying that they’re audio capabilities leave a lot to be desired is just being nice. We overcome those short comings every time we break out the 7D, and the truth is we’re better for it. We love the camera… BUT sometimes we need a traditional camcorder, with traditional camcorder capabilities (read none of the above short comings).
For those time’s we have our two Canon XH-A1 packages. They were our first gear investments and have been incredibly good to us over the years. They capture gorgeous 1080 HDV through excellent Canon lens. They handle well and have been durable. We’ve used them on everything from corporate conferences to skateboarding coverage for ESPN.com. The truth is we love them too.
During the BART Tour 2010 shoot, we employed both the 7D and one of our A1′s. They cut together nicely, but more notable was my experience at the end of that day after I switched from the 7D to the A1 to shoot Matt Pugh skating Potrero Park. Shooting with a traditional video camera felt like the easiest most comfortable thing in the world after wrestling with DSLR lenses all day.
The trouble is that the Canon XH-A1 is a few generations behind at this point. It shoots to Mini DV tape, which means capturing. Clients aren’t requesting it. Canon has moved on to the XF-300 for it’s similarly classed camcorder. That camera records to compact flash cards in MPEG 2 with a 4:2:2 color space. We’re taking a hard look at it, and hoping that Canon combines the large DSLR chips with it’s camcorder ergonomics sooner than later. We don’t want to jump to Panasonic or Sony.
So what do we do? We need a real camcorder that records to a drive/ card/ solid state. Should we invest in an XF-300 ($6500)? Should we wait Canon out for a better camcorder with large sensors? Should we jump ship and invest in the new Panasonic AG-AF100 ($4700 no lens), which is basically a hybrid DSLR/ Camcorder that takes lenses from every brand, but also has XLR’s and everything else that it is to be a real camcorder? Sony’s got an attractive, albeit expensive ($13300) option on the table as well.
Let the considerations begin.
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