Elevate Your Footage: 4 Excellent External Video Recorders (2024)

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External recorders such as the Atomos Ninja series offer numerous benefits for videographers and filmmakers looking to enhance their recording capabilities beyond what their cameras can offer.

These include:

  • Higher Bitrate Recording
  • ProRes and DNxHR Recording (Bypassing Camera Limitations)
  • 4K and HDR Support
  • Improved Color Sampling
  • Longer Recording Times
  • Better Monitoring (and additional tools)
  • Dual Recording
  • Timecode Support

These features make external recorders valuable to a videographer’s toolkit, especially when high-quality recording and robust post-production flexibility are required.

Below, I have carefully selected what I find are the best external recorders for video today.

1. Atomos Ninja V. Best value external recorder.

atomos ninja v bundle

Input/Output: HDMI (however, you can get an SDI module for it)

Maximum Recording Resolution: 4k 60p

Screen Size: 5”

The Atomos Ninja V is an affordable external recorder with a touchscreen that allows external recording in 4k up to 60 frames per second.

It supports the recording of Apple ProRes and RAW over an HDMI cable. If you prefer SDI, you have the option to purchase a 12G SDI module as well.

It has multiple exposures and focus assist features to help with your recording and lets you bypass camera time limits, which is great for long shoots.

The Ninja V has a variety of supported Log formats and is excellent for monitoring with LUTs loaded.

The biggest con is that the battery life isn’t great. There are also minor inconveniences, such as requiring a mic with its preamp for audio monitoring.

Pros: 

  • Great codecs! Apple ProRes, Raw, Avid DNx, H.265 (HEVC)
  • Pre-roll recording
  • 5,2″ IPS screen
  • Wide viewing angle
  • 8-bit+Frame Rate Control (FRC) color depth
  • HDR10, HLG support for a wide color gamut
  • LUT support
  • All the tools you need for monitoring
  • SSD recording
  • Anamorphic De-Squeeze
  • Timelapse recording
  • Remote control possible
  • Good build quality (Aluminum)

Cons:

  • Need a big battery (like Sony NP-F970) to run at full brightness for more than an hour.
  • No SDI option as standard
  • Only 1000 nits brightness. If you’re shooting a lot outside, you might want to get a sun hood for the monitor or choose a monitor with a brighter screen.

Tip: if you don’t need the recording feature but still would like the fantastic screen of the Atomos Ninja V, look at the Atomos Shinobi instead in this article.

Check this great deal on Adorama, including the Atomos Ninja V, two batteries and a charger, and the 1TB Angelbird AtomX SSDmini.

2. Atomos Ninja V+ (And Pro Kit). Best 5″ video recorder for 8K RAW.

atomnjvpl2

Input/Output: HDMI 2.0

Maximum Recording Resolution: 8K30 ProRes Raw

Screen Size: 5.2”

The Atomos Ninja V+ is an upgrade to the already great Ninja 5. This monitor can record and playback video up to 8K Raw up to 30 fps and features a 5.2” 1920x1080p screen.

Like the Ninja V, the Ninja V+ features exposure, focus assist, and 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes recording. A Pro-Kit option includes various accessories to get the most out of your Ninja V+.

The Pro Kit includes the Ninja V+ set up for SDI over Raw recording, an AtomX SDI module, a Carry Case, a 5″ Slip Case, a battery eliminator, an international DC power supply, a Master Caddy II, a DTap Cable, an AtomX 5″ Sunhood, and Quick Start Guide.

If you shoot on Sony cameras or any camera that outputs SDI, the Pro Kit will still allow you to use high frame rates and resolutions while recording in ProRes Raw.

There are not a lot of cons to this monitor, excluding the price. This professional-grade monitor helps bridge the gap between mirrorless/DSLR and cine cameras.

This monitor uses purpose-built SSDs for recording, so be sure you have all the necessary equipment. Given the features, it isn’t surprising that this will run you more than the Ninja V. If you’re not recording above 4K, some of the benefits of this monitor may be lost.

That said, for anyone looking to record ProRes Raw in resolutions above 4K, the Ninja V+ will be hard to beat.

Especially if you are a Sony user and have experienced trouble with SDI output or wish to work with ProRes Raw footage, the Atomos Ninja V+ Pro Kit will be a lifesaver and a great addition to your rig.

Pros: 

  • Great codecs! Apple ProRes, Raw, Avid DNx, H.265 (HEVC)
  • SDI pro kit included
  • 1TB SSD included
  • Supports up to 8K at 30 fps and DCI 4K at up to 120 fps
  • Pre-roll recording
  • 5,2″ IPS touchscreen
  • Wide viewing angle
  • 8-bit+Frame Rate Control (FRC) color depth
  • HDR10, HLG support for a wide color gamut
  • LUT support
  • All the tools you need for monitoring
  • Anamorphic De-Squeeze
  • Timelapse recording
  • Remote control possible
  • Good build quality (Aluminum)

Cons:

  • You need a big battery (like a Sony NP-F970) to run at full brightness for over an hour.
  • No SDI option as standard
  • Only 1000 nits brightness. If you’re shooting a lot outside, you might want to get a sun hood for the monitor or choose a monitor with a brighter screen.
  • Expensive

Check the current price on Adorama.

3. Blackmagic Design Video Assist. Best recorder with BRAW.

blackmagic video assist

Input/Output: HDMI, SDI

Maximum Recording Resolution: 4k 60p

Screen Size: 7” (also available as 5″)

The Blackmagic Video Assist is a great monitor with unique features that may suit your filmmaking.

The responsive touchscreen is extremely bright with 2500nits and usable outdoors in intense sunlight.

The monitor supports 10-bit 4:2:2 color and can record in high-quality ProRes HQ or DNxHR formats – and Blackmagic RAW, aka BRAW.

The 7” model has dual UHS-II SD card slots, but you can also record external SSDs. And if you use an SSD, you can edit directly from the monitor, which is a great option for traveling with a laptop.

You can preview your camera’s video output in real time with your LUTS and import these from the drive or the SD cards.

It has two balanced 3-pin mini XLR inputs with phantom power support.

If you don’t need the large screen, a cheaper 5” alternative has one SD card slot.

Pros: 

  • Great codecs (ProRes and BRAW)
  • Bright screen at 2500 nits
  • Touch screen
  • Wide viewing angle
  • SDI/HDMI ports
  • mini-XLR inputs (although I had preferred full-sized XLR inputs)
  • Good build quality

Cons:

  • The BRAW is not as good as Apple ProRes RAW found in the Atomos recorders and ARRI/RED cameras.
  • Heavy/bulky

Check out this great deal on Adorama.

4. Atomos Shogun 7. Best recorder for multi-cam setups.

atomos shogun inferno 7 inch

Input/Output: HDMI, SDI

Maximum Recording Resolution: 4k p60

Screen Size: 7”

The Atomos Shogun 7 is the big brother to the Atomos Inferno.

You can record 4k video at up to 60p and 1080p footage at up to 240p, allowing you to capture slow-motion footage.

It records in ProRes, ProRes RAW, CinemaDNG, CDNG up to 30p, and Avid DNxHD footage, allowing you to bypass internal compression in your camera.

The Shogun 7 especially shines if you’re using multiple cameras as it accepts up to four SDI inputs and records them simultaneously, with a touch screen that allows for switching. This can also be used for live streaming.

The 7-inch screen is incredibly bright, with up to 3000 nits. However, don’t expect the battery life to be great when you run a larger display like the Shoguns at full brightness.

The good thing is that the recorder features dual Sony L-series battery slots that allow you to exchange one battery while it’s using the other. That way, you don’t need to stop the recording.

Be sure to research camera compatibility if you intend to record RAW. This is an excellent recorder, but it only supports ProRes RAW footage.

Pros: 

  • 7″ LCD screen
  • 4K60 recording in ProRes, ProRes Raw, CinemaDMG (4K30), or Avid DNxHD
  • 1080p up to 240 fps
  • PreRoll recording
  • 4 x Master Caddy 4K drive caddies
  • Excellent touchscreen
  • 10-bit (8+2 FRC) colors
  • 3000 nits brightness
  • Log gamma viewing presets
  • Cust0m 3D LUT support
  • Anamorphic De-Squeeze
  • Generates multicam .xml

Cons:

  • Battery life could be better (but batteries are hot-swappable!)
  • Bulky

Check this great value bundle on Adorama that includes the Atomos Shogun 7 plus the Atomos Accessory kit (includes case, control cable, 2 x 5200mah battery, fast charger, docking station, DC to D-Tap cable, 4x master caddy, power supply, and HDR Sunhood).


How to choose an External Recorder. What to check before buying!

There are many options for external video recorders at various price points, and the technology can often be challenging to decipher.

As mentioned above, first and foremost, you must ensure your recorder is compatible with your camera.

On Atomos website you can see a total list of supported cameras for Atomos external recorders (scroll down to the drop-down menus).

Inputs and outputs

The first thing to check is that your camera’s output matches the monitor’s input. Does your camera have an SDI or an HDMI output – or both?

If your camera has an HDMI out, get an external recorder with an HDMI input.

Some external recorders have both an HDMI and SDI input. If that’s the case, use the SDI port if your camera has one. SDI ports are a more secure connection and the industry standard for professional video and cinema cameras.

The next thing to check is what format your camera can send through the HDMI or SDI cable.

Clean output signal

Ensure your camera has a clean output signal to get the best result. This means that your camera should be able to send the sensor output from your camera to the external recorder without any menu information.

On some cameras, you have to go into the menu settings and disable the menus from being sent to the recorder. So check your camera menu for this option before you buy.

Screen Size

Like external monitors, most popular external recorders are in sizes 5 inches or 7 inches.

These great sizes let you place them on your camera or a small articulating arm (link to Adorama). They’re also small enough to be placed on a gimbal.

The size you need depends on your needs. Smaller monitors tend to weigh less and be less bulky, which makes them a perfect solution for mounting on top of your camera or a gimbal.

However, if you don’t mind working with a larger camera rig or need a bigger screen, a 7-inch screen is the better option.

If you need a bigger monitor for clients to sit on its stand, use a regular field recorder instead.

SSDs are great for external recorders.

External recorders also let you record to SSD disks, allowing for much higher bitrates and, thus, quality video codecs.

Also, SSDs are more cost-friendly than buying (and changing) memory cards all the time.

Conclusion

These recorders are some of the best external video recorders/monitors on the market and cover a variety of functionality.

Depending on your budget, camera compatibility, and desired features, the best one for you may vary, but it’s hard to go wrong.

An external recorder lets you get much more out of your camera and preview your footage more efficiently.

In almost any filming situation, an external video recorder is helpful to assist you with capturing the best footage possible.

If you don’t need the recording feature of an external recorder but still need a larger screen, look at this article about the best external monitors.

Do you already use an external recorder? If so, let us know your favorite one in the comments below.


Author

    by
  • Cade Taylor

    Cade Taylor is a filmmaker and writer based out of Los Angeles. Originally from Seattle, he continues to work as the Outreach Coordinator for the Bigfoot Script Challenge, where he helps connect up-and-coming writers with industry professionals. When he’s not working on his own projects, helping out with Bigfoot, or covering desks, Cade loves to share what he knows with other filmmakers and promote great content.

4 thoughts on “Elevate Your Footage: 4 Excellent External Video Recorders (2024)”

  1. Great review and thank you. I searched out reviews as I’m likely going to be replacing my BMD Video Assist 12G with something else. I love BMD gear but, the VA has let me down due to a sync problem with audio fed in via the XLR connections. I raised the issue with BMD and they issued an RMA to send the unit in to be looked at. It’s been there nearly two weeks and I received an email yesterday saying they had it but, it hasn’t gotten into their lab yet. I’m a small time producer but, part of professional gear is reliability and quick turn around if it needs to go back. BMD has sorely disappointed me in the latter, to the point where I don’t know that I’ll feel comfortable going forward with them

    Reply
    • Hi Alan. Thanks for sharing your experiences. BMD makes great products at affordable prices, and they’ve really disrupted and democratized the market for indie filmmakers and video production companies. But I see some quality issues with some of their stuff. Especially, when it comes to things like connectivity (HDMI, SDI, and XLR ports seem prone to breaking).

      That being said, the BMD Video Assist 12G isn’t what I would call a cheap product. And with all technology, things just seem to break from time to time. It’s annoying for us, though 🙂

      Best, Jan

      Reply

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