Fstoppers Reviews the Atomos Sumo: Why Do You Need This?

There aren’t many monitors that can record footage onto an SSD. There aren’t many monitors that can work on set as well as in post production. There is one monitor that claims to do it all though. The Atomos Sumo is not just jam-packed with features, but I think it represents the future of video production. Does it live up to the hype?

First, the specs. It will record in 4K 12bit Raw, 10bit ProRes or DNxHR as well as any other resolution you can chuck at it. The 16:9, 19-inch touch screen only has a resolution of 1920 x 1080. However, you’ll still be able to preview HDR content thanks to its 1200 nit brightness output.

Every Other Spec

  • Powered by DC in, V-mount or Anton Bauer batteries.
  • 5.6kg/12.3lb without its stand.
  • A slew of 1/4-20 and 3/8-16 mounting points, VESA mount too.
  • HDMI 2.0 in and out.
  • Four SDI inputs (12G or 3G when using all four) and one SDI out (12G or 3G).
  • Two balanced XLR audio inputs (with Phantom Power) and SDI/HDMI audio input.
  • Pre-roll recording.
  • Timelapse functions.
  • Records onto 2.5” SSD/HDDs.
  • Remote start/stop with LANC and SDI/HDMI triggers.
  • $2,500, and $2000 without the recording functions (coming soon).

Atomos' website shows off exactly what I'm excited about.

Dual Function

This isn’t a one-trick pony. Atomos wants to hold your hand on all stages of a video production. That means you’ll use it to monitor, record, and playback on set – then color correct and grade in post production. This way, there’s no change in color. Fewer headaches and more accurate.

Unfortunately, the Sumo doesn’t compete with some of the top HDR reference monitors. Its display doesn’t have the resolution nor dynamic range to fully portray the deepest shadows and the peaks of highlights (it can preview 10.5 stops). However, the monitor that Sony recommends for its workflows costs $30,000. That’s a 1100% increase in price for the best in class. See why the Sumo makes sense now? This isn’t designed for Hollywood sets. It’s the sort of monitor that you’d buy, not rent.

The included feet are great, but you'll probably just mount it without them.

The 19” display is amazing on set, believe me. You’ll never miss focus and the brightness is almost too much indoors. One gripe I have is that the software is literally a copy of the Shogun Inferno, it’s baby brother. The problem with that is the scaling. If the software was more custom built for the Sumo, then maybe we could get picture-in-picture focus indication? Or even just buttons that don’t fill have the screen up.

When you bring it back to your desk to color grade the footage, you’ll want to take note of two things. The first is that it’s not easy to carry around. I would recommend you use a third-party case for the Sumo, and this Gator one works perfectly. It’s got enough pocket space for all the cables and batteries you’ll want to carry with the monitor. Secondly, you’ll want to remember that 19” is actually not that big. You’ll probably want to cut your footage on a regular sized display, and then use the Sumo at the last minute for color correction and grading. On that note, you’ll also want to sit the Sumo on a box or mount it, because it’s next to useless if it sits on a desk without added height.

The available connections.

Why It’s Important (Hint: HDR)

If you’re in the video production space at all, you’ve come up against buzzwords. Clients will always expect buzzwords. Be it Hyperlapses, 4K, or even Full HD back in the day. HDR video will be the next buzzword.

Not only have the BBC (UK) and NHK (Japan) agreed on a joint effort to standardize the tech, but Netflix and YouTube are streaming HDR content to devices that allow it (like Apple’s new iPhone X). If the iPhone’s got it, then clients are going to want it – no matter how much it does or doesn’t make sense. They’re not alone here: LG’s G6 and V30 support it; Samsung’s Note 8 and Tab S3; Sony’s Xperia XZ and XZ1 phones too. More and more TVs are supporting HDR10 and Dolby Vision standards, which work with the 4K HDR ready Apple TV.

Four out of ten display specs on the iPhone X relate to how it previews HDR content.

Not all devices are built the same, however. When you’re making HDR content, you’ll have to conform to certain standards in order to reach as many devices as possible. While HDR10 and Dolby Vision are two delivery standards that have become popular, mobile devices will largely conform to their own version called “Mobile HDR Premium” set out by the Ultra HD Alliance (I realize this is beginning to sound like a sci-fi).

As a result, being able to reliably produce HDR content for these screens is going to become important very soon. While these standards were largely reserved for larger projects and productions, I think we’ll begin to see smaller production companies need to compete in this space too. Enter, the Atomos Sumo.

Unfortunately there's only a single HDMI input – compared to four SDI inputs.

Should You Buy?

Right now the Sumo doesn’t include a much-anticipated feature. With a firmware update in the coming weeks, we’ll be able to take in four live video feeds (1080, 60p) and use the Sumo as a live switcher. This could be an incredibly easy solution for smaller live productions. Imagine being able to run your entire Facebook live setup from the Sumo? Sure, it’s competing with more advanced software solutions like Wirecast, but this is a bit more plug in and play.

So, if you’re in the market for a large monitor/recorder then the Sumo is arguably the best in the market right now. Its price isn’t too steep, it pulls it’s weight on set, and it’s future proofed. However, if you just need a big monitor, then I’d look elsewhere. The Sumo could be overkill for a lot of productions and if you only need a large display then there are cheaper and lighter options.

Nonetheless, I think we’ll look back on the Sumo and the camera tech landscape in a couple years and realize how democratizing it was. HDR isn’t just for large-scale productions anymore.

Thanks to B&H and David Atkinson for helping me with this review.

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8 Comments

Chris K.'s picture

Interesting that Stephen said that it "doesn't compete with Hollywood reference monitors"

And yet at least in HDR world it's at 1200 nits, compared to the SmallHD 32"'s 1500 nits-which is well less then a stop of dynamic range, and is brighter then most other reference monitors. To me HDR is it's best selling point (more then multicam and recording capabilities), it sure is a future-proof monitor.

It may not have the build quality like my Flanders, but it sure is in the ballpark as far as specs go with "Hollywood reference monitors"

Stephen Kampff's picture

I think you're absolutely right, it competes! I suppose I was referring to the $30k monitors that Sony offer, which would include zebras for noticing the difference in Rec.709 and BT.2100 etc.

In saying that though, I read in Broadcast Magazine (unfortunately behind a pay wall) that there's an OB truck being built for HDR in the UK. It's stocked with the expensive Sony monitors, but also a handful of Sumos. A testament to how close Atomos have got I figure.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

Another of these product costing a faction of the price but providing 95% of the functionalities.
What are the option at this price point for HDR? simply none.

Adam T's picture

How is this HDR, I was always under the impression true HDR was above 1 white with a 32 bit float color, usually from taking multiple exposures log or raw photos and stacking it.

This seems like it's just grading it poorly and calling it HDR

Or maybe this is an example of the photo world stealing terms from the post world because they sound good

Stephen Kampff's picture

HDR has been standardized a couple times for video, but it's never really been the same as photography's HDR. The current line of HDR ready TVs usually aim to support Dolby Vision and HDR10. These two standards are really about bridging the gap between technical achievement and actual consumer products.

So according to UHD Phase A (from the UHD Forum) they'll consider HDR to be around 13 stops of dynamic range. Photographers could easily achieve this, and technically a cinematographer can too. All in all it's become very fragmented and very different to photography. Annoying though! It would be nice if we could settle on a single standard in the coming years and be done with it.

Adam T's picture

Thanks for the reply, I agree, a single standard would be great so terms don't mix.

The Sumo is a brilliant piece of kit and very useful.

The review has one big omission, unless I missed it. Atomos claimed from the start that Sumo would include functionality as an HD switcher - which it still doesn't. There isn't a proper user manual either, unless you are content using the Shogun Inferno one and trying to fill in any gaps.

We have had our Sumo for a while, but soon we will have to buy an HD switcher from another supplier, which we had not budgeted for. Bit cheeky.

Stephen Kampff's picture

The review model I had been given didn't have the new firmware, so I could only mention this feature at the end of the video briefly. Luckily, they've just updated the Inferno so I can only imagine the Sumo's update will be arriving soon. They were both previously on the same firmware (a modded version of the Inferno was on the Sumo).

https://www.atomos.com/firmware/shogun-inferno
https://www.atomos.com/firmware/sumo19

I received a manual even though it was for review – in case you didn't get one, here's a link: http://downloads.atomos.com/sumo/sumo-user-manual.pdf

Annoying that while the Sumo was released earlier than expected, it's "Q3 Upgrade" for multi-switching is still delayed.