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November 2014
Issue: April 1, 2011

Review: AJA's Ki Pro Mini

By: Mike Romey

AJA’s Ki Pro Mini is one of those must-have units in your camera bag. Few products offer such diverse functionality in such a bite-size form factor. You get great quality and good value with a unit that integrates nicely into any Final Cut (Apple ProRes) editing pipeline. The unit will appeal to the seasoned veteran and indie market.

At Zoic, the Mini’s big brother, Ki Pro, is a standard device on our virtual production pipeline for broadcast (we’ve used it on the ABC show V for the past two seasons). Ki Pro Mini presents many of the advantages of its full-size brethren while offering a subset of functionality in a smaller, lightweight package. 

MOUNTING OPTIONS 

I was very pleased with the size, weight and feel of the unit. The Ki Pro Mini is light enough to be mounted on-camera and the body is well engineered and thoughtfully designed. Ki Pro Mini can be mounted to AJA’s optional cheese plate and 15mm rail system just about anywhere on or around the rig. With additional cheese plates it’s even possible to sandwich two of them together for stereo or virtual production. 

In my tests, I experimented mounting it below, behind and even above the camera. I opted to mount it on its side instead of vertically, leaving the memory magazines accessible from the back of the camera. Then attached a cheese plate below the unit to mount to rails and a cheese plate above to mount an Anton battery attachment. Set up and configuration was pretty simple using a few screws and an extra 15mm bridge.

If the overall weight of the camera and dressing is of concern, I would opt to mount the Ki Pro Mini to your rig via the screw points at each corner of the unit in lieu of the bracket, which is heavy duty and introduces some extra weight. Due to the nature of some of our productions at Zoic, I had hoped that the unit could also be used to provide timecode to our other devices to reduce the amount of gear needed on stage. Unlike the all-you-can-eat I/O of the full-sized Ki Pro, AJA has taking a Zen like approach to I/O with this unit. Only the necessities are provided.

UP AND RUNNING

Initially when I received the unit our camera was out in the field. Impatient as I can be, I opted to start testing by connecting the unit to one of the decks and monitors in our machine room. Connecting the Ki Pro Mini and controlling it was very straightforward. The unit has a few simple buttons, play, fast forward, rewind, record, a status to tell you which memory cards to use, and configuration settings. It’s easy to pick which input you want to use. You just power it on and arm it. I didn’t test the audio features extensively, but the Ki Pro Mini has line levels in and a headset. The unit is pretty slick for an on-set recording device.


ACQUISITION

Acquisition is equally straightforward. Ki Pro Mini (and Ki Pro) are geared for use with professional and prosumer cameras that provide full HD-SDI or HDMI clean feeds. The unit offers an attractive alternative acquisition method for those devices to acquire contemporary QuickTime editing formats, which greatly speeds up the process of going from production to editorial. 

I tested it with a Canon 7D, which was not an ideal camera, and special consideration should be noted. While Ki Pro and Ki Pro Mini appear to be good candidates for Canon 5D or 7D footage acquisition, the live video feed from these HDSLR units is not clean and sometimes not even full 1920x1080. My hope is that future HDSLRs will address these shortcomings, making this unit indispensible for indie production.

Another benefit to the Ki Pro Mini is its ability to jumpstart older cameras and or newer cameras that don’t have native QuickTime ProRes support. 

STORAGE

Just like a computer, special care should be taken when removing the storage magazines from Ki Pro Mini. At the heart of the unit is a Linux OS, and the unit uses standard Compact Flash card magazines to store recorded content. The Ki Pro Mini has two slots for cards, so in the event that one card is filled, the machine is capable of rolling over recording to the second card slot. The size of your SD cards and the quality of ProRes content will determine the amount of recording time you get. The ability to go on stage with a unit like this is great — someone always has a CF card if you run out of space. Be aware that not all CF cards provide sufficient bandwidth for use with Ki Pro Mini, AJA has an updated list of approved CF cards on their Website: www.aja.com/pdf/ KiProMini_qualifiedCF_cards.pdf. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

For the work I do, I’d like to see the Ki Pro line-up integrate with tools that manage and acquire data and prepare content for visual effects, like The Foundry’s Storm. I am also eagerly awaiting future family additions to the Ki Pro line that support 4:4:4 Apple ProRes and or even raw DPX sequence acquisition. 

Overall, Ki Pro Mini is an incredible tool to have in your arsenal — whether you’re a pro or indie cinematographer. Pair Ki Pro Mini with a MacBook Pro and a Sony FS-4, Panasonic AG-AF101, or Red Epic and you have a very powerful workflow that allows you to acquire 4:2:2 content and go direct to edit faster, better and cheaper.

Mike Romey is a Pipeline Supervisor with Zoic Studios (www.zoicsutudios.com) in Los Angeles.