Disclaimer: This blogpost is based on a sponsored Nikon event
Even though Nikon started the whole DSLR video thing, they have not really mastered the technology up until now. The Canon 5d, released some months after Nikons D90 2008 release, had much better video performance and got established as a true game changer. And the game has changed. Every pro DSLR is now expected to feature pro video, and the recently released D800 is made with the intent of taking on the Canoninzed videomarket. As some may know I am a Canon shooter, owning 5Ds and lots of lenses. But I still think its important that Nikon release a camera with great video. Since when was competition bad for consumers? And Nikon is the only one of the big 4 (Canon, Sony, Panasonic and Nikon) that doesnt have their own pro-video department to protect.
This is a still camera. Apart from a few dedicated buttons, theres noting on the outside that is giving this away as a camcorder. Thats both good and bad. For a lot of gigs having a low profile is important, and can be the difference between getting the shots and not (news and documentary shooters especially). I wasnt really expecting any huge changes to a design that has been kept for decades, but perhaps a top handle or batterygrip for video could be a official accessory? But really, with all the rigs and gadgets we already have to make these cameras into moviemakers, its something that we are used to handle.
Having used Canon for the last three years, its a transition suddenly to fumble around in Nikon menus. The dedicated REC button next to the shutter was a bit tricky to memorize (theres several small buttons up there). And to set the audio and headphones level, theres several buttons to push at the same time. But still, the fact that audio/headphones are there, thats whats important. I did not focus on audio quality in my tests, but it would be interesting to see productions finally shooting without seperate audio recording.
The LCD screen is a considerable improvement in my opinion. I was able to rack the focus with little or no doubt of where it was. Its also possible to magnify (to something close to 40x) before recording. And the AF is actually quite nice on the D800. Pushing the shutter half way (probably customizable to other buttons), the camera quite quickly gets you the correct focus. You cant really use it on take, but its way quicker then I have seen before and makes it possible not to magnify your focusarea ahead of every shot. Theres the option of face-tracking AF and much more, but I cant really get myself to use those functions. Maybe I should…
100% crop at ISO 1600
I was talking to an actual Nikon engineer during my stay in New York. Its very clear that their goal from their start have been to take on the 5d. Moire, rolling shutter, sharpness and color handling have been areas of attention, and it is better then the 5d. But it isnt really a benchmark to be better than a 4 year old camera. Every camera released in 2012 should be way better than anything released in 2008, in my opinion. Anyway. According to the Nikon engineer, the native ISO of the camera is 100. I never pushed it beyond 1600 ISO, but 100 or 1600, I didnt see much difference regarding noise. Amazing. You have the possibility of recording externally through a clean HDMI feed, and the feed is 1080p if you dont have cards in the camera (!) and the newest firmware for the Atomos Ninja. Great news, but for 90% of my work, external recording is very troublesome and something I try to avoid. Cameras should record something proper in-camera! Full HD out on recording is still important though, for focus pullng. Its actually the sole reason for us to shoot two seasons of “Dag” on 1d Mark IV instead of the 5d Mark 2. A very important feature for filmmakers.
The most striking improvement to me is the percieved resolution. Its a more detailed image than the 5dmrk2, and its sharper. I shot with sharpness turned almost all the way down, but still the image retained alot of detail. Highlights are handled much better then other low bandwith codecs (i.e AF101), and the rolling shutter is no longer a major issue. Moire is still there, but frankly, I was expecting the Nikons
monstrous 36 megapixel resolution to have a say in the quality somewhere.
100% crop. Reduced moirè issues.
The D800 is a natural evolution of the video DSLRs. It improves on alot of the issues we have on the current generation, but leaves still something to be desired. Which is natural, in the end, Nikon has a roadmap of products to ensure them to make money for many years to come. But I do hope that Nikon has something up its sleeve to challenge the C300 and Canons Cinema line as well. That beeing said, this is a true challenge to the top of the DSLR video throne. I havent tried the 5d mark 3 yet (I only briefly saw Dan Chung`s in New York), but the buzz is that it is no longer the huge gap in quality between Canon and Nikon. Nikon will probably sell alot of these cameras on the megapixel count alone, and many would also buy it for its video. But unlike the early days of the Canon 5d Mark 2, its not a revolution or a game changer. Is a natural evolution.