Nikon D800 full frame DSLR video review, Canon 5D mark ii, HD, movies among friends

Nikon D800 Review

Nikon D800 Review 



Nikon D800 with Nikkor 135mm f2.8 lens and Audiotechnica shotgun mic mounted on a Sachtler Ace tripod system- a more than sufficient HD video interview setup.




Nikon has made a serious jump into the DSLR video market with its D800 full frame digital SLR camera that shoots video. This is Nikon's first real answer to the popular Canon 5D Mark ii that came out in 2008 that had thousands of pro videographers jumping onto the Canon bandwagon.


That was probably okay with Nikon at the time because they consider themselves a lens and still camera company, as where Canon has been making video cameras for years. 


Well, Nikon was tired of wedding photographers jumping over to the 5D for stills and video, and has finally released a serious camera for videographers as well as photographers. 


I picked up a D800 for a job and have shot with it for website publication via youtube, using a workflow nearly identical to the 5D Mark ii workflow.


Here's the rundown for those new to DSLRs: 

Shoot your raw video. Upload your raw video to your internal or external hard drive. Use mpeg streamclip to convert your raw video to Apple ProRes 422 HQ or regular 422 for those using Final Cut Pro 6,7 or X, or convert to Apple intermediate Codec for those using Final Cut Express.  


You then import your converted files and use those to edit. If you try to edit with the raw video from your camera, you'll experience an extreme slowdown in your editing system. You can also put those converted video files on an external firewire drive and edit from that drive. It's supposed to help quicken the workflow as well.


So, here's a brief conclusion on the image quality, from a videographer with years of experience using the 5D Mark ii7DT2i, and other HD and HDV cameras: 



The Nikon D800 does offer slightly sharper video than the 5D Mark ii, but in my opinion that doesn't serve much of a purpose. The 5D's video is adequately sharp. The D800 is actually too sharp for me. Any skin imperfections on my on-screen talent have to be smoothed over later in post. 



I've always loved the 5D's color rendition and I'd have to say that the 5D wins over the D800 just slightly in that catagory. Using the picture control setttings in the D800 will deliver a wide range of colors, but the 5D tends to render a more natural-looking image, color wise. 


There's been some reports of a green color cast on the photos of the D800. I haven't noticed a color cast really, but just a tendency of the photos to appear a bit on the cool or green side. This is easily tunable in picture control settings in the menu. Just push the color tone bar to the left or right and fine tune it to your eye. 


Picture Control 

I shoot in the Portrait mode to retain as much detail as possible. Shooting in Vivid mode can create too much contrast and you may lose detail that way. You can also tweak color in post.


ISO Noise

Again the 5D Mark ii is less noisy. I've used the 5D over 1200 ISO and been shocked at how well it performs. The D800 is nowhere near as clean. Even shooting at 400-500 ISO I've noticed grain in the image. It's not terrible but it's there. Your lighting as a videographer also helps this, as shooting in a no-light situation you're more likely to pick up noise as opposed to a lit scene that you're stopping down to expose for. I've also experienced noise quality issues while using less-than-decent lenses, so there are several variables when judging ISO noise. But, even then, I'd give the trophy to the 5D Mark ii. 


D800 in post 

In Final Cut Pro X the video looks great. Using Apple ProRes 422 ensures that the video holds up when using filters and color grading tools. I've just used FCPX's built-in color and exposure sliders to adjust color and the video holds up well, just about as good as the mark ii. I'm astounded and pleased at how well these full frame DSLRs hold up when adjusting color and exposure. 

I also use a skin tone filter called Beauty Box. Using this filter on D800 ProRes 422 footage bogs down my editing system to the point of insanity. The filter works great but I have to make sure the picture is locked before applying it because it's nearly impossible to make changes afterward. 



Moire is pretty bad on the D800. Patterned details don't look too great. Post processing helps this, as well as possibly using a diffusion filter on the front of your lens while shooting scenes that have lots of tiny details, like in grass on a bright day or in the woods, or where there are lots of detailed patterns. 

Patterned clothing, like stripes or plaid, so far hasn't been a major problem. I've seen some moire in the stitching pattern of someone's suit, but it wasn't bad. 


My opinion on image quality

It isn't everything. The 5D Mark ii (and maybe iii, but I haven't used it) and Nikon D800 offer up equal image quality, with the D800 being a little sharper and the 5D being cleaner and producing slightly better color. Any of these full frame DSLRs crush any smaller sensor DSLR for photos and video, image quality wise.


Other things

There are some functional features that make the D800 a better choice than the 5D Mark ii for video. 



The D800 offers a DX shooting mode, so you can in effect double your focal length and have the ability to shoot two focal lengths with one lens. Actually, you can shoot in 1.2x and 1.5x modes, so you have three lenses in one. Sweet! For example, if you have a 35mm, slightly wide angle lens, you can shoot at 35mm in FX format, 42mm in 1.2x format, and 52mm in DX format. 

Or if you have a 50mm lens in FX, you get a 60mm and an 85mm as well! 


The D800 has two memory card slots, one CF and one SD, allowing you to backup everything you shoot, or shoot for twice as long without having to change out cards! Sweet! 


The D800 has adjustable stereo audio built-in microphone, as well as a mini jack plug for using an external mic, which I highly recommend if you are planning on using the camera's audio. 


The D800 has a true HD HDMI out, so you can use your HD monitor and get super clear picture. I use the Lilliput 7" HD monitor and it is truly a bargain and gives you an amazing 7" crystal-clear screen. 


With the D800 you can monitor the camera's back LCD and run an external monitor at the same time. You can't do that with the 5D Mark ii (maybe you can with the Mark iii). 



The D800's LCD is pretty nice, but when you playback a video you just shot, it will display much darker than it was when you shot it. Don't worry, you didn't do anything wrong, it's just how the D800 displays video. It's a default setting that may be changeable, I just haven't figured out how though. If you're shooting with clients who are looking at the playback on the D800's LCD, you may get some concerns about that. 


Lens availability

Okay, so you can shoot old manual focus Nikkors on your 5D with an adapter, but using them on the D800 you can take advantage of the compatibility of these lenses and you don't have to worry about using those stupid adapters that sometimes break. Features include better metering abilities and getting a reading of your set aperture on the D800's LCD screen. 


Battery Life

The battery life seems shorter than the 5D Mark ii. It's not terrible but it's definitely not as good as the 5D. 


What Could Be Better

Be prepared to invest in a mic just for the D800.

With the D800 you have to use a special purpose DSLR shotgun mic, decent ones running $200 or more. With my 5D Mark ii I can use my standard AA powered shotgun mic and capture great audio. On the D800, the noise floor is too high. 

No Meter in Movie Mode! 

At least I haven't figured out how to get the meter to work while in live view/movie mode. This is a HUGE drawback if you cant see if you're exposing correctly like you can on the 5D. Luckily the D800 has pretty broad dynamic range and doesn't tend to blow out highlights as much as the 5D.  


The DX mode is just Fluff

The DX mode for video does work, but with a major loss in quality. I think a real DX camera like the D7000 will capture better DX mode video. The D800 really just crops in on the FX frame so you're better off shooting in FX mode and cropping yourself in post. I won't shoot anything important in DX mode, but maybe in the 1.3x mode since you lose less quality.

Uncompressed HD Video Output

I'm going to test this feature soon as this was one of the main reasons I went with the D800. I'll be inputting uncompressed HD through a Blackmagic Design Intensity Shuttle Thunderbolt to my Macbook Pro using Blackmagic's capture software that's bundled with the unit. This should bypass the whole CF card BS and capture straight to my hard drive.

Will keep you posted on how that turns out.

After using the uncompressed HDMI video out to to record uncompressed video I'd say it's definitely a nifty feature but I have trouble seeing much difference between uncompressed video and the H264 or ProRes versions. There's a much bigger difference between each shooting situation and lighting situation that I'm in that has an effect on image quality. The compression codec is the least of my concerns. I'll probably stick with just recording to memory cards for now, but at least with the BlackMagic Intensity Shuttle I don't have to convert all my video once I'm done shooting. It starts out as uncompressed or Apple ProRes if I want, which is nice if I need to edit right away.


I'd say the D800 is definitely a contender, but it's really no better than the 5D Mark ii or iii for video. They're all about equal in my opinion, and if I could do it over, I might just go with a now $2,000 Mark ii and spend the leftover $1,000 on an L lens. I don't regret going with the D800, but there's nothing about it that makes me jump with joy over using the Mark ii. I imagine the Mark iii as being even better than the Mark ii but with video them being about equal. 


Soon to Come 

I'm going to produce a quick guide for shooting video with the D800. I'll post a link to it here once it's done.


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