Mike Kobal

May 30, 2012

Nikon D800E shooting video, part I: first impressions in the studio

The Nikon D800 and D800E are finally shipping (don’t hold your breath for in store stock status anytime soon, if you want one, preorder the D800 or D800E and be patient – breathe in, breathe out, it worked for me :) ). Many of you have asked about video performance in particular. Will Nikon’s D800 video capabilities challenge or even break the dominance of the Canon 5D mark II, what about the 5D mark III? more after the break

Why are we so obsessed with the 5D mark II/III for video? Simple, the magic of full frame. 24x36mm, 35.8×23.9mm to be exact, using 35.8×20.1 in 16:9 movie mode(5D mark III/II). Approx 1.5 larger then super 35mm on Hollywood style, stratospherically expensive, professional video cameras. A full frame sensor will produce unrivaled depth of field and possess very good low light-gathering capacities.
Of course there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch and we will get to that later. Nikon was first to implement HD video in a DSLR in 2008, the Nikon D90, the quality wasn’t very good and a few month later, the Canon 5D mark II instantly tko’d the D90, gaining cult status as the first serious HDSLR. The 5D mark II changed film making. Nikon tried again with the D3s and despite its incredible low light sensitivity, it never gained much momentum in the film community.

I admit that I did not plan to get the Nikon D800E. I ordered the D800. While I was waiting for the D800 I got my hands on a D800E for a few minutes, took a few snaps and fell in love with the image quality. A great studio camera producing files rivaling medium format cameras. I changed my mind and ordered the D800E instead. Never planned to shoot video. Since I set up continuous lighting for my last photo shoot and had a few minutes between shots, my curiosity got the better of me and I pressed the video button :)
Let’s take a look at what the D800/D800E has to offer once we flip the live view lever over to the video icon:
Frame size and frame rates:
The Nikon D800/D800E uses B-Frame compression which allows for higher quality H.264 recordings despite the lowly 24mbps bit rate. It can record 1080/30p, 1080/25p/, 1080/24p, 720/60p and 720/50p, 720/30p and 720/25p. I have only shot a 15sec clip in 720/60p and can tell you its best to forget it. Stick to 1080/30,25,24p.
In addition to the FX video option it can also record video in DX mode. Very useful, indeed. Take a look at the illustration below.
Clean, uncompressed 4:2:2 HDMI out:
The Atomos Ninja just arrived-you might also want to check out the Ninja 2, available for preorder, it offers focus peaking and a higher resolution screen (800×480), I had no problems setting it up, really looking forward to try this combination. Check back in a couple of weeks to find out how it performs.
To get your D800 Ninja ready, click menu and do the following:
–> CUSTOM SETTING MENU (pencil icon)
–> C: Timers/AE Lock
–> C4: Monitor Off Delay
–> Live View
Choose “No Limit”. Press the “OK” button.
That’s it. You’re all set – unlimited recording.

AF in video mode: I prefer manual focus with any hybrid or HDSLR (GH2, Canon 7D, Canon 5D mark II) however, I will admit there were situations when I wished I could have just used auto focus. The Sony FS100, A77, Nex 7 and even the GH2 (with the right lens attached) are pretty good at it.
AF on the D800 is okay for emergencies only.

Sound: Nikon listened to our complaints and reacted, the main problem shooting with HDSLR’s has been sound recording and monitoring.
Option to adjust levels prior to recording and monitor what we record via head phones. With a little practice this will allow us to produce much better results then in the past.

Video settings for the WANTED clip:
all clips where shot at ISO 640
manual WB
Sharpening 0, (scale 0 to 9)
Contrast -3, (scale -3 to +3)
Brightness -, (scale -+)
Saturation-3, (scale-3 to +3)
Hue 0, (scale-3 to +3)

recorded to a SanDisc Extreme SDHC, 32gb card

Lenses used: 24-120mm f4G and the 50mm f1.4G.

First Impressions:

The Good:
VERY sharp, highly detailed, high resolution video files right out of the camera(no sharpening applied in post, camera sharpening set to 0)
No frame skipping
ISO 640 looks very clean
very nice shallow depth of field rendering
no moire and aliasing on fabrics in this particular shoot
High dynamic range

The Not so Good:
No focus peaking
720×1280 quality issues, prone to moire and aliasing whereas a nearly identical shot at 1080/30p looks perfect
Maximum internal bitrate 24mbps.
No articulated LCD

Watch the 1080/30p version here

Overall, I am very impressed with the sharpness, dynamic range, color reproduction and the lack of moire and aliasing on fabrics. In the right situation the D800E delivers kick ass video. Of course it is way too early to draw general conclusions from a few close up clips in the studio. However, I am plenty motivated now to experiment shooting video with the D800E, it might just be the right tool for the right job :).

If you find this article inspiring, please consider helping me maintaining this blog by purchasing your gear through my product links to Adorama and B&H. It will cost you nothing and allows me to keep adding! Or consider making a direct donation using PayPal, thank you!

Filed under: Gear Reviews,Video Fashion — mike.kobal @ 9:17 pm


  1. Hi Mike,
    D800e looks great for video, could you put a short clip of pro res hq from the ninja?
    I’m looking for some good examples of the d800e for video as I’m thinking about getting the same setup, with a ninja 2

    Comment by Lars Steenhoff — May 31, 2012 @ 7:36 am

  2. Hey Lars, I definitely will, should have it up in a few days

    Comment by mike.kobal — May 31, 2012 @ 7:39 am

  3. We do lots of videos.
    I bought a little Nikon D3200.
    Would the video quality of the D3200 be about the same as a D800.
    We have a D800 on order.
    George Richardson (UK)

    Comment by George Richardson — May 31, 2012 @ 1:31 pm

  4. I haven’t tested the D3200, D800 is certainly better since it can record full manual video/sound in FX mode and has clean HDMI out

    Comment by mike.kobal — May 31, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

  5. Hi Mike,

    Wow, incredible detail and sharpness! Really makes the 5D3 look ‘soft’ in comparison.

    Comment by Pete — May 31, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

  6. Hi Pete, yes! and keep in mind, sharpening is turned off in camera and no sharpening applied in post!

    Comment by mike.kobal — May 31, 2012 @ 10:57 pm

  7. Does there seem to be quite a bit of jello shutter still or is that from vimeo?

    It’s obvious in the last pan segment of the guy…

    Comment by ken — June 7, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

  8. vastly improved over the last generation Nikon’s – unfortunately still there, I slowed the last clip down by about 50%, if you would pan at the speed you are watching it now, it wouldn’t be there, our only hope to eliminate jello on large cmos sensors is a global shutter i am afraid

    Comment by mike.kobal — June 7, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

  9. Hey Mike,

    Just got my D800 today, loving it with my Zeiss 50/2. But what absolutely boggles my mind is why the exposure meters disappear when you switch to live view video?

    Comment by Pete — June 9, 2012 @ 9:04 am

  10. Hi Pete, I know what you mean, not sure what Nikon was thinking….

    Comment by mike.kobal — June 9, 2012 @ 9:59 am

  11. so for someone wanting to shoot full HD video, is the 800 or the 800e the better choice?

    Comment by David — November 12, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

  12. they pretty much produce identical footage, I couldn’t see a difference between the 800/800e, neither could dpreview, theoretically, the 800e should be worse because it lacks the aa filter, in reality however, there is no difference, both produce footage as good as the 5Dmk2 (w similar moire problems) and 720p is unusable

    Comment by mike.kobal — November 13, 2012 @ 12:02 am

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