Earlier this year we reported on England Your England, the beautifully shot and emotionally charged series from filmmaker Matt Hopkins. As Matt explains, his latest addition to the series continues the theme of alternative living in London.
‘This film follows a London squatter as he discusses the link between the privatisation of space and the lack of affordable housing in the UK, and acts as a natural progression from ‘Richard’ as we explore alternative living solutions in more depth.
‘I first heard about Pete through Jack Chute – a colleague I work with – who made an animated video of Pete reading one of his many poems. I heard from Jack that Pete squatted in London so I thought he’d be a good character for the series, because of his story but also as he is so eloquent in his delivery of ideas.
‘We filmed Pete over three dates, which actually included three different squatted homes across London, so we were given a very strong insight into his world of squatting and were able to capture that with almost unlimited freedom.
‘Pete’s most resonant argument for me was his discussion about the privatisation of space. It opened my eyes to think about the number of locations where you are restricted from things, which include filming. So it was really interesting that the process of capturing our shots involved filming in forbidden ‘spaces’ which Pete references so strongly. I filmed for a day in specific spaces I wanted to capture (Olympic Park, Canary Wharf) but a lot of the shots were also captured around other shoots. For example, the aerial shots of the Olympic Park were taken from a hotel I happened to be staying in for another shoot.
‘We shot on the Nikon D800 with Zeiss ZF primes (28, 35, 50, 85) with a digislider slider. We edited on Premiere Pro CS6 and graded in Magic Bullet as before. Shooting on DSLR once again allowed us to shoot in all these locations without too much bother, which was important.’
‘The music was hugely important to this piece and I once again used the composer Dan Graves who worked really hard to get the correct tone to the film which is so important. We talked about the music for a few days and kept trying new things before finally we got to a piece of music that complemented Pete’s words and the visuals extremely well.’
Filmmaker Matt Hopkins first crossed our radar with his portrayal of the London riots back in 2011 and has just released a series of documentaries entitled England Your England. This personal project comprises a collection of films and references George Orwell’s essay of the same name that sought to document the characteristics that made the British who they are. ‘The inspiration really comes from the characters’ Matt tells us. ‘I really wanted to show how many incredible people there are out there, who have stories that are actually quite important and inspiring, but who would never usually be given the time of day to talk about them.
‘When I had to think of a name for the project I started re-reading old Orwell books; I had always loved his social realist works (Road to Wigan Pier, Down and Out in London and Paris) and the way they documented the details of struggle of the everyday person. The Lion and the Unicorn (the book which holds the titled essay) stood out as a strong name, but England Your England had a lot more poetic subtlety, and as the content of the essay was about trying to define and document a nation, I went for it.’
The project was mostly a solo venture for Matt and after making a couple of the films, looked for a way to link the stories together. ‘I prefer to work alone with the subjects’ he says, ‘shooting on DSLR, keeping it low-key a grabbing the moments wherever possible’. Matt then called in Ben Lankester to shoot ‘Leon’ and Dan Graves and Simeon Clarke to compose the music and master the audio.
Each film took around 2 days of shooting and required a great deal of flexibility. ‘I’ll start by spending a bit of time with the person’ he says, ‘and then start shooting. If I know the person already we’ll do the interview early in the shoot and then edit that before shooting more visuals. It’s important that I’m able to create cinematic moments, so sometimes that requires spontaneity (Mark walking through crowded streets in Tottenham) and sometimes planning. As Mark works in prisons I tried for months to get access to him working there but couldn’t get clearance for a creative project – Instead I followed him to a meeting at a shiny building in Victoria, which worked really well.’
Matt mainly shoots with a Nikon D800 and an old Nikkor prime lens. ‘I love this camera’ he says ‘the picture quality far surpasses that of the 5D, which I was previously using, without being too much of a departure from the settings on a Canon.
‘With Ben Lankester on board, we shot the fourth film with a Red Epic. We had it hired in for another job so used a spare day to shoot Leon. Although the picture quality was much better, it’s not a discreet camera that allows you to film pretty much anywhere. However, we got some great tracking shots at 120fps out of the back of my car with it!’
The films were edited in Premiere CS6 and graded in Magic Bullet. For the logo design, Matt called on fellow Brighton-based designers’ fentonforeman.com. ‘We’ve tried to keep the EYE logo on every film title so that people recognise the brand’ he says.
Though each film is little over five minutes in length the stories are extremely powerful and are beautifully shot. In addition to the initial four in this project, Matt is planning to release at least one new film each month this year, so it is worth keeping the site bookmarked and checking back regularly. See the films in full at www.englandyourengland.tv
Wisconsin public television has a secret. It’s not a dirty secret, nor an embarrassing one, but a little-known documentary food show called Wisconsin Foodie. Now in its fifth season, Wisconsin Foodie is an Emmy-nominated independent television series dedicated to discovering the stories behind the food we eat.
Before becoming involved in the show last summer, I read an interview with creator Arthur Ircink. One quote stood out to me. When asked about what inspired him to create the show, he said that it was his goal to “to make ‘local’ television cool”. Ircink seems to be succeeding. Wisconsin Foodie currently airs on PBS affiliates statewide, and on public television stations in Chicago and Minneapolis.
It was this forward thinking that led me to the show—and I knew the innovation would continue when Ircink agreed to let me introduce my Nikon DSLRs to his production workflow. The show has been traditionally shot on Sony’s EX1, but the shallow depth-of-field offered by the DSLRs really allowed the food—the show’s main character—to shine.
I worked with Wisconsin Foodie on several shoots throughout this summer using various incarnations of a Nikon DSLR rig. This footage now appears in the latest season of the show, available via traditional broadcast and web release on Vimeo.
Check out the episode below. The footage featuring shallow depth-of-field was shot on either a Nikon D7000 or a D800 in segments 1 and 3 of the BBQ episode below, and segment 2 (Black Earth Meats) of the second episode.
While I am not a seasoned filmmaker, Dan Chung has been gracious enough to let me write here about the equipment I’ve been using since making my foray into the video journalism world. I discovered my passion for journalism—at the time it was mostly photojournalism—halfway through grad school in London, amid the fall 2010 tuition fee protests. With all the raucous action in the streets and on campus, video became an obvious choice.
I bucked the Canon trend (mostly by mistake) and traded my Sony DSLR in for the Nikon D7000; I also invested in the Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8. Owing to that initial investment, and Nikon’s most recent release of the D800 and D600, I have solid roots in the Nikon camp for the foreseeable future. I used the D7000 from March of 2011 until June 2012, when I upgraded to the D800.
Traveling with the D7000
For a “prosumer” body in the hands of a novice, the D7000 can pack a punch. I used the Nikon D7000 to launch a video-based independent media project in Milwaukee, make on-location short films for the NGO Plan International in the Philippines, and cover the Timorese presidential elections as a freelance photojournalist. The D7000 performed despite some glaring and all too common drawbacks, the worst being the inability to control aperture settings while recording or in live view. Moving up to the D800 has been a real pleasure, but I’ll leave the technical reviews to the site’s editors.
With the Nikon D800 all ready to roll
Shooting with Wisconsin Foodie last summer gave me an opportunity to field-test additional equipment I bought since shooting in the Philippines on the D7000. As a twentysomething, I often opt for products with the highest value-to-price ratio I can afford; use the equipment until I’ve saved enough for an upgrade; and then sell what I have to finance the new gear. As such, my rig for the run-and-gun documentary production of Wisconsin Foodie consisted of:
Nikon D800 (or D7000 prior to upgrade)
Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 FX
Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 FX Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 DX (on D7000)
Beachtek DXA-DSLR Pro audio adapter
Rode NTG-2 or Rode VideoMic Pro LCDVF Viewfinder
Promaster Variable ND Filter
Manfrotto 561BHDV-1 Fluid Video Monopod
As is evident, I prefer the versatility of zoom lenses and one-button audio recording. This is mostly due to the fluid subject matter and the cinema verite-style of Wisconsin Foodie.
I want to highlight the Manfrotto 561BHDV-1 Fluid Video Monopod as an excellent tool for the run-and-gun DSLR shooter who is not partial to shoulder rigs. (I purchased it after seeing this excellent short video review.) The Manfrotto allows for traditional static shots, pans, tilts, higher vantage shots, and other interesting fluid movement. It can also be positioned creatively under your arm (see photograph) to allow the camera to be used more like a traditional video camera for verite-style shooting. Best of all, it’s compact enough to fit in a medium-sized duffel bag.
As for the camera itself, using a DSLR on Wisconsin Foodie was a wonderful way to highlight the food itself in a new and interesting manner. The shallow depth-of-field offered by DSLRs cannot be matched by traditional HD video cameras. (Of course, there can be consistency problems when marrying two different cameras in the edit.) When color, texture and visual appeal overall is needed to highlight the local culinary culture of Wisconsin, DSLRs may be the way to do it. It’s likely that Wisconsin Foodie was the first public television show in the state to utilize HD-DSLR technology.
The ever-declining cost of DSLRs is allowing young filmmakers and visual journalists at all levels to make their impact on the visual landscape, whether at the local level, on public television, or at an international level, through traditional news reportage.
Spencer Chumbley is a photo/video journalist and is currently a fellow at Fault Lines, Al Jazeera English’s documentary program (which just happens to be shot exclusively on DSLRs and cinema cameras such as the C300). Follow him on twitter @SpencerChumbley or visit his website.
The Juicedlink Riggy-Micro RM333 is a low noise pre-amp primarily designed for use with the latest video capable DSLRs that feature built-in headphone output and manual audio controls. It allows you to hook up professional XLR microphones with or without phantom power to your camera – recording audio direct to the camera and not a separate external recorder.
Why not just hook up your mic direct to the camera? because the audio pre-amp circuits in pretty much all DSLRs are not the highest quality and tend to give noisy results when you apply gain in camera (turning up the recording levels). In technical terms the DSLR audio circuits have a bad signal-to-noise ratio.
The RM333 aims to solve this by using higher quality pre-amps to amplify the signal instead of using the DSLRs. The name of the game is to optimize the signal-to-noise ratio by using cleaner amplification in the RM333. This allows you to set the camera’s internal gain to a minimum – hence reducing the amount of amplification the camera’s own electronics has to do.
The RM333 in the field
There are several other DSLR pre-amps on the market but the things that I think are really cool and unique about the Riggy-Micro RM333 are:
- It is small and lighter than previous DSLR audio adapters. That’s because it rips out the stuff that modern cameras like the Canon 5D mkIII and Nikon D800 don’t need anymore like meters, AGC Disable and headphones. Both these camera have all these functions already in the body.
- Super long battery life, since you don’t need to power a meter or headphones output. The RM333 also has features to help extend battery life: a selective power down (when not using all the XLR inputs) and finer granularity in the low battery indicator with the Alkaline/LithiumPolymer threshold switch. A single 9v alkaline battery will run the device for 12 hours, a rechargeable battery for about 18 hours.
- Camera overload protection with Audio Output Bracketing – you can have the same signal go at two different levels into the left and right channels in case of audio peaking.
- For the videojournalist, the Riggy-Micro really helps lighten your load with a small/light preamp and you won’t need to carry more spare batteries than necessary. It is so small and light it can mount straight onto the camera’s hot shoe.
The optional RB200 Riggy Cold Shoe Top Mounting Kit
- With the RB200 accessory kit you can add cold-shoe mounts to the preamp box itself. This way you can add mics or wireless receivers while the preamp is mounted in the hot shoe. Set up this way with the preamp no longer on the bottom of the camera, you can actually cradle the DSLR for run-n-gun like a traditional DSLR, in the palm of your left hand with your fingers manipulating the focus and zoom of the lens.
- The RM333 has three XLR audio inputs which can be down-mixed to two for recording in camera.
If you have an older DSLR without a headphone output then there are several other options from Juicedlink such as the DT454. For more details check out the Juicedlink website.
I do not have any commercial agreement with JuicedLink or Canon. The opinions and thoughts are those of my own and not of any company or organization.
About Matthew Allard, Aljazeera Senior Field Cameraman, Kuala Lumpur: Matt has been a Camera/Editor in TV news for more 20 years, previously working for both Channel 9 and Channel 10 in Australia. Twice Network Ten Australia’s cameraman of the year as well as being a Walkley Finalist for outstanding camerawork in 2006 (for coverage of the Cronulla Race Riots) and a Logie Finalist for outstanding news coverage 2006 (Bali 9). He is a multiple ACS (Australian Cinematographers Society) award winner. His Sword Maker story that was shot on a 7D won the prestigious Neil Davis International News Golden Tripod at the 2011 ACS Awards. He has covered news events in more than 35 countries, from major sporting events to terrorist bombings. Based out of the Kuala Lumpur broadcast centre in Malaysia he is an avid user and follower of new technology, shooting stories on HD broadcast cameras, the Sony F3 as well as new Canon DSLRs.
Zacuto’s popular adhesive frame system is available for cameras with 3.2 inch screens. This fast, simple frame is a no frills solution for moving your z-finder quickly between cameras. This frame is compatible with every Z-finder on the market.
PLEASE NOTE: The 3.2” adhesive frame currently ships with one extender frame. In order to fit our standard Z-finder to wider LCD screens, we have modified the way it connects for this new frame. It snaps into the frame with tabs on the side. This new connection method requires the use of an extender frame in order to connect securely.
The frame attached to a Canon EOS-1D X
To use, simply take the mounting frame and peel off the adhesive protection, then slowly bring the frame down to the LCD screen being careful to align the edges of the frame to the edges of the light LCD image. Before applying pressure make sure that the frame is aligned and square. Apply pressure with some weight such as a book for 24 hours too fully cure. After 24 hours, the Z-Finder will snap on and off the frame.
Users of the Zacuto EVF will have a range of new features added today with the launch of new v3.0 firmware. It adds better support for cameras like the Canon C300, 5D mkIII and Nikon D800. Zacuto also claim the new firmware gives even better colour accuracy than the previous firmware version. Given that the previous firmware already had good colour reproduction compared to many competing products I am keen so see how much better it can be. Here’s the info from the Zacuto website:
Firmware 3.0 includes the following updates:
- Added color presets per camera
- Added Canon 5D mkIII preset.
- Added Canon C300 preset
- Added Nikon D800 preset
- Added Nikon D4 preset
- Added 1280x848p60 support for RED ONE, EPIC & SCARLET
- Added 3 levels of Underscan
- Added 2.66 frame line
- Fixed loopout color space inaccuracies
- Added an Unsupported Signal screen
-Created a more robust signal detection software
- Added Playback Scale to the list of programmable user buttons
- Fixed multiple bugs
One of the main concerns I had when testing video on the Nikon D800 was moire in some images. This is almost certainly the result of the way Nikon engineers are binning pixels to downscale an image to 1080P from a much higher resolution 36MP sensor. This moire patterning was also a common feature of shots from the Canon 5D mkII and something that many DSLR shooters are used to contending with.
One solution that some 5D mkII shooters have been using is an Optical low pass filter from Mosaic engineering which fits inside the camera in front of the sensor. The filter is effectively doing a controlled blur of the image to combat moire and it works quite well. The downside is that the backfocus of lenses is thrown off by having the filter in place – close focussing may be lost and lenses focus past infinity. Even so it is a sacrifice many shooter have felt was worth making.
The Mosaic engineering filter for Canon 5D mkII
When I tested the D800 I speculated that a similar filter could solve the moire issues – now several weeks later I have been contacted by Jacob Fenn to say he has been shooting with a prototype Mosaic Engineering filter that does just that. He has posted several examples on his blog and we have reproduced a few here with permission.
D800 without Mosaic filter
D800 with Mosaic filter
Without Mosaic filter
With Mosaic filter
Jacob told me that the Mosaic would soon have an updated filter with even better results.
This all looks very promising and I am keen to see what a D800 can produce when this filter is combined with external HDMI recording using a Ninja 2 or other external recorder.
When I recently tested the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D mkIIIside by side in New York the one thing that I could not test was the quality of D800 footage when recorded externally. The clean 1080P HDMI output of the D800 is one of its most talked about features. We had a AtomosNinja SSD recorder on hand in New York but due to some firmware issues we were not able to get the Ninja/D800 combination to function correctly.
In that test I concluded that the D800 recording internally to CF card was slightly sharper than the 5D mkIII but I was not seeing huge differences in colour, noise and detail at lower sensitivities. I was also concerned about moire effects with the the D800.
Fast forward to NAB 2012 and Atomos have a Ninja that now functions correctly with the D800 and are claiming significant improvements in image quality compared to the image recorded internally to CF card.
Shooter Ron Adair has been testing the combo and posted some very convincing footage to back up Atomos’ claims. Compression artifacts seem much reduced and the image seems very detailed.
To further improve the image quality of the D800 Ron has been shooting using the TassinFlat Picture Control settings which are similar in concept to the Cinestyle picture style for Canon cameras. You can download full res frame grabs of the video footage comparisons that Ron has done here. Ron has also posted this video on Vimeo but suggests you log in and download the original file before evaluating the footage – avoiding Vimeo’s additional compression.
You can find out more about the TassinFlat Picture Control setting in this video.
To add to the image quality improvements the Ninja 2 has a raft of useful features including focus peaking, adjustable zebra and false color.
Atomos have also included a new feature called SmartLog which if it works as described could possibly be the best thing since sliced bread for the busy news shooter. You can now log in and out points on your footage directly on the Ninja – while out on the field – before you get anywhere near your edit. You can also add keywords such as ‘good shot’ or ‘bad shot’ to alert an editor – hence saving valuable time in post.
The combination of the Ninja 2 and the D800 certainly improves the performance of what was an already good camera. It would be very interesting to compare again with the Canon 5D mkIII. Ron has promised further test footage very soon – watch this space.
Before the advent of the Nikon D800 and D4 there was no choice if you wanted a full frame DSLR shooting 1080P video – it had to be a Canon. This past week, I and several other members of the photo and video press and bloggers have been guests of Nikon Europe in New York on the “48 hour challenge”: getting our hands on production models of the D800 and being allowed to shoot what we wanted.
Kudos to Nikon for inviting myself and others who are not primarily Nikon shooters. I believe it shows a grown up attitude that recognises many pro shooters are essentially brand agnostic. I own and love the Canon C300 and now the 5D mkIII but also own and use a Sony F3 and also Panasonic GH2s. It is all about the right tool for the right job and Nikon want to prove that they have a place in the pro video world.
Even more kudos for giving us direct access to some of the designers and having them answer our questions. It’s great that Nikon are genuinely listening to professional video shooters and what they want to see in video DSLRs.
It was also good to see my friends from Redrockmicro on hand supporting the event. They brought along their new Blue rig for DSLR which looks to be a very nice solution for mounting a DSLR to a rig and providing plenty of mounting points for accessories and top rails.
The D800 dressed in the Redrockmicro Blue HDDSLR cage
Of course, the thing everyone wants to know right now is how the D800 stacks up against its closest rival – the Canon 5D mkIII. Again I have to thank Nikon for letting me pitch the two cameras up against each other as we travelled around the sights of New York. So how do they compare?
I’ll be the first to admit that the scientific way to evaluate these cameras is by using charts at a proper test facility. Sadly I don’t have ready access to one and only had the D800 for the duration of the New York trip.
I had to settle for the next best thing and try for some real world A/B comparison shots. In order to do this it was essential to use the same lens on both cameras – any other way and you are essentially testing lens/camera combinations and not the camera. Luckily I have the excellent 16-9.net Nikon to Canon EOS lens adapter which allows mounting of Nikon glass on a Canon. The same Heliopan variable ND was used on all outside shots and care was taken not to change its setting when switching cameras.
Canon 5D mkIII with Nikon 80-200 f2.8 and 16-9.net adapter
Both cameras were set at 1080/25P and the Canon was tested with both IPB and ALL-I recording. The ALL-I file is used for comparison unless otherwise stated.
On both cameras, I chose the neutral Picture Style/Picture Control settings with sharpness and contrast dialled down to zero and the same kelvin value for white balance. This does not mean the settings were identical as the baseline for zero varies wildly between cameras – there is no way to know exactly what in-camera sharpening is going on (even at zero setting).
To make it even harder to do direct comparisons the 5D mkIII seemed to be around a stop to 2/3 of a stop darker than the D800 at any given ISO setting. I decided to set shutter speed, ISO and aperture the same on both as there was no other more accurate way to set them without determining the exact sensitivity difference between sensors at the same ISO.
Lastly, trying to match framing using the rear LCDs is hard as the D800 crops the video image slightly left and right and the 5D mkIII does not. Below is an example of just how much the D800 crops the scene when in full frame vs. the 5D mkIII. If I were to run the test again I would use a monitor to adjust frame.
5D mkIII (left) and Nikon D800 frames with the same 17-35mm lens at 17mm
All round, this is not a perfect like for like test, but is a fair one that represents my overall experiences of the cameras.
For this test I used the same Nikon 80-200 f2.8 AFD lens with both cameras. ISO is set at 100 and I attempted to match framing but the 5D mkIII shots are slightly looser. Below are video frame grabs from both cameras both at full size (click to enlarge) and 100% crops.
Nikon D800, Nikon 80-200mm f2.8
Canon 5D mkIII, Nikon 80-200mm f2.8
The D800 has a sharper image that has slightly more definition. As observed elsewhere on the web, the Canon 5D mkIII files respond well to sharpening in post, as can be seen here.
Nikon D800 100% crop
Canon 5D mkIII 100% crop
Sharpened 5D mkIII 100% crop
This does give the D800 an advantage for news shooters on tight deadlines who do not want to have to post-process files. In-camera sharpening can be turned up on the 5D mkIII, but this introduced some haloing effects and a slightly artificial quality to the image that I didn’t like – a possible compromise is to turn up sharpness just one step above zero.
Of course you can also sharpen the Nikon D800 image and again reveal more perceived detail.
Sharpened Nikon D800 100% crop
In most situations where I shot the two cameras side by side (in Neutral) the Nikon resolved slightly more detail. Changing Picture Styles/Controls will affect the image and the Nikon D800 perceived detail advantage may be as much to do with in-camera sharpening levels as anything else. The ability to accurately compare detail is also hampered by the exposure differences when set at the same ISO and the slight difference in crop between the cameras.
All this said, on every occasion where I tested the cameras side by side, I felt that the Nikon was producing a sharper image – but it was very close. I can only assume that other testers that have found wider differences in detail – giving the Nikon a greater lead – are not using the same lenses or similar settings.
The D800 also shows greater detail in the shadows – something that Nikon’s engineers were very keen to stress when comparing against the 5D mkII and that seems to hold for the 5D mkIII as well. (Bear in mind both cameras may be able to achieve more tonal range by using custom Picture Styles/Controls). Below is a short clip that demomstrates just how much detail the D800 is hanging onto in a wide tonal range shot (again please login to Vimeo and download the original file for assessment).
Below is another example, this time with the 17-35mm f2.8 lens. The Nikon again looks ever so slightly sharper. Both videos below are from unaltered original files and can be downloaded if you are signed into Vimeo. I had to load the IPB version from the Canon file as Vimeo won’t work properly with the ALL-I version – subjectively I would say the ALL-I version is slightly sharper than the IPB version but still not as sharp as the Nikon.
What I find very interesting is that the D800 does not seem to suffer much from having lower bitrates than the 5D mkIII in either IPB or ALL-I encoding. The D800‘s H.264 format regularly records at bitrates around 22-25 Mbps mark. The 5D mkIII is often slightly higher in IPB mode and double or even tremble the bitrate in ALL-I mode. I can only assume that the H.264 encoding of the D800 is pretty good.
As a real world test of rolling shutter we strapped the 5D mkIII and Nikon D800 together as closely as possible on an improvised Redrockmicro rig and did a spot of filming at Gleasons gym. To keep the test fair I used a Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 on the D800 and another Nikon 14-24mm with the Novoflex adapter on the 5D mkIII. This time I tried to match the 5D mkIII framing to the tighter crop of the D800 by zooming in the lens slightly.
The 5D mkIII was set to ALL-I recording and the D800 was recording internally – both were set at 1080/25P. Lighting was slightly mixed and I chose to set both cameras to daylight white balance. The exposure differences between the two cameras were again evident even though ISO, aperture and shutter speed setting were the same. I would use the video below purely to assess motion and not other aspects of image quality. (The files were converted to Prores HQ using 5DtoRGB before editing in FCP7. The finished export uploaded to Youtube is also Prores HQ.)
My assessment would be that both cameras fare very well here and that rolling shutter in this real world example is pretty well controlled.
I shot some walls and wide scenes with large amounts of detail. The first is a close up of buildings in Manhattan shot on a Nikon 80-200 f2.8 AFD lens. The Canon is again set to ALL-I recording. The D800 does show some signs of moire; in this example it is not too bad, but the clear winner is the Canon 5D mkIII which shows virtually no moire. Click on the picture to open at full resolution.
D800, Nikon 80-200mm f2.8
Canon 5D mkIII, Nikon 80-200mm f2.8, ALL-I
The second example is the Manhattan skyline shot with a Nikon 17-35mm f2.8. Again, the Canon is the winner in terms of moire (but it’s also a good example of how the D800 has more apparent resolution).
D800, Nikon 17-35mm f2.8
5D mkIII, Nikon 17-35mm f2.8, Novoflex adapter
I asked the Nikon technicians how the D800 was downscaling the sensor output to create the video image but they were unwilling to disclose any details. Canon engineers clearly have a few tricks up their sleeve with the way the Digic 5+ processor handles moire and should be congratulated for that.
I found moire issues with the D800 to be quite distracting in some detailed high contrast shots and no problem in others, especially classic shallow depth of field shots with blurry backgrounds. Having shot with the 5D mkII for several years I would say that moire turns up in D800 shots exactly when I expect it. Some shooters will feel comfortable working around this – others will find it difficult to use.
Below is an example of bad D800 moire to illustrate my point. Again, the settings were neutral Picture Control and minimum sharpness and contrast.
Low light performance
For the low light testing I shot indoors at ISO 3200 using the Nikon 80-200 f2.8 AFD lens and white balance set at tungsten. The 5D mkIII was set with noise reduction off (although I’m not sure this actually affects the image). I also threw in shots from the Nikon D4 and also an DX crop example from the D800.
The exposure difference between the cameras is apparent straight away – the 5D mkIII image is darker (and redder). The D800 also has more noise than the 5D mkIII whether in-camera noise reduction is enabled or disabled. The D800 images do appear slightly more detailed, as I have now come to expect.
The D4 image is much closer to the 5D mkIII and its 2.7x crop mode is surprisingly good. Both the 5D mkIII and the D4 are substantially less noisy than the D800 at ISO 3200.
The video below has had all files converted to Prores 422 HQ using Rarevision’s 5DtoRGB convertor. It has then been exported as a H.264 from FCP. Please log into Vimeo and download the original H.264 to get a better idea of relative quality. If anyone is able to host the Prores version for download, please let me know, as I don’t have the bandwidth on the site. EDIT – Many thanks to Matt Jeppsen of FreshDV for agreeing to host the Prores version here http://www.freshdv.dreamhosters.com/downloads/5D3_vs_D800_vs_D4_low_light.mov , simply right click and download. The original files and the Prores converts actually show more noise on the D800 files as the H.264 encode masks some of it.
Overall, I would say that noise is similar and not very bothersome on both cameras up to about ISO 1600, after which the Canon takes a clear lead.
If you are used to Nikon DSLRs then the D800 has a familiar feel and control layout. Until recently I owned a D700 and this camera feels much the same. It’s very nice in the hand and it’s easy to keep a firm grip. The body is reassuringly made of metal and feels expensive.
One issue I found using the D800 was that when turning on the camera and prior to video (liveview) activation the camera shows exposure settings for stills. When you turn the video mode on, the exposure changes to a different set of video settings and does not carry over from what you previously had set in stills mode. This is annoying and confusing as on a Canon 5D mkII I often like to set the camera up before engaging video mode.
The image on the D800 can be magnified prior to recording to check focus and you can zoom in far more than on the 5D mkII. That said, this function does not work on either camera once you start recording. Magnification is activated with a dedicated button on the left of the screen, but can alternatively be configured to the big toggle on the right side of the screen which I found much easier to use.
The 5D mkIII (Right) has easier one handed access to controls
The video trigger can be reassigned to the main shutter button (like the 5D mkIII) and this is how I prefer to use it – the dedicated record button I found tricky to locate in a hurry without taking your eye away from the screen.
The rear LCD screen on the D800 appears lovely and sharp – all ready for a Zacuto Z-Finder to be added for even better viewing. I found the 5D mkIII screen was easier to see outdoors without a Z-finder – but then realistically you should be using a Z-finder or shade anyway in those conditions.
The on-screen display of the D800 is quite good but annoyingly I couldn’t figure out how to have an exposure meter on screen when in video mode. It’s something I have got very used to using on the 5D mkII and now mkIII. I hope this is something that is easily fixed on the Nikon.
One thing I absolutely love about the D800 is that you can customise it to allow control of aperture via the lens aperture ring of older Nikon AF lenses like the 17-35mm f2.8 and 80-200 f2.8 AFD which I used for this test. If declicked, these lenses will offer a totally smooth aperture transition. It’s a shame all the newer G lenses don’t have aperture rings.
There is a feature called Power aperture which is supposed to offer similarly smooth transition using newer G lenses when pressing a few buttons on the camera. I found this quite fiddly to use in practice and not as simple as the old fashioned lens aperture ring.
I personally found the control layout of the 5D mkIII easier to use than the D800 (partly because I am used to a Canon) – essentially many often used functions of the Canon such as ISO and white balance can be set one-handed on the 5D mkIII. On the D800 this requires both hands on the camera as many of the control buttons are located on the camera’s left side.
It’s not all roses for the 5DmkIII either, as I also found it harder to control than the original 5D mkII – Canon have relocated the magnification button from under your right thumb to a new position left of the LCD or the Set button (basically the same as the D800).
The D800 montoring audio while on a Redrockmico Blue DSLR rig
The D800, along with the 5D mkIII, has a minijack microphone input, an output for headphone monitoring and on-screen audio level meters while recording. These are features I have been wanting on a DSLR for some time. The headphone output on the D800 was nice, loud and easy to adjust. I prefer it to the headphone output from the 5D mkIII, which is quieter and harder to use in loud environments.
On the downside, the D800 does not allow you to change the audio levels while recording and they are effectively locked unless you are using an external mixer, audio recorder or audio adapter to feed the camera. The 5D mkIII not only allows you to change recording level – but to do it silently using their new touch sensitive rear dial. I didn’t have enough time to fully test the quality of audio recording on the D800 using external mixers or mics. Hopefully I can do more with this in future. One thing that did surprise me was the quality of the D800 internal mic. Check out the video below, which uses only the internal mic.
Audio is something both manufacturers still need to improve, although it’s great that both can have levels visible while recording.
The clean HDMI output of the D800 is one of its most heralded features. Nikon told me the output was 8 bit 4:2:2. Sadly I was unable to test this properly during my time with the camera. Nikon had brought a Atomos Ninja HDMI recorder along with the latest firmware for testing, but it seemed that whatever I tried there was severe ghosting on the image. Hopefully this is something that can be resolved in the near future by firmware update.
The Nikon D800 HDMI port on show
The D800 is capable of sending a 1080/24/25/30P signal out via its HDMI port but the CF and SD cards MUST be removed from the camera to do this. If there is a card in the camera, the HDMI reverts to being a 720P output. I was told by the Nikon technicians that this is a technical limitation and that there is no way that 1080/24/25/30P can be recorded both to card and HDMI. For news and documentary shooters I can see this being a real problem. Mini HDMI really isn’t the strongest connector on the planet and the connection to an external recorder were to shake loose during a shoot you would risk losing everything with no in-camera backup.
The HDMI images recorded to the Ninja that I did see also appeared to be more crushed and have less detail than those recorded internally to the CF card. I hope this is some kind of glitch and hopefully I will know more from Nikon soon.
One other thing that I did find extremely annoying is that when using internal CF cards and an external monitor or EVF the camera’s HDMI output needs to switch output resolution from 1080 to 720 every time you hit record. This results in a blackout for a second or two while your device adjusts – very similar to the blackout on a 5D mkII when it goes from 1080 to 480 on record start. On the D800 it seems the only way to avoid this is to actually record in 720P.
I also had a number of issues when connecting the Ninja and Zacuto EVF to the D800. Occasionally the combination refused to enter video mode, most likely because of hardware ‘handshake‘ issues. Each time it could be resolved by cycling the camera in and out of live view a few times, but it was very annoying none the less. If you own older HDMI gear and are hoping to use it with the D800 then I suggest you try it all out before purchasing.
Colour performance and management
One thing that the above videos highlight is that the 5D mkIII and D800 do not represent colours in the same way. Hopefully someone will shoot a few colour charts soon so we can see exactly what is going on and possibly correct for both cameras.
By default I would characterise the Nikon as having a slightly yellowish push to the images and the Canon as slightly pinkish/reddish. Which you find more appealing is subjective although I personally find the Nikon look in mixed lighting (out of the box) to be less natural than the Canon.
Colour and gamma management are areas which DSLR manufacturers have been weak on thus far. Canon have benefited from being around longer with third parties like Technicolor and Rarevision stepping in to fill the void. That said, I had serious problems with gamma issues when I first received my 5D mkIII, with various Prores convertors reading the files very differently and producing Prores files with wildly varying gammas. Canon were not forthcoming in supplying information about what the camera was producing and it was only by a process of elimination that I got to a workable solution using Rarevision’s 5DtoRGB.
Nikon too need to get with some colourists and third party vendors to make colour workflow painless for D800 users. If Picture Controls and conversion tools can be made allowing the D800 to better match other popular cameras then the Nikon is a much more attractive proposition.
The Nikon designers clearly had the 5D mkII in their sights as the camera to beat when designing the D800. I would go as far as to say they were largely successful and the D800 is better than the 5D mkII at most things. They could not of course know what the 5D mkIII was going to be like and in fact my 5D mkIII was the first one that the Nikon designers on our trip had a chance to play with.
Essentially the output from the D800 and 5D mkIII is very close. I would give it to Nikon for sharpness and the addition of the crop mode. The Canon has a clear win in terms of moire and low light performance. Personally I prefer the control layout and the colour rendition from the Canon (especially under mixed lighting) – others may prefer the Nikon.
As a multimedia camera for newspaper shooters who are going mainly to web in lower resolutions then frankly both Nikon D800 and Canon 5D mkIII are great and way better than any previous DSLR.
For Nikon based photojournalists shooting video, the D800 is clearly a blessing. For the first time they have Full HD, a choice of frame-rates and an image that will not disgrace itself when compared to the competition. I know of several shooters who use Nikon for stills and Canon 5D mkIIs for video – now they have the option to use just Nikon.
Shooters with Canon systems and a lot of lenses are probably better off with the 5D mkIII.
For broadcast shooters and filmmakers the D800 is also an interesting proposition. Nikon stills lenses have been very popular with many shooters who use adapters to mount them onto Canons, Sony, Panasonic and Red cameras (even though they focus the opposite directions to regular Cine or Canon lenses). The D800 offers a platform that uses these lenses natively and pretty much all older Nikon lenses will work on the camera. The lens mount combined with the near full frame image and the improved HDMI and audio monitoring options mean that the D800 has great potential for use anywhere where a DSLR form factor is beneficial. If footage can be graded to fit with Alexas, Reds and Sony F3 images then the D800 may well become the B cam/crash cam of choice for many. Moire is still a problem but many shooters will primarily use the camera for shallow DOF with blurred backgrounds in the same way that the original 5D mkII was used.
For an all-round camera for video the 5D mkIII would suit my needs best. Moire is the main factor in this; even though the Nikon is a bit sharper, the moire is too noticeable in many shots for my taste. I would not be happy using the D800 as my only camera as I quite often have to shoot wide scenes with lots of detail. If the D800 can be modified using Picture Control to give me an image closer matching the Canon C300 or the Sony F3 I would seriously consider getting one for B-cam use. I would use it for shots where the sharpness is a benefit and moire is not an issue.
Kudos to Nikon for making a camera that is in some aspects the best of the bunch. The Nikon designers have given buyers choice – and choice is a good thing. Both D800 and 5D mkIII are fun to use and capable of beautiful results in the right hands.
What is really interesting is where Nikon go next. They have signalled that they are willing to offer video features that other manufacturers seem unprepared to. I wonder if they have the resolve and the resource to step up to the mark and deliver something truly spectacular in the future?