Saturday, March 24, 2012

Nikon's D800 DSLR: A serious digital cinematography option

For DSLR digital cinematography fans, Nikon has been a continual source of frustration: Their DSLRs are superb still cameras, but video has always been an afterthought for the company--more an item on a marketing checklist than a well-implemented feature. However, Nikon's new D800 might change that. EOSHD reports on one of the first D800 video samples, footage shot at a temple in Taiwan. The video is gorgeous--far better than video shot on Nikon's D4, and with much more detail than video from Canon's new 5D Mark III, which has been roundly criticized for the softness of its images.

For its part, DxO Labs tested the D800 and said that its imager is the best that it's ever tested, with a rating of 95 out of 100. It had extremely accurate color rendition, the best dynamic range they've ever measured (14.4 stops) and excellent low-light performance (the ability to go to 2853 ISO without compromising image quality). They said that the D800's imager is about as close as you can get to medium-format performance in a DSLR imager. This performance is especially impressive given the 36.3 MP resolution of the D800's imager. In general, for a given imager size (such as APS-C), the higher an imager's resolution, the worse its low-light performance will be. Nikon has managed to combine excellent low-light performance with very high resolution.

DxO didn't test the D800 in video mode, but the video found by EOSHD suggests that the quality of the D800 is very good. However, Nikon still hasn't figured out a way to do 60P in 1920 x 1280. 60P is only supported at 1280 x 720 resolution; 1920 x 1280 supports 30P and 24P. Also, the D800's very high resolution could result in rolling shutter and moire problems; much more testing of the camera's video mode is needed. In short, I wouldn't rush out and place an order for a D800 yet, but the camera is shaping up to be a serious option for digital cinematography.
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