My D800 arrived yesterday and I lost no time in taking it outside into the beautiful spring sunshine here in London to see how it performed. There’s a gorgeous magnolia tree next to my house so I decided to try that as my subject to begin with. The wind didn’t help, but I tried some macro and long lens shots including backlighting so see how the camera handled the contrast and highlight details:
Magnolia – Nikon D800 test footage from Robert Hollingworth on Vimeo.
My initial thoughts are that I am very impressed. Not a surprise for a Nikon, but the camera is solidly made and feels good in the hand. It has a nice weight (heavier than the D7000 but less that the D700 I think) and the buttons are in the usual places. Menus again similar design to before, so if you’re used to Nikon cameras then it won’t take any time at all to set the camera up your way and get shooting. It’s physically bigger than the D7000 which I like for longer assignments since my hands fit it better. I still love a full sized body with the D3 or D4 – much nicer to work with especially on long lenses, but equally sometimes a smaller body is better. I just came back from Thailand where I shot with the D7000 and I wouldn’t have wanted anything bigger (or heavier). See pictures below for how it compares in size to other bodies.
One surprise feature that I love is the overlaid or HUD data in the viewfinder. It superimposes the artificial horizon information on the image at the edges and I found this incredibly useful. One tip, the Landscape mode on the D800, D4, D7000 etc all match the D2x colour modes. The D2x is still one of my favourite cameras for its colour reproduction and good to see Nikon have modelled the picture profiles on the new cameras to enable you to shoot like the D2x. The D3 needs downloaded profiles to match the D2x, but can still do it.
I’ve not had a proper chance to shoot stills on the camera yet, but I did some tests on the tree. All were as you would expect. Sharp, great tone and whopping resolution and detail. Focus wasn’t any harder to achieve with the higher resolution and the shots looks great. On an aside, I’m happy to see Apple set out an update yesterday for Aperture to support the D800. Haven’t checked if DXO and Capture One have done so yet.
The real test for the D800 will come in a week for me when I head off to Nepal on assignment. I really can’t wait to test it out in the stunning landscapes out there and to see what level of detail I can get in my portraits.
Video from this camera is another big thing for me and I did a very quick test yesterday, results above. It’s not a proper test, but just a quick shoot with the camera to see how it performs. Again, very impressed. First up, no rolling shutter that I could see so handheld and whip pans are back in. The 5D MkII was atrocious for rolling shutter and the MkIII is no better. I didn’t have time to hook up my monitor yesterday but the screen on the back of the camera is so sharp that I didn’t have any trouble finding focus using just that. However, the screen does make things look not burned out when they are (or are very close to being so). So worth checking exposure on an EVF. The histogram is very useful and accurate. Well-documented now, but it has full audio meters and headphone out.
I did shoot the video on the standard picture profile which I’d not recommend. I did this because I wanted to see the ‘warts and all’ output. I’d recommend shooting with a flat profile with all sharpening turned down. Even better, try making your own gamma curves in their software and uploading them to the camera. I want to try this as soon as possible and see exactly how much dynamic range it’s possible to get from the camera.
One great feature of the D800 is ‘Power aperture’. In filming mode (Live View has two mode – stills and video, both modes have separate custom button functions i.e. the lower function button on the front of the body can be programmed to do different things in stills and video LV move – great feature!). In video mode, the two front programmable buttons can drive the aperture…SMOOTHLY. Yes, you can increase / decrease the aperture smoothly live during a shot. This is something the C300 can’t even do, and that costs £10,000. I did notice though it didn’t do it all the time when actually recording to the internal memory, so further testing is needed to work out what’s going on. This is a superb feature though and all that’s needed now is to enable that via the 10-pin connector and then you can remote control the aperture. Great.
Hopefully this weekend I’ll shoot some tests with external recording to the Pix240 and see how the D800 really looks with the uncompressed signal. This I’m very excited about! Just noticed the factory setting is that LV switches off after 10 mins – not good for external recording, so in the custom menus pop it to infinity and it will never switch off.
Here are some pictures of the DSLR rig that I’ve been working on. Main features, the camera is powered off the IDX battery, so no more will you need loads of batteries just to get through a day (and then another day to charge them up). Now, just one battery which will last probably over a day. Then the SmallHD DP6 to monitor the clean feed from the camera and facilitiate exposure and focusing. Then on the front is the Genus matte box. All rigged off the ProAim 6″ camera cage. Plenty of flexibility to add a Pix240 at the back and radio mics or top mics etc.
I’ve attached the Pix240 (thanks to Prokit in London for lending me one to test). It recognised the signal from the camera fine and I used the Pix’s ability to cross-convert the signal to HDSDI to then monitor on the DP6, so I went HDMI from D800 to Pix and then HDSDI from Pix to monitor. This way you know if there’s a break in signal as you’re monitoring the output of the recorder the whole time. There is a slight colour difference between the two monitors, but I’d trust the DP6 more as I’ve used it a lot and it’s fine (that’s not to say the Pix isn’t too).
One small problem, I discovered none of my CF cards are good enough for the Pix. I have lots of 32Gb cards all for long timelapse shots but none are UDMA 6 or above. Shame. Need to find some suitable cards before I can actually record the signal. Just noticed some 64Gb Lexar UDMA 7 (1000x) cards on Amazon which look ideal, if a little expensive!
Some quick ungraded frame-grabs from the Pix 240 on the D800, shooting to Pro Res 8 Bit: