The Photographic Historical Society of Canada

Nikon SLR Video
Mark Cruz
Program date: January 19, 2011

Mark Cruz of Nikon Canada
Mark Cruz

Gold Nikon gold Nikon
Gold Nikons

A table of Nikon Digital SLRs
Modern Nikons

Mark Cruz in full presentation mode
Mark Cruz

cut-away Nikon SLR
Cut away Nikon

live view in action
Live view

D90
D90 Fall 2008

LV switch
Live view switch

larger sensor
Larger sensor

Anti dust device
Dust-B-gone

compare video camera types
Video camera types

D5000 spring 2009
D5000 spring 2009

Nikon SLR video still
SLR video

D300s fall 2009
D300s fall 2009

Nikon pro chassis
Nikon pro chassis

SLR video still
SLR video

D3s winter 2009
D3s winter 2009

D7000 fall 2010
D7000 fall 2010

Mark Cruz is the resident technical representative for Nikon, working mainly with Police and Military accounts. Mark has been involved in photography for eleven years. While at school, he started taking movies and stills. After graduating, he did web design, buying images from stock groups until he started taking his own shots first with a Sony camera, then moving to a Canon Rebel SLR and since 2007, Nikons. He enjoys meeting and speaking to end users at camera clubs and other institutions for Nikon.

Mark's talk this evening addresses the SLR as the new video camera. He brought some unusual gold plated film Nikons and an old prototype Nikon with a non-F lens mount. In spite of no prior historical venue, Mark's talk is very much history oriented, taking us through the very short history of video on SLRs since its inception in 2007 with live view technology. The excitement created by SLRs capable of shooting video is more than the fact one camera captures both video and stills - the technology moves video into areas simply impossible with earlier cameras - video or movie.

From its inception, SLR design was firmly on still photography. In 2007, Mark called on the Toronto Star photography department to announce Nikon's latest ground breaking flagship SLR. The D3 and the less expensive D300 were the first SLR cameras with live view. Live view is a technology that allows a scene to be shown on the camera's back screen before it is recorded. The head of the Toronto Star's photography department stated that the next cameras they bought would be ones that "did it all" - video and stills. A year later in 2008 Nikon brought out the D90. The world's first SLR that shoots video!

The sequence of steps in the mechanics of the pre-D3 SLRs is as follows: mirror down for viewing via the eyepiece. Shutter is closed. Shutter release is pressed. Mirror lifts up blocking the eye-piece and clearing the light path to the shutter. Shutter triggers and then closes after the exposure. Mirror drops back down for next shot. For live view there has to be a light path to the sensor almost all the time. Clicking the camera's LV button lifts the mirror and opens the shutter allowing live view operation. When the shutter release is pressed, the shutter closes, then opens and closes for the appropriate interval to record the shot, and opens again for live view. The view through the eyepiece is blocked when live view is activated.

The D90 uses live view capability to record video. The camera records up to 5 minutes of HD video at 1280 x 720 pixels. While the sensor has a 3:2 aspect ratio, it records video at 16:9 by omitting a top and bottom strip of data from the sensor. The decision to go 16:9 anticipated movie makers (news, movies, documentaries) would use the camera and want the now-standard wide screen format. Still shots are not compromised while video benefits from the larger DX sensor compared to usual tiny video camera sensors.

Digital cameras are being antiquated faster as technology improvements accelerate. For example, five years ago the D2x was Nikon's top-of-the-line cutting edge model. Today it is out-performed even by Nikon's entry level DSL, the D3100 (reduced image noise, higher image quality and higher usable ISO). Currently cameras are much like computers - their practical life is at most three years before technically far better models show up. For example, mini DVD recording media have given way to solid state memory that allows nearly instantaneous drag and drop to desktop post production software. You can even do simple editing in-camera.

Most camcorders have a rather narrow field of view and rely on a long zoom range and wide-angle adapters. The SLR has interchangeable lenses including fish-eye lens and super-telephotos. While current pro video cameras can also use SLR lenses, the cameras suffer from the limitations of the small sensor. SLRs let you manually control speed and aperture and take great stills as well as great video. SLR video looks movie-like with its ability to manipulate depth of field and pull focus making it attractive to videographers.

Sensor size is cost driven. Nikon uses two sizes in its SLR line. The DX sensor is roughly one third the 35mm format and as such has a 1.5 crop factor. It gives excellent results and enables the use of smaller lenses. The FX sensor for the high end models is a full 35mm frame size. Full frame sensors initially appeared in high end Canon models. Nikon introduced them in 2007 with D3. They are used today in the D700 (entry level $2,500), D3x (top level $8,100), and D3s models giving them noticeably better image quality. In today's cameras an ISO of 12,800 records images as noise-free as 400 ISO images taken with the D200 five or six years ago.

The frames per second (fps) rate is important to the look of video. The early live view cameras used a slow 15 fps. When the D90 came out, Nikon chose to use 24 fps rather than the faster 30 fps of camcorders. With 24 fps the results are movie-theatre like compared to the home-movie effect of 30 fps.

Anticipating the growing appeal of video, Nikon released the D5000 in the spring of 2009 at a lower price point. It featured a swiveling back screen and a plastic body. For professionals seeking rigidity and durability, high end video-enabled cameras were built with a magnesium alloy body and O-ring seals around all buttons keeping out dust and moisture. Nikon added the D7000 as a mid-range option. It is constructed of a mix of plastic and metal alloy - it has a light chassis with a metal top and back.

Microphone capabilities where expanded in the fall of 2009 with the D300. It was a professional camera with video, supporting external stereo microphones. For special effects, the photographer/videographer can use two microphones, one on interviewee and the other facing the background capturing ambient sound. A shot gun microphone cuts background noise, autofocus lens noise, and anti-shake noise. Wireless microphones can be used to further distance the audio capture from the camera.

In late 2009, the D3s arrived with an FX sensor. This camera is the current champion of low light photography. No other brand, no pro video camera, touches it! The large FX sensor with a low pixel count of 12 mpx records images and videos with very low noise. It can shoot at up to the equivalent of 102,400 ISO. To most people familiar with film even 6400 ISO is very high.

Beyond their highest ISO, the older SLRs had H1, H2, and sometimes H3 settings which gave a higher ISO like digital zoom extended focal length. The camera's gain is raised to simulate a higher sensitivity than the native ISO of the sensor (if a camera's highest ISO is 12,800 then H1 is like 25,600, H2 like 51,200, and H3 like 102,400 ISO). The benefit of super high ISO can be seen in videographer Phillip Bloom's web series, episode two "How Sensitive Can You Get". There is one scene lit only by a cigarette lighter - good detail without noise. Movies could not do this, they had to introduce other light and fake the scene! Episode one and two are available at the "Zacuto DSLR Shootout" which also reviews all makes of SLR cameras and video devices.

Another great thing, the D3s has full manual video settings (like the Canon 5D MkII). You can manipulate aperture, speed, and ISO separately. With earlier cameras, the camera program chose the settings automatically. Now you can over/under expose and set aperture or speed to get the desired effect.

Mark showed a video he took for his fitness club with a D3s and edited in iMovie. He hand-held the camera and used manual focus which he found was faster and more accurate. The back screen on the newer cameras have a much higher resolution making manual focussing easy. Shot mostly with a 24 to 120 zoom, he used the natural light of the gym. Video looks good at almost all ISO settings since video has a relatively low resolution.

The D7000 mid range camera came out last fall (2010). Its big addition to the feature set already in SLRs was longer HD video recording time. The camera has the smaller DX sensor and uses the H.264 CODEC to record up to 20 minutes straight. It can be tethered as well. Mark showed a D7000 movie taken by street light after dusk. The five minute video by Chase Jarvis is titled "Benevolent Mischief". It was recorded at 1920 x 1080 resolution using auto white balance, capturing details impossible before under such poor ambient lighting. Post production was done with Final Cut Pro, the professional standard for editing video.

SLR video brought out the innovators like Redrock and Zacuto. Mark demonstrated the camera support rig he bought. These rigs are showing up at "fusion" shows hosted by Henry's, Vistek, and others (fusion is the current term used to describe the merger of video and SLRs). Eyepieces are also popping up. They let the videographer hold the SLR to his head and view the screen as if it where a viewfinder.

The Vancouver brothers David and Dan Newcomb set out to create a different take on moving pictures - using time lapse photography. Nikon SLRs have a built-in interval timer. You can record 100s of frames on a flash card and more by tethering. The brothers used Nikon D7000 cameras to shoot stills at a resolution of 12 mpx. You can see their Innerlife Project on the KETE:RECORDS site" or in full HD here on Youtube. Be sure to check out the "gear" link on their website "timelapsehd.ca". for the unique equipment they made and used. Time lapse allows a videographer to use the HDR capability of the SLR to capture both highlight and shadow detail under widely varying light conditions.

Mark wrapped up his talk with a live demonstration of the benefits of using an SLR for video by recording tonight's audience with Wayne Gilbert's D3s. The camera allows total manual control and has extreme light sensitivity recording detail beyond the capability of our eyes and far beyond that of even pro video cameras in the near total darkness of the Gold room.

In closing, he reminded any professional photographers in the audience to register for NPS - Nikon Professional Service. The membership is free and limited to professionals working full time in photography. The expedited repair service shrinks the standard two weeks to repair to just a few days. And if that isn't fast enough, Nikon will provide a lender body of the same model (if available).

Global news video
Global news video
SLR match light video
Low light video
SLR video in the dark
D3s video in dark
D3s video increased sensitivityVideo - WB, ISO adj
Nikon prisms DX and FX
Prisms DX, FX
Nikon sensors FX DX
Sensors FX, DX

This page was designed in Dreamweaver CS5 on an iMac running OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). Unless otherwise noted, images on this page were taken with a Sony NEX-5 digital still camera and subsequently adjusted in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom V3.3 and Photoshop CS5. Presentation images are ©2011 by Mark Cruz and Nikon and may not be used without his permission. Contents and all other images are ©2011 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used freely provided the source is clearly indicated. Copies of photographs displayed during this presentation may not be used without the copyright holder's permission. Contact PHSC at info@phsc.ca if you would like more information on the items discussed on this page.

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