Archives For D800

I will be heading to Photo Plus in New York at the end of the month to do some presentations for Nikon. Its the US’s biggest gear expo for equipment, so should be a lot of fun!

To help demo the Nikon gear that I have been using (primarily a D800, 17-35mm & 28-300mm lenses), I spent a day shooting with friends that operate a schooner, the J&E Riggin, here on the Maine coast.

Using a very simple kit that included one DSLR body, two lenses and a great microphone from MyMyk, I ran the video signal into an Atomos Samurai Blade recorder to capture broadcast quality images. The external recorder also gave me the advantage of having a monitor giving me a small and ergonomically useful hand-held rig. The recorder is equipped with a 240Gb SSD drive also giving me extended record times and 10 bit Apple ProRes files ready to drop into Final Cut for editing.

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The Blade is equipped with SDI inputs, so to interface with the camera, I also used the Connect from Atomos. This takes the HDMI signal from the camera and converts it to SDI, it also is brilliantly designed to piggy-back on the recorder to keep the system compact and simple.

Equipment definitely has moved on in the last few years. I am looking forward to upgrading to a Nikon D810 very soon with increased video functionality, this should make a great combination with the Blade and the Atomos Star. The Star another recorder produced by Atomos, there is no monitor screen but the tiny form factor more than makes up for this design decision. Sitting on the DSLR hot-shoe, this amazing device also records Apple Pro Res files at a much higher quality than your camera is able to do internally. At less than $300, it has to be the best camera accessory you can buy!

Dawn Aug 27

Dawn on Appleton Ridge

 

Good morning from the Ridge here is Appleton, Maine. There was a beautiful sunrise this morning, so ran outside to shoot a photograph capturing the late summer season. Fall feels like it is just around the corner….

The sun was just a little too high in the sky for an open shot of the St George valley, plus I wanted to include the turning grass and wildflowers to better capture the feel of summer coming to an end. This was a great opportunity to use the dew covered grass as foreground. Not only does this help capture the mood, but on a practical note, cuts the brightness of the sun, while allowing me to see the textures of the vegetation.

To ensure a wide dynamic range (seeing details all the way from the shadows to highlights), I set the camera to continuous high, or burst rate, and shot five frames with one stop differences in exposure and then blended them with HDR Efex Pro.

I also chose to have a relatively large depth of field, bot not push this too far, as the out of focus elements would help add depth to the photograph.

Shot at 1/200th sec at f8   17mm lens on a Nikon D800

 

PS  I also grabbed a quick shot of my trusty camera assistant using the same technique

 

Trusty camera assistant- Rosie

Trusty camera assistant- Rosie

 

A quick photo update for my recent trip to the Gulf of Mexico…   We has spectacular clouds but the dynamic range was challenging for even my Nikon D800, so as with the recent shot of dawn in Camden Harbor, I bracketed (5 shots at one stop intervals), but this time shot handheld as I was on a moving ship and using a tripod would have not created matching shots and would likely have transferred vibration form the engines. Fortunately the Nik HDR program did a wonderful job of removing any ghosting ( details that don’t quite align in the shot ), as well as doing a B&W conversion.

 

The lesson was to consider using HDR even if you can’t use a tripod or monopod… the results can be great!

 

 

HDR Sunrise over the Gulf

HDR Sunrise over the Gulf

One of the great things about digital cameras is the ability to push the limits in terms of the images that you can capture. Not only can you change ISO and white balance as you move between locations but you can also easily combine images to stitch together panoramas or capture details that would not be possible with a single exposure. HDR (High Dynamic Range) has become a well known technique and is often used to retain details from the highlights to the shadows in a scene that exceeds the normal range that a camera could capture.

I just returned from shooting dawn in Camden Harbor in Maine. Although I was mostly shooting video with my D800, I grabbed a few still images just as the sun was rising. The straight image is pretty unremarkable due to the huge difference in the lighting between the still shaded harbor and the sky. But seeing potential of the scene, I shot a series for HDR.

Camden Harbor Sunrise Single

Camden Harbor- Single Exposure

I have a love of black & white images and find that combining HDR with a B&W conversion gives great results. But be warned, there is no instant gratification with this technique and just as it was back in the film days, the final result only appears once you start processing the images. There are also dangers involved if you get too carried away! More often than not, to my taste, HDR images appear over done, what is known as overcooked. Its a personal choice and you may love this look pulling out the detail, so apologies if you prefer the first version of this shot!

Camden Harbor Sunrise OC

HDR- Overcooked

 

I combined 5 exposures using HDR Efex Pro, part of the Nik Software Collection. One correctly exposures and two either side, each in one stop increments, over and under exposed. The software first combines the images taking out ghosting (where elements of the images may have moved e.g. a blowing flag), color aberrations etc… Then comes the dangerous part. Once you have saved the combined images, the HDR version appears but you can dial in different amounts of the effect including tonal compression, saturation, detail etc. To make it easy, HDR Efex Pro  shows you a selection of versions with different variations. If you are tempted to go extreme or just use a preset, you end up with something like the photo shown above. Again… you may love this version!

I first check the various recipes for the image that HDR Efex Pro suggests, select the one nearest to the look I want and then play with the settings to give some fine adjustments. This gave me this version with a less dramatic look, but a greatly enhanced dynamic range compared to the single image.

Camden Harbor Sunrise Color

HDR- Adjusted image

 

This adjusted image is much more pleasing and more like what the naked eye would see. Not content with this, I also did a black and white conversion. Normally I would do this through Nik’s Silver Efex but actually selected the B&W version directly through HDR Efex and was quite pleased with the results.

 

Camden Harbor Sunrise

Camden Harbor HDR Black & White

 

The final decisions come down to you. You can add more or less detail in the highlights and shadows, play with saturation or do the black and white conversion. If not over used, HDR can make for a spectacular image, so go out and give it a try.

 

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 5.21.51 PM

While some critics have said Nikon is behind compared to Panasonic and Sony, I would consider the new features of the D810 to be a great step in the right direction. I personally don’t need 4K for the type of work I do with a DSLR and this camera does a great job of being a still & video camera. Great job Nikon!

 

For more information, head over to – Nikon D810

 

Check out David’s blog post for Nikon on their Nikon Cinema site for advise on this and many other topics

Read below for a full reproduction of the piece

 

David Wright is a 20-year Nikon camera veteran and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. Working as a regular contributor in the roles of cameraman and producer for National Geographic television and the BBC, his work has taken him around the globe to film both wildlife and human interest stories. David employs the latest imaging technologies, including high-speed HD and ultra high-definition cameras, plus gyro-stabilized units for filming from helicopters.

David started out as a stills photographer but was soon well on his way as a cinematographer. At the age of 21, David was offered a job as an apprentice cameraman at world-renowned documentary production company Oxford Scientific Films. He was a regular contributor to their stock library. Through his work, David quickly mastered the craft of shooting television documentaries, and within two years become a cinematographer working for major broadcast clients.

“I learnt the trade using 16mm and 35mm film cameras,” he shares. “Today we shoot using the latest high definition (HD) cinema cameras that capture exclusively in video.” While the majority of his work is motion, David keeps a Nikon camera by his side to capture stills, time-lapses for his television productions, and for the camera’s video capabilities for which he applies to both personal and professional projects.

Adapting Cinematography Techniques
David recently led a workshop specifically for photojournalists that focused on best practices for HD-SLR video shoots. Preparation for this workshop made him consider the lessons he has learned as a cinematographer, and how best to adapt those techniques when shooting video with his latest camera, a Nikon D800.

Single lens reflex cameras (SLRs) have a long design history with a primary objective to capture still images, not motion work. David tactfully points out that shooting video with a D-SLR camera requires a different way of working the device, and that this process can be at odds with how a still photographer works. He further adds that producing video requires gear not likely found in a traditional photographer’s bag.

A Look Inside National Geographic Cinematographer/Producer David Wright’s Bag
In David’s own words, read more about his choice of gear, plus a few valuable lessons he’s picked up while on the job. These are all things you may wish to consider for your own video workflow.

DW & Mic

David Wright with D800 & ME-1 Microphone
Photo by: David Wright
Mic Check
The unsung hero of every video shoot is the sound-recordist. Whether shooting live action, an interview or other subjects in-between, I am often reminded that great capture with bad audio is unusable. On the other hand, good audio, even if accompanied by inferior imagery, is almost always useful; if your visual capture was not up to snuff you can usually shoot it again!

“Great capture with bad audio is unusable… on the other hand, good audio, even if accompanied by inferior imagery, is almost always useful”

Lesson number one for your HD-SLR shoot: use a good microphone. Compact and well designed for the job, I’m convinced the Nikon ME-1 is a great way to equip your camera for video work. The ME-1 has impressive specifications and is compact. It is powerful and will pick-up the smallest of sounds. Unfortunately even the sound of your hands operating the camera will be captured; this is known as “handling noise.” I like that the ME-1 has a built-in shock mount that assists in reducing this problem. Adding an ME-1 is an important component to consider as you start building-out your videography bag.

Also consider an add-on for improved sound—some sort of wind protection to shield the microphone. If you venture out into the wilds to shoot you’ll benefit from a windjammer (windscreen).

DSLR_crops

Capture different crops in camera without compromising output quality by using the DX crop mode (or 2.7x crop mode if available) – this will give you flexibility in editing the video together.
Photo by: David Wright
Choices, Choices: Magnification and Camera Angle
Unlike shooting photo stills and the “decisive moment,” filmmaking requires you to capture a series of moving images that best narrate an unfolding story or sequence. Sounds obvious, but understanding this key concept—both in terms of obtaining the shots that best piece together the story plus incorporation of the best lens(es)—can make or break your effort.

“I recommend watching a small part of a favorite movie… turn down the sound and pay attention to how the shots were produced”

To better understand the concept of shooting a sequence, I recommend watching a small part of a favorite movie. When you watch, turn down the sound and pay attention to how the shots were produced, how the film flows from one frame to the next, and how long each frame runs. You’ll likely start noticing that the editor is using rather basic techniques.

The two most important techniques are: changing magnification or size of subject and camera angle. Shoot with these notions in mind and you’ll give yourself ample editing options once you’re prepping the footage. During the edit, cutting between shots will be easier and you can pace your finished sequence in any way you choose. If someone else is cutting for you, creating more choices by following these techniques will make you a popular cameraman!

Three Favorite Lenses
I rotate between three favorite NIKKOR lenses when shooting video:

AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D ED-IF
This lens is ideal when hand holding the camera or using a monopod. The 17-35mm lens allows you to establish the scene with a great wide angle view. This lens is also more forgiving of camera shake—something far more noticeable than when taking stills. With stills you’re concerned about holding a camera steady for a brief moment in time. With video you may need to hold the camera still for several minutes.

For example, if you like shooting candid street shots and want to blend in with the background by not using a tripod, the wide angle is a great way to go. Plus, with a f/2.8 lens you’ll get great capture in low light.

AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR
One photographer at a recent workshop referred to this as the ‘Swiss army knife’ of his preferred lens selections when traveling. The 24-120mm f/4G is fast enough to work well in low light, and it has a range that enables the different shot size requirements mentioned above that go into constructing a solid sequence.

As a tip, I like to start a sequence with a wide establishing shot (24mm). I then move in for a medium shot (50mm). And finally, I go to close-up (120mm). Of course you can also achieve the three different focal lengths by moving the camera closer to the subject, but for ease and speed this lens handles all the footwork.

AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
When I need to travel light, this is the lens I tend to use most. Its compact size and amazing zoom range permit me to quickly capture a wide range of shot sizes; I don’t miss any action by relocating the camera. At the long end of its zoom capability this lens is best paired with a tripod. The results are astounding.

DSLR-video-Ronnie

The larger sensor in HD-SLR cameras paired with a fast lens enables shallow depth of field in your video, allowing a great cinematic look to be achieved.
Photo by: David Wright
Cinematic Sensor Size
Of course one of the big attractions for using an HD-SLR for video is the large sensor size—and the resulting shallow depth of field it yields. You bring a great look to your footage, and the technology allows improved separation of subject from background.

As a tip, for occasions where even more distinct separation of subject from the background is desired, I suggest a prime lens with fast aperture. The AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G is great for recording interviews or when you wish to shoot a portrait photograph.

Techniques to Imitate a Filmic Look
Another joy of using an HD-SLR to shoot video, compared to cameras with smaller sensors, is the ability to recreate that filmic look I saw from my trusty old 16mm and 35mm film cameras. To achieve the look, I mimic some of the older camera settings, which means either using a frame rate of 24 fps or 25 fps (depending on whether you are in an NTSC or PAL country; the USA uses NTSC).

Want to make the most of this look? Calculate your exposure time as if it were the 180-degree spinning shutter in the film camera. In other words, a 1/50 sec. exposure should be used when shooting at 25 fps. This allows just the right amount of motion capture in the image to yield a smooth and pleasant playback because it mimics the way the human eye sees things in motion. In other words, with just enough blur.

To maintain that shallow depth of field in your video work, not only should you shoot at 1/50 sec., but also set a large aperture (set between f/1.4 and f/4 depending on the lens you are using). The challenge here is that, particularly in bright situations, you can’t help but be overexposed.

Combat overexposure by using a variable neutral density (ND) filter. The filter knocks back exposure by two stops, and you can dial it down by as much as nine stops. I recommend not pushing too far; the corners of the image will start to become dark and you may see a slight color shift. The variable ND also provides the ability to smoothly adjust the amount of light entering the lens while you shoot.

ND Filter Makes For a Smooth Operator
An interesting point about a “traditional” cinema lens is that the aperture ring does not have click stops. Most new photography lenses don’t have an aperture ring; all adjustments are made via a dial on the camera body.

The cinema lens aperture ring is great because you can make adjustments without the viewer becoming aware of the change. I frequently run into a situation where I am hand-holding the camera and walking behind a subject; for example, when filming the person as he or she moves from indoors to outdoors. For continuous footage in this scenario you’d have to reduce exposure on-the-fly by stopping down the lens.

The solution? Use that filter for easy on-the-fly exposure control. Practice with the variable ND filter and gain expertise in maintaining correct exposure by merely spinning the front element. With practice you can take the motion of your subject, combined with your own movement, to hide in-camera adjustments. No one will even be aware that changes have been made.

My second camera is a D600 – for this camera the aperture locks once I hit the record button in Video Mode. I’ve learned that by setting the lens and ND filter to the right combination I am more precise in adjusting exposure. I can let more light in or decrease the light during a shot—and I do not have to restart the camera.

External Monitor Gives a Second Look
One of the most important things I have to remember, after years of working with traditional movie cameras, is that HD-SLRs don’t have a viewfinder that can be oriented to different angles. For my work I often need to look down into a finder instead of the backside of a camera where the LCD screen is. My solution is to add an external electronic viewfinder. These monitors provide extra features such as focus assist modes, histograms for checking exposure and much more. These added tools will likely help boost your confidence in what you are capturing.

Two Last Best Bets
Two last items in my kit, that have not changed much since my film days, include a good fluid head and a sturdy set of tripod legs. The tripod is not only essential for steady telephoto shots, but the better the head, the smoother the movement during video pan or tilt. There are a lot of brands on the market, but my choice for best build quality, design and price is the Miller range of products. For times when I am on foot and/or need to keep a low profile, I’ll also carry a monopod to help steady the capture.

Ultimately, what you end up adding to your videography bag will be dictated by what you shoot and what you prefer. My work takes me all around the planet. I capture everything from animals to people to nature. I shoot in all ranges of light and environmental conditions. So for me, my personal favorites include:

Nikon D800 and D600 bodies (view)
NIKKOR 17-35mm zoom (view)
NIKKOR 28-300mm zoom (view)
NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4mm prime (view)
Plenty of spare batteries and memory cards (view)
A variable ND filter
External electronic viewfinder (EVF)
A good tripod and monopod
You have an amazing film-making tool in your hands. To ease into motion, consider the video-making capability of your Nikon HD-SLR combined with time-lapse image capture in stills mode. You can create some amazing looks. When you are ready to dive into 100 percent motion work, know that with a little camera practice the rest comes down to your imagination.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

David Wright
David Wright is an award winning filmmaker and photographer. Originally from the U.K., he has worked in more than 35 countries and now makes his home on the coast of Maine in the U.S.A. Upcoming travels will take him to South Africa, Brazil, South Georgia and the Antarctic. A long time Nikon user, David started out in the business at Oxford Scientific Films. He then went freelance and now shoots for clients including National Geographic, the BBC and Discovery Channel. Recent projects have included landmark series like Nat Geo’s “Untamed Americas,” which just earned him an Emmy nomination for cinematography. Previously he received an Emmy for achievement in documentary filmmaking, and a nomination for cinematography for his National Geographic special on polar bears. Throughout his career David has used Nikon photography equipment, as well as NIKKOR lenses, to shoot everything from television productions to commercials and feature films. Along with his work as a cinematographer and producer, David also runs workshops for the expedition company Lindblad, a National Geographic partner. David shoots with a Nikon D800 and will also be using the COOLPIX AW110 in his upcoming adventures.
To learn more about David’s work visit http://www.planetearthpictures.com/

We just completed shooting a series of video tutorials that will be a kick-starter for the workshops we will be running on board the National Geographic Explorer during 2013. While shooting for broadcast clients, I generally shoot with a video cameras that are equipped with neutral density (ND) filters. These are internal to the camera and allow you to control a wide range of exposures that can handle from being in full sun to inside a darkened room.

We made a decision to shoot the tutorials with the cameras that will be featured prominently in the workshops, for me that is the Nikon D800. As we discussed in a previous post, the challenge is getting the correct exposure when you are restricted to 1/50sec shutter speed and a minimum sensitivity of 100 ISO, but still want to maintain that shallow depth of field that makes shooting with a large sensor camera so attractive. Without an ND, you are going to be over-exposed….

Of course the other advantage of using ND filters is taking longer exposures to allow moving elements in a picture to take on a soft moving effect. While taking a sunrise time-lapse sequence with the D800, this allowed me to use this effect sunrise across the ocean. Here is a frame from that scene.

We also discovered another quirk while shooting with the DSLR’s. The D800 allows you to make on the fly aperture changes while in video mode but my back-up camera, the Nikon D600, locks in the aperture once you start recording. If the lighting changes, you have to go out of live-view, re-adjust exposure and start again, not great when you are missing a shot. I was stunned to discover this choice made by the Nikon designers while we were out shooting and my immediate reaction was similar to many new users of this camera…. “what were they thinking when disabled this function!”. Then it suddenly dawned on me, this doesn’t matter as the variable ND saves the day for both helping with general exposure control on any camera, and in particular when faced with a dilemma like using the D600. You can simply dial in an exposure change by a twist of the filter.

I had been searching for the ideal filter as there are a wide variety of prices / quality combinations on the market. After reading reviews, I settled on the new Genustech Eclipse ND Fader. After testing the unit, we discovered it delivers good color reproduction, great optical quality and they produce the sharpest of pictures.

In the past I had made my own variable ND by stacking polarizers, it basically will do a similar job but the image sharpness was not as good, and perhaps more importantly, this answer did not give the low profile of the Genustech.  It works great on my Nikon 17-35mm lens without vignetting. Something my homemade ND failed to do.

Changing aperture during a shot while shooting video with a DSLR can present another challenge, even with a D800. Older style stills lenses that are fitted with click-stops at each prescribed aperture settings. Many newer lenses, don’t even have aperture rings as the adjustments are made through dials on the camera body. On professional video / film lenses there are no click stops and an ‘on the fly’ adjustment can be made smoothly to compensate for changing light levels.

For the professional film-maker or cinematographer, one great solution is to have your older stills lenses ‘declicked’ by companies like Duclos Lenses. But this means sending every lens to be adapted, plus any new ones that you purchase in the future. The cost is just not justified for many of us and guess what, the variable ND comes to the rescue once again! No preset clicks, just a smooth adjustment that will decrease your light levels by 2 to 8 stops.

Variable ND opened up

Variable ND closed down

So despite the fact that I mentioned this in a previous post, I will say it again, the variable ND is a must have item in your camera bag and would recommend the new Genustech Eclipse ND Fader!

PS (From my frugal Scottish ancestors) Buy the filter that covers your largest diameter lens, as well as some step up rings so that the same filter will fit smaller lenses in your kit.

Photo credit: Barbara Krauss