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Nikon D800 Holds Its Own in Hollywood: from Janusz Kamiński to 'Dexter' and 'Wilfred'

01.12.13 @ 5:22PM Tags : , , ,

Canon obviously got off to an early start in Hollywood thanks to the incredible performance of the Canon 5D Mark II and the fact that the camera could be put literally anywhere. It really wasn’t until the introduction early last year of the Nikon D800 that there was a bigger push to incorporate Nikon DSLRs into larger productions. Some of this is attributed to the fact that the Nikon cameras didn’t have full manual controls in video mode until their newest cameras, but the other reason they haven’t really taken hold is because the image quality just wasn’t very good until the D800. Now we’ve got people like DP Janusz Kamiński shooting with the cameras, and it’s being used on shows like Dexter and Wilfred.

If you haven’t seen it, I took both the D800 and the Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 5D Mark III for a spin earlier last year, comparing them with noise reduction turned off, and then I applied my own bit of noise reduction later on:

I really like the look of the D800 personally, but I know plenty of people either don’t like it or have tons of Canon lenses so they’ve never considered using Nikon. The D800 resolves more actual detail, but you’re also going to get moire pattern from time to time because of the way they get from a whopping 36 megapixels all the way down to 2 megapixels for HD video. Here is a little bit about its use on Wilfred, which is currently the only major network show to be shot with strictly DSLRs. They started with Canon 7Ds converted to PL mount, but they switched over to the D800 later in the second season:

“ISO performance is an important factor to consider; however, it ultimately comes down to how well a camera can handle the black detail in a scene, something which we feel is commonly overlooked by camera manufactures today,” said Arasheben. “With the D800, we were blown away. The way the D800 handled the black detail was simply incredible and was enormously important to us. Our set has very dissected and specific lighting, and if a camera cannot truly represent the black levels, that’s a problem, especially as considerable resources are then required to correct the footage in post. This is an issue we never had to worry about with the D800.”

As an avid watcher of the show, it was clear when it switched over to full-frame, because the DOF changed dramatically. One other interesting bit about how they actually used the cameras:

“Instead of using the HDMI out to record to an off-board recorder, we leveraged the HDMI out to feed clean video images to everyone on set,” added Arasheben. “The Cinoflex Camera System provides a strong anchor point that allowed us to relocate the D800’s HDMI out to the aluminum chassis, where the signal was converted to HD/SDI BNC and inserted directly into the HD/SDI input on the Cinoflex. Using the Cinoflex’s four isolated HD/SDI outputs, we then gave the director, camera assistant, DP and camera operator a view of exactly what was being shot.”

One of the biggest selling points for the cameras is the fact that you can cleanly record the HDMI to get a much higher quality image, but they decided that usability was more important and the image quality going straight to the cards internally was good enough for their purposes. This is some of the same reasoning used by the team that has been shooting Dexter with the Nikon D800 as a C and D camera and companion to the Arri Alexa:

“We used the Alexa as a baseline and had the D800 recording to an outboard recorder uncompressed and to an internal memory card at H.264 compressed,” says Fletcher. “We also tested a Canon C300 with a Cooke lens on it—a $40,000 setup—running alongside the $4,000 Nikon D800 setup. The Canon footage had what you might call an over-smooth look to it. But the D800 uncompressed footage blew us away.”

When they looked at D800 footage alongside the ARRI baseline at Technicolor, he says, “we really couldn’t see much difference. But our jaws really hit the floor when we brought up the compressed D800 footage. Right then the decision was made with the post supervisor Megan Walsh that if we shoot with this camera, there is no need to shoot uncompressed. That means the file size goes from 4GB to 600 MB. That’s just the factory setup, too.”

“It won’t ever replace the Alexa, which is a better form factor, a better picture, and has more dynamic range. The Alexa is also amazing at highlight retention, and that’s because it is doing an in-camera HDR and noise mask. But when you look at how the Nikon is handling the roll-off on the highs, how it is handling the toe of the curve, [and] how it is handling no information to getting into the dark grays and coming up in the middle tones, it is doing a fantastic job. Footage is creamy and smooth, much like the Alexa footage. It really looks cinematic and stellar.”

It’s really interesting to me that DPs shooting on shows costing into the millions per episode don’t feel a need to deal with uncompressed footage, which is either a testament to the post workflows, or them understanding that a 3rd and 4th camera on set will only be used for minor shots, so having to rig it up will cost them more time and money than it really should. If you’re wondering what the real differences can be between shooting uncompressed and shooting internally, photographer Ron Adair shot an interesting test that really shows off the differences:

Nikon was behind a recent short film that will be playing at Sundance 2013, Broken Night. That film, now available to watch online, was written/directed by Guillermo Arriaga and shot by Academy Award Winner Janusz Kamiński. It’s interesting to see how far the Nikon is pushed in some of the darker scenes, and it’s clear that they’ve got it right at its limits. I’m sure it was refreshing for Kamiński to get to use DSLRs because he could literally put the camera anywhere and move it in any way he wanted. There is a lot of great behind the scenes material with them talking about their process and using the camera, but Nikon, in their infinite wisdom, has not allowed any of this to be embedded or shown anywhere else but the Broken Night website — so you’ll have to head on over there to check it out.

If you’re looking to shoot with higher-end DSLRs, you’ve now got more options than ever, and Nikon has truly made themselves a competitor with the D800. I haven’t seen great results come out of any of their other DSLRs yet, but it will be interesting to see what they do down the road. It’s certainly possible they may come up with their own video camera, and their product line is positioned in such a way that they could release something in a much more competitive price range without crippling the features.

What do you guys think? Have you used the Nikon D800? What do you think about the image over a camera like the 5D Mark II or 5D Mark III?


Related Posts

  1. Academy Award Winner Janusz Kamiński and Guillermo Arriaga Making a Short Film with the Nikon D800
  2. 'Joy Ride,' the First Nikon D800 Test Film
  3. A Roundup of Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 Videos


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  • what did you use for the noise reduction?

    • Same question for me !

      • I used Neat Video, but I didn’t have the full version, so that’s why you’re just seeing it windowed.

        • Try Dark Energy for AE. THE best I’ve ever used

        • Rob Manning on 01.17.13 @ 7:18PM

          Joe thanks for the common denominator post on this camera.

          A couple of fussy pros I know have moved to this body, one a busy international fashion gal moved over after a rep brought one to a magazine session last June, never looked back and sold the Canon, the other a hard core portrait guy who was still using the old Kodak/Nikon sansan aliasing filter, shoots Ziess primes exclusively.

          Your video cuts are appreciated, lots of work but certainly an effort we all can learn from.


          Rob Manning

    • Hi from CINOFLEX

      A couple fine points and details from the show “Wilfred”.

      Randall Einhorn (DIRECTOR / EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, “WILFRED”), “As a camera (ex) operator for almost 20 years I have come to understand the importance and finer details of many camera systems. We couldn’t have done Wilfred without the Cinoflex Camera System. The balance, the video outs, the mounting of accessories, so many things come into play on a TV set, you have to adapt, and the only way DSLR’s on Wilfred have, we’re the use of the Cinoflex”.
      Cinoflex (on the Cinoflex Facebook page) will feature the dissected view and complete set-up from the Season 3 “Wilfred” camera department, this should give answers to many questions for those on the forums and elsewhere.



  • I’ve been making my way into independent video, after shooting stills on the Nikon. I bought the D800, and haven’t looked back. I don’t video with the uncompressed yet (due to lack of funds), but the compressed, when done well, looks fantastic. It is definitely a great camera for video. The only major negatives I have found so far (been using the D800 since June 2012) are the moire issues and the lack of Magic Lantern-like software for control. But the moire is a slight annoyance and the software is nice but after coming from stills, I feel I can deal with the controls of my camera without the need of software beyond the native D800.

    Here are a couple videos I’ve shot on the D800 for reference:
    Music Video:
    Music Video:

  • Be sure to use the Similaar profile for picture control when using the D800. Helps produce a nice, flat image for your CC and grading in post.

    • I must say I’m really impressed how Flaat picture profile works with D800. This video is another example how nicely Nikon performs with custom PP – Somehow I’m unable to have this effect on Mark III; Flaat on Canon seems to behave differently than on Nikon. I experimented with a custom picture profile, but still can’t reach this effect. It’s either Canon’s picture style editor (which is really shitty), the camera itself or I’m doing something wrong.The flat, gray image on Nikon is really impressive.

      • Colors are different in the Canon and Nikon versions of Portrait, and Flaat inherits those colors without much change: the only thing Flaat does is to start with a nice profile that gives you nice skin tones (Portrait) and adjust the light response function so that it is near-log (and therefore easier to grade).
        I decided to keep the colors as they were because they’re both nice (at least to me), and because pushing hues around creates unwanted noise.

      • Regarding colors with the Canons:
        Contrast has to be at minimum, but Saturation=-2 and Tone=+1 are just suggestions. Have you played with those?

        And in any case: glad you like Flaat! At least for Nikon :)
        And: nice little piece!

        • I really enjoy Flaat on the D800. I use that with ZF Zeiss lenses and the internal codec and do quite well with it.

  • Did anyone else think that Broken Night looked kinda cheap? It felt like a TV movie, not very cinematic. That aside, the story was underwhelming and the directing felt like it was going nowhere. Not saying it was bad, but I certainly expected something much better coming from a Arriaga and Kaminski collaboration.

  • Clayton Arnall on 01.12.13 @ 8:05PM

    Um…they couldn’t tell the difference between Alexa footage and D800 footage first of all, and then they couldn’t tell the difference between uncompressed and compressed footage? Sorry gotta call a bluff on that one!

    • Jayy Slocum on 01.12.13 @ 9:24PM

      Its hard to see difference in WEB compressed video, actually contrary to belief web compression actually helps with some noise in pictures in some situations. HOWEVER even with that being said, i have seen the true uncompressed video vs COMPRESSED and sony/ Nikon has done such a great job that Compresss video holds up just as nice IMO

    • In the case of internal vs external recording, I’m pretty much sure they could see the difference. What they decided was that this difference was not worth the hassle.

  • Jayy Slocum on 01.12.13 @ 8:13PM

    You also have to remeber NIKON Uses Sony chips and pair that with the Fact of Usin Nikon Quality Optics Which are Superior to Crappy Canon L glass. Canon may have somewhat of a nicer Cult Loving Look/Lowlight, but ALL nikons produced after d3200 actually resolve better in detail IMO.

    The only thing i hate about Nikon Cameras especially with neutral profiles is the Wax skintones and sort of a RED CAST in the video in lowlight conditions.

  • Even with a DP as Kaminski they couldn’t make the D800 look “filmic”. It indeed felt like a TV movie. I agree. Looked cheap.

    • Ferran Brooks on 01.13.13 @ 12:09PM

      Really I was thinking nobody it is going to say it.
      I think the same. Also feel that all this amount of crew and budged (high grade production team with high grade Pro´s, grip, lights, etc) and all the look that I can see on “Broken Night”, in my eyes (I’m just a poor apprentice, maybe that is why ) look low,low…

  • ThunderBolt on 01.12.13 @ 8:39PM

    Nikon even with noisy even with reduction, MkIII clear winner with my eyes. In the days of still film, Nikon was the standard. Sad to see digital fall apart for them.

    • VINCEGORTHO on 01.12.13 @ 10:04PM

      MarkIII a winner in which way? Color science? Yes.
      Sharpness? No. Resolution? no.
      Low light? yes.
      Video you can grade? No. Here is where Canons are useless.

      • Jayy Slocum on 01.12.13 @ 10:47PM

        I hear you but sharpness has alot to do with lens you also choose , Old nikon lens on a mark 3 have a nice warm contrast and can damnnn near hold their own against ZEISS lens

        Canon lens are , even the L-SERIES are a waist of money IMO for serious video, there are alot of other better still lens options to choose from that have a sharper/nicer contrast and that resolve better . OLD NIKONS, OLD LEICA LENS, some of the ZEISS STILL LENS ARE amazing depending and basically spot on equal in quality compared to CP compact PRIME CINE LENS that cost 6x times as much.

        • Ferran Brooks on 01.13.13 @ 12:13PM

          I think the same, in fact in one of my works shooted with C300 we made a comparative betwen Zeiss Cine Lenses and my old Zeiss. The DP was amazed.

      • If you can’t grade Canon 5d mark III (or even the previous generation cams) then you can’t grade anything really.

    • This is total BS…

      • I’m referring to:

        “Nikon even with noisy even with reduction, MkIII clear winner with my eyes. In the days of still film, Nikon was the standard. Sad to see digital fall apart for them.”

        Just total BS!

  • I have shot night time lava flow video with my D800. Not some movie production. Real basic and the only editing is clipping footage. If you want to see the D800 in this type of environment take a look. I used a rodes mic to catch the subtle sounds of lava chunks falling. It was also very windy.

    Side note; My D800 is being sent in for repairs as it started locking up the other night while out in no mans land shooting. Also, the AF stopped working and my 24mm no longer works on it. Kind of a meltdown of issues. Sure do like what it produces when it worked.

  • Looks awful!!! There are also some light continuity issues that stood out: when the boys arrive to the car it’s still dawn but inside the car the light feels more like “moonlit”… Another thing that really anoyed me was the car still blowing smoke from the engine after so many hours. It’s not really important but it was distracting…

  • (I meant dusk)

  • I own one. Has been used on commercials, docs and music promos. $60k’s worth in 2012.
    I’ve had it up against footage from every major camera out there. Its internal recording is terrific.
    No shock to me that other pros are using it. I’ve sold a few to other people in the industry just be showing them the footage back to back on a 2K screen. I haven’t seen the Kaminski film yet. I don’t need it to convince me of the camera’s worth.

    I’m still looking at other cameras, purely because I’d like more a standard form factor, but every time I put the D800 up against the contenders I find it hard to justify the expense. Its an incredible camera for the money. And that’s BEFORE you take a still with it.

  • One more thing: I hear Nikon are very keen to see what happens with the 1DC. Bearing in mind that they (Nikon) already have a camera that can handle a decent 4K video data rate recording internally (the D4). The problem for everybody seems to be heat.

    • Right, which is why pretty much everything that does 4K internally has a fan.

      • Or the 1DC’s heatsink, which to me is the vitally significant part of the difference to the 1DX. If the 1DC sells (and I think it will), Nikon will have a version together pretty quickly I suggest, which if it uses the card tech from the D4 should be able to manage different frame rates at 4K.

  • I agree with those saying they didn’t like the film. I don’t think it’s a good story, I don’t like the way they shot it or lighted the short film. It looks just ok. That shaky camera inside the car was terrible to watch and also looks like they abused the different angles. Cuts are very fast, showing unimportant stuff. Not even the color correction looks fine to me.

    I was expecting something really good. I don’t know how this short film made it to Sundance 13.

  • As the director of photography of Wilfred and the person who works closely with Director Randall Einhorn on the show, I was a bit surprised to see all these articles popping up on the internet with Tim Arasheben discussing the look and lighting of the show, ISO and camera performance pertaining to the look. But my email inbox is continually inundated with emails from DP friends and colleagues and many other industry people asking why this is, so I thought I should look at these articles and respond.

    I’m not sure how it is that our C camera operator and camera gear supplier is the one being interviewed as he is not the one in the hot seat on a daily basis, meeting production deadlines, making creative and technical lighting decisions, going to production on an daily basis to make lighting, grip and camera equipment and man power decisions that will work with the budget to get the job done and basically running the set along with Randall. It is clear from the above article Tim is about promoting his Cinoflex without really giving credit to the person that has to do all of the above on an ongoing basis. But just for the record, Tim has no idea what my shooting ratios are, and the specific decisions that I make with my gaffer Tom Pugh and key grip Kevin Ball each and every day on the set that create the “very dissected and specific lighting” that he refers to in the article above.

    • Rob Manning on 01.17.13 @ 7:04PM


      Thanks for chiming in. So, you are OK with the D-800 under/with given mission constraints, cool

      I love the D-800 as a free lancer although I crashed it in Death Valley (whoops), lens mount and rear plastic button surround, being repaired at 6420 Wilshire Blvd. where Nikon moved to.

      Landscape shots. simply amazing.

      Stock video, and ongoing doc footage and fine arts projects, no complaints either.

      Thanks for stepping up and covering your crew members trail.

      Rob Manning

      • Yes, I do like the D800. The sensor is incredible sensitive in low light and I love the way it digs into shadows and handles black. It’s less contrasty so I don’t have to force fill light in just to battle contrast, which gives me the opportunity to light more naturally. I also want to make clear that the Cinoflex system used for the show is a very good system. It really removes all the issues that occur when using a DSLR for production. By no means in the previous post was I discrediting Cinoflex.

    • Congrats on an awesome show.

      I watched 2 full seasons without even wondering what it was shot on. I might have been distracted laughing my ass off…

  • ive been using this camera on my latest shoots… i will upload some random shots…

    it totally outperforms the mk series… if it wasnt for the alaising or the moire it would be the perfect camera…

    its true HD no upscaling, i can say that i regret buying the mk III, i have both mk II and mk III … planing on changing to BMCC or d800… i will upload some random shit for you guys to see… ISO thing with this camera… its more sensitive than the correlative number in canon equivalent

    • Rob Manning on 01.17.13 @ 7:07PM

      That a a usual dissection over in Nikon user forums post Canon spec versus release BTW.

      I suppose Nikon will jump into 4k with both feet soon enough.

  • Roy Feldman on 01.17.13 @ 5:06PM

    Is anyone using the mosaic engineering filter?

    • I wouldn’t bother. No matter what is claimed ANY such filter will soften the image.

      Artifacts and aliasing are extremely minimal on the D800…way less IMHO than the Canon 5D2 and 5D3 which I’ve used and tested. Once again Nikon took their time to get it right.

      I think more benefit comes from using the clean HDMI with a Ninja (or other such device).

    • In answer to your question Roy, I use the Mosiac filter on my D800E for video and swear by it. I personally found aliasing and moire distracting on my videos during slow panning, which is why I use the filter. (Much less obvious during faster panning.) Perhaps some other readers (Skeptikal) have used it and found it to reduce sharpness, but I have not noticed any change in sharpness to comment on.

  • On its own the D800 is excellent. I bought two for purely still work but have been very pleasantly surprised just how good the video output is (much cleaner and better color than my hacked GH2′s).

    Connected to the Atomos Ninja and shooting ProRes HD the IQ is just fantastic.

  • I’m surprised by the comments about the low light comparison between the 5D and D800. The Nikon is noisy as hell, especially in the skin tones, from beginning to end. The 5D held up in both the skin tones and blacks. My biggest gripe with Canon is the overall redness that comes naturally out of the cameras and the L series lenses are not as sharp as their price would suggest, but it’s still pretty great for most applications. I do prefer Nikon glass, however. The music videos posted by Tobin Herringshaw show the camera off much better though. The 5D does have what they call an “over smooth look,” but I prefer that to noise. The short film didn’t impress much in the story department. Production value aside, it was student film storytelling quality at best.

  • What I don’t understand is comparing the recording on the flash card and the HDMI uncompressed recorded at the same time : when you have a flashcard inside the camera the HDMI output is only 720p… You’re comparing two totaly different things

  • i see people here talking are nikon users from the talks. i had 5d2, then changed to gh3 and now going back to fullframe…all because of moire. d800 has SAME issue. more pixels in same space means tighter pixels..which means sensor will pick all lens faults more visible, including epecially chromatic aberrations which occurs mostly when u shoot wide open…and thats how most peole shoot with fast lenses,,we want the Bokeh.
    The other BIG – is the MOIRE… thats something u really really do not want. this is why nikon should have put the sensor of d600 to d800. around 25 megapixels is the edge in dslr, after that comes ca and moire problems…just like in mirrorless cameras with tight pixels…+ moire& ca does not seek difference what brand the camera is.
    that is the simple truth.