FIRST NIKON D3s VIDEO & THOUGHTS
Using the new Nikon D3s for the first time, I made this video of a friend who has taken on the craft/art of blacksmithing. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I did shooting and editing it.
After having made my first video using a DSLR (the Nikon D3s), I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts and observations.
In short, I couldn’t be happier with the results. To shoot video with such a camera requires several workarounds, but the reward is amazing image quality and a cinematic look that is hard to achieve with a standard video camera.
APPROACH: One of the first things that I noticed was that having a still camera in my hands to make a video made me think differently. Interestingly, it made me want to capture my video footage more like I would for still images. In this case, I used very few tilts and pans and instead let movement take place within the frame. I found this to be a plus for the subject matter (blacksmithing), and in the end I was pleased with the look.
FOCUS. If my subject was not confined to such a small space (a garage), I’m not sure a DSLR would have been my choice. In this video, focus was not a huge issue because the subject didn’t move too far, and I usually knew where he would be during each stage of the process. If the space was larger and movement more random, focus would have been a challenge. I used both manual focus and auto-focus. In the later, the auto-focus is slow, but helped when I wasn’t sure if I had nailed my manual focus.
IMAGE QUALITY. A good example of the image quality is the first interview scene (after the title), which was enlarged by about 30 percent. I was shocked how well the image held up with that kind of enlargement. Making such a drastic crop with my video camera, a Panasonic HPX170, would have destroyed the image. When played on an HD player, like Vimeo’s, I would say that the quality stacks up well against Canon’s best video DSLRs.
WORKAROUND #1. I’m accustomed to looking through a viewfinder when shooting, so using the LCD screen (as required in video mode shooting) was not a good option for me. Plus, I’m farsighted. To solve that problem I attached the Zacuto Z-finder to the LCD, which turned it into a viewfinder. It worked well, except at times it fogged and critical focus was not always easy to see.
WORKAROUND #2. There has been a lot written regarding audio with DSLRs. I used two different microphones, a Sennheiser wireless for the interview, and the Sennheiser MKE 400 for ambient audio. The hardest part was not being able to see, or know, my audio levels, like you can in most professional video cameras. There are add-ons that will allow monitoring of audio levels, but something in-camera would be preferred.
WORKAROUND #3. If Apple’s Final Cut Pro is your editing software, then the “AVI” files that the D3s produces will need to be converted into files using the “ProRes” codec. In my case, I used Compressor, which comes with Final Cut Pro Studio, to convert the files so that they could be edited in Final Cut Pro. Not a huge issue, but still a workaround, compared to a video camera.
STABILITY. Keeping the camera steady without a tripod and fluid head is nearly impossible once you go past about 50mm. Owning a good tripod, and especially a good fluid head, is a must. Or one of the new “rigs” from various manufacturers designed to give you more anchor points looks like a good idea.
CLIP LENGTH. A real frustration is that no clip can be longer than five minutes. That was fine for everything, but interviews. After each interview question was answered, I had to check to see how much clip time I had left. Parts of several interviews went too long, and never got recorded. (When interviewing, I would stand next to the camera and converse with the subject, rather than tend to my camera.)
CONCLUSION. Although this is not intended to be a review (others have given very thorough reviews of the D3s), I can easily say that if you are a Nikon loyalist and want to make a video with this camera, you’ll be very pleased doing so. I look forward to making more videos with the D3s.
TECHNICAL & EQUIPMENT NOTES.
- I used two lenses, the Nikon 24-70 f2.8, and the new Nikon 70-200 f2.8.
- Everything was shot at 1/60, and most of the time at 100 ISO.
- My aperture choices ranged from f2.8 to f5.6. I always set my exposure manually.
- White balance was left on automatic most of the time, and I only needed to use custom white balance a few times (the fireplace at the end, for instance).
- Zacuto Z-Finder.
- Sennheiser wireless microphone and Sennheiser MKE 400.
- Manfrotto 745CX3 tripod and Manfrotto 745CX3 fluid head.