Nikon D300s – Video Review

I took delivery of my new Nikon D300s body last Friday, and over the weekend had a chance to play around with it. Now there are many detailed and thorough reviews about the still image aspects about the D300s but very few on the video capabilities, so I figured I would share my thoughts, in no particular order.

nikon-d300s

The D300s shoots a maximum of 1280 x 720 footage, progressive at 24 frames per second. This is by no means as flexible as the Canon 5D MKII, but for my requirements I was quite happy with this, as practically no clients request HD even to this day and I am quite a fan of the filmic look, so actually shooting at true film rates of 24fps is a bonus. Due to technical limitations with the sensor and overheating, you can only shoot a maximum of 5 minutes at a a time, even less if the ambient temp is high. You get a countdown of 30 seconds if the camera is going to shutdown the live-view due to heat. So you wont be shooting any hour long wedding videos on this puppy. Storage wise a nice change is the D300s supports both Compact Flash and SD cards, you can actually have both slots loaded and set a variety of scenarios, record to one and then the other, record RAW to one and JPEG previews to the other, even have one act as a backup of the first. With the cost of SDHC cards plummeting, I don’t think storage will ever be a problem.

The reason I was so keen to get the D300s, apart from the fact that my D200 was feeling a little old, was the ability to use my collection of lenses to get shots I pretty much couldn’t get with a prosumer video camera, namely, very shallow depth of field as well as very wide angles and telephoto. So the first shots I popped my 50mm prime at f1.8 to see what shallow depth of field looks like. Take a look at a simple demonstration I shot.

Then I threw my 10.5mm fisheye on and recorded some footage showing what weird effects you can get. Note that I wasn’t too concerned about exposure at this stage and so there is a fair amount of noise in the shot.

One feature that is getting a lot of press is the fact that unlike the 5D MKII, you can auto-focus whilst shooting video, now personally I never really saw the attraction, on most pro video cameras there is no such thing as AF at all, and even on the prosumer cameras the first thing I always do is switch to manual. That being said I figured I would give the AF a go, there was a mention in the manual that Contrast based AF is slower, and there will be some mechanical noise in the audio track if the onboard mic is being used. Well, lets just say, they understated the noise by a margin of a shitload 🙂 and as for focusing whilst recording, the hunt and seek nature of the AF renders it almost useless, your much better suited to pressing the zoom key on the back of the body that zooms in the LCD to actual pixel level resolution allowing precise focusing.

One thing that I was interested to see how the D300s deals with is external monitoring. As a video guy, I am used to patching in an external reference monitor and cans when shooting for clients to watch, and for checking audio levels. i could find no detail in the pre-press about these features on the D300s. Well as soon as I got it unboxed that was the first thing I tested, and good news is, if you use the supplied composite cable you get video out with detailed display whenever live view is running, now the picture is all kinds of awful, but at least there is a picture, there is also a HDMI out, but I have yet to test this as it uses a mini C HDMI plug and I don’t have an adapter so until the one I ordered arrives, I wait to see, but seeing as the camera lets you choose the SD or HD formats to send out through HDMI I am guessing a 720p capable LCD on shoots will now be something I always bring. Now for the bad news, there is no audio monitoring whilst recording, you have basic control of levels, but you are pretty much at the whim of the camera, so I would suggest a beachtech or some form of pre-input device for allowing fine audio control and monitoring. I am hopeful, just as with the MKII, some intrepid programmer writes a custom firmware with VU meters and finer control. That being said, for what I will be using this camera for, I will probably be running dual system audio anyway, so I am not too bothered.

One area where the Nikon is heads and shoulders above the MKII is the file compatibility, with breath held, I popped the files into my edit suite running a BlackMagic MultiBridge Pro, I selected a 720p 24fps VariCam timeline, and placed a shot in the timeline and pressed play, and what do you know it plays perfectly, no red bars, no conversion, smooth as silk. Interestingly the MJPEG compression the camera uses really does vary depending on the shot complexity, so far I have seen footage with data rates as low as 5 megabits per second all the way up to 25 ish. When I get a chance I  will take the camera out and shoot some grass and water, usually the hardest footage to compress and see how high the bitrate can go.

So that about it for so far, once I have more time to play and do some real shooting I will post a more detailed update of the pros and cons. But at the moment, if you have Nikon lenses and you want to shoot video, this is the camera to get.

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4 Responses to “Nikon D300s – Video Review”

  1. Hello Evan,

    This HD footage is pretty impressive!

    Thanks for taking the time to complete your run-down on the D300.

    V/informative!

    Cheers,

    Ash

  2. Hey man,

    Great review. There is not very much info about the video feature on this camera yet. The guy at my “PRO” camera shop here in Seattle really had no idea about the new D300s features either so its great to hear your experiences. I was wondering if you found out a way around the auto exposure? I’m really pleased with this camera other than this detail (which is huge). I found that if you keep your finger on the auto lock button the exposure wont “hunt”, but its really annoying and I want to turn it off. Did you figure out how to do this?

    • Hey,

      After my shoot today I was doing some reading of the manual, and discovered there is an AE Lock Hold setting, so you can assign the AE lock to hold when the button is released. Haven’t had a chance to play further with it but looks like it will at least allow you to lock in an exposure and stop the pumping when changing lighting scenarios.

  3. Leica M9 review…

    […]Nikon D300s – Video Review « TDE Blog[…]…

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