Toying With the Nikon D90
I’ve been playing with the Nikon D90 a bit lately, which is the latest DSLR from Nikon, and it shoots HD video. While the D90 is marketed more as a “consumer” body, the HD video functionality has a lot of Pros toying with it, exploring the future of cameras. Canon has also released its 5D MarkII recently, which also has video built in (there’s is even a little larger file size at the moment, boasting 1080p as opposed to 720p of the Nikon). Beyond changing photography as we know it, these cameras open up doors for film-makers and videographers as well. Achieving depth of field with standard video cameras is tricky, and getting there requires expensive 35mm lens adapters. This entire camera kit is about half the cost of a basic 35mm adapter for a DV or HD video camera. AND you can use a full range of Nikon (or Canon if you are shooting the 5D) lenses, from fisheye to super-telephoto.
While both cameras are a bit finicky, and require a bit of “fooling” into proper settings and optimized footage, some great results can be had. In other words, you can manually control your exposure, but it takes a few tricks in the way of locking the exposure, and then adjusting the aperture manually on the lens. You’re also limited to manual focus in video mode, so planning out shots is essential, and a tripod is very, very useful.
Despite a few quirks which will no doubt evolve, this camera is fun to play with, and from a photo standpoint has all the features the average user would need. From a pro standpoint, it’s smaller making it a bit harder to hold with large lenses (then again if you have small hands, this could be a benefit), it lacks a pc port, and the flash sync is lower than I prefer at 1/200th of a second. The small size does make it more carry-around friendly (my main camera is the more weighty, girthy D3 series which for carrying around the town, it’s not ideal). The image files produced by this camera rival the higher end bodies for sure.
This weekend I brought it out to try out a tough shooting situation: a snowstorm. White ground, white sky, and white snow blowing around everywhere. Quite drab really, and not ideal conditions by any means. But we’ve seen a ton of footage floating around from these suckers in great, blue sky conditions. I took it the other direction, into a total shitstorm, with much of the filming happening late in the day as the light got poor. I also took a couple photos too (one of which is above), and tried to emulate how the “average” person might shoot an action shot. I didn’t lug out a lighting kit with multiple strobes, it’s just a straight on camera flash shot, though I did use an added Nikon SB-800 in the hot shoe as opposed to the built in flash, which allowed me to use a higher shutter speed than the standard 1/200th. The high speed sync mode of the SB-800 isn’t something I play with very often, as I’m typically using strong enough lights to overpower the sun, but it’s a neat feature in a pinch. Basically, it allows the use of a faster shutter speed, which can be useful stopping action, or cutting out ambient light. Anyway, enough mumbo jumbo, the action shot of above of Tim Breaux, was shot with a D90, using an on camera SB-800. The lens was a 10.5 fisheye. I also made a point to shoot at a mid range ISO of 640, to see how it looked at higher ISO settings.
Despite getting battered with blowing snow, and freezing temperatures, the camera did much better than I expected. The video capabilities really do change the game of photography.
Below (although to watch the HD version you have to click through to Vimeo) is the video I shot this weekend with the D90. A day with snow blowing everywhere is tricky for a camera to handle, but this was all shot without manual adjusting the exposure (autoexposure was used) to get a true feel for how the camera would react. That, and it was too damn cold to futz with settings anyway! All the shots are manual focus, as that’s your only option, but I think it gives you a neat effect if you’re patient with it. The depth of field possibilities are amazing with this thing. Also, I have despite poor reviews of the cameras audio, I thought it did remarkably well on the beginning interview, considering the blowing winds at the time, and mere mono recording. Not incredible, but definitely much better than I had expected. This video is a good example of what this camera can do on a very blah day! At some point soon I’ll throw something together with an “ideal” light day for comparison, but there is already a lot of that out there… google it. Also, the Studio shot below the video (of a Hufnagel Cycles headtube badge) was shot testing the D90 as well. For that one I used the “kit lens” with a screw on close-up filter, and then added two gridded studio strobes to light it.
Thanks to the YoBeat crew for dragging me along on an otherwise useless day to film the fun!
And below is the above mentioned studio shot. While the lighting is studio strobes, it shows that this camera can work with the big guns if necessary.