My Initial Experience Shooting Video with a DSLR
I’ve been playing around with the Nikon D90 camera for two days starting from Thursday night, April, 29, 2010. B&H Photo/Video delivered it to our office the quickest with excellent service as usual. This Saturday is when I really got the chance to take it out for a real world ride right out of the box. I knew nothing about this camera but wanted to dive in anyway because the time to do a review is very limited. Luckily, an amateur photographer was by my side who knew how to handle still cameras- which made it easier to get a grip on it faster.
My family was assembled for a little nature walk and this is where the fun began. No planning. No shot list. No talent to direct. No crew- nada. Just raw moments in life, unscripted.
With a minimum of 4 hours to shoot, edit and tell the experience, these are the results: No color correction or fancy stuff. Just footage dropped in direct from the camera and edited.
The image quality is somewhat representative of what you can expect from the D90, though obviously the original full-sized footage is of higher quality than what is seen here. The raw footage was actually shot at 640 x 426 scaled to fit a 1280 x 720 Final Cut Pro timeline- more on this later…
Bringing a video camera in the field is like second nature to me. When I was younger, my Dad taught me how to tie my shoes, put on my clothes, and shoot video all at the same time. Slip the strap on my hand with index finger ready for zooming in and out, other hand underneath the camera body, thumb on the record button, camera leaning in on chest and I’m ready to create.
No tripod, no problem; I’m on the scene immediately aware of my surroundings, looking for areas to lean and prop my body for stability to get the best shot. See, stabilize, record, stop – do it all again. The camera works on the focusing while I focus on creating.
Poor Video Ergonomics
My hands were holding something different and my body knew it. Even though the Nikon D90 fit like a glove, and it was so lite, my body had to adapt. Shot after shot, my brain told me I was shooting video but my body cried out still camera. My hands started shaking as if they were in protest. The muscles in my arms were getting tired from the way I had to hold the D90 out in front to see the view in the camera’s monitor. This was getting to be physically awkward and potentially embarrassing as I’m not used to shooting such shaky footage.
The trees and rocks I planned to position myself on as a human tripod didn’t work either. The normal way to zoom in and stabilize my shot didn’t apply. I constantly had to manually focus while searching for the focus ring. My index finger was struggling for something to do. My videographer shooting instinct was kicking in but didn’t recognize what it was working with.
Two beautiful swans stretched their wings, birds were landing in the pond. The amateur photographer was constantly asking me “did you get that?”, “did you get that?”
I was missing shots. The world I wanted to capture was passing me by.
There is almost no control over the camera’s shutter speed, aperture or ISO when in video mode. The camera essentially goes into a fully automatic mode and the only control over exposure that one has is the exposure compensation dial.
Nikon simply takes an adjusted image from the LCD and uses it for video- regardless of whether or not the exposure is correct. Using a very wide aperture to achieve narrow depth of field, a high shutter speed for creative purposes, or low ISO to minimize noise – not happening with this camera.
The actual current settings of the camera for still shooting are irrelevant.
The Nikon D90 shoots in 1280 x 720 (16:9), 320 x 216 (3:2) and 640×424 3:2 mode – which is what the short video above was (unknowingly) shot in.
Live View is the D90′s activation of the video mode. Once in Live View to shoot video, a simple press of the the rear controller’s OK button begins the recording process. One press to start shooting, another to stop- my thumb was naturally on this button.
Viewing what you’re recording live is difficult using the camera’s built in LCD monitor. Sun glare limited and sometimes prohibited creative spontaneity. Sure, I could put a hood over the monitor or thought of some way to block the sun, but I never find the need to do this with a video camera- never.
The D90 shoots .AVI files, with a variable data rate that seems to range from 11 mbits/s at low ISO and with little in-frame action, up to about 19 mbp/s at high ISO and with rapid motion. This is relatively low compared to most video systems.
Storage consumption is at about 100MB / minute, so each Gigabyte on an SDHC card will hold about 10 minutes – so well over an hour of recording is possible on a typical 8GB card.
Motion JPG (aka AVI) is not suitable for editing. In FCP, a D90 clip will play fine in the viewer window, but when you drag it onto the Timeline it requires rendering.
Even though I was unknowingly shooting in 640×424 3:2 mode, editing in Final Cut Pro was a breeze and the quality somewhat maintained in a 1280 x 720 timeline compressed out to a 1280 x720 .mov file.
If I shot in full 1280 x 720 (16:9) mode, MPEG Streamclip would need to be used to produce Prores 422 and 24 FPS converted to .MOV files for even easier handling.
The combination of 24 FPS and the diffused film look reminded me of my college days filming with a real film camera. Compared to 29.97 FPS video shot with a camcorder at higher bit rates, there are pros in the video world that may find the D90′s video quality impressive.
How does the D90 rank as a video camera?
Nice features, great performance, excellent price- it fulfills its promise but does it replace the video camera?
The answer would depend on who you are and what you’re using it for:
Event Videographer – No
- Modest image quality
- Lack of features compared to a real video camera
- No stereo sound, poor sound quality
- No auto focus
- A non-articulated rear LCD
- No power zoom
- Poor video ergonomics
Short Commercial Ad Producer – Yes
- Short recording time makes it perfect to produce shorter length video
- Smaller and more mobile
- Provides a high quality at no extra cost
Filmmaker – Yes
- Great add-on tool for under $1200
- Smaller and more mobile
- Provides a high quality at no extra cost
Still Photographer who wants to shoot video now and again- Absolutely!
this is a no-brainer
- The D90 is a very fine, small, and full featured DSLR regardless of its video capabilities
- Video feature is free to play with and learn about
- Stills photographers who want to explore and become familiar with shooting video can converge for less
- Newspaper photographers moving to the web can now tell a complete story
Overall I had a great experience shooting video with the D90 – but it’s for someone else, not me. I like the feel of a camera in my hands. I enjoy having a creative angle or my next shot in mind and being able to shoot it on the fly. I like having control of my shots without technical distraction.
Looking at pictures of some DSLR rigs online complete with carbon fiber rails, additional lenses, a larger monitor propped on the cold shoe, the Genus loop viewfinder for a better view, etc., etc. it looks, to me, like I can make the D90 still camera into the video camera I already have.
Put an additional lens on my GY-HM100 JVC camera (that can shoot 24p) and I have sort of a DSLR camera without all the additional accessories or the additional expense.
Am I missing something?
Listening to DV Show viewers, speaking with colleagues and reading online forums, it also seems like the time to produce and edit something decent with a DSLR camera has increased too. What used to take 3 days to finish and distribute now takes 10- why?
Color correction, fixing the “jello” effect, conversions now all creeps into hindering the creative process.
Still photographers and journalists who want that extra video for the story, aspiring filmmakers and commercial ad producers knock yourself out – DSLR cameras are for you.
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