For those blog readers of mine who have been wanting a “Lexi” fix… this post is for you. 🙂

And for those readers who might be interested in seeing what the Nikon D3s can do… this post is also for you.

Below is a short video I shot and edited today with my new Nikon D3s DSLR camera.  Being one of the few weekend’s I had off for the summer I was glad to spend the day at the beach with my family… and of course try out the newest tool in my video arsenal. 🙂  I’ll get into some of my thoughts and settings on the D3s in a minute, but for those who don’t care about the camera or the technical stuff, I thought I’d post the video first and discuss settings later. 🙂  Here ya go!

MY DSLR STORY & HISTORY:

I’ve been shooting on DSLR’s since it was first possible.  When the Nikon D90 first came out in September of 2008 (the first DSLR to shoot HD video EVER) I bought one right away for a wedding I was shooting in November.  I knew DSLR shooting was going to take off and at that time Canon had not yet released it’s video shooting flagship 5D Mark II.  What I found however was that I was left a little lacking with the results.  It did the job ok, but I the quality just wasn’t there, and I felt like the blacks were always way to dark (i.e. crushed).  Here is a sample video of Lexi I created on the D90… not bad… but not as nice as the Canon’s.  Another sample is this video of my friend and his son’s first live Cub’s baseball game… all shot on the D90.  Obviously it does the job… but I wanted more! 🙂

Then the Canon 5D came out and revolutionized the industry with its stunning video images.  Now if you know me, you know I’m not a Canon guy… ok… maybe thats saying it lightly… I am a HUGE Nikon guy.  It’s been said of me that I firmly believe that when I die and go to heaven that God himself will be wearing a Nikon around his neck.  Granted I never said that… but that paints the picture of my love of Nikon and … well … dislike for Canon.  So to see these amazing vdieo images coming out of the 5D (and later 7D and T2i) compared to the Nikon was painful for me as I never plan to switch over to Canon… ever.  So I was left to wait for Nikon to pick up the pace and “catch up” to Canon.

Not long after the D90 was released the D300s came out with video along with a few other consumer grade cameras… each one seemed to have the same issues with video as my D90.  I remained disappointed.

Then in late 2009, Nikon released the D3s.  Had my hopes for video improvement been realized?  Initial reviews that I read online shared little promise of improvement as they still were limited to a 720p resolution instead of the full 1080p, and they still were using the same compressor and algorithm to capture and compress video instead of a more efficient H.264 codec like Canon was using.  I reluctantly gave up hope and moved on to other options like the Brevis 35mm adapter for my video cameras.

Then in the spring of 2010, Zacuto held a DSLR shootout comparing all the top DSLR cameras to 35mm film stock and my hopes were re-energized.  While the Canon’s appear to still have the advantage in most areas, I was suprised to see that the D3s video did a pretty decent job compared to what I was used to seeing with my D90.  And then, in episode 2 (of 3) the Nikon D3s was the clear winner in the low light … by a mile.  Ever since seeing the shoot out on Zacuto’s website I’ve been dying to see for myself if it truly had improved.

Lastly, a combination of a confirmation from Jen Kroll that the video was really good, as well as seeing a D3s sample on Philip Bloom’s blog (can’t find the link sorry) made me really want one.  Which brings us to today.  After selling my D3 and the D90, I now have the D3s!

SHOOTING WITH THE D3s:

The first thing I noticed was that I had a lot more control.  Just like the Canon’s, I had control over ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture, where in the D90 I did not.  I had to do some funky things to the D90  to get the exposure right, and it was very difficult to work with.  In addition, the D3s transitions between exposures very smoothly when in auto exposure mode vs. the D90 where it seemed to jump 1 or 2 stops between each stop and was very noticeable.

There are a slew of additional features the D3s comes with for video as well.  A flicker reduction for working around fluorescent lighting is a great new feature (something I definitely struggled with on the D90).  There are a lot more display options including a virtual horizon, a live histogram, a grid and of course all the camera settings right there on the screen to tell you what your camera is doing.  There are 2 shooting modes (tripod and hand held) but the only difference I can tell is how it does its focusing… and since I’m adjusting focus manually 95% of the time I just shoot in Tripod mode as it gives me more settings to work with).  As I mentioned before, there is an auto setting and a manual setting for adjusting exposure.  Both work as you would hope they wood… and the auto feature is way smoother than the D90… but I’ll be shooting in manual, thank you very much!

Besides all the control improvements I can visually see the difference in quality over the D90.  The video above I think proves that.  I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the better sensor and circuitry that the D3s has, but it seems like some of the technology has also been worked on to lesson the “jello” factor (or rolling shutter) compared to the D90.  I’d say its at least a 50% improvement if not more on the rolling shutter effect over the D90.

Lastly and largely why the D3s is so amazing is it’s “High ISO Sensitivity” setting which is an option that needs to be turned on when shooting at high ISO’s above 6400 ISO.  I am still putting together some samples to show off this feature, but believe me… its impressive.   Try shooting in a dark room with only a candle lit for light … and still get a good picture.  AMAZING!

So where does that leave me on the Canon vs Nikon DSLR video thing?  I still think Canon has the edge on DSLR video… but for what I need and want (and see in improvements over the D90) The D3s is one fantastic camera.  The 2 largest downfalls of the D3s are still its 720p recording size and its compression method, but outside of that you can control just about everything from contrast and sharpness, to saturation and tint.  If I wanted to make a Nikon D3s match a Canon 5D Mark II in the same video and have you tell which is which I’d say you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference if it was done right.  The bottom line is that its a solid camera for video recording… and my hopes are finally in fact realized.  Can it improve still?  Heck Yes!  But its still an amazing camera, and in low light it blows Canon out of water.

TECHNICAL NOTES ON THE VIDEO ABOVE:

I shot all the video at the top of this post with 3 Nikon lenses.  A 70-200mm f2.8 VR, a 28-70mm 2.8, and a 16-35mm f4 VR.  The VR (Vibration Reduction) is a huge help… but I was surprised how steady I was able to hold my non-VR lens and still be solid (the 28-70mm).

Most of the video above was shot at the lowest ISO my camera would go which is an equivalent of an ISO 100 (or L1.0 setting).  The aperture was never lower than f4 on any of the lenses, and the shutter speed ranged from 100 to 1000 depending on the sun’s brightness.  White balance was set to auto the whole time.

One last note is that I changed the tone curve to mimic the “Neutral” setting and then made a custom setting based on that with the same amount of low contrast, but boosted the saturation and sharpness 1 notch each.

NONE of the footage above was color corrected or enhanced in any way.  Every shot above was straight out of the camera as shot.   The video above it simply straight up cuts put to music.

So that’s it!  Stay tuned for some low light tests coming soon. 🙂

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