Nikon D800E Review

 
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Nikon D800E Video Recording

Like most DSLRs these days, the Nikon D800E offers not just still imaging, but also high-definition video recording. The D800E's video system is very capable, offering both automatic and manual exposure control, single and full-time autofocus, audio levels control, internal and external microphone support, audio monitoring, uncompressed HDMI video output, index point marking, and more. There are still a few things absent that we've seen from competitors, such as the ability to use Auto ISO with manual exposure, capture still images during video, and to shoot standard-def video capture, but we're nitpicking. The Nikon D800E ticks almost all the boxes with its feature set, as you'd expect given its price point and target market. Here's a quick rundown of its video capabilities, along with our usual selection of sample videos at the bottom.

Nikon D800E Basic Video Specs

  • 1,920 x 1,080 (Full HD / 1080p) or 1,280 x 720 (720p) recording
  • TTL (through the lens) matrix metering using the main image sensor
  • MOV file format, with H.264/MPEG-4 AVC encoding
  • Choice of two compression levels; High or Normal quality
  • Autofocus can be triggered during movie recording by pressing the shutter button, or continuous AF can be enabled
  • Focus point can be set manually, set automatically over wide or normal area, or set via face detection
  • Focus mode and point location can be set both before and during recording
  • Manual focus also available
  • Program, Aperture- or Shutter-priority, and Manual exposure are available, set before recording
  • Exposure compensation can be controlled in Program or priority exposure modes, both before and during recording
  • Aperture and/or shutter speed can be controlled in priority or Manual modes, both before and during recording
  • ISO sensitivity can be controlled in Manual exposure mode, both before and during recording
  • Color space and picture control can be set before recording; white balance can be adjusted before or during capture
  • Built-in monaural microphone and external stereo 3.5mm microphone jack; also has a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
  • 20-step microphone sensitivity adjustment available, including level display with peak hold indication; levels can also be controlled automatically, or sound disabled
  • 30-step headphone levels adjustment available, or sound can be disabled
  • 11-step LCD brightness adjustment available, plus automatic brightness adjustment based on ambient light level sensor
  • Microphone and headphone levels adjustments must be set before capture; LCD brightness can be adjusted before or during capture
  • Optional virtual horizon, histogram, and framing guide displays can be enabled before or during capture
  • Can simultaneously display video feed on monitor, and output uncompressed 8-bit 4:2:2 video feed without any overlays via HDMI
  • Can interrupt movie capture to record a still image, but movie capture will not resume afterwards
  • Movies can be "trimmed" in-camera, selecting just the portion you want and optionally saving it as a new file
  • Single frames from a movie can be extracted and saved as JPEG still image files
  • Up to 20 index points can be set during video capture by pressing depth-of-field preview button; you can jump straight to index frames in editing and playback
  • Auto / 50 Hz / 60 Hz flicker reduction function
  • No spec for it, but rolling shutter seems relatively slight (see rolling shutter section at the end of this page for examples)
  • Video duration limited to 20 minutes for High quality, or 29 minutes, 59 seconds for Normal quality
  • File size restricted to 4 GB maximum
  • Dual card slots; can select which movies will be recorded to, but there is no overflow or mirroring capability for movies

Nikon D800E Video Speeds & Feeds: Image size, frame rate, and file format

The Nikon D800E offers two different video resolutions and five frame rates, although only three or four rates are available at any given resolution.

Nikon D800E Video Options
AVCHD Format (H.264, .MOV files)
Resolution
Aspect Ratio
Frame Rate
Average Bit Rate

1,920 x 1,080

16:9

29.97 frames per second
(progressive)

24 Mbps
12 Mbps

25 frames per second
(progressive)

24 Mbps
12 Mbps

23.976 frames per second
(progressive)

24 Mbps
12 Mbps

1,280 x 720

16:9

59.94 frames per second
(progressive)

24 Mbps
12 Mbps

50 frames per second
(progressive)

24 Mbps
12 Mbps

29.97 frames per second
(progressive)

12 Mbps
8 Mbps

25 frames per second
(progressive)

12 Mbps
8 Mbps

All of the D800E's video modes are progressive scan, meaning that every video line is scanned, one after the other, for every frame. Compared to interlaced scanning, progressive scan video is much better for viewing videos on a computer screen. (Interlaced works fine for high-definition TVs, but some computer video players that de-interlace poorly will produce bad tearing of moving objects.)

The 24 frames/second mode is popular with some people, who feel it gives a more "movie like" look to their videos because 24fps is the frame rate for cinema. The lower frame rate can look choppy, though, particularly when shooting in bright light with fast shutter speeds. Note also that you can't match the frame rate to the shutter speed for 24p capture; the slowest frame rate in this mode is still 25 frames per second; other modes allow you to match the frame rate to the shutter speed.

The 60 / 50 frames/second frame rates available in 1,280 x 720 mode are great for capturing smooth-looking action, but won't be as good in low-light situations, because the camera can't use a shutter speed longer than 1/60th or 1/50th second, respectively.

The Nikon D800E saves its video files in the MOV format, using H.264/MPEG-4 encoding. Pretty much any computer or editing program made within the last 5 years should be able to play its files with little problem, although the full 1,920 x 1,080 resolution files may strain older systems.

Nikon D800E video quality

Video quality from the Nikon D800E is excellent, with lots of fine detail, pleasing color, and relatively minimal rolling shutter artifacts. Our sample clips of Charlotte the wonder dog catching a frisbee show more subtle detail than is typical of most cameras, for example in the decorative grass. To our eye, the D800E matches or even betters the Canon 5D Mark III in terms of fine detail, which is an impressive feat given the higher compression of D800E videos. (Although file sizes for longer clips will still be hefty; expect around 2.5 to 3MB/second of video shot at the highest resolution.)

Even at higher ISOs, noise is quite well-controlled and fine-grained. Coupled with the ability to control exposure manually, this makes the Nikon D800E well-suited even for night shooting. For daytime shooting, the D800E biases automatic exposure in an attempt to attain a shallow depth of field. That can yield choppy-looking video, because the use of shorter shutter speeds means there's less motion blurring, something which our eyes interpret as being unnatural. Of course, you can override the D800E's chosen shutter speed by switching to Manual or Priority exposure, if you prefer to match your shutter speed and frame rate for more natural-looking video.

We did notice some tendency to aliasing, especially for 720p video at the 60p frame rate. For real-world shooting, you can see this in our rolling shutter and night videos in particular. The roof of the house exhibits aliasing in the rolling shutter videos, while in the night video it's present in the corrugated roof of the shop's porch, and in the lintel of the premises next door. The aliasing is significantly more prominent at 60p than at other rates, but it's present even in 1080p 24fps video to a lesser degree. We tried the same controlled test that we used with the Nikon D600, and thankfully didn't see anywhere near as severe an effect as we did with video from that camera.

This 100% crop comes from a frame grab of Nikon D800E video. The sample represents about the worst case for 1080p video; we didn't see anything nearly this objectionable in real-world shooting. Still, we'd have liked to see the D800E handle this better.


Here, we've shot at 720p resolution with a 60p frame rate. With the exact same subject, camera position, and exposure variables, the moiré patterns are significantly more obtrusive, closer-spaced, and visible across a wider area of the frame. Interestingly, this happens only for 60p / 50p video. Drop the frame rate to 30p or below, and 720p video shows results more similar to the previous 1080p crop.

 

Nikon D800E video focusing

  • By default, the D800E uses single-servo AF, but you can disable this and opt for full-time servo autofocus instead
  • Single-servo autofocus focuses when the shutter button is half-pressed or the or AF-ON button is pressed; full-time servo AF focuses as the camera deems necessary during recording
  • Depending on the lens in use, on-camera audio will likely pick up significant autofocus drive noise. This can be minimized by using an external microphone, however.
  • AF area mode options:
    • Face-priority
    • Wide-area
    • Normal-area
    • Subject-tracking
  • Regardless of AF area mode, the point on which to focus can be selected by moving the focus point using the four-way controller. In face-priority AF mode, detected faces will override the specified point. In subject-tracking, the point is used only to specify the initial subject location, and the subject locked with a press of the central button in the four-way controller. The D800E will then follow its subject around the image frame.
  • Shutter button can be assigned to start and stop movie capture; if this is assigned, autofocus with Shutter button is disabled and must be performed with AF-ON button.
  • Manual focus is also available during movie recording

Nikon D800E video exposure control

  • Defaults to fully automatic Program exposure
  • Aperture and shutter priority modes give access to either shutter speed or aperture control
  • Manual mode gives access to both shutter speed and aperture, but requires manual ISO control
  • ISO sensitivity is controlled automatically in all other modes
  • Exposure compensation adjustment is available with a +/-3EV range in 1/3 EV steps in Program or priority modes
  • Adjustments to all exposure variables can be made either before or during recording, but they are applied immediately, so the effect is not subtle. The controls also make significant handling noise, so manual changes to exposure variables will be clearly audible in on-camera audio.
  • Available shutter speeds range from 1/8,000s down to 1/60s for 60p, 1/50s for 50p, 1/30s for 30p, and 1/25s for 25p or 24p
  • Apertures depend upon the lens in use
  • Sensitivity vary from ISO 100 to Hi 2.0 (ISO 25,600)
  • Full range of Picture Control settings apply to movie recording. (Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape, and Custom 1-9), and each can be adjusted. Picture Style adjustments include sharpness, contrast, and brightness, plus saturation and hue for color styles, and toning / filter effects for monochrome. Each control also has an overall quick adjust strength setting)
  • Color space and white balance options applicable to still imaging can also be adjusted in movie mode
  • AE (auto-exposure) lock is supported in video mode, both before and during recording
  • Evaluative metering is always used for video recording, regardless of metering mode selected

Nikon D800E audio recording

  • Internal monaural microphone
  • Defaults to automatic level control
  • Manual level control available via Movie Settings menu item, with 20 levels available
  • VU (audio level) meter display also available via Movie Settings menu item, and includes peak hold indication
  • External 3.5mm stereo mic input - use external mics for better sound quality, control over stereo effect / directionality, and to eliminate camera / lens noise
  • Audio can be turned off entirely
  • Audio can be monitored via a 3.5mm stereo headphones, with a 30-step volume adjustment available
  • Mic sensitivity and headphone volume cannot be adjusted while recording


Here are some examples of video shot with the Nikon D800/D800E:

 (The daytime videos below were taken with the Nikon D800
which has the same video quality as the Nikon D800E)

Nikon D800/D800E: Video Samples
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 24 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 60 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second, ISO 4000
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 24 frames per second, ISO 4000
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 60 frames per second, ISO 8000
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second, ISO 4000
Download Original

Nikon D800E video rolling shutter artifacts ("Jello effect")

Pretty much every DSLR on the market distorts moving objects, or the entire scene, if the camera is being panned. The technical term for this is "rolling shutter artifacts," but many users simply call it the "Jello effect," because the image can jiggle and sway like Jello as the camera is moved. This occurs because the image is captured and read out line by line, so the bottom of an object may no longer be underneath the top of it by the time the camera gets around to capturing that part of the frame.

Rolling shutter artifacts can be very annoying if they're severe, but as noted, all digital SLRs show them to one extent or another. In the case of the D800E, rolling shutter is very slight; much less than we've seen with some cameras. Unless you have fast-moving subjects or pan rapidly while filming, you're not likely to notice them much, if at all.

 (The rolling shutter videos below were taken with the Nikon D800
which has the same rolling shutter performance as the Nikon D800E)

Nikon D800: Rolling Shutter Artifacts
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 24 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 60 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

 

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