The Nikon D800. The first full frame full HD DSLR to challenge the dominance of the Canon 5DmkII?

Full frame…kind of magical words for many, including me. Since the Canon 5DmkII came out all the way back in November 2008, not one full frame DSLR that shoots full HD video has come out. Countless crop sensor cameras, but no full frame ones.

Quite a while back we had Canon announce their top end 1DX which is due for release next month, I have not seen one yet so no I’ve idea what it actually is like. Then last month we had the D4 announced by Nikon, shipping relatively soon.

Neither of these is what you would call cheap in DSLR terms. The Nikon is priced at £4,800 and the Canon at £5,300. These are around the price of the very powerful Sony FS100 video camera, but of course they take stills AND have that full frame.

Don’t know what a full frame is? Well it is the format that your old SLR 35mm film still cameras shot. Back then it was just 35mm still, not to be confused with super 35mm movie film, as that is much smaller than a still full frame, more similar to the APS-C crop. Check out this image below from that compares the full frame Nikon frame (FX) with the crop version (DX). It’s a substantial difference in size.

What does this extra part of the sensor give us?

Well first off it gives us much more of the lens to play with, unless the lens is designed specifically for the crop-sensor, in which case it won’t work on the full frame camera. A 14mm Canon for example on a 5DmkII is a thing of beauty; on the 7D it is rather pointless, as you lose too much of it due to the 1.6x crop changing the field of view to around 22.4mm.

Secondly it gives us an amazing aesthetic and at the same time the ability to get a crazy shallow depth of field if using a fast lens. This is good and bad…shallow depth of field means it’s harder to focus unless you stop down. But there is something unique about the full frame that makes people love the 5DmkII over even cameras like the C300. It’s inferior in image quality but has that unique look, and a full frame equivalent video camera is not on the horizon. Manufacturers want to make their video camera compatible with PL glass which is designed for Super 35mm film (much smaller than full frame) and will often vignette on larger sensors.

Nikon have just announced the new D800, a replacement for the D700 full frame DSLR that had no video. It’s a terrific looking camera with a few caveats.

Let’s look at the positive first, and remember I have not seen one or shot with one (I was invited to the launch yesterday in London but prior commitments meant I could not attend, which was a shame! They are down the road from me in Kingston so hopefully I can get to see them soon) I am basing this on what I have read and the video that has been released. Never ideal!

Full Frame AND crop sensor in one camera. Best of both worlds. 

So if that depth of field is too shallow or you need extra length on your lens, then flick to DX mode and you have the Nikon crop, which is around 1.5x. A very neat feature. It does not have the 2.7x crop to make it in-line with the Nikon One system which would add even more flexibilty. But this is a huge feature and one Canon need to look at for their future cameras.

Clean full HD HDMI out.

This is also huge. Compression is an ugly thing and the H264 compression out of the Canon DSLRs is one of our biggest issues. There is no clean output on the Canons. With this clean output we get 422 8 Bit uncompressed output and can plug into an external recorder like a KiPro mini, Ninja or something similar, letting us record in sweet ProRes or similar. I am not sure if you can do this whilst recording onto the internal cards. If anyone has this information please let me know.

This also makes it a lot better using external monitors and EVFs. A chance to be able to keep focus hopefully!

A headphone jack

Sounds basic but very important. You can set the audio levels in the camera (I don’t think you get meters whilst recording), still only a 3.5mm stereo input jack of course, but now with the headphone jack you can actually monitor whether the sound is any good whilst recording. It is this main point that makes me recommend that people use dual system sound on the Canons. Yes it’s still not as good as a dedicated XLR external recorder, but it’s a good compromise when needed.

Longer recording per clip

Although it’s still hampered by the EU tax rule (no stills camera can record one continuous clip of 30 minutes or longer or it’s classified as a video camera and therefore in a higher tax rule), they have implemented clip spanning so we can AT LEAST get 29 minutes and 59 seconds out of one clip.

I am disappointed by 50p/60 only being in 720p, that’s a lot more binning again…shame it’s not 1080p.

Now my biggest concern is the size of the sensor. Actually let me be clear, not the physical size but the megapixels. Now this is based upon video functionality not stills. Yes, I am interested in stills especially for timelapse but the most important function for me is video.

The D800 has a WHOPPING 36.3MP sensor giving us a resolution of 7360 x 4912 pixels which is just insanely large. In comparison, the 5DmkII has a more conservative 22.1MP and the brand new top of the range D4 has a, some may say inadequate, 16MPs. Personally the lower the better for me. 16MP is MORE than adequate for stills unless you need monstrously large prints, in which case the D800 is what you need. More megapixels for video causes these issues: Image size needs to be drastically reduced to get down to the 1920×1080 full HD video image, and to do that in the Canons has meant line skipping, information binning, which gives us moire and aliasing. Not nice. In fact, very ugly. I am not sure how bad the binning is on the D800 but that is a lot of information to throw away. The image is 1.6x larger than the 5Dmk2, so that worries me. I have noticed some image issues on the video below, but never judge image quality based upon a compressed web video. I need to see the original, or better still, shoot with the camera to form a proper opinion.

Also the more megapixels means worse low light performance. The more tightly packed the photosites are onto the sensor (remember it’s the same physical size as the 5DmkII sensor, give or take a smidge) the less impressively it performs in low light. That is why people are raving over the D4’s low light performance as it has a reasonable megapixel count, so the photosites are bigger which is what we want (and part of reason why C300 and FS100 have exceptional low light). Again, this may be incorrect as I have not shot with it.

So, fingers crossed I will get my hands on one soon. I am very excited by this camera, and hopefully now that Nikon have raised their game with two exceptional looking cameras, Canon will have to reply with something pretty killer for the 5Dmk3 or whatever they call it. This is why we NEED competition. Just the release of the D4 made you wish the Canon 1DX had some of the features, the selectable crop, clean out, headphone jack…

If you are a Canon user looking to switch, remember there is no adaptor to put your Canon glass on the Nikon. Other way around then yes. In which case it is probably worth waiting to see what Canon’s answer is, as I am sure there will be one!!

Do check out the video below shot on numerous D800s by Sandro in Chicago. Personally I think it looks good, but I can certainly see noise in the shadows even on this web compressed version which normally hides such things. There are also some aliasing issues…minor though. Rolling shutter issues seem absent. A huge plus!

Oh…one last thing, any video shooters out there AVOID the D800E. It has no low pass filter which means aliasing and moire hell! It is designed to give more detail and resolution. We don’t need it!



Joy Ride from Sandro on Vimeo.

A film by Sandro shot with the Nikon D800.

Director: Sandro

Editor: Alaster Jordan / Whitehouse

Music: Yessian

Production: Cap Gun

View the Behind the Scenes Video shot by the Nikon Crew:

Joy Ride – Behind the Scenes from Sandro on Vimeo.

Behind the Scenes video of “Joy Ride” directed by Sandro for the Nikon D800.

View “Joy Ride” here:

Video & Photography – Lindsay Silverman & Michael Corrado

Editing & Graphics – Steve Heiner


  1. Checking it out now as we speak.
    Personally, I’m always going to be concerned about two key things, regardless of whether it’s 1080p or 4k. Horiz. line resolution and latitude.

    While I’m happy that this is FF, if the horiz. line resolution is equal to the 5D, it doesn’t seem to make much difference to me whether it has default HDMI out or not (esp. since I use Magic Lantern). So hopefully and I do mean HOPEFULLY, it’s been improved over the last gen fare already.

    No reason why we shouldn’t have DSLR video quality on par w/ last gen’s GH2 hardware by now. Seriously.

  2. This camera looks promising, even without 50/60P at 1080P. Thanks for posting.

    But I’m still seeing what I always thought was rolling shutter in the surgery scene. That jittery motion that I see in a lot of DSLR movies. Unless that’s just really shakey handheld movement?

  3. I have tested the D4 (hope I can release the footage soon).
    I guess some of the notes I took are relevant for the D800 too. (The possibility for crop factor is a bit different on both cameras).

    What to like about the D4?

    I liked what I saw, though image is a bit soft!. I would love to experiment more and get even better results if possible.
    -Audio quality: It is very nice. I dare to say that the D4 is producing a cleaner sound then my Tascam DR-100.
    -Needless to say that the headphone socket is a real treat…
    -“Crop factor”: I can’t say enough good things about this function. Simply put, AMAZING! By the way, Nikon representative told me that the best video quality produced by that camera is on the 2.7 crop factor so this setting is a default. You are able to toggle between “full screen” and “1.5 crop factor” as a second option.

    Things I would love Nikon to review and hopefully change in a firmware update if possible:

    -It is unfortunate but sound levels can not be adjusted after starting recording.
    -When switching the camera on in video mode, there is ALWAYS a need to press the LV button BEFORE being able to actually shoot video.
    -Clear HDMI output is great but when an external EVF is connected, there is a need to see some information there. I couldn’t find a way to “overlay” the info in my Cineroid EVF for comfortable shooting.
    -Also, when shooting with an External EVF connected to the camera via HDMI, I could not find a way to turn the camera LCD off. At times I am not interested that others will see what I’m shooting or just would like to save a bit more of the battery life.
    -In some occasions, there is a delay after pressing the record button between the LCD screen and the external EVF. The EVF will go blank for a second or 2 before you see what you are recording.
    -There is a way to assign 2 front buttons for a smooth aperture control. This is a nice feature. The problem is that the changes are so quick that I ended up pressing the button in steps so the end result is like using a “clicked” aperture ring on a manual lens. Welcome feature, wish it had a “slower response”.
    Crop factor changes: As amazing this feature is, there is no way to operate it “on the fly”. There is always a need to fiddle within the menu in order to access and change the settings. This feature should definitely be accessed easily.
    -WB settings: There is no way to see the WB settings on the LCD screen only down at the battery pack compartment window.



    1. Hi Johnnie and thanks for sharing your findings. Could you or Philip (or anyone else who knows these things!) clear something up for me please?

      I use a 5D2 and a GH2 for when I need more DOF at the same aperture. Now, as I understand it, the GH2 down-samples from its full resolution down to 1080p much more cleverly using pixel binning (averaging of groups of pixels) rather than the line skipping (simply ignoring lines of pixels!) employed by the 5D2. As such, the GH2 performs better in low light despite its much smaller sensor.

      Now, imagine I’m in a low light environment and have to shoot at 50mm equivalent, f/1.4 for the light levels and FOV I need. I also however, need some depth of field to nail focus. I can either choose to stop the 50mm on my 5D2 down to f/2.8 and crank the ISO by two stops (increasing noise) or, as I would normally do, switch to the GH2 and 24mm f/1.4. This gives a nice benefit as the GH2 can be shot at the lower ISO.


      As I see it, if the camera is doing proper pixel binning rather than line skipping which, for arguments sake, we’ll hopefully say the D800 does (I have no idea if it does or not!), there isn’t really a benefit to using the crop mode.

      By switching to 2x crop mode (I know this isn’t a real setting, it’s just easier for this explanation) I’d get twice the depth of field…all good so far. BUT, I’m sampling four (2×2) times fewer pixel values which means less averaging and therefore more noise. In fact, wouldn’t it mean four times as much noise or to put it another way- exactly the same as just stopping down the lens by two stops and bumping the ISO up by two stops?

      If line skipping is employed, it would be very different, There’s no averaging going on so, in theory, there’s no noise benefit to sampling from a bigger sensor area. From a noise perspective, it doesn’t matter if you pluck all of the chosen lines from the middle of the sensor or spread them throughout it. As we’ve seen with the GH2 though, pixel binning (or averaging seems to give a much better image).

      Wouldn’t this mean that, if the Nikon is using proper down-sampling, the crop mode is…kind of…pointless? OK, that’s harsh; it has other uses: different fields of view with the same lens, longer reach etc but do you see where I’m coming from? I’d love to hear from anyone who knows what they’re talking about rather than my random musings!

  4. Regardless what the 5D3 brings, the D800 might become THE indy camera for the next 3 years due its clean HDMI out -which Canon won’t adopt to protect C300 sales.

    Pair a D800 with a Pix220/240 and you get an extraordinary filmcamera WITH an external monitor, Pro mic pres (long lasting 48v, XLRs and confidence monitoring), choice of hi-res Prores codecs and audio+video data on the same file (no more audio sync issues). All for under €6k.

    Add a few ZF Zeiss primes and you get a killer cine package for peanuts.

  5. I’ve been hoping for a camera with the low light performance (and in a lesser way the resolution) of the D4 in the body of the D800, but in the end the D800 looks good enough for me to have pre-ordered one this morning. The D4 was just a bit too much camera for too much money for me. Also, it’s nice that I can use the memory I already have for the D300 and the D7000, and the batteries I already have for the D7000..!

  6. Hey Philip i’m going to be shooting a lot of music videos where budget is an issue, some of the footage on the Nikon looks really good but i just don’t know enough about the low light performance yet…
    Features like full HDMI out and headphone socket are so appealing i need to pick up a camera soon but i think i might try and wait to see what Canon have to offer and then make a desicion…
    But right off the bat this nikon is looking very very tempting and i’m glad Canon will get a chance to see what useful features are being made available in this case i think competition will only benefit us potential customers….

    awesome Blog BTW

        1. What I really like about the nikon glass is the fact it still has the physical lever to change aperture, so you don’t need those electronic controllers just to fiddle with aperture.

          1. Not any more. new Nikon lenses “G” ones don’t have aperture ring.
            Old ones “D” ones have it.

            I shoot Nikon photo and with D800 want to do video. Question is: will it be compatible with all the accessories etc?

    1. Nikon is as good or better than Canon L! Only surpassed by Zeiss and Leica.
      Shane Hurlbut, ASC have a nice overview of lenses for the big screen:

      He is also the main source if you seek knowledge about HDSLR stuff, he sure have done some of the
      greatest films on 5DmkII. Check out Act of Valor.

      Lenses is a choice of taste, that’s why cinematographers choose Cooke, Ziess, Panavision Primo etc depending on the look they want.

      So sorry mate……Nikon Ai, AIS or the new ones are a great choice. And you they fit on Canon and not vice versa as Philip mentioned! So you can go both 5D and the new D4 or D800!!

  7. Not being able to use Canon lenses is quite a let down for me because that’s all I own at the moment. Otherwise it seems like Nikon has been listening to the needs of the Indies more than anyone else with this one. Hey Philip, what do you think of the Ikonoskop A-cam DII? It’s just screaming to be reviewed by you 🙂


  8. Thanks for being on top of the release Philip. I’m excited about the 29 minute limit – to me this is huge as I have done a lot of event work / interviews using the Canons and the 12 minute limit has been annoying to work around.

    I’ve actually just invested in 3 Canon L lenses a week ago for my own personal collection and have seriously considered returning them (30 day window for returns) after this announcement and rent until we see more of the Nikon capability. Decisions decisions…

  9. Regarding the headphone issue:

    I often shoot on a T2i with Magic Lantern, and that enables real headphone monitoring through USB. You can buy a $2 adapter cable that turns the USB jack into a headphone port, and so I actually know when I’m getting good sound this way.

    I know that you and many other people are leery about Magic Lantern as a concept, but at the very least this proves that the hardware is capable of providing headphone monitoring. I know that the possibility of this feature doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be implemented, but you can always hope! (or hack)

  10. Is it just me or does this D800 video clip looks a lot like Sony’s NEX-5N? It has most of the characteristics that I see in the NEX-5N’s video, especially the noise signature and crushed blacks.

      1. I think the fact it’s a Sony sensor is something those die hard 5D folks forget. Sony make some damn great sensors for video.
        I believe the D800 will set the standard for HDSLR in some time to come.
        I’m gonna test it out as soon as I get one from Nikon in Norway for a wildlife doco.
        I’m until then using my 5DmkII, but I hate not being able to record to external in a 422 color space……

  11. Philip the reason 50p and 60p is only 720p it has something to do about MPEG2 and H.264 at high bitrates or something. These cameras could do 50p and 60p but they need a different codec and AVCHD you have to pay Panasonic and Sony to use it..

  12. Hello Master Bloom

    I am landscape photographer and will like to do landscape video. I was waiting for such a camera, high MP et good video!

    With your affirmation “Oh…one last thing, any video shooters out there AVOID the D800E. It has no low pass filter which means aliasing and moire hell! It is designed to give more detail and resolution. We don’t need it!”…..I believe, in landscape, moire are less present….

    An easy question for you master Bloom *smile*….D800 or D800E ? and why ?

    Thank you!

          1. wuauuuuu right, I was confuse about it, so the D800 is the “best” option
            for video ?….. but I have to think the filter is forever Lol…
            Thanks for your time….

  13. I was hoping that the D800 would have a lower megapixel count, like the D4.
    Was after a low light champion at about $3000.
    Will it be significantly better than a 5D?

  14. Hi Pill..
    I am confused i am A Canon Cinematographer with many Canon prime Lences should I wait for Canon 5D iii to come out which took longer or switch to Nikon D800 …?

  15. “Fascinating”. I clearly need to develop my eye…cuz when I watched “Joy Ride”, I thought it was easily the best video image quality I’d seen from a DSLR…by a wide margin. Oh well. I’ll keep tryin’! 🙂

  16. Phillip,

    With a sensor that kicks out 36 megapixels, will this minimize the capability of the D800(E)? For video, quality, would the D4 actually be better?

  17. Canon can’t be king on both hills. They had the crown in the indie world for some years due to the 5DmkII. Now they have a hard time not to kill their baby C300. If they gave the 5DmkIII clean 8 bit, 422 HDMI output, why on earth would an indie filmmaker by the C300 if they could have the same from a HDSLR? Just to waste a heap of $$$$$$$, you get the XLR input on your KiPro or Sound Device external recorder + timecode + high quality codecs +++

    The future is:
    1. A great Story to tell
    2. A great lens
    3. A box with a sensor
    4. A recording device
    5. A computer for post
    6. The world as an audience

    Hands down for Nikon D800……… win on specs so far…….
    If the image is as good as I expect and it looks form the film out so far….I’ll buy you!
    Until then I’ll use my 5DmkII……….

  18. I’m looking at the D800 for real estate video, where most of the work is pans, slides and some zooms.

    I don’t own any VR lenses – for my tripod-mounted (have the fluid head already) RE video, is VR going to be really necessary?

    I own some good Nikon lenses already – 14-24, 24-70 and 80-200 f/2.8; 50mm f/1.8.

    My budget will get me either the D800, or the D7000 and the Nikon 16-35 VR.

    What would you do in my position?

      1. Fair enough – between the 7D and 5D MKII, which one’s better?

        I’ll be shooting mainly residential interiors and exteriors for realtors, and final output will be online (youtube, vimeo)

        My budget can handle a D7000 / 7D / 5D MkII – I’ve pretyt much abandoned the D800 plan since that is likely to be unavailable (I did not pre-order) for a long time


  19. Hey Philip, lots of respect for what your doing here and much appreciated that you take the time out of your insanely busy schedule to impart some of your wisdom. Im in the process of building my first kit and was wondering if you had an ETA on any kind of opinion on this sucker. Unfortunately In Canada they’re trickling in slower than a geriatric slug on a salted snowed-in street, so I won’t see on any time soon.

  20. Well, first of all hello all and hello Philip. I’ve been following your blog for quite a long time and I’m a big fan of your work.

    Now having seen the Joy Ride video a couple of times, I agree this camera offers a great, very detailed image, nice colors, virtually no rolling shutter artifacts and an astounding low light response.

    The only real issue I found was that if many DSLRs y digital 35mm movie cameras which are suposed to get very close to the film look and motion feeling, normally suffer from a slight “video look and feel” specially under artificial lights, I found this clip to have a severe video look in a 99% of its scenes. Much more than other cameras such as my own 7D which is supposed to be worse than this Nikon in many ways. To me it didn’t look filmic at all other than the shallow DOF.

    Also I found it strange that nobody seemed to worry about something so obvious. What do you people think about it?


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