Movie mode

In the years since the arrival of the D700, the demand for professional quality video control among working photographers has increased significantly. Accordingly, Nikon has outfitted the D800 with a number of advances over the D700 in regard to video specifications.

Video quality options

Sizes • Frame size/frame rate
1920 × 1080; 30 fps
1920 × 1080; 25 fps
1920 × 1080; 24 fps
1280 x 720; 60 fps
1280 x 720; 50 fps
1280 x 720; 30 fps
1280 x 720; 25 fps
Audio Monoaural internal mic, Linear PCM
Format MOV
File compression H.264/MPEG-4 (Advanced Video Coding)
Recordable time 29 min. 59 sec.

The D800 can shoot 1080p movies at 30, 25 or 24 frames per second and at up to 24Mbps. Video footage is compressed using B-frame data compression of the H.264/MPEG-4 video codec, which tries to optimize the capture of motion with an eye towards maintaining manageable file sizes.

The D800 also has manually configurable audio control. And in what may prove to be the camera's biggest feature from the videographer's point of view, you can bypass video compression altogether by exporting uncompressed video footage from the camera's HDMI port. While admittedly not a feature that will be taken advantage of by most users, we suspect that this feature may help endear the camera to the broadcast and movie crowd, a market in which Canon made significant inroads with the release of the EOS 5D Mark II back in 2008. Whether using HDMI-enabled output to record the highest possible quality footage or to simply use an external monitor as viewfinder, this is a feature we expect to become increasingly common.

Like the D4, the D800 features a headphone port for audio monitoring of video capture during filming. There are 20 adjustment levels for audio recording (plus auto) and monitoring volume can be adjusted in 30 levels.

Uncompressed HD video footage can be sent out of the camera, straight to an external drive via the built-in HDMI port.

Handling in Video mode

The D800 inherits much of its video handling from the D5100. A dedicated movie record button sits within easy reach just behind the shutter button. Switching between stills and video capture is not always a single button affair, however, as you must switch the camera to live view and set the selector lever to movie mode. The movie record button is disabled when live view is turned off and/or the selector lever is set to still images.

With the camera set to manual mode you can enjoy full exposure control for movie capture. In program and shutter-priority shooting modes, however, your adjustments are limited to setting exposure compensation. Contrast-detect AF is the only option available when shooting videos. It is not only slower than the camera's 'normal' phase-detection mode but lags significantly behind the contrast-detect AF performance of most mirrorless models we've seen.

While we expect a performance dip as a result of having to use a contrast-detect AF system in movie mode, the lens' AF hunting is so prominent both visually and audibly in movie mode that we only recommend using AF when filming static subjects. Even then, you're much better served by acquiring focus before pressing the movie record button

The D800 inherits the D4's improved aperture control in movie mode, with the addition of 'Power aperture'. This simply means that the user can adjust the aperture while recording video in the A and M exposure modes. It's also possible to set the aperture much more precisely, in 1/8 stop increments using the Pv and Fn buttons on the front of the camera. With a card in the camera you can only do this prior to commencing video capture, but with uncompressed video sent through the D800's HDMI port you can control aperture during recording, too. In principle this level of control should allow more exact matching of recording brightness across multiple camera / lens combinations.

Movies can be shot at two different crops from the sensor, FX and DX. This makes it easy to vary the field-of-view for grabbing footage, even if you’ve got a prime lens mounted. However, the ‘FX’ size is a significantly cropped version of the full sensor (it’s 91% of the sensor’s width), so the field-of-view will be a little narrower than you’d expect for any given focal length.

Video quality

The image quality of the D800's video output is very good. Colors are rendered in a natural-looking manner with auto exposure and white balance settings producing pleasing output overall. Those who will be doing even simple edits or want to easily share files will appreciate that the D800 delivers .MOV format files. Of course video professionals will be interested in what uncompressed video looks like, and we expect to have equipment in the dpreview Seattle office shortly to allow us to capture it. We'll post our findings as an update to this review.

The sensitivity of the built-in monoaural microphone is quite impressive. We were consistently able to record faraway sounds with clarity. At its auto settings the microphone does a nice job of giving prominence to sounds originating in front of, rather than behind, the camera. Wind noise and ambient sounds emanating from behind the camera, while audible, rarely became distracting.

As soon as we got a D800E into our Seattle office we set about getting image quality samples in both still and video modes, and while there are differences in resolution in still capture, video files from the two cameras look practically identical. Both cameras deliver extremely detailed video footage but color moire can be a real problem in both. Where moire is visible from footage in the D800E, it is equally apparent from the stock D800.

Video Samples (D800 and D800E)

Dpreview is partnering with Vimeo to bring you high-quality embedded video in our test pages, but as always, the original files are available for download from the links beneath the thumbnails. We've turned HD playback on by default for our embedded videos, but depending on the speed of your internet connection, you may get better performance by turning it off.

Video 1

This video sample demonstrates the audio capability of the D800's monoaural microphone. The sound quality is very impressive, with sounds emanating from in front of the camera having good presence. Ambient sounds are there to be sure, but do not become distracting.

1920x1080 30p, MOV, 32 sec, 90 MB Click here to download original file

Video 2

This video clip shows a brief point in a collegiate tennis double match. Even at distance from the court, with the hum of an engine in the background, the sounds of the tennis ball being struck come through clearly in the audio.

1920x1080 30p, MOV, 8 sec, 23 MB Click here to download original file

Video 3 (D800E)

In this static video clip, you can see color moiré patterning in the roof shingles of the boat house. Use the download link below to view the video at full resolution.

1920x1080 30p, MOV, 13 sec, 35 MB Click here to download original file

Video 4 (D800E)

In this static video clip you can see how the D800E performs in a high contrast nature scene. The video was shot with the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II lens towards its telephoto end. The dynamic range is impressive. Upon close inspection you can see small color artifacts in the brightly lit foliage along the edge of the river.

1920x1080 30p, MOV, 9 sec, 25 MB Click here to download original file

Video 5

In this video clip, the camera pans across a field, moving towards a brightly lit view over the water. You can see the effects of the camera's metering system as it makes slight exposure adjusting by opening and closing the aperture as the camera pans.

1920x1080 30p, MOV, 46 sec, 131.4 MB Click here to download original file

Video 6

In this video clip you can see and hear an example of the AF focus hunt that becomes all too prevalent in video mode. The camera was set to continuous AF in single area AF mode. The selected AF point is very near to the middle of the frame.

1920x1080 30p, MOV, 23 sec, 66.4 MB Click here to download original file

Uncompressed Video

Alongside their big brother the D4, the D800 and D800E offer the ability to record uncompressed video direct to an external hard drive connected via the cameras' HDMI ports. The benefits of shooting uncompressed video are analogous to the benefits of shooting in high bit-depth Raw mode for stills - greater latitude at the video editing stage, particularly with regard to color grading.

If you're a videographer who is used to editing video in a professional software suite, you might enjoy the editing flexibility of working with uncompressed video rather than the camera-processed footage that is recorded to the SD/CF cards. We've made an uncompressed clip available at the bottom of this page. Be warned though - this nine second clip is 1.9GB in size! Please consider the speed of your connection, and any data caps that might apply to your Internet service before attempting to download them.

Video 1 (Compressed, D800E)

This short video clip was shot at the camera's highest video quality settings and recorded - as are all of the above videos - to the storage card in the camera. This exists to serve as a comparison to the clip we've made available for download below, in which the same scene was captured as uncompressed video.

1920x1080 30p, MOV, 9 sec, 26 MB Click here to download original file

Video 2 (Uncompressed, D800E)

We shot this same scene again recording uncompressed video that was output via the camera's HDMI port to Blackmagic's HyperDeck Shuttle 2 recorder. Use the link below to download the uncompressed video file. Please note that while we allow you to download the original file from our servers, the file itself is almost 2GB in size!

Click here to download uncompressed D800E video file (1.9 GB MOV file)

Unfortunately, shooting uncompressed video really isn't as simple as it should be. You can only record in uncompressed mode with an external hard drive attached via HDMI, which makes perfect sense (the footage really is enormous). Unfortunately though, you cannot record 1080p video to both the card and the external HDMI device simultaneously. Whenever video is recorded to the card, the HDMI output drops to 720p. The ability to record full HD uncompressed over HDMI and at least have compressed 1080p recorded as a 'safety' backup to the card would be a useful feature for many independent video shooters. But this is not an option. We also frequently found ourselves having to repeatedly go through cycles of powering on the camera and HDMI device in varying order to get a connection before shooting.

Another annoyance is the fact that by default, the D800/E's HDMI output includes exposure and focus information overlaid on the video output. This makes perfect sense if you're sending the video feed to a monitor and recording to a memory card. If however, you're connecting an external drive to the camera with the intention of recording uncompressed video, it's less sensible. Unless you want footage recorded with the exposure information overlaid, you'll need to go to the HDMI line in the camera's custom menu, then into 'advanced' and turn the 'Live View on-screen display' option off. Our preference would be for this option to be turned off by default when there is no card in the camera. Likewise the image area option in the same menu - by default it is set to 95% but when recording uncompressed video over HDMI you'll need to select '100% unless you want a slim black frame around your footage.