It’s been only three weeks since I heard about the Nikon D90 DSLR and its movie mode for capturing high quality video. Since then I’ve been curiously waiting to see how it works and how the camera performs. Earlier this week I found myself in luck. My local camera store Norman Camera had taken delivery of their first batch and so I hurried over to exchange my $1300 + tax for yet another camera setup.
For this article, I’m not going to delve into the still photo features of the D90. Since it’s the video capabilities that attracted me to it, I’ll focus my attention to my experience in shooting video clips over the past three days.
The Nikon D90 sports a 12 megapixel sensor. I read reports that this is the same DX-size sensor used in the more expensive, widely used Nikon D300, often considered a pro-level camera. As such, I expect high quality images from both still and video capture.
While my D90 was shipped with a 275-page User’s Guide, I could find only two references to using the camera’s video mode. Page 170 tells me how to choose one of the three video resolutions and turn sound recording On or Off. You choose the settings from the Shooting Menu / Movie Settings. Depending on the capacity of your memory card, the recording times indicated are the limit for the 2GB maximum video file size:
On page 50 I found an abbreviated guide to shooting video clips. For still capture, the D90 has a slew of settings for determing or controlling exposure, focus, ISO, etc. However for video capture, the D90 has a much more limited number of controllable settings:
One feature of the D90 that is new to the Nikon range is a dedicated button Live View (LV) button. When pressed, the image in the viewfinder is redirected to the large 3″ LCD display.
With Live View active, shooting video works like this:
Playback is simple too. Press LV again to take the camera out of Live View mode. Press the review button. Press the OK button to start and stop the video playback.
If you haven’t already read my previous blog, you can see the very first video clip that I captured with Nikon D90 of an aircraft on takeoff Shooting with the Nikon D90 two days ago.
Yesterday I drove to a small airport to shoot a few additional videos.
Now onto a final sample video. Last night I irritated my wife by lugging the D90 with me to dinner.
After a few hours with the D90, I’ve found that the video mode is useful for short clips where you can pre-focus and keep the a zoom lens at single focal length. If the subject is out of the initial focusing range, you’ll have to manually refocus and for this you’ll most likely need 3 hands or a tripod. This is also true if you move in or out on the subject by zooming - you’ll need to recheck the focus.
For video, I find it much easier to shoot movies using my Canon ZR700 camcorder which is lighter, retains auto focusing, has great zoom range, is easier to keep the subject in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen and is less expensive too.
I hope that Nikon writes a quick addendum to their User’s Guide or that a third party writes one for the sake of users who want to use the D90’s video capabilities to the fullest.
My recommendation is to buy the D90 because you need a good still camera but not for its video capabilities. I’ve found that the still photos are excellent with very good low light performance at ISO 3200. But then again, this is a $1300 camera (with the 18-105mm lens) so we should expect top notch photos. I consider that video in this DSLR is an added bonus and convenience even though it isn’t particularly easy to use. The question for a buyer should be, is it worth the few hundred dollars for the convenience of video considering there are alternative DLSRs with most of the features / quality of the D90 for under $1000. That’s not my call, I’ll leave that to the analysts.
However, I’m sure it will come in handy for me to shoot clips of the grandkids in action when a camcorder isn’t available.