I love Nikon camera bodies and lenses. This is not a post that is intended to imply Nikon is a bad company, their cameras suck or that the Nikon user base is full of losers. It’s not – really.
This is a post describing why Canon DSLRs have the lead in the fusion space. Comparing the video from a D3s to a Canon 1DMKIV, serious video/filmmaker types (and those who aspire to be serious like me) prefer the Canon. Since I am often asked why I prefer Canon for video, I thought I’d answer the question in a post. If someone from Nikon wants to rebut this, feel free to contact me. I’d welcome the chance to set the record straight if I have any facts wrong.
I’ve spoken with several filmmakers about this as well as some software engineers and other tech types. They’ve all confirmed my findings. The Nikon suffers from several drawbacks.
1) Short HD clip duration (5 minutes) – the Canons shoot 12 minutes. Five minutes isn’t long enough in many situations.
2) No 1080p video – Yes 720 is fine for most situations, but serious filmmakers are all fixing their sites on 1080p, which will soon be the minimum standard for HD. The Canons shoot at 1080p.
3) Motion JPG – this codec has crippled Nikon’s video. The quality just doesn’t compare to the H.264 wrapper that comes around Canon’s video. Using a program like MPEG Streamclip, you can convert the Canon video to Pro Res. You can’t get true Pro Res out of the Nikon video. Those three letters “JPG” say it all.
4) Manual control over exposure – There are manual controls but they are far from user-friendly and you have to know the secret handshake to make them work. I’ve asked 20 or more D3s/D300s owners if they know how to get the camera to allow manual control over exposure when shooting video and none of them knew how to do it. This is not reason enough to rule the camera out for video, but it does not help. Ergonomics matter. (I should note that the special tricks that make manual exposure during video on the D3s are NOT available on lesser Nikon bodies like the D90, where there’s little or no manual control over the video.)
If you’re shooting video for your kids, or for your high school film project, or something casual, the Nikon footage will work. But for serious filmmakers who want a professional caliber tool, changes have to be made to Nikon’s video. There’s a reason that major motion pictures like the latest Terminator movie are using Canon DSLR’s for video and not Nikons.
At the recent ImagingUSA trade show and conference in Nashville, both Canon and Nikon had large booths. Canon dedicated a significant amount of time to showing off the video capabilities of their cameras. They had live demos on stage showing off video and the accessories that make it easier to shoot. In the Nikon booth, video was a mere bullet point on a slide. I think this is just one more symptom that Nikon isn’t taking video/fusion as seriously as Canon. And in my opinion, that’s a mistake.
Hopefully, the Nikon user base will resist the urge to rise up in faux fanboy outrage to this post and accept and acknowledge these problems. What would be helpful would be a challenge to Nikon to do something about these problems. If that happens, Nikon is well-positioned to compete with Canon. But Canon has a huge head start in the fusion space. As it sits now, Canon is the video/DSLR standard. Nikon needs to move quickly, or face the prospect of always playing catch up.