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My first play with the Nikon D3s: Wildlife [video]

I hated the idea of video on DSLRs at first. Slowly I got more and more curious and wanted to have a go. Enter my recent upgrade to the D3s, and a couple of hours playing with its video mode, and I’m a huge convert! And I share with you now my first delve in to the world of movie making, DSLR style, and some first impressions. Although it’s only early days, I think I’m going to really enjoy learning this new set of skills to help me capture the world around me.

I shot this a few days ago. I had a couple of spare hours and the weather was ok with some clear patches of sky between the clouds. So, I headed to my local park with no real plan other than to shoot some video (and of course take some stills), and this is the end result. I didn’t have anything in mind for what I wanted to do with the footage when I took it, I just wanted to shoot some to get a feel for how it all works. Then when I viewed it back at home I decided to edit in to a brief video and this is it. A collection of clips, mainly of deer, and a few stills edited together to some music by the very talented Sydney Poma. It’s a lovely track so if you’ve good speakers, enjoy!

Excuse the video thumbnail being square, seems Vimeo has gone a bit odd. The video is widescreen though!

The video

Having trouble with Vimeo embed? Check it out here on YouTube.

The equipment used
So there you go. It’s by no means a masterpiece with room for improvement but I really enjoyed doing it, plus, it has inspired me and that can only be a good thing!

The movie samples and stills were all taken with:
Nikon D3s
600mm AFSII
Gitzo GT 5541 LS tripod (read my review)
Wimberley MKII (read my review)

The ISOs used were between 200 – 4000. Lighting ranged from some brief lovely late afternoon sunshine, to over cast, to the beginning of twilight after the sun had set behind a cloudy horizon. The crow and some of the deer footage was filmed about 10 minutes after sunset.

Nikon D3s setup for shooting video, Richard Peters Photography

The D3s setup for shooting video

Seeing things in a whole new way
The thing I noticed straight away with video, is that scenes that would not work as a still image can work beautifully when in motion. For example, the final shot in the sequence above shows a deer walking away from the camera, As a still photo it just wouldn’t work, but moving, seeing the deer walk across frame and get more and more out of focus it works really well (I think). And it’s that sort of thing that is inspiring to me, because it brings a whole new dimension to the way I look at my surroundings.

The D3s itself absolutely blew me away. As some of you may know I had rented one when I went to Hawaii, and it was that which made my mind up for me that I wanted to get one of my own. But now, shooting what I love to shoot the most, I’ve falling in love with it all over again! The image quality across the entire ISO range is just phenomenal. I would say, generally speaking I’ll be quite happy to shoot with this up at least ISO 8000 for stills without any worry at all for the image quality. It really is everything I had read it to be and more when it comes to high ISO. You can check out an ISO 4000 image here, with no noise reduction (100% crop shown too).

I may at some point find myself wanting a fluid head because although the Wimberley MKII provides enough support, it’s not very good for panning shots and already I found myself limited to only being able to film static video clips!

Video processing
I also need to learn how to process video. So far all I’ve done is pull it straight in off the camera and make no adjustments. I’m sure there is some saturation, levels etc that I can do to it in Premier Pro to improve on the quality of the footage, so I need to start exploring that – any tips welcome 🙂

How did I find shooting video with a DSLR?
It requires a bit more thinking because you shoot video in a different way to stills. With stills, especially with a telephoto, you want a fairly high shutter speed in general. But here, with video, the shutter speed when filming with the D3s at 24p needs a shutter speed of 1/50s to maintain that ‘film’ look and keep the footage looking smooth. Up the shutter speed too much and the image becomes choppy.

And that’s the first ‘problem’ I found with shooting video on a D3s. When you enter live view and adjust your settings for the video clip, those settings remain when you go back to shooting stills. And although 1/50, f11, ISO 200 may produce some nice video footage, it doesn’t necessarily translate in to a correctly exposed still. So I found myself having to remember to adjust settings every time I switched from stills to video and vice versa. But, remember, this was my first time shooting video with a DSLR and so I may be overlooking an easy solution to this right now (maybe setting up two shooting banks is the way to go?).

Also, I did have a Rode Stereo Mic attached to record sound but all but the first clip I shot had a hiss over the top so I my have pulled the cable out slightly. So right now I can’t comment too much on the quality of the mic, but I’ll do a proper test/review of that soon. Due to that, I decided to use a music track only, again, by the very talented Sydney Poma who’s music I have used before in my Miami time-lapse. As I mentioned near the start, it’s a beautiful piece of music so if you’ve got good speakers you are in for a treat!

Final thoughts
I’m sure over time with more practice I’ll get better at taking stills and switching to video on the fly, and I’m quite excited about the whole thing. Not only because it is inspiring me but because I can really bring my experiences to life and share them in a whole new way.

And yes, if you are one of the people to whom I said video in DSLRs was a stupid idea, pass the salt, I’m about to eat my words…

About the author

Richard Peters is a Surrey based professional wildlife photographer, Nikon Ambassador, and one of the few British photographers to receive the accolade of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. He is known for a style that often favours dramatic use of light, runs wildlife photography workshops and, from camera clubs to big industry events, holds talks about his work.

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