The Nikon D800 series of cameras (D800, D800E, D810 and the D850) are multi-format video cameras, in addition to creating beautiful still images. What do I mean by multi-format? The camera can record compressed H.264/MPEG 4 (AVC) video to either of its two internal memory cards for personal video creation, or, it can stream uncompressed, broadcast quality 4:2:2 1080p video out of its HDMI port for commercial video needs.
Editor's note: If you have a question regarding your Nikon camera and Video Streaming, we are answering a lot of questions on Nikon and Video in our Nikon Video Forum. You may also want to check out the Nikon D850 forum where all the D8xx series cameras are being discussed and questions answered in great detail.
This document is a little more technical than Mastering the Nikon D800, due to discussing deeper things like video standards, formats, and compression. However, I will try to keep things on an easy-to-understand level, while providing as much detail as possible. There are entire books devoted to the subject of video and they can be quite deep and hard to understand.
We will cover the important video information in this document, plus provide information on how to connect your camera to one of the best external video recorders available for your camera, the Atomos Ninja
Some important information from Mastering the Nikon D800 is included in this document to make it more complete for those reading it without the main book nearby.
First, let’s consider some of the basic information a person wanting to record streaming HDMI video needs to know. Then we will talk about how to actually stream the video to the Ninja device.
The Nikon D800 is capable of producing two types of video output:
H.264/MPEG-4 (AVC) 4:2:0 8-bit Compressed Video – This is the mode that records video to the memory cards in the camera. It is normally used for those times when you want to make a simple home video and are unconcerned about commercial video quality. The H.264 output is stored in a .MOV container (see the next main section Containers and Their Formats). This Apple format allows pretty much any computer that can use Apple QuickTime to play your videos, which is basically all home computers. A video frame in this format ends up looking like a very compressed JPEG still image, which means it has sufficient quality for home use and for displaying on websites like YouTube and Facebook, but may not be the best for serious commercial work. All video output from this type is recorded to the camera’s memory cards for later transfer to your computer. It is best to use at least Class 6 SDHC/SDXC cards to record the video. Slower cards may not be able to keep up with the video stream.
4:2:2 8-bit 1080p Uncompressed Video – Although the video stream coming out of the HDMI port on the D800 is called “uncompressed” by Nikon, it does in fact use a form of chroma subsampling, reducing the total colors output from the better 4:4:4 format to 4:2:2. This is not so much a compression of the video stream as it is a compression of the number of colors in the video stream. The human eye is much more sensitive to luminance (brightness) than it is to chrominance (color gradiants). That simply means the camera can reduce the range of color flowing out of the HDMI port without your being able to detect the change, as long as the same levels of brightness are maintained. This chrominance compression is similar to how a JPEG image compresses the color range and is quite effective, even for serious commercial use. The container format is controlled by the recording device for this video type. The Atomos Ninja can wrap the 4:2:2 video coming out of the camera into an Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD format (see the next main section Containers and Their Formats). The ideal format for hardcore commerical use is 4:4:4. However, that format creates huge files that most people will have no interest in storing. The 4:2:2 format produces smaller files that are visually equivalent in quality to 4:4:4.
Remove the Memory Cards
In order for the camera to stream uncompressed video out of the HDMI port, you should remove the camera’s memory cards when you are connected to an external video recorder. This is a signal to the camera that you do not want to use the H.264/MPEG-4 compressed video subsystem, but instead, want to stream uncompressed 4:2:2 video out of the HDMI port.
If you want to stream 1080p progressive video to an external recording device, such as the Atomos Ninja, you should set the HDMI port to Auto, not any of the other progressive or interlaced settings (unless those sizes exactly match your needs).
Figure 1.0 shows how to set the Setup Menu > HDMI > Output resolution setting to Auto. The external recorder (Ninja-2) will record the 1080p video that results from the Auto setting.
With the large variety of display and recording devices available, your camera has to deal with all sorts of video standards. For instance, Output range controls how color is displayed on the receiving device, and Output display size sets frame coverage for horizontal and vertical output. Also, when you’re streaming video to an external device, you must decide whether the camera’s Monitor displays the output too (stays on). The Advanced settings allow you to control these items. Let’s examine each setting on the Advanced menu.
Use the following steps to open the Advanced menu (figure 1.1): Select HDMI from the Setup Menu and scroll to the right (figure 1.1, screen 1). Choose Advanced from the menu and scroll to the right (figure 1.1, screen 2). Select one of the three settings from the Advanced menu and scroll to the right (figure 1.1, screen 3). Refer to figures 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4 for details on the configuration of each item.
Output range allows you to adjust the level of colors sent to a recording or display device. When you are outputting video to a device, such as an HDTV or recorder, the device may not accept normal Full range RGB with a color range of 0 to 255 correctly. Some devices accept only Limited range RGB input in the range of 16 to 235 color levels (YCbCr). If you try to send a Full range
RGB video output to a Limited range YCbCr device, you may end up with washed-out, grayish blacks and blown-out, featureless whites.
The solution is to match the correct output to the correct device type. If you see the problems just described when the camera is set to Full range (RGB), try the Limited range (YCbCr) setting instead. Or, you could try the Auto setting to see if the camera can detect what the display or recording device requires.
Use the following steps to select Full range or Limited range output (figure 1.2 continues from figure 1.1): Select Output range from the Advanced menu and scroll to the right (figure 1.2, screen 1). Select Auto, Limited range, or Full range from the Output range menu. Auto (factory default) is selected in figure 1.2, screen 2. Press the OK button to select the Output range.
Output Display Size
At times, the Output display size may not match the display device well. In that case, you can reduce the Output display size from 100% to 95%, to help the display fit better. I plugged my D800 into a Vizio 32 inch HDTV and found that the output from the camera on the TV was a little bit too tall. I changed Output display size to 95% and it fit perfectly.
You can do this while viewing the live output on the HDTV by opening the Setup Menu > HDMI > Output display size setting and making the change. Let’s see how to modify the Output display size.
Use the following steps to change the Output display size (figure 1.3 continues from figure 1.1): Select Output display size from the Advanced menu and scroll to the right (figure 1.3, screen 1). Select 95% or 100% from the Output display size menu. 100% (factory default) is selected in figure 1.3, screen 2). Press the OK button to select the Output display size.
Live View On-Screen Display
Live view on-screen display is the setting you’ll use when you want the streaming video output from the camera to have no shooting information overlays. When Live view on-screen display is set to Off, the camera outputs clean, uncompressed video with nothing but the video coming out of the camera.
If you choose On, the camera will stream video with the same information you see on the the Monitor, which may include shooting information such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, metering mode, gridlines, sound input levels, focus mode, Picture Control type, image size, image quality, image area, and so forth.
If you want to output clean, overlay-free, uncompressed, broadcast-quality video, choose Off for this setting.
Use the following steps to change the Live view on-screen display (figure 1.4 continues from figure 1.1): Select Live view on-screen display from the Advanced menu and scroll to the right (figure 1.4, screen 1). Select On or Off from the Live view on-screen display menu. Off (factory default) is selected in figure 1.4, screen 2. Press the OK button to lock in the setting.
Container formats are well known by you, although you may have not realized that you were using a container. The ending of the file name allows you to know which container you are using. For instance, I am sure you’ve heard of WAV, AVI, MOV, and the various MPEG formats (e.g., MP4). Well, those are container formats that are commonly played on your computer, smart phone, or tablet.
Once you have recorded compressed video to your camera’s memory card or uncompressed video to an external video recorder—through the HDMI port—the video signal must be placed into a specific container format, which will hold not only the video, but also the audio (sound) signal. The Nikon D800 records audio as uncompressed, 2-channel, 16-bit, linear pulse-code modulation (PCM) sound at 48Khz. This sound file is directly synchronized with the video signal and is bundled into the container.
Here is how the camera deals with container formats, according to the type of video you are recording:
H.264/MPEG-4 (AVC) compressed video, as mentioned previously, is recorded to one of the camera’s memory cards, as configured in the Shooting Menu > Movie Settings > Destination setting. The Nikon D800 places the video and audio into a QuickTime .MOV file. As we’ve discussed previously, you can play a MOV file on any computer that can run an Apple QuickTime compatible player.
4:2:2 8-bit 1080p Uncompressed Video, as previously discussed, is streamed out of the HDMI port and is captured by an external recorder. The external recorder takes the video and audio signals and places them into a container it supports. If you are using an Atomos Ninja, you can choose to record into Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD container formats to removable 2.5 inch solid state drives (SSD) or 2.5 inch spinning hard drives. Other external recorders may support additional commercial container formats. You can download the Apple ProRes QuickTime Decoder 1.0 at these websites:
With this decoder installed you can play your Apples ProRes videos on your computer, through Apple QuickTime.
For using the Avid DNxHD format, you will need also need to download a decoder.
The Avid decoder also uses Apple QuickTime to provide playing services. You will need to have QuickTime installed on your computer to play any version of the video from your camera.
With this information you should have a better understanding of how the camera writes video to the memory card or streams it out of the HDMI port to your external video recorder or other HDMI device.
D800 frame sizes and rates
The camera allows the following Frame size/frame rate and bits per second during a video recording. The Frames and Quality settings affect how long the camera will record video (table 1.0).
Frame Size/Frame Rate
Maximum Time at High Quality/Normal Quality
1920 × 1080/30 fps
20 min/29 min 59 sec
1920 × 1080/25 fps
20 min/29 min 59 sec
1920 × 1080/24 fps
20 min/29 min 59 sec
1280 × 720/60 fps
20 min/29 min 59 sec
1280 × 720/50 fps
20 min/29 min 59 sec
1280 × 720/30 fps
29 min 59 sec/29 min 59 sec
1280 × 720/25 fps
29 min 59 sec/29 min 59 sec
Table 1.0 – Video size, frames per second, quality, and length
With the highest Frame size/frame rate and Quality settings the camera is limited to recording 20 minutes of video. With lower rate and quality settings the camera can record up to 29 minutes and 59 seconds of video.
The Mbps quality rating is very important. You camera can shoot from 8 Mbps to 24 Mbps. Lower Mbps ratings will seriously affect the quality of the video. Shoot at the highest Mbps setting you can afford to store, for best quality.
You control the Frame size/frame rate setting with the Shooting Menu screens shown in figure 1.5. Select higher frame sizes and rates for best video quality.
You have two selections under Movie quality: High and Normal (figure 1.6). You can see the results of selecting either of these settings in table 1.0. Each Frame rate/frame size setting will have an accompanying Quality level, per how you have Movie quality set—as recorded in table 1.0.
What’s the difference between progressive and interlaced? Technically speaking, progressive video output displays the video frame starting with the top line and then draws the other lines until the entire frame is shown. The D800 displays 1,080 lines progressively from the top of what the imaging sensor captured to the bottom (lines 1, 2, 3, 4 ... 1,080).
Interlaced video output displays every even line from top to bottom, then it goes back to the top and displays every odd line (lines 2, 4, 6, 8 ... 1,080, then 1, 3, 5, 7 ... 1,079).
Progressive output provides a higher-quality image with less flicker and a more cinematic look. I’m sure that’s why Nikon chose to make the D800 shoot progressive video, while still give you the option of using 1080i HDMI interlaced video output, if needed.
Fixing issues: Skew, wobble and partial exposure
The D800 uses a CMOS sensor to record video. This type of sensor uses a “rolling shutter” and has three potential issues that we need to discuss: skew, wobble, and partial exposure.
How the Rolling Shutter Works in Movie Mode Since video is captured at 24 to 60 frames per second (fps), the D800 has an electronic shutter in addition to the normal mechanical shutter.
Have you ever used your D800 in Continuous release (CL or CH) mode when you are capturing up to 4 still images per second? The mechanical shutter activation combines with mirror movement to make the cool chicka-chicka-chicka sound that causes passersby—with their little point-and-shoot cameras—to look at you in awe.
You don’t hear that sound in Movie mode because your D800 does not use the mechanical shutter when shooting movies. If it did you would wear the shutter out with only an hour or two of video capture. Remember, the camera captures video at a minimum of 24 fps. An hour of video requires 86,400 frames at that speed. You would quickly exceed the tested lifetime capacity—150,000 images—of the mechanical shutter.
Instead, the camera uses an electronic shutter and turns the sensor’s rows of pixels on and off, as needed, in a scan from top to bottom. In other words, the camera records each video frame by scanning it—one line at a time—from top to bottom. This is called a rolling shutter. Not all parts of the image are recorded at exactly the same time! It can produce a skewed or wobbly video when you film rapidly moving subjects, like a race car or a flying bird. Rolling shutters are used by video cameras that have CMOS sensors, like the Nikon D800. Most dedicated video cameras have CCD sensors, with global shutters that do not scan the image. They are mostly immune to the effects we are about to discuss.
Here is a list of the effects that can be experienced in extreme circumstances with a rolling shutter:
Skew – The image leans in one direction as the camera or subject moves. This is often seen at the edges of buildings and other static objects.
Wobble – This effect is harder to describe. The whole image wobbles in a strange way. It looks like the top of the image is out of sync with the middle and bottom of the image. Since video is a moving picture, the whole video can wobble back and forth in a very unnatural and dizzying way.
Partial exposure – If another camera’s flash goes off during the shot, the burst of light may be present for only some of the rows of pixels in a particular frame. The top part of the frame may be brightly lit by the flash, while the bottom part appears dark. The partial exposure appears as a bright band in one or a few frames, depending on the duration of the bright light. Some older fluorescent light bulbs have slow ballasts and can cause a video to have a series of moving bands as the light flickers. Our eyes can’t see it, but the fast video captures it well. If you are shooting images of an ambulance with its lights flashing, it can also cause banding. Anything that has intense bursts of light for short periods may cause partially exposed bands to appear in a video.
To understand skew and wobble better, let’s compare the D800 to a desktop scanner. It works in a similar way. If you place a paper document on a scanner and press the scan button, you’ll see a band of light under the glass travel from the top of the document to the bottom as it records one line at a time. At the end of the scan, there is a copy of the document in your computer’s memory that can be saved to the hard drive. You usually put the scanner’s lid down on a paper document to hold it flat and keep it from moving. Imagine that you’re scanning a paper document on your desktop scanner, and halfway through the scan you move the paper a little. The top part of the scan would look normal, since it was already captured by the scanner’s sensor, but the bottom part of the scan would be at a different angle than the top part. You could say that it is skewed from the original angle. This is an example of the skew that can result with a rolling shutter.
Now, what if you grab the paper during a scan and rotate it back and forth all the way through the entire scan? The final scanned document would look like a series of zigzags, with some parts at one angle and other parts at a different angle. This is an example of the wobble that can result with a rolling shutter. The D800 records video in a similar manner, except it is much faster than a scanner. It records a frame of video in 1/24 second, or 24 fps, and can go as high as 60 fps. Since the Nikon D800 scans the image at this speed, there’s not a problem in most cases. Most movement is too slow to be zigzagged (wobbled) or angled (skewed).
Skew and wobble become especially evident when a person is walking and recording a video at the same time. These combined movements can be enough to cause wobble in the video. I call this the “jellywobble effect.” Like a bowl of Jell-O, your video looks like it is wobbling. What can you do to prevent it?
Avoiding the Jellywobble Effect Primarily, you have to be careful not to allow too much camera movement. It truly is best to use the D800 on a nice fluid-head video tripod, or a stabilizing frame, if you want great results. I’ve found that Nikon’s vibration reduction (VR) lenses help when you don’t want to use a tripod, since they stabilize the camera a little. VR won’t help much if you’re walking while recording a video, since the camera movements are often too great for the VR system to overcome. If you’re standing quietly and doing your best to hold the camera still, it will help overcome small movements caused by your heartbeat and breathing. This is one of the main differences between a dedicated video camera and a hybrid like the D800. Dedicated video cameras use a CCD sensor, which has a global shutter instead of a rolling shutter. A global shutter does not scan the image one line at a time. It uses the whole sensor at once to grab the image. There are some newer low-cost video cameras on the market that use a rolling shutter, but the better video cameras use a global shutter.
This is probably the worst problem with D800 video. True videophiles will turn up their noses at a rolling shutter. They’ll buy a dedicated video camera with three separate CCD sensors—one for each RGB color—and a nice global shutter to avoid jellywobbles. And they’ll pay several thousand dollars for the privilege of owning that equipment. You, however, realize that the D800 is primarily a very high-quality still camera with added video capabilities. You might be standing in a superstore parking lot one day when an alien spacecraft lands. You’ll get both still images and cool video from the same camera. So what if, in your excitement while running from the alien’s heat ray, you get a few jellywobbles in your video? One of the rules for getting great video is having a video camera with you. With the D800, you have one at all times—with no extra effort. You do keep your camera with you just in case, right?
Try to hold your camera still to greatly reduce any jellywobble effects. Use a tripod when you can, or even a VR lens. Anything that helps stabilize the camera will give you much higher-quality video.
Caution using H.264/MPEG-4 for commercial use
One important caution that I want to give you is concerning licensing you may need to acquire of you use H.264/MPEG-4 video for commercial uses. The best advice is, don’t do it. If you are shooting a video you may sell or that will be used for advertising or other commercial purposes, you should use the 4:2:2 8-bit uncompressed video from the HDMI port only.
The reason I mention this is that Nikon licenses the H.264 compression from the MPEG LA group. Their license states that you can use the compressed video for only “personal and non-commercial use.” Therefore, if you are shooting Aunt Minnie’s baby shower for viewing by family and friends, you are safe in using H.264 video from the camera’s memory card.
However, if you plan to shoot the next blockbuster movie with your D800, or even to advertise your products online, you may want to use only the 4:2:2 8-bit uncompressed video from the HDMI port.
I am not a lawyer so consult your attorney before attempting to sell your video masterpiece.
My choice, and that probably of many Nikonians worldwide for streaming video, is the excellent Atomos Ninja external video recorder. I am going to show you a brief introduction to the Ninja and how to interface it with your camera. This is only a basic introduction.
Here is a picture of my Nikon D800 with my Atomos Ninja mounted and the excellent sealed case and accessories included with the Ninja (figure 1.7):
To record a video to your Ninja, do the following steps:
- Insert an SSD drive or hard drive into the Ninja and connect its two batteries on the back of the unit.
- As you can see in figure 1.7, you must connect an HDMI cable with a Type C mini-HDMI connector to the camera’s HDMI port and a normal Type A HDMI connector to the Ninja (see HDMI ports in figure 1.8).
- Start the camera outputting video by first removing the memory cards, entering Movie live view mode (bottom position on the Live view switch), and pressing the record button on top of the camera. The camera is now streaming live 4:2:2 video out of its HDMI port.
- Turn on the Ninja and you should see the active video stream showing on the Ninja’s big monitor. You are ready to start recording.
- Press the Record button (Rec) on the screen of the Ninja (figure 1.9) and you are now recording live streaming, uncompressed, clean video.
When you are done recording follow these steps:
- Stop the Ninja from record with the stop button on its screen (figure 1.9).
- Turn off the Ninja
- Stop the camera from recording and exit Live view.
- Turn off the camera.
- Unplug the HDMI cable from both devices.
- Remove the SSD or hard drive containing the video from the Ninja and plug it into your computer to transfer the video files, or you could even edit directly on the SSD drive if you're in a real hurry.
The Ninja is very simple to use and has a reasonable price. It isn’t cheap, but neither is your camera. If you want the best quality commercial-level video you can get out of your D800, get yourself an Atomos Ninja and start recording!
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