The Nikon D800 is a multi-format video camera, 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.
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-2
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-2 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-2 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-2, you should set the HDMI port to Auto, not any of the other progressive or interlaced settings (unless those sizes exactly match your needs).
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