Are You a Filmmaker?

bythom d850 filmmakers

Why is there a single shadow below the bunch of items, Nikon? [NikonUSA product shot]

What to make of the new D850 Filmmaker's Kit? First I wanted to see what Nikon themselves said, so I looked for their press release on this new bundle. There isn't one at NikonUSA, though there's a dedicated marketing page for the bundle.

Right up front I have to say: Nikon has no idea what to call something that records continuous motion. In the cameras we have the term "movie," in Nikon's marketing the term is suddenly "filmmaker," but what we really get is video. That alone tells me that there's a disconnect within Nikon about what it is they're doing. At least someone in marketing gets it: "create amazing videos alongside your photos." Yeah, video.

The D850 takes very nice video up to 4K UHD, and at full frame, not a crop. I'm actually pleasantly surprised at the video I get from the D850. Not perfect, but really quite good, especially recorded externally in ProRes HQ (as the Atomos can do). Moreover, the D850 not only restored the Atomos protocols for external HDMI control, but even brought that out as a camera setting. Thus it's no surprise that Nikon's bundle includes an Atomos Ninja Flame. 

Not shown in the photo above, and not called out unless you read the fine print, the Atomos actually comes with some things that are optional (the HDMI cable needed, an additional battery, and a powered docking station). What isn't mentioned is whether you get the AC adapter. It also doesn't appear that you get the travel case that comes with the Ninja Flame when you buy it separately.

It's in these weeds of details that I think Nikon shows the fact that it doesn't quite get "video" yet, nor quite know how to put together a truly compelling bundle. Can I actually record some video with the kit Nikon sells? Well, not quite. You get a caddy, but no drive to record to. Are you going to let Nikon AF those lenses? I hope not; Nikon's Live View AF does that little over-and-back thing when it re-establishes focus on something, and that's annoying in video.

Given that the included lenses run focus from near to infinity in a bit less than a quarter turn of the focus ring, it's tough to nail focus pulls (Nikon suggest touchscreen AF, but see what I wrote above). You'll need a third party grabber to help, and even then these aren't the lenses I'd want to be using for video. Note that they're not t-stopped, and that means exposure change when changing lens in the same lighting/scene. You really try to avoid exposure change in video because even small misses make it more difficult to cut footage together.

How about those mics? Nikon says "Simply connect the ME-W1 wireless monaural microphone to the ME-1 to record stereo sound." Uh, what? Turns out that you do the opposite and plug the ME-1 into the ME-W1 receiver, then "quickly press the power switch twice when turning the receiver on." I'm not sure I'm going to remember that nuance every time I go to record video, and you'd be doing that every three hours when you replace batteries in the ME-W1. Nikon claims that you can then "mix" the sound, but the D850 can't really control individual channels, only the pair together, so technically the mix is not yours to make.

What's more interesting is that Nikon's Ambassadors didn't seem to get the message on the way to use the ME-1/ME-W1. In the video on NikonUSA's site, we hear that we should plug one mic into the D850, one into the Atomos Ninja Flame. So which is it, Nikon? 

Nikon also says that the unit comes with foam inserts that fit a Pelican 1520 case. But you don't get the case, only a cardboard box. So, "ultimate DSLR video outfit," No. The ultimate outfit would be complete, as in "shoot video out of the box."

I mean, I get it. Nikon was able to throw some stuff they had together with a Ninja Flame and create "a new product" that seems to take them into a new realm (filmmaking? movies? video!). But I think we need more from them.

Thing is, Nikon has always done pretty good video in the DSLRs since they pioneered it in the D90. But it's as if they don't quite know what they've done. We get consumer-oriented mics (and the in-camera amps aren't exactly pro grade, either). We haven't gotten a single lens that would be truly useful for video (and t-stopped). The Custom Setting #G components are not particularly extending the camera customization into video very far. The whole "power aperture" thing shows just what a mistake it was to take the aperture ring off the lenses. 

Let's see if we can do a little better. Here's my "bundle."

If you're going to start with a D850, great, it'll do fine 4K video. Let's build out the rest of the kit you'll need to do the best video possible (caution: all links are advertiser links):

  • Atomos Ninja Flame. I have absolutely no quarrels with Nikon's choice here. But get it with the G-Technology SSD kit. There are also 512GB and 1TB versions if you think you're going to be recording a lot of video. You're probably also going to want to get the Atomos Power Kit; video consumes lots of power.
  • Video lenses. A reasonable low cost set is the 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm t/1.5 Rokinons
  • Audio. Beachtek, Marantz, and Saramonic all make XLR-based mixers that are better than what the camera can achieve, and support phantom-powered mics should you need to. Let's keep things on the low cost side and pick the Marantz PMD-602A. It's dual channel, can be mounted to the camera if you want, and it can output to the Ninja Flame (preferred) or the D850. For mics, a Rode RodeLink Wireless for talent, a Panasonic AG-MC200G for on the camera (with a shock mount cage).

To this add your own choice of headphone and carrying case. Without those last two items, the above will set you back US$3700, but you're be ready to shoot. You spend a little more going this route than Nikon's bundle, which I think was Nikon's carefully selected point (along with selling some Nikon accessories), but I think you're better equipped to get the most out the video the D850 can create going my route. The lenses are t-stopped, have long focus throws that are well marked and are geared, the lenses have aperture rings that can be declicked for seamless video aperture changes, and the audio will be far better in quality (less noise, for one), and truly mixable. 

Thom's D850 video add-on bundle wish list at B&H, this site's exclusive advertiser. If that link doesn't work for you (it doesn't appear to work on all browsers), go to your wish lists, look for the search box, then search for D850 Video Bundle. 

Now, I'm not really trying to get you to jump over the B&H and buy all this gear. I'm trying to point out that Nikon's cutting some corners here. You can certainly create good video with what Nikon provides (once you buy some drives for the caddy), but the D850 is a pro camera, and the D850 Filmmaker's Kit feels more not-quite-clued-in-vlogger in level, and you have some difficulties you'll have to overcome to get great video.

To give Nikon some credit, the MOVIE SHOOTING menu and the way it's now being handled is a solid first step in getting over into the video world more solidly.  And Nikon sometimes surprises us there: the D7500, for instance, can do full DX video in 1080P and 4K, or it can do a 1.3x additional crop for the same. Now that's kind of useful (and relatively unique among the ILC cameras). 

But we need more. Nikon needs to have some of the junior optical staff create a few true video lenses from the f/1.8 line. Improve the audio amps. Change the autofocus technique with video to avoid the over and back. Lots of little things.

Dixie Dixon is dead on correct in the Unboxing video on Nikon's site: "on pretty much every job we do, we are now expected to shoot or direct short videos." Yep. That's what's happening with us pros: we have to do both stills and videos for the clients willing to pay us at the levels we need to stay in business. 

I want to see Nikon embrace that more. Oh, and do those clients ask us to shoot film with our stills? Nope. Video. Get the distinction now, Nikon?

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