Wednesday, 9 June 2010

D300s Replacement/Firmware wishes

After having read Philip Bloom's article Which Video DSLR to Buy, I've been having a bit more of a think about the video aspect of my D300s.

Please note that this article is based solely on the video capabilities (or lack thereof) of the D300s and while some of the features might be useful for stills photography too, that's not my focus here.

I've used the D300s alongside Sony EX1 and Z7 cameras for a few different projects now, and I've started to get a wishlist together of features it doesn't have that I personally feel are pretty essential.  Some (all?) of these could probably be implemented as simple Firmware updates, and perhaps one day Nikon will wake up and implement them, but some may require hardware updates in order to be able to maintain processing speed.

The first one for me is a biggy.  If no other feature were ever implemented, PLEASE Nikon, I beg of you, give us a live histogram on the liveview display.  If this were added, I could continue to deal with the fact that the D300s has no manual control other than the aperture.  At least with a live histogram I can zoom in on my Lastolite XpoBalance, let the camera meter, dial in some exposure compensation if necessary, then lock my exposure and know it's about right - I'd be a happy bunny, I'd be able to check via the histogram that my exposures are fairly consistent from shot to shot under different lighting conditions.  Without this feature, it's pretty much hit and miss, and I'm only taking the camera's word for it that it's metered my 18% grey consistently from one situation to the next (and if I exceed the limits of the auto-ISO in video mode, then I know it's going to be underexposed - even if I can't actually tell that until I get the footage back onto the computer).

Leading on slightly from this, given that I'm currently having to use the 18% grey section of the XpoBalance to get the D300s to produce a (relatively) consistent exposure between shots, please let me spot meter in video mode.  Being stuck in matrix metering mode means that I have to take my camera off the tripod, zoom in completely to my grey card so that it fills the screen, lock the exposure, and then move my camera back to its original position.  Not a huge pain in the arse, but a pain none the less.  Being able to spot meter an 18% grey card that's only taking up about 1/8th of my shot would be lovely, thank you.

Then there are the obvious ones.  Only 24p?  Come on now, not all of us live in the film world.  Having to transcode 24p into 25p to burn out to DVDs is a step in my workflow that I'd rather not have to be honest with you.  It never turns out as well as it would have if I simply had the option to record 25p in the first place, and trying to composite 24p footage with 25p motion graphics in a 25p composition in AfterEffects is just a nightmare.  Please give us other framerates.  25p would be awesome and, to be fair to the Americans, let them have 29.976 too (my wife is American, so it'd be great if I could record 29.976 footage, and not have to run 24p footage through Twixtor or something to be able to mail her family a DVD).  50p and 60p are other obvious framerates that many of Nikon's competitors at similar and lower price points can already achieve,

720p.  Ok, for some this one is massive.  For me, it's not such a big deal (although it may become one by the time the D300s & D3s are replaced in Nikon's lineup).  The vast majority of my projects for clients still end up on a PAL format progressive mode DVD, which are standard def.  As such, shooting and editing in 720p and then scaling the final project down to 720x576 with a 1.42 pixel aspect ratio is not a huge issue.  But, the future is just around the corner.  Blu-Ray is actually getting affordable to the general population, even Youtube now supports 1080p high definition video file uploads, and monitors that are capable of 1920x1080 resolution are becoming increasingly more available in the local computer stores.  It also means that even if I am still ending up with a DVD project, scaling down from 1080p instead of 720p will still provide a better end result.

Finally, please give us full manual control.  Canon have several bodies at a similar or lesser price point than the D300s that offer full control over the aperture, shutter speed and ISO.  Why can the D300s not do the same?  Why has this not already been fixed in a firmware update?

Edit : Maybe not "finally".  I know there was something else, but off the top of my head I don't recall quite what it was. :)

I know that the D3s does overcome some of these inadequacies in the D300s (live histogram and full manual control, for example), but I shouldn't have to go out and spend almost three times the price to be able to get these two minor, but essential, features, especially when the D3s still only records 720p.

At the moment, I'm debating my video future.

Do I continue to struggle with the D300s as merely a support camera for the EX1 with which I normally shoot?

Should I forget shooting on a DSLR entirely for now and just get the Letus Ultimate 35mm adapter so I can put my Nikon glass on the EX1?

Should I hold out and see what Nikon have to offer in the inevitable D400/D4 bodies?

Or do I just pick up a 5DMk2 & Nikon lens to EOS mount adapter and be done with it?

I'm thinking I'll just wait until the D400/D4 are released and see what they offer, but if Nikon can give me a D400 with 1080p, 24/25/30fps, full manual control and a live histogram, I'll take 2 please - if not, I'll probably be in the market for a couple of second hand 5DMk2 bodies and lens adapters.

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