I got this email from a reader and wanted to share it with everyone:
We wanted to find out for ourselves whether we could use the D90 as a digital film camera one can take seriously. In November 2008 we shot a test-trailer of our new feature film. The locations were a theater stage and an apartment. We shot on two full 8-hour days throughout which the camera was in use nonstop, almost... (see below).
Check this out to see the result:
We just finished the final clip (in FinalCut btw.) and have written a little review/report. Maybe you like to post it as it might help others to understand the problems and promises.
Impressions, memories and experience with taking the D90 serious as a digital-film-camera, starting with...
Oh dear, where do we start....
It has been posted several times before but has to be said again: it's a shame that a camera that can shoot photos in a satisfactory quality produces such a sub-standard video quality. The image is never really in focus; not ever. The noise is often close to unbearable and the compression artifacts (motion-jpeg) are ridiculous. The real problem is that there is no way to control any of the important image-relevant settings while the camera is in video mode, which is hardly more than an even more stripped down LiveView. While in video mode the D90 is always in a somewhat strange auto-adjust mode that seems to rely entirely on adjusting the gain. Aside from locking it one has absolutely no control. If one does lock it it won't change while shooting. If you don't lock it, the image changes from dark to light and back at will when an actor moves or opens his jacket or even just looks up. This locked setup can't be fine-tuned or entered manually or controlled in any way. But worst of all: it won't survive a camera-shutdown which brings us to...
After a certain period of time the D90 will shut down automatically (we were never able to figure out how long this time is), supposedly to save the sensor from overheating. There are two roads to a shutdown, one where there is a warning (a dramatic countdown: "Act faster! Time is running out!") and one where there is not ("Sorry guys, that was perfect but we just didn't get the ending. No, don't cry, you'll ruin your makeup"). Once the camera has shut down there is nothing to do but turn it off, let the actors pick there nose and wait. There's no indication how long you should wait, you just guess. Once you turn the camera back on all of your image related settings for the video-mode are gone forever; that means they cannot be brought back either...
There are smaller issues as well like pressing "OK" to start recording, not the trigger. This makes it impossible to use a remote. That might sound like not much off a problem, but if the camera is mounted on a crane sitting 4 meters above your head straight underneath a grand-piano and you have to climb a ladder to press "OK", wait till the whole construction stops bouncing, climb down just to find out that the damned thing just turned off the first three words that come to mind are most certainly "What the f***!".
The video mode is a stripped down LiveView; it won't record the image available in LiveView but cuts a chunk off the top and bottom.... how I love those tape stripes on my monitor that let me imagine what the image might actually look like. The video mode is a stripped down LiveView; it won't record the image available in LiveView but cuts a chunk off the top and bottom.... how I love those tape stripes on my monitor that let me imagine what the image might actually look like. The preview image on the monitor via HDMI looks terrible by the way... or shall I say shocking...
The limit for a single video-shot is 5 minutes. That requires a more traditional approach when recording scenes. You start recording, the actors start acting and when the scene is finished you stop recording, possibly repeating this a couple of times. With relatively inexperienced actors I prefer a different approach: let the camera run and improvise with the actors; eventually they forget that there is a camera running. That’s the idea. Unfortunately this isn't possible with the D90. This mysterious limit may be due to some tax or customs issues, as is being rumored. This sounds ridiculous. Someone buying a D90 should at least have the option to pay that "little extra-something" and be able to use the camera in the way they want. It appears that certain functions are disabled (although installed) simply because of the way in which the D90 is presented to customs, to fit it under a specific category.
There are also some issues with some lights causing moving wave distortions. But we could work around them by not using said lights. Under some circumstances that can be a real problem.
OK... a lot of bad things to say, but there's also the other side and so we come to...
Oh, the promise of this camera is so beautiful, to use photographic lenses in abundance. It is cheap and light and it has the potential to create photos that look just great. I wrote so many bad things about it, but I have to say I am still quite happy with the resulting clip. It almost lets me forget all the headache (possibly from shaking in disbelieve) and grieve it caused. Though a lot of HD-video-cams deliver a much better image-quality it is hard to match the artistic value of the videos you can produce.
There are certain issues and possibly missing features with the D90 that were heavily discussed in forums and that leads us to things...
WE DON'T CARE
1. It has a limited sound-capability. Well, you record sound separately, so this is a lesser point.
2. There is no autofocus. In actual practice you pull the focus manually anyway... and we were so happy about anything that we COULD adjust manually, seriously. It would have fitted perfectly in the overall image of the D90 if there were an autofocus that you couldn't turn off.
3. Jelly-Effect... wasn't an issue for us; you can work around it in our experience.
4. Only 24 fps... that's the way we wanted it.
I'd really like to ask the boys and girls that designed the D90 what they were smoking. What did we do to deserve this? How can they bring us that close to a dream come true and then slap our hands? Does Nikon have no intention of implementing anything into their cameras above and beyond this nightmare of crushed dreams, this non-functionality? Why even give us hope? OK, let’s cut out the melodramatic: Seriously: I like the result and if Nikon showed just a little bit of enthusiasm this could be the beginning of a revolution, no more, no less.
Have another look: