Setting a new standard for the use of HD-SLRs in professional video production, “Wilfred” is currently the only television series on any major network to shoot exclusively on HD-SLRs. Captivated by the D800’s unique feature set, and a love of Nikon glass, the series’ director and executive producer, Randall Einhorn, immediately recognized the camera’s potential and spearheaded the use of the HD-SLR as its versatility, dynamic range and low-light performance set it apart from those previously employed by the production team. Additionally, director of photography (DP) Jeffrey Jur, ASC, is using the Nikon D800 extensively for “Dexter,” deploying it alongside powerhouse cinema cameras. For the current season, the D800 has served as the C and D bodies on main unit and main camera on second unit.
“This is an exciting time for all of Nikon,” said Sharon Henley, senior manager of marketing, Nikon Inc. “The D800 was built with the needs of these professionals in mind and we are truly humbled by the overwhelmingly positive reception the camera has received. This is a true testament to the capabilities of this camera and we’re looking forward to learning more about the new and interesting ways it is being used in the field.”
Nikon D800 and “Wilfred”
To depict the state of ethereal consciousness the audience encounters during the comical misadventures of the main characters in “Wilfred,” a unique approach to cinematography was needed. Director and executive producer, Randall Einhorn, and his crew rose to the challenge with an all HD-SLR workflow, using all NIKKOR lenses and the Nikon D800 exclusively for the second part of the season. “We switched over to the D800 as soon as they became available,” said Einhorn. “We have a lot of footage that has to have a surreal feel. We want a dramatic depth of field that matches the dreamy parallel of the characters’ minds in any given scene. Ultimately this is what drove us to HD-SLRs.”
“As soon as we saw the specs behind the D800 we immediately wanted to get our hands on one,” said Tim Arasheben, camera operator on FX’s “Wilfred.” “After putting it to the test, it was everything and more we thought it would be on set and made the switch right away.”
The Nikon D800 offers filmmakers a number of advantages, and to capitalize on all that the camera had to offer, the crew turned to the Cinoflex Camera System which was developed by T M Camera Solutions, LLC. By developing a custom Nikon adaptor base, the crew was able to utilize the brand new Cinoflex and make the Nikon D800 set ready, ensuring nodal positioning and adherence to industry standard lens height for familiar operation and utilization of all existing accessories.
“Instead of using the HDMI out to record to an off-board recorder, we leveraged the HDMI out to feed clean video images to everyone on set,” added Arasheben. “The Cinoflex Camera System provides a strong anchor point that allowed us to relocate the D800’s HDMI out to the aluminum chassis, where the signal was converted to HD/SDI BNC and inserted directly into the HD/SDI input on the Cinoflex. Using the Cinoflex’s four isolated HD/SDI outputs, we then gave the director, camera assistant, DP and camera operator a view of exactly what was being shot.”
“With the Cinoflex Camera System, using the D800 was just so easy,” added Einhorn. “I may have been hesitant at first about adding a new HD-SLR into the mix, but the Cinoflex made the transition completely seamless and it helped every aspect of our shooting demands on set.”
“Wilfred’s” production team also noted other advantages of the D800 workflow, including the ability for the camera to shoot in 1.5x and 5:4 crop modes for a telephoto boost and enhanced depth and also the uncompressed HDMI output for monitoring or porting to an external recorder. Additionally, the D800’s wide dynamic range for video and still capture combined with a wide ISO range create a winning combination for any production.
“ISO performance is an important factor to consider; however, it ultimately comes down to how well a camera can handle the black detail in a scene, something which we feel is commonly overlooked by camera manufactures today,” said Arasheben. “With the D800, we were blown away. The way the D800 handled the black detail was simply incredible and was enormously important to us. Our set has very dissected and specific lighting, and if a camera cannot truly represent the black levels, that’s a problem, especially as considerable resources are then required to correct the footage in post. This is an issue we never had to worry about with the D800.”
The Nikon D800 and “Dexter”
Thanks to the flexibility offered by the D800, the production crew for Showtime’s “Dexter” has been able to seamlessly integrate the camera with their current setup created to meet the challenges of presenting the audience with the stark contrast of scenes ranging from gritty darkness to the bright Miami Sun. Custom rigging using the ARRI Pro series of HD-SLR accessories offers operators a familiar feel when shooting with the D800 and by creating a specific look for the cameras, post production has been able to simply drop footage in with minimal effort - a substantial time savings especially when using multiple cameras on one shoot.
“Our DP and I were sitting in the final color correction for season 7, episode 1 of ”Dexter” and a scene comes up that neither of us remember shooting – it was a scene that our second unit shot with the D800,” said Eric Fletcher, SOC, camera operator. “It was seamless and totally indistinguishable from our main cameras’ first unit footage. It was a night exterior shot at a gas station, with deep blacks and the gas station lights in the frame. The D800 captured the full dynamic range of the scene and it looked amazing. Post production says at this point, they can’t tell the difference when a D800 shot comes up.”
NIKKOR Lenses and the D800 – A True Cinematic Experience
An unmistakable passion for NIKKOR lenses exists throughout the professional video production and filmmaking community. Similar to the devotion exhibited by Nikon still photographers, this community has long been drawn to the unique qualities of these lenses and the indistinguishable look they provide. With the arrival of the Nikon D800, these users can now combine the versatility of the NIKKOR family of lenses with an HD-SLR they were intended for, to unlock their true creative potential and experience the utmost flexibility on set.
“Our industry knows NIKKOR and there is such an appeal with the brand’s older glass,” added Fletcher. “The quality and look is awesome, and for a long time, many have developed custom mounts to be able to use these lenses on non F-mount bodies. When the D800 was announced, I couldn’t have been more thrilled or eager to get it on set as I would finally be able to pair all of my old glass with a DSLR boasting such high-level video performance. As a professional camera operator who happens to be a Nikon still shooter, the D800 is the camera I’ve been waiting a long time for.”
“We have always been a Nikon lens show, even when we had cameras with other mounts,” added Arasheben. “The first time the director and I met about the show, I came with a wide range of NIKKOR glass, including all the classic AI-S lenses. We loved the character of the lenses, their craftsmanship and focus performance. Our assistants can pull focus so accurately with the NIKKOR AI-S glass – it’s amazing.”
Einhorn adds, “The quality and inherent character of the classic NIKKOR glass helps produce a look that’s just so attractive to the viewer’s eye – there’s nothing else like it.”
The Nikon D800 has a compact and lightweight form factor that’s preferable for a production environment, yet is packed with practical and functional features optimized for professional video applications. The D800 is ideal whether the user is a filmmaker on location or in the studio or a documentarian in the field who requires portability and the NIKKOR lens versatility and depth of filed that only a HD-SLR can offer. Offering Nikon’s highest resolution sensor yet, a 36.3-megapixel FX-format (35.9 x 24mm) CMOS, filmmakers have countless options at their fingertips when it comes to shooting. The D800 offers full HD at 30/25/24p and HD 720 at 60/50/30p and records using the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC format. The optimized CMOS sensor reads image data at astoundingly fast rates, which results in less instances of rolling shutter distortion. The high‑resolution sensor also enables incredible low-light video capability with minimal noise. Users are also able to have full manual control of exposure, and can also adjust the camera’s power aperture setting in live view for an accurate representation of the depth of field in a scene.
For professional and broadcast applications that call for outboard digital recorders or external monitors, users can stream an uncompressed full HD signal directly out of the camera via the HDMI port (8 bit, 4:2:2). This output signal can be ported into a display or digital recording device or routed through a monitor and then to the recording device, eliminating the need for multiple connections. This image can also be simultaneously viewed on both the camera’s LCD and an external monitor, while eliminating on-screen camera status data for streaming purposes.
Nikon, At the Heart of the Image™. Nikon Inc. is the world leader in digital imaging, precision optics and photo imaging technology and is globally recognized for setting new standards in product design and performance for its award-winning consumer and professional photographic equipment. Nikon Inc. distributes consumer and professional digital SLR cameras, NIKKOR® optics, Speedlights and system accessories; Nikon COOLPIX® compact digital cameras; 35mm film SLR cameras; Nikon software products and Nikon sports and recreational optics as well as the new Nikon 1 advanced camera with interchangeable lens system. In 2012, production of NIKKOR lenses surpassed 70 million, creating a new milestone in Nikon’s heritage of superior optics. For more information, dial (800) NIKON-US or visit http://www.nikonusa.com, which links all levels of photographers to the Web's most comprehensive photo learning and sharing communities. Connect with Nikon and other photographers on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nikon and get the latest news and information from Twitter by following @NikonUSA.