D90 Movie/Video mode in depth

Jul 21, 2008
A fellow over at DVXUser was a very very early adopter of the D90 and he's pretty much put it through its paces in regards to its video mode. He's what he's found out:

******************** Kholi's Massive Post on DVXUser.com Below********************

Like most equipment, from your blender to your laptop, understanding at least the basics will decrease a lot of frustration when using. My mission, to date, with the d90 has been just that: understanding how the D-movie mode works and what does, or does not, apply to the new feature brought to us by Nikon. Do not take my word as gospel, and please feel free to contribute and throw ideas back and forth between each other. This thread'll stay updated until there's no more to update.

Plenty of DVXusers, those who own the camera and do not yet, have contributed to findin' out more about this machine. We'll all continue to plod along to discover more. Hopefully, Nikon will offer some direct firmware upgrades to make our lives easier. Until then....

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The Lowdown on Nikon's D-Movie Mode:

Simply put, it's not what we (most of us DVXusers) expected it to be. We all wanted, or thought that the camera would include, manual controls similar to its DSLR half and even assumed that Nikon's press release on ISO ratings and such meant that we would be able to control, in moderate amounts, aspects of the camera's image acquisition.

We were wrong, but that's okay. What you do have control over:

....-- Manual Aperture: In Aperture Priority (A) mode or Full Manual Lenses
....-- Picture Controls: Sharpness, contrast, saturation, etc. It all applies
....-- Exposure Value (EV +/-) for quick and "dirty" adjustments.
....-- 720p or SD shooting modes
....-- Record! AT least this is manual right?

What youd do NOT have control over but you wish you did:

....-- *Seperate Manual ISO adjustment
....-- *Seperate Manual Shutter Adjustment

*Seperate -- Meaning that you can't adjust these two things independently, the camera does it for you. More details on this below.

So, it isn't the manual dream come true, by any means. You could very well say that the D-Movie mode was an afterthought, and that's okay. Because, the camera is a DSLR and not a dedicated video acquisition device.

Going along with it not being that, time to mention the 720p and Rolling Shutter:

Lackluster 720p and heartbreaking Rolling Shutter. The camera's 720p is subpar, producing jagged edges or anti-aliasing at corners and curves. The SD modes are even worse, making the option of shooting in anything less than 720p a bit pointless. To some, it's acceptable. To a lot of us it leaves much to be desired.

..............720p Raw Example: Train Footage

Rolling Shutter is enough to make you queasy. Whether it's bending a building in half during a pan or when a vehicle speeds by with a "gangsta lean", it's just not pretty in this application. It'll probably take more hurricane magic, the likes that are in the RED ONE, to minimize the skew to begin with so don't expect much out of it. Stabilization is a must, handheld isn't going to be your friend with this Camera. Glidecam, Monopod, even a Shoulder Mount setup out in front of the body will work. Otherwise, you're just going to have lots of jello in your footage.

..............Rolling Shutter Example: People Walking, Tripod (tamed example)

So, why would you even consider a Nikon D90 for anything serious?

A number of reasons. Let me tell you why I'm keepin' my d90:

....-- Inherent Interchangable Lens System: It's a DSLR. Changin' lenses is there from the get go. No 35mm Adapter required or wide angle adapters at all. Of course there's a certain limit to what you can attach to it, there's also a plethora of Nikon Mount lenses out there for you to play with.

....-- Inherent DOF and FOV Characteristics, and Sharpness: Again, no 35mm Adapter needed. No longer will people be fighting over Bokeh and Ground Glasses and all the silly things that come with 35mm Adapters. At least where the d90 and similar systems are concerned. It's now up to the user to choose wisely what glass will work for the project and what won't. As well, the glass (and admittedly the compression) is the only thing stoppin' anyone from a sharp or soft image. Choose your weapon. Razor Blade or a Butter Knife?

....-- Color Reproduction: Just look at the footage. Need I say more?

....-- Dynamic Range/ Latitude: The highlight handlin' on this camera is delicious. Not to mention that, here again-- despite the compression, the image holds up quite well when applyin' grades and corrections. It's quite simply a dream as far as Latitude goes, and I'll worry a lot less about blow outs because they're silky, unlike the harsh discolored blowouts of larger prosumer cameras.
..............Dynamic Range/Latitude Example: Fish Eye with a VW Golf (Overexposed in several areas, the highlights and detail still remain and blowouts are pleasant)

....-- Small Footprint: The size of a ten year old's foot. Try walkin' into a store with the smallest adapter combo (HV20 + Letus Mini) and stealin' some shots. I would be much more confident doin' it with something like the d90 over the look of the HV20+Adapter which draws lots of attention. And, you still get your DOF. Excellent.

....-- Great SD/Web/480p Content: I think it's totally acceptable as far as 480p goes. Some others might even think the 720p looks fine and, hey, each set'a eyes may see somethin' different. There are so many examples on the web of d90 footage now that we've learned how to manipulate the camera into being obedient that I think most people would be hard-pressed to say 480 isn't acceptable. If your final delivery is Standard Def? I say go for it.
..............720p Example: Flowers by stoiQa -- Speaks for itself. Vimeo's native display is about 480 (It's 360p actually), you can click the scale button to see it in Full 720 or download the clip then resize to 480 (853 x 480) at your leisure.

Alright, so what's the verdict?

The verdict is what you choose it to be. For a lot of people that are willing to jump through the hoops it's going to be the camera that allows them to make some really pretty pictures. Narrative, Documentary, Wedding, etc. Make your choice based on what those that allowed themselves to be cut on the bleedin' edge discovered. We did it for the community! Make your decision based on what you think and what you see. Don't let anyone else spend your money for you. That's my verdict, anyway.

Had enough? Then read on...

D-Movie Mode is?

Not really D-Movide "mode" at all. It's Live View Mode with a twist.

For the sake of assumin' that you've gotten your camera I'm going to skip going into detail on how you activate the D-movie mode, enable 720p, etc. and point you toward the E-Version of the manual: (manual link here)

For those who do not have the camera, here's a [very] short preface: To Activate D-Movie *mode you must press the LV (Live View) Button on the back of the camera, located on the right hand side just above the directional pad. This switches from Viewfinder to the LCD (which is glorious) on the back of the d90. From there, you press the OKAY button and you're all good to record.

Let's move on.

What does the Nikon d90 do once in Live View Mode?

Quite simply put? Whatever it wants until you tell it to stop. I'm not exaggeratin', either. The second that the camera moves from viewfinder to Live View it automatically begins adjusting the image to what IT thinks is an optimized image, not what you think is an optimized image. This mean it applies whatever ISO and Shutter it thinks is necessary, totally overriding what you, the user, thinks a pretty image looks like.

Well how do you control it?

There are two ways to stop the camera from being bad:

....1. AE-L (HOLD): By now you should know how to enable the AE-L (HOLD) function so
....that you only have to press it to stop the camera from misbehaving. Once you do this,
....the Auto Shutter and ISO adjustment stops, and you can no longer adjust anything.

....2. EV values (+/-): This does not completely stop the camera from doing what it
....wants, but curtails a lot of its behavior. Along with that...

.....--Exposure Value adjustment also adjusts the Shutter Speed along with ISO values. There is no definite measurement (as of now) as to what each value represents. The gyst is that negative values from -2.0 ~ -5.0 are higher shutter speeds (1/125 ~ 1/1000)
........and the positive values +.03 ~ +2.0 are slower shutter speeds (1/30 ~ 1/60). Depending on what the camera sees while these values are enabled is what it'll choose for the ISO. Example: I've set the camera at +1.0 and aimed it at a shadow. From there, the
........camera will automatically adjust ISO until I AE-L (HOLD) it down. ( note: I actually believe that, even after you adjust the Exposure Value, the camera STILL plays with the shutter on its own whim. )

After you've gotten to a place with the camera's auto-imaging that you feel comfortable with, once adjusting the Exposure Value, then you can lock it down or allow it to keep auto-adjustin' as it wishes. The choice is all yours.

( video example here )

But that sounds like a pain, can't you just adjust ISO and Shutter Speed Manually?

I had to list this question because, as much as we keep sayin' no, it doesn't quite sink in. So here it is again:


As of now, you cannot adjust ISO and SHUTTER manually. The closest you can get to it is the outlined EV (+/-) adjustment. Sorry folks. I hope that I'm wrong and just have been over-lookin' the proper way to do it, but my verdict is that you can't. Nikon, are you listening?

Well, what about the Aperture, how does that work?

That depends all on the type of lens you use. It'll dictate what Priority mode you shoot in as well AND becomes an extension of the Camera's behavior.

....-- Full Auto Aperture (AF-S included): Ones lacking a Manual Aperture ring are what I'm referrin' too and it's probably not the "proper" term. You get what I mean. If your lens is similar to the included kit lens, 18-105/3.5~DARK-AS-HELL, then your only manual options are zoom and focus. The aperture is controlled electronically. Using a lens like this allows you to utilize any of the shooting modes. You dictate aperture as normal and activate LV mode. If you're already in LV mode then you have to exit and re-enter before the adjustment takes place.

....-- Auto/Manual Aperture Lenses: Similar to the AF-S lenses but you have an Iris ring that can be locked for Auto Useage or unlocked for manual. With this lens you can electronically set the aperture/iris or unlock the ring and choose your own Aperture. This comes in handy and I'll go into detail as to why later. NOTE: Once you unlock the Aperture your Camera will throw an EE (error), that's fine. You can still record as normal. However, once you exit LV mode you must return the Iris to the Auto Lock so that the camera can "see" the lens. Otherwise, you cann't re-enter LV mode.
....-- Full Manual Aperture Lenses (Focus, Aperture, Zoom-- Non Electronic): No limitations and, in my opinion, the best way to go for D-Movie video usavge. You're limited to Manual Mode (M) when using Full Manual lenses and have a full range of iris values to use. This is, what I think, the best way to get the most mileage out of your d90's Video function.

A bit more information about Lenses: The Auto Lenses only allow you to increase the lens value to an F8/9. That means you cannot use an F22 or higher (lower) apreture setting for video. (Car3o was right about this one. I just realized it). This coincides with my reasoning behind completely Manual lenses being the best option for video usage. I'm pretty sure this is because beyond F8 the camera wouldn't be able to adjust itself, seein' as how the Live View mode behaves where the sensor is involved. All well and good. Moving on.

What do the Picture Controls offer?

Picture Control, o'course! Or, in a semi-detailed explaination, Picture Controls have preset "curves" (which you cannot modify without external software) assigned to them and beneath each PC you can adjust the image by. The Picture Controls are list as:

....[SD] Standard
....[NL] Neutral
....[VI] Vivid
....[MC] Monochrome
....[PT] Portrait
....[LS] Landscape

And, allow you to adjust the following details beneath each (aside from Monocrhome, which has a seperate set of values): Hue, Saturation, Contrast and Sharpness.

You can, and will, see the direct effect of each when you record your video.

Just a little more manual control which can, and will, go a long way once you understand what you want out of your image. I've also been informed that you can create custom curves (thanks ando) via external software to further increase the impact of the D90's dynamic range and sensor capabilities before processing. More on that another time.

NOTE: Increasing sharpness too much in-camera will result in a ghosting image. You may not see it in the LCD, once you transfer your footage you'll see black lines and shadows following your objects. Beware of oversharpening your footage in-camera. Do it in post or use sharper lenses in the beginning.

(black and white video here)
(contrast adjustment video here)
(Sharpness Ghosting Video Here)

So, after a brief overview of the manual controls that you do have at your disposal, Manual Aperture, Picture Controls, and Exposure Value adjustments, you go and shoot some video and you still can't get around the high ISO grain? Even in Daylit situations?

It's time to boss the D90 around and force it to hand over some clean, low-ISO imagery... ready?

DISCLAIMER (9:28 PM PACIFIC) -- THIS WILL NOT BE THE ONLY WAY TO ACHIEVE A CLEAN IMAGE. You can do the same, or very similar, by using a manual lens and letting constantly locking and unlocking the camera, by eye, until you see something you like. This 'method' that I'm outlining, which is brief, is how I've gotten repeated and constant results. Please, do not be discouraged to post your findings. The post beneath this one is specifically for that reason, so that I can add your thoughts and methods to the beginning of this thread for everyone else to see.

Alright, stop wastin' my time! Tell me how to get a cleaner image!

After all of that readin' you're gonna be dissapointed with me.

The ONLY thing you need to get a great image is a manual lens, a constant and variable light source and an understandin' (semblance of) what the heck the Camera wants to do and what YOU want it to do; basically what I briefly outlined in the last pair of posts.

That's it. That's all. No matter what method you use, the key ingredient to repeatable results will be a Manual Lens.

After you're done being mad at me, strap on a Nikon Nikkor 50/1.4 (or Similar) and try this:

....1. Without turning on LV mode, set the camera in Manual Mode.
....2. Turn on AE-L (LOCK), you can check by peerin' into the viewfinder
....3. Close your Iris down to an f5.6 ~ 8
....4. Aim the camera at a wall or surface that's brightly lit. It should not be blown out, but bright. ....I would say just about sixty-percent (60%) Exposed or a little more.
....5. Activate LV mode.
....6. Open the Iris to a 2.8 or 1.4 and check the cleanliness. Not to mention the 1/30 ~ 1/60th shutter. Mmmmm. Delightful.

If you did this right, you should be able to point the camera at an underexposed area (little shadow, etc) with the lens wide open and see very little to NO noise at all. If I had to guess, this is ISO 200 ~ 320.

What just happened!? OMG CLEAN

You just told the Camera what the perfect exposure for your shooting scenario was. And, because it was already AE-L (LOCK)'d before you switched over to LV, it didn't have time to backtalk you.

Here's the breakdown.

....1. You told the camera that, at f5.6, this certain amount is what I want to be exposed perfectly.
....2. The Camera, because it was AE-L (LOCK)'d prior to, doesn't have more than a second to look at the wall and adjust the shutter speed before the AE-L kicks in and denies it a chance to move the ISO higher. This is my theory. I would like others to look at it and tell me if what I'm seeing is true. I have a reason for not being sure about that I outline in the next section: how to get slightly Higher ISOs.
....3. By using a Manual lens, you do NOT have to switch out of LV mode and ruin that exposure or ISO setting. You can now open the Iris up or close it however you see fit.

And there you have it. A Clean D90 Video Image.

Wait! Wait! What about EV (+/-) values!?

They don't matter. Try it for yourself. No matter which you set it at the result is always the same. The EV step only seems to matter if you plan on lettin' the camera do the walkin' and talkin' for ya. If anyone else trying this method sees differently please post so that I can see what you're seein'. I want to make sure that the info is out there and, even if it's not a total understandin' (blame it on Nikon's d90 Manual) at least it's SOMETHING.

To me it looks like this: The EV just does not matter unless you don't care what ISO you're at. The being locked before it can think beyond Shutter Changin' negates the effects of the EV Step.

That's it, people. Go try it for yourself. And, next, I'm going to lay out how to adjust your shutter "pseudo-manually" through the manual aperture, how to get the camera into slightly higher ISO ratings for when you need them without jacking the auto ISO up to the 800's and beyond and theorize on ways to do this on set and in a repeatable fashion.
Mar 4, 2005
Los Angeles, USA
I'm tempted to buy one for work. But man, this will up my work flow with having to do video, but it is mighty tempting to be able to do two jobs with one tool. I might sell one of my D2X bodies for this sucker!
Jul 21, 2008
I'm tempted to buy one for work. But man, this will up my work flow with having to do video, but it is mighty tempting to be able to do two jobs with one tool. I might sell one of my D2X bodies for this sucker!

Did you read through it all? The workflow on your computer is pretty straight forward, probably easier than tape based but the actual camera itself is a *****.
Mar 4, 2005
Los Angeles, USA
Did you read through it all? The workflow on your computer is pretty straight forward, probably easier than tape based but the actual camera itself is a *****.

I read your review, but for me to have to edit both photos and video, write a caption, edit and transmit via FTP is quite the workload for the working field photojournalist you know? :wink:

Though the potential to make extra money might sweeten the pot. :smile:
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