Nikon D5200: Studio and Documentary Footage

The Nikon D5200 is a budget DSLR (approx $700 body only) released to little fanfare earlier this year.  I’ve been using it for the last several months to shoot interviews for the Yahoo! original web series “The Girl’s Game”.  I have also been testing it a bit for run-and-gun documentary-style shooting.

I chose this cam mainly because it uses a new Toshiba APS-C sensor that somehow eliminates moire and aliasing while maintaining an very sharp 1080p image.  The camera only shoots 24mpbs h.264, but the results are on par with hacked GH2 footage in terms of sharpness and lack of macroblocking.  And it never overheats.


Additionally, it handles amazingly in low light.  So well, in fact, that it was able to see better in the dark than my eyes.  Equipped with an f/1.4 lens, the D5200 is practially a night vision scope.  For instance, in the video “The Fourth” (above), the night surfers were barely visible to my eye, yet bright as day to the D5200 with a Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 lens.  The suburban scenes after sunset were shot practically at night; they appear in the video to be about 2-3 times brighter than in reality.

My main caveat with this camera is the ugly, fixed noise pattern built into the sensor.  If you try to shoot flat (lowering contrast so you can add it back in post), you will notice shadow noise that looks like horizontal lines rather than random grain.  It sucks, but the camera is so sharp that you can apply noise reduction like Neat Video rather strongly and still retain detail in the image.  Then you can re-grain the footage if you wish with additional plug-ins like Gorilla Grain.

The fixed pattern noise is far less visible if you leave contrast at default when shooting.   My advice is to not shoot flat with this or any other 8-bit DSLR.

So here are my Pros and Cons of the Nikon D5200:


– Sharp 1080/24p image; no moire or aliasing

– Hardly any compression artifacts

– Excellent low light performance; can outperform human eye

– sharp, bright swivel LCD screen

– H.264 files are much easier to read than AVCHD

– doesn’t overheat

– Old Nikon lenses are cheap, plentiful, and universally compatible with most other brands

– Inexpensive


– Ugly noise pattern

– 20 minute record time limit

– 6op only at 720 resolution; much worse video quality

– Battery life sucks – barely 20 mins of recording per battery.  Battery grips are available 3rd party.

– no manual aperture adjustment while shooting.  If in Shutter Priority mode, it will still automatically adjust aperture.  Or you could just use old lenses with aperture rings.

– Not weather sealed


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Latest Comments
  1. Skip Hunt

    Curious… why did you shoot this with the Nikon instead of one of your Sony rigs?

    • Brandon Li

      I bought two D5200’s for interviews for the web series, so I was just playing around with them in the off-time. D5200 is definitely not as fun to carry around as the NEX-5n, but its image is unquestionably superior. It’s like the difference between 720p and 1080p.

      • Skip Hunt

        Interesting. The image quality you’ve been getting with your little Sony gear has been consistently very good, so I was surprised to see you using the Nikon. I’m in place where I want to get the best low-end gear for personal stuff, but either hire or rent for anything I need that’s exceeds that level of quality.

        How do you think the Pocket Cinema setup will stack up against your Nikon 5200?

        • Brandon Li

          I think the pocket cinema camera will have superior dynamic range (13 stops vs D5200’s 10-12 stops), similar sharpness, and much more flexibility in color grading, whether shooting Raw or ProRes. It won’t perform nearly as well in low light, however, and will likely have greater shadow noise across ISO’s because of its tiny senor. SpeedBooster is a big plus, even though it destroys the concept of the BMPCC as a Super 16mm camera.

          Ultimately the Pocket Cinema Camera is a good entry point for people wanting to play around with Raw, and it will be high enough quality to serve as a B or C cam on paid gigs. Now Blackmagic just needs to get their act together and actually ship the thing.

          • Skip Hunt

            Thanks for the info. You’re a very talented cinematographer and really “get” that it’s about communicating emotion and not so much about the gear. You do better with “low-end” gear than 80% of those with unlimited access to state of the art gear.

            I’m primarily a stills guy, but have a limited background in filmmaking. Haven’t done much with filmmaking for a good long while, but getting back into it. What I’m looking for is something inexpensive that packs a lot of punch for not much money for my personal stuff… but, if handled properly could be used for commercial gigs or short/indie films, etc.

            As mentioned, I’d rent or hire out for anything that had to be done with high-end gear, but want something for personal stuff & low-end commercial use. I’m a Nikon person at the moment, in that my stills gear is mostly Nikon. Was planning on getting the Pocket Cinema Cam to fill the stated video needs. However, that 5200 may be a better choice. I don’t care about RAW or having to deal with all the extra storage, etc.

            Just watched the indie film Upstream Color. Which was shot entirely with a hacked GH2. Much of the footage was shot using that same Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 you mention. Was planning on picking up one of those too, but your link goes to an f1.5 with follow focus or something.

            (Rokinon CV85M-N 85mm t/1.5 Aspherical Lens for Nikon with De-Clicked Aperture and Follow Focus Compatibility Fixed Lens).

            Not the f/1.4. Was that an error? Or did you get the f1.5 CV85M-N? It’s about $100 more than the f/1.4 and wondering if it’s worth it.

          • Brandon Li

            For your purposes, I think the D5200 is the perfect camera. It’s better than a hacked GH2 in terms of image quality in most respects and has much better low light sensitivity. It really looks pro straight out of the box, standard mode, all image settings at default.

            The Pocket Cinema Camera would be a headache for your purposes and wouldn’t give you a much better final product if you’re not looking to delve into the time-consuming Raw workflow.

            The Rokinon t/1.5 is the same lens as the f/1.4 but has different gearings on it. It’s made so that you can attach it to a follow focus, and its aperture is declicked for smooth transfer between f-stops. This version of the lens is a better choice for videographers.

  2. Adrian Neely

    Glad to see you posting again. I’m sure you’re busy but you’re the one who made me stop complaining and just go out and shoot. Seeing the shorts you put together with the 5n made me want to get one. I’ve looked at the D5200 as well but I want a smaller form factor. I already have a hacked GH2.

  3. Skip Hunt

    Thanks for taking the time! Very helpful. Didn’t know anything about the 5200 and it does look like it fits the bill… your work with it proves that. Not in a huge rush for something immediately, so might wait and see if the rumored D400 is announced and what the Pocket Cinema camera reveals if it actually gets delivered on time.

    Enjoy your blog and check for updates regularly. 🙂

  4. jt

    Did you do any color grading for “the fourth”?

    What lens did you use for the Yahoo web series?

    • Brandon Li

      Hey JT,

      I did no color grading on “The Fourth”. Picture style was Standard, everything at 0. For “The Fourth” and the Yahoo series, I used the Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 lens. Additionally, I used an old Nikon AI 50mm f/1.4 for wider shots for the Yahoo interviews.

  5. patruck

    Im curious what your picture style settins were. How far down did you adjust in camera sharpening?

    • Brandon Li

      Standard, everything at 0. I may have dialed down sharpening to minimum; can’t remember. But regardless, the camera has no moire or aliasing issues, so there’s no need to reduce sharpness in-camera.

  6. Michael DRFilms

    Just a technical clarification… AVCHD IS h.264 the only thing different is it’s in a folder structure with additional files to allow spanning so no record time limit (if manufacturer allows). I see absolutely NO difference editing the D5200 files with files from my AVCHD cameras (GH2, GH3.. etc).. They are the same.

    • Brandon Li

      While AVCHD and H.264 are technically the same, many people have trouble playing back AVCHD on their computers because video players don’t handle it too well. And some NLE’s make you jump through hoops to record it. H.264 is well-supported across all platforms, however. So I prefer H.264 for the sheer convenience factor.

  7. Oliver

    “The Fourth” is fantastic work, brilliantly shot and paced.

    I’m particularly interested in your post, because I also have the NEX-5N + Nikon Ai-s glass combo, but I get frustrated with the ergonomics of adapter+glass on the tiny 5N body, as well as over-heating, occasional (but lethal) moire, and having to do dual system sound, so the D5200 could be a great upgrade for me.

    I wanted to ask you about the fixed pattern noise issue that you mention. Quite a few people talk about it on the forums, some even returning the D5200 because of it. But you reckon it’s not a deal-breaker? (the alternative for me could be a Panasonic G6 + Nikon F-mount adaptor, but that wouldn’t really improve the ergonomics over the 5N)

    In “the Fourth”, the fireworks shots look fantastic, not noisy at all, so I guess there’s quite a bit of noise reduction on those shots? (I know how hard it is to shoot fireworks, I shot some a few weeks ago with the 5N and a 1/2.8 Ai-s and it’s awful, completely unusable. I guess 2.8 ain’t fast enough).

    But I can see some kind of noise in the twilight shots, eg in the grass behind the rabbit, and on the road in the shot immediately following. Is that the FPN? Is it Vimeo compression screwing up Gorilla Grain? Do you know what ISO those shots were? Sorry to bombard you with specific gear-related questions. It’s a fantastic piece (I’m not criticising), the noise is only something you see if you specifically go looking for it.


    • Brandon Li

      Hi Oliver, thanks for your feedback. What you’re watching in The Fourth is actually completely raw footage. I didn’t do any de-noising or re-graining at all with the D5200. Remember that H.264 web compression will cover up some video noise because it reduces overall shadow detail in shots.

      I have been playing around with Neat Video’s noise reduction on D5200 footage, however, and I’ve discovered that I can 100% eliminate noise while retaining sharp detail in the shot. So I can shoot ISO 6400 and get a clean image in post. The same cannot be said for the NEX-5n because the compression artifacts mush away the fine grain structure (plus it only goes to ISO 3200), and Neat Video basically has no detail to retain after eliminating noise. The video becomes unwatchably soft.

      So I’d say the Nikon D5200 is totally usable in spite of its FPN. It’s a brilliant-looking camera and will serve you much better in low light than the G6. I also vastly prefer the aesthetics of a S35mm sensor to Micro 43.

      • Oliver

        Wow I didn’t realise that it’s out of camera, I assumed the night time shots had been denoised. That’s really impressive. I guess that out of all the video artefacts (jello, moire etc), noise is the easiest to deal with. I just wish Neat Video ran a bit quicker on my macbook air.

        • Brandon Li

          Macbook Air is probably not the best choice for any intensive editing. That said, you could always just leave the denoising until the final step and let it render while you’re away from the computer.

  8. Raphael

    Hi Brandon,

    Any advice on how you’d set up the Panasonic GH3? I’d like to set a default profile and know how much I should desaturate / reduce contrast on the picture.


    • Brandon Li

      Hi Raphael,

      Unfortunately I’ve never used the GH3. From other people’s experience, though, it seems that standard picture with everything dialed to -5 is the preference for footage that you will be color grading later.

  9. Tero Syvaniemi

    Nice work as allways 🙂
    Heres music video i did shoot with nikon D5200

    • Brandon Li

      Beautiful shots! Very rich color. Great job.

  10. dana

    Hi Brandon, I’m a fan. You hooked me with “Viva” , now I want to be young again, and that girl was amazing, you lucky dog. “fourth was brilliant too. You might be my new favorite video artist. I use a gh2 and also a sony hx9v, cuts perfect with the gh2. I will continue to watch and learn. thank you for sharing your talent. Take care. Dana

    • Brandon Li

      So glad you enjoy my work! Gh2 and Hx9v are a great combo. Please continue reading and watching! Lots more cool tips to come.

  11. Nelson

    Only 20 minutes per video per battery seems rather short? I thought it should get at least 60minute?

    • Brandon Li

      In a combination of record and standby mode you might get an hour, but with constant shooting, the batteries do not last very long at all. I would recommend a battery grip, or rigging some kind of customized external battery.

  12. Skip Hunt

    Hey Brandon, I’ve seen your postings on eoshd, etc about the ugly fpn etc. with the 5200. Are you still a fan of this camera? After watching philip blooms experience with the pocket cinema cam, I really don’t want to bother with all the extra hassles & gear you need, nor large raw storage, etc.

    Was waiting for the rumored D400 to see what Nikon offers next for video, but I’m thinking for my use, the low cost of the 5200 & the image quality I’ve seen in low light is impressive enough for me to just get one now & upgrade later when/if a D400 comes out.

    The only things that are troubling is 1. all the mention of fixed pattern noise being a problem (though all the footage I’ve seen online looks good) 2. Complaints about not being able to adjust aperture while shooting (can’t you just adjust aperture while shooting with a manual lens?) 3. No 60p (but I’ve got a GoPro Hero 3 Black Ed. that does nice slowmo in the rare case I’d need it)

    I’m all about not buying into hype or buying more gear than you really need since it all goes obsolete so quickly. And since I’m not shooting paid gigs with it, or if I did they’d be low budget local tv spots… that the 5200 would really suffice just fine for arty projects, short films, etc.

    Has your opinion of the 5200 changed at all?

    • Brandon Li

      Hey Skip,

      For my needs the D5200 is fine right now. There is no manual iris adjustment via control dial while shooting, but if you set everything to auto it will adjust aperture on its own. Also, if you use an all-manual lens you can just turn the aperture dial. The FPN is a trickier issue. You don’t see it in the online videos because it’s mostly disguised by the additional compression added by Vimeo and Youtube. In the original footage, if you look closely, all shadow detail (even ISO 100) exhibits some degree of FPN. It looks ugly because it doesn’t have the random, film-like grain structure of the GH2/3 or the RX100. I’ve been able to eliminate most of it with Neat Video Noise Reduction, but it does cost a bit of sharpness. However, if your video’s final destination is web, you don’t really need to worry too much about the noise being apparent.

      Regarding the D400, I would advise against putting your ideas on hold because you’re waiting for a camera to exist. The D5200 is old enough now that you might be able to get one used. Then, if/when the D400 comes out, you could re-sell your D5200 for almost exactly what you paid. Just get a camera and start shooting – much more fun that way.

      • Skip Hunt

        Yeah, I agree completely with what you’re saying. I’m not really the sort that puts things on hold for gear. I have not been waiting for anything… I’ve just been traveling by motorcycle, and bus, etc. for the better part of the last 3 months and haven’t needed anything yet.

        The waiting for the D400 has been because I’m nearly due for a still camera upgrade (still using the d300 which is actually just fine for my needs to be honest) If the d400 had radically amazing video AND was a significant upgrade for my still work, I’d kill 2 birds with one stone and would likely be set for the next couple of years easily.

        The only reason I’m considering the 5200 is because the video I’ve seen you and other’s produce with it looks stellar for the cost. I’ve seen TV spots shot with it that also look very good. My d300 will hold me over just fine for another year, but I want video without having to invest in a new system… or an investment that won’t pay for itself before the camera is obsolete 😉

        I’d planned on getting a GH3, but don’t really want to dive into the mft pool at the moment. The 5200 is cheap, gets me good video now, and appears to be good enough for low budget TV and short films if shot properly.

        I know you mentioned 5200 the noise gets hidden by online compression (read your post on eoshd) but what I’d like to know is if I’m not going to the web, ie. a local HD TV spot… is the fixed pattern noise easy to get rid of with software? I know you said you take a sharpness hit, but the 5200 looks like it can be sharp enough to take the hit.

        Thinking I’ll just get one this weekend. Just figured I’d ask if you’ve changed your mind about it since I last asked before I pull the trigger, ie. did you discover anything else that made you regret the purchase.

        I know very well that it’s not so much about the gear. I’ve seen amazing stuff created with nothing more than an iPhone or flip video camera, RX100. I’ve also seen incredibly stale/boring content created with a Alexa/RED, et al.

  13. Steeveraj

    Hai , Bro
    Actually I am trying to buy a DSLR camera this week, for Video purpose. Which one is better? canon 60 D with ML or Nikon D 5200

    • Brandon Li

      Hi, The D5200 is better unless you want to shoot raw video. Raw on the 60D looks amazing.

  14. David

    Hey Brandon, thanks for sharing your technical experience with the Nikon D5200. I was wondering if you would avoid the new flat picture profile with the D810? You may not have worked with that camera but would you use the standard profile for the same reasons you did with the D5200.
    Very nice work on “The Fourth” piece.

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