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:

PROS:

– 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

CONS:

– 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