Video quality in DSLRs has been fairly steady in its seven years or so on the scene. There have been minor jumps in cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III, but DSLRs have been largely eclipsed in image quality by mirrorless and new video-focused cinema cameras. Nikon, used to playing second-fiddle to Canon, is not going down without a fight, and their new batch of DSLRs is proof.
We had a chance to tinker around with Nikon's new flagship full-frame DSLR, the D810, and wanted to see if the video quality had been improved. The D800, which was released in 2012 around the same time as Canon's 5D Mark III, had decent levels of detail, but suffered from severe moire patterns littering the image. It was a deal-breaker. The D810 is a chance for Nikon to redeem themselves.
It's clear even from our casual testing that the D810 solves the problem of moire in finely patterned areas of the frame. In the video above, you can see in the panning shots against brick buildings that the difference is as clear as day. For good measure, we threw in a clip from the Canon 5D Mark III, and indeed, the D810 proved to be sharper.
Low light is another area the D810 is significantly better. At ISO 6400, you still get a fair amount of noise, but the chromatic splotchy colours of yore have been reduced, and the noise pattern has been tightened up a bit. In this department, its still no match for the DSLR video low-light king, the 5D Mark III, mostly because of the small pixel size of the D810's 36 megapixel sensor. The difference is actually pretty major, and if you routinely shoot in low light, it might turn you off completely.
In addition to the D810's improvements, Nikon has recently released the D750 — a smaller, lower res full-frame body, with extra nods to video shooters like a tilting rear display. We have yet to test the D750 ourselves, but our friend Andrew Reid over at EOSHD has put it through the ringer was very impressed. He claims that it exceeds the 5D Mark III in low light performance. That's a bold claim that would be a huge win for Nikon if true.
What this all means is that Nikon wants to be a serious option for videographers. Their prior image quality problems virtually eliminated them from contention. But their willingness to invest in clear improvements shows that they don't want to leave video as a a mere afterthought. Canon has shown minor improvements in their video quality over the years, with not much to speak of since the 5D Mark III. The new 7D Mark II was poised to change things, but it actually just inherited the improvements from the already well-worn 5D III.
The Nikon D750
Reasons to use a large and heavy DSLR for video are growing thin with mirrorless options like the Panasonic GH4 and Sony A7s, but there are still a great many who prefer traditional bodies, and for them Nikon's new batch of DSLRs are a great option.