City Lights: 'Joy Ride' Tests the Nikon D800’s Video Functionality
To show off the HD capabilities of its new D800 DSLR camera, Nikon produced the short film “Joy Ride,” which was directed by the high-end still shooter who goes by the moniker of Sandro and shot by cinematographer Anthony Arendt. Shot in low-light conditions, the film captures a motorcyclist riding through Chicago at night—through tunnels, down dark alleys, and finally to a climactic scene inside a hospital. The film makes use of the mixed palette of available light on the streets—even candlelight in some shots.
Arendt, who’s done second unit cinematography on major studio features including Larry Crowne and operated virtual camera for portions of Avatar, does a lot of his cinematography on smaller spots and music videos, and in that capacity he’s become very familiar with using DSLRs.
Though he’s been a fan of Nikon still cameras since he become interested in photography as a teenager, he’d always used Canons to shoot HDSLR video. “I don’t think it’s a secret that Nikon has been a little bit behind on the video aspect of their cameras,” he says.
But he says the D800 has made him rethink his preferences. “We shot a lot of ‘Joy Ride’ at ISO 1600, and I found very little noise or artifacts in the images,” he reports.
The shoot had eight cameras to work with and a wide assortment of Nikon glass—Arendt and Sandro could just grab a body and start shooting. Other cameras were mounted to the motorcycle or, for certain shots, built onto a Steadicam rig.
“We always had one body configured with the 400mm lens,” he continues. “We also used a lot of the new f/1.4 primes—the 24, 35, 50 and 85. The new coatings on these lenses are really nice.” They carried remote follow focus rigs, but, Arendt notes, “I really prefer if I can get away without follow focus, and 99 percent of the time I can.”
Where possible, he set the shutter speed at 50 fps to lend a traditional film-like look to the images, but he took advantage of the ability to go to 1/60th or even 1/100th to compensate for some flicker effects that came from sodium vapor street lamps. Then, for the climactic sequence in the hospital, he says, “we increased to 1/100th to heighten the feeling of urgency.”
Cameras and memory cards were tracked with number- and color-coded systems.
While the D800’s HDMI-out function allows the user to send a signal clear of viewfinder overlays to external recorders such as an Atomos Ninja, the “Joy Ride” team opted to record in H.264 to memory cards.
Some DSLR shooters strongly advocate shooting as flat an image as possible (even to the extent of applying a flattening pseudo-log curve file) to enhance grading options later; others are equally insistent on building the look in camera—treating DSLR material like reversal film. Arendt falls right in the middle in his approach. “I do set the controls to get a somewhat flat look to help with latitude and to preserve information, but I don’t want to flatten it out too much. I want to make sure I capture enough color and texture when I shoot. It’s such a [compressed] file, and it’s actually very difficult if you flatten it out too much to put that information back.”
But he did make use of the HDMI-out port (with its full-resolution image) to get a very clean video signal on the SmallHD monitors he mounted to most of the D800 bodies. “I really like that you can use an external monitor and the LCD on the camera at the same time,” he says, noting that he’s used other DSLRs that make you choose. “I like the LCD on the camera—I think it’s the truest way of seeing color temperature and exposure—but the external monitor is great for seeing focus. So I like having both on at the same time.”
Arendt says the proof is in the footage, and he was very pleased with the material, shot mostly at ISO 800 and 1600. “You can have the issue of rolling shutter with all CMOS sensors,” he says, “but I barely saw any of that at all with these cameras, and we had shots from bikes going down bumpy city roads at 120 miles per hour. I’ve done shots like this on other shows where we’ve had to either get the shot another way or just decide to use the rolling shutter effect creatively, but I haven’t had an experience with a CMOS camera on a shoot like this where you just don’t see rolling shutter problems.”
The cinematographer says that his experience on “Joy Ride” has made him reconsider Nikon for his DSLR work. “As far as I’m concerned, Nikon has put itself right in the middle of the fray now. They’re not behind the curve anymore.”