Shooting video the Nikon way


One of the biggest advantages of shooting video with a DSLR camera is the great lens selection available to shoot with. Each lens has its own unique set of qualities and characteristics that makes it perfect for a certain scene, and this inevitably prompts users to ask—what are the best lenses for shooting video?

This is a very common question among beginners and pros—basically anyone looking to finely hone the craft of constructing a scene will pay extra care to the lens selection to ensure what the camera sees matches their vision.
So, what we are trying to say is that there is no “best” when it comes to matching a look to your vision—you own that part of the equation, and should solve accordingly. However, we are able to give you a head start in solving this challenge by telling you what the most popular Nikon lenses for video are.

1. Prime Lenses
2. Zoom Lenses
3. Popular f/2.8 Zoom Lenses
3. Popular f/4 Zoom Lenses
4. Popular f/1.4 Prime Lenses
4. Popular f/1.8 Prime Lenses
5. Example Video Lens Pairings
6. Conclusion

Optimal Prime or Flexible Zoom:

Before we get into exact models, let’s first solve for one important factor: Primes or Zooms?
This is a question every filmmaker should first answer before going into the lens selection process. Advanced users may wish to skip ahead, but for those who are getting started and/or want a refresher, read on as we cover these two types of lenses:

  • Primes: lenses that are called “prime” are lenses with fixed focal lengths. In simple terms, this means when you use a prime, you can’t zoom in or out—you’re stuck with one view. This may seem like a disadvantage, but in fact what it allows is for optics that are perfectly crafted for that one focal length, and therefore it is well understood that Prime lenses typically have superior performance because of that. In addition, prime lenses typically have lower f/stop numbers or maximum apertures, which means that they can allow more light to hit the sensor, which ultimately allows for more creative control over your video; that can mean better control over the light in the scene as well as control over the depth of field for that dreamy shallow depth of field (bokeh) look. “Prime” lenses are often referred to as “Fixed Focal Length” lenses—this is due to the “fixed” or static nature of their optics.
  • Zooms: zoom lenses are lenses that allow for zooming from one focal length to another. For example, a lens that has a 24-70mm focal length range means that it can zoom from 24mm up to 70mm. These zoom lenses are sometimes referred to as “Variable Focal Length” lenses, which is a more descriptive title for what these lenses do—they allow the focal length to “vary” as you zoom in. Though zoom lenses usually cannot achieve f/stop numbers as low as prime lenses, professional grade zoom lenses can usually go as low as f/2.8, which means quite a lot of light is hitting the sensor, giving you a great amount of control over depth of field. Of course professional zoom lenses are also optimized for the range that they cover so that image quality is pristine as you zoom in and out—the advantage of the zoom is obvious, it acts as many lenses in one. To cover all the focal lengths in a zoom lens, you would need many prime lenses, which you may not be able to have with you while you are shooting—a zoom lens also means you don’t have to stop shooting to change lenses. One last quick tip regarding zoom lenses—you can calculate how many times a zoom lens zooms by dividing the longer focal length listed on the lens by the shorter focal length. A 24-70mm lens would then become 70/24 = ~3x. This means the multiplier is 3x—the higher the multiplier doesn’t necessarily mean you have a better lens, simply one that has a longer zoom capability from its base focal length.
Popular Glass:

The most popular lenses for video won’t surprise any seasoned filmmaker or even photographers for that matter, they are the most popular and desired lenses for these applications because of their superior optics and unique perspectives:

Zooms:
  • AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED — The NIKKOR 14-24mm is renowned as one of the sharpest lenses on the market today. The focal range of 14-24mm means you get a very wide angle of coverage while maintaining incredible sharpness across the frame. This lens is a favorite of DPs and filmmakers both in Hollywood and in the Indie scene because of its superior sharpness and unique focal length range paired with the f/2.8 aperture, which allows for more light and depth of field control.
  • AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED — With a traditional focal length range of 24-70mm, the NIKKOR 24-70mm lens is a favorite for filmmakers shooting everything from feature films to run and gun style. Its versatile range means you can easily go from shooting a wide scene, such as an interview to grabbing B-Roll. The f/2.8 aperture again means you have the flexibility of controlling light and depth of field in your scenes.
  • AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II — A long time favorite of professional photographers, and quickly becoming a must in the filmmaker’s bag, the NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8 lens completes the trio of f/2.8 lenses that enable you to go from 14mm all the way to 200mm with a fixed f/2.8 aperture. The 70-200mm is used extensively for its ability to compress the background and create beautiful separation between subjects and the background, which can both flatter and create a sense of intimacy with the subject. The VR (Vibration Reduction) system of this lens means you can get steadier video—this becomes an important consideration when shooting run and gun style, or just shooting on the go.

These 3 zoom lenses are the most coveted zoom lenses in Nikon’s lineup, largely because of their f/2.8 aperture; however, these professional lenses do come at a higher price, and for those working with a smaller budget, or who simply don’t plan to shoot in low-light situations and don’t need the shallow depth of field (bokeh) of a 2.8 lens, here are the f/4 lenses that would be perfect alternatives:

  • AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR — the 16-35mm covers a really great focal length range from super wide to wide; paired up with the other lenses on this f/4 list, this lens will really add to your production level by giving you great flexibility to get the wider shots for a variation of scenes.
  • AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR — great focal length range and zoom flexibility have made this a favorite lens to shoot video on DSLR cameras. This lens continues the 16-35mm range with a good overlap, meaning that if you find yourself not needing to shoot super wide shots, you will love this lens as a general walk-around lens. The f/4 aperture means you can still let in a lot of light to get the shots you need in normal shooting situations, while being able to zoom up to 5X from 24mm all the way up to 120mm. If you are shooting in scenes that have little light, the 24-70mm f/2.8 may be a better pick to maximize the amount of light hitting the sensor, but value-wise, the 24-120mm stands as a top pick for an all around great video lens to pair up with your DSLR camera.
  • AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR — once again, the 70-200mm focal length range is highly desirable by photographers and videographers alike. The difference with this lens is its superior VR assembly, which means you will get the latest generation of image stabilization, which in turn means steady video even when handholding your camera at 200mm. This is an f/4 lens. Practically speaking, the f/2.8 lets in twice as much light at f/2.8 than the f/4; but, if you are not planning on pushing the lens to f/2.8 and have enough light in the scene, this lens becomes an absolutely great lens to add to your kit—it is much lighter, with powerful VR and at significantly lower cost than the f/2.8 version.
Primes:

 

  • AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED — with its wide-angle focal length, the NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4 lens is one of the primes most requested on set. The f/1.4 gives extraordinary control over depth of field and light and makes this (as well as all primes listed below with an f/1.4 aperture) a perfect choice for low light scenes.
  • AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G — the NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4 lens continues the focal length range coverage that the 24mm started and bridges the gap between the 24mm and the 50mm lenses.
  • AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G — the standard for both photographers and filmmakers—it is a commonly held belief that everyone should have a 50mm lens in their kit bag, and video is no exception. This 50mm lens has an f/1.4 aperture that enables further depth of field control. Its natural focal length makes it an all around great and compact lens for most shooting situations, from interviews to run and gun documentary style.
  • AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G — with a longer focal length than the standard 50mm, the NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4 pairs up an ability to render scenes beautifully without distorting points of light (making it perfect for night scenes) with a unique 58mm focal length which allows for flattering portraits/interviews as well as more flexibility when you are cropping video in-camera.
  • AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G — a very highly requested lens from filmmakers, the NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G’s popularity stems from its longer than normal focal length, which allows for very flattering interviews and character shots, as well as for incredible control over depth of field with its f/1.4 aperture.

You’ve likely noticed the pattern in these prime lens selections—they are all f/1.4 lenses. This shouldn’t surprise any seasoned filmmaker or photographer, however, in reality the f/1.4 does come at a higher cost, so it may not be practical or possible to have all of these lenses for a shoot. Because of that, we’ve also created a list of the most popular f/1.8 lenses that can be used in place of the f/1.4 for those working with a tighter budget.

  • AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G — the NIKKOR 28mm is the starting point for the f/1.8 lens line (FX) and provides a wider perspective to your shots. Because it is an f/1.8 maximum aperture, it is smaller, lighter and less costly than the 24mm f/1.4. Be sure to read on to understand the main impact that f/1.4 and f/1.8 have on your video. You’ll see that for most purposes the f/1.8 lenses listed here will suit your needs just fine.
  • AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED — just like its f/1.4 counterpart, the NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8 lens is great for bridging the gap from wide to normal focal lengths. Most of all, it enables you to have an f/1.8 aperture for those scenes where extra light is needed and when your zoom lens aperture just doesn’t cut it.
  • AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G — once again, the NIKKOR 50mm is a standard in most photographer’s kit bags—the same applies to filmmakers. This normal focal length is perfect for a variety of shooting situations. Because it is an f/1.8, it is smaller, lighter and less costly than its f/1.4 counterpart; yet it still allows for similarly beautiful shallow depth of field (bokeh) and shooting in low light.
  • AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G — for its desirable focal length paired up with its f/1.8 aperture, the NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8 is great for all the same reasons listed prior, but at a lower cost. The main difference, as with all f/1.4 to f/1.8 lenses, is the amount of light that an f/1.4 lens lets through versus the f/1.8 lens plus the blurred background (bokeh) effect is more pronounced at f/1.4. The f/1.4 aperture lets in twice as much light as the f/1.8 lens, so for really low light scenes it may be best to select the f/1.4; however, in most shooting situations, because DSLR cameras are so fine tuned for low light shooting, the f/1.8 will do a great job for a fraction of the cost.

So there you have it, these are some of the most popular and desired lenses for video shooting with Nikon DSLR cameras. A few notes on these selections:

  • All of these lenses are FX lenses. FX is Nikon’s designation for “Full-Frame” sensor, which means the size of the sensor is the size of a traditional 35mm piece of film, which is used industry wide as the standard to measure against.
  • Many video shooters will gravitate towards the f/1.4 primes because of the image quality and control over the aperture, however, it is important to know that in practical applications, a mixture of f/1.8 primes, f/1.4 primes and zoom lenses make for a more versatile system.
  • Fast f/1.4 primes are typically used on film sets where each scene can easily be controlled; in this setting they are used primarily for the low light capabilities as well as to get the shallow depth of field (bokeh) aesthetic. In actuality, the f/1.8 prime lenses can deliver equally stunning image quality in similar lighting conditions. Whereas the f/1.4 can go further into the dark, the f/1.8 gets you very close, and if extra light is needed, then tweaking the camera settings (ISO) gets you there.
  • Wide apertures such as f/1.8 & f/1.4 have such shallow depth of field that ensuring subjects are in focus can be challenging. Most filmmakers end up stopping these lenses down to f/2.0 or f/2.8 to gain more depth of field and not have to worry about whether their subjects are in focus. This is why for documentary or run and gun filmmaking, a good zoom lens will be preferred to a fast prime.
  • VR (Vibration Reduction) image stabilization is built into some of the best zoom lenses. Using a lens without VR can be a deal breaker if you’re shooting on the go as it can be really hard to steady the video when shooting handheld. So if you need a little help steadying your footage a zoom lens may be preferable because of its built-in VR.

 

Example Video Lens Pairings

What are the best lenses for you to shoot video with? That decision is one only you can make, based on your specific artistic vision and needs. A typical run and gun filmmaker would have the following combination of lenses for video:

If you were on set shooting a feature film, you may find the DP carrying the following lenses in his production cart:

If you were looking for a light, versatile set of lenses such as for shooting while traveling, or if you are on a tighter budget, then these lenses may do the trick in most lighting conditions:

 

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many ways to build a kit of lenses that fits your needs—and we’ve only scratched the surface with this article. You can add even more unique looks to your scenes with fisheye, macro and perspective control lenses. In fact, there are currently 81 NIKKOR lenses and 5 NIKKOR tele-converters available, that’s a lot of glass to choose from!

To get a little mathematical, if you were building a 5 lens kit from the 81 choices currently provided in the NIKKOR line-up, you would have 25,621,596 different combinations—that can be overwhelming. So take a deep breath, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will I be shooting a lot of low light video? If the answer is yes, then you want to consider primes or fast zoom lenses (such as the f/2.8 lenses mentioned). If the answer is no, you would lean towards the zoom lenses.
  • How important is shallow depth of field (bokeh) in my video? If it is very important, you want to consider having a few fast primes in your kit, or at least some of the f/1.8 primes. If shallow depth of field is not as important, then zoom lenses will do the trick (and some of the faster f/2.8 ones will even satisfy your depth of field (bokeh) needs).
  • How often do I want to change lenses? If you don’t want to change lenses, go with the zoom lenses—if you are on set or have the ability to swap lenses without issue, then primes can be a consideration.

So go ahead and have your pick of lenses to add to your kit—ultimately you will find that the best lens setup is the one that matches your vision; and when it comes to versatility, nothing beats having some of the key zoom lenses paired with a couple of primes to get you the look you need in low light.

 

Day out in North Wales

Date: 2 August 2014 11:15
Location: B5109, Beaumaris, Wales, United Kingdom
Weather: 15° Partly Cloudy
Photo: 2014-8-2.jpg

Beaumaris – Anglesey

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After an aborted drive to Llandudno (we realised that we were following the rain), we headed to Anglesey and Beaumaris.

Lovely little seaside town, very windy, especially on our walk down the very short pier but perfect for a walk and tea & cake whilst we decided our plans for the day. Shortstop at the lifeboat station and then back over the Menai bridge with amazing views down the Menai Strait and of Bangor Pier.

Weather is clearing up!

Date: 2 August 2014 13:05
Location: Allt y Castell, Caernarfon, Wales, United Kingdom
Weather: 17° Mostly Cloudy
Photo: 2014-8-2 (1).jpg

Caernarfon Castle

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All dry now, so we headed back to ‘base’ to visit Caernarfon Castle.

And what a castle it is – The best I have seen in the UK. Huge, loads to see, plenty to do.

They must spend a fortune on up-keep, but it is worth it.

The views from the top of the towers are amazing – Particularly when you look out to see ‘our’ piece of the castle.

Still can’t really believe where we are staying.

Worth the trip to Wales alone… Now time for lunch, and Megan’s “promised” ice-cream.

Lunch at “Blas” which is a restaurant within the town walls that uses one of walls as it’s wall. Lovely food and the girls got to try out their welsh.

Date: 2 August 2014 17:35
Location: Marine Drive, Llandudno, Wales, United Kingdom
Weather: 17° Partly Cloudy
Photo: 2014-8-2 (2).jpg

Llandudno

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Nice and dry now, wind dropping, so we decided to go over to take a look at Llandudno.

A walk along the pier, followed by a stunning drive along the ‘Marine Drive’ toll road with views back to Llandudno. Saw the amazing Great Orme Tram (which looks like a San Francisco tram) going up and down the very steep side of Great Orme, had to look up how it works as it seemed to defy gravity.

Again the scenery is amazing – Second only to Canada for me.

You can tell how ‘pretty’ the place is when you become blasé with the views, because you know that there will be another stunning one around the next corner.

Hoping for a dry day tomorrow, then off to Snowdon on Monday.

 

F.lux: software to make your life better

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F.lux: software to make your life better: “Ever notice how people texting at night have that eerie blue glow?

Or wake up ready to write down the Next Great Idea, and get blinded by your computer screen?

During the day, computer screens look good—they’re designed to look like the sun. But, at 9PM, 10PM, or 3AM, you probably shouldn’t be looking at the sun.

F.lux fixes this: it makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.

It’s even possible that you’re staying up too late because of your computer. You could use f.lux because it makes you sleep better, or you could just use it just because it makes your computer look better.”

KTM 990 SM T – Next year?

Touring supermoto: it’s hard to think of any two motorcycle categories that conflict more than these. A racing Gold Wing maybe, or a motocross scooter? Well that’s pretty much what KTM has done with its new 990 SM T, although it’s held back slightly and says the T stands for Travel rather than Touring. Even so, the intent is clear: this is a supermoto (hard edged, uncomfortable, hyper agile, barking mad) meant for covering good distances on everyday roads. So, which is the more compromised then, the supermoto or the travel?

Incredibly, neither. In fact, the SM T is one of the most accomplished motorcycles I’ve ridden in the last year (and that includes Ducati’s seminal 1198 S) it’s also one of the most exciting. Well, we scoffed when BMW said you could have a big capacity, twin-cylinder trail bike back in 1980 with the R80G/S, and the Germans have done alright with the concept since. And KTM is going to do very well indeed with the SM T.

The bike is based on the wild, fun-focussed 990 SM, using the same basic chassis and 75 degree, liquid-cooled V-twin engine. Indeed, the only difference between SM and SM T engines is the T has a new oil level sight glass, otherwise it makes the same 114bhp at 9000rpm and 97Nm of torque 2000rpm lower. The suspension is altered on the SM T, with reduced travel, although there’s a still-generous 160mm at the front and 200mm at the rear, compared with the SM’s 200/210mm. Brakes are state-of-the-art, radially-mounted, four-piston Brembo Monobloc callipers up front, while forks and shock come from KTM-owned WP. Wheels are by Marchesini, so the spec is high throughout.

What you also get with the SM T is a frame-mounted nose fairing incorporating the single headlight and a small screen, and a plush seat some 20mm lower than the SM’s, as well as a big 19 litre fuel tank. And perhaps the oddest of all, there are attachment points on each of the high rise twin exhausts’ heat shields for quickly detachable panniers.

It’s easy to get caught up in the focus on the bike itself, what it does and what it’s meant to be, but it’s also significant to KTM for another reason: as motorcycle markets have been changing, so KTM is trying a new way of thinking, branching out into making bikes which don’t instantly demand you have to have a national level race licence for the privilege of riding one. As spokesman Tomas Knuffelt says: ’We have built an aura around our products that’s all about winning and speed which puts pressure on KTM riders to always go fast. But the SM T is a first for us, it’s not intimidating in the same way as other KTMs and you don’t have to go fast on it.’

Hmm, I can see what he means… but boy, when you sling a leg over the SM T, you just try and not go fast!

First impression is of a weildy, compact bike which is very comfortable. The seat is soft and well shaped, the bars are fairly high and quite close to you and it’s not a great stretch to the ground like many KTMs (although it’s still not so low that shorter riders will be flocking to KTM showrooms…). Fire up the motor and you’re greeted by the familiar KTM hard-edged clatter of eager pistons, so snick it into gear and let them do their thing… The motor is a gem, so immensely strong in the 4,000-7,000rpm you really don’t need to rev it out to get the most from it, though it happily will spin harder if you feel the urge. On the kinds of twisting country roads we rode around Portugal’s new and fabulous Portimao circuit this bike was breathtaking, pure KTM-shaped excitement and probably as quick as any other bike you could name on this type of terrain. But it’s not being quickest that matters, it’s the pleasure of using the bike’s thrust which is the real joy: the throttle response at these speeds is absolutely precise and crisp, and the motor drives you out of corners so eagerly it has you giggling into your helmet.

You just don’t want to stop, especially when the engine is aided and abetted with such perfect balance by the supreme chassis. You do indeed get supermoto agility but thanks to that reduction in wheel travel, it’s much more manageable. Still there’s a fair amount of dive when you brake, but it isn’t the ear-popping emergency descent of the SM, while the sheer quality of the suspension is sublime, one of the best of any recent road bike I’ve ridden in fact. The control at high speed over very bumpy roads is astonishing, while the ride quality and consequent comfort levels are better than most full-on touring bikes.

KTM says its chassis engineers spent a very long time getting the suspension settings just right, and it really does show. The surprise in fact is just how soft the standard settings are: for a while you’re thinking you’ll soon need to switch to the firmer sport settings recommended by KTM, but with time on board you realise that it works so well as it is, you really can have it set up soft at the same time as riding the bike like a demon, and it just refuses to get out of shape. Okay, the sport set-up does give it an extra edge and even better feedback, so use that for your wild local outings, otherwise leave it on standard and you can cope with anything and everything. You can tweak it the other way if you really want, although I didn’t have time to try this too, but I can’t imagine wanting an even plusher ride than the one I had.

Another surprise is how well the 48mm forks cope with more extreme braking, and with those epic Brembos ripping off your tyre tread that really should raise some eyebrows. The stopping power is immense, yet even diving hard into downhill hairpins there seems to enough suspension movement left to deal with ripples and roughness, while the stoppers themselves add to the whole tactility of the SM T with their own fabulous feedback. Fortunately they’re not set up like some superbikes, notably the Ducati 1198, with such ferocious power you feel like more than a finger on the lever would be too much. Instead they’re more progressive and easier to manage, though don’t just grab a big handful because these are still a mighty powerful pair of brakes.

Could you tour on it? The fuel range I managed was just 110 miles before the low level warning lit up, but this was hard riding at high speeds, including a long, flat out motorway section where the speedo topped out at 224kph (139mph). That’s probably a low 130’s mph with speedo optimism removed, but a committed rider in the right conditions could squeeze a true 140mph from the bike. Oh yes, touring, I forgot… but I blame the SM T for egging me on this way. In more normal, less licence-threatening riding I’d expect 130 miles to reserve (although I’ll be trying one in the UK soon to test this and other aspects), which is okay if unremarkable, but comfort is just fine. That small screen takes the muscle out of the windblast so you can cruise at up to three figure speeds (mph ones…) without having to duck down or strain, and in fact because the screen is not very tall, the inevitable buffeting hits you just below neck level so your head and helmet aren’t beaten up by the slipstream.

You won’t get much luggage in the small panniers (which aren’t waterproof) although there is a rack and you could also fit a tankbag, so one person would manage, although two would struggle – a shame as the rear accommodation is comfortable, if not as spacious as on pure touring bikes. And I suspect it won’t be long before aftermarket luggage makers start creating bigger panniers which clip onto KTM’s very effective mounting system.

So yes, you could tour, and while the range might be a little small the bike hits back with its amazing ride quality. Then there’s the riding pleasure, something no touring bike comes remotely close to – one tug of the handlebars and the SM T is transformed from stable, comfy tourer into highly flickable sinuous road weapon, beautifully balanced from high speeds down to full lock U-turns, which are trial bike tight and so easy on this machine, you can come to a complete stop without putting a foot down.

I thought bike of the year had been sewn up by the 1198 S, and that’s still the ultimate track tool, but as far as real world road bikes go, the KTM dark horse has just reared its head: it has everything from cosseting comfort to supreme agility with an overdose of excitement and saturated satisfaction. It ain’t cheap at almost £10,000, but think of it as so many, so good bikes in the one package and suddenly it looks like a serious bargain.