A properly rigged up camera system is itself a work of art. This is my humble attempt to put together a list of video rigs for the Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E that hopefully will help new users plan their own setups.
I hope to cover scenarios for corporate videos, weddings, run-and-gun documentaries and feature films. Obviously, preparing an exhaustive and ‘definitive’ list is a fool’s errand. Use this guide, if you please, as a starting point for further research.
I have one bit of advice that is most important: Buy only what you need. If you can’t judge rationally, ask somebody else to judge for you. A rig is a constantly evolving thing, and you’re better off starting with the bare minimum and adding stuff later, than spending all your money on a setup that will evolve anyway.
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For the sake of clarity, I have divided this lengthy guide into different parts. In this part, I’ll deal with Lens Adapters, Lenses, Extenders, Converters and Miscellaneous accessories.
ADAPTERS FOR THE F MOUNT
Due to the large megapixel size of this system, not all of Nikon’s lenses take full advantage of the sensor resolution. There are manufacturers who make lenses for the F-mount, but there are also an excellent line-up of lenses in other mounts that can be used on the F-mount via an Adapter.
Not all adapters are made the same. Adapters might have to fulfill the following criteria for daily professional abuse:
- Precise machining
- Strength to handle heavy unbalanced systems
- Infinity focus
- Electronic compatibility using CPU contacts
- Aperture control
- TTL metering
Small errors in the machining stage of the adapter might seriously compromise the ability of the lens to delivery the best quality. Unfortunately, you’ll find many adapters for Nikkor lenses for other mounts, but there are very few options of other camera lenses being compatible with the Nikon F-mount, mainly due to its larger flange focal distance when compared to other mounts.
Unless you are experienced enough to have strong preferences for certain third-party lenses, I suggest you stick to the lenses directly made for the F-mount, for which there are hundreds of choices. My recommendations of video lenses for the Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E are all in the F-mount.
Here are some suggestions that might be worth the trouble (some of them might require making physical changes to the lens or camera):
- Leica R lenses – Leitax, Fotodiox
- Zeiss Contax lenses – Leitax
- Olympus OM lenses – Leitax
- Minolta MD lenses – Fotodiox
- Hasselblad lenses – Fotodiox Pro
- Pentax 6×7 lenses – Fotodiox Pro
- Pentacon 6/Kiev 66 lenses – Fotodiox
- Canon FD lenses – Fotodiox
- M42 lenses – Fotodiox
- Leica M39 lenses – Fotodiox Pro
You’ll probably need one adapter for each lens you intend to use. Constantly switching the adapter might loosen the adapter, or chip the adapter or the mount. Plus, you’ll be carrying two rear lens caps. Not fun.
I will have to stress that you do your own research, read reviews written by others and perform your own measurements and tests before purchasing any adapter for a professional shoot. The selection of an adapter is as critical as the selection of a lens. There are instances where an adapter’s ‘negative’ features might still be negligible under certain conditions. Beware.
LENSES FOR THE F MOUNT
- Aperture of f/2.8 or higher
- Manual focus option and good focus ring throw
- Construction quality and matching weatherproofing to camera body
- Low chromatic aberrations and distortions
My lens choices are divided into “must-have-general-purpose-zooms”, “excellent-must-have-for-low-light-primes”, and Zeiss CP.2 Cine lenses – which are top of the line as far as filmmaking is concerned. The Zeiss primes have excellent manual focus rings, and are labelled in T-stop ratings.
Super-wide to wide (14mm to 25mm range)
Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 21mm/T2.9
Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 25mm/T2.9
Wide to Short Telephoto (24mm to 70mm range)
Short to Mid Telephoto (70mm to 200mm range)
Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 85mm/T2.1
14–24 mm f/2.8G ED
24–70 mm f/2.8G ED
70–200 mm f/2.8G ED VR II
16–35 mm f/4G ED VR
24–120 mm f/4G ED VR
200–400 mm f/4G ED VR II
24 mm f/1.4G ED
35 mm f/1.4G
85 mm f/1.4G
200 mm f/2G ED VR II
300 mm f/2.8G ED VR II
400 mm f/2.8G ED VR
500 mm f/4G ED VR
600 mm f/4G ED VR
Micro NIKKOR 60 mm f/2.8G ED
VR Micro-Nikkor 105 mm f/2.8G IF-ED
Important Note: According to Nikon, diffraction effects are visible at f/11, beyond which images will get softer. It’s strange not to see a 50mm on this list!
An extension tube is used for macro shots. The objective is to increase the distance between the lens and the sensor so we can focus closer. What should one look for?
- Good build quality
- Perfect finish and “seamless” fitting
Extension tubes are almost always manual focus only, and might only offer manual and aperture-priority exposure modes.
A teleconverter extends the focal length of a lens. E.g., if a lens is 50mm, and I use a 1.4x teleconverter, I will effectively make that lens a 70mm lens. Teleconverters are handy pieces of gear when you need that extra telephoto focal length. A 400mm lens is approximately 2 pounds (or 1 kg) heavier than a 200mm lens with a 2x teleconverter.
What do you have to look out for?
- Good build quality
- Excellent optical quality
- “Stay-out-of-the-way” optical performance
I recommend Nikon’s own brand of teleconverters, which are perfectly matched to their lineup of lenses. Here they are:
Step-up and Step-down rings:
Step-up and step-down rings are used to adapt filters with thread sizes different from the lens’. Most of the time for video, it is a good idea to match the filter to the lens, but sometimes it might make more sense to have one filter that can be used for different lenses.
Fotodiox makes a set of metal Step Up and Step Down rings in sizes from 49mm to 77mm.
Wide-angle converters make the lens’ focal length wider – the opposite of teleconverters. I would definitely prefer to use wider lenses than wide-angle converters. I haven’t had much success with them before, and for the sake of completing this list, I recommend:
Lens hoods cut out flare. When not using matte boxes, when shooting with lights indoors or when shooting facing the sun outdoors, it is always a good idea to use lens hoods. A lot of the time, lens flare is hard to detect on a small LCD screen or viewfinder, and flare means a low contrast image.
Some lenses come with hoods as part of the purchase. Either way, buy Nikon.
There are two types: Front and Rear caps. You might be surprised how many people forget this while packing gear. Those who don’t forget usually lose them! Make a habit of always storing lenses with their caps on either end and you should be okay. Buy original Nikon.
In the next post I’ll cover matte boxes, filters, follow-focus systems and everything else that comes in front of the camera. Stay tuned!
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