When I started in film, it was about creating. It was about having a vision and following through with it. The ideas were not grand and the execution was not flawless. For me, it was an outlet and was how I was able to make sense about my current mindset.

Looking back, I can see how well that process worked for me. I needed that outlet and I needed that more than I even knew. After having stepped away from producing passion projects, the industry became a means to an end and that end was not fulfilling. It was a job and for me, that was it. I did not enjoy this work and began to not enjoy the process. Anxiety and stress started to creep into my life and I did not know fully why.

Now, sitting with the Nikon Z8 in my hands on Vancouver Island with my daughter at my side, it all became so much clearer. It was in the act of creating that brought the clarity and passion in my life and it was this passion I wanted to pass on.

The film below is where it all shifted for me.

Taking us back to where it all began for me

I started my filmmaking journey by going to film school where we had the opportunity to shoot on 16mm film on a Bolex Camera. Although it was nice having the opportunity to work with film as well as other camera platforms, all the technology was extremely outdated. I realized quickly it wasn’t just the equipment that was outdated but the program as a whole. I knew the program would not prepare me for a career in the industry so I decided to shoot a film a day for one year to hone my skills, primarily on DSLR’s – first with the Nikon D90, then briefly on the Panasonic HVX200 and then the Canon 5D.

Following this film a day project, I started to make educational and passion projects as a way to step into the industry. At this time, I felt empowered by the smaller platform.

When Nikon first impressed me

In 2014, I was introduced to the Nikon D810 with the project, ‘Every Moment Counts’. The form factor, flat profile and quality of image had me hooked instantly. It was a huge improvement over what I had been using.

Following this project, I moved almost exclusively into commercial filmmaking working with agencies, and with this, I moved into larger camera platforms. With this move, I had to shift my preferred style of filmmaking from fast and light setups to larger camera builds. There were less organic ‘real’ moments and more staged scenes. It was at this stage where I felt my passion slipping away. It was no longer as much of a passion as it was a job and I felt like I was at somewhat of a crossroads.

Enter, the Nikon Z8 – which truly came at an interesting turning point for me. What I’ve put together here is a 1 minute video that introduces my initial impressions on the Nikon Z8 and how I saw this as an opportunity to rediscover my passion for filmmaking.

Finding a balance

For the first 10 years of my journey with filmmaking, my identity and only drive was my career. Relationships and friendships came second unless they were directly connected to work. As the budgets on projects grew, so did all aspects of the job. Bigger crews. Bigger cameras. Bigger egos.

As I grew with my career, so did the stories of broken relationships and unhealthy work environments. Film is a tough industry for families and I’ve personally seen many relationships deteriorate.

Guiding Principles

Taking us back to the moment filming with my daughter, I saw two potential paths.

1. I continue to push with one central focus. My career. Or…

2. Do whatever it takes to be the rock and the person my daughter looks up to.

For my family, that meant looking at the bigger picture and looking closer at what makes us thrive. For me, I decided to develop guiding principles when taking on a project.

1. Family first, always.

2. Creative integrity over perfection.

3. Stay true to who I am.

4. Don’t sell out.

5. Slow and steady.

The 8 Reasons Why the Nikon Z8 is the perfect camera for this next chapter

As I started to look more closely at the Nikon Z8 and how to stay true to these principles, it became more evident that it was time to get back to my roots and stop chasing the corporate and commercial work as I had been. It was time for a shift in how I look at my work.

At this current moment in time, it is important for technology to not be a burden on creativity. I was ready for a camera that I was excited to work with. When it came to the Nikon Z8, it felt like I had been using it for years. To me, the Nikon Z8 felt like a grown up version of the Nikon D810. I loved working with the D810 but wished it had a few more features to make it something I would turn to first.

1. Ready to go right out of the box

When I first received the Nikon Z8, I wanted to see what I could do by simply taking the camera out of the box, attaching a lens … and filming with it. I was immediately impressed how little was needed to get it up and running.

2. Internal N-RAW & mp4 ‘proxy’ file

Regarding the record formats, I loved the idea of having the mp4 files recorded alongside the 8k N-RAW files. It would ensure seamless post production workflow. If you want to work with proxies, you can out of the box. No converting. I have always loved platforms that do this for you.

3. Format / frame size options

The third thing I was really excited about was the flexibility of format and frame size options. Having the option to film N-RAW, PRORES RAW, PRORES, H265, or H264 in frame sizes all the way from 8k down to a 1080 really makes this a camera you can grow into. Additionally, having the ability to shoot 8k allows me to snap in on an image when necessary. There were a few scenarios when working with the footage where I wanted to zoom in tighter on a frame and I was able to.

5. Form factor

As for the form factor, I have always loved working with smaller cameras. I can have these smaller cameras with me more regularly and it isn’t a big ordeal.

Larger cameras also take a big toll on my body, even with the proper support gear, especially when operating on long production days.

6. Timelapse preview files

The fourth aspect I was incredibly excited about was the improvements for timelapse photographers. I am not totally sure when it was introduced but I was excited about the timelapse previews. I have been capturing timelapses for years and always wanted this feature. It allows me to know I got the shot while still in the field.

7. Internal image stabilization

Another aspect was the internal image stabilization. Sport mode works great when operating with a stripped down rig. Sport mode helps smooth out the side to side jittery movements. By leveraging the internal stabilization, I was even able to do handheld forward pushes that felt like I was operating with a bigger camera.

8. Power Consumption / Timecode Sync / Waveforms

From a production standpoint, it was nice to have the extra usb port for power – though the internal batteries lasted so long that I never even considered using the usb ports.

It was also nice to have the timecode sync and waveforms for exposure. I haven’t used the timecode sync yet but rely on this feature for most productions.

Biggest Surprises

1. Autofocus

First off, I was most surprised with how incredible the auto focus tracking was for video. When I initially saw that this was supposed to have been improved with this camera, I immediately dismissed it before digging deeper as my brain just couldn’t accept that it would ever fit into my workflow. That being said, I did use it on the film below and am pleasantly surprised.

There were a few scenarios where it struggled – such as push in moves when on a slider or when filming multiple people and objects in the frame. I wanted to have the camera focus on an object placed in front of a face but the auto-focus wanted to keep focused on the face. There is the ability to switch focus modes but when filming on the fly, there isn’t always time to make this switch. I found myself switching the autofocus on a few select moments. Although I did switch to manual for a few shots, the autofocus increased the amount of footage I was able to use in the final edit – which is priceless. 

The film below was captured on the Nikon Z8. There are many shots where I relied on autofocus.

2. Value Proposition

The second biggest surprise was the value proposition with the Nikon Z8.

When I was initially introduced to the feature set, it seemed too good to be true. I thought to myself, what’s the catch? It’s a camera that you can truly grow into.

3. Nikon Z Glass

The third surprise, though I struggle to call it a surprise by the general sense is the quality of the Nikon Z Glass. I’m not surprised by the quality of image but I am surprised by the improvements to the construction of the lens itself. I have always loved the quality of image and sharpness from Nikon glass but similar to my perspective of the Nikon Z8, these lenses also feel like grown up versions of their predecessors.

I’m most excited about two new lenses. First, its so nice to now have a proper 50mm lens. I used it a ton on the first production. The second lens is the 24-70mm 2.8 lens. On the film above, I didn’t take this lens off the camera. It is truly the dream combo for me.

4. Seamless Workflow / Depth of Colour

Regarding the record formats, I initially loved the idea of having the mp4 files recorded alongside the N-RAW files and planned to use them during the edit process for smoother editing but after starting first with the N-RAW files to see how easy they were to work with, I realized I was able to edit directly with the 8k N-RAW files in Resolve and did not need to use the smaller mp4 files as proxies. I simply changed the timeline resolution to 4k when editing the N-RAW files and on export, switched it back to 8k. By being able to work directly with the N-RAW files, I was able to do a quick colour pass to start to get a feel for the treatment I wanted while I edited the project.

Lastly, when I started working with the footage for this project, what really stood out to me was how versatile the N-RAW image was. Although I have always loved how Nikon handles colour, the depth of colour that was recorded was very exciting and easy to work with. What I did notice, similar to working with the Nikon D810, was that it was a lot easier to push the shadows than the highlights. Not a big surprise though.

The image below is a frame grab from 8k video. I am very excited to be able to do this now with DSLR’s.

Video Frame Grab from NIkon Z8
Video Frame Grab from NIkon Z8

How the Nikon Z8 fits into my workflow

After having worked with the camera now for half a year, I have a clearer picture of how the camera will fit into my workflow. It works so well for me because it covers the basics – broll, interviews, timelapse and gimbal work – all in one unit. For me, this is so helpful. I am not compromising when I choose this camera.

Another aspect of this is accessibility. The fact that the camera is so much smaller allows me to have it accessible when I feel most inspired. Like many filmmakers, I have FOMAS (Fear of missing a shot), and with the larger systems, I found myself coming to terms with ‘missing the shot’. With the Nikon Z8, it would be one camera for high quality video, photos and timelapse. 

Interviews & Broll

When it comes to file size, the 8K N-RAW does eat up data quickly. For any interviews or longer form filming, I would use the 4k N-RAW or the internal PRORES, which is a lot more data friendly – and still great to work with. For any broll content, this is where I would leverage the 8K N-RAW.

You can get about 30 minutes with a 650GB card at 8k24 N-RAW. When shooting 4k24 N-RAW you can get just under 2 hrs with a 650 gb card.

When paired with Smallrig accessories, the Z 8 is incredibly versatile for switching between operating setups. To move between a gimbal, handheld or on a tripod takes about two minutes. Normally, I would either have multiple cameras rigged up or it would take a substantial amount of time to switch between setups.

Lastly, I use it for gimbal work with the DJI RS 3 – which allows you to control many settings on the camera.

Timelapse Photography

For timelapse, I shoot RAW. You can get around 8k shots on a 650gb card. I use the h265 7k auto-generated file until I have locked edits and then process the RAW images in situations where I need more precise refinements or blends. Having this auto-generated clip saves SO MUCH time and it is nice to see while you are still on location if you nailed the shot!

Post Production

Regarding adaptations or changes to my workflow, the only major change was switching platforms to Resolve, which was a welcomed transition. Now that I have shifted, it fits in seamlessly and works much smoother than Premiere ever did. As mentioned earlier, it was incredible to be able to work with the N-RAW files and do a rough colour pass during the editing process. For me, this is incredibly helpful for my workflow.

Final Thoughts

After having spent some time with this camera and having the time to think more deeply about the bigger questions in life through these projects, it is clear that I use these tools as a creative outlet. As can happen so easily when trying to build a career, perception is everything and for me, the need to have bigger and better came at a cost. These larger platforms became a hinderance in my creative process and stripped away my creative ambitions. Everything comes with a compromise and for me, it was working with what works best and watching what follows.

As I sit and reminisce on the moment with my daughter on Vancouver Island, I realize that it is through working with this camera which allowed me to focus on whats in front of me – my family. It helped reveal how I want to show up for not only myself but also for her. It showed me that when you stay true to what is most important that everything else becomes so much more clear.