The Canon 5D Mark II for Video
Which is the best Canon SLR for Video Use? How do they differ?

Canon SLRs for Video : 5D Mark II vs 7D vs T2i/550D

[For non-video related comparisons of these cameras, please see my previous articles : 5D Mark II vs. the 7D and the 7D vs the T2i.]

Currently, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is unrivaled in the world of SLRs for professional quality video production.  For those of you who watch the FOX medical drama “HOUSE”, you may be interested to learn that the recent season finale (May 2010) was shot entirely with Canon 5D Mark IIs. The 5D’s closest competitors, though, are also Canon SLRs, and less expensive ones at that.  These are the Canon EOS 7D and the Canon T2i / 550D.  New on the scene is the Canon 60D, a model very similar to the Rebel T2i and 7D when it comes to video. There are a few fundamental differences between these cameras and the 5D which may make them more attractive to some film makers, while others may be deterred. I’ll quickly discuss these differences below. As always, additional information and further questions  are welcome!

Depth of Field

Side Note: B&H has put together a guide to HDSLR equipment for those who are interested in serious film production. Click the image above to check it out… it\’s worth it, whether you buy the equipment from them or not.

The fundamental difference, of course, is the sensor size. The 5D carries a full-frame sensor, while the 7D and T2i use APS-C (ie, 1.6x crop) sensors. For video, however, this creates a completely different set of problems than it does for still photography. Image quality is NOT a significant difference, as 1080p HD video (1920 x 1080 pixels) is only 2 megapixels. In each of these cameras, only about 10% of the data that can be captured by the sensor will be used, so issues of lens resolution (discussed previously regarding the 7D and 50D), diffraction, etc, that plague the world of fine art photography are simply not field-relevant with video; video resolution is too low to reproduce these problems.

The main issue with video is depth of field. Since HD video resolution is so low, comparatively speaking,  most video cameras have very small sensors… many of them less than 1/4 the size of an APS-C sensor. The smaller the sensor, the greater the depth of field… so most consumer grade video cameras produce video in which the backgrounds are relatively sharp in comparison to the subjects, which looks very distinctive and, frankly, cheap. Professional grade video cameras use larger sensors and can use depth of field more creatively, but cost a small fortune. Or a large fortune, in many cases (hundreds of thousands of dollars).


Many professional grade video cameras, costing $100,000 or more, use small 2/3″ sensors. The Sony HDW-F900R CineAlta is a perfect example.

And this is where the Canon SLRs excel. They have large sensors with incredible lenses, and can produce depth of field effects (separation of subjects or subject/background) just as well as film cameras of the past and modern production video cameras. Even APS-C sized sensors (Canon’s are about 22.2 x 14.8mm ) in Cameras such as the 7D are much larger than most video camera sensors (the Red One is an exception, with a sensor about the size of an APS-C, and a camera setup can be had for only about $20,000).

Since the APS-C size sensors of the 7D and T2i are both about the same size as 35mm movie film frames (which are smaller than 35mm still photo frames), they produce a shallow depth of field that is very similar to film-based movie cameras. The 5D Mark II has an even larger sensor, and therefore has a significantly shallower depth of field, at least potentially. Regardless of the camera, the actual depth of field will still depend on the focal length of the lens (ie, 24mm lens vs. 200mm lens) and the aperture at which the lens is used.  Since all of the Canon cameras can be used with the full line of EF lenses, many of which utilize a maximum aperture of f1.4-2.8, there should be little difficulty in achieving very smooth, shallow depth of field, as long as it’s not too bright to use the wide apertures.  Shutter speeds higher than 1/250th of a second can produce a choppy looking effect because each individual frame loses motion blur and becomes too sharp.

Comparison of movie film frame vs still camera frame
Since movie film travels vertically (for typical formats), its widest dimension is actually about the same as the narrow dimension of a full frame still photograph.

[ I’ve had a surprising number of objections to my statement that movie frames are smaller than still photography frames. There are different formats to be sure, but typically, movie film travels vertically past the shutter, making the distance between the perforations the widest part of the frame, whereas still photography film travels horizontally, with the distance between the perfs being the narrow side of the frame. Thus, even though an APS-C frame is much smaller than a full frame for photography, it is still about the same size as a Super35 movie frame. In the example illustration at right, you see an old portrait I took of photographer Hiroshi Yamauchi, a friend of mine in the Ohio University Visual Communications program. The movie frames were gratuitously stolen from this site. Film segments are to scale.]

Video Features

The three cameras in question are remarkably similar when it comes to video functionality. The following table highlights the many similarities and a few of the differences between the three models. [Please note: my original comparison table was lost in a database crash. I’m in the process of building a new one… suggestions for feature comparisons would be appreciated]

 Canon 5D Mark IICanon 7DCanon 60D Canon Rebel T2i / 550D
Canon 5D Mark IICanon EOS 7DCanon EOS 60D
Amazon Price $2499$1599$999$715
B&H Price


$2499$1599$999 (rebates available)$719
Body MaterialMagnesium AlloyMagnesium AlloyPolycarbonatePolycarbonate
LCD Size / Resolution3.0"
920,000 pixels
3.0"
920,000 pixels
3.0"
1,040,000 pixels
3.0"
1,040,000 pixels
LCD Articulated?NoNoYesNo
Sensor Size24 x 36mm (Full Frame)14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)
Crop Factornone1.6x1.6x1.6x
Sensor Resolution21.1 Megapixels18 Megapixels18 Megapixels18 Megapixels
ISO Range100-6400
+12800
+25600
100-6400
+12800
100-6400
+12800
100-6400
+12800
Total AF Focus Points91999
Cross-Type AF Sensors119 (dual diagonal)91
AF Light Level Range-.05 to +18 EV-.05 to +18 EV-.05 to +18 EV-.05 to +18 EV
Metering System35 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
8% Center Weighted
3.5% Spot
63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
9.4% Center Weighted
2.3% Spot
63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
6.5% Center Weighted
2.8% Spot
63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
9% Center Weighted
4% Spot
Exposure Compensation1/2 or 1/3 stops
via thumb dial
1/2 or 1/3 stops
via thumb dial
1/2 or 1/3 stops
via thumb dial
1/2 or 1/3 stops
HD Video Resolutions1080p1080p, 720p1080p, 720p1080p, 720p
Available HD Video Frame RatesPAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
PAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, 60 at 720p
PAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, 60 at 720p
PAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, 60 at 720p
Firmware Sidecar AvailableMagic LanternMagic Lantern Under Development.NoMagic Lantern Under Development. (Early version adds audio meters only)
Media TypeCompact FlashCompact FlashSD / SDHC / SDXCSD / SDHC / SDXC
Weight810g (body only)820g (body only)675g (body only)530g (with battery and SD card)
Viewfinder Coverage100%100% Frame,
1.0x magnification
96% Frame,
.95x magnification
95%
0.87x magnification

Firmware

One of the great things about using a camera that is controlled by software is that, in this digital age, it opens the door for the possibility of 3rd party improvements. When the Canon 5D Mark II was introduced, film makers were immediately enchanted by its potential in the industry, but the camera was missing several important features for serious video use. Consequently, a team of clever programmers/film makers got together and created a firm-ware upgrade for the 5D called “Magic Lantern”.

Magic Lantern isn’t a firmware replacement. It is, essentially, a sidecar; a piece of software that runs along side the 5D’s native firmware. Full details about Magic Lantern can be found on their website, but it is a FREE download and can be used by anyone willing to try it.

Currently, Magic Lantern offers the following features for the 5D Mark II:

  • On-Screen Audio Meters
  • Zebra Stripes
  • Disables Audio AGC
  • On-Screen Crop Marks for different aspect ratios

Magic Lantern for the 7D is under development, and is expected to be available soon. You can check the progress on the Magic Lantern 7D development website. Although it is technically possible, I have not yet seen any mention of devel0pment for the Rebel T2i / 550D. Since there are so many similarities between the 7D and 550D, it is quite possible that once the firmware for the former is released, it will be modified to work with the latter.

Conclusions

For the moment, the 5D Mark II is the clear winner for true production work, due in large part to Magic Lantern. However, the dedicated video controls of the 7D (and the price tag) make the 7D a very close runner up, and the development of new firmware may push it over the top. The T2i has the advantage of being even less expensive and produces identical video to the 7D, but may not have the firmware available for professional use any time in the near future.  Some people also prefer the fact that it uses SD cards instead of Compact Flash, as they tend to be less expensive and can be locked.

I’ll update this post as more information becomes available, and as I have time to absorb it. Please feel free to submit additional questions, comments, corrections and updates!

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Shayan

Can any one tell me how to shoot on 720p on canon 5d mark II?

Alfred Lopez

Shayan,

Not sure that’s possible with the current firmware. I just checked my camera’s menus and didn’t see that option.

Cheers,

Alfred

Emmanuel

I use the 550D and i think its the best choice for video at this time because its cheap and the video quality is also as good as the other DSLR’s. Magic Lantern is also available for 550D now and it works perfect. with it, you can Increase the quality of your video, variable ISO, Do time lapse (with intervalometer), audio manipulation, follow focus, Zebra.. etc

At its price, size and delivery, and if you are only looking for the video functionality in a DSLR, then i think your best option is 550D.

Hunter

In your opinion, once MagicLantern is released for the 7D, will the 5DMkII still be superior for professional video?

and if so, does it outweigh the price and ease-of use differences?

DWHJR

In this Article you said the the Canon 5D Mark 2 was the best for video production, but in the article ” 5D Mark II vs. the 7D” you stated that the, “5d Mark II is best for you if…”rarely shoot video”.

When I read your first Article, and after read that the 5D was good for you if you rarely shoot video, I was sold on getting the 7D, but now I am back to confusion again, lol.

I am not trying to point out that you did something wrong, just trying to figure out which on to get, it has been giving me a headache for a long time!

Help!

DWHJR

I am now the causual video user, however I once was more then that, so I believe that the Canon 5d Mark II is the one for me…dang! I was hoping I wasn’t going to have to go up to the more expensive price! But I suppose it is the better choice for me.

Thanks for the help!

Anbusathiyan R

Hi,
While comparing with 5D to 7D , which one is best for under water videography.

phuntsho wangdi

i want to shoot a feature film with Canon EOS 5D Mark II Camera therefore it will be very kind of you if you can write me the detail about its price and also the accessories required like stands, lenses, rigs etc.

David Millar

Great site! I`m debating 7d or 5dii, and also kind of curious about a 5diii…. Thanks a lot for all this great information.
I have a comment: I was a 35mm film projectionist for 5 years and I`m also a serious amateur photographer. Movie film frames are not smaller than photo frames. Each frame of 35mm movie film is equal to a 35mm still photo frame. Some of the aspect ratios may omit some of the available frame space, but standard Hollywood 1.85:1 uses pretty much all of it. A tiny bit is lost on one edge, for the optical soundtrack, (similar to a record groove), but it`s negligible.
david,
Tokyo

phuntsho wangdi

hi David
i seriously wants to shoot a feature film with Canon EOS 5D Mark II Camera therefore it will be very kind of you if you can write me the detail about its price and also the accessories like stands, lenses, rigs etc. required with the above mentioned Camera to shoot a professional feature movies.

David

Hey Matthew,

It’s pretty obvious you come from a photography background and aren’t familiar with the specifics of film and video technology (which us professionals are constantly struggling with everyday). As such, your article glosses over a few extremely important problems and positives I think should be clarified. I’ve written extensively on the subject in the past and think it may be of benefit to check out two pieces summarizing the cons and pros (respectively) of these fantastic cameras.

8 Reasons Not to Buy A DSLR
8 Reasons to Buy A DSLR for Video

Keep on shooting,
David

Ritam

Dear Matthew,

I am fond of nature photography, photographing mostly flowers, larger flora and landscapes. I use canon 450d with canon 100mm 2.8 macro for macro shots and canon 17-40 L for landscapes. Now I have a possibility to purchase canon 5d for an affordable price. I would love, of course, to jump to canon 5d mark II, but that is still too expensive for me at present. At the same time I am thinking of changing to the recent canon 550d which has so lovely features of higher resolution, HD video and greatly improved LCD-screen at so affordable price. Could you please kindly advise me on what is the best option to go from 450d to 5d or 550d? First of all, I would like to have best image quality. I could not find anywhere a direct comparison of 550d with 5d, so it is difficult for me to jugde the difference in their image quality. Usually, of course, FF provides better image quality that crop. But, at the same time, 550d has greater resoluton and newer Digic IV processor and better gapless design of the matrix. So, could you please clarify something on their comparative image quality? For me, it is also very important that 550d has LiveView which is extremely helpful for shooting wild flowers with a tripod. I am acually scared of how I am going to shoot flowers with 5d without LiveView! :) I would appreciate greatly also the video feature of 550d. And its improved LCD is supreb indeed and very helpful for evaluating the true image quality an the spot.

I am also worried that my lenses will work in a different way on 5d. Now my 100mm lens works in fact as a 160mm lens on FF, and that is not bad for macro. Besides, the cropped matrix provides greater DOF which is also very nice for macro (it is easier to get shallower DOF, that greater DOF). My 17-40 lens now works for me as a universal lens, for, in fact, it is somewhat 28-70mm lens on the crop, it suits fine my needs for shooting landscapes and large flora as well as family shots, etc. On the FF it will become an ultrawide zoom, and I am not sure if I really need so wide angle – till now, it is perfectly enough for me as real 28-70. Besides, I have read such a wide zoom looses, to certain extent, its image quality on the wide angles on FF, especially in the corners. All these differences make me hesitant.

But still, if 5d provides truly better qualtiy than 550d, then, I feel, im prepared to sacrifice the convenience of 550d for that.

Or would you recommend to content myself for the timebeing with 550d and just amass gradually the fortune to get 5d mark iI? :)

Thank you so much, if you will find time to answer me!
-Ritam

curtinparloe

I’ve noticed two video issues with my 550D, but they aren’t devastating. It’d be interesting to know whether they occur in the other models (I’ve anecdotal evidence to suggest so).

1) Rolling shutter issue, whereby the information can’t be saved from the CCD quickly enough, resulting in bent vertical lines during fast pans. Apparently the video mode only takes every third scanline (IIRC), but every pixel in that line (3000 or so?). If there were firmware to take every other pixel and ~then~ down-convert then this issue would disappear completely – although there may be some anti-aliasing issues emerging).
2) Auto exposure. When I zoom with my bottom-end lens, the camera compensates for light differences (this occurs on completely manual settings). However, this is a discrete process, meaning any zoom results in a flickering video-clip. Whether this is a lens issue I couldn’t say, but I’ve heard unfavourable reports on this IS 18-55 which came with my camera.

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