Canon 5D can do beautiful HD video. Why?!?

The newly released, and much unavailable, Canon 5D Mark II can record beautiful 1080p in H264. That sounds really cool. But why?!?

Ok, I know like most people out there, I would love to be able to carry one device that is my camera and my camcorder, to take high quality photos and high quality video. I currently own cameras that take high quality photos, and low quality video, and two camcorders that take high quality video, (one of them HD) and low quality photos. Would I like to carry one camera that can do both? Yes.

I also realize that being able to use a full-size sensor, with real lenses, can create much nicer videos, with dramatic depth of field options. And up until now, only high end pro camcorders could handle that. If at all.

However, I understand the limitations of a camera/camcorder hybrid. And Canon, with the 5D Mark II, has not addressed those.

In my mind the limitations are twofold. Ergonomics and functionality. Cameras, most SLRs that is, are used with two hands. One to support your lens, and allow you to zoom (and focus if you’re into manual focusing) and one hand to change settings and use the trigger finger. With cameras, you’re used to freezing your arms and yourself, and even holding your breath, while taking most shots. Shooting video is different. With video, especially these days, you may want to be moving while you shoot your footage. And you will want to have a comfortably padded eyepiece to soften the bumps to your brow or an LCD display that is articulated to handle your shooting angle. You also probably want the camcorder/camera to be operated singlehandedly. Unless you’re a filmmaker and have a huge pro video recorder, and have a dolly or camera crane or boom, you will probably be moving with the camera, and expect one hand free to help you maneuver, hold your kid’s hand, or play with your subject. Two-handed video camera operation is passé.

With a smaller lens, you may be able to get away with handholding the camera, but that assumes that you won’t be doing any zooming. (I’m assuming that most people leave the focus to the camera’s autofocus, although some cool foreground to/from background focus changes are neat). And more on the ergonomic front, the 5D requires that video be started and stopped by hitting the Set button on the back of the camera, not with your shutter finger. Bad.

On to the technical issue, and one that I have sort of touched upon, zooming in video recorders is almost always done smoothly. Everyone knows that motion picture recorders are equipped a W and a T button that allows for variable-speed and smooth zoom changes (Even those old Super-8 film cameras had them). With the 5D, zooming is only as smooth as your hand is. Even if we all could zoom smoothly, this issue forces the two-handed usage requirement of the 5D.

While it is nice to get a feature like this thrown into the 5D for free, I sort of wish Canon wouldn’t resort to the kitchen sink mentality just to match a competitor – who’s just as clueless about the usefulness of such a feature(I’m looking at you Nikon!). (As it is, I am worried that the digital camera one-upmanship is producing cameras with far more megapixels than we need at the expense of noisy pictures in low light, and slower picture taking and processing. Give me lower megapixels but fantastic and fast low light operation, faster shutter recycle times, tens of exposures per second… )

Now, if Canon could make a full-frame HD video camera that could also take 12+ megapixel pictures like the 5D, then I might be happier (I prefer the one handed, on-the-move, streamlined form factor of camcorders to the boxy two-handed camera). However, I don’t think I will ever expect to use my nice Canon L lenses on that camcorder as, again, there is no support for electronic zoom control, plus I am not sure if it make sense to use a lens that is designed to illuminate a 4:3 sensor, to illuminate a sensor that does HD.

The day will come where you can take any frame of a video, crop it, and use it as the equivalent of today’s 15+ megapixel still. For now, the 5D won’t replace my HD video camera.

Update: Here’s another blogger questioning Canon’s decision to add video.

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~ by mz on December 22, 2008.

One Response to “Canon 5D can do beautiful HD video. Why?!?”

  1. […] not a big fan of the HD video (see my previous post about this).  To make it interesting, how about a slow-motion capture mode?  Or a time-lapse HD […]

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