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Canon 5D MKII Video Mode a Disaster
Published by drew
Canon 5D MKII Video Mode a Disaster

Canon 5D MKII Video Mode a Disaster (Updated 3 Times)

We go to the Coke Museum.

What else can you say when the product and the hype don't even come close to reality?

Outside Coke Museum Atlanta, GA USA

Now, I believe I will have a lot of very positive things to say about this camera when we look at the still capabilities. In fact, the noise levels at ISO 6400 are probably leading the pack once again. I placed a pre-order months ago, and do not plan to cancel the order. This camera has a LOT going for it.

But, the video, oh the video... So much unfulfilled promise. Where to start? Let's just jump right to it with a summary list of pros and cons.

Amazing Video Quality for the Price (and I do mean amazing, especially in low light with a good lens)
Wide variety of High Quality Interchangeable Lenses

Auto Focus is Manual (must push AF-ON button every time you wish to achieve focus lock)
AF is Slow
Extremely Difficult to Hand Hold and Keep Steady (no shoulder mount, or in camera stabilization)
Tripod Basically a Requirement
Internal Mic picks up every little noise including, and especially the AF motors and IS motors
External Mic Basically a Requirement
Difficult to judge focus from the LCD screen when shooting in low light
No manual control of Aperture, Shutter, or ISO
4gb Clip Limit (about 12 Minutes in HD)
Image degrades due to heat over time. Must allow the camera time to "cool off" in between long takes.
No Included Editing Software
Very little software available to the prosumer/consumer for editing footage
Expensive Computer Gear and Editing Set-up Required for most Use (or tanscoding to an intermediate codec)
Recent Computer Gear Required just for Playback of unedited files straight from the camera.

The Hype
Canon owes a huge debt of gratitude to one Vincent LaForet for his early release of a short concept video entitled, Reverie. I believe that video alone probably created more buzz for this product than anything, and I do mean anything, that Canon themselves have done. When I first saw the video, I thought wow, that's a pretty nice music video. But, having heard about a number of the limitations of the video mode like the 4gb file size limit, etc. I thought well, at least it will be something nice for my wife to use to shoot the kids with in low light.

Boy was I wrong.

The video mode in the Canon 5D MKII is basically useless for the average consumer/ prosumer. I can think of only one or two instances where this video mode would shine for a prosumer. Both require a fixed focus situation. At a school play, or a concert you will be able to get unbelievable natural light footage, provided you stabilize the camera with a tripod.

Delicious Video trapped in a Hard Coconut Shell
The only people who are going to eat this up are small indie film producers, not pro still photographers. But, even they will have to endure a number of compromises to make the video mode work well for them. The biggest hurdle will be the total lack of manual control. I take that back- you can set a manual white balance (yes, you will need a ColorRight with your video camera. You can order one here ).

One of the biggest pluses of the full frame sensor size for video is the relative lack of noise (which this camera has in spades) and the shallow depth of field. Well, to get a shallow depth of field you "have" to shoot in low light to force the camera to open up because you cannot control the aperture manually. At the end of the day, the enterprising video pro will find lots of ways around the gargantuan deficiencies of this video mode to be able to get to that sweet and juicy center of low noise/ hi-res video delight. But, the prosumer will not.

Backlash Coming?
Look for a bit of a backlash as the "normal" folks get this camera in their hands and expect to be able to take nice family Christmas and vacation videos.

Sample Full-Res Video Clips From Coke Museum
Download Only- Full Raw Straight Out of Camera
Very Large Files- Very Powerful Desktop Computer and 1920x1200 monitor required for best viewing

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Special Thanks goes to everyone at PPR for the timely rental of this body for review.

Update 1:
A response to some of the discussion

You do not seem to understand the implications for the real use of this outside of still photography and how video cameras are used in pro situations. Internal mics are just used for slate, if used at all, and external radio mics are cheap and work perfectly. It is clearly not a camcorder and unless you are shooting hand held deliberately you nearly always have a video camera on a tripod...
Oh, I understand all too well. I was a pro videographer for a number of years. We always shot with tripods and expensive uhf wireless mics, etc. We edited on Avid, etc. Speaking of mics, no XLR inputs? No 24p? No current codec support for Adobe Premiere Pro or Vegas Video for pc users.

Anyway, I could go on and on about the compromises required from a pro video perspective. And, yes, Canon is onto something here. But, it is not there yet. This all has a flavor of something thrown in simply because they could. Well now they know the interest is there. I expect the next iteration of the video mode to be a marked improvement. Consider this review my unbiased suggestion list of just some of what needs to be changed.

However, yes, this a "game changer" for pro videographers. I think that point has already been made abundantly clear by many, many other folks. I linked straight to the main one and gave it its due.

The point here is to review the video mode for the regular purchaser of the cam. They will most likely be disappointed in the video mode. I didn't bother to mention how "fiddly" the whole operation is compared to a proper pro camcorder with zoom controls, a shoulder mount, etc., etc.

They will, however, love the still capabilities of the camera. Top notch for the dollar. A much better buy than the 1DS MKIII, and the screen colors aren't obnoxious. I have many other praiseworthy things to say in a later look at image quality. As I said, I pre-ordered and do not intend to cancel.

I think a number of responders need to take a step back and realize this is not an attack on their purchase decision, just my own objective reading of the situation for the normal prospective purchaser of the camera.

Update 2:
Some Preliminary Recommendations for those intent on getting the most out of the video mode

Ok. So everyone seems intent on making up for Canon's deficiencies here.

Guess, I'll come to bat as well. Why miss out on a marketing opportunity? Gotta love the DIY culture that is willing to take these Alpha/Beta products and try to make them work as they should. Note to self: remember this when introducing new ColorRight products.

First off, you need to get one of these at the very least:

Sennheiser | MKE 400 Compact Video Camera Shotgun | MKE 400

Secondly, for now you also need to make sure you have a fairly decent Mac if you want to edit the footage.

Thirdly, I am going to go back by PPR today and try out all their IS lenses to see if any of them help with the herky-jerkies. If not, expect to purchase some sort of third party steadi-cam type product which I am sure someone is already designing.

With these additions at least you might be able to use it as Doug Axford and others have suggested.


Well, some good news.

IS does seem to help, and the Sennheiser mic also works fairly well. Although, the wind shield seems to want to slide off fairly easily. A little tape or glue should fix that up. The mic was $225 at a local shop. At least it is stereo and records ok ambient sound without the grinding noises of the IS and AF motors drowning everything out.

The bad news is that there are precious few fast IS lenses. The best of the bunch looks to be the 70-200 f/2.8L IS. There is no 24-70 f/2.8L IS lens made by Canon. The next best alternative for a shorter zoom seems to be the "kit" lens 24-105 f/4 L. Kind of defeats the purpose of the video coming out of this camera, though, namely low light work. But, it does a respectable job, otherwise.

If Canon is going to take the video thing seriously, they desperately need to introduce a fast short range zoom with good IS. They should also consider adding IS to some of their great fast primes. The video I shot with the 50 f/1.2L is amazing, but you can't hand hold that combo for anything. Again, I guess the steadi-cam that someone should design should open that area back up.

All of the lenses tested with IS exhibit occasional "freezing" when panning. It seems to be worse when panning slower than when panning quicker. The cheaper 28-135 IS was somewhat helpful, but did not seem to work as well as the IS present in the better lenses. The Mode 2 IS found on the 70-200 seems to alleviate some of this effect. The 24-105 does not have a mode 2 IS. To my knowledge, the only other IS lenses having mode 2 IS are mostly the longer sports lenses (eg. the 300 f/2.8).

The 70-200 also seems to work the best because it provides a nice weight for counterbalancing the body, and has a much larger manual focus ring.

So, there you have it for the moment, I will try to have a little more go with it tomorrow.

Update 3:
Freezing during panning
Autofocus Noises
IS Improvements
Shallow DOF Request
Quotes from Other Pros
The Most Practical Use of the Video Mode I've Seen Yet
ColorRight Improves Low Light Visible Color Noise on Canon 5D MKII Video

Freezing During Panning and PC Playback Problems

There is a problem being experienced by many people with playback of video files straight from the camera. Mostly pc users are being affected. It seems to be a result of a quicktime software/ codec issue on the pc. Most footage plays back perfectly smooth at full screen when using the included zoombrowser software v. to play the files.

However, there is a second problem of "freezing" when panning. I believe this is a different, and more serious problem.

Here are two short clips illustrating the "freezing" that I saw both in the camera and in playback on the pc. One is using the 70-200 IS and the other is using the 24-105 IS. I have also seen this happen with the non-IS lenses. It seems to happen more often when panning slower.

Look for the short "freeze" about midway thru both of these short clips.

70-200 f/2.8L IS Panning "Freeze"

24-105 f/4L IS Panning "Freeze"

Improved Hand Held Performance Using IS Lenses

Here is a downsampled video showing the smoother video when using an IS lens handheld vs. the prime lenses used at the Coke Museum. There is no "freezing" in this pan. Just thought some might want to see the difference IS can make.

Shallow DOF Request

On a fairly well-lit overcast day the camera was shooting at very high isos. I remember at one point, the auto mode (the only mode there is) had pushed the aperture to 22 and the shutter was reporting something like 1500, while the iso was 3200. What is that all about? I had to train the lens on some overly bright objects just to get the iso down to 800. It seems like the ISO should be the last to increase. Why introduce noise unnecessarily?

At least let us lock out 1600 and 3200 if we can't get manual, av or tv modes.

I also don't see why we couldn't get an "av priority" type mode via firmware. This would go a long way to making it more worth the effort of dealing with all the "idiosyncracies" of this camera. Shallow Depth Of Field is one of the main arguments for going through the effort of using this video camera.

Autofocus Noises using Built in Mic

Here are two downsampled clips illustrating the types of sounds you will record if you use the built in mic.

Autofocus Noises 1

Autofocus Noises 2

Yes, that noise is simply the 50mm f/1.2 L attempting to gain focus "lock."

Similar Comments from Another Pro Regarding the Video Mode

It seems a number of folks think I've lost it with this video review.

Here are a few quotes from another pro I found regarding the video mode of the Canon 5D MKII.

"Handling the 5D MKII as a video camera is not what it should be. Face it. This is a stills camera with video capability grafted onto the Live View settings."

"Since very little (actually almost none) of the controls are designed with video in mind the 5D MKII isn't a terribly handy video recording device. For example, not having an articulated LCD screen really makes both handheld as well as tripod shooting problematic. I'll have much more to say about this in a future, more comprehensive review. One additional note. I found that the camera would stop recording after about 13 minutes."

"the Canon 5D MKII has audio capability sort of. There is a built-in microphone and speaker, but quality is low, and the camera picks up all sorts of handling noise. It's OK for reference, but that's all. There is a microphone jack, but it's one of those nasty mini-jacks, and on consumer camcorders these break all the time during even ordinary handling. A separate mike on a hot-shoe mount is really a must with this camera. There is no headphone jack for audio monitoring.
Curiously, though the 5D MKII has a mike it can't record audio notes for stills use, the way One Series cameras can. What's with that? More market segmentation engineering or simply a rush to market?"

"I did not have time to try H264 video footage straight from the camera in a variety of viewers and non-linear editing programs. But Quicktime 7 can read the files properly, and so can the latest Final Cut Pro. In both cases on a 2.6Ghz dual core Macbook Pro with 2 Meg of RAM, while the video could be played, there were dropped frames. The machine simply isn't fast enough to keep up with that amount of data."

"Just a word of caution as video clips from the 5D MKII and other camera start to become available online. Be careful of what you are looking at. No one is going to post raw out-of-camera footage at these data rates. And, even if they did, how would you view it? Even a quad-core 3 ghz fire-breathing computer can't smoothly play back these data rates.

In other words, the footage needs to be transcoded. So when you read someone on the web nattering about what they are or aren't seeing in video footage, try and figure out what is is they're doing and how they might have been seeing it. There's a whole new world of potential pitfalls for the unwary."

These quotes from Michael Reichmann can be found on this page.

Well, we did post some full-res files. See above, and yes, they are causing trouble for lots of folks, especially those on a pc.

The Most Practical Use of the Video Mode I've Seen Yet

PJ Video Interview/ Expose

Despite all of its inherent limitations, yes, the camera can be used with success.

ColorRight Improves Color and Low Light Visible Color Noise on Canon 5D MKII Video

Screen Grabs in very low light. Click on images to view hi-res.

With ColorRight Custom White Balance Tool

Without ColorRight (Auto White Balance)

Discuss this review here.

View an Open Letter to Canon regarding the 5D MKII video mode.
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