Several months ago I (and pretty much every other video blogger) talked about what Canon could do to improve their lineup of HD-capable dSLRs from the perspective of video production. Since then, they have added a lot of improvements, some with firmware upgrades, and some in new hardware. Here’s a quick update on where things stand today:
5DmkII – released November 2008
The pioneer. Its full frame sensor provides excellent low light performance and tremendous color reproduction, and a high bitrate MPEG-4 codec preserves a lot of image detail. However, a single processor doesn’t allow full HD out and full HD recording at the same time, making monitoring the camera difficult, and the camera is limited to 30 frames per second only. However, that will change with a firmware release expected early next year which will offer 24p and 25p, and the third-party firmware Magic Lantern enables live histograms, zebras, manual audio control with VU meters, and more.
7DmkI – released September 2009
Shoots 24p, 25p, 30p, and introduces a second processor for shooting additional framerates like 50p and 60p (when in 720p mode). With double the CPU power, it also has better monitoring options, allowing full HD output during recording, but auto-only audio is still a limiting factor. It has a new APS-C sensor which, being quite a bit smaller, has a little less sensitivity than the 5D, but allows the use of cheaper EF-S lenses (and much more expensive S35 cinema lenses). And it’s almost $1000 less than a 5D.
1DmkIV – announced October 2009
Same added processing power and framerate options of the 7D, and probably no real improvements in audio and monitoring, but it does have a brand new APS-H sensor which can see in the dark (not in low light – in the dark), and vastly reduced rolling shutter artifacts. Of course, it will be expensive. And it’s not out yet. But… it can see in the dark and there’s no jello-cam!
A couple of months ago, I bought a 5D, and I love it. It has many technical limitations, but the image quality is so good that I really don’t mind working around them. Immediately after unboxing the camera, we shot a 54-minute documentary with natural light in the space of three weeks, and I never felt tempted to reach for my XL H1.
Of course, there are also a few image limitations, but they tend to be the inevitable result of putting a video camera into a still camera body, like a lack of basic live autofocus. The aliasing and moiré patterns that can result from every-other-pixel capture exist on all three cameras, and can require a little focus adjustment to avoid. Also, the electronic iris control on certain Canon lenses can flicker when zooming.
Nevertheless, Canon’s firmware and Magic Lantern have made it a very usable filmmaking tool, especially for the price. I think that the 7D probably offers the most bang for the buck, but some documentary filmmakers could certainly use the improved low-light performance of a 1D, once it arrives.
Because I do very little still photography, the full-frame sensor of the 5D is really overkill for me, as are most EF lenses. In many ways, I would really prefer a 7D with a wider (and cheaper) selection of image-stabilized EF-S lenses, but I have to admit that the look of the 5D’s giant sensor is really hard to beat.