Today I bought some two Canon 550D HDDSLR’s which I intend to use as a general carry around cameras and for situations where I don’t want to risk damaging a 5DmkII or 7D. It retails for around £700 in the UK and so I wasn’t expecting too much on the video front. As it turns out this little camera is a really competent performer and the footage I’ve shot so far looks pretty much the same as my 7D to my eye. As with previous cameras I thought the best way to test it would be to shoot a short film. This time I shot in Zhongguancun, Beijing’s electronics district where you can find pretty much every gadget know to man. The results speak for themselves. The footage you see here is shot at 1080p/25 frames a second and not graded with only minor adjustments of gamma, sharpening and a little smoothcam in Final Cut Pro. The sharpness, contrast and saturation were reduced in the camera by using Picture Style as I do with my other Canons. The H.264 files from the camera were converted to Apple Prores LT before editing in Final Cut Pro. I shot mainly on a Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens, a Canon 35mm f1.4L lens and the Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 lens. To get the gliding effect I used a small slider similar to a Glidetrack but sadly it was a little damaged meaning I couldn’t get it as smooth as I wanted, this may account for a slight stuttering in the image and is not a fault of the camera. The opening shots are at 1600asa and the interiors are mainly 400 and 800asa.
I’ve had the Canon 550D/T2i for precisely twelve hours at time of writing so these are my initial findings. It features almost identical video specification to it’s more expensive sibling, the 7D. It has 1080p at 24/25/30 fps as well as 720p 50 and 60 fps. It has a connection for an external mic via minijack but has no manual control over the input volume, same as the 7D. Instead of using compact flash cards it uses the smaller SDHC or the newer SDXC cards, I used a 16gb class 6 SDHC card with no problems for an hour today.
The camera is small but feels robust considering its size but I do find the controls a little fiddly compared to a 5DmkII or 7D. The camera does away with many of the more advanced controls of the 5DmkII and 7D for stills which mean the top plate and rear are relatively uncluttered. As with the 7D there is a dedicated video trigger button but unlike the 7D there is no rear control dial for aperture, instead you have to press a button on the back plate and then rotate the same dial you use to set shutter speed. Most of the other controls are accessed by using the menus on the rear LCD and there is a simple mode dial on the top plate that is used to select the video mode. Sadly I’ve found this dial can easily be knocked out of your chosen mode, in a similar way to the dial on the 5DmkII – I do wish Canon would fix this.
The large rear LCD is very nice indeed and has 1.04 million pixels compared to 920K on the 7D. When mated with the Zacuto Z-finder the image was easy to see and very clear, I’d go as far as to say its up there with the best I’ve seen. There is a new battery the LP-E8, sadly not compatible with the earlier cameras, which gave me at least an hour actual shooting today – pretty good going. Another key difference is the lack of the ability to dial in a precise Kelvin value for white balance, instead you have to choose one of the presets like daylight, shady, tungsten etc… or alternatively balance off a white card. The camera has a smaller range of ISO choices compared to the more expensive siblings, it has 100, 200, 400, 800 ASA etc… and misses the inbetween third stop values like 160 and 320 ASA. On the plus side it has Picture styles the same as the 7D, the ability to set Highlight tone priority in video to combat clipped highlights, and an IR trigger the same as the 7D and 5DmkII.
In terms of video image quality I think it is too early to make definitive judgements about quality, moire, aliasing and rolling shutter issues but I will do more testing later.
In conclusion I think this camera is cheap enough that there is now little reason for pros who have not yet bought a HD-DSLR to not put their toes in the water and see if they like shooting video. This camera is excellent value and puts great video in the reach of many.