Yesterday I had the pleasure of testing the HD video capabilities of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera. My good friend and photographer Marlon Mendonça Dias (pixelsatwork.nl) came over for diner and he brought his new camera.

Can a photo camera be used as a video camera? It would be sweet! I would love to have a second camera that is somewhat special. Since it handles like a photo camera you could also use use it differently. Great for tric shots or candid camera style recordings. And Canon lenses rock so image quality should be mind-blowing good.

So I took some shots in my garden. First I tried to film a close up of some flowers but I couldn’t get it in focus. This is a limitation of the the 24-105 mm lens I was using. Also, the standard 50 mm lens couldn’t get close enough. I would need a macro lens.

Since it’s a photo camera, many video features are not at your fingertips but somewhere in it’s menu. That makes work slow. You won’t be able to shoot manual in dynamic situations. However, ‘automatic mode’ is quite good so that might save the day.
Another limitation is the bad audio. You need an external microphone and even then, use it as reference sound only. And don’t use this camera for long recordings since it has a 4 GB file limit (± 14 minutes).

Then I did a fast pan and it looked like it stuttered. The Mark II records 1080 p, which is great, but progressive video is less smooth than old fashioned interlaced video. Shooting 1080p simply means not moving the camera too wild. I have the same experience with other 1080p videocamera’s. So I can’t blame the Canon for this. However, looking at the individual frames, there was surprisingly little motion blur. Could this be due to the great lens or the 21 MP sensor? The limitations of greatness.

Slower camera movements worked out well. The depth of field is fantastic! The colors are spot on. Skintones are great and there was a lot of detail. The Canon uses a 40 mbit/s data stream to record and that is quite a lot of information. You could shoot film-like music videos or commercials  with this camera. It might also do just fine as an underwater cam.

However, there is a downside.  When I tilted up from the ground towards the late-afternoon sky, the Canon freezed 3 framed!  It was very visible. Damn. And after reviewing all the footage, I found more single freeze frames during camera movements. It looks like the Canon chokes when it has a lot of information to process, like during camera movements or moving from a dark to a light scene.

To me, this is a show stopper. I can work around limitations and still get good results. But there is nu cure for missing frames. I would hate to find out during editing that shots are unusable due to freeze frames! And it’s always the best shot that has errors ..

If Canon can fix this, it could be a cheap option to own both a great photo camera and an near-cinematic video camera.