The last year I've been doing nature filming more and more serious. The products I do I publish on blu ray in 1080p (1920x1080) resolution and because of this resolution the quality demands are very high. A picture from my latest Blu Ray about Norway (still in production).
It has proved to be nearly impossible to get a good understanding of what camera is indeed the "best" for filming, for this reason I've been forced to begin testing myself. These are the findings...
Edit: A few images cannot be shown in full size, this will be fixed later today.
- Canon 500D ($900) (this is my current camera) with 24-105 F4 L lens
- Canon 5D ($2700) with 24-105 F4 Lens
- Canon HF200 ($600) Legria which one of canons latest camcorder.
The reason why I'm comparing these cameras is that they are all cameras I consider using. The 5D is the expensive solution which can both film and take amazing pictures. I only brought the HF200 for the test because a friend had one laying around and was much surprised by the results.
What are MY requirments?
Many filmers using 5D etc love the feature to make shallow depth of field. This means that the picture can focus at a detail and everything in the background is blurry. I mainly film wide landscapes and for this reason I don't need depth of field, instead I need the image to be as sharp as possible.
Why not use a video camera instead?
If you read this you may wonder why we shouldn't buy a video camera straight away. Well, that could be a good idea, but the slr cameras have many benefits for filming. For example video cameras that has replacable lenses are VERY expensive. By using a camera like 500D its possible to switch lenses without paying that much money. Also if you look for depth of field for doing artistic filming you must buy an expensive camera with a big sensor. The slr cameras of course also has the benefit of being super for taking photos!
The main reason for my comparisons is that I'm having problems with the video quality of the 500D. The main problems are:
- the video is always blurry. As you will see in the images below you will see that the images are far from sharp.
- 1080 can only record 20fps, which makes any motion be a bit jerky. 720 is too low resolution for me.
- No manual controls, this means that you have no idea what apperture, shutter time or iso the camera will select for you.
I filmed with the same lens (5D and 500D) and zoomed so that they would capture a similar area using a tripod. I set the 5D to F8 (possibly a bit higher, can't remember) and ISO 100 to get the maximum quality. For the 500D I tried to mimic the look of 5D as close as I could adjusting the exposure compensation. Every image has been focused with Live View at 10x to make sure the focusing is as exact as possible.
The pictures are screen grabbed from Quicktime (5D and 500D) and saved from Photoshop with 100% quality Jpegs. The HF200 is captured from the latest version of VLC with deinterlation turned on.
The Canon 500D Image looks like this (click to see full size):
As you can see the images look quite different. The 500D is a bit brighter than the other cameras, if I would film again I would try to make it a bit less bright. I'm also using 1 step extra sharpness and saturation on the 500D. I later learned that the contrast can insert big artifacts so I'm not using the extra sharpness anymore.
Lets look at the images in more detail:
The HF200 has a very nice image. It looks much like real life. Maybe there are some details that feels a bit off, I think this is because of the deinterlacing. The 5D looks nice, but you can see that it's a bit more blurry than the HF200 even though its supposed to be in focus.
The 500D suffers from very strong blurriness. Look at the leaves, it looks like they are smeared together.
Tree Trunc image
I don't think any of the pictures below looks very good. The HF200 looks the best once again. Both the 5D and 500D has a blurry tree trunc while the HF200 looks like a sharp line. Also the high lights in the bushes are too sharp in the picture from 5D and the grass doesn't have the same amount of detail as HF200. The 500D looks horrible, like an oil painting maybe. If you look closely at the tree trunc there is noise visible, blue and red splotches to the right of the tree trunc. It also looks a bit like chromatic abberation which doesn't make any sense at all. In other films I've done I noticed chromatic abberation that I never see in photos and also light shadows around details with high contrast.
Bike and sand
The HF200 looks better for the most part. You can see some bleeding around the red details on the bike. There isn't that much detail in the sand for the HF200.
The 5D sand has plenty of detail but the tree leaves are not sharp, the bike isn't very sharp either, especially the tyre.
The 500D is very blurry like the other images and there is very little detail on the sand.
Why isn't 5D and 500D better?
They both have some of the best glass in the world while HF200 has a very cheap glass, they also have super big sensors so one would think that the images should look fantastic. The 5D takes pictures in 24Mp, the 500D in 15Mp, this is where good glass is the most important, however for filming only 2Mp is used so the good glass is almost "wasted". It's only when you reach high megapixels that you will begin to see the problems with cheaper glass.
What makes a far bigger difference is:
- how the sensor captures light for the film. No information exists about this outside Canonbut it is known that Canon doesn't use all the sensors while capturing film. I read that 5D uses every 3rd sensor and 500D uses every 5th. This of course means that the sensor is not at all as efficient as one may think judging by its size.
- The 500 suffers greatly from having manual controls. I suspect that the 500D picks 16F apperture and iso 1600 or higher even for daylight situations. This would explain the strong noise and blurriness.
- Film technology is not mature on slr cameras. This is also shown in the settings and also reflected in the quality.
In this example the 500D showed that its film is not comparable at all to cheaper camcorders when it comes to sharpness. Remember that the 500D can still do many things a camcorder cannot (like switching lenses and having shallow depth of field). However this goes both ways, a camcorder can also do many things like focusing automatically which the 500D cannot. I have used the 500D for many months of filming and this behaviour of blurry images and chromatic abberation is very consistent.
For this situation the 5D is also having problems with sharpness. If you have done other films in other areas please don't hesitate to show your results and conclusions for me. I think that in general the 5D will not be able to create super sharp images in videos at a 1:1 zoomed in 1080p movie.
The Canon 7D comes with several new features, hopefully it can film sharper images than the 5D by using 2 chips to process hopefully even more sensors.
How can this test be improved
Testing hardware to give a fair comparison is not an easy thing. This test is quite good, but there is always room for improvement. To give a more clear comparison these are things that could be done:
- Low light environment. I found that the 500D was very poor in low light which I had not expected. A 2 year old Canon camcorder beat it big time. I expect the 5D to be the clear winner in dark areas.
- Comparing with a still picture. I should have one for this test and will update if I find it. It's very illuminating.
- Different environments. For example humans.
- P on camcorder and not interlaced if possible
- Adjust the sharpness and saturation sliders so they are more aligned.
- Take more care in making the strength of light identical.
So what Camera should I buy for filming?
Personally I'm still confused. It's clear that the 500D isn't good enough. The 5D is much better but still has some problems and is very expensive. Myself I will probably get a Canon HF200 and next year invest in Red Scarlet, a video camera that can record in 3k resolution with 120fps in raw format. It will cost about $4000-$7000 equiped which of course is very expensive but should also have a way higher quality than the Canon cameras (only time will tell).
If the 7D is a bit sharper than 5D then it's worth considering to upgrade to this camera also.
If you have any comments or more information please don't hesitate to contact me.