Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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                   Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - 12:30AM

Canon EOS 5D Mark II versus Sony HDR-FX1

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My brother Matt and I tried some simple test scenes to compare the HD video from his new Canon 5D Mark II with my Sony HDR-FX1. We didn't put a whole lot in to these, mainly just picking a few subjects and shooting without much manual adjustment - pretty much what most users would do with the cameras 'out of the box'. No precise matching of frames or anything was done here, just setting the cameras up next to each other and shooting for a few seconds.

click to enlarge

I captured the FX1 footage in SD downconvert mode, and used Streamclip to do the same to the MOV files from the 5D (due to me just being lazy, I didn't want to spend a lot of time rendering, and Premiere 1.5 on my dual core laptop would not support realtime editing of the 5D's files). So, no huge HD files here this time. We may do some more of these when I have my CS3 quad-core machine handy. Out of the six or seven scenes we tested, I picked three to post here. Other than the downconvert to 16x9 SD resolution, no post adjustments were made to these clips. The Streamclip conversion trashed the audio from the 5D's files, so there is no audio on the 5D's half of these clips (it does record audio with either its onboard mic or a plugged-in mic).

All in all, the 5D shoots incredible HD video for a DSLR. The depth of field capabilities (afforded by using SLR lenses for video) open the door to a lot of potential that even high-end professional HD cameras would be hard pressed to attain. The color space and dynamic range of a DSLR chip blows away what any prosumer camera can capture.

Rolling shutter test

The 5D MKII's main handicap for a storm chaser is its CMOS sensor - ruling out the ability to capture lightning footage. All video cameras with CMOS sensors utilize a rolling shutter to capture video frames, and the 5D is no different. Rolling shutter makes any footage containing rapid pulses of light (like from a lightbar strobe, camera flash or lightning strike) exhibit partial exposure on the video frame:

Flash test - Watch Video

Low light test

According to Matt, the low light capabilities of the 5D MKII for HD video have been disappointing. Apparently all of the stunning nighttime demo footage used to hype up the camera's video capabilities has been (deceptively) well-lit. In the typical garden-variety low-light scene, the 5D MKII is unable to capture a properly exposed video image without grain, even when using a fast lens such as was used in the following scene. The FX1 is also not a champion in low light, which is apparent here. Good low light HD still requires a minimum $30,000 investment in an XDCAM or Panasonic HVX900-type broadcast camera - though the way things are going, that may change in the next year or two.

Low light test - Watch Video

Motion/DOF test

Of course, nothing needs to be said about the DOF abilities of the 5D MKII over a video camera:

Motion/DOF test - Watch Video

Here's the Canon EOS 5D audio sync issue or problem. Last Wednesday I used my two 5D MkII's in a 3 camera music video shoot. The third camera was a Sony PMW-EX1. Audio was recorded on two additional devices. One audio recording device was an Edirol R4 Pro. The other audio recording setup was a Tascam USB Interface to a MacBook Pro. The Sony Camera, Edirol, and Tascam/MacBook Pro devices all synced sound perfectly over the full duration of the shoot (just over 20 minutes). To clarify - once the different sources are sync'd quickly and easily to the slate clap on the waveform at the beginning of the shoot they all stayed perfectly in sync for the rest of the video. Both Canon cameras audio and video sync'd perfectly to each other but drifted significantly from the other 3 devices even over a 3 minute segment. The is a very serious problem for me and one that introduces significant post-production trouble and expense. This issue was so unexpected (I haven't run into this in years of working with a range of equipment) that I performed 3 subsequent tests to confirm that the 5D MkII's run too fast. The results from the tests show both of my 5D Mark II run about 14 frames too fast in 10 minutes. Audio that is 1 full frame out of sync is noticeable on sharp sounds causing an echo. Audio that is 2 or 3 frames out of sync causes echo on any sound and looks odd in terms of lip sync. That the two Canon cameras audio sync'd OK to each other tells me that the cameras can be calibrated to a standard. Evidently they are just calibrated to an incorrect standard. Anybody else experience this? Does anybody really know if this is likely a chip issue or a firmware issue? Does anyone know an easy reliable way to get the clips to conform to the standard without time-consuming constant tweaking? I contacted Canon tech support and the girl there couldn't care less. She said: There is no fix and that the 5d isn't really a video camera so what did I expect? Nice!
- Posted by Michael White from

You've probably already been told this, but it's because the 5DmkIIs run at 30 FPS not 29.97 FPS which is the true industry standard. I truly hope Canon firmware fixes this otherwise we'll all have to do a lot of post transforms to get things sync'd correct.
- Posted by Minh

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