Pro video blog…Produced by Philip Johnston DoP/Editor

As you may have seen from my earlier post I became the owner of the new Canon T2i (or 550D as it’s known in the UK) at the weekend. Clearly before using any camera in anger it’s important to see what it can and can’t do. I will say that I am not a Canon DSLR expert. I have been following the fuss and much admire some of the work done with these cameras by Phil Bloom, but frankly after playing with the Canon over the weekend I have to say I’m disappointed. Yes you can achieve shallow depth of field very easily and you do get a filmic look to the pictures, but look at the footage on a big monitor and it just looks soft. At first I wondered if this was the lens I was using, so I tried a couple of others including a nice Tamron 28mm prime. I tried different apertures, shutter speeds etc, but every clip I’ve taken looks soft. In isolation, on scenes with low detail this isn’t immediately apparent, but anything with lots of fine detail looks soft. Some of this is aliasing, look at the roof of the house in the T2i image, it appears to have diagonal roof tiles, this is a pretty typical aliasing artifact. I shot some closer shots of the buildings and the brickwork aliased like crazy.

Flowers, EX1 on left, T2i on the right.
Looking at the flowers picture you can see that the EX1 has picked up more of the subtle texture, or at least it has recorded more of the texture. I’m sure some of the Canon’s softness is due to compression artifacts. The other thing that I found is that it is tending to crush blacks a bit. I have played around with the picture styles and you can reduce this a bit, but there is very little detail in deep blacks, which would IMHO make grading tricky. The one good thing I did find was that it is very noise free at 200 and 400 asa, it’s also useable up to 800 asa or at a push 1600asa, so it would make a good camera for very low key scenes, provided you use a good fast lens. Looking at the Canon pictures there was something pleasing about the deep, almost crushed blacks. I think this helps contribute to the Canon DSLR “look” so I quickly threw together a new picture profile for the EX1/3 and PMW-350, but I’m afraid that the details of that will be the subject of another post, as I have work that I must do first! The EX images in the frame grabs were shot with this picture profile. As we all know the ergonomics of the video DSLR’s is pretty poor for video. It’s tricky to hold and you have to use an add on Loupe to make the LCD useable as a viewfinder. You can’t zoom mid shot and without peaking or zebras adjusting exposure and focus accurately is difficult. I was hoping to be able to use the 550D as a B camera for those situations where I need a small, discreet camera, but having seen the pictures, so far, for me it will be reserved for holidays and shooting where you not supposed to video and for shoots where supper shallow DoF is essential. I have to say I’m really disappointed, I wanted this camera to be so much better, I knew it would suffer from aliasing, but I wasn’t expecting the soft pictures, I guess some will say that the softness adds to the filmic look, but I’d much rather do that with some nice pro-mists or filtration in post production rather than starting out with soft pictures. Perhaps I’ve done something wrong? If I have please add a comment!

UPDATE: I was so convinced that I must be doing something wrong that I shot some more clips, this time with less harsh lighting. No, change however, the T2i is still soft and the new clips show just how big a problem aliasing is. You have to consider that the coloured moire patterns are recorded like that, no amount of grading will get rid of it. A small amount of diffusion on the camera should help, but then your going to have to work out how much to soften and diffuse each shot to make sure your not making the pictures even softer than they already are.

The aliasing issues on the Canons are well documented and well known. Yes you can reduce it’s effects by keeping the DoF shallow so that your backgrounds are always out of focus, but that restricts you to only shooting low detail objects such as faces and even then you need you make sure the person isn’t wearing a clothes with a fine pattern and that they don’t smile because you see lots of jaggies on their teeth. So this means you need some diffusion or softening in front of the lens.
One of the key reasons that the pictures from the Canons looks soft is due to aliasing. The high frequency harmonics generated by the aliasing on edges are softening the pictures and you can see this by rotating the camera and watching the picture soften and sharpen as the angles of edges change.
As for my lenses, no it’s not them softening the pictures. I can use them on the same camera to take beautiful pin sharp photographs. Switch the camera to video mode and I’m sorry but compared to a true 1080p camera it’s soft, more comparable to a 720p camera. In addition if my lenses were not sharp I would not get aliasing.
If you look on Vimeo at Phil Blooms latest clips take a look at the timelapse video “sky” that he did in Dubai. Look at the quality of that video, look at the gorgeous subtle textures in the sky and buildings, then compare it with one of his faces videos, they look soft by comparison. The difference: The timelapse video was shot by taking stills, where the camera is using the full resolution of the sensor, in video mode the Canon’s are discarding most of the sensors pixels to get the resolution down and the read rate up.
I’m sorry but until the aliasing is brought under control the Canon’s IMHO are not ready for prime time use. Sure you can make good looking web clips, but you can do that with many, many other cameras. The ONLY thing the Canons bring to the table is shallow DoF. In just about every other aspect they are lacking. Lower resolution, lower dynamic range, heat issues, limited clip duration, no audio control, no timecode, dreadful ergonomics for video.
Next time you watch a movie look at the DoF. It’s almost never taken to the ridiculous, un-natural extremes that has become the latest craze. Yes shallow DoF can be a useful tool for focusing attention on a particular subject, or to give separation between the subject and background, but consider what super shallow DoF will look like projected on a cinema screen or big screen TV as opposed to a small web video.

HDW : Strange…but if I had reported some of Alisters findings I would have been shot down in flames but it’s good to know other more technically astute video professionals have the same views on HD SLRs as me and if you follow Alisters blog as I do you will be interested to read that the BBC, Sky, Nat Geo, Discovery etc have barred their use. If you would like to read Alan Roberts assesment for the BBC then click here…


Having been working in the video business since 1988 I have amassed a great amount of knowledge of both the kit and production values over the last 30 years.

7 thoughts on “Alister Chapman dips his toe in the murky HD DSLR water !

  1. You’re obviously a pro camera man, so i respect your views, but so many professional DoPs are using the Canons now in pro environments that it’s just not believable that they aren’t up to it. I’ve seen several commercial music videos shot with them, lots of b-camera work (even on top US dramas like 24) and also a few features are now being shot with them as the main camera.

    They do have limitations (as do all digital video cameras), but with some know-how, they can be absolutely stunning for video. Ironically, they need to be treated very similarly to film cameras as opposed to video cameras. You even posted some of Dan Chung’s work on your site…lots of detail..and moving camera shots… they look great.

    You don’t have to adopt this new tech, but it’s not going away and it gives so many more budding film-makers the chance to make creative films and really learn about the art of cinematography as opposed to videography. I’ve seen some very sharp images from 7Ds on a big screen…trust me, it’s do-able.
    Just my opinion.

  2. Hey as Mr Bloom keeps telling us “this is only the beginning”. There is a lot more updates and fun ahead of us and who knows maybe Canon or Panasonic will surprise us all with a video/DSLR hybrid that pleases both camps.

  3. In US, the cost of a Sony EX1 is 8.5 times the cost of a T2i/550D, is the new Canon output 8.5 times worse?

  4. Hello,

    If you are member of Vimeo, you can sometimes be authorized by the autor to download the movie.

    So you van download the 1080p movie – A day at the races – made by Philip Bloom with a 7D (near 550D for video) with Cooke Lens (PL)… Expensive lenses but really good pictures with great details…

    Maybe you need some practice around…

    Best regards

  5. Hi – hope you dont mind me posting in a couple extracts from Philip Blooms site and shame Hurlbut for those reading this and have not read or missed these articles:

    “I had, at this point, never seen my work projected on a really good projector before so this was going to be a real test of the cameras. Rick and Mike wanted to see how well the footage held up on the big screen. They had shot some stuff and weren’t happy with what they were getting. So they converted my edit into an MXF to play through Avid and I sat down to watch the edit. I was nervous. Never having seen my work on a big screen as good as this, but also George Lucas came in to watch and also the legendary sound designer Ben Burtt. My heart was racing. I watched as the edit played and they loved it. My favourite moment was when the star timelapse came on and Ben Burtt said “Hey, now, hang on!!” This was a very quick ungraded draft edit knocked together from a crappy grey day as a test, not supposed to be shown as an example of my work! Then Quentin Tarantino came in as he was due to talk at a screening of “Inglorious Basterds” and George said to Quentin, come see this. Quentin waxed lyrical, calling it Epic and William Wylersesque and was shocked it was shot on a DSLR. He had no idea you could shoot HD video on them or they were so good. I love George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino, so to have my work screened to them was pretty special to me. Rick, Mike and I also watched some of my other work on the big screen. “Venice’s People”, “San Francisco’s People”, “Cherry Blossom Girl” and “Sofia’s People”. They all looked incredibly good on the big screen. Better than I could ever have imagined. We watched everything in the Stag theatre at the ranch too. Probably one of the best screens in the world. 40 foot screen and it looked incredible”

    and from Shane Hurlbut..

    “When I stumbled onto this HDSLR technology, I realized within minutes of using the technology that it was a “game changer” and the rulebook had to be thrown out and a new one created.

    I thought if we can start a new rulebook, what if it is done to make a difference. There is so much waste in the film business that it boggles my mind. Sets are built, torn down, thrown into a dumpster, never to be seen again; all the wood, glue, nails, labor, design, creativity thrown into the trash.

    Recycling is such an easy concept. We consume more than any other country in the world. When will we stop? When will we say no? Every little step that one single person takes adds up to a big change.

    As a cinematographer I dislike curly-que fluorescent bulbs in my home because they are not warm like an incandescent lamp and their quality is very antiseptic. But as one who wants to try and make a difference I went out and changed every light bulb in my house to a fluorescent one. It cut my electric bill by 2/3rds and I am trying to make the smallest difference so that my children can experience a planet that will not be destroyed.

    I moved my family way out of L.A. and chose to educate them at a public school, coach their sports teams and try to educate them about how our planet is sick and needs all of us to heal it.

    Now to the point. The HDSLR technology recycles, it is small, it requires less space, less crew, less light, less power, less fuel, and less food. I can go on and on for a long time about how this technology produces less waste. The most important point is that with less waste also comes the power for infinite creativity. I have coined the phrase “small footprint, big vision.” Isn’t that what we want to teach our children and the world? Leave a small footprint, but have a big vision.

    I ask all cinematographers, videographers, still photographers, directors, producers, agency creative’s, production companies, studios, actors, and technicians to embrace, push, sell, believe in, experiment, inspire, convince, persuade, not doing business as usual. Think out of the box to save our planet. It starts with one and grows to many. By the way, this HDSLR technology saves loads of money also.”

  6. “…you will be interested to read that the BBC, Sky, Nat Geo, Discovery etc have barred their use.”

    That speaks volumes to me.

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