Friday, July 15, 2011

The Canon 5D Mark II, shooting video

The Canon 5D was my primary camera for two years SO when the Canon 5D Mark II was released, I looked forward to getting one. Some of the features I was most excited about was jumping from 13 mega pixels to 21 mega pixels, the larger LCD screen, and the self cleaning sensor. The video feature was interesting, but I didn’t take it seriously.

I had the Mark II about two months, and couldn’t figure out how to use the video after reading the instruction manual several times. I got the live view to work, but wasn’t able to record and play back. So when I saw that Adobe was offering a free seminar on using Adobe Premiere CS5 with the Canon 5D Mark II, I attended the event. I was amazed by how they were using this camera! The presenter was with a video production company called the Bandito Brothers, see

The brothers were using Mark II cameras with $300,000 movie lenses with custom Canon mounts. They had 16 Mark II camera bodies, and were using them in the mix with other much more expensive video cameras. Their client list includes Mountain Dew, BMW, and the U.S. Navy.

I learned that where the Canon 5D Mark II excels is in low light situations, under water, when a small, lightweight camera is needed, or when the videographer is looking for shallow depth of field and a widescreen “cinema” look. The color and definition is superb, and at 1920p x 1080p the high definition video is the real deal. I left the seminar inspired and excited, and went home and watched a number of training videos on how to use the camera for video. I began to think it might be possible to add video to my photography business services.

Knowing that I was in over my head, I began talking to my long time friend and videographer, Justin Stovall. Justin has worked for CBS and Warner Brothers, and went to film school at UCLA. He was a cameraman on shows like CSI Miami, Lie to Me and the Mentalist. I had been talking to Justin for years about starting a video production company, but with a Canon 5D Mark II; shooting great HD video was a reality. We formed an LLC called IronMyst Video Productions, and I started building our first website,

Starting any kind of company in a down economy is a challenge at best, but starting a video production company in Los Angeles, with the highest concentration of video companies of any city in America, is just plain crazy. Justin had saved enough money to live off of for a while without income, and enough to buy us a “rig” and a 5 inch battery powered video monitor. We decided to focus on the same kind of clients I have for my photography business, , food, corporate, advertising and architecture.

Five months and 8 or 9 video shorts later, I am a lot more familiar with what the 5D can do, and cannot do. You will need to spend more than the camera costs to get the accessories needed to shoot quality video, but it is worth the expense and effort.

Canon 5D Mark II video strengths:

1. The video quality is amazing. Rich color, beautiful highlights.

2. Small, lightweight, easy to carry

3. Great in low light situations, requires fewer lights in the studio than standard video cameras

4. All your Canon lenses work, so you have more options than when using a camera with one lens

Canon 5D Mark II video weaknesses:

1. Sound is a problem. The internal microphone is unusable. I purchased a $200 shotgun microphone that mounts on the hot shoe, which is good enough for corporate interviews in a quiet setting. For broadcast quality sound, you will need to invest in an external device that will allow you to plug in boom and lapel mics, and software to make it work with your video.

2. You will need one or more “rigs” that assist with focus, zoom and holding the camera steady. These could include a tripod rig, shoulder mount rig, a “steady cam rig” and so forth. We spent $2,400 on our tripod rig.

3. The monitor on the back of the camera is too small to see if your video is in focus. So you will need an eyepiece with a magnifying lens or an external monitor.

4. Some Canon lenses do not zoom smoothly, even with the large knobs on our rig. The gears mesh well, but there are little bumps and jerks with some of my older zoom lenses.
Canon Professional Services is a program for professional photographers that allow them to borrow Canon products for two weeks and try them. I was able to compare Canon XF 305, a $7,000 video camera, with the Canon 5D Mark II, in several side by side shoots. Here are my thoughts on comparing the two cameras.

The XF 305 advantages, however would also apply to many other high end video cameras:

1. Power Zoom. It is very difficult to get smooth, slow zooms with most of my lenses doing manual zooms with my rig and the 5D. The zooms on the XF 305 are smooth and beautiful.

2. Sound. The XF 305 has a good stereo mic build in, plus two professional 3 prong microphone inputs for boom or lapel mics. The 5D requires an accessory device to get the same results.

3. Viewing the video. The XF 305 has a building eyepiece monitor, and a good size flip down monitor, that works well on location. You will need accessories for the 5D to get the same results.

4. Frame rate. The XF 305 can shoot at 24, 30 and 50 frames per second, the 5D at 24 and 30. The 50 frames per second speed is good for recording video that you plan to slow down for slow motion effects.

5. Autofocus. Works great, tracks moving objects well. The 5D autofocus is not as good, less likely to track a moving object or person.

The Canon 5D advantages over the XF 305:

1. Better video. More contrast, better color, more shallow depth of field, more of a big screen movie feel.

2. Better in low light. The XF 305 was really grainy at the default setting of 50 frames per second at night. When we lowered it to 30 frames a second, it improved, but the 5D was still better.

3. Smaller, lighter. When you add a rig to a 5D it can get bulky, but shooting with minimal accessories the 5D less to carry.

I was also able to shoot some video with the Canon 7D, and although it has many of the advantages of the 5D, it does not have a full frame sensor, so it lacks that big screen movie feel that the 5D has.

You may see our videos at Most of videos were shot with the 5D, and I think you will be impressed with the food commercials shot entirely with the 5D. We will shortly release a video on Long Beach that was shot with the XF 305 and the 5D; can you tell which footage was shot with which camera?


If you are considering the purchase of a Canon 5D Mark II for still photography, I highly recommend the camera and the lens system. The quality of the images are only about 20% less than the $40,000 Phase One P45 medium format digital back and Mamiya 645 body that I used to shoot with, and with lots more zoom choices and lighter body.

If you are considering purchasing a 5D Mark II for video production, plan on spending $5,000 to $8,000 on accessories, rigs, monitors, microphones, etc. to bring the abilities of the camera up to that of a standard video camera. I recommend having both a 5D and a standard video camera in your video bag if you can afford it. But if you can only afford one video camera, you could do a lot worse than the Canon 5D Mark II. If I had to do it over again, I would buy the 5D.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)