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Canon EOS 550D (Rebel T2i)

DSLR Still & Video Camera By JG Harding
Published July 2010

Canon's 550DRebel T2i promises the same video quality as their acclaimed 7D, for half the price. Is this now the cheapest way to make a high‑quality video?

If you're interested in digital video, you'll probably have noticed the rising trend for shooting using DSLR stills cameras, particularly using a few specific Canon models. The popularity of DSLRs as video cameras has risen sharply over the last few years, due in no small part to the fact that the cameras have very large sensors when compared to traditional camcorders, allowing videographers to capture footage with shallow depth of field, and in low‑light conditions, at a relatively low cost. A quick search on YouTube or Vimeo will reveal a large number of videos, most exhibiting a remarkably film-like appearance and shallow depth of field.

Canon EOS 550D (Rebel T2i)The first such camera to become popular with film makers was the Canon EOS 5D MkII, with its full‑frame (35mm) sensor. Canon later released the EOS 7D, with expanded video capabilities and a dedicated video mode switch, but a smaller APS-C sensor. As the popularity of DSLR film‑making has climbed, a whole market for DSLR accessories has sprung up. Countless stands at the recent NAB exhibition in Las Vegas were packed with stabilisation mounts, follow focus units, and all kinds of weird and wonderful accessories that I'll cover in more detail later! To bring the story right up to date, Canon have updated the firmware for the 5D MkII to include a useful variety of frame‑rates, while Carl Zeiss have supported the scene by releasing their eye-wateringly expensive Compact Prime 2 professional cinema lenses in Canon's EF mount, allowing high‑end glass to be used with EOS cameras. Back down to earth, and Canon have opened up the impressive video features of the 7D to the consumer market, with this, their latest EOS offering, the 550DRebel T2i.

Canon's 550DRebel T2i (called the 550D in the UK, as used for our photo shoot) marks the uppermost point of the consumer DSLR range designed for casual shooters, with the professional 7D and 5D MkII sitting above. (In case you're interested, only the exotic and wallet‑lightening 1D MkIII and 1D MkIV are above these models. I'll leave you to Google their prices, but brace yourself!) Consequently, the 550DT2i shares cosmetics and controls with the consumer models, including its predecessor, the 500DT1i. The 500DT1i was the first EOS to introduce 1080p video capture at a consumer price point, but its voyage into film‑makers' hands was scuppered by lack of manual exposure control and an odd rate of 20fps when shooting 1080p footage.

Made For Movies?

It's important to note that although this review is written entirely from a video maker's perspective, video capture is something of an extra feature rather than a raison d'être of the EOS range. Video capture was originally introduced to help journalists augment their photographs quickly and easily, so the primary purpose of the unit is still-image capture. The camera features an impressive 18 megapixel CMOS sensor with a single Digic IV processor in the driving seat, while exposure metering is handled by a 63‑zone system. Connectivity includes a combined USB and video out, a mini HDMI connector, a 3.5mm stereo microphone input, and a socket for a remote shutter release.

The 550DT2i addresses the major failings of the 500D'sT1i's video mode straight away, bringing with it full manual control of exposure and a wide choice of frame rates at full HD, covering both PAL and NTSC territories (See 'Video Modes & Their Uses' box). It also boasts the largest rear screen seen yet on a Canon DSLR, with a 5:4 ratio and 740 x 480 resolution, meaning that, unlike most DSLRs, the 550D'sT2i's screen is exactly the same shape as the sensor. In practice, this means that semi‑transparent grey borders appear at the top and bottom of the screen when you're shooting 16:9 video, which is a surprisingly useful feature, allowing you to see what's just out of shot.

The 550DT2i (right) is remarkably similar to its predecessor, the 500DT1i (left), the most notable differences being the larger screen and the new combined Live View and video record button to the right of the viewfinder.The 550DT2i (right) is remarkably similar to its predecessor, the 500DT1i (left), the most notable differences being the larger screen and the new combined Live View and video record button to the right of the viewfinder.The 550DT2i comes in almost identical form factor to the older 500DT1i, with subtle adjustments being made to improve handling (see photo above). The body is constructed from stainless steel inside and plastic outside, and is very light indeed, meaning that connecting any kind of high‑quality zoom (one including many heavy lens elements) is going to make the camera very front‑heavy!

Big Brother's Little Brother

Unlike its pro brothers — the 7D and 5D MkII — the 550DT2i is not weather sealed. If, like me, you live in a country with unpredictable weather conditions, you'll need to be careful shooting outdoors! Lack of weather sealing also means that dust and grime could, in theory, creep into buttons over time, to cause problems, but a bit of due care (don't eat, then operate the camera without washing your hands, for example!) should avoid this problem. It's worth noting that some lenses are weather sealed, but most are not. (To get a fully weather sealed lens, you would need to invest in one of Canon's luxury range, such as the 16‑35mm 'L', which carries a hefty price tag around twice that of the 550DT2i body alone.) The sensor is kept clean each and every time the camera is powered off, as a tiny motor shakes dust particles away. The sensor also features an anti‑static coating and intelligent software‑based dust detection, which maps dust particles for later removal! If you still find your sensor is dirty, you can access an intensive clean from the menu.

Even if the 550D'sT2i's lack of weather sealing is a shame, it certainly serves to keep both the weight and cost of the camera down. Considering the increased price of the 7D, there aren't a huge amount of differences between the two models, a fact that's led to the 550D'sT2i's on-line moniker, 'the half‑price 7D'. The 550D'sT2i's cropped APS-C sensor is practically the same as that used in the 7D, with one less processor on board to handle still shots. This results in a reduction in still-frame shooting speed from 8fps to only 3.7fps, something that's of little interest to video makers, especially when we consider that the video features (frame rates and resolutions) are identical, with the extra Movie Crop mode being exclusive to the 550DT2i.

The 550DT2i stores footage to SD cards, and is compatible with both SDHC and the very new SDXC cards, for huge potential shooting capacities. Models in the pro range use Compact Flash, but I have to say I prefer SD for the small size, lower cost and write‑protection tab.

As a final note of comparison, Canon cameras are guaranteed for a certain number of 'shutter actuations'. The 7D is able to move the assembly blocking the sensor at least 150,000 times before mechanical failure becomes more likely. No official figure is available for the 550DT2i, but models in the same range survive around 100,000 cycles. For a video user, this is not much of an issue, as the mirror assembly moves up and down far less in video mode than when taking stills.

The dedicated video mode of the 550DT2i is accessed via the main mode wheel on the top, which is less convenient than the dedicated video‑mode switch on the back of the 7D.

The 550D'sT2i's video mode is accessed via the mode wheel on the top of the body, which is a little less convenient than the the professional 7D's dedicated switch.The 550D'sT2i's video mode is accessed via the mode wheel on the top of the body, which is a little less convenient than the the professional 7D's dedicated switch.The 550DT2i also lacks the second dial on the rear face, for directly controlling other settings, such as aperture, and lacks the ability to manually dial in white‑balance temperature. We can thus narrow down the major differences between the consumer 550DT2i and the professional 7D to build quality, durability, ease of customising, weight and price, with the 550DT2i coming out on top in the last two stats. Two out of five ain't bad!

Memory, Batteries & Lenses

The camera stores footage to the memory card at a relatively high data rate of 48Mbps, shooting 4:2:0 8‑bit footage in H264 I‑frame format. A Class 6 SDHC card or faster is recommended. A fast SD card reader is recommended too: I bought a very cheap one and transfers to my system were very slow, so be warned! A little bit of healthy paranoia led me to buy myself two 8GB Class 6 cards (20MB/s models) for the review, rationalising that if I did accidentally dunk one in a post‑shoot pint, I'd at least be able to salvage some footage! If you have no such fear of accidental destruction, you'll find the 330MB-per-minute data rate allows you to cram nearly four hours of 1080p footage onto a 64GB card, which at the time of writing is the largest capacity available. Clips at 1080p resolution are limited to 12 minutes in length though, so there can be a lot of files to keep track of. Usefully, the live view displays the current recording time remaining at current size and frame rate, switching to display current clip duration once recording is started. Memory cards are not included with the camera, but are often sold in retail bundles.

I found that I got about an hour of video use out of the stock battery, with power-saving settings (which switch off Live View after a preset time) at default. The fact that the rear screen must remain on while setting shots and recording takes its toll on battery life, so I was careful to switch the camera off whenever it wasn't needed. Some users have reported shorter and longer battery times, so it's likely a lot of factors are at play, from clip lengths to temperature. Either way, packing extra batteries for a shoot is pretty much essential. Remaining life is reported by a four‑level indicator on the rear screen. I found it useful to label the batteries A, B, C and so on, so I could easily keep track of how many I'd used, and how many I had left for the shoot.

The 550DT2i can be purchased as a body only, or with a lens, and I received the Canon 18‑135 IS EF‑S and 10‑22mm USM EF‑S lenses. The former has a good zoom range and image stabilisation, while the latter is a very wide‑angle lens with UltraSonic Motor focus. Image stabilisation uses tiny motors to adjust the lens elements, correcting for vibration, while UltraSonic Motor focus drives the autofocus swiftly and quietly. Do note that with an APS-C sensor in the 550DT2i, which is cropped by a factor of 1.6 compared to a 35mm sensor, all focal lengths are 1.6 times longer than they would be with a 35mm (or full‑frame) camera like the 5D MkII. The EF‑S mount is a modified version of the EF mount for APS‑C bodies, and APS‑C bodies can use both EF‑S and EF-mount lenses. I also had some EF lenses of my own already: a large and heavy Sigma 24‑70mm f2.8 EX DC DG EF lens, and two old Pentax K-mount lenses on EF adaptors, a Revuenon 55mm f1.2 and a Takumar 28mm f2.8, the second of which I bought on a whim on a shooting day! I also took a set of Camray Macro adaptors for my Revuenon, which screw onto the front of the lens to allow very close focus. These last two Pentax lenses are manual focus only, but since that's really your only option in video mode, I wasn't bothered!

Technically speaking, autofocus is available in video mode, but is only really usable before filming begins. Using AF Live and Face Recognition autofocus modes makes the camera seek through the focal range a few times before settling on a focus point, while Quick Mode drops the mirror, removing the image for a second. Both can be accurate, and are good for getting a point of focus, but once you're shooting you'll have to rely on manual focus.

Sound

The 550D'sT2i's on‑board sound capabilities are limited to a mono mic built into the camera body, with automatic gain control (AGC) compressing the sound. Sound is recorded in stereo linear PCM format, at 44.1kHz, 16‑bit, while the usual rate for video recording is 48kHz. For those looking to record high-quality sound on‑set, the options are either a separate voice-recorder (a clapper‑board or hand clap will be needed to help sync the audio in post production) or an adaptor such as the Beachtek DXA5D, which plugs into the 3.5mm mic jack socket and gives you XLR connections, defeating the AGC. The camera's own mic can be useful as a slate track when editing, or a guide track for sync'ing other recorders.

Action!

Aside from a few random shots of the family cat, I took the camera out on two expeditions during the review time. The first was a 'run and gun' type, where I wandered around Brighton, on the south coast of England, trying to find nice shots and test the camera in the field. The second outing was a very short film shoot of a poet reading a composition in a much more controlled environment. For both shoots, I had a Manfrotto tripod and HDV501 head, as well as a simple aluminium shoulder-mount 'rig' bought for around £200 from eBay.

In sunny weather, Brighton is very bright, hence the name! This presented a couple of problems for the 550DT2i. When in video mode, you can only view what you're shooting on the screen on the back, and in very bright conditions this becomes impossible without some kind of shade. Secondly, unlike camcorders, the camera has no built in ND filters, so you have to close the aperture or raise the shutter speed in order to reduce the amount of light coming into the lens, both of which options introduce aesthetic side‑effects which may not be desirable. These two problems can be solved with accessories: there are plenty of clip‑on viewfinders out there for DSLRs that serve to shade and magnify the rear screen, as well as screw‑on ND filters and ND 'fader' filters (where the amount of ND filtration can be adjusted by rotation) for lenses. Finally, a more serious investment would be a matte box, which attaches to a rig and allows glass filters to be placed in front of the lens. As it was, I didn't have any of these to hand, so I had to make do with a small aperture and high shutter speed.

Manual focus tracking in 'run and gun' situations is difficult, requiring quite a bit of skill and practice. You may have time to autofocus first, but after that you're left with manual control. Also, since the screen is only 720 x 480 pixels and your footage is 1920 x 1080, it's very easy to get focus a little off and be disappointed when you view the footage in the edit suite. If you have more time with your subject, the Live View Zoom function allows both 5x and 10x magnification of an area of the screen, letting you view only the subject's mouth, for example, at full screen, to get the focus just right. The real shame is that this mode is unavailable once you hit 'record', so any movement will either have to be anticipated or reacted to with incredible accuracy, or else be out of focus to some degree.

The shoulder mount was invaluable, as with handheld footage the 'jello' effect of the CMOS sensor was fairly evident in the subtle wobble of my hands. I find most rolling‑shutter effects easy to work around, but the juddering of hand movement becomes quite destructive once viewed at 1080 resolution. These issues give rise to a need for further accessories: the aforementioned shoulder mount or 'rig', and the 'follow focus'. A follow focus kit is comprised of gear rings that are attached to the focus ring of a lens, and a separate wheel that is turned to drive the gears. Moving the wheel without touching the camera helps to isolate the user's juddering hands and prevent the movement from being transferred to the image. As I didn't have a follow focus, my focus pulls were invariably wobbly, involving supporting the shoulder‑rig with one hand while turning the ring with the other. Like all such things, with practice this would become easier.

This frame was shot at 1080p using a very fast prime lens, which provided a lot of light and nice shallow depth of field. The ISO1600 setting shows some noise.This frame was shot at 1080p using a very fast prime lens, which provided a lot of light and nice shallow depth of field. The ISO1600 setting shows some noise.The ability to change lenses so freely with the 550DT2i is quite wonderful, as is the availability of Canon lenses and adaptors for other types. The distance between the flange of the lens mount and the sensor is quite large, meaning that many mounts from lenses past and present, including M42, Pentax K and Contax/Yashica, can be adapted for use. As a case in point, I popped into Clock Tower Cameras in Brighton and purchased the 28mm Takumar prime for around £40, as I already had an adaptor.

For my second test, I used the camera in much more controlled circumstances. I gave my friend Chris Underwood a call, and asked him to lend me his acting and poetry skills for the afternoon. I also borrowed another friend's garden shed, which I had once commented had "great natural lighting”, to many a raised eyebrow. I popped a Zoom H4N audio recorder in the bag as well, and headed to the location.

Poetry In Motion

In a controlled environment, the 550DT2i becomes a much more powerful tool. After removing plenty of rubbish, a drum kit and a particularly hideous carpet from the shed, I set about taking cutaways and left Chris to rehearse. The extended setup of a planned shoot allowed me to set perfect focus using the Live View Zoom function, and to mark Chris's position on the floor with masking tape, so as to make focus repeatable between takes. The controlled pace also allowed me, even without a follow focus, to rehearse focus pulls and mark them on the lens ring with a little bit of tape as well. Exposure could be checked by taking a still picture and viewing the histogram, or just by looking at the screen or half depressing the shutter release button, giving an indicator of measured exposure.

The custom white balance setting is in the main menu, accessed via the Menu button in still mode. The menu helpfully remembers the cursor position, so setting white balance on set isn't quite the hassle it could be.The custom white balance setting is in the main menu, accessed via the Menu button in still mode. The menu helpfully remembers the cursor position, so setting white balance on set isn't quite the hassle it could be.White balance was set by taking a picture of a white sheet of card and selecting it as the 'Custom' preset in the menu. This involved switching back to camera mode to take the shot and set the white balance to 'custom'. For each re‑balance a still must be taken and the menu button depressed, after which you can choose the last image as your white balance. The menu helpfully remembers the cursor position above the 'Custom White Balance' setting (see above), making the process less daunting than it sounds.

In an indoor setting, fast lenses become very useful, and wide maximum apertures help to achieve good exposure at low ISO settings. The trade-off here is that wide apertures (especially f‑stops smaller than 2) also make focus more difficult to get just right, as the depth of field is so shallow. With regard to ISO settings, noise is a visible artifact at ISO 800, when viewing full 1920 x 1080. It's best to keep the ISO as low as possible, as higher setting increase noise and degrade picture quality quickly (see ISO box). Having said that, the noise is less of an issue than with most small‑chip camcorders. Given the relatively large sensor, low light performance with a fast lens is just as great as that of the 7D, though the full‑frame (and much more expensive) 5D MkII performs a little better!

In The Edit

As I've already mentioned, I made a poor decision when buying a card reader, so I had to wait a long time for files to copy to my computer, so be wary of card reader bargains! Each video file is named 'MVI_xxxx.MP4', with 'xxxx' being a number that climbs incrementally with each take. Since there is no timecode attached to the clips, good logging on set — as well as slating takes with a nice loud scene call — saves a lot of time in the edit process. My edit system is a Windows 7 64‑bit PC running Premiere Pro CS5. It's powered by an i7 940 2.9GHz processor, has 12GB 1600MHz RAM and is accelerated by an Nvidia Quadro FX3800 GPU. This isn't the most powerful system, but it's not slow, and Premiere Pro CS5's native handling of DSLR video, combined with the Mercury playback engine, made workflow smooth and painless.

I also tried editing in Premiere CS4 under Windows 7 32‑bit on a Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz powered MacBook Pro, with 3GB RAM, to get an idea of how a lesser system would cope with native editing. Unsurprisingly, playback was quite choppy, so a high‑spec machine is recommended for editing natively at full HD. Users of Avid Media Composer 5 benefit from native support for DSLR video codec, while Final Cut Pro users can download Canon's free EOS E1 plug‑in to enable native editing, or transcode the footage to Apple ProRes. Sync'ing the audio was pretty easy, and involved simply lining up the peaks in the H4N file with those from the on-camera audio.

Upon playback in a critical environment, footage looked, on the whole, excellent in quality. Up to ISO800, the footage is great, but once you pass this figure you're looking at a repair job in post production. The codec struggled somewhat with the edges around very bright red, but this issue is not confined to DSLR footage by any means, and is more to do with the 4:2:0 sub‑sampled codec. When scaled to 720p or lower (for web viewing), the quality is quite wonderful. Viewing at 1080p reveals more flaws, as with all HD cameras, so carefully considered production practices, plus some colour correction and noise reduction, can help a lot.

A Bug's Life

There are some specific parts of the 550DT2i firmware that could do with being kinder to film‑makers, as the software sets a few limitations that require workarounds. Most camcorders include 'peaking', which enhances edges on the viewfinder to aid focus; and 'zebra', where black and white stripes will scroll across over-exposed portions of a shot, marking them out clearly as an issue. The 550DT2i has no peaking or zebra indicators, and we can only hope that Canon elect to include them in a firmware upgrade. The lack of histogram when recording is a shame, as is the inability to auto-focus smoothly in real time. The thing that frustrated me the most, however, was the inability to keep the 5x‑ and 10x Live View Zoom active when recording.

The lack of in‑body image stabilisation means that you'll only get this kind of assistance from a lens that has this feature built in. Although tripod shots were fine, I found using the rig quite difficult, and moving steadily and reliably would take some practice. The time limit on recording clips only becomes an issue if you intend to record long clips. (It's best to remember that a traditional reel of 35mm film would only contain around 10 minutes!) The 12‑minute cap is fine for most situations, but if you wanted to record an entire gig or school play without having to stop and restart recording, you may want to use a different camera. One issue I found frustrating was the moire patterning with fine lines (see 'Moire: What It Is & What To Look Out For' box) but this is something you can avoid in a controlled environment.

Conclusions

As is probably clear, DSLR still cameras are not suited to all video-capture situations. The wonderful film‑like depth of field can become a problem if you're tracking an unpredictable subject, such as a wild animal, but is quite wonderful when shooting with a well-rehearsed actor. The footage available from the 550DT2i is a beautiful thing, though you'll most likely need to accessorise to capture the perfect shot. Whether this is right for you depends what you want to do with your camera.

If we think of the DSLR as a body only, a sensor and encoding device, rather than comparing it directly to fixed-lens camcorders, it starts to make sense as a budget film‑making tool. Where a high‑quality camcorder could cost you £3000 in the UK, you can buy a 550DT2i body, some lenses, a rig, follow focus, separate voice recorder or audio adaptor, plus microphones, for similar money if you shop around. One setup provides convenience and simple portability, the other provides a more film‑like look for the cost. The two solutions are very different horses, fit for their respective courses!

DSLR film‑making was, for me, immensely enjoyable. Making a successful piece with the camera requires planning, careful accessorising and, in some cases, compromise, but this is the case with most productions I've carried out. The process of shooting successfully with the 550DT2i feels somehow closer to that of making a small‑scale movie, with the need for separate sound and picking the right lenses for a particular shot. The workarounds, for me, encouraged good practice: rehearsal, shot logging, marking actors' positions and focus-pull points, considered lighting and composition.

The same video features that made the 7D such a popular video camera are now available for around half the price, and though I've made no mention of it until now, the bonus is that the 550DT2i is more than enough stills camera than most of us will ever need! Though some may be put off by the need to accessorise so comprehensively, equivalently priced camcorders are unlikely to give the same filmic quality of footage. What I find most amazing, though, is just how nice the pictures are in the right circumstances, considering that the camera is designed as for stills, first and foremost. For the seasoned camera user who's looking to dabble in DSLR, the 550DT2i provides a budget entry point, and for a beginner it's a great way to learn fast. There are plenty of budget accessories to be found on-line that'll give a taste of what's available from established companies, and prices appear to be dropping as competition hots up.

It will be interesting to see how other companies react to the popularity of DSLR, and to see if Canon decide to develop video features in their DSLR range, or to make some kind of camera that further bridges the gap between still and video capture. Rumours abound of forthcoming camcorders with full‑frame chips from other manufacturers, and RED have announced a small (but very expensive) DSLR-style camera, which fits PL, Canon EF and Nikon mount lenses, to complement their popular 'ONE' cinema camera.

For the casual music video or film maker, the choice of camera is a question of style. If you don't want to learn to control each and every shot manually, and you aren't looking to do more than capture a performance, a camcorder with a decent built‑in stereo mic would probably suit you better. If you're a budding director and want to get as close to the look of your favourite movie as you can for as little cash as possible, you could do far worse than buy a 550DT2i, learn your way around it like an instrument, and hire the larger accessories and better lenses for weekend shoots. Despite the workarounds, shooting with the 550DT2i is addictive, and I have to say I'm hooked!  

Video Modes & Their Uses

Canon EOS 550D (Rebel T2i)Canon EOS 550D (Rebel T2i)

The EOS 550DT2i includes quite a variety of video modes. Frame rates available at 1080p include 24fps (23.976), 25fps and 30fps (29.976), while 720p shooting allows you to select 50fps or 60fps. There is also a VGA mode available at 50fps and 60fps. The new 'movie crop' mode uses just the central portion of the sensor to capture footage, giving an effective 7.2x zoom, but it only records in VGA 30fps (640 x 480), making it not much more than a curiosity, or perhaps useful for signature shots. Who knows, we may see full 1080p movie crop in future models, which would be great for achieving a moon‑reaching focal length without astronomically expensive lenses!

The 550DT2i has two useful double frame‑rate modes: 720p at 50fps and 60fps. Despite the drop in resolution, these modes are particularly good for slow-motion video. Since I live in the UK and edit in PAL, my standard frame rate is 25fps. If I shoot a sequence in 25fps and want to slow it to half speed, the NLE will need to create new frames in between the old ones. If I shoot at 50fps and slow down to half speed, I'll have exactly 25fps. In this case, scaling up from 720p will result in a sharper image than using frame blending to generate new frames. Slow motion is used in the majority of pop videos at the time of writing, being effective at making dance and other movements very involving.

Canon Software Bundle

Canon EOS 550D (Rebel T2i)Canon EOS 550D (Rebel T2i)The EOS 550DT2i ships with a CD of software for OS X and Windows, which includes plenty of utilities for photographers. The two most exciting pieces of software for videographers are the EOS Utility and the Canon Picture Profile Editor. The former allows such pedestrian tasks as image and video file download but, more usefully, it allows you to watch the Live View on a computer. Using EOS Utility, you can set up a laptop as a high‑resolution monitor on set, checking focus in near to full 1080p resolution if you have a 1920 x 1080 laptop screen. Feedback is slightly choppy, but it's perfect for setting focus without having to use Live View Zoom.

Canon EOS 550D (Rebel T2i)Canon EOS 550D (Rebel T2i)The Picture Profile Editor allows customisation of picture profiles, which apply specific 'looks' to the video. The editor is very accurate, allowing you to select a tiny band of colour from the wheel and adjust its hue, saturation and lightness, storing the profile for use in the camera. The changes can be made for many different colour ranges at once, allowing everything from extreme cartoon effects to emulation of vintage film stocks at the recording stage. With a little searching on‑line, I found a Fuji Velvia profile, which mimicks the look of a famous type of film, and a 'super flat' profile, which increases the captured dynamic range, allowing for more extreme grading in post production. During my review time, I only played a little with this tool, but in the right hands it looks as though it could be very powerful indeed.

Moire: What It Is & What To Look Out For

One area in which all of the current video DSLRs struggle is with horizontal striped patterns, distant and fine textures such as canvas, and highlights that are acutely angled close to horizontal. This problem is enhanced if using 'dutch angles', where the camera is tilted away from the horizontal plane. Such subjects create moire artifacts, multicoloured patterns that look quite aggressive and unnatural.

The sensor in the 550DT2i is 18MP, or 5184 x 3456 pixels. In order to get the benefits of a large sensor (good low-light performance, shallow depth of field) Canon need to create a 1920 x 1080 image from the 18MP sensor at very high speed. Down‑sampling an image is an intensive process, and moire is a form of aliasing (jagged edges) that ocurs when pixel rows are simply discarded, rather than the rows of the new image being derived from the full original, using a more flattering but intensive process.

The practical consequence is a need to be aware of what's in your shot, especially what's in the distance. If it's covering a significant area of the frame, moire will be seen in Live View. At one point during the shooting of my second test, I took a cutaway of a basket of synthetic flowers. I didn't notice it at the time, but the canvas texture of one of the petals began to dance with moire patterns when it came into sharp focus. The worst example I've seen was a shot of a print on black and white canvas, which pulsed with spinning moire patterns as the user zoomed in and out! This poor performance with aliasing was a factor leading to the BBC's rejection of the 5D Mkii, 7D and 550DT2i for production purposes. As it was, I just removed the moire‑addled section in the edit, but it's something to be aware of on set because it's hard to fix in post production.

ISO Settings & Noise

The ISO setting is analogous to 'Gain' in most camcorders. The 550DT2i allows you to adjust the sensitivity of the sensor in one‑'stop' increments, with each doubling of the number being a single stop. Shooting with a higher ISO setting will allow you to use a higher shutter speed or higher (smaller) f‑stop or aperture. Unfortunately, raising the ISO setting is destructive to image quality, progressively eroding edge fidelity and colour richness, and introducing chroma (colour) and luma (black and white) noise.

Canon EOS 550D (Rebel T2i)Canon EOS 550D (Rebel T2i)

Above are some full‑size crops from 1080p video shot at various ISO settings. For the purposes of the test, I disabled the camera's own noise reduction. ISO 100 has by far the deepest dynamic range, with 800 still very good, but beginning to show noise. ISO settings of 1600 and up will require noise reduction in post.

Pros

  • High-quality footage.
  • Shallow depth of field easily available.
  • Great low‑light performance.
  • Changeable and widely available lenses
  • Satisfying workflow that encourages planning.
  • Great for controlled environments.

Cons

  • Much accessorising needed.
  • Less convenient than a camcorder.
  • 'Moire' is an issue with some subjects.
  • Lacks zebra and peaking indications and manual audio gain.
  • Successful shooting requires more forethought than some may be comfortable with.

Summary

The EOS 550DRebel T2i brings the DSLR video experience down to a great price, putting wonderfully film‑like footage within the reach of the dedicated hobbyist or semi‑pro. The need to use plenty of accessories when adapting the camera for serious video use means that it's not quite as cheap as it seems, but if you're careful and plan your shoot well, the resulting footage speaks for itself.

information

Body, £799; with 18‑55mm kit lens, £899; with 18‑135mm kit lens, £1099. Prices include VAT.

Canon UK +44 (0)1737 220000.

www.canon.co.uk

Body only, $799; with 18‑55mm kit lens, $899; with 18‑135mm kit lens, $1099.

Canon USA +1 800 65 22666

www.usa.canon.com

Published July 2010