Two years ago, Canon introduced the 5D Mark II camera that revolutionized the video industry. This was the most groundbreaking announcement to the film making community since Panasonic introduced the DVX100 in 2002 bringing 24 frames per second to under $5000. With the 5D Mark II Canon created an HD camera with interchangeable lenses and (more importantly) the ability to capture beautiful depth-of-field all for less than $5,000.
The filming industry went nuts.
Soon everybody was jumping on board and proclaiming this the next must-have camera. Rumors that Saturday Night Live, House and 24 were shooting everything on this camera surfaced. It was everywhere. (As time passed, of course, it turned out that while a number of things in television and film were being shot with the camera, the amount had been greatly exaggerated by marketing teams.)
A year later, Canon unveiled the 7D (currently $1,900 with kit lens) which also shoots HD footage, has interchangeable lenses, but had the added bonus of shooting 60 fps in 720P, a feature lacking in its big brother's arsenal. Moreover, even though the size of the 7D's sensor is approximately half the size of the 5D Mark II, it had a similar jaw-dropping depth of field to the 5D. Finally, in March 2010 Canon delivered the Rebel t2I, which contains many of the same video features as the 7D at a much lower price.
Having purchased a t2i (and almost purchasing a 5D and 7D) and having used both the 7D and t2i in a film shoot, I felt the need to share my thoughts on these revolutionary cameras.
Please note: For the purpose of this review, I will be discussing only the video aspects of these cameras and not the photography elements. Since the t2i has so many similarities to the 7D, I will use it as the control sample at times as I review the t2i. (If you want to read the standalone review of the 7D, be sure to check it out here.)
Different views of the EOS Rebel t2i.
Ease of Use
The Rebel t2i is extremely easy to set up. The menus make sense, and all the buttons are right where I expect them to be. Whenever I get a camera I like to play around with it and shoot some video before I read the instructions (Hey, I'm a guy!). I picked it up, threw a battery/memory card in and flipped the dial to movie mode. Soon I was shooting great HD footage like I had seen advertised.
I'd recommend turning off the automatic modes before shooting. It was extremely frustrating to set the lighting and then have the iris change automatically on me.
One thing that's somewhat frustrating is capturing audio. All of Canon's DSLR cameras use a small mini jack rather than a professional XLR input. I wouldn't plan on capturing your project's final audio with this. Instead you will need an additional recording device for audio (I'd recommend a Zoom h4n or an additional video camera with XLR inputs). I know it's a pain to sync up audio later, but it's better than having "cheap" audio. (In the future, we'll look at some third party solutions for syncing external sound to the onboard audio of these camera.)
Perhaps the biggest downside of the T2i is its lack of autofocus while in video mode. I know some of you are screaming at me, "A TRUE professional always shoots in manual focus mode!" but this is simply not practical for all purposes (sports, weddings, guerilla style shoots, etc). A lot of the videos I shoot are "run 'n gun" type of events that don't allow the opportunity for manual focus, which is why I didn't purchase one of these cameras initially. If you don't have a good eye for focus, this camera is not for you. (Some third party manufacturers, like Zacuto have already produced viewfinders to assist with this issue and others like Redrock Micro will soon be releasing their own viewfinders)
Depth of Options
The main reason anybody would buy one of these cameras is depth-of-field. There are no better options if you value having that "cinematic" look. The t2i shoots in 24 & 30 fps in 1080P, and 24, 30, and 60 fps in 720P. It also has great ISO options (varying from 100-6400) for you to choose from.
Unfortunately, the T2i doesn't have quite the options that it's big brother does (Canon's 7D). They offer the same frame rates, but the 7D gives more options for ISO. The T2i offers no steps between 800 and 1600. Whereas the 7D offers an additional step of 1200.
Example of Video Recorded on t2i.
(From Jeremy White's discussion of additional accessories to consider with the t2i.)
The first thing I noticed about this camera was its size. It is SO much smaller than my regular video cameras (Pansonic's DVX100 and HMC150). While its lightweight wasn't a drawback, it just wasn't what I was used to using. Additionally, the t2i is significantly smaller than the 7D. Personally, I prefer the size of the 7D. It just "felt better" in my hands.
I'd heard that the T2i performed great in low light, but I wanted to see it with my own eyes. I was not disappointed. It delivered stunning video even in the darkest of conditions (note: you'll want to make sure you have a lens with a good f-stop. I recommend Canon's 50mm, 1.4 f-stop lens, $349).
The footage produced by this camera is remarkable. I recently did a shoot using my t2i and my Panasonic HMC150. I honestly prefer the image quality of the t2i over the HMC150. The footage just looks "more professional." The colors seem richer, the lighting seems better (and of course the depth of field is considerably greater).
The hardest thing about using a DSLR is finding your focus. I recently purchased a ZFinder Pro from Zacuto ($375). This greatly helps in making sure you have sharp focus. I'd also recommend a good monopod/tripod as the t2i doesn't perform great while hand-held.
Something that can be extremely frustrating with this camera is that it can only record up to twelve minutes at a time (when recording in 1080). At that point you'd have to hit the record button again. If you do a lot of event videography or shoots that require long takes – this is not the camera for you.
Also, the camera can over-heat after extended use. I've never had my HMC150 turn off on me, but the t2i overheated the first time I took it out. I had to let it sit for a while and cool.
Shooting with this camera takes some getting used to. Menus/settings/switches are slightly different than on a traditional video camera. Not bad, just different.
A small thing (but definitely something to remember) is that Canon's DSLR cameras flat out CAN'T do a swoosh pan. It produces a "jell-o effect" and makes the footage warble.
I think I prefer shooting on the 7D over the T2i mostly because it's easier to switch to video mode. On the T2i you have to rotate a knob to the video setting. On the 7D you just have to flip a switch. I know it sounds crazy, but it really does make it a bit easier to use.
The battery lasts surprisingly long on the T2i. I did a 12 hour shoot the other day and only ran through four batteries. I was very pleased. (With that being said, the 7D does offer slightly longer battery life…but not by much).
Yes, this camera delivers gorgeous footage at a significantly lower cost than their rivals, BUT by the time you buy a ZFinder, a Zoom h4n, a good monopod/tripod and some lenses – the savings aren't quite what you expect.
Final Comments If you want a cheap camera that delivers great video – I'd highly recommend the T2i. The footage looks the exact same as the more expensive 7D's. If you want a camera that "feels" better, is bigger and has slightly better controls – go with the 7D. These cameras are great for "traditional" film shoots, but aren't necessarily the best in run 'n gun settings.
Jeremy White has literally traveled the world making short films. Most recently, Jeremy traveled to China and Peru to shoot promotional videos for non-profit organizations. His film “Leaves” won the 2005 Highbridge Film Festival.