In my ongoing review of the Canon Rebel T1i (aka 500D) and the Nikon D5000 (see the T1i vs. D5000 ISO Comparison), I decided to take a closer look at the video functionality of these two cameras since it is one of the headline features in both models. Below, you will find a review of each camera’s video capabilities, followed by some embedded samples and a link to download the full resolution video files. Each camera’s kit lens was used in the samples below.
Canon Rebel T1i Video Review
The Canon Rebel T1i is the only one of the two that claims to capture “Full HD”. Canon needs to put an asterisk on this claim though. The term Full HD has become synonymous with 1080p resolution. While the Canon Rebel T1i can capture 1080p resolution video, it does so at 20 frames per second, which makes for some not-so-smooth video. The 20 fps frame rate is particularly troubling when panning.
The good thing is that you can easily change the resolution to a more practical 720p resolution, which rolls smoothly at 30 fps. The overall quality of 720p video will still blow you away. Finally, you have the option of shoot at standard VGA resolution of 640×480.
As for user-friendliness, the video functionality of the Rebel T1i has gotten easier to operate as opposed to Canon’s first foray into DSLR video features found on the 5D Mark II (which happens to be the only DSLR at the time of this writing that captures 1080p video at 30fps). Canon has lessened the cumbersome menu options to begin recording video by including a video setting on the camera’s Mode dial.
In addition to the ease of access to the video mode, pressing the menu button will take you directly to the video recording options when the Mode dial is set to video. Additionally, you can cycle through a number of options, including Picture Styles, by pressing the Set button and using the scroll wheel near the shutter release to change your settings. You can use the ISO button to set your exposure lock and maintain the exposure that you want throughout your single file recording.
When you are ready to shoot video, simply turn the Mode dial to the video setting. The mirror will then flip up, blacking out the optical viewfinder, and the rear LCD panel displays a Live View of your scene. If you are in 1080p or 720p mode, you will see grayed-out bars along the top and bottom, which shows the limits of your scene. In VGA mode, you see the bars along the sides.
The Rebel T1i gives you the ability to start your recording with the RC-1 or RC-5 remote. If you’re using the RC-1 remote, make sure you set it to the 2-sec delay position, otherwise the “immediate shooting” position will capture a still image.
The Rebel T1i also prompts you to autofocus by using the * button located at the top-right of the camera’s back surface. Unfortunately, autofocus has not quite arrived yet. There are three AF modes to choose from, which should really only be used as an initial gauge of your focus point before you begin to record.
The Quick Mode AF allows you to use the T1i’s fast and accurate phase detection mode by framing your subject and pressing the * button, which causes the LCD to black out momentarily while the camera’s mirror flips down and quickly focuses. After acquiring focus, the LCD comes back live and your subject is in focus, you can then switch over to manual focus and begin recording.
Due to the noise and jerkiness of the AF functions, manual focus should be used when actually recording video. You can hear the terrible AF noise in the short video sample below.
The Rebel T1i’s video quality is, as noted above, stunning. Due to the slow frame rate at 1080p, I recommend staying in 720p mode for most purposes. Unless you are looking for a specific effect or you are filming from a stationary position and a rather static subject, the T1i’s 1080p mode is just a little too rough. While the static subjects look great, start panning and you can see the effect of the 20 fps.
Recording time is limited by memory capacity. 4GB is the magic number in the T1i. If you are recording a single file that reaches the 4GB file size mark, then the camera will automatically stop recording. If you have a larger card in the camera, you can simply hit record again to restart the recording.
A 4GB card offers the following approximate recording times:
- 1080p for 12 minutes
- 720p for 18 minutes
- 640×480 for 24 minutes
A 16GB cards nets the following approximate recording times:
- 1080p for 49 minutes
- 720p for 1 hour 13 minutes
- 640×480 for 1 hour 39 minutes
Note, however, that my longest single file recording at 1080p was for 15 minutes 7 seconds, which tallied up to 3.98GB, at which time the camera stopped recording. I hit the record button again and it started right back up, so no surprises here. You can feel the heat through the camera’s plastic though. Canon warns that extended video recording can result in degraded image quality – so be warned.
The T1i appears to chew up about twice as much memory than the Nikon D5000 when shooting video at 720p – roughly 220 MB per minute on the T1i as compared to around 100 MB per minute on the D5000.
The good thing about the files from the Rebel T1i is that they play without a problem on my Windows Vista machine using Quicktime. I ran into playback difficulties with the Canon 5D Mark II files, which led me to have to open them only using a Mac. Unfortunately, editing the Rebel T1i files is a problem with Windows Movie Maker, which is the default software included with Windows Vista.
Canon has included in the ZoomBrowser EX software some basic video editing functions for manipulating your Rebel T1i video files. One of the cool features of ZoomBrowser EX is the ability to extract a still frame from you video files. A 1080p file gives you an approximate 2 megapixel image.
Windows users will need to use the ZoomBrowser software to cut and edit video files (unless you have some more advanced third-party software), while Mac users shouldn’t have a problem editing the files in iMovie. The camera itself also features an HDMI output, so you can plug it into your flat panel 1080p to view the videos if you haven’t downloaded them to your computer yet.
The built-in mic is pretty lame on the Rebel T1i. It seems like it needs a windscreen as there is no barrier to any noise at all. Also, it is quite omnidirectional, which results in picking up unwanted sounds on your pristine video. I found myself turning the audio off for most of my tests because the noise was just too distracting. The biggest crippling factor for the Rebel T1i’s video prowess is the lack of an input for an external mic, a feature found on the Canon 5D Mark II. As a result, the Rebel T1i lacks the professional potential that its video quality would otherwise offer.
I will have to say that Canon has improved upon the user-friendliness of video capabilities for DSLR users. It’s certainly not an ideal implementation, but it’s getting better. I don’t know if or when we will see a practical autofocus system in a DSLR – the hybrid cameras, like the Panasonic GH-1, may be the end solution. For now, plenty of consumers and hobbyists will be able to produce steller-quality videos, even if the audio quality is lacking. Serious, budget-minded videographers will find a way around the audio issues. The rest of us will have a great camera for still images that happens to be able to have a convenient HD video camera built-in.
Canon Rebel T1i Video Sample
Unfortunately, my comparison file for the Canon Rebel T1i has no audio, while one of the Nikon D5000 files has the audio turned on.
Download the full resolution file – Canon Rebel T1i Video Sample (right-click and choose “Save as…”).
Nikon D5000 Video Review
The Nikon D5000 leaves good enough alone and offers HD video capture only at 720p resolution. It also offers lower-resolution VGA video capture at 640×424 and even smaller at 320×216, which I suppose would suit some online purposes, emails or notes regarding a particular shoot. All video modes record at 24 frames per second, which leads to a smooth film-like look. Some people, including me, prefer the look of a 24fps capture rate because it has a more cinematic appearance than 30fps video, which is typically used in home video cameras, as well as broadcast TV.
The video functionality of the Nikon D5000 is not quite as intuitive as the Canon Rebel T1i. The menu options are not conveniently accessible. You must drill down through the menus to find Movie Settings; however, you won’t be spending much time here as there are only two settings within – resolution and an audio on/off selection. The camera is pretty much automatic with the rest.
In order to start filming, you simply have to press the Lv (for Live view) on the rear of the camera and you go to Live view mode. Once there, a live image is displayed on the rear LCD, which very conveniently articulates for just about any viewing angle you can come up with. The display prompts you to press the “OK” button to record. Otherwise, you can capture still images with the standard shutter button.
You may focus your camera using the contrast detection autofocus feature for Live view shooting prior to starting video recording. I suppose that Nikon realized how ineffective this version of autofocus is when recording video and scrapped the thought altogether. Otherwise, it would sound about like the Rebel T1i above. That means, only manual focusing while recording video folks. Not a bad thing given the alternative.
One of the cool features with the Nikon D5000 is that you can preset a number of Picture Controls prior to shooting video. With Picture Controls you can use the cameras default Vivid, Monochrome or other settings, or you can tweak it to you liking for a customized video feel. The D5000′s Scene Mode presets also apply to video recordings. Ditto for white balance. Additionally, even though the D5000 forces autoexposure upon you when recording video, you can monkey with it a bit using the exposure compensation settings.
As with the Canon Rebel T1i, the Nikon D5000 offers great video quality. Like the T1i though, it comes at a significant memory price. A minute of video at 720p will cost you about 100MB of storage space, which is still better than the Rebel T1i by a long shot. However, you are limited to 5 minutes of continuous recording at 720p, less than half of what you get out of the T1i. The other resolutions offer a 20-minute recording cap.
Now, for the big difference between the Rebel T1i and D5000 video capabilities – the LCD screen. Nikon wins.
Hands down, the D5000′s articulating LCD is the biggest difference maker between the two for shooting video. While the feeling is still not entirely natural, the ability to rotate and position the LCD in just about any manner makes recording with a DSLR a more comfortable experience. Waist level? No problem. Just drop the LCD 90-degrees and you can stand upright while comfortably viewing your image.
Nikon D5000 Video Samples
This file contains audio.
Download the full resolution file – Nikon D5000 Video Sample (w/ audio) (right-click and choose “Save as…”).
This file does not contain audio.
Download the full resolution file – Nikon D5000 Video Sample (w/o audio) (right-click and choose “Save as…”).
This file is a quick edited version with a “old film” effect and credits added in a couple of minutes in Windows Movie Maker.
This file was compressed and is intended to show added effects and processing of the file format in Windows Movie Maker. As a result, no full resolution file is available.
Rebel T1i vs. D5000 Video Conclusions
Canon and Nikon have brought DSLR video a long way in just one generation. That’s not to say that the technology doesn’t have a long way to go still yet; however, it is becoming a more viable feature for DSLRs. I think the D5000 and T1i will really help enthusiasts produces some cool content along the way. Additionally, the D5000′s video files will make the feature more accessible for mainstream users (Yes, Mac users will be able to work with both files without a hiccup in iMovie).
So, what’s the final word on the video comparo of these two killer entry-level DSLRs? I would reserve my opinions until I had more time with the cameras, but I’m not going to wimp out on you. If I were choosing between these DSLRs based solely on video capabilities, I would jump on the Nikon D5000. Why? Three big reasons: (1) articulating LCD makes a big difference in actual use; (2) file compatibility with Windows Movie Maker (not everyone can be a Mac nerd . . . ok, I have a Mac, or two); and (3) file size gives you twice as much room as the T1i.
This is not to say that the T1i is vastly inferior. In fact, it does some things better – like the menu system, exposure lock, and longer recording times. I don’t think these things overcome the advantages of the D5000′s video functions though. On video alone, the Nikon D5000 rules.