Canon Rebel T1i vs. Nikon D5000 – Video Comparison

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.

You can find either of these solid DSLRs at trusted retailers like B&H Photo.  See the product pages here:  Canon Rebel T1iNikon D5000.



    • says

      @guarav – Yes, you can zoom in and out. Just remember though, it’s all manual, so you need to get comfortable with being smooth on the zoom ring.

  1. says

    Comparing the photo quality, which one is better?
    I mean after all; sharpness, speed, focusing, iso. Thanks alot for the review man!

  2. says

    Lack of external audio input is a significant limitation for my use. My primary concern, not considered by your review, is the >EDITED< video output quality. The end result for most folks is a BD (format) disk. – either on BD (expensive) or DVD (shorter).

    The .MOV from Canon might seem to be a better format by the time an editor expands, assembles, then re-compresses, then compresses again for the DVD format the picture quality visibly degrades. I use Mac iMovie 6.4, but a single sample example of Final Cut did not show a significant difference – both lossy. Then more losses for Toast 10 BD output compression.

    I would like to see such an end-to-end comparison test.


  3. Joel says


    I’m a final cut editor and a T1i & 5D Mark II owner. I can tell you from experience that canons .MOV H264 codec will hold up better in post production then Nikons.

    Heres a good example of what the T1i is capable of (Not my video)

    As for your audio concern you could spend the extra 1500 and get the 5D Mark II or spend about $250 and get a Zoom Digital Recorder and plug a mic into that.

  4. Doug Woodward says

    Thanks for the review. Very helpful — though I still can’t decide which camera is best for me — primary for home use, but wanting good quality video of family events.

    For video, I don’t use Final Cut — mostly Adobe Premiere Pro — how does the .MOV H264 codec compare with Nikon’s jpeg compression (??) in terms of ease of editing — specifically in Premiere?

    Anyone know? Thanks for the great review.

  5. Aaron says

    Good review, and as someone doing low budget films with friends DLSR video is wonderful thank you for the information. I’ve used both the D90, 5D mark II and the T1i and I must say Canon’s sensor alone is much better than the Nikon on either the D90 and now I see the D5000. It’s the rolling shutter effect that plagues the D90’s video where any movement or panning makes the footage completely unusable. I see it in many other examples of video from the D5000 too, but to a less degree in your clip. The Nikon sensor is just not usable for video at this point. They have a long way to go.

    The articulating display is nice though, I will admit that, but the recent D5000 firmware bugs and not turning on pushes me to avoid it plainly.

    • says

      Interesting point Aaron. It’s nice to have someone with a little more of a refined eye toward video ring in. I didn’t notice a substantial issue with the rolling shutter as you described; however, it sounds like you have shot to a much greater extent than I have. Again, thanks for chiming in.

  6. Brian says

    In the end jpg comrpession is going to produce less quality on large screens. MOV will be better (AVI would have been even better for quality), especially if you’re going to edit it down to burn on a DVD or BluRay disc. There’s a reason the Canon files are 2x larger, they’ve not compressed the video as much. 720p is 720p, it’s the compression that determins the file size and compression ALWAYS means loss of quality, even if it’s just a little it’s still a LOSS.

    As for the D5000’s LCD screen, what can I say about it… Well, twist and turn = EASILY breakable. If you want that kind of ability buy a real HD video camera and leave the DSLR to stills like they were designed. Nobody should buy a DSLR for primary video and as such you don’t need that breakable design. The first time a dad’s kid reaches up to see what daddy is seeing and rips the screen off the camera will be the last time that daddy buys a Nikon.

    Finally, ANYONE shooting video should NEVER use the native video software on any OS. Movie Maker is junk. For <$115 you can buy Sony Vegas Studio that will do absoltuely fantastic job of editing your videos:

    They even have lower priced versions (that will do less, but still great for most people) from $55 and $85:

    MAKE NO MISTAKE, do NOT make a decision on what camera to buy based on the video or photo software that comes with your PC!

  7. Ali Yassine says

    Good review but as I was looking at the thing you mentioned about the video size how the Canon has 220mb/ min while the nikon has 100mb/min doesnt the Canon have 720P at 30FPS while the Nikon has 720P at only 20FPS? that could explain the difference in sizes 10 extra frames per second…

  8. Amir says

    I can tell the D5000 can focus waaaaaaay better, but the FPS and the color balance on the T1i is far superior than the cell-phone-video-like color balance and FPS of the Nikon D5000.

    I’d have chosen T1i for still filming. Things like vlogging or filming a view. The colors are more lively and the FPS is better. But for anything more, you gotta give Nikon credit for not being as dumb as Canon and not skipping on critical features like a flip camera and a decent auto-focus.

    I’m gonna wait for the next gen T1i, if they don’t have what D5000 has, I’ll get the next gen of D5000.

  9. Coby says

    An important aspect not addressed here is manual control over camera settings during a video recording. My understanding is that no exposure settings can can be locked on the Canon, whereas aperture can be locked on the Nikon (although gain and shutter speed still float), and aperture, gain and shutter can be all simultaneously locked on the Pentax K-x.

  10. Oleg says

    I guess lackluster focusing of DSLRs renders them useless to film my child running around?

    I don’t expect of myself being able to focus manually using a little viewfinder without even a phase difference plate.

    looks like a cheap camcorder will do a much better job?

  11. Cyndi says

    Anyone find any way around the difficulty editing the video files from the Canon T1i using Windows Live Movie Maker? I use it to slim down the file size used for uploading to my baby’s blog. I also have adobe premiere elements which can edit the Canon videos but it isn’t compatable with the blog…Any suggestions appreciated.

  12. Zetton says

    The best video quality comes out of the Nikon’s D90. Period. This is also true of the cheap D5000, which is essentially the same implementation. MJPEG – this codec is better for editing. The others use a playback codec. An example is DIVX. Plays great – but don’t try to edit anything in it. It’s not what it’s designed for. Have fun editing your clips if you’re using these other cameras. 24 fps is not “jittery” unless you consider every film you’ve ever seen in your life “jittery”. Want your motion capture to have that beautiful “cinematic” look, rather than look like a soap opera? 24fps. Recently, an indy film called Reverie was shot entirely with a D90. Here is the film’s trailer: Looks pretty darned good to me. Here is a PDF download by the film’s cinematographer who discusses, at length, why he considers the D90, by far, the best choice for shooting films digitally. He considers the D90’s image quality and capability much better than other choices – including the full frame Canon EOS 5D MarkII and RED’s Scarlet camera, a professional digital camera designed to shoot theatrical film.

  13. Mark says

    I recently sold my D100 after 5 years of lucky using It and is time to get new camera.
    This time don’t want to spend that much, I’m looking for some dslr up to $700 for body only.
    Can you guys help me to make good choice?
    Any suggestions will be appreciated.


  14. says

    The video samples posted here are giving wrong information about video and sound properties, which are very important, on a serious camera review.
    Your first video sample I have downloaded from this site is an .mp4 with properties:
    Format: mp4
    Video: MPEG4 Video (H264) 640×360 24.00fps [Video]
    Audio: AAC 48000Hz mono 768kbps [Audio]
    (It would be great if Nikon D5000 could record with AAC 48000Hz mono 768kbps, but the truth is that it records in a poor sound quality)

    Nikon D5000 does NOT give this video mode in any of the camera settings.

    Let me post here the correct video properties for the Nikon D5000 as I have checked by shooting 3 different video clips with this camera:

    Nikon D5000 video modes properties:

    1. small
    Format: AVI
    Video: MJPG 320×216 24.00fps [Stream 00]
    Audio: PCM 11025Hz mono 176kbps [Stream 01]

    2. medium
    Format: AVI
    Video: MJPG 640×424 24.00fps [Stream 00]
    Audio: PCM 11025Hz mono 176kbps [Stream 01]

    3. HD
    Format: AVI
    Video: MJPG 1280×720 24.00fps [Stream 00]
    Audio: PCM 11025Hz mono 176kbps [Stream 01]

    Regards from Greece

    Dimitris Aspiotis