Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Brave New World
Two new cameras bring HD video capability to the D-SLR and create a new way for nature photographers to see and share the world through imagery
Although there are only two D-SLRs with video capability (as of this writing), they’re both excellent and, between them, cover a wide range of users.
Nikon’s D90 joins the popular lower-mid-level D80 in the company’s D-SLR lineup. It’s a $999 model with a 12.3-megapixel, DX-format CMOS sensor based upon, but not identical to, the sensor in the D300. Features of note include excellent still-image quality, quick operation, a self-cleaning image-sensor unit, a 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot LCD monitor, effective Active D-Lighting to control contrast, and the ability to shoot 1280x720p HD video with monoaural sound.
Canon’s EOS 5D Mark II replaces the EOS 5D as the lowest-priced full-frame D-SLR. The original EOS 5D was a favorite of nature photographers with its combination of price, performance and, of course, the full-frame image sensor, and the new Mark II model is poised to continue that tradition. This $2,699 near-pro model has a 21.1-megapixel, full-frame CMOS sensor based upon, but not identical to, the sensor in the top-of-the-line EOS-1Ds Mark III. Features of note include high image quality, quick operation, a self-cleaning sensor unit, a 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot LCD monitor, ISOs to 25600, and the ability to shoot 1920x1080p full HD video with mono or (via a third-party external microphone) stereo sound.
The EOS 5D Mark II can shoot 1920x1080-pixel full HD video, or standard SD video at 640x480 pixels, both at 30 fps. While a fully charged battery will provide around 90 minutes of shooting, the camera is limited to clips of 29 minutes, 59 seconds or 4 GB, whichever comes first. A 4 GB memory card can hold about 12 minutes of HD video or 24 minutes of SD video. Video is recorded in .MOV format using MPEG-4 movie compression, and sound is recorded using linear PCM without compression. You can record mono sound via the camera’s built-in microphone or CD-quality stereo sound with an optional external stereo microphone. The camera incorporates an HDMI interface to output still and movie images to high-definition television sets.
Shooting video with the EOS 5D Mark II is easy. Enter Live View mode, press the Set button to start shooting, then press it again to stop.
Preparation is a little more complex: Go to the Live View function settings menu screen and for Live View mode, select Still Images + Movies. For Screen Display, select Movie. For Movie Resolution and Aspect Ratio, choose 1920x1080/16:9 or 640x480/4:3. For Live View AF, select Quick, Live or Face Detection (more on those in a moment). For Audio Recording, choose On or Off. For grid display, choose Off, Fine or Coarse. Tip: Unless you’re going for a “Blair Witch” effect, always shoot videos on a tripod—rocky videos look unprofessional and can be uncomfortable to watch.
Quick Mode AF uses the camera’s phase-detection AF system to establish focus, while Live Mode AF uses contrast-based AF off the image sensor so the LCD monitor doesn’t black out during focusing, since the SLR mirror doesn’t have to drop into the light path to focus as it does for the phase-detection system. Canon recommends not using AF for video, as AF is slow for video purposes and might momentarily defocus severely or throw the exposure off (and the built-in microphone might pick up the sound of the AF motor). You can always focus manually during shooting, which is how pro videographers do it.
You can adjust the Picture Style, white balance, AE lock, exposure compensation, peripheral illumination (vignetting) correction, Auto Lighting Optimizer and Highlight Tone Priority, if desired. Exposure mode is programmed AE; metering (via the image sensor) is center-weighted averaging.
HD videos have a 16:9 aspect ratio, SD videos 4:3 and still images 3:2. The 3:2-ratio LCD monitor is letterboxed by a semitransparent border in the appropriate aspect ratio during video shooting.
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