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Introduction to the 5D Mark II’s Video Feature

By Bruce Dorn | December 11, 2008

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Now that people are starting to get their new 5D Mark IIs, all sorts of questions are emerging. After the camera has been excitedly unboxed, carefully charged, poked, prodded, and weighed for merit, test shots are in order. I have no doubt that each and every one of you has a whole laundry list of things to investigate. Once that's done, I encourage you to take a peek at the new HD capture function.

I just finished a big project that features a fusion of 5D Mark II HD footage and still captures. Here are a couple of sample images.

This job happened to be a bridal gown editorial feature but those interested in other types of capture should read on; all the information that I will cover in my postings will be applicable to other photographic pursuits. I shoot lots of different subject matter myself, and we'll touch on all styles as this story progresses.

We'll take this introduction to "Fusion Style" step-by-step and with a little focus I'll have you shooting your own nifty video shorts in no time. In the meantime, pop over to my blog and check out the latest project from iDC Photography and Studio B. The new "On Location" teaser was edited from a tutorial I'm creating on continuous lighting for HD and stills. The second half of the two part tutorial will deal with the workflow required to integrate Stills and HD into a Fusion Style short for final delivery on disk or web.

Click Here to check out Bruce Dorn's On Location Teaser

Shooting HD with the 5D2 is as simple as using the Live View function included in many other Canon models. Section Six in the 5D2's instruction manual will be your most complete source of information but I will paraphrase the initial set-up here…

  • Video can be captured in the following modes: P / Tv / Av / M / B

  • While looking at the rear LCD, navigate to the sixth pull-down menu and select [Live View / Movie func. set]. Push the "set" button.

  • To enable movie shooting in the modes listed above, select [LV func. setting]

  • Now Select [Stills + movie], then select [Movie display].

  • Set the movie recording size by selecting either [1920x1080] for full 16x9 HD or [640x480] if you prefer 4:3 SD and standard video quality. I prefer HD, of course.


Now you're ready to record! Just to the left of the eyepiece is an icon that looks like a camera. Push that and you will enter into the movie mode and will be on "standby", ready to record. Switch your lens from AF to M and manually focus using the lens focusing ring. This isn't as hard as it seems. You can magnify the Live View by pressing the button in the upper left-most corner of the back of the camera. One push magnifies the image by 5x and twice enlarges it by 10x. This is not a digital zoom; this is not how the image will be recorded - this is just a magnification of the Live View for focusing. One more push will return you to your chosen framing. Frame well; there ain't much cropping after-the-fact in the world of video. Once you are satisfied with your focus, you can begin to record. The set button in the middle of the Quick Control Dial will activate "Roll" and "Pause" sequentially.

While the video capture capability is a highly useful feature, it comes with a few caveats about the way it functions:

  • Although you may have the camera set to P / Tv / Av / M / B modes the video mode will ignore your choice. The exposure will instead be calculated according to a "Program AE" mode totally unique to the video function. The camera uses "look-up tables" to determine exposure what it considers to be the proper f-stop, shutter-speed, and ISO. To get the shallowest depth of field, one must trick the camera by pointing it at a dark area so it will open up to maximum aperture. Aiming the camera at a bright source will make it pick a smaller stop assuring the most depth-of-field. Once the camera acquires a stop, it tends to stick with that stop until it uses up all of its ISO choices and shutter speed options. The camera will rove over ISO range from 100-6400 before it begins to change the shutter speeds. The video shutter speeds are limited to a range of 1/30th to 1/125th and camera will try them all before changing its original f-stop. An ISO 12,800 can be accessed by activating the extended ISO range but I don't recommend it…

  • Exposure is automatic but your Exposure Compensation controls still work. This is Big. Using Exposure Compensation, you can influence the camera's opinion on exposure within a range of four stops, over and under inclusive.

  • Exposure Lock is available and must be used. Once you and the camera agree on an exposure using the above-mentioned Exposure Compensation dial, lock that sucker down. The last thing you want is for the camera to drastically change exposure just because something bright or dark suddenly enters frame. Trust me it absolutely will if you don't use the Exposure Lock feature.

  • There are a couple of ways to do an autofocus approach but they are awkward and frustrating. Buck up and learn to manually focus the way the big kids do.

  • Sound can and will be recorded through an internal mic but don't expect much quality. The camera's onboard mic will hear you best of all. It will also hear the Image Stabilizer and any other camera noises. Better sound can be acquired by using an external microphone that can be attached through the "audio in" plug. Consider something like the Sennheiser MKE400 if sound is important and you don't mind coughing up the cake. I think it's best to concentrate on picture during your earliest explorations…

  • Yes! Image Stabilization does work in video mode and is always activated unless you manually turn it off on the lens. This is a great help for handheld work and makes the 24-105mm f4 IS a really useful lens on the 5D Mark II.

  • Yep, you can take still pictures at any time and they will be captured according to the mode you have selected. Pressing the shutter release will interrupt the video capture for approximately one second while a full resolution still is recorded. Video will resume after you're done shooting.

  • Still captures may be in RAW or jpeg format and either sRGB or Adobe RGB according to you choice. The video color space is sRGB and no Raw equivalent is available. Too bad; I hope this becomes available in future generations. As it is, watch your exposures and stay tuned to proper white balance.

  • Picture Styles apply! This is also Big. By custom tuning your Picture Styles, you can have great control over how the camera records color sharpness, and contrast. B&W and Sepia modes are readily available and that just too cool for words…

  • A 4 Gigabyte CF Card is good for about 12 minutes of HD recording. With a larger capacity card, figure on about 12 minutes maximum per clip. The camera can start another clip instantly. I think this time limit has more to do with the definition of what is a video camera than any sort of hardware limitation. Sensor heat is reportedly not an issue but extremely high ambient temperatures can affect the look of the files just as it can with stills…


Get your cameras set-up and get familiar with the video function. In my next posting I'll address the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between still and video capture approaches.

Stay tuned! I'm a full-time shooter and a part-time writer so my postings may trickle in. Please rest assured that all the information I share has been thoroughly tested in the competitive trenches of professional image capture…
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