RED ONE camera shook up the industry when it was released two years ago and those cans of film were replaced with hard-drives and digital technicians. Now, we're in the midst of another monumental camera shift, and it's not the 3D revolution that everyone predicted. Nope, in 2009 we make our movies on DSLRs. Just how good are they? Well, the recently released Canon EOS 7D may just be the new Engadget workhorse. Read on for the inside scoop on our ridiculously cinematic new rig.
Canon EOS 7D video rig
A little more than a year ago Canon dropped the EOS 5D Mark II, which recorded real 1080p video using its 35mm, full-frame sensor. One of the advantages of big sensors is much greater control of depth-of-field, and the 5D enabled anybody with a few thousand dollars to burn to approximate the look of 70mm movie film straight out of the box. Indie filmmakers everywhere began posting gloriously blurry test films of their friends on Vimeo and industry pros took notice. Now, Canon's newest HDSLR offering, the EOS 7d, takes the concept and runs with it, in surprising and sometimes frustrating ways.
Sensor info (camera nerd alert)
The 7D has an APS-C cropped frame sensor, which is actually closer to Super 35mm movie film and/or RED's sensor than the full-frame of the 5D Mark II. This means that you can't get quite the same level of shallow depth of field as the 5D, but trust us, you won't have any problem getting backgrounds to go all creamy, especially with some fast glass in front of the camera. One thing to note, full-frame 35mm lenses will have a crop factor of 1.6 on the 7d. This is true of all cropped-frame cameras and it results in that 18mm wide angle lens behaving like a 30mm lens (take your 35mm lens length and multiply it by 1.6 for its equivalent cropped-frame length).
Another troubling omission on Canon's part is the audio recording capabilities on the 7D. Aside from the limitations of a small onboard microphone and a 1/8-inch microphone input, the camera has automatic gain control (AGC), which adjusts the volume of the audio signal inside the camera. The problem? It's impossible to disable. If the point of an SLR is to give the user full control over the tiniest details of their camera setup, then there is absolutely no reason why this crucial function should be left to the camera's discretion. Great video quality is nothing without great audio and in the production world, omitting manual controls for audio is akin to creating an SLR that won't let you manually adjust the iris. It's that bad. "Sure," you'll say, "the 7D is above-all a stills camera ," but if Canon went to the trouble of giving its video users the framerates they've been asking for, why not correct the audio recording issue? The 5D had the exact same problem and it's been talked about (and hacked to work better) since the camera first hit the streets.
We put together some videos demonstrating the camera rig, both with and without the Zoom recorder. Take a look.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the 7D does stills too. At 18 megapixels, it has plenty of resolution for cropping your pictures into oblivion, and the 19-point autofocus is a big step-up from the previous generations. The camera can burn through 8 shots every second, which, when coupled with the cropped-frame sensor makes the 7D perfect for shooting action stills.
From our initial experience using the camera, we found it very easy to go from shooting stills to shooting glorious 1080p movies. Even during dedicated photo shooting, it's hard not to be inspired to flip the switch and roll some 24p video. We also found ourselves using the live-view mode to eyeball exposure for stills much more than we had on previous live-view enabled cameras; perhaps this was a carryover from all the video shooting.
One of the major downsides to the 7D is the 12 minute recording limit for video. That's not a lot of time, especially if you're interviewing somebody on camera and you don't want to break up the flow with constant stopping and starting. This is actually a limitation of the FAT32 formatting of the flash memory that even plagues P2 cameras like the Panasonic HVX-200, although the HVX gets around this problem by automatically creating a new clip at the 12 minute mark and combining them together when the recording is stopped. That said, we noticed the camera getting very warm (dare we say hot?) during recording durations longer than 4-5 minutes in an air-conditioned room, and we're a little worried about how hot the camera would get outside in the sun on a hot summer day during longer recording. With all that processing in such a small body, the heat isn't exactly surprising -- we've known the RED ONE camera to get extremely hot during long takes -- but it is something to keep an eye on.
So, is this our new video camera? We like to think of the 7D as another very specific tool in our arsenal. Will we be shooting segments for The Engadget Show on it? Yes, but there is a time and a place for this camera. If we're running around shooting a mile-a-minute, we're still going to reach for our trusty HD camcorder. But if we have a moment to breathe in between takes, you can bet the 7D will be the go-to camera. It's easy to get caught up in the beautiful images from this camera, but like with all recording, it's merely a tool to help tell a story.