Help needed – is Canon 5D mk ii video “marginal at best”?

by planetmitch27 Comments

Hey everyone… I need some help. I ran into this blog yesterday talking about the video on the Canon 5D mk ii… “Sadly, here’s the thing. The video is marginal at best. It’s compressed like crazy. HD? Not even close. It’s perfect if you don’t want to do anything other than produce moving images for the web. Still lenses breath, so racking focus with your marvelously expensive Canon lenses is going to make the image wonky. The most irritating thing about the video feature is the complete lack of control over exposure.”

Well, I didn't think that was quite right.. so I countered “Oh, and “the video is marginal at best”? Tell that to CBS, or the hundreds of indie film makers using the 5D mk ii. This product is HOT in the commercial/indie film/music video market right now.”

And the blog author replied: “I took samples of footage that I shot to a professional video editor and we looked at the images frame by frame. Sure, it’s good, bit it’s not HD. We also looked at Vincent Laforet’s, “Reverie,” and it is, upon close inspection, full of artifacting and other problems. The codec pitches highlights and crushes details. Canon’s compression employs a lossy format, like a jpeg. The video this camera produces wouldn’t fly for a high level of production value. So yes, the indie film/music video and other journalists wouldn’t be so rigorous. Oh, and just because hundreds of people are using it doesn’t make the 5D Mark II video component not marginal.”

Ok, so here's where I need help. I have learned a lot about video and filmmaking, but I'm not an expert.

“It's not HD” – huh? I'm guessing she means that the quality isn't there, but with all the excitement over the camera, isn't there HD quality in there somewhere? If it wasn't “HD” then wouldn't people abandon the 5D2 and go with something else?

“it is, upon close inspection, full of artifacting and other problems. The codec pitches highlights and crushes details. Canon’s compression employs a lossy format, like a jpeg.” well, I'm certainly not trained in the production of videos with any camera, but I suspect that all of them do some compression and of course, it is lossy the first time. Or am I wrong? Is it just that this woman is like me and just doesn't understand the way this camera works?

Let's discuss it over on our forums… and if we get a good discussion going, I'll invite the young lady over to make it more interesting (so let's be nice). Of course, if you want, you can go over to her blog and comment there, but I'd love to have a good forum discussion over here as well please.

(Photo credit: planetMitch – a batch of four leaf clover – yes, everything you see here is a four leaf clover! every one!)


  1. She’s right though. The video is far from what it could be, it’s heavily contrasted and compressed, you can read about it on tests solely dedicated to it’s video.

    It’s clipping highlights and shadows, and doing a mediocre job at anything else. It’s not doing the same stuff to video as it’s doing to images and that’s where the majority of the problem lies, it’s some half-done algo.

    And I’m not even touching the full auto :)

    It is a good first for canon though. I’m sure mark III will actually deliver and offer what’s needed.

    1. You are all crazy. Just look at a place like to find an array of high quality videos shot with the 5D mk2. Technical people have been poking holes in digital cameras since before the introduction of DV – Just grab a camera and tell your story and stop fussing over silly details like artifacts etc. If the quality is too bad, let the audience decide.

      Interestingly enough, the one thing that is always over looked but has far more impact is poor quality sound. People will forgive poor video but never poor sound.

  2. No, she’s not right. The 5d mk ii is full raster 1920x1080p movie resolution WHICH IS full HD quality. Sure the h.264 codec is compressed like almost any other acquisition format. But the compession is far superior to AVCHD – a popular h.264 consumer codec, 17mbits at its highest where the Canon 5d mk ii has almost 40 mbits pr. second bitrate. The new professional Sony xdcam codec, mpeg hd422, is 50 mbits so the Canon codec is very close to a new professional standard quality Sony image codec. The color resolution of both codecs isn’t full raster, but that’s a different story. RED One is a pro digital movie camera with an allmost lossless compression scheme, but it’s in a totally different price range, so comparison is unfair without looking at what the cost is. I think this girl is a stills photograprher used to take RAW pictures and not being used handle to compressed film and video like the rest of us. One of the reasons why the Vincent Laforet video has compression artifacts is, that it has been recompressed after editing and maybe also even before editing. And then it has been compressed once more for the web. All recompression is bad and makes generationloss, so if You haven’t seen the original footage You can’t really judge if the camera makes ugly compression artifacts or not. I know the Canon 5 d mkii has a lot of annoyances to it, lack of manual control, 30 fps, audio etc. but the freedom of lens choice, depth of field possibilities, light sensitivity, and the overall image quality was simply unheard of for a video camera within that price range until fall last year – and there is still no competition to those movie qualities. The 5d mk ii make better night pictures than almost any camera and also under certain daylight conditions it beats most broadcast cameras. At it’s price it may be an expensive stills camera, but it’s a very very cheap film camera! So looking forward, it isn’t that interesting discussing whether it makes beautiful pictures or not because it certainly does, but it is interesting if Canon will soon respond to the many many replies concerning the challenges & problems working with the camera in “film mode”. The crushed blacks where due to a quicktime player problem that has been solved by Apple and i think the highlights are treated much nicer than in many other pro cameras.

  3. Her assertion is all relative to what she’s comparing it against. Many of the video pros I know here in town (Los Angeles) will tell you that as far as they’re concerned anything that you watch on Blu-Ray isn’t really HD. Nothing you watch on TV is HD, and don’t dare mention cable HD to them. Basically anything compressed, using MPEG, VC1, .264 or whatever isn’t really HD. By those standards is the 5D Mark II HD? Nope.

    However in the price range in which it competes, against any other camcorder or camera, the video from the 5D Mark II is stunning. Pros are adopting it at a staggering pace because of the incredible versatility it gives them. Sure, it can’t compete at pixel level with top of the line Hollywood HD cameras, but those cost thousands of dollars more than the 5D Mark II. The footage is close enough however to allow them to mix footage from it into their productions with some post work, and in some cases, use it entirely as you’ve mentioned.

  4. Her assertion is all relative to what she’s comparing it against. Many of the video pros I know here in town (Los Angeles) will tell you that as far as they’re concerned anything that you watch on Blu-Ray isn’t really HD. Nothing you watch on TV is HD, and don’t dare mention cable HD to them. Basically anything compressed, using MPEG, VC1, .264 or whatever isn’t really HD. By those standards is the 5D Mark II HD? Nope.

    However in the price range in which it competes, against any other camcorder or camera, the video from the 5D Mark II is stunning. Pros are adopting it at a staggering pace because of the incredible versatility it gives them. Sure, it can’t compete at pixel level with top of the line Hollywood HD cameras, but those cost thousands of dollars more than the 5D Mark II. The footage is close enough however to allow them to mix footage from it into their productions with some post work, and in some cases, use it entirely as you’ve mentioned.

  5. KBeat – that’s EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Jacob – you are totally right. We are all correct!! Yippee!! For the price, it is groundbreaking. It’s a question of relativity. Yes, I am primarily a still photographer. But the reality is that I am being asked to produce video in the field so therefore, took the necessary steps to become educated about compression, and how far you can take the camera and, conversely, what it’s limitations are. When I said, “hardly HD” that was in reverence to the same things that Kbeat mentions in his post. I have to be able to explain the limitations of the camera to my clients. They will see all the hype online and if I deliver image quality that is less than spectacular, I better be prepared to explain. KBeat does a great job of explaining what I (obviously) did a poor job of expressing. But nonetheless, do look out for the Error 70 message. :-) Have a great day and happy shooting!!!

  6. I think a lot of those people complaining about the video quality of the 5d mk II simply don’t know anything about television history or has forgotten all about it. Not long ago you only had NTSC television in the US (Never The Same Color) which was 486 visible lines. Everything in the camcorders was processed and recorded with all the noise of analogue recording and then with the generation loss of editing and the NTSC problems all along the pipeline the remaining resolution on your home “telly” wasn’t impressive to say the least.
    Why i’m also mentioning the history of television is that HD is a television standard and the highest of them are 1920x1080p. The 5d mk II has a huge FF 21 megapixel sensor, so it can easily make a 1920x1080p image and does so with a lot of pixel skipping with all the drawbacks it has on the image. So of course it’s HD it’s just compressed HD like all the other digital video recording formats wich does compromise the potential resolution of the HD format. I just don’t think that the h.264 codec in the 5d mk II at 40 mb does such a bad job, and I think that Canon made a leap forward from the AVCHD max. 17 mbits all the other consumer and semi pro manufacturers have agreed upon knowing that their camera had a greater potential. However I do understand people complain about the issues working with and handling the 5d mk II during the shoot, but if this girl knew how to work with video in the 5d mk II she could make incredible stuff that hasn’t really been possible to almost any of us before, like the dof that all the filmpeople are craving and the “nightvision” capabilities that no other videocamera can compete with. And possibly the reason why you mention “Hollywood HD cameras” is that the television standard of HD has been used to make Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and many other features – also with compressed recording formats. The RED people and other camera manufacturers think that if digital film acquisition is to replace celluloide film completely it needs visually losless compression, 2k resolution or more, and higher bit depth recording. I don’t disagree. But the girl who bought her new 5d mk II camera writes as if the movie quality is supposed to be as good as the wonderful 21 mp raw stills image of the 5 d mk II. And even Hollywood motion pictures has never been that good so even though our wish lists and dreams may want that to be the truth, they are still working on it – and critizising the 5 d mk II for not being able to get there is just because of lack of knowledge.

  7. Hi Susan. Just read your reply after writing mine to KBeat. Look around at Vimeo and Youtube. A lot of impressive – and also not so impressive movies from the 5 d mk II. Biggest problem is probably its lack of control and bad sound. But for a film maker when you have all the time to prepare impressive results are definitely possible. I wish i was there at these beautiful sunsets shot with – guess what…

  8. I think Jacob Lyngeraa and KBeat are so right. If your core business is still photography, working with 21 megapixel RAW material, then I can imagine that you think that the HD that this camera delivers is not so great. But, we are speaking video here. My core business is video. I worked with Betacam SP, SX and digital Betacam. Not HD, but standard definition. So, I know video and know where we come from. Well, compared to that, this Canon 5DmkII produces footage that is way way better than most pro videocameras do that cost 10 to 20 times more. So, one needs to compare to video that exists now. Get footage coming out of a XDCAM for example and compare. Then you’ll have to admit that Canon made an incredible product here. With some shortcomings yes, but hey, this is a first generation product.
    Another thought is this. Imagine there is no compression at all. Then most of us would be so happy … but only able to watch the video frame by frame. Not only the resolution is important. The video must also be able to be handled. What use is it to have huge videofiles only the absolute high end computers are able to play. How frustrating would it be if this footage is almost impossible to edit because being way too large and heavy. And needing extra hard disks all the time because they are always full. I did the following. Log in to Vimeo. Sometimes you can download the original video. Because that is indeed what is needed to evaluate. Then, and not forgetting we are speaking about video here, one needs to admit that the 5DmkII is the first of a new kind of great cameras. That gives us footage we could only dream of some years ago !

  9. Beautfiul… on the web. Which is exactly what this camera is perfect for. Hooray! Thanks for all of your passion. Signing off this thread.

  10. >> “Beautfiul… on the web” <<

    The file is HD (1280×720) you can download it if you are logged into Vimeo (link is in the bottom right of the page).

    With respect, I am not sure you know what you are talking about.

  11. Author

    I might be ‘blocked’ on Susan’s site – I’ve posted comments on her blog and they aren’t appearing… (and if I post it again, it tells me that it is a duplicate but it still doesn’t show for everyone to see) here’s what I’ve posted:

    Susan, some of these comments might have come from my post on my own blog…
    I too am wanting to learn about video in detail and I don’t have the knowledge to accurately decide whether your statements were appropriate or not, so I asked the people who read my blog.

    you said:
    “I’m trying to understand the capabilities of the camera under very careful scrutiny, so was hoping to share my knowledge with others regarding this issue. Had I known it would lead to so many attacks, I would have never posted.” I don’t think most of the comments are attacks but discussion but it was you who set the tone. You started the discussion praising the camera but then quickly turned over to negative. Looking back at the beginning, you said:
    “The video is marginal at best. It’s compressed like crazy. HD? Not even close.”

    That, to me, is an attack – maybe you didn’t intend it that way, but that is how it comes across to me. As I stated in my first response to you, I see so many really high quality examples of this camera’s output that I cannot believe that it is “marginal at best”. It has been used on nationally broadcast TV shows, is being used in all sorts of movies and commercials and music videos… and not just for the web. So I asked my readers to help me understand your comments. Many of the comments shared above (and on my blog where you’ve also posted) disagree with your statements about HD quality and compression with the 5D2. Just about everyone agrees that the lack of control with this first generation camera is disappointing.

    If your blog post was intended to help people with the error 70, then maybe you should have left off the other comments. In a recent comment you say: “My point is that the codec on this camera is not good enough for high-end projects.” Maybe you should have said that more clearly in your original post… instead of “The video is marginal at best.” You’re upset that people came to comment on your post, and maybe this “exchange” will help you learn to be more thoughtful in your posting technique.

    I feel it is unfortunate that you’ve chosen to bury your head in the sand in the future… “you better believe I will never share my results with testing equipment online again. Not worth the “exchange.”” – your post (tho I don’t agree with your wording and approach) made me go out and learn more about the camera (and I still don’t agree with your assessments, but it is ok to disagree!). You will always run into people who don’t agree with you. Please don’t be afraid to share with others just because someone disagrees with your interpretations. Just maybe someone will learn from you – even if they don’t post about it.

    My comments aren’t meant as criticism, they are intended as a discussion to help you, me, and others to learn about this wonderful product (that is missing some features for sure!). I hope you continue to share what you’ve learned with others.


  12. Why all the hype! I have been in the film & video Bis for 30 years now I own both the canon 5D & Marl II, We have HD Broadcast cameras & Film Cameras, The Mark II looks video looks great when shot properly & edited with Pro software, as far as HD by the time the final product is aired thru a cable network or air waves it all looks good, If you want it to look like film, then shoot it on film, as far a hiring a still photographer to shoot your Video? I don’t think that is the best way to get a good end result, Like hiring a Car salesmen to Pull your teeth.

  13. It seems like the frustration with video mode is coming from “photographers” that have never really shot with video camera.

    THE 5D IS A REVOLUTIONARY CINEMA CAMERA for the price and when used correctly.

    HD is just a term and can be as low as 720p and 1080. I doubt these people that think the 5D isn’t HD are shooting with 3k and 4k res cameras.

    The people that hate the 5D don’t own one or know how to use it.

  14. It’s true. I’ve been shooting video for 10 years myself. For the past 5 years I’ve been working in the HD format. I’ve owned my own studio and done every kind of production under the sun. I started at 19 years old with a Canon GL-1 shooting local commercials and since then I’ve shot million dollar corporate gigs, music videos and films on the RED and everything in between. Of all of the gear I’ve worked with, I’ve learned to love and hate a lot of different cameras and I can tell you that the MKII is a fine piece of video gear.

    Are there limitations? Of course. That’s true with EVERYTHING. Compared to the RED, yes the MK II is going to shoot a more compressed video. However, I can buy 10 MK II’s for the price of a tricked out RED. You can’t find an HD camera with interchangeable lenses on the market for less than 5 or 6 grand these days and when it comes to video, if it’s not shot on the RED in 4k raw, it’s compressed, so don’t sweat it. It’s a fact of life.

    The MK II offers enough perks that the flaws are easily overlooked. Interchangeable lenses, 1080P HD, light weight, great battery life, etc. I’ll trade 24p for that. Relax people, it’s just a tool.

    Whether it’s photography or video, the principles are the same. If you light properly and put something that looks good in front of the lens, the camera will capture a beautiful image or video. You’d be better served buying a MK II instead of say, an HVX-200 or RED, taking the money you saved and buying a Lowell or arri light kit, maybe a kino or some divas. Lights are what makes the image, cameras just record it.

    That said, it’s more important that you have something WORTH shooting than having a good camera to shoot it with. David Lynch shot his last film with consumer grade, store bought hand held video cameras. He had a story to tell, the cameras were incidental. I’d wager that 90% of the people bitching about the flaws of the MKII don’t even have a script worth shooting anyway, assuming they have as script at all.

    Here’s a hard-earned lesson from someone who’s been there and done it: Amateurs complain about gear because it’s a cover for not really ever shooting anything. They always need that ‘perfect’ piece of kit. Pros shoot with what’s at hand and they get more done before noon than most people do all day. My point is, a good story told by a competent filmmaker and shot on a MK II will ALWAYS be better than a crappy story told with million dollar gear. Don’t believe me? Go watch Wolverine.

  15. I have shot video AND done professional photography for 10 years- I use a Sony EX1 video camera, and just upgraded my canon 40D to the 5DmarkII- firstly, this camera is so bad ass on the still side that if it didn’t shoot video, I wouldn’t even care. I just got back from London and Paris and I spent the whole trip running around taking pictures ( and videos )- This thing is insane! I won’t need to haul my EX1 around now when traveling. This thing will do just fine. The gal that said the video is only good for the web is a tool, she is clueless, I have a canon GL1 and an XL2 that do nothing but collect dust now- the 5d is a better video camera ( to me ) than both of those- I can’t wait to use it for my next music video!

  16. She is right. On first inspection this camera really is revolutionary, for the price, incredible, giving a lot of much higher end cameras a real run for its money.

    Sadly, I would never use this camera as a primary camera for what I do and it excites me for what is to come in the future.

    I love the mark2, I anticipate using it a lot in B-shots and complimenting a lot of what I do. It will be one of the best tools in my arsenal, however it is not up to scratch against many of its Broadcast counterparts. Not far though.

    HD specs can be ambiguous at times and somewhat frustrating when manufacturers and broadcasters contradict themselves. I look forward to many interesting posts from this site as we find ways of using this camera way beyond what it was designed to do.

  17. 5D is scanning every third line in the video mode. That’s far from full raster camera. Does this take full advantage of the a good lens?

    Manual control in video mode?
    Who needs that in today’s age. Do you want to see ourselves in bunch of control freaks?

  18. Great discussion here. Clint, I was especially impressed with what you said about your use of the MkII vs. other cameras.

    Here’s an interesting thing: I just got back from a music video project in Seattle. The DP wanted me to tag along for one reason, really–to shoot stills that would complement and promote the finished product. He knew my still camera also shot video, but it was definitely a b-camera to our main gun–a Sony HVR S270U. In most cases, the two cameras were mounted side by side. (the size diff is just comical). I think everyone in this forum can appreciate how mind-blowing it was for us to discover that for 80 percent of our shots, we ended up using the Canon. To this day, the producer thinks we’re yanking his chain when we tell him that the majority of all segments, and all of the best ones, were taken with the Canon.

    The biggest downside we’re facing now is that we can’t really show up with 5D Mark IIs and expect to be taken seriously. I kid you not–if somebody built a tricked-out facade of a video camera body (complete with fake buttons, dials, etc), we’d buy one. (I know, it’s results that count. Well, have fun explaining that to a potential client.) For now, we are happy to use both. At least until a true hybrid comes out that combines the best of both in a form factor that is closer to, say, a sony ex3. We’ll see.

  19. Let us all remember something: how the final footage looks when viewed is all that matters…don’t waste your time inspecting the Mark II “frame by frame”…that is unrealistic. It is like inspecting a still image at 200% to see if it is “in focus” The defining question should be: did the footage do what you wanted? Did the take move you emotionally? Was the technology behind the take transparent, so that the message comes through? Yes, there is compression…the Mark II delivers a stream of high quality jpegs. You have to expose correctly and watch highlight and shadow for high quality…but that is what they all have to do in Hollywood too.

  20. I think calling it “marginal at best” is quite unfair. It produces better 1080p footage than any camera I’ve seen under $10,000, so I am not sure what the margin would be.

    A better term would be “problematic” A frame rate of 30fps rather than the arbitrary but standard 29.97 or 24fps is not helpful. The codec may have better quality than most but it is a bear to work with.

    I’ve also seen some heavier than expected smearing in strong blue, green and red imagery. I don’t know if it’s a problem with the codec or not.

    As for it not being HD – this is purely wrong. It has a full pixel count for 1080p. Compression is a different thing.

  21. great discussion, thank you all for sharing your experience.

    I got two questions, what about using 52d for:

    1) green screen
    and for
    2) heavy color correction and compositing?

  22. Andrea,

    My belief is that it won't stand up to heavy post work. Early tests make it look comparable to XDCam EX which makes sense since it's a similar bitrate. More blocking in the H264. We are going to run some tests next week and do an extensive analysis for green screen keying and color correcting studio work shot against infinity white. Problems with the codec are already apparent even compared to a lower bitrate codec like the Mpeg2 used in the XDCam EX.

  23. The Mark II is a great camera. I just shot a Buick commercial with it and it is wonderful. I typically shoot 35mm film on spot work, however the director wanted to give this camera a try. Like all video formats, protect your highlights unless you are making a decision that you want to loose them. Also, shoot w/a 30 sec shutter speed. 40 or higher causes the action in the image to stutter. Know the equipment, how to use it. The usual rules apply to making great images. I’ll agree though, no 24P is a bummer.

  24. I shot some green screen studio footage the other day on the 5D mark II here as well as some other stuff under good lighting. We also shoot on a Sony XD Cam EX. I’ll tell you that the details in the blacks aren’t as good as the XD Cam but only under close inspection. For well lit scenes and with a little creativity in the edit I could absolutely make commercials on the 5D mkII. Also note that the key was nearly perfect straight on my Sony Vegas timeline using the internal chroma keyer. Since studio scenes are well lit, we’ve popped a mark II behind the teleprompter and that’s likely going to be its home. How cool is it to pull out an SD card and start editing??? End viewers aren’t so critical and our clients don’t care as long as the results are good (plus they have no idea what’s behind the teleprompter). 5D mark II saves everyone money all around and that’s all that matters. Not only that, but it’s seriously made us think about the future. Now a single lens purchase can cover both ends of the business (photo and video). The depth of field is far shallower and produces much nicer focus pulls than on our XD Cam. The lenses are far cheaper. New bodies, as they come out are probably going to be in the $3k range also, and all of our gear and lenses will fit. Oh, don’t forget that I can shoot wildlife macro shots from 9 inches away on an $800 lens!!

    The community as a whole says the 5D mark II can produce a pretty good commercial. Let the community produce. It only gets better from here, yes?

    Now for the bad. This is not a news gathering option. Not good for trade shows. Not good for weddings. No zoom servos and no auto focus. It’s small too – so your clients will probably laugh at you (at least until they see the results). Color correction seems to introduce some noise (also the case on the XD cam)

    Happy shooting!

  25. Just a little interesting fact for everyone here.

    Sure the high end hollywood films may be filmed on an extremely better camera that blows away the 5d mark 2


    When they put the film on a Blue Ray or DVD it is compressed down to something the Blue Ray and DVD player can read.

    This codec is the same codec Canon used in its 5d mk2

    so there you have it.
    The next time you watch that high quality Blue Ray disk you are watching a compressed video that is HD in brodcast not recorded quality


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