Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Canon announced a new Video DSLR (vDSLR) in early February. And they quickly started shipping it the last week of February. The Canon EOS Rebel T2i is an 18 megapixel camera with support for recording video at an unbelievable price of $799 (body only).
Until now I have only owned “point and shoot” cameras which have very little in the way of manual control. The T2i is my first DSLR. So unlike many othe reviews out there by photographers and videographers who have owned DSLRs, my review is based on my inexperience. 🙂
I own a Canon Vixia HF11, so I am not new to the world of video. I’ve got a healthy portfolio online from footage I’ve shot with my HF11. But it suffers from two major problems that have driven me to seek the loving embrace of a vDSLR. The first and most important issue is that like most CMOS camcorders, it performs poorly in low light. I’ve gone out at night and shot footage with it and the dark areas are always EXTREMELY noisy. Too noisy for even Adobe After Effects to clean it up. Even shooting outside on a dark cloudy day can cause issues. The second issue is that everything is always in focus. If you look at film and television today you’ll find that most footage has only the subject in focus, while the background (and sometimes foreground) elements are blurred. It’s possible, in very controlled situations, to fake Depth of Field with camcorders, but it’s a major PITA. Many camcorder owners have purchased special adapters that allow them to use SLR lenses and I had one of those myself for a short period, but there were still lots of issues. No, for me, the solution was to get a vDSLR camera.
I ended up purchasing the T2i kit for $899. I read a number of reviews stating the kit lens was horrible, but I read almost as many reviews saying it was fine as long as you understood its limitations. When I thought I was going to get the T1i I had actually bought a really nice Sigma lens. But while it supports the Auto Focus ability of the T2i, it doesn’t have any Image Stabilization for hand held shooting and the kit lens does. So I figure it was worth getting. I also bought a couple of clear UV filters to protect both of my lenses. DSLRs today don’t need UV filters, but it’s a lot easier to replace an $8 scratched filter than a $300 scratched lens. I also got a Circular Polarizing filter and an ND filter kit. Both are a necessity for shooting outdoor.
The Canon manual states that a Class 6 SDHC card is required for video recording and I bought a couple of ProMaster Class 6 cards, but neither of them were fast enough to keep up with video recording when I started testing the camera. Oddly enough, both of my Class 4 Kingston cards work great and I’ve had no issues with them. Still, I went ahead and replaced the ProMaster cards with SanDisk Class 6 cards which also seem to be working great. I opted to go with a couple of 8GB cards instead of one large 16GB or 32GB card because I felt it allowed me more flexibility. I could empty one card and still be shooting with the other. Plus it’s one of those “don’t keep your eggs in one basket” kind of deals.
Many reviewers talk about the “cheap build quality” or “plastic feel” of the T2i. But as someone who has never owned a DSLR before, I have no issues there. It feels solid to me and with my Sigma lens on it, it’s slightly heavier than my HF11. I realize that Canon had to sacrifice on materials to keep the price low, so I have no plans to use it in the rain or in wet conditions. If I ever do venture out in the rain, I’ll be sure to keep it dry.
Of course, it’s a “still camera” and does 18 megapixel photos, but that’s not why I bought it. I bought it because it does 1080p video at 24 fps, 25 fps, and 30 fps. It does 720p video at 24 fps, 25 fps, 30 fps, 50 fps, and 60 fps. And if you’ve seen the hundreds of clips posted in the past week on Vimeo, used properly, the video is stunning. I don’t have any clips of my own posted yet, but I have shot close to a 100 clips with it while learning how to use it and I’m impressed. Even using the “automatic” modes (which is a no-no), I got some really really nice footage. Once I started to learn how to use the manual settings (and got an iPhone app to help me figure out which settings to use under different conditions), the footage I shot only got better.
Will it replace my HF11? No, not entirely. I expect I will shoot more with it, but the HF11 still has numerous advantages. Not the least of which is better sound and the ability to shoot more than 30 minutes of uninterrupted footage (12 minutes max at 1080p). Plus the HF11 is “always ready to shoot” since most of its settings are automatic. To get really good footage out of the T2i you have to spend a few minutes to modify the manual settings to match your shooting situation. Sometimes that few minutes is enough to miss what you want to shoot.
I’m still learning how to use this thing and I will be using it extensively during an upcoming trip to Detroit. Within a few days I expect I’ll finally have good enough footage and stills to post on my own blog. So make sure you follow me on Twitter (@dnavarrojr) if you want to follow my progress.
If you are a still photographer and you are thinking about getting into Video, you should seriously consider getting a vDSLR. If, like me, you’re on a budget then the T2i is probably just what the doctor ordered.