Rudy Winston
Rudy Winston

Rudy Winston has over 17 years experience with Canon USA's Pro Products team, and has been responsible during that time for training Canon's staff on new products, creating presentations for customers and dealers, numerous writing projects, and providing technical assistance to professional and amateur photographers.

EOS 5D Mark II: Movie Mode Basics

March 29, 2011

It is possible to focus a Canon EF lens manually or automatically while capturing a movie with the EOS 5D Mark II camera.

Canon has answered the question where SLR technology is going next. The EOS 5D Mark II, introduced in late 2008, is the first EOS camera model with video recording capability, and the camera has been quickly adopted by video creators from amateurs to top Hollywood movie makers.The EOS 5D Mark II camera’s Full HD movie capability enables new levels of creative expression through its unfettered access to the complete line of more than 60 Canon EF lenses, which provide an incredible variety of visual effects including everything from ultra-wide-angle and fish-eye to macro and super-telephoto. This includes many large-aperture L-series professional lenses that can keep the main subject in razor-sharp focus while blurring the background beyond recognition — a look many professional video cameras struggle to achieve.

The EOS 5D Mark II will record movies up to a maximum file size of 4GB. Depending on the level of detail in the scene, 4GB files equate to approximately 12 minutes of continuous video at full HD resolution, or approximately 24 minutes in standard definition. Video clips are recorded in .MOV format using H.264, an MPEG-4 movie compression. Sound is recorded using linear PCM without compression. The new camera features an input terminal for external stereo microphones as well as a built-in monaural microphone for convenience. Through its mini-HDMI port, it’s easy to display crisp, clear images on a High-Definition TV. 

The “look” of limited depth-of-field

The EOS 5D Mark II uses its full-frame 24x36mm CMOS sensor for all the images it produces, whether they are still photos or movies. This sensor is approximately 10 to 20 times the size of the image sensors used in most HD camcorders, and is substantially larger than the imaging sensor used in most professional video cameras, which sometimes cost as much as a luxury car. This sensor size difference means that for any given combination of aperture value, subject distance and angle of view, video files from the EOS 5D Mark II are going to have much shallower depth of field than images from traditional video cameras. The situation is somewhat similar to the comparison of an 8 x 10 format view camera to a 35mm SLR. This difference in the “look and feel” of movies created by the EOS 5D Mark II is part of the reason why it has been embraced by creative professionals. Together with the wide selection of interchangeable EF lenses, the relatively large imaging format of the EOS 5D Mark II creates a look that cannot be duplicated by most other movie cameras on the market today.

Resolution and frames-per-second options

The EOS 5D Mark II gives users the following choices for video resolutions; fps settings are made on the same 2nd set-up Menu location:

• 1920x1080: Full HD video resolution

This setting provides optimum video quality, with true HD video files at a full “1080p”.

• 640x480: Standard (SD) resolution

A useful option for shooters who need compact files for web use, e-mail purposes, and so on.

Frames-per-second options are chosen along with resolution. With any EOS 5D Mark II camera having firmware version 2.0.4 or higher, the choices are:

• 30 fps (actual 29.97) or 24 fps (actual 23.976), for Full HD 1920x1080 files

• 30 fps (actual 29.97) for SD 640x480 video files

These are the fps settings available if the camera’s main Video System menu settings are set to NTSC (the broadcast standard used in North America, parts of South America, in Japan, and parts of Asia). If set to the PAL system, the choices are:

• 25 fps (actual 25.00) or 24 fps (actual 23.976) for Full HD 1920x1080

• 25 fps (actual 25.00) for SD 640x480

Please note that unlike subsequent EOS models (such as the EOS 7D), the EOS 5D Mark II does not offer an HD 1280x720 setting, nor does it offer the ability to shoot at 60fps or 50fps at reduced-resolution settings.

Preparing the EOS 5D Mark II for Video Recording

When it’s first taken out of the box, the EOS 5D Mark II requires several settings be made before it can record video. Once these are set, it’s a relatively simple matter to go back and forth between still-image shooting and video recording:

1. 2nd Set-up Menu (yellow tabs with wrench icon) > Live View/Movie Function Settings — Press SET button.
2. Select and highlight LV function setting —Press SET button.
3. Scroll to Stills + movie — Press SET button.
4. Screen settings: Scroll to Movie Display — Press SET button.

That’s it: the EOS 5D Mark II is now ready when you are to record video. To actually begin recording:

Press the Live View button (to the left of the eye-level viewfinder); the mirror will rise, and you’ll see a live image through the lens on the camera’s LCD monitor

• Press the rear SET button to actually start video recording; you’ll see a round red icon appear on the upper-right corner of the LCD monitor, to confirm that recording is taking place.

• Press SET again to stop recording. You can turn off the Live View (to conserve battery power, or return to still-image shooting with the eye-level viewfinder) by pressing the Live View button a second time.

In addition to operating the camera directly, it is also possible to start and stop EOS 5D Mark II movie clips with the Canon RC-1, RC-5 or RC-6 wireless remote controllers, which are available as optional accessories at nominal cost. These allow controlling the camera from distances up to a maximum of about 16 feet (5m).

Viewing options on the LCD monitor

During the set-up process just described, the EOS 5D Mark II takes the user through a Screen Settings menu (step 4, above). Most of the time, the “Movie Display” is the best option when you anticipate lots of video shooting. Here are the differences, for video users:

Movie Display: The LCD monitor lightens or darkens, to reflect any exposure adjustments the photographer has dialed-in. Likewise, it updates itself to show color and contrast changes as White Balance, Picture Style settings and so on are changed. Pressing the INFO button toggles through different types of on-screen shooting data. In Manual exposure mode (only!), one of these options is a live histogram, which is visible before recording starts.

Exposure Simulation: This makes it possible to see a live histogram even in an automatic exposure mode, like P, Tv or Av, before video recording begins. Press the INFO button until it appears. The histogram will always be cleared as soon as actual recording begins.

Grid display: An option in the Live View/Movie function settings menu, this gives the user an option to overlay a set of straight grid-lines on the LCD monitor, to assist in composition or lining the camera up on a tripod. A coarse 3x3 grid, or a finer 4x6 grid can be selected, or the option can be turned off altogether. The grid lines will always disappear when recording starts, and of course they don’t appear on finished video files.

Exposure Control

When the EOS 5D Mark II was first introduced, it allowed only totally automatic exposure control during video shooting. Canon’s engineers, however, listened to many comments and requests from serious video users, and have introduced a series of firmware upgrades that have added functionality to the camera. With any EOS 5D Mark II running firmware version 2.0.4 or higher, the following exposure mode choices are available:

P-mode: Totally automatic exposure
The camera sets shutter speed, lens aperture and ISO completely automatically, based on the scene and level of lighting. Unlike still-image shooting, it’s not possible to manually adjust ISO for video when the camera is in P-mode.

Tv mode: Shutter-priority
As of mid-2011, the EOS 5D Mark II is the only EOS model that can record video in Shutter-priority or Aperture-priority auto exposure modes. The Tv mode allows the user to manually set his or her choice of shutter speed (1/30th to 1/4000th of a second); the camera automatically adjusts both ISO and lens aperture as lighting changes. Note that ISO is always automatically set in Tv mode; it’s not possible to manually adjust it, as you can when shooting still images.

Av mode: Aperture-priority
User sets lens aperture (any aperture on the lens in use can be set); camera automatically varies shutter speed and ISO as lighting changes. Again, ISO is always automatic when shooting video with the 5D Mark II in Av mode — no exceptions.

In any of the above automatic exposure modes, the following tools for adjustment are available:

• AE Lock (Auto Exposure Lock)

• Exposure Compensation, by turning the rear Quick Control Dial

M mode: Manual exposure
User sets his/her choice of shutter speed, lens aperture, and ISO. Camera’s metering system and analog metering scale on the LCD monitor continually update metering, and indicate exposure level with settings in effect at the moment. Any shutter speed from 1/30th to 1/4000th can be set.
During Manual exposure video recording, ISO is normally manually set by the user. EOS 5D Mark II does still offer its Automatic ISO setting, even with camera in Manual exposure mode… user can dial-in a reasonable and appropriate choice of shutter-speed and aperture with Mode Dial on “M”; camera will then vary ISO automatically as lighting changes. One limitation with this operating method: there’s no way to intentionally lighten or darken a subject. If you change aperture or shutter speed, the ISO shifts along with it, to preserve same exposure level.

ISO range

The EOS 5D Mark II’s normal ISO range of 100 thru 6400 is available during video recording, whether it’s being set automatically, or it’s user-set with the camera in the Manual exposure mode. There are a couple of additional points here:

• ISO Expansion (C.Fn I-3-1):

This adds the equivalent of ISO 12,800 (“H1”) to the available ISO choices; the ISO 50 (“L”) and 25,600 (“H2”) settings also available during still-image shooting are not possible during video recording.

• If Highlight Tone Priority is turned on (C.Fn II-3-1), the lowest ISO becomes 200 instead of 100, and even if ISO Expansion is turned on, it is ignored.

The tremendous video image quality of the EOS 5D Mark II when used at higher ISOs has been one of its strongest appeal points to serious videographers. Far more sensitive in low-light than the vast majority of dedicated video cameras, it’s won many accolades for its performance and capabilities in low-light conditions.

Image Control during video recording

Many of the same technologies and features available to fine-tune image quality during still-image shooting are available during video recording as well. Thoughtful application of these settings can go a long way toward getting the desired “look” in video files, as well as reduce the amount of time spent during video editing to color-correct and visually adjust files. The EOS 5D Mark II allows access to the following during video recording:

• White Balance (including Custom WB)

• Picture Style (all settings)

• Highlight Tone Priority (Custom Function II-3-1)

• Auto Lighting Optimizer (Custom Function II-4; unlike most other EOS models, this can be combined with Highlight Tone Priority if desired)

• Peripheral Illumination Correction

Be aware that during video recording, there are several features normally available for still images that cannot be applied or adjusted. These include:

• Color Space (always recorded in a space similar to sRGB)

• High ISO Noise Reduction

• Long Exposure Noise Reduction

• Metering patterns (always a variation of Evaluative metering, read off the imaging sensor; it’s impossible to select Spot or Partial metering for video recording)

Focusing and video

Many experienced video shooters prefer to manually focus, whether pre-focusing before recording begins, or adjusting focus during recording to either quickly change focus from one point to another, or to follow-focus a moving subject. Any Canon EF or TS-E lens can be used with manual focus, and many third-party companies now have “rigs” and other accessory devices that can connect to the camera and enable very smooth, positive manual focus adjustment.

The EOS 5D Mark II also offers three methods of autofocus. AF is often best performed to pre-set focus before recording begins, but either of the “live” AF modes can be used during actual recording — although it’s often best to edit-out those actual moments where focus adjustment is taking place. The three possible AF modes are:

Quick Mode AF:
By far the fastest and most positive option for AF, especially in low-light situations, or with subjects that don’t have a lot of detail. It’s the only AF mode for video that uses the camera’s 9-point AF system and dedicated AF sensor. However, it does require interrupting live viewing to perform, and it cannot be used at all during actual recording.

Live Mode AF:
This AF method reads focus off the imaging sensor, so there’s no interruption of live viewing. It’s not as rapid and positive as Quick Mode AF, but in a pinch, it can be used during actual recording — although it’s best-used to pre-focus before recording begins. Live Mode AF cannot focus-track moving subjects.

Live Face Detect AF:
This method is similar to Live Mode AF, but is able to recognize human faces in a scene, and will target the nearest (or largest) face it detects to focus upon. If no faces are visible, it reverts to Live Mode, with a central white rectangle as its focus target (this can be moved around most of the picture area if desired). Again, it cannot focus-track moving subjects. Unlike when shooting still images, there is no AI Servo AF capability.

AF is always activated on the EOS 5D Mark II with the rear AF-ON button. Pressing half-way down on the shutter button will not engage AF, unlike some other EOS models.

Audio Features

Sound recording is possible with the camera’s built-in monaural microphone or a commercially available external stereo microphone connected to the camera via its 3.5mm diameter stereo miniplug jack. With either the built-in microphone or an external mic, the sampling rate is 48 KHz and the bit count is 16 bits for both L and R channels. Beginning with firmware version 2.0.4, the EOS 5D Mark II added ability to manually adjust audio levels, over a 64-step range, before recording begins (it can’t be adjusted during recording, unless it’s via third-party accessory devices that are attached to the camera). It’s also possible to have the camera automatically adjust sound levels, or to completely disable sound recording.

Commercially available electret condenser type external microphones are recommended for best results. Wireless microphones can also be used, with the receiver connected directly to the EOS 5D Mark II’s 3.5mm mike socket. Microphones connected to the camera will need their own power supply; the 5D Mark II is not compatible with microphones that require “phantom” power from the camera.

Taking Still Photos While Taking Movies

It’s possible to take still photos at any desired image quality setting while taking movies, simply by pressing the camera’s shutter button or using the instant release setting of the optional RC-1 or RC-6 wireless remote controller. This function provides a great deal of flexibility to photographers who may need to capture both still and movie images of the same subject. Still image capture during movie recording is not the same thing as grabbing a frame from the movie footage; instead, the still image(s) are recorded as separate files (either JPEG or .CR2) and stored on the memory card the same way as other still images. When taking still images during a movie, Live View is interrupted temporarily. It resumes automatically when the last exposure ends. There’s no halting of video recording, but there will be a “gap” of about one second in the finished video where the on-screen image freezes, before resuming normal recording. Still images are always taken at the same exposure mode, exposure settings and image quality settings as the video you're recording. The same applies to image settings such as White Balance and Picture Style. Of course, if you're set to shoot RAW still images, you can completely revise most image settings in the computer, when you process the RAW files.

One of the interesting things about shooting still pictures during a movie clip with the EOS 5D Mark II is that the image quality of both can be controlled by the photographer. For example, photojournalists or wedding photographers covering an event with both still images and movie clips may find it very convenient to use the same Picture Style for both so the images match up precisely, something that can’t be done as well when using a separate, traditional video camera . On the other hand, if the still images are captured in one of the EOS 5D Mark II’s RAW modes (RAW, sRAW1 or sRAW2), they can differ from the movie clips in many ways by varying bit depth, color space, white balance, exposure compensation, sharpening, contrast, saturation, etc. according to personal taste or the needs of the client. The RAW still image data remains intact at all times, so that a variety of visual effects can be achieved from any individual image or set of images.

Choosing a Storage Device

Normally, movie clips captured by the EOS 5D Mark II are stored in the camera as .MOV files using a CompactFlash memory card with a data transfer speed of at least 8MB per second. Most currently sold CF cards are at least that fast, but for best results we recommend the use of UDMA -compliant CF cards, which tend to be much faster than 8MB/sec. The camera itself is compatible up to UDMA Mode 6, which represents a maximum data transfer rate of 133MB/sec., although the fastest cards actually available as of mid-2011 are somewhat slower than that.

The maximum storage capacity of the current CF card format is 137GB. For photographers seeking greater storage capacity as well as lower storage costs per gigabyte, the EOS 5D Mark II offers the option of recording movies and/or still images directly to an external storage device, bypassing the CF card in the camera. Direct video recording to an external USB storage device is possible, when it’s attached through the optional WFT-E4A Wireless File Transmitter.

  • The WFT-E4A acts as a USB host, which makes it possible to attach storage devices with far greater storage capacity than CF cards. Small devices such as most USB “keychains” and hard drives with 1.8-inch or smaller disk diameters can be powered by the WFT-E4A, but larger hard drives will require their own independent power supply. Set-up for external storage is fairly straightforward using the EOS 5D Mark II’s LCD menu screens, but there are a few rules to follow:

    • It’s possible to record movie clips directly to an external USB storage device connected to the WFT-E4A, but the 4GB maximum clip length remains in effect.

    • When storing movie clips directly to external media connected to the WFT-E4A via USB, the data connection must be established before shooting begins, i.e., the USB lamp on the WFT-E4A must light up in green. Failure to follow this step may prevent movie recording.

    • After they’re captured, it’s possible to copy (transfer) movie clips stored in the camera to a personal computer wirelessly through the WFT-E4A. (Wireless direct movie capture is not supported.)

    There are several things that are not possible during video shooting with the EOS 5D Mark II, in terms of connection to other devices:

    • The EOS 5D Mark II does not support simultaneous recording of movie clips to the camera’s CF card and external storage. (However, simultaneous recording of still images to both locations is supported.)

    • It’s possible to record video with remote viewing on a computer screen, using a USB connection to the computer and the included Canon EOS Utility software… however, you cannot save video files to the computer through USB during actual recording (they can be saved to the computer afterward)

    • Video can be viewed on an external monitor connected to the camera’s mini-HDMI output port, but actual full-res video data cannot be streamed through the HDMI connector to an external storage device.

Viewing Movie Clips

The most convenient way to view movie clips captured by the EOS 5D Mark II is directly on the camera’s 3-inch, 920,000 dot LCD screen. The camera’s built-in speaker plays back audio to go along with the movie, making it easy to check your results quickly and conveniently in the field. The LCD screen displays a playback menu that lets you play, pause, stop or jump quickly to the beginning or end of a clip. When the playback is paused, it’s possible to move forward or backward a frame at a time, and slow motion playback is also available. The top of the screen displays the elapsed time, a progress bar indicating the playback position, the file number, and the storage location of the file. Sound volume is adjusted by turning the camera’s main input dial during playback.

Still images and movie clips can also be played back through a TV or external video monitor set by connecting the EOS 5D Mark II with either an optional HDMI cable or the supplied analog A/V cable. When connecting to an HDTV with a compatible HDMI cable, the camera automatically adjusts the output resolution to match the monitor. It is also possible to play back HD or SD movie clips on an HD or SD TV set using the supplied analog A/V cable. Both cables support audio playback with sound volume controlled by the TV set.

A third way to view movie clips captured by the EOS 5D Mark II is to transfer the files to a compatible personal computer.

Canon’s supplied software applications ZoomBrowser EX 6.2.1 (Windows) and ImageBrowser (for Macintosh, v. 6.2.1 and higher) can be used to play movie clips. Canon also supplies a simple video editing program, MovieEdit Task, which is accessed directly from ZoomBrowser or ImageBrowser. It allows gathering of separate video files, editing their length, applying transitions, adding sound or music, and text. More advanced editing of EOS 5D Mark II movie clips is definitely possible with various third-party software, including high-end professional editing software.

Bottom Line

The Full HD movie recording capability of the EOS 5D Mark II marks a turning point in the history of SLR photography and the EOS system. The camera's video quality is stunning, and once you understand the basic operation, it's not difficult at all to take advantage of this marvelous new method of visual expression.

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