Canon T2i

Does Canon’s Sub-$1K DSLR have the goods to supplant Canon’s 7D for indie filmmakers?
By Sol in Blog

My first SLR camera was the 35mm Canon Rebel G QD (Quartz Date model, natch) that I saved long and hard for when I wanted a “serious” camera way back in 1997.  Once out of the box, it was practically glued to my hand wherever I went.  I was constantly shooting, limited only by the number of rolls of film I could afford on the meager salary of a high school student (we called it allowance back then).  With full manual control and multiple lens options, it provided an endless outlet for experimentation and learning about photography.  It was a great camera, and it allowed me to capture many fond memories.

I have since gone digital, and it now sits unused in a camera bag in my closet waiting for a surge of nostalgia or to be handed off to a photo-youngling ready to make the leap to their first SLR camera (do they even use 35mm film in photography class anymore?).  Nonetheless, Canon’s Rebel lineage has continued on, offering entry level SLR’s to soccer moms, new parents, and people about to go on a vacation the world over.  All Rebel cameras are of course digital now (as are pretty much all cameras these days), and I honestly never thought my next SLR purchase would be another Rebel, instead figuring that I’d trade-up to the more robust 7D or 5D Mark II models.  That is, until today.

The announcement that changed everything

There were rumblings about a successor to Canon’s Rebel T1i recently, but I didn’t really pay attention to them because I had no interest in the Rebel series.  My interest in an SLR these days has less to do with still photography and more to do with video functionality.  With that in mind, no camera in the Rebel series had yet managed what most $200 video cameras can—usable video frame rates (e.g. 24/30 frames per second).  The T1i only manages 20fps while Canon’s higher end cameras (7D, 5D Mark II, and 1D Mark IV) all offer at least 30fps video recording modes while certain models (namely the 7D and 1D Mark IV) can record video at 24fps (the darling of the film crowd) and even 60fps to boot.

Today’s announcement of the T2i really has me wondering why a budget-minded videographer would even think spending nearly $1k more for the 7D over the T2i.  Here are the key video-related features of the T2i:

  • Full HD (1920×1080) video recording at 30 (29.97), 25, and 24 (23.976) fps
  • 720p (1280×720) video recording at 60 (59.94) or 50 fps (useful for shooting slow motion)
  • Full manual control (shutter speed, aperture, ISO) for video
  • ISO range of 100-6400 (and extendable to 12,800) for low-light shooting
  • External stereo microphone socket (3.5mm)
  • Dedicated video option on the camera’s function dial
  • Compatible with SDXC flash memory cards (potential for higher capacities and faster data rates)

Considering that those features match or add to the major video-related features for Canon’s 7D, I’d say that’s pretty impressive.  Even more impressive is the price: $799.99 (body only) / $899.99 (kit with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens).  That’s a whole $900 less than the 7D!  Let’s put that into perspective—you can buy two whole T2i’s for the same price as one 7D.

The expectation

Offering a camera with such impressive features at this price point will not likely come without any trade-offs.  We already know that it shoots stills at a maximum of 3.7fps, compared to the 8fps available on the 7D.  However, for videographers, that’s neither here nor there.  For the cynic, here are some video-related trade-offs we might see on the T2i:

  • Higher noise in low light (though Canon does say that they are “incorporating many of the same technologies used to reduce noise in professional cameras such as the EOS 7D”, so we can always hope)
  • Shorter maximum video clip length. The 7D has a limit of about 12 minutes due to file size limitations on the memory card.   This is already a big limitation in my mind for certain types of situations (e.g. events, speeches, etc.), so any shorter would cripple the video functionality of this camera quite a bit.
  • Less weatherproofing. The 7D is widely regarding as having very good weatherproofing.  This is a likely place Canon may target to cut costs on cheaper models.  Depending on the environment you’ll be shooting in, this may not matter at all though.
  • Lower video data-rate. A lower data-rate would mean that the video is compressed more, causing more compression artifacts and loss of detail in the recorded video.

The hope

Of course, my hope is that Canon does not artificially lower the functionality of this camera to differentiate it from the higher-end models.  When Canon introduced the 7D, I wondered why anyone would buy the 5D Mark II, given that the 7D actually offered more video-related functionality at a lower price point (more frame rates/resolutions, for example).  The truth is, different users have different requirements, and the users that need the photography-related features of the higher end models (like the full frame sensor on the 5D Mark II) will not even consider the lower end models as their primary camera.  For everyone else from soccer moms to indie filmmakers, we get to reap the benefits of the inevitable trickling down of features and functionality once relegated to high end cameras that are now becoming available on entry level models.

Scheduled to arrive in the US early March (and February 24th in Europe as the EOS 550D), the Canon Rebel T2i is definitely going to be one to watch.

Finally some sample video taken with the T2i/550D by Canon Europe:

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