Canon EOS-1D Mark IV Video Capability

by Andrew Alexander

Canon has begun adding the Movie recording mode to all of its digital SLR cameras, and the Mark IV is the first of EOS 1D series to have the feature. While the camera doesn't have quite the dedicated following as the EOS 5D Mark II, movie recording is fairly useful for field photographers who want the flexibility to capture short movie clips without having to carry a separate camcorder. Canon has already released several firmware updates for the 5D Mark II, specifically related to movie recording; none of these improvements have yet been added to the 1D Mark IV, and there's no indication that they will be.

That said, the 1D Mark IV was released with some of the features for which a firmware update to the 5D Mark II was required, namely, 24p capture. The 1D Mark IV offers four Movie modes in total, as follows:

Frame Size Frame Rate Approx. File Size (@Canon) Max recording time (@Canon)
1920x1080 30/25 330 MB/min 12 minutes
1920x1080 24 330 MB/min 12 minutes
1280x720 60/50 330 MB/min 12 minutes
640x480 60/50 165 MB/min 24 minutes

The frame rates of 30/25 and 60/50 vary depending on what video system has been selected in the camera, either NTSC (60 or 30 frames per second) or PAL (50 or 25 frames per second). For NTSC, the camera is actually recording 59.94 or 29.97 frames per second respectively. 24p "Motion Picture" mode is actually 23.976 frames per second, and is available regardless which video system is selected. All modes are progressive scan, not field-based. The File Size column is provided by Canon, and is somewhat misleading. Video is compressed using the H.264 AVC codec, which is a variable compression scheme. Consequently, the size of any particular video file is going to depend greatly on the complexity of the compression required. We shot three scenes for one minute with the 1920x1080 frame size: one of pure white, one of a complex but static color scheme, and one with constant motion. Here are the results for those files:

60 seconds, 1920x1080, 24fps Pure white Static color Constant motion
File Size: 82,673 KB 179,661 KB 240,429 KB
Throughput: 80 MB/min 175 MB/min 235 MB/min
Maximum length: 30 min @2.3GB 23.3 min @4GB 17.4 min @4GB
60 seconds, 1920x1080, 30fps Pure white Static color Constant motion
File Size: 124,936 KB 260,508 KB 345,868 KB
Throughput: 122 MB/min 254 MB/min 338 MB/min
Maximum length: 30 min @3.5GB 16.1 min @ 4GB 12.1 min @4GB

Our sense is that Canon's specifications are aiming at the worst case scenario: there's no way they can envision all the possible shooting scenarios. It's just worth keeping in mind that sequences with lots of movement will likely take more room, compared to static scenes. As a movie is recorded, the "shots remaining" counter will decrease to reflect the reduction in available space for photographs. The rear LCD does show the "time remaining" on the card, but even this is a bit misleading, as the camera has certain built-in limitations regarding the maximum size of movie file that can be created. Specifically, the file can be no larger than 4 gigabytes, and no longer than 29 minutes and 59 seconds. From our information this is to prevent the camera from being taxed internationally as a video recording device.

Audio. The Canon 1D Mark IV records audio as an uncompressed 16-bit stereo PCM file with a 48,000 Hz sampling rate, and a fixed bitrate of 1,536 kbps. This audio format is used regardless of whether the video quality is set to full 1080p HD, 1280x720 or 640x480. An internal mic is available for sound recording, but better sound quality can be obtained by plugging in an external microphone to a 3.5mm stereo jack. Sound is played back through an internal speaker. Unfortunately, one major oversight in audio recording is the absence of any volume levels control: the camera is in complete automatic control over the sound that is recorded. Accordingly, background hiss can be a real problem with recorded audio, even with an attached third party microphone. With the exception of using dedicated sound mixing equipment with technology to defeat the camera's automatic gain control, there's nothing you can do but use a separate audio recording device to record better audio.

Controls. You enter the movie recording mode by pressing the "SET" button within the Quick Control dial; strictly speaking, this activates Live View mode, and you must have selected the "Movies" option for the Live View mode in order to record movies. Otherwise, nothing will happen when you go to record a movie. Alternately, if a flash is not connected, you can use a custom setting to have the FEL button immediately enter Live View mode and begin recording a movie. When a movie is recorded, grey bars mask out the aspect ratio that will not be recorded.

The Canon 1D Mark IV shows its roots as a digital SLR camera, and no fundamental ergonomic changes have been made to make it handle like a traditional camcorder. A plethora of third-party solutions have arisen to allow video-enabled dSLR cameras to be used more like shoulder-mount camcorders, and for good reason: it's hard to hold a heavy dSLR still for a reasonable length of time. In addition, while the 1D Mark IV can autofocus during video recording, its ability to do so is mediocre at best, and of extremely limited usefulness to videographers. In practice I found it much more effective to prefocus before shooting, and then manually focus as required.

In a photographic situation, one of the tasks of the photographer is to achieve the right combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO that results in a properly exposed photograph (or at least, one that's exposed to the satisfaction of the photographer). It's the same scenario in a video context, except that instead of juggling those variables for a single instant in time, the shooter must be able to adjust at least one of those variables at any given moment to be able to respond to changing light levels. This is known generally as exposure control.

In the default configuration of the Canon 1D Mark IV, exposure control is handled solely by the camera, using ISO speed as the variable to create a properly exposed image. While the user has control over the aperture to control depth-of-field, and control over shutter speed to restrict subject blurring, ISO is used (again, by default) to ensure that the image is properly exposed. In Manual mode, the user may select whichever ISO setting they desire. In Program, Shutter, and Aperture-priority modes, the user can press the AE Lock ("*") button to meter and lock the camera to a given exposure setting. In some cases this is desirable, and in some it is not; the camera's automatic gain control has a much more fluid ability to respond to lighting changes, while a manual ISO adjustment requires both a button press and a dial rotation, both of which are liable to jar the camera while it's in use.

Aperture control. One of the primary advantages of shooting video on the Canon 1D Mark IV is being able to use fast primes to record scenes with extremely shallow depth of field. By comparison, conventional camcorders are limited to scenes with large depth of field owing to the relatively small image sensors they employ. On the 1D Mark IV, the aperture can be selected at any time, whether video is being recorded or not; however, the transition from one aperture to another is both audible (there's a distinct click) and visible (an abrupt light change). While the audio may not be a factor if external mics are far away enough from the camera, the visual impact is jarring enough that it's noticeable, made potentially even more so by the physical movement of turning a command dial to effect the change. On conventional camcorders, iris adjustment is controlled by a smoother dial, and the aperture itself is stepless, making for a very smooth transition. In the short term this is just a factor that videographers will have to work around.

Video comparison between the 1D Mark IV and the 5D Mark II.

Shutter speed. The Canon 1D Mark IV also allows for the manual override of shutter speed. Of course, the whole notion of shutter speed is something of a fallacy in the act of video acquisition for this camera, as the shutter remains open through the entire process. In this instance, shutter speed is more appropriately the length of time in which the sensor is active for the recording of any given frame of video. The practical impact of adjusting shutter speed is to decrease the amount of blur exhibited by a subject that is being recorded as it moves through the frame. To Canon's credit, they do describe some of the implications of using a faster shutter speed for movie recording, indicating that "The faster the shutter speed, the less smooth the subject's movement will look." It's also worth noting that the camera will enforce a minimum shutter speed based on your selected frame rate: 1/60s when shooting 50 or 60 frames per second, and 1/30s when shooting 24 or 25 frames per second.

Rolling shutter. The first generation of dSLR cameras with video recording functionality have been criticized for producing video where fast pans would distort the scene being recorded. The technical reason for this is beyond the scope of this review (if you'd like to read more about this phenomenon, you can read this article at Wikipedia). The Canon 1D Mark IV still exhibits symptoms of rolling shutter, but when compared to the 5D Mark II, it's improved significantly.

Metering mode. While the literature isn't clear on the subject, it seems that the Canon 1D Mark IV uses the Evaluative Metering mode, and that it's not possible to use other metering modes for movie recording.

EXIF information for video files.

EXIF data. Some details are available on playback, but not all. What's missing would be aperture, shutter speed and focal length. I find this unfortunate, as it's useful information, especially for someone learning the effects of those variables. I would imagine the technical reason for this omission would be that since it's possible to change any of those variables during video capture, there's no accurate way to track the variables, short of a text report recording what each setting was for each frame. For the most part, though, I doubt people will be changing aperture and shutter speed values because (at the moment) there's no graceful way to do it; you have to turn a dial, which makes a noise and jostles the camera. For that reason alone, I'd be satisfied with the video thumbnail showing me the aperture and shutter speed that were in use at the beginning of movie recording.

The buffer warning during movie recording mode.

Will you need new Memory cards? To shoot video with the Canon 1D Mark IV, we've already shown that you'll need to use CompactFlash cards with reasonable capacity. As well, you'll need to use reasonably fast cards, especially if you plan to shoot on SD cards. Canon specifies that you'll need a CF card that can write at least 8 MB/second, and that a SD card should be at least class 6. You'll know if your card isn't fast enough, as a small scale will appear if the card cannot keep up, and movie recording will end automatically if the buffer is filled.

In-camera processing. The Canon 1D Mark IV is able to apply picture styles during movie recording, so you can shoot an image that is very saturated, or soft, or sharp, or monochromatic. By modifying your own custom picture styles, you can even emulate a specific tone curve. White balance can be adjusted, though automatic white balance is often right on. Automatic Lighting Optimizer is not available, and neither is Lens Peripheral Illumination Correction (or if it is, I can't see the effect of it). Minor editing can be done in-camera: it's possible to trim clips, but it's a slow and cumbersome process.

Picture styles applied to the same scene.

Video Output. Two methods of video output are available to the camera, HDMI and regular composite video. Attaching the camera to either style of television will disable the camera's LCD screen, making it very difficult to shoot video, unless you can balance a TV in your other hand.

Battery Life. The 2,300 mAh LP-E4 battery is rated by Canon to produce between 1,200-1,500 shots in regular use, or 230-270 when using Live View. For video, Canon doesn't state a maximum lifespan. In our testing, we were able to shoot 157 minutes and 43 seconds of 1920x1080, 30fps video (in 6 separate clips) before the battery died. This was pitch-black recording of the lens cap, so your mileage will vary.

In use. I participated in the shooting of a short film earlier this year, and while we were shooting with two Canon 5D Mark II cameras, we also used the 1D Mark IV as well. Using the 5D Mark II and the 1D Mark IV in tandem provided an excellent way to assess each camera's strengths when shooting video.

The 5D Mark II has become the de facto camera for independent filmmakers who want to shoot HD with cine-style lenses. Accordingly, Canon has made firmware adjustments aimed at supporting this user base, including a recent update which enabled a 24p shooting mode and adjustable volume controls. This last adjustment makes the 5D Mark II the preferred camera if you are intending to capturing audio with the video: combined with an ENG-style mixer and external microphone, audio of excellent quality can be captured without the need of a secondary audio recording device. With the Canon 1D Mark IV, audio gain is controlled automatically by the camera, which can produce audio with a lot of hiss, especially in quiet sequences. While it is possible to use third-party devices to defeat the camera's automatic gain control, this results in the loss of one audio channel.

The Canon 1D Mark IV does have some advantages over the 5D Mark II, however. The first is the camera's APS-H sensor, which gives all lenses an extra 25% of reach, which is great for telephoto application--though not so good for wide angle. The second is the larger battery, which provides a greater amount of shooting time.

Samples. The following ten-second clips should give you an idea of the relative quality levels for each of the frame size and rate options available in the 1D Mark IV:

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV Video Samples
640 x 480 frame size (SD), 60 frames per second -- ~28MB per clip
1280 x 720 frame size (HD), 60 frames per second -- ~58MB per clip
1920 x 1080 frame size (HD), 24 frames per second -- ~58MB per clip
1920 x 1080 frame size (HD), 30 frames per second -- ~57MB per clip

Conclusion. If you're prepared to work around the interface, the Canon 1D Mark IV provides excellent results for video. It feels a bit like a work in progress, especially with the lack of any audio controls. We hope that Canon continues to make improvements to the video capabilities of this camera, perhaps making it feel less like a "tacked-on" experience.


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