Last summer I was filming elk in very late evening with the Canon T3i near the ponds along Dewey Road. It was a pleasant evening with a full moon hanging in the sky and I lingered after normal shooting light was passed. I had not had the T3i long and was trying its' paces out so as to speak. I was surprised to note that I was actually filming at 9:12 pm and it was not looking all that bad on the LCD. At this point I was using ISO 6,400 with the 300mm f2.8 lens at 1/30 sec. It was no surprise to find that the video was very noisy when viewed on a large screen,HDTV. This experience made me realize that the day was not too far off when one could take excellent video in unbelievably low light conditions. In fact from what I have read, the 5D MK II camera would have handled low light noise much better than this, while the 7D that I also had along gives about the same noise handling performance as the T3i.
Fast-forward to this June and I was back on Winslow Hill with a new 5D MK III and a determination to do some extreme low light shooting if possible. At 9:10 one evening, I found a bull in a meadow just off of Winslow Hill Road, which was featured in the still photographs in the previous post. Along with taking the stills, I did a substantial amount of filming at high ISO settings.
The following is a short video of clips from the July 2011 incident with the T3i, with a clip from the rut thrown in at the beginning to show how ISO 800 performed on that camera. The last two clips are from the 5D.
This is not a very scientific test as the ideal thing would be to compare the cameras under identical lighting conditions, and surroundings. The cow and calf filmed in 2011 are not in as ideal surroundings as the bull in 2012, which may make the T3i look worse than it could have--I should have tried it too this past June. I must also point out that the differences between the cameras are much more noticeable on a large HDTV than on internet video.
The bottom line is that when using the Canon Firmware on the T3i, I think ISO 800 is about tops for professional quality video and lower settings are better. With the Magic Lantern Firmware Installed, 1,600 ISO seems about as good as 800 with the Canon Firmware, etc. (I hope to explore this in more depth and explain what Magic Lantern is, before long). The ball game changes entirely with the 5D MK III and it is possible to get very decent video at ISO 3,200 and above (3,200 is a total waste on the T3i). Even an astonishing setting of 12,800 appears to be as good or better than 1,600 on the T3i although some will complain that the picture is a bit mushy from noise reduction.
Originally Posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.