Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Canon 7D and HD Video: Wildlife Clips

I acquired a Canon 7D in late October with a view toward using it primarily as a still camera, but since my primary focus is filming wildlife, I was intrigued by the possibilities that the HD video option on this camera offered. I pre-ordered the camera from B&H at the end of September and while waiting for it to arrive, it seemed that I did more reading about the camera's video capabilities than the still aspect of it.

After owning it for a few weeks I must say I find it much more difficult to use for filming wildlife than the Canon XL-H1. Most noticeable is that the 7D is not as effective at long range as it has a 1.6X crop factor while the XL-H1 has a 7.2X. For example the 500mmF4 has an effective focal length of 3,600mm in 35mm terms, while it is only 800mm on the 7D.

I have been working on a short film to demonstrate the video capabilities of this camera, but have not completed it yet and some want to see some samples so I am posting three clips today.

I admit that I am a poor record keeper. With still photos I depend on reading the meta-data to tell what settings I used, but as best as I can tell this function does not work with video clips. If anyone knows a way other than writing it down, please let me know.

The first clip was taken at moderate range with two different lenses. The first portion is with the 500mm F4, and the second with the 300mm F4. I cannot recall if the ISO was 100 or 200, but I am certain it was not over 200. Shutter speed was 1/60 sec. with the appropriate f stop.

Canon 7D With 300mmF4

I replaced the natural sound with a sound track of crows and bluejays as there was no good natural sound at the time of the filming and the camera only recorded the thumps and bumps of me operating the tripod. (You really didn't want to hear that, did You?)

Eastern Wild Turkey Feeding-Canon 7D demo clip from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

Canon 7D With 500mmF4, Wimberley Head, Gitzo 1348 Tripod

The Next two clips are with the 500mm F4 at fairly close range. I prefer to use the camera on a video tripod when shooting video, but a video tripod is less than ideal for still shooting so I used the Gitzo with Wimberley head in all of the clips today. The Wimberley head actually works well if one can avoid panning and even then does fairly well with the shorter telephotos, but there is too much jerking and wiggle if one must follow motion with the 500mm.

If I recall correctly I set the ISO at 400 for this clip as it was taken late in the evening, but there was still a decent amount of light.

Whitetail Does Grooming: Canon 7D Demo Clip from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

I am certain that the last clip was taken at ISO 1600 and 1/60 F4. It was growing very late in the evening by this time and the light had a warm afterglow.

Whitetail Doe In Late Evening: Canon 7D Demo Clip from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

I look forward to exploring the video potential of this camera in more depth, but find that it is much more difficult to use for filming than the XL-H1. I previously mentioned the limited long range ability, but the LCD viewfinder is even more of a liability in bright conditions, although it works reasonably well in subdued light. It seems that one would need one of the finders such as the Zacuto Z-Finder, or IDC Viewfinder before they could realize its full potential for filming.

I also have an issue with editing. I am using an older machine that handles HDV quite well with Vegas 9.0b editing software, but it crashes once I add a few of the native MOV files to the timeline. I also have Cineform Neo Scene installed on the machine and it is much more usable than the raw files, but there is still an occasional crash. The clips shown today are Cineform files, edited to remove camera movement and then rendered to Sony AVC with the Internet 16:9 HD 30P template.

In spite of some of the issues, I think the integration of HD video in DSLRs is a revolutionary change that will alter our expectations from still and video cameras alike.


Brad Myers said...

Willard, you had me until the next to last paragraph. Then it went over my head. It is more difficult than one would think to use the video feature on a DSLR. I still need many hours of practice and have to learn howw to move with the subject using my equipment until I can get a new tripod. I did think the clips were very good and I do not believe the higher ISO effects them the same way they do stills.

With my nikon the meta data does not show up the same as you are saying with your canon.

I have not attempted to edit any of my videos yet and just upload them to the blog straight from the camera.

I am looking forward to more as you get used to the camera and using the feature.

imac said...

Fantastic shots Willard, what I wouldnt give for a lens like that lol.

Shelley said...

I can hear a lot of birds in your deer video - enjoyed it! Nice to read your review - I realize how much more I have to learn! I really want to be able to start filming wildlife - especially next year when my Loons come back - I want to film them nesting, etc.

Anonymous said...

They make me want to see more which is a good thing!

bobshank said...

Willard, the quality and clarity of these video clips is absolutely amazing! You do great work and make it feel like I am right there with you. I am in the minority I guess, desiring to focus on just the still images, but I can see the value of video and am glad you are posting such quality work. I have very little interest in doing video myself but seeing your impressive clips helps me realize how good this technology is for us. Thanks for posting these video clips--they are awesome!

Peggy said...

I too want the 7D but have yet to justify the cash! Anyway, one of the attractions was the video. Your videos look really good and clear! Understanding that you are quite the expert in video, I kinda cringed at the issues you had, making me second guess the dream camera. I still wonder, is it easy to switch back and forth from still to video? It's my main concern.

Willard said...

It is easy to switch the camera from till to video (flip a selector switch on the back from one to the other), but it is somewhat more difficult to set it up for best results.

Video should ideally be shot at no less than 1/30 sec. and in most cases not more than 1/100 with 1/60 being the ideal. This means that when shooting video, one should shift to manual mode if they are not already doing so. Then they need to select an appropriate ISO and f stop. The same exposure scale that you see in the normal finder is visible on the lcd and you adjust this until it is centered. You can use auto focus by depressing the focus button on the back, or partially depressing the normal shutter release, but it does not work well to follow focus, which is somewhat of a problem when dealing with wildlife. I will try to write in more detail about this soon.

One fires the camera in video mode, by pressing a small button to the right of the viewfinder. This button it actually in the center of the video-still selector lever assembly.