What's New in the EOS Rebel T1i: HD Movie Mode

March 27, 2011

What's New in the EOS Rebel T1i: HD Movie Mode
EOS Rebel T1i users can control several aspects of video content they record.

With Canon’s latest digital SLR camera, the EOS Rebel T1i, entry-level users as well as experienced enthusiasts have an affordably-priced tool that allows video recording at full 1920x1080 High Definition, as well as high-resolution still imaging. While many prospective Rebel T1i owners have heard the “buzz” in the industry about high-definition video with modern digital SLRs, this may be something they haven’t yet experienced for themselves.

The fact is that with very little effort, excellent quality video can be recorded with this new camera, turning it into a multi-media device which can deliver spectacular still images one moment, and if circumstances call for it, full HD video with sound a moment later. With the explosion of video content at all levels of today’s internet — from commercial to personal web sites — many viewers, even family members, have come to expect moving images to be part of the photo viewing experience.

The EOS Rebel T1i’s video lets the photographer easily and quickly choose the file size he or she needs, and compared to the revolutionary Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, its video shooting settings are significantly easier and more intuitive to access. This article will explore its capabilities, compare and contrast it to those of the EOS 5D Mark II, and offer some additional tips and suggestions to get the best possible video quality from the Rebel T1i.

Basic video characteristics

With an imaging sensor much larger than practically all digital camcorders currently on the market, the EOS Rebel T1i starts with a huge advantage in imaging quality. It’s not a full-frame, 36x24mm sensor like on the EOS 5D Mark II, but this approx. 22x15mm sensor still has far larger pixels than those on camcorders costing thousands more. This means excellent inherent video quality, particularly in dim lighting conditions at high ISO settings. It likewise means that video images will have less depth-of-field than those shot with comparable camcorders, making it easier for photographers to throw backgrounds out of focus or to rivet a viewer’s attention to a subject using focus as a creative tool — even with relatively short focal length lenses.

Compared to the full-frame EOS 5D Mark II, video footage from the Rebel T1i will have greater inherent depth-of-field, since its imaging sensor is smaller. And likewise, while low-light capability will be excellent with the Rebel T1i, it won’t quite match the stunning level of quality that’s quickly catapulted the 5D Mark II to become a favorite camera of some professional video shooters and movie makers.

Any Canon EF-S, EF, TS-E or MP-E lens can be used with the new EOS Rebel T1i for video recording, meaning that there are nearly 60 creative lens choices for photographers. This variety of lenses, combined with its very large imaging sensor, means that video images shot with the Rebel T1i will have a “look” unlike virtually any camcorder’s imagery.

First steps: getting into video mode

An extremely intuitive control layout greets the Rebel T1i user the first time he or she attempts to record video images. Instead of drilling several layers down into the Set-Up menu, all that’s needed is to turn the camera’s Mode Dial to the Movie Mode icon. With the camera turned on, it’ll now immediately lift the mirror and be ready for video recording. Actual recording is started by pressing the rear Live View button, marked with a red circular icon, symbolizing video on-off (press it once to start recording, and press it again to stop recording). A similar red icon appears on the monitor any time the camera is actually recording video images. The high-definition, 922,000 dot LCD monitor immediately activates to show a view through the lens, and is ready to start recording as soon as the Live View button with the red icon is pressed. Three choices of viewing information during video shooting appear if the “DISP” (Display) button is pressed:

  • A clear display, with only the rectangular magnification icon and AF point (if applicable) visible
  • An information display beneath the image on the LCD monitor, showing exposure compensation scale, still images remaining on memory card (at current still image quality setting), and remaining battery power icon
  • A full-info display that adds icons for active AF mode, Picture Style, WB setting, video recording quality and available recording time left on the memory card, and still image quality setting

Movie Recording size options

1920x1080 Full HD: Full 1920x1080 recording (at 20 frames per second) means that very high resolution video images will play directly at highest quality on the best of today’s HDTVs, as well as provide maximum video quality if a user wants to grab a still frame from moving video footage. Especially for subjects that don’t move quickly and for scenes with relatively sedate camera movements, the 1920x1080 (“1080p”) recording mode will be the mode of choice for Rebel T1i owners.

1280x720 HD: Smoother 30 fps operation is possible at the reduced-resolution (but still High Definition) 1280x720 setting. This is still sufficient in terms of video quality for excellent results on most HDTVs, and adds the benefits of 30 fps recording. The higher fps rates mean smoother movements, whether subject, camera, or both.

640x480 SD (standard definition): For web use and other video content where smaller files are more important than superb detail, there’s also a 640x480 recording setting, at a smooth 30 fps. This still uses the entire imaging sensor to initially capture the video, and in processing the image is reduced to its final lower 640x480 resolution.

Recording size is chosen either in the Menu while in Movie mode (that is, Main Dial is set to movie mode icon, and you press the Menu button), or alternatively if the full-info display is active, press the rear SET button, and then either the up/down control key buttons to highlight the recording size icon; then, turn the top Main Dial to choose the size option you desire. It’s possible to shoot a video file at one setting, stop recording, change recording size, and immediately shoot another file at the new size.

Recording size isn’t the only quality option during video recording!

EOS Rebel T1i users can control several aspects of video content they record. Any of the camera’s White Balance settings can be activated using the on-screen WB icon and the top Main Dial. Other available settings to control the look of video include:

  • Picture Style: Six different pre-set values (including a black & white option), each of which can be further customized and adjusted to match the shooting conditions and/or user’s preferences
  • Auto Lighting Optimizer: A built-in assistant that works in the processing stage to bring up details in dark areas, and if needed, tone down over-exposed areas during video or still shooting. It’s set automatically whenever video mode is active.
  • Peripheral Illumination Correction: An option that automatically reduces any naturally-occuring optical vignetting (corner darkening), tailored precisely for the exact Canon EF or EF-S lens in use.
  • Highlight Tone Priority: Another important behind-the-scenes feature that’s activated during movie recording. HTP leverages the outstanding performance of Canon’s imaging sensor and processor to pull additional detail out of very bright, near-white highlight areas.

Autofocus during movie recording

When the EOS Rebel T1i’s Main Dial is first set to the Movie mode icon, you’ll hear the mirror rise, and a moment later the LCD monitor begins to display a live view. Along with this is an on-screen notice: “Perform autofocus with AE Lock <*> button”. Unlike still-image shooting, the shutter button is not used for actual video recording, and simply pressing it half-way does nothing. AF must be activated using the rear AE Lock button, again marked with an asterisk icon.

The previous EOS 5D Mark II required users to go into a separate menu to actually activate autofocus during video shooting, or none was possible. With the Rebel T1i, this is simplified — even if the user does nothing more than switch the camera into its video shooting mode, “Live AF” is possible by pressing the AE Lock button before or during video shooting.

Any time AF is activated during actual video recording, the sounds of the lens’s AF motor moving the lens elements will be picked-up by the camera’s internal microphone, and you’ll hear them to some degree in the finished video. Canon lenses with the more advanced ring-type Ultrasonic motor are much quieter, but even these can be heard. Therefore, it’s often best to either autofocus before shooting and leave focus set for actual recording (if possible), or consider using Manual focus during video recording.

Live Mode AF

This is the most basic autofocus setting for video recording with the EOS Rebel T1i, and by default, it’s active when the camera is first taken out of the box and set to video recording mode. A small white rectangle appears at the center of the LCD monitor before and during recording. When the AE Lock button (with asterisk icon) is pressed, the camera reads contrast and sharpness off the imaging sensor, without interrupting video recording, and will drive the lens progressively to the point where it “thinks” focus is sharpest.

Focus is read only within the small white box. While this box initially is located in the dead-center of the LCD monitor, using any of the four cross-keys controls on the camera, it’s possible to move it up, down, left or right to focus upon off-center subjects. One example might be in shooting video of people, to have focus be concentrated upon their faces, rather than mid-sections. To return the AF point back to its centered home position, press the ERASE button (garbage can icon).

Since Live Mode AF reads directly off the imaging sensor, there are some limitations — after all, the imaging sensor’s primary function is capturing images, not assessing focus data. Brisk and responsive focus in Live Mode AF will require well-lit subjects with good detail. In other words, plain, solid subjects without lots of texture and detail will tend to result in focus performance that tends to hesitate or “hunt” back and forth. Additionally, Live Mode AF is not recommended for moving subjects (sports, vehicles and so on).

Live Face Detect AF

The EOS Rebel T1i can actually use its imaging sensor to detect human faces during both video recording and standard Live View shooting. By switching to Live Face Detect AF, any time faces are detected, the camera will display a moving square icon that surrounds the primary face. If a left and right-facing arrow appears on the sides of this icon, you can switch from one face to another by pressing the left/right control key buttons on the rear of the camera.

Focus using Live Face Detect AF then follows the same steps as basic Live Mode AF, described above: press the rear AE Lock (*) button, and the camera will drive the lens to render the detected face as sharply as possible. Once sharpest focus is achieved, the box turns green to confirm this to the photographer. Live Face Detect AF is possible either before you begin video recording, or during actual video shooting.

One advantage of Face Detect AF mode during video shooting is that once a face is detected, the camera will follow it if it moves side-to-side and/or up and down in the scene — far more quickly than you could manually move the single AF box using Live Mode AF. A related benefit is that the camera can keep up with faces nearly to the edges of the frame (if the boxes change color from white to gray, it means that focus won’t be possible until the face moves a bit closer to the center of the picture area.

What happens if the scene you’re shooting has no human faces? The AF system immediately reverts to Live Mode AF, with a single AF box in the center of the LCD monitor. Either way, actual focusing is activated only when the AE Lock button is pressed. And with either method, if focusing is attempted with a subject that’s far, far out of focus (example — close-up subject, with the lens starting at or near infinity setting), it’s possible that AF may not function properly. If that’s the case, momentarily switch the lens to Manual Focus (MF) mode, turn its focus ring to get the on-screen image somewhat sharp, then switch the lens back to AF and try using the camera’s AF again.

Quick Mode AF

Detecting focus off the imaging sensor, as in Live Mode AF and Live Face Detect AF, does have the advantage that it can be preformed during actual video shooting with a digital SLR camera. However, we mentioned its limitations include relatively slow focusing, especially with subjects that don’t have lots of detail. The same is true in low light situations. Quick Mode AF offers an alternative, by using the camera’s actual AF sensor instead of the imaging sensor. The benefit? Much swifter assessment of focus, especially with problem subjects or in low light. For those situations where you want to pre-focus before actual video recording, and leave focus set once it’s achieved, Quick Mode AF is often the ideal setting to use.

Once set to Quick Mode AF, when the AE Lock (*) button is pressed, the LCD viewfinder momentarily blacks-out, the mirror rises, and the camera’s 9-point AF system kicks-in. All nine AF points are indicated on the LCD screen, and once focus is achieved, the point(s) that were used flash red on-screen to both confirm AF, and to indicate where the system has focused. This last point is important if you’re set to Automatic AF point selection, and all nine AF points are active.

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