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How Much Do Specs Matter? A Real-World Canon 5D Mark III and Canon T2i Comparison

06.12.12 @ 11:59PM Tags : , , , , , , ,

Dave Dugdale Compares the Canon Mark III to the Canon T2iWe all like to think the latest and greatest high-end cameras will save our production or propel us into stardom…or something like that. Cameras are tools, and just because one costs more than another, doesn’t mean that the final result will necessarily be all that different. I’ve used pretty much all of the popular DSLRs out there, and you can get great results from any of them. The question is, once these videos go to YouTube or Vimeo, how much of a difference will there be? Dave Dugdale from Learning DSLR Video asks this very question as he compares the relatively new Canon 5D Mark III to the inexpensive Canon T2i.

As Dave points out, the biggest difference between the two cameras is ISO performance. This can be a deal-breaker for many people, as they might be shooting in a situation that requires that extra stop or two of ISO performance. Canon’s ALL-I codec has been getting mixed results, but the IPB codec in the Mark III should perform better than the codec in the T2i. On paper, the specs of the 5D Mark III run circles around the T2i, but in this real-world example, they aren’t very far off, and in many cases, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference (apart from high-ISO).

For my shooting, usability is a far more important factor. The 5D handles much nicer and has more buttons that allow for quicker access to functions. I much prefer the ability to change the camera functions by using the top LCD. The HDMI output is also higher resolution on the Mark III than it is on the T2i. Again, these have almost nothing to do with specs — they have to do with actually using the camera. I prefer a heavier body that fits better in my hands, but for many situations the T2i would work just fine. In the end, they are going to produce a relatively similar result once you apply web compression — so just because you’re “stuck” with the lowly T2i or the new T4i, doesn’t mean you can’t produce great results if you take care with what you’re shooting.

For some people, spending that extra $3000 may not be a smart investment. You can make any camera look great provided that you learn how to shoot and light properly — both of which take time and practice.

[via Learning DSLR Video]


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Description image 37 COMMENTS

  • Luke Neumann on 06.13.12 @ 12:09AM

    I have always, and will always have this to say about the Mark II/III. You are paying for a lot of Photography tech. Plain and simple. If you’re only going to be using it for video the GH2 is a much better option in the sub $1,000 price range. It walks circles around the T2i in almost every category.

    • john jeffreys on 06.13.12 @ 2:46AM

      except sensor size lol.

      • Right – the pisspoor scaling of the t2i’s larger sensor is what results in the ugly moire and softness typical to the Canon DSLRs (except the Mk. III).

        The GH2, on the other hand, is basically moire-free and much sharper. And resolves far more resolution. And can be hacked up to a nearly 200 mb/s bitrate. And can use ANY lens, including Panasonic’s outstanding lineup of m4/3s lenses. And has a lossless 2x crop mode. And an articulating touch-screen. And so on.

        • When I finally dipped my toes into the DSLR video market, I evaluated a lot of options, and ended up going with the GH2. I’ve never regretted it, especially after picking up some old Nikkor lenses and hacking it. Now I have two GH2′s – and I doubt I’ll feel the need to upgrade my camera for several years.

        • john jeffreys on 06.13.12 @ 3:55PM

          I do like the fact that since its mirror less, so you can adapt old school fatty PL lenses onto it, or adapt virtually any other lens mount to it. But still, the typical film audience is used to a super 35-ish depth of field, and its hard to get that on an m4/3 camera without shooting wide open all the time or, and not to mention the crop factor being bigger so you have to use wider lenses in general.

          its a great B or C camera, but id never show up to a real set with one and be taken seriously.

          • Luke Neumann on 06.14.12 @ 11:15AM

            And you would with a T2i? I made it a point to say in the sub $1,000 price range, did I not?

          • john jeffreys on 06.14.12 @ 4:42PM

            No, not really, I wouldn’t bring either a t2i nor a GH2 to most professional projects. People just don’t take you seriously with a little plastic camera. But thats just for sets and “serious” style things, not personal projects, experimentals, shorts, media art etc etc.

            Honestly, I just use whatever tool is deemed fit for whatever specific project I am doing. So that means renting camera packages a lot. Horses for courses. If I am broke at the time/lazy, I’ll just use my 5D package.

            But whatever, thats just like my opinion, man.

          • A red epic naked doesn’t look much different than any other DSLR.
            So just put some stuff around your GH2 – rigs, cages, matte box, monitor, extra batteries and what not, and it will look like any professional film camera setup.

          • john jeffreys on 06.15.12 @ 3:28PM

            A RED Epic naked is also not very functional. You have to rig it out, and have a basic DIT station (a fast laptop and card red station reader) nearby. And yeah, a rigged GH2 would work, but then that would cost as much as a basic super35 camcorder like an FS100 lol

        • Agreed completely. The video from a GH2 (even without the hack) runs circles around any of Canon’s DSLRs. It still baffles me that people opt for the EOS cameras for shooting video when a GH2 provides far greater image quality for only $800 or so.

          Unless you’re in love with the 5D full-frame aesthetic, the Canon cameras are simply sub-par.

        • Last night was the premiere of our Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project (teaser here: that I shot on a hacked GH2 with Flow Motion (~35Mbits) and the SLR Magic 12mm f1.6 and Nikkor non ai 28mm f2.8. It was projected on the big screen at 1080p, and we went after a short made with a C300. No discernible difference in image quality – and we didn’t even have time to go through and use Neat Video. We slapped some Rgrain on top of our noisy heavily graded footage to make it noisy, heavily graded, and grainy – and I doubt even all the pixel peepers inherent in that audience had any issue with the image.

          There was a brief Q and A after the screenings, and when all the teams were asked what they shot on, we and the other team that used the GH2 were cheered. Literally cheered.

          Point is, even on the big screen, the shooters that clearly knew how to really use their DSLR cameras, even with budget glass on the low end Canons, were able to make a pleasing image. Anyone that scoffs at a DSLR shooter with a good reel isn’t worth my time on set. So far as sub $1000 cameras go, though – I’m quite happy with my decision :-)

  • I have a “Magic Lanterned” T2i which I’ve used for 2yrs now and now and my only wish is for the higher res HDMI output. It’s getting increasingly harder for pulling focus(maybe my eyes are going bad). I didn’t realize that I’d need that until I got field practice but I can make do until funds allow for another option. Still worth everything I paid though and I still love my little camera. Makes a great B roll too if/when I do upgrade.

  • I really enjoyed this video by Dave (as most of his videos). As a proud T2i owner I would say that a good investment in glass (and proper lighting) should take priority before spending the extra $3k on an upgrade to the 5DMK III. Its much more important to have the fundamentals of filmmaking down before just spending money for the latest and greatest. Just my 2 cents.

  • I love the t2i as well. The most annoying thing however is aliasing and moire. This is what frustrates me most with the camera, and I guess DSLR’s in general. That would be enough of a reason to upgrade for me (too bad I can’t) Yes both happen on other super 35 mm cameras but from what I hear, not as often. Oh to be able to afford an fs700 and a metabones adapter.

  • I love the T2i and worry the mark iii is slightly soft and harder to find peak focus. For me the big thing that makes the T2i a better option than the 7D and as yet the mark iii is that you can unlock so many features with Magic Lantern. I don’t get the form factor debate as once you have a battery grip and pistol grip attached I find it fits great in the hand. I like the fact it is small and light. A lot of my settings are adjustable through Magic Lantern which would not I believe utilise the 5Ds top LCD screen. The big issue for me is aliasing and moire, which is the main reason I may upgrade. I also like the lowlight capability of the mark iii but if it ain’t sharp enough, then why waste the cash?

  • john jeffreys on 06.13.12 @ 2:45AM

    Frankly I am sick of my 5D/t2i combo. I am so tired of dealing with their crap. DSLR’s are less than ideal for real cinema work. They are good as beginner tools to get you used to the super 35/full frame aesthetic and how lenses and shit work, but thats it. The resolution is awful (soft image, 800 lines max res.), you have to magic lantern it to get basic video features, and the line skipping gives you bad artifacts like moire, etc. Not to mention jello cam and the abysmal dynamic range of 8-9 stops versus proper cameras having 11+.

    I am currently saving up for an FS100 kit with a leica or maybe PL mount and some hawt vintage glass. Wish I could afford a c300 but maybe someday when I blow up…

  • This post is really misleading. The big difference is not ISO. The big difference is the sensor size. That is what you pay for and it’s barely given any discussion here. People love shooting on the 5D because it gives you more options with your lenses. You can make images on the 5D that are impossible on the t2i because of the crop factor. For example, if you have a shot you want to do in a confined space then with a 5D you have a lot of options. Maybe your 50mm lens will be fine. On the t2i you need to move a good 2 or 3 meters back to get the same frame. Sometimes that’s impossible. Maybe there are walls, hills, crowds any number of obstacles. Also, moire – that’s skipped over pretty quickly. If you’re shooting a job and getting paid for it, moire is a problem. Less moire, the less you have to worry about bricks, shirts, fences, water, the list goes on… All these things you need to avoid shooting in some situations – that reduces your options again.

    What you pay for in the 5d is options. That’s what professional equipment is about. It’s nothing to do with picture quality side by side on YouTube. I’ve used (still) iPhone images in professional situations because it was the best wide angle lens I had at the time. Would or could I use it in all situations? No that’s ridiculous. The 5d had far more flexibility in lenses, light and post production changes. Video is the same.  Shot correctly, is the image from the iPhone indistinguishable from the 5d to the audience. You bet.

    If you CAN get the same frame in the first place then of course a t2i and a 5d will look very similar. The 5d blows the t2i away in lens options because of the sensor size, low light and moire. Its also much better weather proofed and ergonomically designed. I liked my t2i because it was small and people weren’t scared of it. A 5d can be more intimidating in a documentary setting. Also the t2i ergonomics really do suck. Especially for stills. I switched it for the 60d which is massively better (and has the articulating screen) for not much more than a t2i. If you don’t need to shoot in limited spaces, want bokeh, or shoot in crazy low light then for most situations a 60d is perfect.

    Camera choice is not about specs or image quality. Camera choice is about the options the system gives you. 

    • you can use the crop factor to your advantage by getting a closer shot. I know companies that use 7Ds at wedding ceremonies to get that intimate close up of vowels etc. The biggest thing actually is the ISO, if you do not have magic lantern the t2i ISO increments are horrible..but like Dave said if you’re outside no need to worry about ISO, but being outside makes a lot of cameras much nicer. I’ve cut together crappy 60D kit lens footage with a 5d mark ii L series lenses and it does not compare. With a crop sensor DSLR the best option (even though I have not done this) is get magic lantern to increase ISO range and Invest in lenses. Obviously the sensor is a big variable, full frame increases low light performance, depth of field….

    • Sensor size is less of a difference, if you mean it’s harder to get faster wide lenses to match angle of view, you might have a point, but for the most part you can match angle of view pretty easily, the question becomes – do you have enough light now that you are using a slow wide lens.

      For many of the people making a decision between getting a T2i or similar camera, the shallow depth of field of the 5D can actually make it far more difficult to get a shot in focus, thereby making the lens benefit irrelevant. From an ergonomics and usability, I like the 5D much better, but I am also not buying my first or second camera, and I am comfortable getting shots in focus wide open on a 50mm or 85mm on a full frame camera. I think you have to realize that certain articles are for certain audiences, and the idea is that, yes, a 5D is a professional camera with professional options, but it won’t necessarily make your production any better if you’re on the fence about upgrading.

      No matter what, the camera won’t save your shot from being out of focus, and it’s a tad easier getting that focus on the APS-C cameras.

      • That’s exactly what I do mean!!! Sex appeal! You can’t get the same depth of field characteristics with the crop factor of the t2i (unless you spend loads on lenses which kind of defeats the point). You simply cannot get the same shots. The big selling point of the 5d is bokeh. If someone has an urge to blow $4k on a camera surely ISO and specs aren’t the draw? Especially if this hypothetical person doesn’t have the experice on how to pull focus properly. Surely the whole 5d sex appeal — the magic that makes people put up with the crap — is shallow focus on a wide angle lens… Just watch Philip Bloom’s 5d videos or some of Shane Hurlbut’s 5d ads or that episode of House shot on the 5d. That looks sexy on vimeo in a way shooting at night on high ISO doesn’t.

        But you’re totally right. Bokeh is overrated! Movie cameras that shoot 3-perf super 35 basically have much the same crop factor that the APS-C sensor has. So if Stanley Kubrick and Scorsese and Spielberg don’t need the 5d’s super bokeh, then…?

        Nowadays no-one should ever be thinking they NEED to spend more than $600. Regardless of what anyone says demonstrably award winning movies have been shot on that t2i sensor. Tiny Furniture is a brilliant example (shot on 7d). And now Lena Dunham has her own show on HBO at age 24. That’s awesome.

        But if you have some 5d money burning a hole in your pocket and you want a movie camera, surely the way to go is an FS100 (or FS700)! No moire, great low light, not rolling shutter! And slow-mo! Give me those four over the bokeh any day.

        • I just explained to somebody that “shallow depth of field” automatically means a very short plane of focus, which makes it very hard to pull focus. Seems obvious, but he didn’t seem to get it…

          Lots of big movies have been shot on 16mm film or 2/3″ sensors, even Hollywood never needed more than 35mm (almost identical to APS-C).

          But suddenly 4/3″ and APS-C is not sexy enough for the next best youtube video? Maybe it is just your shots, your lighting and your editing are not sexy enough and you try to cover it with full frame f1.4 …

  • @ David. Yeah see your point but a lot of the time I only carry two lenses and the less intimidating form factor is a big plus – a lot of people don’t really know I am shooting. It’s not that the 5D isn’t a lot better, it’s just still a little disappointing for the cash. I might try the $300 Mosaic VAF-550D filter when it comes out to combat moire and aliasing, then just hold out a while for something better to come along. Or save up for the FS100 or even the C300.

  • I shoot with a T3i and love it. I use 3x to combat moire in most situations (depends on the ISO setting, and needs to be used CAREFULLY). I wonder how the T3i would compare to the 5DmkIII? Especially with Magic Lantern involved.

  • We could add a few additional heresies here. Not only doesn’t it matter, on very low-budget productions, what camera you use for the web, but the same is demonstrably true for theatrical exhibition, based on many years of indie successes and failures, and the absence of a correlation between production value and commercial success. Professional production values may actually be demerit in this niche, creating expectations that won’t be satisfied by low budget productions.

    And production value itself is apparently meaningless in the lower reaches of the indie world, because the threshold for a controlled aesthetic far exceeds the budget anyway.

    We also tend to forget that the “low budget aesthetic” (or lack thereof) isn’t simply visual. It’s a whole range of values, and that even if a camera in and of itself magically provided production values — forgetting lighting, production design, locations, etc. — that aesthetic will still be hobbled, absent serious financial resources.

  • How much film footage (as opposed to kiddie birthday party footage) is shot with ones hand on the camera body itself?

    The Rebels win in ergonomics by being smaller and lighter for use on your steadicams, shoulder rigs, and the like. The t4i has a touchscreen advantage too.

    The 5d3 has a bigger sensor and better downrez. The only Canon camera out that actual _films_ can be made on well is the C300.

    • “The only Canon camera out that actual _films_ can be made on well is the C300.”

      There are a heck of a lot of filmmakers out there who would vehemently disagree with that claim.

    • john jeffreys on 06.13.12 @ 4:00PM

      While I agree with the sentiment of your C300 opinion, I must tell you that a lot of films have been made with DSLR’s that have been very successful, both artistically and commercially. Rubber (5D mark II), Tiny Furniture (7D), Like Crazy (7D with PL mount), Black Swan (some scenes), The Avengers (some scenes), Act of Valor (5D mark II with PL mount)

  • Real cams with apsc sensor is already around, sony vg20. Fantasic lowlight, built in hi quality mic..emount. People who still use dslr for filming should just shup up and get the vg20.

  • I am a very happy T2i user, but I would like to get a 5D MKIII for use as an A camera for wide shots and use my T2i’s as B/C’s for closeups. I can see many advantages of the 5D over the T2i’s for shooting in tight spaces, higher bit rate recording, unlit shooting in darkness at high iso, 30 minute recording time, options for shooting ultra-wide, as well as the improved bokeh and lack of aliasing and moire. And let’s not forgot how sharpness can be boosted in CS6.

    These additional features may not represent a value of $3000 premium for some, but they would definitely provide enough to those of us not quite ready to move up to a much more expensive large sensor camcorder.

  • Apart from sensor size and ISO performance, another major issue that doesn’t get mentioned here is the overheating issue. I did a two cam shooting of a small event. Both cameras were on tripod and shot small 12 minutes clips. Both cams went hot after a while, but the t2i exhibited the overheat message and eventually stopped recording while the mark III went on with no complaint. The t2i is a value amateur camera, and maybe a good 2nd 3rd camera. But that’s it.
    The gh2 is nice but it looks more video ish to me, and sensor wise, there is nothing like full frame.
    Note: I shoot a lot of stills too.

  • why do people still try to insist that “real movies” cant be made on dslr’s? apart from all the films that were already around, last years sundance winner “like crazy” got international cinema distribution, purchased by paramount for 4 million and was one of the best films of last year. it was shot on the 7d so any argument is factually incorrect.

  • It’s incredible how people project their standards onto everyone else: cameras are all tools for a job. I’ve worked in the voluntary/community sector and, believe me, the budgets barely allow for handicams. The fact that I can provide a 550d with nice glass, a rig and decent sync audio is like Hollywood for my clients.

    At what point am I not a professional when I make a living from it? Certainly, Dante Spinotti would run rings round me using my 550d, while I’d struggle to get decent results from a Panavision 35, but let’s not forget you use the tools you have and the tools your client needs and can afford. And my clients are happy.

    As for complaints about the moire, rolling shutter, lack of features, etc, let’s not forget the 550d is a SLR stills camera with video tacked on – it’s not a video/film camera, nor was it ever intended to be. DSLR shooting is a fudge at best. Complaining about video faults is like bitching about you car’s inability to run the Paris Dakar race. Sure, it’s a car, but it wasn’t designed for extended, high-speed desert conditions. Buy a Land Rover. You want a film camera? Well, take your pick.