Archive for February 7th, 2011

New Canon HD cameras — an analysis

Today Canon announced 6 new HD cameras: four P&S digicams, and two dSLRs. These are the dSLR T3i (upgrade from the popular T2i), a new low-end dSLR called T3, the ELPH 500 HS, the SX230 HS (upgrade from the SX210 IS), the ELPH 100 HS (upgrade from the SD1400 IS), and the ELPH 300 HS (upgrade for the much-reported in this blog, SD780 IS).

The digicams

Canon shows more initiative on their new digicam lines than they do on their dSLR ones regarding video. All four new digicams now support 1080/24p, and 720/30p. And the bitrates are great for a digicam, compared to any other digicam or digirecorder manufacturer: 38 mbps for 1080p, and 26 mbps for 720p (all VBR it seems). Only major hardware change compared to the previous lineup of these Canon models is that they now use CMOS instead of CCD (same 1/2.3″ sensor size though). Lens-wise, the ELPH 500 HS is the most interesting, with a fast f2.0 lens, which will probably offer the most background blur from the bunch. The ELPH SX230 HS has the most zoom, at 14x.

All four models come with a miniature mode in 720p (a popular look on Vimeo these days), and ultra-slow motion up to 240 fps at VGA/QVGA low resolutions. The SX230 HS and the ELPH 500 HS come with an additional mode, the Apple-mandated iFrame, which is 720/30p at 40 mbps. While the iFrame bitrate is higher than the 26 mbps found on the “standard” mode of 720p, the encoder is not as well tuned, so overall expect the same quality as in the standard 720p mode. The iFrame h.264 format is easier to decode, so it helps out with Quicktime-based video editors (e.g. iMovie, FCE), but it consumes more storage. It’s a give and take thing.

All the other features expected in these Canon digicams (exposure compensation and lock, film-like custom flat color settings, focus lock, custom white balance) are there. Only feature really missing is 25p support for our PAL friends. [Update: Avoid the 500 HS, it doesn’t lock exposure in video mode!] Also, one thing I would have liked to see is slow-motion 480p support. Right now they offer 120 fps at 640×480. These cameras are capable of 848×480 at 60 fps without a problem though (1280*720px * 30fps = 27648000, which needs more computation than 848*480px * 60fps = 24422400). It would be nice to have that, it feels kind of unnaturally left out.



Well, I’m not as happy with the dSLRs… The T3i only has a single “honest” new video feature compared to the T2i: the swivel screen. The “video burst” thingie and the digital zoom are a joke for any serious videographer. Insulting if I may say so. Still no full HDMI-out while recording, and still no audio levels (Update: it seems there are audio levels in T3i, and a 3.5mm input mini-jack). Instead of adding serious features they added toys. Basically, if you already own a T2i, don’t consider an upgrade. It doesn’t worth it. The T3i is only worth it for people who don’t have an HDSLR yet, and were on the edge of buying a T2i but they were still not sure if their wife would approve. For these people the T3i is the extra push they needed to buy an HDSLR. But for the rest of us, existing costumers, it should be seen more like a marketing ploy rather than a solid evolutionary step in the video dSLR universe.

I have even fewer good things to say about the T3 model, which is the bare bones version of the T3i. It only does 720 at 30p and 25p (no 24p), and it has NO manual control whatsoever (I hope it supports exposure compensation and locking though). I mean, look. You wouldn’t want them to give away all the video features to a low-end model either, so it doesn’t eat up their higher range of products. I understand that. But not offering some shutter speed control at least, not offering 24p, AND only go up to 720p (when even a $180 Canon point & shoot digicam now does 1080p), makes it a BIG, FAT, JOKE.

Stay the hell away from the T3. It doesn’t worth it even if you’re shooting video “just a little”. Unless Canon offers a firmware upgrade with 1080/24p support (or at the very least 720/24p), and maybe shutter speed control, don’t touch it.