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.


Glenn wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 12:40 AM PST:

There’s the SX220 HS as well, which is the same as the SX230, but without the GPS.

My biggest concern with these cameras would be the rolling shutter from the CMOS sensors. I’ve seen footage from a couple of their previous CMOS sensor HS models, and the rolling shutter was quite noticeable. It’s too bad they can’t get 1080P out of their CCD sensors. A couple of the other companies have them including Panasonic, although in a 60i wrapper I believe. I would be happy with that.

25P and other frame rates would be nice. Lets hope that will be possible in Digic 5 cameras.

Glenn wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 12:43 AM PST:

Oh, and the T3 cameras, yeah, they’re rubbish. The EOS60D is already affordable enough.

I’m still waiting to see if Nikon release a full frame D800 before considering any DSLR. Something like that would be perfect for all my Nikon lenses.

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Eugenia wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 12:44 AM PST:

I don’t believe the reason of moving to CMOS has anything to do with being able to do 1080p. Moore’s law would have allowed for 1080p on CCD digicams this year too. They’re going with CMOS because Canon has CMOS fabs, but they outsource their CCDs to Sony. So by manufacturing everything in-house, allows for bigger profit margins. This probably means that you should not expect CCD from Canon ever again, for any cam.

As for Nikon, they are not software people. Even less than Canon and Panasonic, or Sony. So while their hardware might kick ass, their software will always lag behind, and in our case, this means bad encoders, poor video options, and the like. If I were you, I’d sell the Nikon lenses and go with Canon dSLR/lenses. In my opinion, Nikon will never be able to satisfy video people. They don’t have enough expertise.

> There’s the SX220 HS as well…

Interesting. This model does not appear in the US Canon web site.

Glenn wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 1:52 AM PST:

Software isn’t an issue for me, and neither are poor video controls. I don’t think you could get much worse than the controls we get on these little Powershot cameras! 😉 Nikon use AVCHD now too. With something like a full frame D800 I wouldn’t need to buy any new lenses. That’s the thing.. You buy into the Canon EOS series, and their L series lenses cost a fortune. Plus, they’re not manual lenses making them a lot less versatile. You can’t use EOS lenses on something like Panasonic’s GH2, even with an adapter. Nikon lenses are the most versatile. Via adapters they can be used on micro 4/3 cameras, Red cameras, Canon cameras, and probably a few other brands too, including Pentax.

I just much prefer the Nikon look as well. Have a look at how much nicer high ISO D3S shots looked than the 1D mk4 shots in the Zacuto shootout. Of course the D3S uses motion jpeg. If they release the D800, the low light performance should be comparable to the D3S, but with manual video controls like the D7000, an AVCHD codec, and will sell for a lot less than the D3S. Nikon cameras also have timelapse functions built in. No need to buy a controller, as would be the case with any Canon DSLR.

A 5Dmk3 with a Nikon adapter might be nice too. Providing they fix the moire, rolling shutter etc.

Felix wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 7:41 AM PST:

No way they are innovating in the Rebel line before the pro line.

The Rebel line is the trailing end, it gets what’s already been released in the higher end. Stuff they don’t mind selling for a lower price point, which it seems isn’t much yet.

T3 lists for like $599, it’s purely for the beginner who isn’t worried about shooting video.

The serious videographer is going to be lead to whatever replaces 5D,7D, etc. The expectations are big on the revisions of these models, we’ll see if Canon disappoints.

Maybe the T4i or whatever Rebel model comes out next will have more features. I was hoping at least more than 9 points of focus, but guess they aren’t ready to add that yet.

Bill wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 10:38 AM PST:

Hi Eugenia — dpreview has a screenshot here suggesting that the T3i has manual audio gain control — which, along with the swivel LCD — might make it worth it to trade in my T2i. The AGC on the T2i makes in-camera audio unusable. But you’re right — not much of an “upgrade”.

Michael C. wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 11:39 AM PST:

Have you come to terms with iFrame? You did not chastise it this time.

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Eugenia wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 3:54 PM PST:

> Have you come to terms with iFrame? You did not chastise it this time.

No, because this time the feature is neutral to the standard 720p mode. In its previous incarnations that I had a problem with, it was 540p, low bitrate.

William Eggington wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 4:10 PM PST:

Are there still models available that use the wobble free CCD technology instead of CMOS sensors?

Yiannis wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 4:15 PM PST:

I bought my T2i a month ago and i am pretty cool with it. T3i is not actually something new(except from the screen and the wireless flash function, but hey, who cares). Where are the killing features? Moreover on the T3, if someone doesnt want video then he can buy the previous model which is even more affordable. Last but not least, if you would choose between 60D and 600D which you would prefer and why?

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Eugenia wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 4:24 PM PST:

>Are there still models available that use the wobble free CCD technology instead of CMOS sensors?

Yes, most of the older Canon digicams. All the new ones are CMOS.

>if you would choose between 60D and 600D which you would prefer and why?

Depends which one has audio levels support.

Michael C. wrote on February 7th, 2011 at 5:18 PM PST:

Hm, I missed the 720p bit. I thought that iFrame could be 540p only. I cannot find any docs about 720p iFrame. So, what Canon offers does not seem to be iFrame per se, it might be itra-frame AVC-in-QuickTime, but as it is 720p, it is NOT iFrame.

glenn wrote on February 8th, 2011 at 11:08 AM PST:

eugenia, according to canon’s website – the a1200 has CCD not cmos.

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Eugenia wrote on February 8th, 2011 at 4:00 PM PST:

Yup, not the latest batch.

glenn wrote on February 8th, 2011 at 10:13 PM PST:

Okay…gotcha. I thought you were referring to any of the new cameras that have not been released yet.

zima wrote on February 11th, 2011 at 3:39 PM PST:

>a miniature mode in 720p (a popular look on Vimeo these days)

So, if I see this right – trying to simulate the look of macro shots and of miniature stopmotion animation?
But… what… is it good for?
(TBH “movie digest” mode – recording few seconds of video before each photo, then joining all such clips of the day – seems more cute. And do I see first signs of the eternal Canon vs. Nikon struggle showing up at the doorstep of also this place? 😉 Curious how lowest-end A1200/2200 & their CCDs ended somewhat better, rolling shutter wise(?)…)

Chris wrote on February 15th, 2011 at 1:31 PM PST:

I dont see a big jump in these cameras coming for a while. I took a look at the new line up and all I could think is it might make it cheaper for me to buy a t2i from someone looking to upgrade. Unless some new vid tests are alittle better with low light capability and some color changes I completely agree to wait until something wow comes along.

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