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Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i Gordon Laing, April 2011
 

Click here to find out about the EOS 600D / T3i's Lens, AF, sensor and drive modes


Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i Movie Mode

The EOS 600D / T3i becomes Canon's latest DSLR to offer HD video recording, and shares the same core modes as the EOS 60D, EOS 550D / T2i and EOS 7D before it. It also features an external microphone input and the ability to manually set audio levels, while the icing on the cake is the fully-articulated screen which allows you to film comfortably at unusual angles.

New to the 600D / T3i are a digital zoom facility and video snapshot compilation facility which we'll describe later.

Starting with the actual video quality, the EOS 600D / T3i gives you have the choice of filming at either 1920x1080, 1280x720 or 640x480 pixels.

The Full HD 1080p mode can be set to record at either 30fps (29.97 actual) or 24fps (23.976 actual) when the Video System is set to NTSC, and 25 or 24fps (23.976 actual) when set to PAL. The 720p and VGA modes record at a higher frame rate of either 60fps (59.94 actual) when set to NTSC or 50fps when set to PAL. The screen-grabs below show the quality page when the video system is set to NTSC or PAL.

   
   

The inclusion of a 24fps option at 1920x1080 pixels will delight independent film makers who were frustrated with the fixed 30fps speed of earlier models. Anyone wanting to integrate footage into PAL projects will also be pleased to find a 25fps option which matches their video standards. And remember while the EOS 5D Mark II can shoot 1080p at a choice of three frame rates, there's still no 720p options for that model.

Before going any further, let's pause for a clip filmed with the EOS 600D / T3i's best quality 1080p / 30fps mode under bright conditions with the camera mounted on a tripod. We used the Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS II lens zoomed-out to 18mm and with IS disabled. Registered members of Vimeo can download each video for closer examination.

Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i sample video: Outdoors, tripod-mounted pan
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

 

Note if you're downloading the files from Vimeo using Internet Explorer, you may find the file extension is MP4 rather than the original MOV. Don't worry, the file is otherwise identical, and you can rename the extension to MOV if necessary. As with other Canon cameras employing the same encoding system, the playback may be jerky under QuickTime for Windows; we recommend playing the files under Windows using VLC Player, but even then you'll also need relatively quick hardware for smooth results.

 

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Like the EOS 60D, EOS 550D / T2i, EOS 7D and EOS 5D Mark II, there's a built-in mono microphone and, impressively for a camera of its class, a 3.5mm stereo mini jack to connect an external microphone. The use of an external microphone, like the Rode VideoMic Pro, can transform the audio quality and is highly recommended over the internal microphone.

In a welcome update over the EOS 550D / T2i, the EOS 600D / T3i now lets you manually set audio recording levels. Go to the Sound recording page and you'll find stereo level meters (with peak holds) and the option to switch between Auto or Manual, the latter offering 64 levels of adjustment. This is a very welcome feature to find on the EOS 600D / T3i and a valuable upgrade over its predecessor.

The Sound recording page is also where you'll find a wind filter, which can be applied to the internal or external microphones. In our tests around windy Queenstown, the filter certainly cut down on noise, but the result sounded quite artificial and echo-ey like over-zealous digital noise reduction. It's handy to have in emergencies, but much better to use an external microphone with a wind cover where possible.

As before, video is encoded using H.264 with uncompressed PCM audio (at 16 bit 48KHz), and stored in a QuickTime MOV wrapper - and as before, while the mild video compression ensures great quality, the encoding format remains a challenge to edit (or even play) smoothly on many computers. You'll also need a Class 6 (or higher) SD card to support the maximum recording times.

The maximum time per file remains 29 minutes and 59 seconds or 4GB, whichever happens first. You're looking at about 330MB per minute in any of the HD movie modes, with the 720 option consuming the same as the 1080 due to its higher frame rates. So that 4GB file limit will actually be reached after approximately 12 minutes, regardless of the HD quality setting. A fully charged battery should last for about two hours worth of recording.

 

Entering the Movie mode and recording a clip is the same as the 550D / T2i before it. You'll first need to turn the mode dial to the Movie Mode position. This flips open the mirror and shutter to deliver a live feed to the screen, after which you simply press the dedicated Live View button (with a red dot next to it) to start and stop recording.

With the movie mode running, you'll see the image framed with black bars above and below for the 16:9 HD modes and to the sides for the 4:3 SD modes. Like the EOS 550D / T2i before it, the borders when shooting in HD are thinner than on most models thanks to the wider 3:2 aspect ratio of the screen, although this also explains the vertical bars for narrower 4:3 footage.

It is possible to take a high resolution photo while filming by fully depressing the shutter release, and doing so will interrupt your video by about one second. The photo will share the same aspect ratio as the current movie mode - so if you're shooting HD video, any still photos will be 16:9 in shape. They will still be much higher resolution than the video frame, but not 3:2 in shape.

     
     

Pressing the Info button cycles between a clean view, one with basic shooting details superimposed along the bottom of the frame, and a third which overlays further settings running down the left side in two columns. Options in the menu allow you to superimpose one of two alignment grids, although there's no live histogram, nor the 60D's virtual horizon.

Like normal Live View, you can directly adjust a number of settings by pressing the Q button, then using the rocker to highlight the desired setting before turning the finger dial or thumb wheel to change it. Here you have the ability to adjust the AF mode, White Balance, Picture Style, Auto Lighting Optimizer, Quality (for stills), Quality for video and an option to enable or disable the new video snapshop feature.

The same options and more besides are available by pressing the Menu button. This presents three new menu pages dedicated to movie options which aren't visible with the camera set to any other mode. So while it can be initially confusing not to find any movie options when casually browsing the menus in other modes, it does at least avoid potential conflicts.

     
     

The first option on the first page is where you can switch the exposure mode from Auto to full Manual. In Auto, the movie mode will automatically adjust the aperture, shutter and sensitivity, and like previous Canon DSLRs, it has a preference for selecting very small apertures and high ISOs even under bright light, in an attempt to maximise the depth-of-field and maintain a stutter-free shutter speed. As such it's not unusual to find the camera shooting at f22 under bright sunlight which has the undesirable side-effect of making any dust marks on the sensor quite visible. In Auto mode you can hold the AV button and turn the finger wheel to adjust exposure compensation in a broad +/-5EV range. You can even do it while recording, although the stepped design of the finger wheel will result in quite audible clicks and even minor vibration.

   

The Manual exposure option allows you to take control and deliberately select large apertures to minimise the depth-of-field, or lower ISOs to maximise the quality. Just like Manual for still photos, the shutter speed is adjusted with the finger dial, while the aperture is adjusted by the thumb wheel. Shutter speeds from 1/4000 to 1/60 (in all the VGA and 720p modes) or 1/30 (in all the 1080p modes) are available, as are sensitivities from 100-6400 ISO, while any aperture offered by the lens can be selected.

It's wonderful to have manual control over exposures from day-one, as the automatic mode often chooses very small apertures and thereby eliminates any chance of enjoying a nice shallow depth-of-field - one of the major benefits of using a DSLR for video in the first place.

The next clip below demonstrates a shallow depth of field and selective focusing that's possible with the EOS 600D / T3i and its basic EF-S 18-55mm IS II kit lens. We zoomed the lens to 55mm and selected the maximum aperture of f5.6 in Manual mode. We then adjusted the manual focusing ring to focus from a close to a distant subject and back again. If this effect appeals, you can achieve much greater blurring with lenses like the EF 50mm f1.4 and EF 85mm f1.8, and if you get really addicted to it, Canon's f1.2 options at the same focal lengths beckon to those with deeper pockets.


Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i sample video: Indoors, manual exposure, manual focus-pulling
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

 

Like the EOS 60D, EOS 550D / T2i and EOS 7D before it, the EOS 600D / T3i offers auto-focusing while filming, but before you get too excited, it's fairly useless. First of all, it doesn't operate continuously like a camcorder. Instead it only refocuses when you half-press the shutter release and worse, takes several seconds to do so using the contrast-based Live mode. So while you can refocus while filming, you'll just end up recording the leisurely adjustment process. To be fair, it's occasionally handy for ensuring the subject is in focus without manually adjusting the lens or exiting to make an automatic reading, but it's a process you'll definitely want to edit out later. You can disable autofocus while filming if desired. Sadly AF during movies on traditional DSLRs remains a tricky thing to achieve, with Nikon's D3100 and D7000 continuous AF option also suffering from slow, noisy and visually distracting adjustments. If you demand a large sensor camera with respectable continuous AF while filminmg, you'll need to go for a hybrid design like the Sony Alpha SLT-A33 / A55 or the Panasonic Lumix GH2.

 

Digital Zoom

 
 
 

As mentioned earlier, one of the new video options on the EOS 600D / T3i is its Digital Zoom facility, which replaces the Movie Crop function of its predecessor and the EOS 60D. The earlier Movie Crop function exploited the large native resolution of the sensor to grab a small 1:1 area in the middle for video, effectively cropping and magnifying the image. On the EOS 550D / T2i and EOS 60D this operated in VGA mode only, taking a 640x480 pixel crop from the middle of the 5184x3456 pixel sensor and delivering an effective boost in magnification of 7.2x. It worked well in practice, but we felt the restriction to VGA video rendered it fairly useless in today's HD world.

With an 18 Megapixel sensor offering 5184x3456 pixels, there's certainly latitude for cropping an HD image from the middle, albeit with a lower effective magnification. Assuming the full sensor width was available for normal filming, a Full HD 1920 pixel wide frame could be cropped from the middle, delivering 2.7x magnification, which a 720p frame (1280 pixels wide), could boost further to 4x.

The EOS 600D / T3i however takes an unexpected approach with its new digital zoom facility. First it's only available for Full HD 1080p footage. Secondly, rather than just offering a simple crop, it additionally scales the image and allows you to adjust the magnification using a slider between 3 and 10x. It really is a digital zoom - although as we discovered, the minimum setting will delight pixel-purists.

Under the Movie rec. size quality menu you'll find two new options for the digital zoom, one disabling the feature and the other enabling it with a range of 3-10x. Once enabled and returned to the live image, you'll notice it's magnified by 3x and showing a much tighter frame. To adjust the zoom level, push and hold the DISP button on the top of the camera while pressing the magnify in and out buttons on the rear. It's a slightly fiddly combination in practice, but you get the hang of it.

If the initial 3x zoom looks much tighter than normal, prepare for a shock when fully zoomed-into 10x. Even modest lenses like the EF-S 18-55mm IS II find themselves delivering a maximum equivalent focal length of 880mm, while perfectly normal 70-300mm lenses boast up to a whopping 4800mm. Yes that's right, an effective focal length of 4.8m with nothing more exotic than a 70-300mm zoom lens.

To illustrate this we filmed the Moon using a 70-300mm lens at 300mm. With the camera's cropped sensor, this lens effectively works at 480mm when fully zoomed-in, and the video below is what you'll see. look closely and you'll also see the Moon moving a little due to the rotation of the Earth. Note: we filmed this in Manual exposure mode at f5.6 and 1/200 at 100 ISO.

Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i sample video: Moon with 70-300mm at 300mm (480mm equiv)
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)


Our next clip below shows the exact same configuration, but with the minimum 3x digital zoom applied. As we'll explain later, we believe this is actually performing a 1:1 pixel crop from the middle of the sensor frame, and thereby delivering closer to 2.5x magnification. This may be slightly shorter than the quoted 3x, but involves no digital scaling for a clean image. The video quality below certainly looks pretty good and the boost in magnification at an effective focal length of 1440mm is greatly beneficial to the subject. Note the shimmering you can see in the clip is due to heat rising in the atmosphere.

Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i sample video: Moon with 70-300mm at 300mm and 3x digital zoom (1440mm equiv)
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)


Our third clip below shows the output from the same configuration with the maximum 10x digital zoom applied. With this degree of scaling, there's understandably a loss in quality and resolution, but for this particular subject, most of that is masked by atmospheric variations. The final output, at an effective 4800mm (yes, 4.8 meters!) delivers a massive close-up of the Moon, and for the sheer impact, most would be willing to forgive the corresponding drop in quality. Remember this footage was achieved with nothing more exotic than a 70-300mm zoom.

Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i sample video: Moon with 70-300mm at 300mm and 10x digital zoom (4800mm equiv)
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)


To be fair, the Moon is a fairly forgiving subject as like any very distant object, its ultimate resolution is greatly impacted by atmospheric variations - again you can see this as shimmering in the clips above. It's hard to see how well the scaling is working in this example, although it does allow us to verify the magnification applied by the zoom mode. By grabbing 1:1 frames of the original and '3x digital zoom' footage and measuring the relative diameter of the Moon, we discovered it wasn't three times bigger, but closer to 2.5 times. Since the normal video mode can't quite use the full width of the sensor, this would pretty much correspond to a 1:1 pixel crop without any digital scaling.

Canon was unable to confirm our findings, but from the evidence above, we believe the 3x digital zoom setting is actually performing a 1:1 pixel crop from the middle of the frame, thereby offering a genuine magnification with no loss in quality through scaling. If this is the case, it's effectively the same as the earlier Movie Crop function, but for 1080p video. It may 'only' be a 2.5x zoom as a result, but we're very happy to have what appears to be 1:1 mapping.

For a closer look we grabbed more video frames, first with no digital zoom, next with 3x and finally with 10x. We did this for the Moon sequence filmed with a 70-300mm at 300mm, and again for our standard resolution test chart filmed at close range with the EF-S 18-55mm IS II at 55mm.

 

Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i
100% video grab from 1080p footage
Digital zoom disabled
Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i
100% video grab from 1080p footage
Digital zoom at 3x
Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i
100% video grab from 1080p footage
Digital zoom at 10x
   
100% crops, 70-300mm at 300mm, 100 ISO
480mm effective
100% crops, 70-300mm at 300mm, 100 ISO
1440mm effective
100% crops, 70-300mm at 300mm, 100 ISO
4800mm effective
         
   
100% crops, 18-55mm at 55mm, 100 ISO
88mm effective
100% crops, 18-55mm at 55mm, 100 ISO
264mm effective
100% crops, 18-55mm at 55mm, 100 ISO
880mm effective

 

As you can see from the 100% crops above, the 3x digital zoom is resolving much finer detail. This is clearly not the same result you'd get if you simply scaled the original image in software. It's a valuable facility to have when filming when you need extra reach and effectively transforms normal zooms into monster telephotos with no loss in quality.

Meanwhile at the 10x end of the zoom, the camera is clearly applying scaling with no extra resolution recorded in the image over the 3x version - what you're seeing is simply an interpolated version of the 3x zoom. The scaling is still quite effective though, but isn't doing anything you can't do by enlarging a clip using editing software. But the novelty of massive magnification can still be fun. Take the 10x clip of the Moon above for example. You could use this as a short clip in a sequence and enjoy the impact of the high magnification but cut away before anyone had time to take a really close look.

But again it's the minimum setting which is a triumph, delivering approximately 2.5x magnification in practice with no degradation in the image. It's a genuinely useful facility the 600D / T3i has over the previous models in the range, not to mention the competition. We're still not sure why it's only offered for 1080p video though and not the lower resolution modes...


Video Snapshot

The second new movie feature on the EOS 600D / T3i is the Video Snapshot. This captures a very short clip lasting two, four or eight seconds which is then stored in an album. Subsequent clips can be appended to the previous ones in the same album, allowing you to gradually build up a sequence. Each new clip can be reviewed after filming, allowing you to choose whether to append it to your existing sequence or delete it.

 
 

This could be handy for real estate or tourism, allowing a tour of a property or facility to be easily created without editing software or rendering. Equally it can be great fun for creating little movies, especially with the shorter clip lengths as they force creative use of the limited capture times. Canon also supplies some music files on CD which can be copied to your memory card to accompany Video Snapshots if desired.

The camera can be turned off and on again and still let you append new clips to the previous album you were working on, but you can't change the clip length during an album. So if you started at two seconds and fancied a few four second clips, these would be stored as a new album. Once a new album has started, you also can't return to an older one. But of course you can always stick multiple albums together in editing software later if desired. Also beware that opening the card or battery compartments - even if you don't remove the contents - will result in a new album being started.

The following movie gives you an idea of what's possible. We set the EOS 600D / T3i to its two second Video Snapshot mode and filmed a series of clips arriving at Shotover Jet in Queenstown. The narrative loses its way somewhat towards the end, but it's just a quick demonstration!

Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i sample video: Video Snapshot, 2 second mode
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

 

 

Finally, the EOS 600D / T3i completes its movie experience with another feature inherited from previous models: the ability to trim clips at either end during playback. The shorter file can then overwrite the original or be saved as a new movie. We used this process to trim the clip demonstrating the 10x Digital Zoom above.

     
     


The filming experience

As for filming with the EOS 600D / T3i, the experience and results are unsurprisingly similar to the models which came before it, especially the EOS 60D. As such, the EOS 600D / T3i is capable of delivering superb-looking results in both bright and low light. It's easy to enter the movie mode and start filming, the choice of resolutions and frame rates allows you to integrate footage into almost any project, the manual exposure control gives you the creative freedom which typical camcorders can only dream of, and the external microphone input allows far superior audio quality. The addition of manual control over audio levels is also very welcome. As discussed above, the new Digital Zoom, especially at 3x, delivers a useful extension to long telephoto shots and the Video Snapshot will be enjoyed by amateur movie makers and estate agents alike.

 
 

Where the EOS 600D / T3i really scores over its predecessor though is its articulated screen. DSLRs aren't the easiest things to handle for filming and the necessity to hold them relatively high in order to see the screen is far from ideal. Like the EOS 60D before it though, you can simply flip the screen out and angle it upwards for comfortable framing at waist-height. Equally you can film comfortably with the camera on the ground or held high over your head. Discreet filming is also possible thanks to the adjustable screen.

Of course DSLRs with articulated screens aren't new to other manufacturers: Nikon, Sony, Panasonic and Olympus all offer them, but it doesn't diminish from the delight of using one on the EOS 600D / T3i - and again making it even more pleasant is the excellent quality panel.

So unless you demand (or desire) the full-frame sensor of the EOS 5D Mark II, we'd say the EOS 600D / T3i boasts the best movie recording experience of any Canon DSLR to date. The quality is known from previous models, but adding manual audio recording levels, an articulated screen and uncompromised cropping have taken it to a new level.

As with all DSLR video modes though, there are caveats. First, there's no continuous autofocus while filming. Second, without optional mountings, the DSLR form factor isn't particularly comfortable to handle for filming, and it's tricky to pull focus or adjust the zoom without twisting or wobbling the camera. Professional film makers who are interested in monitoring or recording over HDMI should also note that while the port outputs a 1080i signal while framing, it's downgraded to 480p once you start recording.

But to be fair, these criticisms apply to most traditional DSLRs offering video. Nikon may boast continuous movie AF for its D3100 and D7000, but neither are quick or discreet in this process. As you can see in our sample videos for both models, there's constant focus hunting which is both visually and audibly off-putting - indeed they're essentially doing nothing more than triggering the refocusing process every few seconds, which you can match on the Canon bodies by simply half-pressing the shutter release on regular occasions.

If you want quicker continuous AF during movies, you'll need to go for a hybrid model like Sony's Alpha SLT-A33 / A55 or Panasonic's Lumix GH2. Both deliver far superior experiences in this regard than a traditional DSLR, but equally have compromises in other areas. See our reviews of both for full details.

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In terms of handling, DSLRs and hybrid cameras alike suffer from a form factor that was designed for stills not video. As mentioned above, dedicated rigs can alleviate the problem, although most come at considerable cost. We have however enjoyed similar results - at least in terms of holding the camera - by mounting an affordable Gorillapod and bending the legs back on themselves as handles. You can see this in the photo opposite, with the EOS 600D / T3i and Rode VideoMic Pro. We'd recommend using the sturdiest of the Gorillapod range, the Focus.

This configuration allows you to hold the camera much more securely, while also folding back for easy storage. While it won't let you mount focus-pullers or cinematic lens hoods, this 'Gorilla-rig' has greatly improved our handheld filming. We have a dedicated thread for the Gorilla-rig in our forum if you'd like to discuss it further.

Ultimately the continued lack of continuous AF means it's the independent film makers or very serious amateurs who'll really appreciate the EOS 600D / T3i's movie capabilities. They'll already be used to working around the caveats to achieve great-looking footage. The EOS 5D Mark II's bigger sensor may offer greater potential for shallow depth-of-field effects and low light performance, but by matching the EOS 7D's output with the addition of manual audio levels, an articulated screen and digital zoom capabilities, the EOS 600D / T3i arguably becomes Canon's most confident and flexible movie camera yet. Now let's see how the still image quality compares in our Canon EOS 600D / T3i Real-life results.

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