When the 5D II first came out, it was revolutionary, offering full HD video at 30fps. While this was certainly an amazing concept, the execution itself wasn’t spectacular by any means. Why? Because while the 5D II did 1080p video, it did not follow the standard frame rates for video, nor the sampling rates for audio. In fact, it didn’t even allow manual exposure settings for video. This of course was later fixed, and led to speculation.
For the first time, Canon didn’t just tweak the settings on a camera with a firmware update, they actually enhanced the camera. But after updating the 5D II to allow manual exposure, they still had a lot to do. And today, finally, it seems they’ve done it.
So what’s the big deal with the new firmware? Hit the jump to get a simple explanation of frame rates and audio samples, as well as the complete list of firmware changes. But if that sounds all too boring, feel free to just click here (scroll down, hit “I Agree”) to get the firmware and be on your merry way!
First, a list of the changes, and while it’s only a list of six, they are huge:
Firmware Version 2.0.3 incorporates five enhancements to the movie function and a fix to the manual sensor cleaning function of the EOS 5D Mark II camera.
- Adds or changes the following movie frame rates.
- 1920×1080 : 30 fps (changed – actual 29.97 fps)
- 1920×1080 : 24 fps (added – actual 23.976 fps)
- 640×480 : 30 fps (changed – actual 29.97 fps)
- 1920×1080 : 25 fps (added – actual 25.0 fps)
- 1920×1080 : 24 fps (added – actual 23.976 fps)
- 640×480 : 25 fps (added – actual 25.0 fps)
- Adds a function for manually adjusting the sound recording level (64 levels).
- Adds a histogram display (brightness or RGB) for shooting movies in manual exposure.
- Adds shutter-priority AE mode (Tv) and aperture-priority AE (Av) mode to the exposure modes for shooting movies.
- Changes the audio sampling frequency from 44.1 KHz to 48 KHz.
- Fixes a phenomenon where communication between the camera and the attached lens is sometimes interrupted after manual sensor cleaning. (This phenomenon only affects units with Firmware Version 1.2.4.)
Next up, What’s the deal with all those frame rates?
It’s all about standards. NTSC is the standard used for broadcast across most continents (PAL being the other standard). It’s also the standard used for DVD’s and Blu-Ray discs. And the players. And the standards for most editing programs that create those DVD’s and Blu-Ray discs. Basically, to not adhere to NTSC (or PAL) standards, is to ask for a whole lot of work just to get your video to work within those standards. So what are those standards . . .
29.97 fps for video, and 48Khz for audio. Which means every time you used a 5D, you had to resample that video and upsample the audio to match the standards. And that resampling was not perfect. your audio might not match perfectly so it would get slowed down (albeit by .1%, but still). And that audio, 44.1khz on the 5D II, is a great standard . . . for CD’s. But video has required 48khz for over a decade (maybe two. When did DVD’s come out again?)
Sure, the 7D and now 1D IV offer all these features. But neither has the one killer feature that made the 5D II such an attractive camera despite all those issues.
Being a full frame sensor, the 5D could really simulate the “film look” in video, which is a mix of that shallow depth of field (check), and the old film speed of 24fps (d’oh!). Which is funny because we were just talking about the NTSC standard of 29.97, and here I am harking for 24fps. Well, actually, since the beginning of film to tv and dvd conversion, a process called telecine has been used to turn 24fps film into a compatible 29.97fps video. After a while, they decided to make it easier by switching that standard to 23.976 (which is a perfect 4/5 of 29.97 and therefore easier to work with).
So, back to the point: Canon, with this firmware, has made the 5D II compatible with the NTSC standards, 29.97 and 23.976 fps, with 48khz audio.
On top of that, they added a few nice features, like allowing 64 levels of audio recording. Previously this was automatic, which meant you couldn’t really capture consistent sound levels, and without sound, your video is basically pre-talkie.
The histogram feature for video is also nice to have, as it lets you see exactly what the camera is capturing, rather than relying on the back of the screen (which may all well be fine, but isn’t very scientific at all).
All in all, this is a great step forward for Canon. Their support for an older camera shows that they are listening to their current user base, and attracting new users, all without forcing users to buy a new camera, and without having to release another new camera.
Here’s how important this is to me: I’m currently a Nikon user, and formerly a Canon user. I still have the equipment, but haven’t used it much (except for remotes). I own a D3s, and love it. It also does video, and also has a full frame sensor, but it suffers from some of the same issues as the 5D II. Only 24fps, not 23.976 or 29.97. Oh and it’s 720p, rather than full 1080p (so 2004). I even bought a 7D, figuring it had everything I needed (except that full frame sensor). Hated it. Sold it 3 days later (at cost, so no loss to me). Figured after that, I wouldn’t really dabble in Canon for a while, using my remaining equipment as alternate and remote gear.
But now? that 5D II really has me considering a purchase. Nikon, the ball is in your court. Better step up that video game.
BTW, if you need more details on anything I said, I will gladly elaborate on anything asked in comments, via meebo, email, phone, smoke signal, morse code. You send the message, I’ll be there to answer it. I understand some of the standards I mentioned above might be confusing. It’s confusing to me, and I’m a video guy, having worked at a TV station as a broadcast graphic designer. You’d think this stuff would just make sense to me, but it has me shaking my head from time to time. BTW, you think this is bad? Ask me why TV’s were 4:3 standard forever, but DVD’s were 720×480 (a 2:3 ratio), yet fit perfectly. Damn engineers.