No surprises to see that the video recording feature that made its first appearance on the EOS 5D Mark II (Nikon snatched the credit for launching the first video-enabled DSLR by a whisker with the D90) is trickling its way down through the line-up. The 500D becomes the second Canon to offer this feature, and the first with an APS-C size sensor.

The question of whether and how a video-enabled DSLR can be a substitute for a dedicated camcorder has still not definitively been answered, but in any case the ability to shoot movies with a large sensor (and the shallow depth of field that this brings with it) and interchangeable lenses will appeal to a large number of budding videographers. Unfortunately though, like on the EOS 5D Mark II when it was originally released, the video recording functionality is fairly limited in controls.

Video specification

The 500D offers true HD video capture at 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080P) at 20 frames per second or 1280 x 720 pixels (720P) at 30 frames per second. The built-in internal microphone captures mono audio. The audio quality is not fantastic and unfortunately there is no socket for an external microphone. There is a small built-in speaker for video playback in-camera.

Sizes 1920 x 1080 (1080P) at 20 fps
1280 x 720 (720P) at 30 fps
640 x 480 (VGA) at 30 fps
Audio 44.1kHz Mono (Internal Mic)
Format Quicktime MOV using H.264 codec, PCM codec for audio
File size 5.5 MB/sec (1080P), 3.7 MB/sec (720P), 2.8 MB/sec (VGA)
Max file size per clip 4.0 GB
Running time 12 min for 1080P, 18 min for 720P, 24 min for VGA

Using Movie Mode

Unlike the EOS 5D Mark II the 500D comes with a dedicated movie mode. Turn the mode dial to the corresponding position and press the record button on the camera rear to start or stop recording. Once in video mode you get access to movie settings such as recording size or AF mode by pressing the MENU button.

Auto focus during movie recording works in the same way that it does in normal live view mode, meaning that if it is activated in live view mode, it is available during movie recording (press the AF-ON button to focus). Since all sounds are recorded during movie recording, and any in-camera sound is magnified (including the aperture changing), using AF with the internal mic is not recommended, neither is using in-lens IS. You'll also pick up the clicks of the control dial if you change exposure compensation while recording. Unlike a conventional camcorder there's no continuous focus option, and to be honest the focus is so slow that you would never use it whilst filming.

Just like Canon's more advanced Powershot cameras you can interrupt movie recording to capture a still by pressing the main shutter release (movie capture recommences one the still has been taken, there is approximately a one second delay in the movie).

It is advisable to have at least the basic level of information displayed for movie recording, as this gives the user feedback on the aperture, shutter speed and ISO being selected by the camera. Exposure is fully automatic; as you change the exposure level using exposure compensation - or the scene brightness changes - the camera will adjust the aperture and ISO (no matter what ISO value you choose the camera will switch into auto ISO mode once movie recording begins) - you can check what's happening with a tap of the shutter button.

Only a few days ago Canon launched a new firmware for the 5D Mark II that offers manual adjustment of shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings in video mode. There is a possibility it might do the same for the 500D at some point in the future.

Movie mode displays

Movie setting menu You can choose between three output sizes
Once recording has started, the record recording icon is displayed on the top right corner of the LCD. By half-pressing the shutter button during video recording you display exposure information and ISO sensitivity. The only control is exposure compensation, which is operated by the command dial at the back of the camera.

Video quality comments

Looking at the sample videos that we've produced while working on this review it's obvious that the EOS 500D produces superb HD quality footage, but footage that is of limited use at the higest resolution thanks to the 20fps frame rate (that said, 720p is plenty for most consumers). Due to the 500D's smaller sensor you can't quite create the same depth of field effects as on the 5D Mark II but you still get a much shallower and cinema-like depth of field than with any digital compact camera. Since the camera uses Auto ISO (up to ISO 1600) the image can get a little grainy in low light though.

Like the Nikon D90 and the EOS 5D Mark II the EOS 500D can suffer from distortion caused by its rolling shutter. The readout of the sensor means movies are created with a rolling shutter (horizontal lines of the image are scanned, one after another, rather than the whole scene being grabbed in one go). The upshot is that verticals can be skewed if the camera (or the subject) moves too fast - the top of the image has been recorded earlier than the bottom, so moving vertical lines can be rendered as diagonals. It's not quite as bad as on the Nikon D90 and you need to pan pretty quickly to notice the effect. An example panning video is included.

We don't review dedicated high-end video cameras and therefore can't really comment on how well the EOS 500D's video quality compares to this type of equipment but we can say that compared to the movie mode on any digital stills camera or consumer camcorder we've used the quality is very impressive indeed. In good light the image quality is not far off the 5D Mark II but obviously the 500D does not give you quite the same shallow depth of field or 30 frames per second in 1080P mode. Below you'll find some examples of videos taken with the 500D for you to download and draw your own conclusions.

Sample video 1

This video was shot in 1080P/20fps mode. It records a screen-filling high quality image but, due to the relatively low frame rate, fast motion can appear a little jerky.

1920 x 1080, 20 fps. MOV (Quicktime) file. 7 sec. 36.8 MB

Sample video 2

The 720P/30fps mode offers a smaller video size but smoother motion, and is therefore more suitable for filming fast moving subjects or panning.

1280 x 720, 30 fps. MOV (Quicktime) file. 7 sec. 24.0 MB

Sample video 3

This video with panning, shows the extent of the rolling shutter which can be a problem on CMOS sensor cameras recording video.

1920 x 1080, 30 fps. MOV (Quicktime) file. 2 sec. 12.7 MB

Sample video 3

Finally this movie shows the extent to which you can play with depth of field in the 500D videos. Unfortunately you can't control aperture manually, but this is still much better than anything you would get from a digital compact camera.

1920 x 1080, 20 fps. MOV (Quicktime) file. 5 sec. 17.4 MB