Video in DSLRs might be a relatively new phenomenon, but the technology (and its implementation) is proceeding in leaps and bounds. The EOS 550D doesn't offer the same streamlined ergonomics in video capture mode as it does when taking still images, but its video implementation is a lot more satisfying than some previous DSLRs. With exposure set to 'auto' a basic lighter/darker option is provided by exposure compensation (+/- 2EV), but when it is set to 'manual', exposure can be adjusted directly by changing the aperture and shutter values.

Video specification

The 550D offers progressive HD video capture at 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p) at 30, 25 or 24 frames per second, or 1280 x 720 pixels (720p) at 60 or 50 frames per second (available frame rates differ depending on whether you have the camera set to NTSC or PAL). The built-in internal microphone captures monaural audio, but there is also a socket for a 3.5mm external microphone that allows recording of stereo sound. Furthermore, it is possible to perform basic video editing in-camera, by cutting clips to a selected start/end point.

Sizes 1920x1080p: 30/24 fps (NTSC), 25/24 fps (PAL)
1280x720p (HD): 60 fps (NTSC), 50 fps (PAL)
640x480 (SD): 60 fps (NTSC), 50 fps (PAL)
Audio 44.1kHz Mono (Internal Mic), Linear PCM
Format .MOV MPEG-4 AVC, H.264
File size 5.5 MB/sec (1080P), 5.5 MB/sec (720P), 2.8 MB/sec (VGA)
Max file size per clip 4GB, max duration 29min 59sec,
Running time 12 min for 1080P, 12 min for 720p, 24 min for VGA

Using Movie Mode

Unlike the EOS 7D, which features a dedicated still/video mode switch on the rear of the camera, to capture movie footage with the 550D the main shooting dial must be rotated to the video position. At this point, the mirror flips up, and a cropped Live View screen appears on the LCD, and video capture can be initiated by pressing the Live View button on the top-right of the rear of the camera. Still images can be taken at any time by pressing the shutter button, and video capture resumes immediately afterwards, leaving a pause of around 1 second in the playback. AE lock is possible using the dedicated AE lock button, and AF can either be performed prior to commencing shooting, manually during filming, or automatically when 'AF in during video' is set to 'enable' in the shooting menu.

Recent Videos

AF during video shooting is disabled by default, and the reason for this is obvious as soon as you start to use it. The EOS 550D's contrast-detection AF might be fine for capturing still images in live view mode, but it is still too hesitant (and too noisy, if you're shooting with the built-in mic) to be of any great use during video shooting.

In our review of the EOS 7D, we concluded that Canon had gone a long way towards making video shooting an integral, rather than awkwardly 'bolted on' part of the camera's specification. The 550D's video mode isn't quite as streamlined (you still have to take a moment to rotate the shooting mode dial to the relevant position for a start) but it is otherwise pleasantly straightforward.

Movie mode displays

Movie setting menu You can choose between three output sizes. The frame rate options in this screen capture are for the NTSC setting.
Once recording has started, the red recording dot is displayed on the top right corner of the LCD. By half-pressing the shutter button during video recording you can display exposure information and ISO sensitivity. Additional information can be displayed by pressing the Info button.

Video quality comments

The EOS 550D produces excellent quality video footage which is indistinguishable from the best DSLRs around, including it's near-relation the EOS 7D. As usual, when the inbuilt microphone is used, handling sounds (and AF if it is activated) can mar the quality of the audio, as you can here in the sample of the BMX biker at the bottom of this page. Fortunately a microphone socket allows an external mic to be used, which offers the possibility of much cleaner audio from video recording.

The EOS 550D uses an APS-C size sensor and therefore you can't quite create the same DOF effects as on the full-frame EOS 5D Mark II but you still get a much shallower, more cinematic depth of field than with any digital compact camera. When exposure control is set to automatic, the 550D didn't present us with any unpleasant surprises. Like the EOS 7D, transitions from dark to bright (and vice-versa) are smooth.

When recording video in low light and using higher sensitivities the image gets noisier. This is of course what you would expect, but the EOS 550D does quite well in this respect, and due to the smaller image sizes in video mode compared to stills the noise never becomes really intrusive.

Like pretty much all other video-DSLRs the 550D can suffer from distortion caused by its rolling shutter. The readout of the sensor means 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 vertical lines can be rendered as diagonals. On the 550D this effect isn't really noticeable in most situations, but it can be seen if you pan the camera very quickly. In short - it's there if you go looking for it, but it isn't a concern in normal use.

Video samples (all shot at 1920x1080p, 25fps mode)

Sample video 1

Auto exposure, in low artificial light (external mic)

1920x1080, 25 fps .MOV file. 14 sec. 77.8 MB

Sample video 2

Auto exposure, in low artificial light (external mic)

1920x1080, 25 fps .MOV file. 13 sec. 77 MB

Sample video 3

Auto exposure, in diffuse daylight (inbuilt mic)

1920x1080, 25 fps .MOV file.24 sec. 134 MB

Sample video 4

Auto exposure, in diffuse daylight (external mic)

1280x720, 25 fps .MOV file. 7 sec. 30.9 MB

Sample video 3

Auto exposure, in bright hazy sunlight (inbuilt mic)

1920x1080, 25 fps .MOV file. 14 sec. 78.5 MB

Sample video 4

Auto exposure, in low artificial light (external mic)

1280x720, 25 fps .MOV file. 13 sec. 78.5 MB