A friend wanted to make some professional looking videos for a weekly vlog type of thing for his church. We went into this planning to buy a better camera and lights etc as we go.

We filmed a video last week with his phone: a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. The quality was surprisingly good but I thought we could do much better.

After spending a couple of weeks researching cameras and looking at reviews I ended up picking out the T5i; but I gotta say, I'm pretty underwhelmed. While, the photo quality is pretty good (I haven't had time to take a ton of photos), the video quality is quite a bit worse than the camera phone.

In general, the video is not as clear, bright, contrasted or colorful, and there's more noise and artifacts. I've tried Auto, as well as few other modes, and also manual (1/60, F/5, ISO 800). To reduce grain I also tried bumping the ISO down to 400 and the shutter to 1/30 to compensate. But after more research I don't think the grain was a problem. I'm guessing I was actually seeing compression artifacts.

At first I had trouble believing that a smartphone could outperform a dedicated camera. Especially one that has countless reviews saying it's the best entry-level camera.

What might be the problem? Is a $600 phone really better than a $700 camera? Do I need a better lens? I've been eyeing the Canon 50mm f/1.8 because it's very affordable and footage I've seen with it looks much better in low lighting.

Maybe it's the lighting? Our lighting setup is definitely not ideal, at the moment, but I would expect it to at least still look clear even if it's underexposed. We have 3 work lights purchased at Walmart with 65w flood bulbs (if i recall).

We definitely want to get better lights; but it's still disconcerting how last week we used the same setup and got much better results on the phone.

Although, one area where the new camera was definitely more helpful was the focal length. With the phone we had to be very close in order to keep our backdrop in frame. With the T5i kit lens we were able to go to 50mm and backup and get much more natural framing.

I really want to make this work; it could be something we're doing wrong. Video tests I've seen on YouTube from the Rebel line seem to show better quality than we're getting; even T3i videos. I was hoping it was just post-processing, but after spending a day trying to color correct and color grade the footage, it's still not any clearer (of course).

At this point, we're considering returning it and getting something better but I'm not sure what to get.

I was hoping this would be the best of both worlds but it seems like it's really more focused on stills; and for now, video is our primary focus. And, after some research it looks like we'd better off with a Panasonic or Sony. True? The Panasonic GH4 looks great as far as I can tell; but of course, it's twice the price. I also hear good things of the GH2 or GH3.

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    Could we have some stills from the videos to compare? – Christy James Aug 21 '15 at 11:49
  • The colour profiles on the Canon are very customizable. Have you kept them in defaults or did you play around with them? – kazanaki Aug 21 '15 at 13:23
  • We have decided, we're probably going to keep it. This is the one taken with the phone: youtu.be/HuhHFeapPf8 And this one is with the T5i: youtu.be/EN45myKHuSY The focal length made a big difference. In the first one his face is distorted and too close. – Zuko Aug 22 '15 at 5:22
  • @ChristyJames Of course that footage is graded (with my current, limited knowledge), and sharpened a little bit. I'm actually not as unhappy with the quality now; I expected it to be sharper but it's usable. I think with better lighting (which we are about to order) it will be much better. – Zuko Aug 22 '15 at 8:35
  • @kazanaki I did try them all out, as well as make a custom one based on a recommendation I found from a YouTuber: turn sharpness off and contrast down because it's better to do those in post. I also messed with the pre-defined white balance options but I only learned about setting a custom white balance the next day. Needless to say, it helps with the colors but not the clarity. Overall I don't think the image is actually that bad, I was just expecting it to be sharper. – Zuko Aug 22 '15 at 8:35

Bottom line with the canon rebel series cameras is that the video is pulled from a low resolution capture of the chip which is normally used for high resolution photos. The photos from these cameras will resolve many thousands of lines but the video compression chip in the camera cannot deal with these in real time so they just grab the image that goes to the rear LCD screen.

This image is achieved by throwing away the high res photo lines (or pixels), this is called binning (discarding). This makes high contrast edges very aliased or have a stair stepped effect. To fix this Canon soften or blur the image to make it more acceptable. Guess what, all of this results in a video image that ends up resolving at about 480 vertical lines or standard TV resolution 'not' HD resolution. So no amount of sharp lenses or post sharpening will ix the matter. The soft is baked in.

While the phone camera is built specifically to capture a fixed line resolution but it compromises on maximum photo resolution, typically not better than the video resolution.

  • The camera isn't mine and I haven't had a chance to play with it in the last month or so, but I'm planning on trying out MagicLantern to shoot in RAW for our next project. Have you done something like that before? – Zuko Feb 26 '16 at 7:23
  • Actually yes I have tried it on the Rebel series camera. Unfortunately the SD card port is limited to 21mbit per second. So any RAW frames you create will be severely limited. You have to fit the frames into this tiny bandwidth, and faster cards don't help. The port is simply not designed to carry all the data required for larger frames. I was recording either 6 frames per second or 320x240 sized frames. – 3pointedit Feb 26 '16 at 12:35

There are a couple of questions here, so I try to break them down.

Can a smartphone outperform a DSLR?

In optimal conditions, yes. But as soon as you reach the limits of a smartphone camera, you cannot do anything about it. With a DSLR you can do so much to stay within the limits: change the lens, have an optical zoom, manual mode, you name it.

Kit Zoom Lens vs 50mm Prime

I find it convenient to quickly change the framing of the shot without moving the tripod. The downside of a kit lens is that it a) has a mediocre maximum aperture and that b) the aperture may change while you are zooming. And that may be in the middle of the recording. So if you want to use the zoom of your 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 while recording, take care that your aperture is only 5.6, but not wider.

Canon vs Panasonic vs Sony

I don't think there will be a final answer. But besides the specs it's also a question into which lens line you want to invest for the future.

What you didn't ask: 2K vs 4K

Of course for a vlog you only need 2K/1080p. But if you would have 4K, you would find it convenient just record a pretty wide shot and zoom digitally inside your NLE, without loosing quality. That would give your video some variation of an otherwise static shot.

What can you do to improve the quality?

The most important parts are a good (and pleasant) lighting and a flawless sound recording. If you have this, nobody will care about a less-than-optimal camera output. It's worth to invest your time into that.

  • Thanks for your answer. We have decided to keep the camera. I think with better lighting and editing it will be acceptable. And I can't argue with the results I see other people getting from it on YouTube. I just need more experience. – Zuko Aug 22 '15 at 9:34
  • I would agree with this answer, but also add that I think about 75% of the image quality is in the lens, vs 25% in the camera. I would recommend avoiding the 18-55mm kit lens as much as possible, and maybe looking at some second hand (even manual) glass. – Christy James Aug 22 '15 at 12:13
  • The latest version of 18-55mm STM found in Canon t5i is actually quite good and you should keep it. Kit lenses were bad in the past, but not now. – kazanaki Aug 23 '15 at 14:32
  • @ChristyJames Do you think I'd get noticeably better sharpness with the 50mm 1.8? I've been eyeing it for the better low-light capability and the low cost, but from a lot of reviews and comparisons I can't notice a huge difference in clarity, just DOF. – Zuko Aug 23 '15 at 17:22

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