At low ISO's can you tell them apart?

Before I start shooting with the Canon 5D mark III a lot I wanted to see how it relates to my 2 year old Canon T2i/550D. Several people have been asking me questions if this is something worth the upgrade. Is it really worth $3,000 more?

This comparison only has to do with video, I’m really not talking about stills all that much here.

Can you tell the difference?

OK, since I know I will get some flack for comparing to two cameras at totally different price ranges, I want you to watch the next two clips from my last corporate video. One was from the T2i with a not so expensive lens and the other with the 5D Mark III with expensive L series glass.

To give you more info for your guess I am going to show you before keying the green screen. Green screen makes it hard because you can’t look for bokeh.  Not easy
to tell us it?

At the end you can see if your guess was right.

In these test, I’m using the neutral picture style, contrast all the way down, sharpness all the way down, and the only thing I have done in post is to add sharpening back in equally for both cameras. I am using the exact same lens, but I move in or out to even out the crop factor.

In this shot of me which I made sure I had accurate white balance, it seems like the T2i is slightly warmer. Interesting that on the display the 5D looked to have more saturation with my red shirt, but on my scopes it shows that the T2i has more saturation.


Here I focused on the bush, it is hard to tell but I think the 5D is slightly sharper here.

However in this shoot the detail in the bark of the tree on the T2i seems to be sharper, remember I am using the exact same lens.

This one appears to be a tie for sharpness on the wood.

I am not noticing that one is sharper than the other, which in a way is good for the 5D Mark III since they reduced the moire at the sake of sharpness. So it is good to see that it is not worse than the T2i.

In terms of compression the 5D with it’s new All-I codec appears to win out here with the movement of the leaves.

Aliasing wise, the 5D wins, but as you can see here it still has some as you can see here in the metal grate if you are not careful.

Similar Dynamic Range

I was disappointed that there does not seem to be any greater dynamic range or latitude from the Mark III in this very high contrast shot. I know with the D800 in this situation I would have been able to see in the shadows much better.

Where the Mark III shines is the high ISO performance. I know you guys like to see these night shots, but I never shoot at night like this, where high ISO comes in handy for instance it when you have to raise your aperture to keep everything in focus is you have talent moving around the scene.

The big difference – ISO

Here at ISO 400 for both you can see a very similar image however you can see some noise in my blue shirt, but when I up the ISO to 6400, the 5D is usable but the T2i has noise and the color is starting to shift.

Here is another look at ISO 400, watch the wall behind me for the noise, then at 6400 you can see the T2i falls apart badly.

Side-by-side and bright sunny conditions the T2i keeps up with the 5D surprising well. However in the sunlight the 5D’s screen is much easier to see.

Here is the Mark III vs the Nikon D800, clear winner is the Canon. This is with the noise reduction turned to standard on the Canon and normal on the Nikon.

And just for kicks I compared the T2i to the Nikon D800, not a clear winner here in terms of only noise. But remember the D800 strength is its dynamic range or latitude compared to the 5D.

New Life for old Zoom lenses

Let’s say you have an inexpensive zoom lenses like I do that when zoomed all the way out is 5.6, with the T2i in low light this makes it impossible to use, but not with the Mark III, you just crank up the ISO and get more use out of you cheap lens.

On the Canon 5D you only need one finger to change the aperture. On the T2i you need to fingers.

On the 5D he only have to hit one switch to going to movie mode instead rotating the dial all the way around.

The Canon 5D fits in your hands so much better, the T2i sometimes feels like it’s going to fall out of your hand. After you work with the 5D for a while and then pick up the T2i, only then do you realize how tiny it is.

Also the 5D gives you a headphone jack, the T2i does not, 5D can be left out in the rain, the T2i can’t.

The full frame camera gives me a wider selection of lenses and I can invest in them now.

I really like the HDR feature on the 5D.

At Low ISO’s They are About the Same for Video

So in terms of video mode only, between the two of them in a well lit, low ISO situation they are about the same image quality from latitude, to skin tones,  saturation, and sharpness. Yes I know you don’t have that full frame look and bokeh will not look as good on a cropped sensor, but man these cameras look similar at low ISO’s.

Alright with that said let’s see if your guess was right, the far shot is the 5D MrkIII and the tight shot is the T2i. The point I am trying to make is if you are just starting out, learn about lighting because it a lot of situations you can get very close results with the T2i. You don’t have an excuse to get excellent results from this $500 camera.

The $3,000 Button

I know what I am about to say is an dramatic over simplification and not totally accurate, but when it comes down to it, the price difference between the two of them in video mode is largely due to this one little button. I guess you could say this is a $3,000 button!

So if you own the T2i and know how to light well, for the most part you have no excuse for not keeping up with others that have the Mark II or Mark III. I bought the 5D Mark III because I’m an available light shooter which basically means in my case I am too lazy or not that good at lighting yet. If you are good at lighting then you should get the D800 if you are not invested in a lot of Canon glass.

Remember that I only picked up my first DSLR a couple of years ago, so if you don’t agree with me that’s fine because I probably don’t know what I’m talking about anyway.

Don’t worry I am not getting rid of my T2i just yet, it will now become my b-camera. At some point I might replace it with a T4i so I can get a flip out screen.

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5D Mark3
5D Mark III
Canon T2i/550D


  • So what is this “little button” exactly that you are saying is worth the 3K? Is it the ISO button, I wasn’t clear.

    Excellent post by the way, I shoot with a T2i but I’ve always believed that in the right hands, it can perform just as well as the 5D in all but a few extreme situations.

  • Nice. I appreciate that you threw brand worship out the window and looked at capability for certain situations. I just bought a second T2i and couldn’t be more happy with my decision. Btw, thanks for your recent comments on TSA regarding your slider triggering their inspection, I’ve repacked my gear to make it easier to inspect as I embark on a back-country trip into the Yukon and Alaska.

  • @Gary
    I agree.
    You can’t tell the difference on vimeo or youtube if you avoid the weak areas of the T2i.

    Its all about quality content and the T2i, in a studio setting, is still a valuable asset for the money.

  • Thanks for the video and the great site. So, I can spend $3000 to breath life into crappy lens. Er, the more obvious solution would be simply to spend that money on decent lens. I wonder if the best advice isn’t simply to wait for the Canon 650D at the end of the month.

    I’m curious as to the cabinet behind you Dave in the video. I’m suddenly imagining it’s a neat de-humidfier to store your lens – here in Africa moisture/humdity/mold is a big problem. But my imagination is almost certainly running away with me.

  • Dave, the pentaprism viewfinder on the Mk III offers a great advantage white shooting stills or the difference is minimum?

  • @John

    If your referring to the black object on the right side of the video then I think that’s a speaker.

    John, how do computers do in your humidity?
    I Kentucky we sometimes open the windows in the morning to cool the house before the heat of the day. But that let’s humidity into the house.
    I moved my office to the basement where I could run a de-humidifier thinking that might protect the PC.

    Out of curiosity, what is you avg humidity and how do you keep you computers from rusting/shorting out?


  • Dave, this was a great comparison. I’ve been shooting with the T2i for a while and despite the fact that I find it tempting to jump on the bandwagon and upgrade to the latest and greatest I am still using my T2i with no problems. Especially since I started using Magic Lantern.

    Since DSLR video has really taken off it seems that the newer upgrades and models of the cameras have been just too incremental for me to take the bait. The cameras are ultimately used for photography and they all still have quarks and as soon as you adapt to those quarks a newer model is released with a whole new set of different quarks to work around.

    So when it comes to the T4i I am curious to see if it is a leap for DSLR video and not these baby steps that camera companies seem to be taking.

    Basically newer models need much more of a “wow factor” to be worth upgrading right away.

    Needless to say if I got a MK!!! for free I would take it haha.

  • Thanks so much for this Dave. I *just* got a Mark iii after shooting with a t2i for the past year. While I agree that given a choice between upgrading the camera vs. the lens, I would go for lens, once you DO have good glass, there can be compelling reasons to switch from t2i to Mark iii, depending on your situation.

    For me, it came down to THREE things:

    * the ISO, which is shockingly good/different over the t2i (if low light matters to your work)

    MOST significant for me, however, were these two:

    * the ability to record useful sound (assuming external mic, etc.) . I have the Zoom h4n, but it was a very difficult workflow for me to have a separate sound recording system, especially since I often shoot alone and do not always have “control” over the situation. If I were shooting an indie film, for example, this would probably not be an issue.

    * The improved ability to focus on the fly!!! Again, if this does not matter to you because you do not shoot dynamically and unpredictably-moving subjects, then no big deal. But for me, the T2i drop in resolution when you hit the record button was KILLING me. Regardless of whether you use a field monitor or a magnification viewfinder, or even just the LCD of the camera alone while shooting, the big problem for me was always what happens when you hit record. OMG, the ability to see in much higher resolution WHILE RECORDING is worth the huge and painful price. But.. I “shoot” horses, mostly. And I don’t have Buck around to help me make sure they hit their marks :). (there is a fun interview with him where he discusses working with Robert Redford on the Horse Whisperer movie and the issue of horses being trained to hit their focus-pull marks.)

    But I only JUST got it, so I have not yet put it to the test.

  • You keep mentioning that the Nikon has better detail in the shadows… This is because Nikon’s ISO 1600 is more like Canon’s ISO 3200. Hence when you set the cameras up in your comparison video with identical settings, of course the Nikon had more detail in the shadows because it’s a brighter image at identical settings.

  • This was REALLY helpful Dave. Being an audio guy I knew going in that the T3i had lousy sound. And having read comparisons with the 60D, it seemed the T3i won again. Now the question becomes: do I have the cojones to install Magic Lantern to compete with that $3,000 button?

  • Nice comparison Dave. I think you will save a few people a few thousand bucks and inspire some, like me to improve their lighting skills. Still love my t2i!

  • I’ve been watching your vids since lots of time ago (since i bought my 550d, actually, more than 1.5yrs ago), but I do believe that the cheapo lens advice, cant be taken as a strenght of the camera (MKIII). Anyway, going full frame, should be always good. But, good glass is good glass. Thats always important as well. MKIII seems to be nice in low light, but still expensive to be just an update from MKII. Anyway, glad you got it. Regards.

  • Hey Doug, thanks for the videos.

    Having used both the 5D mark 2 and 5D mark 3, what are your thoughts on comparing the two in terms of sharpness?

    I’ve read a lot of feedback on the 5D mark 3 indicating its a bit soft?

    Would you say it’s at least on par with the 5D mark 2? or does it require sharpening in post to match it?


  • Update: installed Magic Lantern and now have (close to) a $3,000 button. FYI: the program resides in RAM on memory card and NOT in the firmware. For those of you thinking about installing.

  • I don’t think it should be too surprising that the video from the two cameras is about the same – in normal light at least. 1080p video is a 2mp frame. So in both cases the raw video is being downsized in a major way – either from 22mp or from 18mp. By the time you’ve done that, any differences that were there in the first place will tend to be minimized. You might even find that 1080p from a much more modest P&S camera would come close to the same result so long as there’s enough light.

  • Oh yeah, hoping you will do the fig rig review soon! Also, maybe something on the electronic remote focus controls for Canon dslr? The new Manfrotto $300+ “Sympla”, for example. Using the best Canon photography lens is still a big problem for changing focus because the “pull” is so small, and I do not have the budget for a high-end follow focus.

  • Hey dave, I love all of your videos and your site and I have a quick question about lenses for my T2i. I already have an 18-50 2.8 lens, and a 50mm 1.8, but I’d like to have a prime in the middle. Which one would you recommend (max budget is ~$500, but I want best value)?

    Your sigma 30mm 1.4 looks good but what about canons less expensive 35mm f2 or their other primes? What would you say is the best value in that price range for a prime lens?

    I’m also confused about the sharpness with using the whole lens issue with 5d vs T2i, are these lenses for full frame or crop? Thanks! 😀

  • Hey Dave

    Nice Review!

    Have you thought about comparing them in post production. Maybe the 5D Mark III is much more usable for that?!


  • Hi Dave,

    As usual a great review…I have learned so much through your site.

    But the $3000 button comment sounded like “buyers remorse”.

    I am still not convinced that the 5D Mark III is worth the premium price…especially since the T4i now has autofocus.

  • haha ikr. The New T4I looks amazing! 😀
    Dave (dougdale), definitely need to get your hands on one of those and review it!

  • Thanks Dave–Good objective review–you give me faith that the video our of my 7D is still viable–thanks

  • For those of you excited about the T4i’s autofocus, just know…it only works with the newest lenses…and not all the new lenses. AND IT IS SOOOOOO LOUD.
    Like crazy loud.

    Dave, awesome video. I’ve come back to check it like 3 times, while I still try to make a decision.

    When the t2i was brand new I made a choice to go with it instead of the 7d. I figured I’d get the cheaper one, some nice lenses and play with it and if I like it I can upgrade. Well, I did. To the 60d. I was able to sell my t2i and purchase a 60d for a 100$ more.

    I just worked on a project and was in low light land a lot. Fortunately I never had to go past 600 on the 60d’s ISO but there was always that fine line and I wanted to push it. I also use all canon primes. not the L, one step down.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that 3000$ button seems pretty usefull if/when you need it.

    Trying to figure out what I can sell to justify the purchase. Do they still pay for blood?

  • the autofocus on the t4i is not loud at all…very quiet…almost silent.

    as far as the pentaprism viewfinder, the 7D has that.

    I think for the money, I’d much prefer getting the 7D.

    It has much better video than the t2i and 5dmark2. check out some 7D sample videos on youtube…..astounding. has slow-mo mode also….

    I don’t think it’s very useful to compare video on t2i vs. 5dmk3, but good to know

  • just watched the video. really well done–thank you!

    any chance you can compare with 7D video? It’s really hard to find a good comparison video like this.

  • Quick question: I hear a lot about the video quality on the T2i, but very little about the T3i. Isn’t the T3i the updated version of the T2i? I understand that it could just be the fact that you own the T2 and not the T3, but it seems like everywhere I look on the web people talk more about the T2I than the T3i.

    Im looking into a DSLR for video. Considering a T2i/T3i or a 60D. Or maybe something from Nikon (D5100 maybe). Just doing some research. Thanks for the great site!

  • Hey Michael–having bought T2i for my daughter in college and three (3) T3i’s for our business I’d say this: we love the T3ii! Biggest difference is the flip-around viewfinder on T3i. T2i doesn’t have it. Then again, we’re now using external monitors on the hot shoe so wouldn’t matter. And if you use Magic Lantern (highly recommend) both cameras will be on a par.

    Also remember reading or seeing that the 60D was better for photos but pound for pound no better than T3i for video. Hope that helps!

  • Hi Dave,

    There are a few significant advantages of a full frame sensor over a crop sensor. Which are very important for story telling.
    Big sensor DSLRs in general are all about lifting you subject from the background. Subject sharp background blurred. You point the viewers eye to the spot where the story happens. This is why we dropped the video cameras because they had everything in focus all the time.
    This difference between video cameras and for instance 550d is very easy to spot. But the difference between 550d and 5d3 is also a lot. It is all about focal length, subject distance, field of view and depth of field.

    Take your 50mm 1.4. It becomes a lot wider on a 5d3. At f1.4, point it on a subject and walk backwards while keeping the subject in focus. See how long you can make a picture where the subject still has enough background blur to be the main subject of the frame.
    Now try to match that with the t2i. I mean create the exact same frame, same field of view, same subject height on your screen and all the trees and everything and compare that image to the 5d3.
    So up till now you match the 5d3 to the t2i in tele area by compensating for the cropfactor. But the benefits are the other way around in the wide angles. Try to match the t2i there to the 5d3. That why people love full frame and very fast lenses.
    Here you can see the relations between the factors I mentioned.


  • Dave how you could buy 550d??it is the worst camera i old d80 was extremly are a person that cannot buy without research,you searched,tried ,photo and made a big mistake choise and you are teaching what to buy here:):)i can send or upload d80 and 550d photos here with the same tripod shots..

  • Are you who has not researched. And, I think Dave is not teaching what to buy here (is this a class, lesson, lecture, scientific paper or so?).

    There are plenty of sites with info, technical info, not just “informal” blogs, and so on, about the performance of the 550d. So, if your particular camera was not good, you can not stand the argument.

    It is called a logical fallacy. You generalize from a particular item to a total universe of related items (one 550d to all of them), its particular issues, which you experiment. A example of this kind of false argumentation is “this computer is bad, bc the mouse doesnt work well” or “The books published by this group are worthless, or bad, bc i read one which was bad…”.

    Keep it real. And inform yourself. Dave is not fault of your 550d failure. And I agree with the idea that he is not a pro to tell some stuff he says, but he can do whatever he wants, he is not pretending to be a super pro in anycase.


  • I don’t think anything said here can entice me to spend $3000 unless (1) I were a pro and were going to receive income from the work done (2) I had the money to spend, which is related to (1)

    A few points:

    Smaller is better

    I don’t place a price tag to the word “feel”

    I couldn’t care less for pricey cameras with little difference

    I think the review is a honest testand gives us samples we couldn’t otherwise see because we don’t have access to the expensive camera. Specs are just theory. I liked the video!

  • Hi Dave,
    We finally got the $ in place and ready to purchase our first dslr and want to get your opinion on which one to go for.
    We’re actors, so the first thing is that we would like to use it to shoot headshot for ourselves and our actor friends, (to save $$$ for the future). And, we would like to use it to shoot short films and webisode.
    We’re looking at the 7d, 60d, t4i and t3i. 7d is a little pricy, but we’re worried that the t4i and t3i won’t deliver professional headshots. What do you think?

  • 7d is as good for video as the t2i or t3i or t4i. At least for what you want it. Difference is in photo deparment. Anyway, if you are not a photographer a 650d is as good as 7d.

  • Dave,

    Thanks for the excellent comparison video. I actually just purchased a 5D Mark III, upgrading from the T2i. This video was amazingly helpful. I made sure I followed the links in your equipment section so you can get some credit for the sale from B&H.

    I shoot mostly stills, but last summer I changed it up and shot video for my cousins wedding. Actually, he didn’t have a videographer and asked me to do it. It was spur of the moment as I didn’t have my shoulder rig, glidecam, or anything but a rhode mic and a tripod. Still the day time footage was excellent. It was when night fell, and all I had was ambient and the nifty-fifty 1.8 lens, that I was starting to get some issues in low light. With the Mark III, I won’t have that big a problem again. It’s good to know though that the T2i would make a perfect B camera now in the daylight, and still compares really well as a small day camera.

    Now onto the request!

    I see you have a T4i course in the store. Would you consider doing one for the 5D Mark III and maybe the T2i as well? I would happily purchase them. Also, in case something happens and your site goes down, is there a way to get a copy on Blu-Ray?


  • Dave, I am shooting with 5d mark 2… I am finding it difficult to focus on all the characters in the frame… plese provide some information on how to focus properly……

  • I’ve been using a T2i with Magiclantern for a while, but had a problem and temporarily used a Compact Panasonic Lumix LX7, and I’m very pleased with video quality of this compact camera. Though I didn’t test it, think for photography I would have been better with a Sony RX100, but not that I’ve got my canon back I can use it for still pictures and tripod video, while LX7 for occasional family hand video. I still didn’t compare both with same video, but LX7 lens seems a good compromise for all road because it has an F1.4-2.3 stabilized 24-90mm Leica optics 😉