Creating Stills from Video with the Canon 5D Mark III

Posted by on March 15th, 2013

5d mark III stills from video (1 of 1)

There’s been a lot of buzz about motion image photography specifically surrounding super high resolution cameras like the Canon 1D C. With the advent of cameras that shoot video at resolutions higher than standard HD, it is now possible to pull still images directly from video with surprising results.

I’ve been shooting with a Canon 5D Mark III for about a month now, and I decided to go back and pluck some still shots from my video using the “capture frame” feature in Adobe Lightroom 4. I’ve posted a series of images here showing both edited and unedited stills. All the following images were uploaded in their full resolution to give you a more accurate picture of what to expect. Click on the photos to view them at 100%. 

5d mark III stills from video (4 of 6)

These first two beach scenes are unedited, appearing exactly as they were when I pulled them out of the camera. All the frames in this post were taken from 24fps 1080p (1920×1080 pixels) footage using ALL-I compression. In other words, the highest resolution and best compression you can get out of a stock 5D Mark III.

Looking at the unedited photos close up, you can see the compression gets pretty messy. Edges blur and fine details lose their sharpness. I would rank these photos somewhere around a mid range point-and-shoot. Better than a high-end smartphone but not quite on the level of a top of the line compact. One area where the 5D’s motion image photography has an advantage, even over something like Canon’s G series, is the great glass which is in front of the sensor. Even if some of its luster is dulled by blotchy compression, quality glass still shines through.

5d mark III stills from video (5 of 6)

The next photo, depicting a jagged shore, has gone through some editing. Improvements have been made to the brightness, contrast, clarity, saturation, and sharpness of the image. I also did some selective dodging and burning before the final export. With the addition of sharpening, you can adjust the look of the compression introduced by the video. I wouldn’t say it becomes exactly sharp but I do think it gives the overall image a sharper feel.

5d mark III stills from video (3 of 6)

If it isn’t already obvious, these images aren’t going to win any pixel-peeping competitions. However, I think they do hold up quite nicely when viewed somewhere around 600 to 1000 pixels wide. While sharpening doesn’t really do a lot viewed at 100%, its effect works quite nicely when looking at the photo from afar.

5d mark III stills from video (6 of 6)

One thing I should mention about post processing is you shouldn’t expect anything near the latitude you would get from RAW. You are after all working with a .jpeg. Adjustments like exposure, shadow detail, and color temperature can only be pushed so far. Some photos (like the shot of the branches) will work only at smaller sizes after heavy editing. Once you blow them up to 100% you’re sure to see some nasty compression artifacts.

5d mark III stills from video (1 of 6)

Conclusion: Do I intend to shoot my next portrait session in video and then pull the best frames from it? No. The compression is just too ugly to produce full size images up to professional standards. That said, some of the images I’ve been able to get out of video are still pretty awesome. I can imagine using them for thumbnails, posting them on my blog, maybe even using them in cover art for a DVD — basically anything that doesn’t require a photo bigger than an 8×10. While I have no doubt there are cameras out there better equipped for motion image photography, the 5D Mark III’s performance is more than enough for my work at this point. The future is here!

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