Canon 550d – The Core Kit

With the increasing interest in the affordable Canon 550d, I thought I’d take the time to contribute not to the innumerable reviews, test films, and camera comparisons, but rather to the accessories this and similar VDSLR’s require and benefit from. This discussion will be broken up into components divided by necessity, camera base, and budget. Many of these pieces will overlap, but in doing so should provide a broad overview of accessories and kits in the VDSLR world.

The Budget Core Kit

With the release of Canon’s latest video DSLR darling, the Canon 550d/T2i/Kiss X4 depending on your place of residence, the ability to create an incredible low budget filmmaking rig has manifested itself to even the poorest of students and amateurs (relatively). The kit covers only the most basics of production: image and sound. It won’t make life tremendously easy, but it will deliver stellar video and sound for an minuscule price.

  • Canon Rebel 550d/T2i/Kiss X4 (Body Only) – $799
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II – $99
  • Zoom H4n Handy Portable Digital Recorder – $299

Total price: $1197

This is the bare minimum kit necessary to get both quality picture and sound. While you could use simply the onboard Rebel T2i microphone for your production, the overall quality of the project will suffer greatly. A common saying (with differing specifics) is that sound is 70% of what you see. Beautiful images accompanied by flat, poorly controlled, hissy, muddy audio will make the entire project seem cheap. The Zoom H4n offers dual, phantom-powered XLR ports in addition to the built in variable 90/120 stereo microphones in a compact package. The recorder is capable of up to 24-bit/96kHz linear PCM in addition to lower bitrates and even MP3. All audio is recorded to cheap, reliable SD or SDHC cards. This is opposed to the single 1/8″ stereo jack with AGC (auto gain control AKA very bad for film) that comes on the 550d.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, affectionately referred to as the nifty fifty, is possibly the greatest deal going in lenses. The lens is razor sharp from f/2.8-f/4 rivaling the more expensive Canon EF 50mm f/1.4. The low f-stop allows strong low light performance and the beautiful, and occasionally absurd, shallow depth of field the VDSLR’s are known for.

The downsides of the extraordinarily inexpensive lens are the 80mm equivalence that occurs from the 550d 1.6x sensor crop making it slightly telephoto, the tiny focusing ring (as it is intended to be used with AF in photo mode), and the poor build quality that earns the lens it’s other nickname – the fantastic plastic. Regardless, this lens will far outperform the abysmal 18-55 lens that comes with the $899 kit in addition to many, more expensive alternatives. The price is low enough to classify it as an expendable (in the world of lenses) making it, when combined with the performance, an obvious purchase.

This (relatively) inexpensive kit is capable of stunning visuals and crisp audio for a fraction of a low-end prosumer camcorder. At a price-point like this, you need to provide reasons not to purchase a kit.