Canon 50D HDMI Output – Useful?

Okay – so one of the often referred to but rarely detailed new features on the 50D is the HDMI output port. It lives in the same strip of output ports on the side of the camera as the USB and "old fashioned" video out connections.

Today on the drive home from work, I popped into a local electronics store and bought an HDMI-A to HDMI-C cable. I only sprung for the 6' cable as I'm not sure what I'd use if for (in practice) and how often I'd make use of it at that.  I've seen posts where you can pick a cable up for $7 – 10 bucks… I dropped a few more than that, but well short of the $50 that Monster Cable is looking to get from you.  I know there are folks who swear by the better cables, but – again – since I'm testing, figured I'd get a fair idea for my $15 outlay…

Slide Show:

Okay – I think the most obvious use for this would be the slide show of images at the end of a day out and about. Quite a few hotels are starting to put flat panel displays in their rooms, and who knows – if you are over at the relatives for Thanksgiving, why not wow the crowd with a slide show of shots from the days activities.

A quick insertion of the cable into the back of the set, plug the other end into the camera, power it on, hit the "menu" button to get to the slide show, and voila! The new 50D menu is now show in 56" DLP glory… No – I don't think they really push the menu at 1080, but then again – I'm not sure at what resolution they push the output of the images either. A search of the "Instruction Manual" and one with with Google – pretty much came up with nothing. Other than saying "output for high definition screens" – there isn't much detail as to what the output resolution is, if it only renders to the high resolution for the slideshow, or does plain old image playback render in high def? Perhaps the yet to be published 50D White Paper from Canon will shed some light on these questions.

So other than finding that the HDMI-C connector wasn't introduced until HDMI 1.3, and that HDMI is a bidirectional standard, allowing the video device to understand what the capabilities of the display device are – thus sending the proper signal (480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p) for the best image… I still couldn't find what the output capabilities were of the camera itself.

I had a CF card in the camera that had about 15 shots from a walk with my dog along the canals near my house, so I navigated the billboard sized menu (remember, I've only a 6' cable connected to the back of my set… LOL) till I had fired up the slide show.

Issue number one… Auto rotate of images setting…
When I shoot, I have the camera auto rotate the images only on the computer. That way – when I shoot and preview a landscape shot, it will display the way I just shot theimage, not "vertically" in the LCD when you look at the back of the camera normally… It allows me to get a better sense of the shot before I start to zoom (if needed) and I don't need to rotate the camera out of the attitude that I had just used for taking the last shot.

So – as I watched the slide show, the images that had been shot portrait were rotated by 90 degrees on the screen… Easy enough. Stop playback, navigate the billboard to be "Auto rotate on camera and screen"… Back to the slide show and voila!… I was cookin' w/ grease.

Problem number two… I'd shot all portrait…
Yeah – whoda thunk, but all the shots I'd taken had been portrait… so while the shots looked nice and all, they were not filling the DLP with glorious color… Okay – I can out- wit this camera, right?

I soon went to my computer, brought up the high res .jpgs I used to post to my web site for purchase by my customers, and dropped them onto a CF card. A few minutes later, CF card in the 50D – and the "no images" ignominy stared me in the face…

You guessed it (okay – or maybe not – I ran into this when I tried showing the same .jpg on the 40D and 50D in some earlier tests), I'd dropped the images onto a blank formatted CF card. Seems the camera wants to only read images from the DCIM\100Canon (or similar) directory. Again – no problem, I thought – copy a few images (only three or four to ensure I'd got it right), pop the CF in the camera, and it mocks me yet again… "Cannot Play Back Image" it says… with an artful clip-art yellow question mark on a gray faded background just below the message. Ever the mule (read as stubborn), I roll the thumb wheel to the next pic and find the same, but the third time was the charm… the third image showed just fine.

Curious…

A Sesame Street flash back of "which one of these things is not like the others" ran through my head and I quickly realized (well – guessed) that I had cropped the other two images, and perhaps the camera, not finding one of its "native" resolution files, was unable to display it.  I finished copying the images over, deleted the ones that didn't display, and found that I had about 30 images left to flip through.

Okay – back over to the big-screen, re-connect the cable, and voila! My images on the DLP w/ grand and glorious color!

I'll admit the vertical images were a bit disappointing, just not really filling the screen, but still looking pretty good. It was the landscape shots that took the day… Unlike the NTSC output, the HDMI was indeed giving the full 3×2 ratio of the image with just small black bars to the left and right of the image. Nothing like the bars left right above and below when using the NTSC output.

Live View:

The other HDMI tethered output thought that I've seen has been for "live view" usage. Yes – it does give you quite a large screen, but I'm not sure how practical this really is.  If you're shooting in your living room and you do have a big screen monitor, and for some reason, the nice 50D LCD won't do the trick – sure – run w/ the big screen… LOL… But I think USB connected to a laptop will be just a bit more practical configuration – especially given the AF adjustment you can do from the EOS Utility.

HDMI-1 It did let me get a curiously interesting repeating image photo… Which, after the fact, seems a bit curious that it actually turned out. The image shows the magnification area of the live view screen cascading back as the image of the image of the image shows on the television. I snapped the shutter, and before the image I had captured showed, I figured I'd wasted a shutter actuation. I figured that the live view output would shut off before the shutter fired; but I was surprised to see the image was captured.

Non-Slide Show Image Playback:

As I was playing around with the camera with the output, I went to image playback and started reviewing images. This was actually pretty cool - for some reason cooler than the slide show I'd seen earlier… the ability to see the images on the screen, to zoom in and see detail on the screen, was pretty neat. I guess I could see where I'd not have my laptop at a client site, they may not have a raw image conversion tool, but w/ a high def projector or big-screen tv in a conference room. I'd be able to pull the cable out of my bag and rather than several folks crowding around the camera as I chimped through images, I'd be able to share the images with a larger group. 

Conclusion:

Okay – so is the HDMI output really of use? Well – in a pinch, yes… but for most practical purposes, no… But I'll throw in a bit of a caveat here… It would *not* be of practical use for how *I* shoot.

I shoot a LOT of images when I'm out…

When I was shooting in college for the paper, yearbook and campus quarterly, they beat it into our skulls to always load 36 exposures into the cannisters from the bulk loader. The event was expensive, film was cheap. Shoot portrait and landscape, frame a bunch of different ways. This just became my shooting routine, to the point where, when I got back from vacation, no one wanted to look at my photos when I picked them up from the lab. Everyone learned to wait till I'd culled my photos for the ones I liked.  I do the same (and even more so) now with digital being so cheap.  Long story short – I'd bore the snot out of anyone looking over my shoulder at Thanksgiving, or back in the hotel room at the end of a day of sightseeing. LOL

If you shoot with great restraint, and you do like to share pics w/ the family the same day – sure – this will work great for you.

Most other situations, a laptop with a USB cable will serve me much better than the HDMI cable. Live view with a USB cable, especially when you remote shoot and store your images directly on the laptop. Presentations and review of images with a client would work better than using an HDMI cable with the camera. Also, more of my clients would have projector that took the output from a laptop than one that has HDMI input.  Also - I have more tools to cull through photos on the laptop than just showing images from the camera.

As a final note – I pretty much burned through a battery doing my live view and other HDMI output tests. So while Live View is already a power hog, this takes Live View and other card/display intensive tasks to new battery draining heights…or lows…

If you've other thoughts for the use of the HDMI (well – other than video – do you really want the zoom square in your movie? I don't think so…) please leave me a comment below.

Thanks for reading!

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