Canon C300 – The Working Man’s Review.
I just got done spending four days of extensive shooting with the brand spankin’ new Canon C300. The background of the documentary can be found in my previous post about the Saxman of Cleveland. The four days included a massive amount of freezing temperature day and night exteriors as well as day and night interiors. Our mission for this part of the story was focused on capturing content. This meant we had to be quick and ready for anything. It was gorilla style film making on city streets and rooftops for extended periods of time. Interiors consisted of bars, restaurants, theaters with villainous volunteer ushers, very tight one bedroom apartments filled with Bruce Lee & super hero posters as well as a cat on crack that attacked Kevin DeOliveira, our AC. The crew was small but full of trusted & talented colleagues. Lighting consisted of two 1×1 LED light panels and natural light. There’s a lot to say so I’ll do my best to make it as organized as possible.
Why do I think the C300 is a great camera? Because it allowed me as a cinematographer, to quickly get to what made me start doing this in the first place…creative and beautiful story telling. Period.
Breakdown of Aesthetic Decisions & Logistics for the Project:
One of the biggest reasons I rallied for the C300 was because of its performance in low light. We were going to be shooting of a ton of night exteriors in a dark city and I was worried from previous tests that DSLR’s weren’t going to cut it. From what I had been reading and seeing online, this camera seemed to be the right fit for what we were doing. With higher ISO’s that are relatively clean and fast lenses…this camera practically sees in the dark.
Another very important reason this camera was chosen was because of it’s ability to relay record and not have to cut the clip (in context of us almost having to strictly shoot DSLRS for this project due to budget constraints). We were going to be shooting a lot of emotional content and asking someone to stop telling a story during an interview because our DSLR has limited record time was unacceptable.
Since this was a multi-cam shoot, the C300 acted as our A Cam. Two Canon 5D’s were our B Cams. I wanted to utilize Canon’s Log gamma mode (monitoring in REC709) which meant I would have to figure something out for the 5D’s to match the C300 as best as possible. I had been curious about the “technicolor” look for the 5D and decided it would be the best option for the task at hand. After some tests, it seemed that it was going to work for our purposes. I was impressed with the Canon Log gamma and the latitude of the camera was pretty darn fantastic. Exteriors in the city can be a big challenge because of dramatic contrast ratios but it seemed to hold up well. We shot 24 fps for the most part with the 50mb / 4:2:2 compression option on 32 gb CF cards. At 1080, that gave us 82 minutes of record time per card.
Lastly, the director Joe Siebert and I discussed the idea of using deeper DOF on this film. A lot of us are very aware of the very narrow DOF associated with the Canon 5D’s full frame sensor. Quite frankly, my eyes are going to explode if I continue to see obnoxiously-shallow-DOF-macro-porn plastered all over vimeo. Sometimes its nice to be able to tell what a location looks like instead of appearing to be a complete blob of nothing behind the subject. The C300’s sensitivity allowed for us to stop down to achieve deeper DOF.
Configurations on Set:
The camera work consisted of handheld, tripod and slider movement. I used a simple frankenstein rig from Ohio HD video that was actually my favorite rig I have used to date for handheld work. The C300 was mounted on a Zacuto baseplate, 15mm rods, a shoulder pad (not sure of the manufacturer) and the one and only O’Connor O Grips. We did a lot of following talent from behind (ala Aronofski / The Wrestler style) and the rig was awesome for that. I also used a Zacuto EVF for daytime exteriors via the C300’s HDMI port. FYI…I was able to use the Zacuto EVF and Canon’s LCD at the same time. The bonus with this set up was being able to give the director something to look at while staying light. Also, I could use my other eye to peek up at the LCD to see the live waveform and keep watch on my exposure during a shot. There were times I needed to move a lot quicker or shoot in a car interior and for that, I stripped down the camera to the body and lens which was very easy to operate with. We also used the Kessler Cine Slider for all of our dolly work. The camera weight was in perfect range for it.
The Good Stuff:
1. Image quality & sensitivity blew my mind with low-light / night photography. I pushed the ISO to 3200 and was pleased with what I was seeing in the dailies. The noise pattern was tight and provides an interesting texture.
2. Extremely sensitive camera in low light with a native ISO of 850. I never drifted from that number until we ran out of daylight.
3. Highlight and shadow retention is impressive.
4. Moire, rolling shutter and “jello” dramatically reduced.
5. If you are used to using DSLR’s in tight spaces, the C300’s footprint is still manageable & fits nicely in that scenario without much headache.
6. Legit professional audio options (XLR, headphones..etc). Who would have thought?
7. Ergonomics are flexible and the weight is light for shooting very long days under strenuous conditions. Adjustable side grip and top handle are nice.
8. Magnifying for focus while recording is a nice option.
9. Live waveform and vector.
10. Professional output and monitoring options…HD-SDI…thank you Canon. I have grown to HATE using HDMI. That connection is horrendous and unreliable for professional film making.
11. Hi res on-board LCD is bright and easy on the eyes. Looks great.
12. Time Code options
13. Tally lamp on the rear of the camera is a must when shooting with the on-screen display turned off.
14. Relay recording between two cards and not having to cut the clip is a welcomed improvement
15. Built-in ND filters
16. Solid & reliable performance in extremely cold temperatures. Never slowed us down.
The Bad Stuff:
1. Native ISO of 850? I’m curious as to where that number came from? Makes reciprocity a challenge when matching exposure on multi-cam shoots. I would imagine a lot of people will be mixing the C300 with 5D’s, 7D’s, 60D’s…etc. I’ve been used to working in third stop increments. Can this be changed in a firmware update?? Even if it were a native ISO of 800, it would still fall on one of the noisier ISO’s of the 5D and 7D (see this article on Native ISO’s for Canon 5D and 7D). Currently, this is the biggest issue with the camera IMHO.
2. The Start/Stop (record) button on the rear left side of the camera is very difficult to activate. I missed a few seconds of action a couple of times during the shoot because of this. Luckily, the on-board LCD and side grip’s record buttons work just fine. A handle remote on one of the O Grips is a must for the next round of shooting with the rig.
3. Unable to see the On Screen Display through third party EVF via HDMI. This was a hassle for knowing when I was recording. Luckily, a glance at the tally lamp does the trick. Maybe this could be fixed in a firmware update or maybe I missed an option in the menu to enable it.
CORRECTION: During my second time using the C300, I used a Marshall 7″ LCD via HDMI and was able to see the on-screen display from the camera. Not sure why it wasn’t working with the Zacuto EVF.
4. When using Canon glass and electronic aperture controls, the camera does weird increments “in-between” thirds of a stop. The menu gives you options to work in either third or fourth stop increments. But each click on the jog wheel failed to increase or decrease the light level in tandem with the on-screen aperture number.
5. Electronic aperture complaint number two: Increasing or decreasing your aperture on the fly is not smooth and is very visible. Only way to get around this is by using manual lenses with de-clicked aperture rings OR get the version with the PL mount and use cine lenses. This isn’t really a deal breaker though.
6. When fully built with top handle and on-board monitor panel on top, the rig is awkwardly tall. I probably could have come up with another configuration if I had more time but it made shooting in tight spaces a pain. Again, not a deal breaker. I’m sure all of the overpriced third party accessory manufacturers will come up with a million different options that they can price gouge the public with.
7. Wish the built-in ND filters were in increments of 1 stop, 2 stops, 3 stops, 4 stops (ND.03, .06, .09, 1.2). But then filtration manufacturers wouldn’t be very happy because people wouldn’t need to load down their cameras with extra glass.
8. Would have been nice to have a quick switch or user button dedicated to 60p / over-crank mode.
8. Price. Yeah yeah…I know. Everyone complains about price.
Additional Notes On Glass:
We used mostly Canon L glass for the shoot. I’m a big fan of L glass because of their quality, wide range of focal lengths in both primes and zooms, availability as well as being light weight for documentary work. I’d like give a huge thanks to Mick Edmundson and Brian Matsumoto at Canon USA for hooking us up with a couple of lenses that made a significant difference in making our days as efficient as possible without having to compromise in image quality or variety. The following glass was used on the shoot:
– (x2) 24-70mm F2.8L – staple lens for any documentary being shot on a camera with an EOS mount.
– 24-105mm F4L IS – great range. Only caveat to this lens is that a weird delay effect happens when zooming out manually. Not sure what it is but it doesn’t work for me. manual zooms have to be slow for it to work. Other than that, this lens has an awesome range and is very compatible with the sensitivity of the C300.
– 70-200mm F2.8L IS – another staple lens
– 70-200mm F4 IS – much lighter than the F2.8L for long days of shooting handheld. The sensitivity of the C300 makes this lens an awesome asset to any arsenal.
– 16-35mm F2.8L – 16mm is a must for cropped / super 35 sensors for getting wide angle FOV. This lens was great for walking handheld as well. If you want the effect of full frame barrel distortion, try the Tokina 11-16mm. Gave that effect to all the 7D / 60D users out there.
– 24mm F1.4L – awesome for night exteriors or low light interiors. I love this lens.
– Zeiss ZF 50mm F1.4 (de-clicked) – came in handy a few times.
– Filtration used: 77mm Fader ND & 82mm Fader ND
I think the Canon C300 has the potential to be one of the best tools at this time for not only documentaries but many other genres of production. The image quality, sensitivity, flexibility & ease of use make it quite a contender. I’ll be using it again this upcoming week for a commercial shoot which means I’ll have the opportunity to dive in a little deeper. Props to Canon for yet again making a great tool to add to a cinematographer’s arsenal. Can’t wait to shoot with it some more!
If you have any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always up for talking shop.