November 10, 2011

Hands-On Impressions of the Canon EOS C300

This is a guest post by cinematographer Angelo Lorenzo.

I am torn between the Canon EOS C300 and RED SCARLET-X, I really am. In 2009 I felt like a pioneer on the Canon 5DmkII: before Redrock or any number of accessory companies were popping out rods and mounts, I had my camera with a custom machined PL adapter and iris rod bracket, and I was slapping it on everything from technocranes to steadicams. More recently I’ve been racking up hours with the Red One MX, including an AC position on a million dollar film. I’ve grown to love both the Canon and Red camps for different reasons. In the wake of both companies’ recent announcements though, the collective internet conscience has declared Red’s Scarlet as winner in some imaginary zero-sum game.

After looking at the specs of each camera, it became clear that these are two very different tools. The Scarlet X demolishes most cameras with the sheer power of its specs, and its price point puts it in reach of those willing to purchase it. The bootstrapped indie filmmaker should consider the hidden cost of the upgraded post production pipeline for dealing with 4K footage efficiently – a sneaky, oft forgot expense. The Canon hits a price point that puts it pretty firmly in the rental market, but filmmakers can use existing HD edit and finishing systems without fuss. Filmmakers could even consider thinning out their grip and electric rental due to the C300’s obscene ISO performance, which I’ll get into further detail in a moment.

During Canon’s press demonstrations at Paramount Studios Hollywood I was able to do two valuable things: look at projected footage and actually touch the C300. I watched three of the four projected demonstration films (as I had some time constraints), and the image quality superb was in each. Although all of the footage was color timed, the C300’s skin tones remained especially true through all films even in some demanding high ISO situations. Speaking of, ISO on the camera reaches an astounding 20,000 ISO – and yes I have the comma in the right place. Was it noisy? Noise was apparent, but it was grungy and reminiscent of shooting T-MAX 3200 film. The noise felt right and added some amount of acutance -- the opposite of common digital noise.

My previous article covered the importance of exposure latitude and, of course, I had to get the skinny on that. The C300’s base sensitivity is rated at 640 ISO or 850 ISO (if you’re using Canon Log color) and spans a full 12 stops even at 20,000 ISO (higher ISO settings are known to reduce exposure latitude). A Canon rep pulled me aside to hint that their spec sheet is conservative, with 13+ stops in the field.

The specs are a little surprising, for better or worse, but the form factor was rather familiar looking. The camera is slightly deeper than a DSLR which I’m sure gave Redrock and Zacuto a sigh of relief. Because of the added depth, the C300 feels stable and balanced with the side and top handles if equipped with smaller lenses. The included monitor is married both to an auxiliary control panel for playback and navigation as well as the dual channel XLR input. Its full build-out weight with included accessories puts it at a svelte 6 pounds.

Some of the backlash towards the C300 stems from the expectation of a 4K camera rather than a 2K camera. With most digital cinema projectors in the world being 2K for the foreseeable future, the slightly shadowboxed 1920x1080 works perfectly. How soon we forget how many films, shorts, and commercials are produced on the likes of Panavision’s Genesis and Sony’s CineAlta cameras, all at 1920x1080. Panavision’s John Galt spoke with Creative Cow with his thoughts on the 2K/4K debate, and even thought the article is 2 years old it is worth reading. While I’ll reserve my full judgment until both cameras officially ship, it’s refreshing to see Canon open up creativity in a different way: rock solid low light performance.

[video via Engadget]


Angelo Lorenzo is a Los Angeles based cinematographer and camera operator that has worked on a number of commercial, music video, and film sets. When he’s not on set, he’s readying the launch of Films For Us, a platform that allows filmmakers to sell their films and shorts while blogging and connecting with their audience.

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97 Comments

"Panavision’s John Galt spoke with Creative Cow with his thoughts on the 2K/4K debate"----> 404 not found

November 10, 2011

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November 10, 2011

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JS

Oh, and yes -- the article is old, but still relevant. Since then RED has taken the EPIC up to 5K specifically because the debayering process drops the true resolution. You get a true 4K out of the 5K EPIC, and I think what you get out of their 4K sensors (including the SCARLET-X) is more like 3.2K.

November 10, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Koo, here's what Red's site says about the sensor resolution.

Scarlet-X:
SENSOR 14 MEGAPIXEL MYSTERIUM-X™
PIXEL ARRAY 5120 (h) x 2700 (v)

Epic:
SENSOR 14 MEGAPIXEL MYSTERIUM-X™
PIXEL ARRAY 5120 (h) x 2700 (v)
S/N RATIO 66db"

What is the source for the comment about the Scarlet-X having a 4K sensor?

November 18, 2011

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5K at 12 FPS, 4K at 24p.

November 18, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Ah, I thought you were making a blanket statement about the output resolution - I didn't infer that it was frame-rate specific. My bad. :)

November 19, 2011

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Thanks, damn "smart" quotes were messing up the link. Fixed.

November 10, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Not to nitpick, but he's calling it a 300C, when it is in fact a C300. Just to avoid mild confusion.

November 10, 2011

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Wow, missed that. Fixed too!

November 10, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

"Was it noisy? Noise was apparent, but it was grungy and reminiscent of shooting T-MAX 3200 film. The noise felt right and added some amount of acutance"
I can't get behind this, man. Noise is noise. If you want a high-iso 1920x1080 cam, use the new gh2 hack for about 1/20th of the price? Or add it in post for the 'grunge' look?
"With most digital cinema projectors in the world being 2K for the foreseeable future, the slightly shadowboxed 1920×1080 works perfectly."
"While I’ll reserve my full judgment until both cameras officially ship, it’s refreshing to see Canon open up creativity in a different way: rock solid low light performance."
How forseeable? And am I in crazytown, or is this completely ignoring the fact that the competing RED camera shoots in 4k, thus is twice as gradable anyway? It may (emphasis on "may", as people aren't talking much about lowlight on RED) not have the lowlight performance of the Canon, but guys... use a lightsource or two that you can esthetically control!
"How soon we forget how many films, shorts, and commercials are produced on the likes of Panavision’s Genesis and Sony’s CineAlta cameras, all at 1920×1080. Panavision’s John Galt spoke with Creative Cow with his thoughts on the 2K/4K debate, and even thought the article is 2 years old it is worth reading."
That's two years ago. Two cameras just released recently, at similar pricepoints. One shoots 4k. The other shoots like cameras that are comparable to what you can get for 1/20th of the price.

All the articles I read seem to be apologetic and very "yeah guys, but the Canon has to have SOME merit..." biased towards Canon, probably bc that's what's worth writing about. Everyone just knows that the Scarlet is wonderful at the pricepoint, so articles apologizing for RED's specs aren't popping up. I mean doesn't that say something? Am I going insane here?!

November 10, 2011

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RevBenjamin

You're not going insane. Right before Canon came out with the C300 I said if it's 1080p then it's not a "hollywood historical" event. What I see from Canon is an excuse, they made the 5DMK2 for so cheap it blew away their other videocameras. They wanted to make as much money as possible and that greed shows. It's laughable.

From the biased articles I am reading, people seem to try and make excuses for not buying the Red Scarlet such as, "it having too high a resolution." Fine, there are multiple resolution sizes you can change to! If you want your slow motion KOO, the Scarlet can shoot slow motion at 2k for you.

REVBENJAMIN you're right with EVERYTHING you're saying. If I wanted to shoot a feature in 1080p I would pick up two gh2s and trick them out with the best lenses. The best part about buying a Scarlet right now is that it will survive over years! It can be upgraded to the Red Dragon sensor and camera companies will continue to compete(Canon isn't coming close to competing) but the Scarlet is not being beat when it comes to that price. And I am not a Canon hater, I love my T2i, it has done me well, but my I am growing up with my career and the T2i isn't cutting it. Especially as I work with a RED ONE MX. The Red Scarlet is not going to be outdated for awhile, the C300 is outdated before release. DONE

November 10, 2011

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Julian

Slow motion on scarlet at 2K forces you to use a window of the sensor that is less than the size of a 2/3" sensor, so you better get some new lenses if you want to maintain FOV with your S35 frame.

While I love the gh2 (I have one, shoot with it often), it isn't an appropriate tool for professional situations. I work on several broadcast shows and I would never ever ever bring on a hacked gh2 as an A camera - too much can go wrong, and there's too much at stake. I'd be laughed out of my job. However, I would have no qualms about using a C300 as an A-camera: network approved broadcast codec, quick and simple workflow, worldwide company with reliable product history, and a camera that gives a perfect sharp alias-free 1080 picture with filmic noise, small form factor, light weight and brilliant low-light capabilities - these things go a long way. In fact, two network shows I currently work on already plan on incorporating C300's into production.

November 10, 2011

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Brian

Listen to the Vincent Laforet podcast about the C300. He rates it very highly and is also one of the few people so far to have actually shot with it rather than just read a spec sheet. Also, have a look at that creative cow article because it's fascinating. C300 looks like a great B or C camera if you're shooting a project on Alexa ProRes 4444 LogC. Pal of mine just DP'ed a film in the UK called Sket that he shot on the Alexa on ProRes. His words "I think ProRes definitely holds up on the big screen, the colourist was in awe how amazing the proRes log c behaved in the grade, very filmic." Sometimes 1080p isn't just 'good enough', it's actually really good. I just think people get a little obsessed with judging numbers versus judging images.

November 10, 2011

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Will

Ultimately it still comes down to price. No-one's arguing the C300 isn't a good camera. Image quality looks good, ergonomics look good, etc etc. But for $20k? Really? I totally agree that 1080p is a great resolution, and in most cases you don't need more. But... $20k. Come on.

As has been said elsewhere - this is a broadcast camera. It makes sense there, where you want zero-hassle performance, and $20k isn't really a big deal. For indies, it gives too little at too high a price. For hollywood, it gives too little full stop. Again, not a bad camera by any means, just not aimed at what I would loosely classify as "us".

November 10, 2011

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Luke

Yeah, I agree it is expensive but I'd never buy one - it'd only be for rent. They're pretty much the same price as a Z3 and they're cheap to hire (in London). If you need to own the gear it's probably not the right camera.

November 10, 2011

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Will

As much as I respect Vincent, he was hired and paid by Canon to shoot a short film with the C300. He's hardly in a position to be objective...

November 11, 2011

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Fabdex

+1
I am with you dude, all the way

November 10, 2011

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carlos

reffering to revbenjamin and julian

November 10, 2011

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carlos

If the image alone cannot convince you when you see it projected on a huge screen, then you either have a bias, or are blind...Specs are nothing, image is everything...Obey your image. :)

November 10, 2011

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Dave

Nice Sprite advertising reference. :)

November 18, 2011

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20,000 ISO. 12 stops of dynamic range. A film like noise grain pattern. Perfect 1920x1080 resolution with no moire or aliasing.

I think this is a real contender for a lot of projects.

November 10, 2011

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Nathan

The Red Scarlet has 18 stops with HDRX, you can add better film grain noise afterwords. This camera would have been a contender 8 years ago.

November 10, 2011

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Julian

HDRx is for limited situations and not usable for the majority of shots. Jim said it himself. Adding film grain in post takes a lot of render time. Not having to deal with sensor pattern noise and having it be much more filmic is very rare and very welcome for higher ISO shooting

November 10, 2011

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Brian

HDRX is a myth, I have yet to see any legit project shot with that feature, or any post work flow that can handle it.

November 11, 2011

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goose

Grain and noise are entirely different things.

November 11, 2011

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Fabdex

Something to note, on the scarlet you can change between ef and pl mount. Canon you cannot.

November 10, 2011

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Ryan Emanuel

You can add adapters to your canon mount though, but there's no adapter that could fix 720p 60...

November 10, 2011

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Julian

With not light loss or cropping?

November 10, 2011

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Ryan Emanuel

There is no cropping or light loss in the 720p mode on the C300. It downsamples from the entire sensor readout (vs cropping in to smaller than 2/3" sensor size on the Scarlet)

November 10, 2011

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Brian

I'm talking about the adapter not 720 modes

November 10, 2011

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Ryan Emanuel

The adapter is not optical, just mechanical. No light loss or cropping

November 10, 2011

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Brian

True. I don't think anyone would argue against having interchangeable adapters on a $20,000 camera, though.

November 10, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

The RED's 60fps mode is almost as useless though - 2K at a whopping 3.9x crop factor which I find utterly bizarre.

November 10, 2011

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Clayton

Just to clarify, you mean on the Scarlet-X (1-60 fps 1080p HD) not the Epic (1-300 fps 2K), correct?

November 18, 2011

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Or did you actually mean the Red One (1-60 fps 3K), because it hadn't been mentioned in the discussion yet and so relying on the brand name was a little unclear.

November 18, 2011

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Why not? Put a PL adapter on the EF mount. Problem solved.

November 10, 2011

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Brian

There has been a lot of talk about low light performance, but really only in the camera's ability to expose. I think other variables impact low light performance that aren't being considered. For instance, the signal to noise ratios in underexposed regions, I feel, is far superior in epic/scarlet then the C300 or f3. I think people should take a second look at "Tattoo" shot on epic. In barely any light, it was practically noiseless. Plus everything was under exposed in the first scene. With red, you can have a subject in darkness and get a clean image. Yes f3 and c300 can expose with barely any light, but will they give you a clean image in the darks. If you look at mobius at 2:55, the camera is exposed for the exterior of the car. The subject is underexposed and is very noisy. Clean underexposure has been one of the greatest advantages film has over digital. I know the epic/scarlet can handle it, but I'm not sure the c300 can.

I know its a matter of style whether you want a lot of luminance in you night scenes or clean darks, but for me being able to have the choice of a full range of exposures for the subject is better to me.

November 10, 2011

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Jeff

As for the Epic shooting clean in low-light, Neat Video works a treat! Red cams are known for their inherent weakness here.

November 10, 2011

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Dave

A question: were you watching the 1080p version? And if so, what do you exactly by "clean image"? I don't think I"ve ever seen film handle low shadows without grain and as far as I know, this camera deals with them the same way. Only at high ISOs that film can't reach.

November 11, 2011

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The only problem I have with this argument is this phrase:

"Panavision’s Genesis and Sony’s CineAlta cameras, all at 1920×1080"

Yes, thats true, but also consider the date those camera came out. The Panavision Genesis came out in 2005 and Cinealta was released in 2001 or somewhere around that range. ( the first release movie was 2003)

So I think people's expectation for more in 2012 is EXPECTED! Comparing the C300 to a 6 year old camera and its specs is not helping Canon's case. I found that to be a pathetic comparison.

Its also wrong because Sony Just updated the Cinealta line with the F65 which shootswith an 8k senonor that outputs to 4k and 2k at 16 bit raw data which absolutely astonishing amounts of information.

So nobody forgot things were were being shot at 1080p Were already knew that, thats why were were expecting something new from a new product that more advanced.

November 10, 2011

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pixel wiz

A very basic F65 shooting package with no lens will cost you around $100,000.

November 10, 2011

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Brian

I wish more people read that creative cow link, specially the part about pixels vs frame rates, and this guy is like the expert of digital video. Then we might start to have good full HD at 120 fps ? When I just saw the grain from C300 on Vincent Laforet's blog, I just realized how true it is that our own eyes won't see much difference between 2k and 4k. It's the same in the photography world, who runs after 24 Megapixels after he has seen D3s pictures ?

November 10, 2011

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Do either the Scarlett or C300 cameras have any sort of auto focus?

November 10, 2011

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Jim

Ironically, only the RED -- with Canon lenses. But it remains to be seen how fast it will be.

November 10, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

did you notice the on the face of the main actor in MOBIUS 1:17minutes . I dont know if it is a filter or ...please check. I am not sure if we know all the truth about this movie..

November 11, 2011

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Panasonic AF300...

Who is John Galt?

November 10, 2011

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Mike

Mike,

John Galt is Panavision's Senior Vice President of Advanced Digital Imaging

November 10, 2011

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Angelo

Missed that one, didn't you?

November 12, 2011

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Bryan

Angelo, thanks for the write-up. 2 questions for you if you can answer:

1) How is the balance of the camera once the LCD is on top, particularly when it's mounted to the top grip. It seems very top heavy in the pics.

2) Dynamic range: I'm assuming the 12-13 stops is with Log enabled. I thought Canon had noted that it's 9 stops without log. Is that right

Thanks.

November 10, 2011

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Steve

Steve,

1) Surprisingly balanced. The LCD monitor is light and thin; since it is married to a mini control panel and the XLR inputs, it keeps the center of gravity low toward the handle. It's nowhere near as hefty as a Marshall or other common 7" that a lot of 5D owners have.

2) It's subjective. The C300 uses picture styles so I'm sure there is some variations per setting. I didn't get any specs on any of the default picture styles besides the log profile.

November 10, 2011

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Angelo

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