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 1920×1080 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 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. 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.
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.