The Latest (8) Bits on the Canon EOS C300
Tongue-in-cheek headline aside, the more time passes, the better the Canon EOS C300 looks. Vashi Nedomansky, Vincent Laforet's editor on Mobius, stopped by to share how far the 8-bit codec of the C300 could be pushed. I don't regret my decision to order a SCARLET-X -- one major reason being the upgrade path that the camera has -- but if you're looking to shoot guerrilla projects with available lighting, the Sony FS100, F3, or Canon C300 would probably be a better choice given you can walk into a room with natural light and more easily shoot at high ISOs than you can with a RED. For my purposes (shooting a narrative feature film), we'll be using lights, and that's a different situation. Here's the latest on the somewhat controversial Canon C300:
First of all, rumors have been flying about Canon lowering the price of the C300, probably as a result of the widely held opinion that the C300 is a tad expensive given the specs -- and also since RED had the enviable position of going second with their SCARLET-X announcement. In his hands on with the C300, Philip Bloom tosses out the figure of $13k. That'd be quite the departure from the $20k list price that I've mentioned is basically the same as the SCARLET. Some more thoughts from Bloom:
After spending time with [the C300] today, it is clear that this really is a camera for a whole different market than the Scarlet which really is aimed more at narrative. This, as I said earlier, looks like a great broadcast 35mm workhorse camera. Not saying you can’t shoot movies on it, it’s the broadcast spec that is key with this camera and it’s for that use that I can see this being snapped up if the image is as good as I have heard.
On his blog, Vincent Laforet posted about the C300's organic grain, noting that the 3.75k sensor and color sampling pattern yields a grain structure more akin to film than the blocky video noise to which we're accustomed. In his words:
The only time that I have seen this type of granular structure in noise is with the Arri Alexa. I think that this just might be the future of digital sensors: taking digital noise and giving it a more filmic or "organic" structure. While digital sensors are slowly closing the gap with film in terms of dynamic range – most don’t have the same granular structural beauty that film offers. It seems that too is changing... while the 1080p image coming off the C300 may not be 2K let alone 5K – it will blow up much more easily than many other 1080p cameras thanks to this "organic" noise pattern that naturally comes off of the sensor in my opinion. We certainly witnessed that during our grade of this film.
On his post he provides plenty of samples that demonstrate this organic grain:
Here's Studio Daily's first look at the C300:
More problematic for some folks may be the Canon 8-bit recording and HD-SDI output. To be fair, Canon extracts a remarkable 12-bits worth of data for each pixel, a very high level of performance that the company describes as “the best 1080p 4:2:2 implementation in the business.” Still, for most of us operating in the higher end of the industry, a ten-bit recording system like Sony’s HDCAM SR, Apple’s ProRes and Panasonic’s AVC-Intra are pretty much the norm now; the additional bit depth will significantly improve not only color sampling accuracy, but color correction and grading later in post production. Since virtually every show originating digitally these days will require some color correction, the inherent benefit of 10-bit capture and workflow cannot be overemphasized.
Meanwhile in a post titled Did Canon Just Steal the Future of Filmmaking?, Forbes gets a lot of things wrong:
[Star Wars] Episode III is the only movie I have ever seen whose picture quality is on par with traditional film. Theoretically, other Hollywood filmmakers should have been eager to order their own custom cameras from Sony. But they didn’t. They looked for cheaper alternatives, hence the success of the RED One. Unfortunately for moviegoers, this means that digital-only movies tend to look much worse than those that were shot on film. Sony had a stellar opportunity here to step in with a lower-cost model and take control of the market, but it completely missed the boat. The company has been taking losses in nearly every division. If RED holds onto its market position, and if Canon takes another chunk of the market, where will that leave Sony? Right now, the cheapest professional, high-def camera that Sony makes retails for nearly $17,000.
What? You're saying that the Sony F3 is overpriced, yet you laud the C300 which costs the same? Also, Sony has the FS100 for $5k, which has the same sensor as the F3, whereas Canon has... a $7k DSLR on its way? I don't get why he's so bullish.
Thorpe says (paraphrasing), "this was the codec we had to use, but future cameras will not be 8-bit." Regardless of the C300's merits, I've never heard of a manufacturer being so upfront about the planned obsolescence of a product. Along with the announcement of their future 4K DSLR just hours after the C300's unveiling, the folks at Canon are practically telling people to wait for the next version. This attitude won't stop commercial houses and TV studios from investing in C300s, but it could certainly give indie filmmakers and smaller outfits pause.
Finally, Stu Maschwitz has a terrific breakdown of the current camcorder market. About the C300, he has this to say:
The C300 is crippled in ways that one would not expect from a $20,000 camera, but it is also empowered in ways usually reserved for much more expensive rigs. It uses a 4K sensor to make its HD images, meaning that all its internal processing is 4:4:4. It kills in low light and when it gets noisy, the noise looks like film grain. But perhaps the most shocking capability of the C300 is its latitude. It’s here that the comparison with the Alexa is most surprisingly appropriate. The C300 simply has a jaw-dropping ability to hold shadow and highlight detail in the same frame.
If you're in the market for a camera, definitely check out the full post.
UPDATE: from commenter Kholi, here are a few C300 videos shot by Nigel Akam. If I didn't know any better and I were doing a Pepsi Challenge, from the dynamic range and smooth skin tones I would've guessed ARRI ALEXA -- good company to keep.
Ultimately, if Canon does drop the price of the C300 by several thousand dollars before its January debut, does that change your opinion of the camera?