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The Moon as Your Key Light? The Canon C300 Delivers

02.25.12 @ 2:17PM Tags : , , , ,

Hyperbole? Not really. It’s no secret that the Canon C300 is a low-light monster. It’s also marginally better than the F3 and FS100 in high-ISO situations (debatable, but from what I’ve seen, it holds slightly more detail and color information in those extreme situations). But this is just ridiculous. Barry Goyette has posted a video of mostly available light C300 footage – and get this – parts were lit with just moonlight. Yes, that moon, as in the reflection of the sun off of the lunar surface. For the really interesting footage, wait until after the credits. Here’s the video:

If you really want to get a sense of the quality, it’s recommended that you download the less compressed version available from Vimeo. Barry describes his entire process there, and it’s worth a read. Taken from the video description, Barry talks about the specs on the moonlight footage:

For the moonlight footage Camera was set to ISO 10,000 1/24 sec (24p), Lens was 50MM L 1.2 set at 1.4 or 1.2 except the walking/tracking shot after the credits which was at 20,000 with the 35mm f1.4. The gamma was mostly normal 1 with some c-log thrown in. WB is mostly tungsten, but the last clip is the daylight preset.


Is there noise? Of course there is – we’re a long way from noiseless moonlight footage. The shutter was also lowered to 1/24, giving a little extra light – something many people will see as looking more like “video” than a 1/48 or 180 degree shutter. I am not a Canon fanboy by any means, but this is impressive. Barry posted a followup video where he used the Neat Video de-noiser, and for the most part, the results are spectacular:

Will you be shooting shooting an entire film with the Canon C300, and not use any additional lights? Probably not – but this video is proof that it’s possible. If you’re in a pinch – and this is especially true for documentary shooters – the C300 should be able to expose in near-darkness. Is it perfect? Not even close, but with some noise reduction, the results are phenomenal.

So what’s the point? A lot of people are probably reading this and saying that they’ll never have the budget to shoot on a $16,000 camera. It’s a valid point, but consider that this is Canon’s first real stab at a large sensor video camera. Also consider this major point – we are in the first generation of large sensor video-optimized cameras. The Sony F3, FS100, Panasonic AF100, and now the Canon C300 – are all first generation cameras. We’re just getting started, and it’s not unrealistic to think that in five years time, Sony, Panasonic, and Canon will all have cameras that will double – even triple – our current generation in low-light performance. Affordability is another conversation, but with any new technology, prices come down over time.

DSLRs will obviously improve alongside these other options – but for shooting video, the large sensor video cameras will probably continue to have a slight edge in overall image quality.

It’s an exciting time to be a filmmaker. Let me know what camera advancements you guys are looking forward to in the comments.

Links: By the Light of the Moon – Vimeo and Canon C300 by Moonlight De-Noise Pass – Vimeo

[via Twitter: Nick Novotny    @ __NoVo__  ]


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Description image 46 COMMENTS

  • The possibility to shoot night scenes off the city without power generators is something that alone is a game changer. Hoping to see some more footage like this in the future. Great article Joe.

    • A note to the film industry:
      Please never use the term game changer again.
      Game changer implies there is a single goal, an even playing field, and an enemy over which to triumph. This is not a game, it is no competition. There are no bad guys and no one to feel superior to. Fostering the mental attitude of Me Versus Them will only create more division and stress in an industry that is already topheavy with such. Instead think of ways to involve each other and use new technology to the benefit of the community and not just your paycheck alone.

      Game changer says that there are rules, when very clearly there are not. If there are no rules, then there is no way to win and no reason to think we can.

      • Jonathan wtf are you ranting about? You sound like a nightmare to work with…

      • Ron Burgundy – Is that you?

      • Necromancer on 02.25.12 @ 8:19PM

        As long as he saves Iris, Jonathan is OK in my book…

      • Competition is the reason we have advanced so far, when companies compete the users win. The fact of the matter is the game changes all the time and DSLR’s were deff a catalyst in it.

      • Lol what a joke

      • Doesn’t game changer just imply a different way to play the game aka do what we do, make films.

        I think you are taking it far too literally.

      • Wow… Really dude?

      • Definition of the term “game-changer” by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary:

        “a person, an idea or an event that completely changes the way a situation develops”

        … and even if you use the term more literally: a game is something that people play for fun. The competition in a game is for the fun of it, and so is the competition in film-making. Everybody wants to make a better film, not because they hate other people, but because it’s fun! So relax, please!

    • The possibility to shoot at night is great, but shouldn’t be attributed to the c300, previous cameras made much more revolutionary leaps into the darks. Its marginally better than the f3 thats been out in the field for a while. I think its just clever marketing that coins the c300 as the lowlight king. Not saying its not a great camera, just misrepresented.

      • I think I was fair in my assessment – and you said it yourself that the C300 is marginally better than the F3. But the real point of the post is that cameras have improved to a degree where we can actually shoot in near-darkness. That’s exciting to me. It’s not about who is better in low-light, it’s the fact that all of these manufacturers will push each other, and it’s us, the filmmakers, who will benefit from that competition. Before the D90 and the 5D Mark II, cameras that could shoot 24p were stuck around 320 ISO – give or take. Now 800 is the baseline ISO that all of these video cameras shoot for. In a few years it’s not unrealistic to think that 1600 ISO will become the new standard. 10 years ago most people weren’t even shooting HD. Look at how far we’ve come in that time.

  • I shot a 7 minute short last weekend with the C300. It was shot entirely with available light, and the lenses were f/2.8, not even high-speed. Never went above ISO 3200. I kept the images dark and natural. Should be ready in another week or two.

  • Jonathan, when they finally make a camera that can see through clothing, I’m sorry, but I’m calling that one a game changer. :)

  • Brilliant. It’s just an awesome tool for an indie on the run, possibly even a one or two-man crew. Super excited to see what the dslr 4k canon is all about. Between now and the release of that should be enough time to start putting the coin away ;)

  • Necromancer on 02.25.12 @ 8:00PM

    I haven’t seen that many unpleasant artifacts since my visit to the British Museum’s History of Torture exhibit…

  • To have a beautiful shot, you must have beautiful light. Just not as much as you needed 5 years ago. High
    ISO’s may replace the need for lots of light, but not the need for beautiful light.

    • Yea there’s definitely still an eye for getting a good image, we’re just gaining flexibility in achieving it

      • It’s technically amazing, but as well funny how a very similar look can be achieved with a day for night approach.

        I’ve been giving thought to it and I don’t know how useful it is to have a camera that sees THAT MUCH MORE than the bare eye. A BIT MORE can certainly help in many situations (for example, a city street) since it stylizes what otherwise would be a muddy dark shot.

        But that much more I don’t know. I don’t really recognize these images as REAL night. Maybe if they were a bit darker, maybe at a 1/48th of a second, but again then it would look like regular day by night, EXCEPT for when the car approaches. That effect only is plain amazing.

        Furthermore, the possibility of high ISO really helps for stopping down the iris.

        Let’s imagine we want to reproduce a more Hollywood-like night lighting. Keeping a 20.000 ISO, and denoising afterwards, using 1/48th of a second and closing the IRIS to 1.9, we could use the moon light as a fill light for the background, keeping the sky ALMOST black, as it should be, and seeing the stars.

        For our main figures, maybe a couple sitting near a tent in a mountain, we could use the real light they use (maybe a gas powered camping light) just by using it at a minimum power and placing it conveniently for each shot.

        The moon light would provide as well for a subtle backlighting. That would be very nice and I really would give that setting a try if I had a C300.

    • I agree you always need beautiful light to get a good shot – but a lot of times natural/available lighting is rather beautiful, but just not enough for your camera. What gaffers have always been doing is simulating natural and/or available lighting, only with bigger, brighter lights.
      With these new cameras you can use much more of the available light, and just aid it here and there with a small battery powered LED

  • I wonder when we will see cameras that read the entire sensor in one instance instead of a fast scan of the image line by line. ??? A true progressive chip read like 3ccd cameras would be nice.

  • I’ll just point out that ISO 10000 on the C300 is not any brighter than ISO 6400 on the 5D2, and ISO 20000 on the C300 is actually darker than ISO 12800 on the GH2

    so the next generation of DSLRs should be more than capable of achieving this

    • also, about this video: the moonlight shots are way too noisy, but perfectly ok after neat video – so the big issue remaining is focus hunting (it obviously looks like focus pulling is very difficult with so little light, and at f/1.4 focus hunting can be really nasty and distracting)

    • I doubt it. I don’t think you can achieve what they did in this video with those cameras.

      • check out the link I posted
        those waveforms are extracted from the philip bloom shootout

        • Have you seen a video from the 5DII shot with moonlight before?

          • no, because ISO 12800 on the 5D2 is very very very very noisy
            ISO 20000 on the C300 is cleaner, and I’m not claiming anything against that
            what I’m claiming is that ISO 10000 on the C300 is not any brighter than ISO 6400 on the 5D2, and ISO 20000 on the C300 is actually darker than ISO 12800 on the GH2

            so: I didn’t say anything about noise, my complaint is that ISO values should mean the same on all cameras

  • Just like Samuel H said,
    iso 20 000 is the same as the iso 6400 on 5D ( look at philip blooms low light shoothoout and you will see.. every camera at 3200iso shows person´s face in the test..but when you look at the c300 footage at 3200 iso the person is totally dark .. and there´s one more thing
    gh1 at iso 100 is the same as 5D at iso 400 (I mean you get the same amout of light )
    so what are the real numbers? I think the dslrs (gh2/7D/5D/D7000) are close to the c300 and cameras like D4/1Dx/5Dm3/GH3 will surpass c300. wake up pepople. you are looking only at pure marketing numbers and you don´t see the truth , even the sony fs100 has the the noise levels in DB but the amount of light and noise that you can get with this camera is very very close to the c300

    • 6400 iso is not usable on the 5d, but 20,000 iso is usable on the c300, theres no blocky magenta or green in gradients, its a pleasant grain structure and theres more to the story like sharpness retention and accurate skin tones at high iso’s where dslrs are garbage.

      And one more thing, So you think Canon will enable better low light capabilities in the $3500 5dmkiii and the $7500 1dx than the $16000 c300. Why do you think they would shoot themselves in the foot? They have launched their eos cinema line, why would any of their photography dslrs shoot better video than any of their cinema cameras?

      • I was not talking about usability, you can´t compare 3years old 5D with fresh c300 , I am talking that iso 20 000 is not a big step up on c300 because iso 3200 on 5D is probably usable as iso 20000 (6400 in dslrs) which is nothing special when you consider the time gap between them..

        5D and 1DX are DSLRS, they must be better or at the same level of performance as D4 or D800 , canon can´t jusk make their top line dslrs worse just because their overpriced “cinema” cam has only 6400 iso usable, It´s still a videocamera vs photocamera , look at panasonic gh2, it trashes the AF 100 in almost every way…

  • I have a feeling that a black card will become your friend in the next few years. NEGATIVE FILL!!!!
    Using the goddamn moon is crazy.
    I wish I had something more constructive.

  • I think its very impressive technically, but I just don’t like the aesthetic at those high ISOs, at least in this video.

  • Been there and done that. Back in the Dark Ages (1979) I was the Gaffer on a Low Budget feature.

    The scenes is boy and girl talking. They are at a Carnival as it is closing down for the night. They are lit by the lights of one of the rides, we see the lights go out on the rides in the background, one by one. Then the lights go out on the ride they are next to, and the last several lines of dialog are lit by the light of a full moon.

    35mm Kodak Film rated at ASA 1000. Film negative really digs into the shadows.

  • I felt like I was watching that through a screen door. Either vimeo or c300′s fault, but it’s not footage I would want to look at for more than a few seconds. My head and eyes hurt from all that noise and compression blocks (watched on an 24″ calibrated EIZO monitor, so it’s not the equipment).

  • I’m sorry guys but I don’t see the point of enjoying about high-iso level while camcorders are still so limited in dynamic range.

  • Daniel Mimura on 03.1.12 @ 11:12PM

    I think the best thing to do with high ISO is to still light stuff just like normal film production, but with smaller fixtures. Skip the 18k and use a Baby…

    And…this is a BIG one… light it to 4-5.6 and give the AC a chance! 1.4 at night with a 50mm is ridiculous…and distracting…

    That being said, overexposed night has a beauty to it that is it’s own thing, and otherworldly. There are some gorgeous images in there…I particularly like the light around 4min…IMO, it’s some of the prettiest noise I’ve ever seen. It’s like super-8 but still sort of crisp and vivid…but without the edgy HD look. I feel like this is a perfect example of what Phillip Bloom has been saying about the C300 displaying a beautiful grain-like noise.

  • MARK GEORGEFF on 05.10.12 @ 3:29PM

    Why anyone here on this site…or others like it…should feel the desperate need to “speak up for the industry” is beyond me. Here’s a brief mention of what the “industry” has done:

    1) Discrimination on many levels in dealing with race and gender; all to continue a profit margin
    they believe is justified in opening the doors for select talents.

    2) Monopolies; in controlling the field of product distribution to the marketplace, etc.

    3) Collusion; as in controlling the time, change and flow of such time and change in equipment and technology, specifically in this digital world with regard to digital-based equipment, software, etc.

    Those are just the standards.

    I haven’t even begun to get into how the industry controls original content creators right, etc., through the use of their abundance of financial capital to us e armies of lawyers and politicians to further their visions of maximizing profit margins once again.

    Personally…primarily, as an indie movie director – screenwriter and creative content creator for projects purposely choosing to go directly to the global audicne via VOD?

    I’ll take a Chinese company’s 4 k digital camcorder that gives me the exact stuff I can find in a RED for half the cost.

    Hell with sticking up for the industry.

    There’s no way the same people ( a few ) who’ve access to the vast riches of the gravy train in this industry…should always be entitled to the same seat at the same table…because ‘that’s the way it’s always been.”