November 6, 2012

Canon C500 is Shipping, but Canon's RAW Implementation is Unlike Any You've Seen Before

There has been a lot of talk about RAW lately. With Sony's announcement of a RAW recorder for the F5/F55 cameras, and RED's recent price drops (including a $4,000 RED ONE MX), it's certainly on everyone's minds. Canon, who has been making a name for themselves recently in digital cinema, has begun shipping the C500 (which is retailing for lower than was originally announced back in August, just like all of their digital cinema products). The C500 is practically the same camera as its sibling the C300, except for the ability to output full 10-bit 4K RAW up to 60fps. This all sounds great in theory, but Canon is doing something interesting in the name of quality that just might make you think twice about going through the extra expense just to use it.

If you haven't seen it, here is Man & Beast, the first film shot on the Canon C500 in Canon RAW. It played at NAB at the Canon booth, and was lensed by a frequent David Fincher collaborator, DP Jeff Cronenweth, ASC:

http://vimeo.com/40459163

Just as a recap, here's what the C500 is capable of:

  • 4K (4096 x 2160) 8.85 Mp Super 35mm-Size CMOS Sensor
  • EF or PL Mount Models
  • 4K: 10-bit RGB RAW at up to 60 fps
  • 4K: 10-bit RGB Half RAW at up to 120 fps
  • 2K: 12-bit RGB 4:4:4 at up to 60 fps
  • 2K: 10-bit YCrCb 4:2:2 at up to 120 fps
  • QFHD: 1920 x 1080 RGB 4:4:4 12-bit or 10-bit at up 60 fps
  • QFHD: 1920 x 1080 YCrCb 4:2:2 10-bit at up to 120 fps
  • QFHD: 3840 x 2160 RGB RAW 10-bit at up to 60 fps
  • QFHD: 3840 x 1080 RGB Half RAW 10-bit at up to 120 fps
  • 8-bit MPEG-2 Long GOP (Canon XF codec) 4:2:2 at 50 Mb/s recording to CF card
  • Canon Log Gamma
  • Price: $26,000 EF shipping now, PL shipping but backordered

Andy Shipsides over at AbelCine has put together a tremendous post about how Canon is actually doing their RAW output, and it's vastly different than any of the current cameras capable of RAW, like the RED EPIC or SCARLET and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Here's a little bit from that post:

Canon Raw is a 10-bit format with baked-in ISO and white balance. That’s right, unlike the other Raw formats, Canon is baking-in gain adjustments (ISO/white balance) before outputting the Raw data. You may be scratching your head as to why, so here’s a little bit of the logic. Adding gain adjustments at the sensor level produces a consistent stop range above and below the middle grey level, even at high ISOs, and reduces the overall noise in the image. Canon is implementing these adjustments at the sensor level at higher bit depths and then outputting the results. These adjustments are also applying the Canon Log curve to the image, which maximizes the range of the final 10-bit file. So is Canon Raw actually Raw? It is, in the sense that the image is not de-bayered before you get it – this step is still done in post. You can think of using Canon Raw as being a bit like ordering a steak medium rare.

Here is a handy photo showing how the pixels are actually being sent out to be recorded:

Basically, instead of sending out an Alpha along with the RAW, it's sending the other green channel. Since Canon is not starting out with a 16-bit image pipeline like RED and Sony (Canon is only doing 10-bit at best), they are trying to save as much detail as possible by locking in certain attributes. These engineering hacks have worked in the past for Canon, who always seems to pull out better image quality than the specs would suggest.

So how is this going to translate into actually using the footage? Canon is only sending out uncompressed RAW, which at 10-bit, works itself out to almost a Terabyte an hour. You should probably let that sink in for a second before you consider using Canon for RAW shooting. 1 Terabyte an hour is absolutely massive, and it means you're only going to be using it for serious or high-paying projects, because your hard drive bill is going to go up in a hurry, especially since you've got to back up that footage. I've written about uncompressed 4K RAW before, and the situation is tricky to say the least. It's one of the reasons that Sony and RED have come up with compressed versions of their RAW formats (and most DSLRs have some form of compressed RAW for still images).

The Canon RAW will be stored in what are called file stacks, and each image will be an RMF, or Raw Media Format file. In post these 11MB-per-frame files will technically be RAW, but will be treated more as a DPX file since a lot of the information is no longer metadata, but actual values. These RMFs will also contain audio and the rest of the camera metadata, and Canon will release an application to "develop" these files into a usable format, just like the other manufacturers have done for their RAW formats.

Part of Canon's strategy (not unlike RED's, either) is reusing sensors that they have already spent a tremendous amount of R&D on -- which is why this is the same sensor as the C300 and the new C100. In order to maximize every ounce of image quality, they've chosen not to provide the user with full RAW capabilities. While it makes the camera a lot less appealing to me, it doesn't mean that the image quality alone will necessarily be worse than the competitors -- you've just got to make sure you're shooting as if it is a compressed format. The big thing about this camera though is that you don't actually have to shoot RAW, but you can shoot uncompressed 12-bit 2K. While I don't know if that's worth the $26,000 asking price compared to say, a $4,000 RED ONE MX, it could still be a worthy rental depending on your needs. The big thing with this camera is that you'll need to mount an external recorder if you want anything above 50mbps 8-bit 4:2:2 1080p, and if you want RAW, you'll need something like the AJA Ki Pro Quad (connected via Thunderbolt to a computer). To get the RAW in a self-contained unit, some options currently available are the Convergent Design Gemini or the Codex S Onboard Recorder.

I always talk about Canon's astronomical prices when they're compared to the competitors on features alone, but they know how to make a pleasing image, and if you already like the way Canon cameras create an image, I doubt you would be disappointed by the C500.

If you want to try out a sample RMF file, Andy has provided one, so head on over to AbelCine to check it out.

What do you guys think about the image from this camera? What about Canon's way of achieving RAW, do you feel like it defeats the purpose, or are you confident Canon is looking out for the best interest of the user? How about the price, if you were in the market for buying a camera, what looks appealing right now considering the specs? What about considering image quality?

Links:

[via AbelCine]

Your Comment

82 Comments

wayyy too expensive. i'd rather pay for film school.

November 6, 2012

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MRGABE

This camera is less expensive than the cost of a thesis film and is no where near the cost of three years in graduate school.

November 6, 2012

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ryan

What you mean, in order to use professional equipment in the way it meant to be, you need to be a professional

November 6, 2012

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Daniel Rico

It is pricey!

November 6, 2012

2
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Ron

Says the person on nofilmschool.com haha

November 6, 2012

3
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Ben Corwin

I bet its great but it does seem very pricey, especially considering what Red have just announced.

November 6, 2012

1
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Peter Kelly

Seems like a fun rental.

November 6, 2012

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john jeffreys

Hey Joe

Thanks for posting this. Great post. Canon's Raw is very different than most, but their decision to apply correction at the sensor level versus in post does not make it less capable. You could argue that adjusting the Raw data in post with ISO & White Balance changes is more destructive and limiting than doing it in camera at the sensor level. The C500 out performs most cameras when it comes to sensitivity and noise levels, so I wouldn't say their raw data is inferior to what Red or Sony is doing (actually Sony bakes in White Balance in their Raw data too.) It just means you have less adjustments down the road.

Side notes, the Ki Pro Quad doesn't record raw, just ProRes, it spits out the Raw data via Thunderbolt for a computer to record. You'd need a Gemini or Codex S for raw capture. The C500 PL is shipping too. Just backordered.

Andy

November 6, 2012

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Ahh, somehow I've missed that essential detail about the Ki Pro Quad, thank you, and thanks for your own really informative post!

November 6, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

Joe I thought you read my posts religiously...I posted as much in the RED pricecut thread! =(

November 7, 2012

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Peter

The part I had missed was that the Ki Pro Quad does not actually record RAW onboard. Even though I'd written about it before, I hadn't remembered that you needed to send Thunderbolt out to actually record the RAW image from the C500.

http://nofilmschool.com/2012/04/aja-ki-pro-quad-4k-raw/

November 7, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

humm, 26k and fixed mount? Having an Epic for 19k(brain) and you still have 7k in accessories which is mroe than enough to make it very functional, it wont be competition for Red. Canon wake up and get your prices right.

November 6, 2012

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Marcus

10bit for 26K. Waay overpriced! Just like the C300 is waaay overpriced for an 8bit 1080p camera. And the C100 waay overpriced for a 24mbps camera. Cant just somebody hack the C100 to enable this BS RAW recording...its all just software anyway. What a dick Canon has become,

November 6, 2012

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Quobetah

To be fair to Canon, it is 10-bit log encoded, which gives you a 12 bit linear result. Also it is giving you uncompressed 4k data, very different than the compressed raw flavors in the Red world. More importantly this camera makes a really great image. Like Joe said, I think a lot of people will use the camera for the high quality 2K uncompressed output. Record that to a Ki Pro Quad or other recorder and you got some along the lines of an Alexa.

November 6, 2012

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I'm not saying Canon isn't trying their best to please all potential customers of their brand, but to compare this 2K output with the output of an Alexa is a couple bridges too far. Aside from the overall technology difference of both camera's and the different 'look' they therefore produce, at 2K, 12bit 4:4:4 the major spec that does not compare easily is DATA RATE. Arri's Alexa shoots at 264Mbit/s in it's ProRes mode. What data rate does the Canon achieve? More close to 50Mbit/s. Let's keep this camera in its own league.

November 6, 2012

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Jeroen

No mate, its 50mbs in HD when recording MXF, effectively you can use that as your proxy.

The higher resolution bit rates will be determined by the codec / format you turn capture to via the onboard recorders. 4K Canon RAW has a huge data rate. If you use software after this to bring it down to ProRes you can get best out of a 444 codec easily and I think you would get fantastic image quality doing this.

The question you need to weigh up is the time and processing power required to make the RAW and then debayer.

Otherwise I think straight to 2K is a good workflow as Andy has already mentioned

November 7, 2012

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Arun

How will the Ki Pro Quad record 12bit 2K?

I believe the Gemini will get 2K dpx onboard but have not verified if this is true, if you know that would be useful info

Also I believe Codex can do 2K but it is captured as their own file type that requires further Codex software to turn into a dpx or another uncopressed format

Cheers

November 7, 2012

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Arun

Downsampling increases dynamic range. Bit depth must be increased to have more dynamic range capacity at a given resolution. So if an implementation of 10 bit 4K is using all 10 bits to represent useful dynamic range, when it is downsampled to 2K the bit depth will have to be increased (to 12 bit as implementations tend to use even numbers of bits) or else a truncation of information will occur.

Generally video statistics are incompletely described as the relationship between bit depth available, actual dynamic range in practice, and fidelity (the fineness of gradations available within a practical dynamic range) are glossed over. Linear PCM audio doesn't have this problem as it is a linear encoding, and thus a proper dynamic range spec (from the noise floor to 1% THD) tells you what you need to know. 24 bit linear PCM audio (properly dithered) implies 144dB of unweighted dynamic range but practical implementations are less than that in practice, with the very best in production only touching 130dB or so of DR.

November 7, 2012

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Peter

Cheers for the explination v.useful! :)

Was actually asking if anyone new whether the KI Pro Quad could capture 2K onboard, or if you need to use a thunderbolt connected to a mac to do this

November 7, 2012

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Arun

Don't be ignorant… Same sensor doesn't mean same technology overall… The DSP and the buffer have to be different to record RAW material.

I don't hear you saying anything about scarlet having the same sensor as the Epic… that's deliberate hardware limitation too.

November 6, 2012

1
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Nej

Scarlet's internals are the EPIC parts that have not passed EPICs QC requirements. Hardware limitation.

November 6, 2012

3
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quobetah

O yeah..Id rather get an Epic Kit than this.

November 6, 2012

1
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Quobetah

Seems that Canon doesn't see what the competition is doing, could this be their Kodak moment? There's going to be a generational shift here where younger filmmakers and enthusiasts are going to see the BMCC, the RED One, even the GoPro Hero3, as tools for their generation and that Canon is for old wealthy people. Kodak dismissed digital initially because "Who would want a 768KB image recorded to floppy disk, when they can have rich detailed film?"

Wake up Canon before you ruin your brand with arrogance!

November 6, 2012

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JWise

> could this be their Kodak moment

Oh snap!...

November 7, 2012

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Natt

Yes, everyone. Get an Epic instead. Because it's not like the C500 has ungodly low light capabilities that can come in handy on a documentary shoot while the Epic is worse than the 7D.

Oh wait....

November 6, 2012

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TehRandax

Love this argument by people. It seems all docs are shot during the night at ISO6400 and, for whatever reason, can't receive a simple denoise pass in post.

November 6, 2012

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1. Having a good look in camera is best, because denoising doesn't work well.
2. Some of the cheaper zoom lenses good for documentary (24-105) are at F4, which means you'll need to jack up your ISO. I was shooting with that lens on the 7D just the other night, and in a well lit gym, I had to jack up my ISO to 3200, which didn't look good. I doubt the EPIC can handle that.
3. 5K/4K is not suitable for that work, considering you're probably filming for TV or the web. And unless you're planning on using the INSANE crop factor on the EPIC at 2K, shooting with a 1080p camera is better.

I'm not saying that the EPIC is bad. For strictly narrative, it's almost perfect. But, just so I'll be prepared for all gigs, I don't want a camera that's perfect at one thing. I want a camera that's great for everything.

November 6, 2012

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TehRandax

Yeah but why spend the money on this to use it at 2K? Better to just go with something like the C100 or a Sony cam (actually quite good in low light).

I think my problem with Canon and this pricing is...who are they marketing this to??

November 6, 2012

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Like I said: Having 4K as an option is great for when I'm doing narrative work.

November 6, 2012

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TehRandax

Agree!

November 6, 2012

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Ron

I just shot a feature with the Epic and the Canon 24-105 L was my primary lens. The low light capabilities on the Epic far surpass that of the 7D and we shot at ISO 800 the whole time. I only had 4 Arri LoCasters and available light. We didn't miss any shots. Plenty of nighttime work on the project as well. Noise isn't really ever an issue unless you are showing in 4K as a 2K finish from 5K material greatly eliminates the visibility of noise.

November 7, 2012

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Chris

The crop factor shouldn't be a problem for Epic at 2k...just shoot full K's and downrez. Oversampling is better quality anyway (look at the Baraka bluray...first bluray to scan at 8K...it shows, it's the best I've bluray I've seen).

That way you'd get the best 2K quality, as well as that good ol' super-35 depth of field. If you think it's overkill...transcode down to 2k and delete. I'd rather have 4k/5k and not use it than not have it at all.

Btw, I'd never shoot 7D at 3200. I avoid going above 640, and 1250 is the max.

November 18, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

oh come on now haha every camera has its quirks...the C camera are all in one, suited for run and gun and docu stuff while the DSMC's are more for narrative, intricate and slow cinema shit

November 6, 2012

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john jeffreys

Yes, if you're shooting a documentary you want to lug around an external recorder and record uncompressed 4k at a terabyte an hour.

High sensitivity isn't really that important on high-end cinema cameras now that they've all gotten so good...for example the F55 sacrifices sensitivity for a global shutter, a decision I heartily endorse. If you're interested in documentary work and super low light, the C300 seems more appropriate.

November 6, 2012

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Gabe

I don't do strictly documentary. I do narrative as well. So having a 1080p low light camera that has the option for 4K when I need it is good for me.

November 6, 2012

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TehRandax

Seems like the F5 is that camera...is there something I'm missing that makes the C500 an attractive choice?

November 6, 2012

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Gabe

The F5 is a great camera, but it's size, weird form factor, and PL mount only makes it less attractive for docs.

Plus, for all we know, the F5 could cost $30k. We don't know yet.

November 6, 2012

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TehRandax

So c500, c300, epic, Sony f5 are lacking and 7ds the best?

November 6, 2012

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Ryan

The Epic isn't worse than the 7D. At 2K you can work well with ISOS around 4000.

November 6, 2012

1
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I don't care about raw or 4k to be honest. I make my living shooting commercials and web promo / marketing videos. The only reason I'm interested in all this raw / red / sony news is because I want to see it how it affects the c300 or c100. I just want a camera that easily makes use of my canon ef glass, records audio internally, has a killer image, and makes my life easier. I'm not interested in tons of extra steps, huge file sizes, loads of accessories, proprietary media, etc. The high frame rates would be nice but I don't have to have them.
There are two ways to make better money in this game. Charge more or keep more per project via working faster. I try to do both but only so much is possible.

November 6, 2012

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news flash.... the world is bigger than just you

November 6, 2012

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Marko

Marko, I get that. I didn't say it was pointless. I read every post on here, and nearly every comment. In fact I'm a camera nerd if you ever saw one. It's worth mentioning thought that for every 1 person out there who is hoping for 4k raw there are a hundred people like me.

November 6, 2012

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totaly agree. for run and gun stuff, documentary and fast stuff the red cameras are more painful than helpful. i have the possibility to borrow an epic for free but i only did a few tests with it. the image is great and it´s also great what you can do with it in post but it´s just difficult to organize the workflow. it´s a very slow kind a work for me. if could chose between a red epic and even a c300 i would not think for a second and take the canon. that doesn´t mean that i like the pricing of canon. on the other hand i think you cannot compare a fs700 with c300. the fs700 is the clear winner in terms of numbers and price, but the image quality and the form factor and also the build quality of the c300 is much better. it´s really hard to compare. and the red is a totaly different thing. it´s a cam for feature film and their workflow and budgets. there are also a few things on the red which i don´t like. it is heavy, it is loud, it needs a lot of batterie power and a lot of hard disk space. this sounds stupid but it´´s no joke, this are thinks that matter for me.

November 6, 2012

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ben

I'd rather shoot RAW for docs than anything else. The workflow stuff is fine in post---it's on set (I mean---on location)...where you don't have that control. I try to still light docs as much as I can, but I'm not doing anywhere near what I do on a narrative.

I don't get the resistance to RAW. Having that kind of control is the best thing ever. ...but 1TB an hour for RAW? Forget it. You lost me a long time ago, Canon.

November 18, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

I have a personal leaning to the Canon's based on my own preference for the images they produced however the recent RED price drop had my head turned for a bit. However I am still on the fence especially with regards to how quickly a RED would get into my hands were I to order one.
More on the topic, I prefer to bake in more of my look into the image rather than spending a million hours locked away in a post lab processing the footage for a look (time better spent focusing on other areas). If I am reading correctly and the strategy here (with the Canon RAW) means I can do more work in camera without having to wrangle terabytes of footage first then I am all in. Something like that to me makes 4k far more digestible within a shoot with tighter time and budgetary constraints.

November 6, 2012

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Kaiel Eytle

Any confirmation about this guy's info saying RED's Dragon sensor currently is incompatible with the Scarlet and Epic, and RED might introduce a new camera brain just to use it, and Jim is retiring? Woah.

November 6, 2012

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quobetah

Most of that is overblown and we've reported that Dragon will require additional electronics in EPIC (it was always going to require more boards for SCARLET). "Incompatible" is a falsehood. We'll have a post about the other stuff soon.

November 7, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

They will replace the sensor, some boards and electronics. Current Epic/Scarlet internals aren't any good for the Dragon. It just can't handle all the awesomeness and fabulousness of the new guy, apparently, lol.

November 7, 2012

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Natt

a terabyte an hour? thats a deal breaker right there. One of the most important part of RED raw is the ability to change ISO and white balance and other metadata in post. baking this in doesnt make sense. 26K is way over priced.

November 6, 2012

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carlos

Not true, You should never change your ISO even for RED, unless done so intentionally. ISO controls dynamic Range distribution. your image will break if you rely on adjusting gain setting in post rather than exposing the sensor properly during recording. Whether ISO is baked or not really makes no real difference. If iso was fixed in RED you would have less people complaining about noise.

November 6, 2012

1
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ryan

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