Is the Canon C100 Currently the Best Fully-Featured Budget Filmmaking Camera?
The Canon C100 is an interesting addition to the Cinema EOS line. Available for about a month now, the camera spec-wise falls right in line with the Sony FS100, except it has ND filters and isn’t capable of anything higher than 30fps. It’s designed to be a budget camera from Canon — as it’s basically a shrunken C300 with a different internal codec — but it’s more than twice as expensive as the nearest somewhat-affordable and high-quality DSLRs, the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800. Many have now gotten their hands on one, so let’s take a look at some of the results, and check out some more real-world footage examples.
This was a piece done by the team over at stillmotion for the launch of the C100, so while they aren’t going to bash the camera, I still believe you’re getting much of their honest opinions about using the gear:
Here is the behind the scenes video on that shoot:
Video review from Luke Neumann. The lenses used were: Nikkor Ai-s 20mm f 2.8, Nikkor Ai-s 50mm f 1.2, Canon 70-200 f 2.8 L II, Canon CN-E 85mm T 1.3 and an Isco Ultra Star 1.9x Anamorphic lens provided by Vid-Atlantic. Luke also has uploaded raw footage, so you can head on over to his site to check some out:
Some footage from Ryan Emanuel, captured in cinema lock to ProRes 4:2:2 with the Blackmagic Hyperdeck Shuttle 2, and only slight color adjustments in post. You can download this from Vimeo and get a better sense of the quality. On a side note, the C100 HDMI output is funky just like many other cameras, so you’ll have a 24p image (whatever your frame rate might be) wrapped in a 60i file in post, unless the external recorder can extract the 24p image on the fly, like the Atomos Ninja and the AJA Ki Pro.
Video review from Erik Naso:
When this camera was first announced, I don’t think I really understood why Canon was pricing it at $8,000. As it turns out, they were playing their MSRP to Street Price game, and the final price was always intended to be $6,500. Most of the big manufacturers do this with their video cameras, but not with their photo cameras. If anyone can explain this to me, I’m all ears. It could have something to do with tariffs or taxes, but from now on if Canon or Sony announce any new video cameras, it is safe to assume the prices will be 15%-20% lower than MSRP.
Watching the footage from Ryan above was actually one of the first times I really considered this to be a possible filmmaking camera. Up until now, I thought this was a good documentary/small commercial/wedding film camera. For those purposes, it’s fantastic, even if it is a little more expensive than the FS100. You’ve got great low-light performance, ND filters, and if you need to shoot internally, codec-wise you’re in the same ballpark as other Canon DSLRs — you won’t be able to push it infinitely and do tons of secondaries, but it’s going to get the job done, especially for web video. For some of those situations, however, two cameras might be better than one, and while you could buy a couple used Mark IIs and a Mark III for the same price as this camera, if you need more than one C100, you’re looking at $13,000. That’s a much heavier investment, but let’s get into where I think this can actually be used as a filmmaking camera.
If you’re trying to make a film for no money and steal shots (which I’ve done countless times), this camera will give you the best image, for the least amount of money, in the smallest and most fully-featured/ergonomic package possible. Yes the Sony FS700 will give you slow motion and eventually 4K, but it’s a bit more expensive, and the camera is a bit bigger and more unwieldy. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is not shipping in volume yet, but it’s a far quirkier camera in terms of overall features, and it trades features for better image quality than either the C100 or the FS700/FS100. I don’t think the C100 is the best camera for all filmmaking situations, but if you make work consistently in a specific way, and you want better resolution and image fidelity than you’re currently getting with a DSLR, this camera makes a lot of sense. As far as whether it looks “cinematic” or not, I think it looks as good as any DSLR, and there is no question plenty of great work has been made with those cameras.
It’s unfortunate that Canon didn’t have a much higher quality codec that they could have put in the C300 and the C500, and then put the 50mbps 4:2:2 codec into the C100. If that were the case, I might not even bother with an external recorder for most situations, as that codec is very robust. For the type of running and gunning that people want to do, an external recorder could slow you down significantly — not to mention there is always a risk of the HDMI being pulled out during a critical moment since this camera does not feature HD-SDI.
So there you go, I have seemingly done a 180 on this camera, but not necessarily for every situation. If your budget is about $3,000 to about $8,000 (keeping in mind that cameras always cost more than their street price), there are really only a few options for large sensor video cameras. You’ve got the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, FS100, C100, and FS700. If you aren’t constantly running and gunning, and more cameras is better than one good camera, the C100 might be a bit too expensive, and the only other two options are the FS100 and the BMCC. If you’re in controlled situations much of the time, and you don’t need the low-light performance, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is going to be the best bang for the buck (whenever they finally start shipping). The next more expensive camera, the FS700, gives way better slow motion options — so if that’s what you need most, I wouldn’t even give the C100 a look — but it’s not going to be the most comfortable or the most discreet camera in the world.
If, however, you’re shooting in lots of different situations with varying degrees of lighting control, you shoot anything from narrative to documentary to commercials, you need to operate with a tiny rig or no rig at all, you want XLR and ND filters on-board, and you need/want better resolution than a DSLR, then I think the C100 might be your best option right now. Does that mean it will always be that way? Of course not, but you shoot with the best camera you can get right now, because there will always be something better 6 months down the road. The C100 might have some slight usability issues, but if you look at the rest of the pack, all of the cameras below $10,000 are sacrificing something to save on the final cost.
I don’t think we’re too far off from having excellent cameras that are as good, if not better, than this one in the $3,000-$6,000 range. I would have loved to have seen Canon introduce this around $3,000-$4,000 and really put pressure on the rest of the industry, but they are a business and what I think something is worth is irrelevant — because it’s all about how much it’s worth to you if it can make your life easier and let you achieve high-quality results. If you look at it another way, this is a great rental camera if you’re on a really tight budget. While the C300 usually rents for only a little bit more, if you’re trying to save every penny, you could rent 2 of these for only a little more money than one C300. I think when it comes down to it, in a right camera for the right job scenario, the C100 checks off plenty of boxes.
What do you guys think? Has any of the footage above convinced you otherwise about this camera? Could you see yourself making a full narrative film with the C100 on the cheap? What about as a rental option? Let us know what you think in the comments.