December 12, 2017
review

REVIEW: Canon C200 Offers a Major Step Up in Image Quality

The improvement of the latest in Canon's C-line is considerable.

This fall, Canon launched its brand new C200, filling many filmmakers with excitement. The platform offers several features we were actively hoping would come to the "affordable" end of the cinema line, including internal RAW, 4K, and especially improvements to the autofocus functionality.

The Cinema line has been especially popular with documentary filmmakers, so we here at No Film School decided to split the review up into two parts, this one more focused on the technical aspects of the camera and its image quality, and the other being a field test from Liz Nord to discuss the real-life experience of shooting with the camera for a short doc project. Look for that in a few weeks.

With the new C200, fine detail in the images is well preserved, even in 1080p mode.

Improvements over C100

The original C100 launched for roughly the same price as the C200, only five short years ago in the summer of 2012, and what is particularly amazing is how much the image quality between the two has improved. In comparison even to the improvements in the top of the line Alexa cameras or the RED line (which, honestly, haven't really changed much with the exception of the Alexa 65; most of the improvements in those cameras are ergonomic), the image quality improvement with the C200 is immediately noticeable, and considerable. 

The C100—when perfectly exposed—could deliver great results, but there was often something that felt milky or thin with the imagery from the camera. Some combination of bitrate and compression smoothed out fine detail in a way that could leave the footage feeling a bit indistinct in a way that the C200 just doesn't. With the new C200, fine detail in the images is well preserved, even in 1080p mode, creating much nicer imagery than the C100. Whether it's the higher original resolution showing the benefits of oversampling or improved image processing, there is a distinct and noticeable step up in imagery with the C200.

Context in the C-line

The bottom end of the Cinema line has always been its hottest space, with the higher-end C300 and especially the C500 in an odd place in terms of pricing where they felt just slightly too expensive for what they offered. The C300 has some notable projects under its belt (Blue is the Warmest Color, among others), but it never took off in the volume of the lower-priced C100.

For around the same price, you often ended up moving a project over to an older RED MX body to get that functionality, unless you were obsessed with weight above all else (which explains why the C300 has been popular in the documentary space). The C700, by adding the power support features users expect at the higher price point, has been a hit, but the C100 has been the most competitive in the line, and the C200 is a major improvement on that. You are going to see a lot of these cameras soon.

The orange of low pressure sodium streetlights is not particularly harsh on this camera. Those lights, which are everywhere, often get particularly unpleasant and harsh, and the way they are mapped on the C200 is definitely useable.Credit: Charles Haine

Shooting in RAW

One of the headline features of this camera has been 4K RAW at $7500 (it was, in fact, our headline), but of course, nothing is ever as simple as we might hope. While competitive cameras like the Blackmagic URSA Mini offer 4K RAW at this price point, it only records to CFast and SSD, and the same is true here. To shoot RAW you need the pricy CFast cards and there is currently no way to get RAW out of the camera otherwise to something like an external recorder, as opposed to the RAW support announced for the Atomos on the EVA1.

This isn't a nightmare. You can still shoot raw to CFast cards, but the reality is that this isn't likely to be the main use case for the camera. The cheapest CFast card available right now is $119 at B&H for a 32GB card. The same size SD card sets you back $20, and if you are shooting an SSD camera or monitor/recorder you can be looking at 256GB for not much more money. CFast pricing and the relative scarcity of hardware requiring its use work against it as a common format, for now, though Sony moving into the market will hopefully bring prices down. Even the C200 itself accepts both CFast and SD, meaning it won't like push more CFast adoption.

Credit: Charles Haine

RAW vs. H.264

RAW is indeed a help with certain workflows, but the files themselves are also much larger. With RAW, you are going to only be able to fit about 30 minutes of footage on that 32GB card, while you'll be able to shoot for about 240 minutes on that $20 32GB SD card in 4K H.264. Add into that the need to store multiple copies of your source media, and the costs of raw really add up. Yes, you'll see RAW used on some feature films, commercials, and music videos. But for documentary, ENG, BTS, or even many narrative projects, this camera will be used with H.264 to SD cards.

Fortunately, the H.264 looks very good. You don't have the same power to correct for issues in post, but that's OK if you can make it look good in camera in the first place. When comparing RAW vs. H.264 on this camera, we noticed a slight softness to the RAW (perhaps the H.264 has some sharpening applied in camera, as if often the case), and ever-so-slightly better color mapping. The red jacket above, for instance, is more like the "orange" red of the RAW image on the left in reality, and less like the "blue" red of the H.264 on the right. This is lightly due to not restricting the RAW capture to the tighter Rec. 709 gamut.

H.264 image, this is precisely the type of fine detail that tended to "clump" on C100 and holds well in the C200.Credit: Charles Haine

Even in H.264 mode, the camera holds up with pleasant, useable, clean images. While H.264 gets (and deserves) a lot of grief, in reality, it's a codec that can be expanded in a ton of different applications. Most of our tests were done in H.264 for the simple reason that we believe this is mostly going to be an H2.64 camera, especially in the doc world. Once you bump up into the world of narrative, there are other (admittedly more expensive) cameras that might steal its thunder, but for the documentary/truly indie world that H.264 fits well into, this camera performs.

Street scenes with the zoom, which only opens to a 2.8, got plenty of exposure from ambient and street to provide a good base level. Again, reds get a bit more blueish saturation in the H.264 (on the right, split is in the fence), but the low light is just as useable H.264 or raw.Credit: Charles Haine

Low light performance

ISO has really gone off to the races in the last few years, often simply because manufacturers realized that the inclusion of insane ISO figures can get marketing attention, even if in reality the footage produced at those ridiculous numbers is grainy to the point of being unusable. However, we found with the C200 that we were quite happy with the footage up until around ISO 5000, and would only recommend going beyond that in situations where you were both comfortable with grain and confident with noise removal tools in post.

The RAW comparison shot above, for instance, is light from streetlights and the red reflection on the fence is just a stoplight, not particularly bright sources that you would normally depend on for such nice reflections. Our noise tests got greener as we went, though we suspect that was due to a green cast in the internal ND filter and not actually a green cast to higher ISOs.

Credit: Charles Haine
Credit: Charles Haine

Drawbacks

The one area where the C200 can be said to be weak is in the body design. When the C-line first emerged, it was a major improvement on the terrible ergonomics of the 5D Mark II, where many filmmakers were bending over backward to force a stills camera to give them cinema-quality images. The C-line offered more set-friendly body design while giving us that great 5D type image, and we were overjoyed.

Mounting optionsCredit: Charles Haine

However, a lot has changed in the lifecycle of the C-line, and the body is starting to show its age. While Canon has done a nice job of giving multiple bottom mounting points to make balancing the camera easier (see above), our biggest complaint is the massive viewfinder on the back.

It's never felt particularly ergonomic to use the viewfinder on the back of these cameras. You ideally want the weight on your shoulder, and would use an external viewfinder. Keeping the viewfinder in place is clearly designed as a broadcast-friendly feature. However, not only does it add weight (a little, but every bit counts), it also protrudes quite a bit, making it far more likely that you are going to need to step up a size when sticking one of these on a stabilizer to avoid hitting the viewfinder on a stabilizer arm. In 2017 this matters way more than it did in 2012, and it's definitely one element making the camera body feel a bit dated.

Hardware volume control is such a pleasure over a DSLRCredit: Charles Haine

Conclusion

If you are a busy working documentary cameraperson, or are preparing a feature doc, or work in the world of low-budget commercials and documentaries, this camera needs to be on your comparables list and is worth a weekend rental from KitSplit. If you are an action shooter, with strong opinions about Movi vs. Ronin and a habit of constantly finding new ways to put your camera in new situations, the C200 still deserves a look but probably lower on your list than other competitors that feel more focused on that world.

Available now for $7499 at B&H.

TL:DR

  • Raw gives slightly nicer colors but even in H.264 this camera gives great images
  • Major step forward over C100
  • Loose the viewfinder, Canon
  • Low Light powers getting pretty darn good

Your Comment

19 Comments

Correction: you only get *4* minutes on a 32GB card in RAW mode. I think you were calculating for MBps rather than Mbps. You need to divide the Mbps by 8 to get the MBps.

December 12, 2017 at 10:21AM

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David Ells
DP
88

For those wondering Raw bitrate runs at 1 Gbps or 125 MB/s or 7.3 GB/min. Seems like Canon created their own 3:1 compression similar to BMD on the Ursa Mini Line.

December 14, 2017 at 1:45AM

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Kyle Acker
Cinematographer/ Video Editor
438

I have a C200 on rental right now - the 128GB CFast I have was able to capture 16 minutes of RAW 4K.

halp.

December 16, 2017 at 6:47PM

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Nathan Tranbarger
Videographer, DP, Editor
88

The RAW is way better than the 8 bit. The big difference is that the raw is 12 bit color. The detail in the darks is far far better. Black hair has no detail on the 8 bit, but on the 12 you get full detail. 8 bit will always suffer showing colors in the bottom 3-4 stops of DR. 12 bit you will have 2x3 times the information there. Thats the big difference between the two.

The best indie workflow for this camera is to shoot RAW with the correct white balance and iso and then transcode to prores 4444 12 bit and delete the masters. Theres very little benefit to the RAW, you just want the 12 bit. At the end of the day RAW is 444 sampling anyhoo.

Lastly, for the first time canon has one rec 709 lut for the camera and it looks good in most situations. Arri's been doing that for a decade and everybody loves it. Finally other manufacturers are realizes people don't want choice on that front.

December 12, 2017 at 10:38AM

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Indie Guy
1090

I Purchased a C200 3 weeks ago and have shot 4 projects on it. As someone who primarily shoots on Alexas or REDs I have to say I am blown away by the C200.

By no means does this camera replace those cameras but it does fill a nice gap for my work. I have been using my C200 for light commercial work Shooting mostly raw and using the mp4s for interview coverage. I find even though it is an 8 bit codec, it is quite robust and more than good enough for an online delivery.

To be honest the main thing holding me back from buying the C200 was the fact it didn't have a 10 bit option in camera. Having shot 4 projects so far I can tell you for me, that isn't a problem anymore. Going RAW > Prores 444 is the way to go anyways if you need the extra color information but you really can get away with the mp4s depending on the project.

Its always project dependent and given the choice I will obviously still be picking up an Alexa for certain projects but The C200 is a viable option for anyone working on mid-high tier projects that can handle the workflow.

December 12, 2017 at 11:18AM

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Mack Calistan
Cinematographer
237

Hi Mack. I'm curious to know your opinion on the viability of transcoding the RAW to ProRes 422, or even LT via Resolve instead of going to 4444? I've tried it with a couple of sample clips I found online and I can't see an enormous difference, which appeals to me a little more if I am going to purchase this camera. I'm sure if you were grading the living daylights out of it, there would be a difference of course.

I'm just thinking of personal projects, shorts, music videos...those projects where you want things to go a little further than the MP4's might allow, but one might not want to sacrifice quite as much hard drive space if it's unnecessary. For corporate, and the majority of my commercial work I'd probably stick with MP4's.

Another question...have you cut any of the MP4's and RAW together? Something else that appeals to me is being able to shoot all day MP4's but if you want those wow beauty shots, or big sunsets/sunrise shots or anything like that you can switch to RAW. Thanks for any help!

December 13, 2017 at 5:55AM, Edited December 13, 5:57AM

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Liam Martin
DP, editor, part time director
796

Whether they can cut together is an exposure range question. If you want the MP4 to cut with the RAW, your exposure range needs to be pretty small. The wider it gets, the more information is captured in the bottom 3 stops for the 8 bit stuff and the more you'll start to see a difference. 8 bit only has 8 stops of dynamic range, 12 bit has 12 stops of dynamic range.

For the 4444 vs 422 stuff its a matter up whether or not you will lift your footage in post. If you ever plan to 4444 is much better. If you nail exposure and don't really adjust it up in post it won't kill you to do 422

December 13, 2017 at 11:55AM

5
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Indie Guy
1090

Why do you say that? 12-bit 4:4:4 and 12-bit 4:2:2 have the same color range (I use 12-bit as an example only).

December 15, 2017 at 3:45AM, Edited December 15, 3:47AM

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David Gurney
DP
1347

I am a bit taken back by the fact that we are discussing a $7500 cinema camera and we are actually talking about using a H.264 codec. WTH

December 12, 2017 at 1:08PM

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Yeah for the money the unknown yet, "Middle Codec" better be awfully good or this to me is now a Raw only camera. Crazy money to use as a 8bit camera. Might as well buy a C100 for 1500 bucks.

December 12, 2017 at 1:14PM, Edited December 12, 1:15PM

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Glad its not just me...lol

December 12, 2017 at 1:24PM

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For the Raw part of it is sort of a bargain. I guess my decision really rests, along with others, on how good this middle codec will be.

I am happy to see them make this as it pushes other manufacturers to do more for less money.

This new Panasonic camera, GH5s like some people are dubbing it, may well be some cheaper competition to it?? We will find out soon.

December 12, 2017 at 1:33PM

6
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No middle codec needed, screw 10 bit

December 12, 2017 at 4:18PM

9
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Indie Guy
1090

It'd be nice, though it sounds like it isn't going to happen (4:2:0, 8bit). Ohhh Canon.... http://www.newsshooter.com/2017/08/24/new-codec-coming-to-the-c200-in-20...

December 13, 2017 at 8:52AM

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No one who has shot on a c200 cares about the 4:2:0 at all.

The other important thing about the c200 is that you don't need to be a colorist/DIT to work with the log in post, you can just add saturation and contrast and call it a day if you want. Not many other cameras can do that, definitely not BM or Sony. Those cameras are just as good, but you need to know more about how to work with colors in post.

December 13, 2017 at 11:58AM

1
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Indie Guy
1090

I have to say the C200 is still close to the top of my list in spite of my initial 'no in-between codec' reservations. I just like the canon image. I've shot on a C100mkii for a couple of years and have rarely felt like complaining. I have a GH5 as well now and I can't really seem to nail the look I like especially if ghastly fluorescent lights are anywhere near it.

Also, I'm not an expert but Canon, Blackmagic, Arri and RED seem to have very natural and cinematic motion blur to my eyes where Sony doesn't and Panasonic is a bit hit and miss. Though the EVA1 is producing some nice images from what I've seen, my bias is showing itself and I'm thinking of pulling the trigger on the C200.

Having said all of that, I disagree about the H.264 vs the RAW. I've seen some absolutely incredible images from the RAW that are just not reproduced in the H.264. Then again...put a good story in front of it and it's unlikely to matter as always.

December 12, 2017 at 1:31PM, Edited December 12, 1:31PM

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Liam Martin
DP, editor, part time director
796

It's about time. Was starting to think you guys are working for Sony.
I created an account just to leave this comment.

December 13, 2017 at 9:13AM

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Noblechild
Editor/Camera/Director
74

To your comment on the viewfinder - Canon offers the C200B without it, or the other accessories.

December 13, 2017 at 5:28PM

0
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Yes, WTF to that viewfinder. How are you supposed to shoulder-mount this thing?

December 15, 2017 at 3:49AM

4
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David Gurney
DP
1347