Canon has launched a truly impressive combination of features in a tiny body with the C70, paying off a decade of expectations.
As someone old enough to remember the original launch of the Canon EOS Cinema line, the current announcement of the EOS C70 brings up a lot of nostalgia, but also some relief. Nostalgia because it feels like Canon is finally giving us what we were hoping for with the original C-line launch, and relief, because it's exciting to finally see the platform coming to more filmmakers' hands.
After falling in love with the 5D Mark II, we dreamed of a Canon camera that had that kind of imagery but was designed for working with a film set. That would include professional audio connectors, timecode, genlock for working multi-camera (or 3D), proper SDI monitoring, better dynamic range, more bit-depth, wider color gamuts, and a touch more resolution, 2K. At the time, it seemed obvious. Beef up the 5D or 7D body, adapt the sensor, and you would have a winner for independent filmmakers. Thus, when rumblings came out about the C-line, we were excited.
But honestly, while the C-line features wonderful cameras that have shot many amazing projects, they weren't that camera that I was dreaming about. Mostly, they were just too big, while not offering the image quality available from other available cameras. They were smaller and cheaper than the RED One and ARRI Alexa but not small enough to feel "small." The beauty discovered with the 5D Mark II, and then with the Sony a7S II, was how much fun it could be to shoot movies with a truly tiny camera body.
Gimbals came out and were able to stabilize cameras, we got used to rigging up quick car mounts or sticking cameras at the end of boom poles. Small became the name of a certain game that made working in tight spaces or doing wild things easier. The C70 feels like Canon finally figured out how to cram all that cinema goodness into a small body.
Of course, others have been doing that for quite a while now. You can't help seeing the influence from companies like RED and Blackmagic in the design of the C70. While it doesn't quite have the "Urban Tactical Assault" aesthetic of RED, it's clear that the success of cameras like the Epic and the upcoming Komodo clearly influenced Canon's thinking. More than that, though, this camera is a response to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and 6K.
Those cameras are monster hits among independent creators. Why? Because they provide the connectors we want (USB-C direct recording, XLR, SDI) in a small body that can shoot RAW. I'm still that one weirdo who thinks the Blackmagic bodies are too wide (you need an adapter to fit the Ronin-S, for instance), but otherwise, you can't argue with the package Blackmagic put together. By focusing on making a video camera in a still-sized body (without worrying about stills features at all), Blackmagic has truly forced others to keep up. At least when it comes to a certain price point.
If Canon was smart enough to realize that back then, those sales could've been theirs if they had put together the right combination. Blackmagic had to prove themselves in the camera market, while Canon already had the market share and the brand loyalty. They just didn't offer the right product to compete with what Blackmagic had to offer. While it's a bit late, Canon still has a shot at getting some of that market because of one key feature they have going for them that Blackmagic and RED are still trying to overcome: autofocus.
Autofocus is something filmmakers ignored until very recently. I remember well my first day in film school in the 90s and the teacher saying, "Step one, turn off autofocus on the camera." Autofocus just wasn't good enough for moving images back then. However, in the last few years, it has come a long way and is a legit tool in the motion environment. Not just in documentary and sports, but even in narrative work, where you are starting to see face detection and touch screen focus deliver results that are usable even in planned shots.
Most autofocus systems work best when using matching bodies and glass, and Canon has its own highly-evolved autofocus system working between its bodies and lenses. Blackmagic and RED don't make their own lens yet—though RED used to rehouse Sigma lenses as RED primes, they were never super popular—which leaves them out of the running. While Panasonic isn't a lens powerhouse, some options are pretty exciting, especially when Sigma lenses L-mount lenses are paired with the Panasonic S1H. This leaves the market largely open to Sony and Canon. While Sony has the a7S III priced around $3,500, you need a whole host of adapters to make it workable on a production set. The C70 seems to work straight out of the box.
And while full-frame sensors are getting all the press right now, the vast majority of motion content is still shot in Super 35mm. The addition of Canon's Dual Gain Output sensor will help a ton in low light conditions. Plus, the world of lenses that can be adapted to the C70 will make it even broader.
One small thing to point out is the naming. The C70 somewhat implies that we might see a C50/C30/C20 following the C700/C500/C300 logic. But that might all depend on how good the response is to the C70. It might just be too late.
What are your thoughts on the C70? Let us know in the comments below.