Canon Cinema EOS system

Harvey Glen with the C300 camera.

The Canon EOS C300 has been the most highly anticipated camera from Canon. With the immense success of its HDSLR range namely the 5DMKII and 7D, the name Canon has become synonymous with filming. The video function on the HDSLR range may have been an afterthought but it revolutionised the film industry. 

It is interesting to note that a session finale of House was shot on the Canon EOS 5D MKII. Personally, I have shot countless commercials and projects with the Canon HDSLRs and do not mind admitting that I am an avid fan — even if they don’t naturally lend themselves to filming.  

The Canon EOS C300 has the EOS title and a lot to live up to, so when asked to test it, how could I possibly refuse?

First things first. The Canon C300 is not a stills camera with a video function. It is a video camera. My very first question was ‘will it suffer from the shutter jello effect’? The answer is ‘No’. 

Once I took it out of the box, the first thing that caught my eye was the fact that it has two buttons marked + – ND. 

‘It has built-in ND filters?’ Wow! What a result! These NDs range from 2 and 4 to 6 stops. This is a practicality that is essential with any ‘run-and-gun’ style shooting. 

Secondly, in terms of ergonomics, the camera feels much more like a traditional video camera. It has a removable/ adjustable handgrip that you can angle to your personal comfort. When held in this position, it does seem reminiscent of your trusted 5D MKII. Only, it is more meaty and robust, which for me is a positive.

There were two more parts in the box – a handle and an LCD viewfinder combined with XLR inputs. These can both be mounted directly onto the camera using the hot shoes. When both are mounted, however, the camera feels tall and somewhat bulky. 

After five minutes, I took the handle off and kept the LCD/ XLR on directly. This reduced the bulkiness and made the camera much more streamlined and less top heavy.

Impressively, this camera has two XLR inputs. The only concern is that they are not directly on the camera body itself. This accessory has to be plugged in with two multi-pin connectors. From past experience, such cables are easily damaged especially when regularly plugged in and out and that is frightening.

I can almost imagine the scenario. You are on location and one pin gets damaged. This could mean not being able to record sound directly to the camera plus it would then have to be sent for repair, leaving you without an LCD screen (for probably some weeks) and any sound to boot.

Surprisingly, the C300 does not have an internal mic. It does, however, feature a 3.5mm audio jack input on the camera body, so if you have something like a Rode mic, you could mount it directly onto the camera and hence, not rendering everyone’s favourite audio syncing software completely redundant.

Enough about sound. Let’s go back to the camera itself.

I found the LCD a little reflective in sunlight, but on the positive side, it is a decent size and resolution at 1,555,000 dots and can be spun around to suit your viewing angle. 

If you do spin it all the way round, you have to press the mirror button as it doesn’t auto flip. This seems a bit odd. The LCD can generate a good exposure aid in the way of a waveform monitor, something I have got used to with the ARRI Alexa. 

Sadly, the C300’s electronic viewfinder (EVF) does not generate a waveform. I wonder why, but this may be something Canon will add with a future firmware update. 

Like a real camera, it does have an HD SDI out and Gen Lock making the C300 much more user-friendly in the professional market. 

You can get the camera in either a Canon EF or PL mount, but you can’t interchange them like you could with the Scarlet X which comes in the same price bracket. 

The Scarlet X and Sony F3 is what this camera should really be pitted against with regards to price. B&H video sells the C300 at $15,999 for either mount configuration, while Sony F3 retails at $13,000 and you can get the RED Scarlet for $15,965.

The C300 records at 50 Mb/s (CBR) 4:2:2 which is decent and 50 mb/s meets the BBC standard. This means you don’t have to add a Nano Flash (or similar) recorder like you do with the Sony F3. For me, that extra hassle is enough reason to put me off the F3 altogether.  

The highest resolution for the C300 is 1920×1080: 59.94i/29.97p/23.98p; 50i/25p; true 24p (24.00) – at least it’s true 24p.

Many end users have criticised Canon for not making a camera capable of a higher resolution, stating that 1920×1080 is dated, but I disagree. 

Yes, we all want to shoot 5K like you can with RED Epic and Scarlet, but how many times have we seen people mess that up in post production?

I have seen it way too many times. A lot of production companies and many inhouse post facilities still cannot get their heads around the RED workflow. 

I am not talking about small companies with lower production values. From first-hand experience, I know that even big broadcasters cannot seem to manage it. I put this down primarily to lack of knowledge and resistance to working with new workflows.

For many projects, 1920×1080 at 50 Mb/s resolution is way more than sufficient. Until the day, progammes are broadcast in 3K, 4K or 5K, there will still be room for true high definition. 

Now, the one serious drawback is if you want to crank the camera to 50p. The resolution then drops to the same as the Sony F3 1280×720. As my personal trainer would say, ‘that is weak’. Canon could have at least delivered 50p in 1920×1080.

Another negative for the C300 is that it is 8bit, which pales in comparison to the Scarlet 16bit Raw processing.

Back to the positives of which there are many. For one, the ISO range is beyond fantastic 320-20,000 in 1 or 1/3 stop increments. I tested all of the variants of ISO in a very dimly-lit room and was blown away by the results. It seems pretty much clean all the way up to 10,000, plus this slight noise can even be slightly cleaned up in post production (cleaned, not fixed in post). 

You can literally record someone sitting pretty much in the dark as long as there is some light hitting the sensor. To me, at 10,000 ISO, the image noise looked comparable with the F3 at +6db. 

At 20,000 ISO, the blacks are much more milky and there is more visible noise, but what would you expect? It’s nothing like a hyper gain of 24db, and the noise is more representative of film grain. In a weird way, it kind of looks organic — seriously!

For some types of documentary filming, having such low light capability could prove invaluable and I am sure content will be captured that would have otherwise never been possible before. Shooting at a wide open aperture has become incredibly popular, especially with the likes of the 5D MKII. 

The C300 has a Super 35mm CMOS sensor, which will enable you to shoot super shallow depth of field. Sometimes, you may want to be able to see the background (controversial, I know) especially if it’s an iconic background. 

With the high performance of the ISO, you can confidently increase it and stop down thus being able to see more than a few pretty blurs in the background. This will also enable focus to be much less critical. We all know that focus cannot be fixed in post and there’s nothing worse than a subject that drifts in and out of focus with no artistic justification. 

The C300 has some great Gamma settings – 8 in total. Of this, four normal settings are meant for productions due to be viewed on a television. Two Cine settings emulate the look of film. Cine 2 has a slightly softer contrast than Cine 1.  EOS Standard recreates the look of HDSLRs and finally, my favourite Canon LOG.

Canon LOG has the highest dynamic range; it provides the flattest image and is as close to RAW as you will get. Once graded, the images can look beautiful and if you know there will be sufficient grading time in post, it is definitely my recommendation to shoot in this mode. The C300 has a clear scan function, which anybody who has ever had a computer monitor in frame will be able to appreciate fully.

The shutter can be set to degrees or seconds. This is handy if you come from a film background. 

The white balance function is simple to use and like the 5D/7D, you can dial your own degree of Kelvin (colour temperature) in increments of 100K. I am a huge fan of this feature and use it on a regular basis.  

The LCD display at the back of the camera is very useful and with the use of a rubber nipple, one can toggle through the ISO, shutter and white balance.

You can get into the menu and easily assign different buttons to do different tasks. I found it helpful to assign the + – head phone level to more useful functions. You can also add an SD card to save your personal settings which can be loaded from camera to camera.   

The exposure can be controlled via a dial and the Zebra feature is present too. This feature is missing on the HDSLR camera but is incredibly useful.

Changing exposure on the shot is not seamless, but not clunky either. I still prefer having the iris on the lens for maximum control, which you will have with the PL mount version and, of course, much more expensive lenses.

There is a “magnify” button on the side of the camera that can actually be used while recording.  If ever in doubt about focus during a shot, which I know I have, this feature is useful. Usually, you wait for a bit whilst considering what to do, as you really don’t want to stop the action, so you change the focus back and forth to check sending the image soft only to realise you were sharp originally. The magnify function is a superb confidence enhancer.

Other useful focus aids on the camera are the tried-and-tested peaking, which can be turned on and off from the side of the camera. This can be set to varying colours and strengths to suit personal preference. The overall images produced on the C300 are incredible. It has a very simple post workflow and as it takes CF cards, it is incredibly quick to transfer footage.  

Overall, I think the C300 is a neat piece of kit and I guarantee it will definitely be finding its way onto more and more shoots in the near future. I have DoP friends who have already received theirs while others are awaiting theirs.

Would I buy one? As it’s essentially the same price as a Scarlet X, the whole 5K issue does still bother me slightly in one way, but it really depends on your usage. 

Let’s face it. We’ve all made some amazingly beautiful productions on HDSLR cameras and the C300 trumps them in every respect especially for the person operating and the final image. It has all of the functions of a real camera and don’t forget the Canon Log and remarkable ISO capability.  

Harvey Glen is a Director of Photography with more than 14 years experience. He’s presently based in Dubai and has shot a broad range of programming from comedy series and corporates to TVCs. His works have won two Bafta awards, one Emmy and a Promax.  

 Tech Specs

The Pros:

* It can shoot Canon Log, which means the footage is as flat as possible (similar to RAW) retaining maximum info for grading

* CMOS Sensor equivalent to 3-perf Super 35mm. Gives a very shallow depth of field

* 50Mb/s is the BBC standard. No need to add additional recording devices to the camera

* Built in NDs 2,4,6 stops are incredibly handy for run-and-gun shooting and reducing/ increasing depth of field

* Incredible ISO capability. Amazingly clean footage in very low light

* Zebra and Peaking, both can be used at the same time and set to varying levels

* You can Magnify the image whilst filming, which is a superb for a confidence check with focus


The Cons:

 * The maximum resolution for 50fps is 720p, which is a little weak in 2012

* Only recording 8 bit; this is quite low

* No Waveform in the EVF; this could be corrected in a firmware update

* The LCD is a little reflective

* There is no built-in mic, which isn’t helpful if you’re recording sound separately and want to sync via a sound syncing software

* The LCD and XLR has to be attached separately with two multi pin leads that could be easily damaged

Wish list for the C300:

* Adding the ability to shoot RAW and increasing the overall resolution

* Being able to crank the camera up to 120fps

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