The Camera: An Evaluation
The Canon EOS C300 is a cinematographer’s camera. By that, I mean it’s designed with professional work priorities in mind. For me, those priorities come down to: shutter, aperture, filtration, white balance and focus. This camera makes those adjustments easily available so that in seconds the operator may adjust each factor for a perfect shot. Below I’ve summarized the most important camera features:
Shutter: We filmed at 24P, and we dialed in a 180 degree shutter angle. Adjusting the shutter was as easy as toggling through the viewfinder display and bumping the angle up or down.
Aperture: We used three Canon EOS lenses, which we controlled aperture via a control wheel that you can find without looking for it, right on the left side of the body. It is a real pleasure to dial in an f-stop intuitively without having to reach around the camera body to the lens itself. (That sounds like a small thing until you’re shooting for hours. In the end it speeds and simplifies the process in a small way that adds up over time.)
Filtration: Canon has three built-in Neutral Density filters (2, 4 and 6 stops) behind the lens mount that change at the touch of a button. The adjustment of NDs is about an inch from the aperture adjustment wheel, so that you may bump the iris open and apply incrementally more ND, for instance, if you’re looking for maximum shallow depth of field. It’s hard to articulate how intuitive and powerful the relationship between ND and aperture is in this design. You can literally adjust both without looking away from the viewfinder. Again, that sounds small, until you’re in the middle of a complicated shoot, working quickly it simplifies everything.
Focus: The viewfinder on the Canon EOS C300 is excellent. It’s bright with ample resolution and you need not guess or hope that your image is sharp thanks to insufficient viewfinder feedback. I’m a left-eyed operator, thanks to terrible vision in my right eye. That said, my left is is pretty bad too! But the diaopter adjustment easily compensated for that and I had complete peace of mind about focus throughout the shoot.
LCD Display: It’s cleverly designed to flip wherever you need it. For instance, I prefer to use a viewfinder, rather than an LCD, which frees up the LCD for an assistant camera to view for pulling focus.
This gets to another advantage of this camera: There are now many add-ons that you most likely don’t need…the first thing being a separate LCD for the AC. The second thing being a special cage for the camera. The camera’s modular design allows you to configure it with the handle built in. My ideal build would be the camera as is with a matte box and follow focus. That’s it.
Ergonomics: My friend and colleague Deb Lewis described the build best: “It feels like a Hassleblad.” And it does. It’s remarkably light (just over three pounds) and thanks to the viewfinder, LCD design and clever adjustable handle, it is very easy and comfortable to handhold without any add-on supports. Add to this the simplicity of switching EOS lenses, and you’ve got a body that gives you everything you need and it gets out of its own way. That’s great design.
Canon LOG: Shooting digitally in the manner I used to shoot a film negative is a wonderful thing. Motion Picture negative’s wide latitude is very forgiving of over and underexposure. If your exposure is in the ballpark a film emulsion can handle it. Log C, which includes 12 stops of dynamic range, gives you most of what a good film emulsion provides (13 stops) and near what the Alexa and Red Epic achieve (13.5 stops).
I’m sold on the Canon EOS C300. It is simple to operate. The controls I use most are where I need them. The image is gorgeous. It employs readily available, beautiful and, in some cases, inexpensive lenses.
Until now, I haven’t really touched on the camera’s most amazing aspect: its sensitivity. You’ve seen the footage on-line of material shot as high as 20,000 ISO. The extreme high end is remarkable, but the simple fact that the base ISO is 850 is, by itself, a game changer. We shot everything at 850 except for an interior we bumped to 6400. This is a reasonable option that quite literally didn’t exist before and it looks great.
The repercussions of this camera’s ISO range can not be understated. Lighting for aesthetic and design reasons will continue as always, but practical employment of high ISOs where it is logical will change everything for contemporary filmmaking.
Our restroom interior is a great example. It was backlit by an exterior window. Had we wanted to achieve the same look with a conventional camera we would have needed a huge source outside that window because of a low ISO sensitivity setting. Add to that, the nature of the image itself: the camera manages to hold the shadow and the saturation in the blown-out portion of the window beautifully.
Ultimately, the Canon EOS C300 is small, nimble and fun; yet capable of spiting out 35mm, film-like images that surpass the imagery of recent DSLRs and places it in the pantheon of the Sony F3, Red and the Arri Alexa.
But the C300 is neither an F3 nor an Alexa. Canon’s camera is an evolution from DSLRs. As such the build is more similar to a DSLR than the Arriflex linage that makes the Alexa feel like a camera that will take a licking and keep on ticking. The Alexa is a more substantial, industrial machine, made to go to work day after day with no complaints. The Sony F3 is, well, a Sony. Sturdy and functional but a tick down from the Alexa in god-fearing industrial mode and byzantine in its menu design (Although Sony would probably have us all stare a Red menu diagram to put that in perspective.)
The Canon C300 seems sturdy enough to me, and I can only guess that Canon thinks the same thing. It’s a camera that certainly will be huge on the professional rental market, but it seems to be built and designed for owner-operators, who will baby it and love it. At the$16K price it seems to fall into that realm: for an owner-operator who’ll use it personally and not put it in a rental pool. Certainly the Arri Alexa, based on build and cost, will dominate rental houses and places like Panavision. (When I visited Panavision in Hollywood last fall the prep area was filled with Alexas and Reds.)
The amazing thing about all these cameras is, in the end, how close they are in the final image. They’re all great. You can easily make a film that no one will complain about because of the visuals. In that sense, the Arri Alexa, Sony F3, Red Epic and the Canon EOS C300 are a bit like well-made guitars. The only practical limit is the skill and talent of the artist using them.
I encourage to you to try your own tests with this camera. It’s the only way you’ll get to experience the elegant nature of the way the device works. I think you’ll find Canon’s efforts here deliver the kind of pleasurable experience we’ve come to expect from groundbreaking devices from companies like Apple: technology that exceeds your expectations in a delightful way. The design and function of the EOS C300 represents a major part of what got me hooked on filmmaking with Canon cameras back when I shot on Super-8: I had a terrific time, thanks, in part, to the intelligence engineered into the camera itself.
The Finished Film[table id=6 /]
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8
camera setup: 24P
180º shutter angle
Apple Final Cut Pro 7
MacPro, 2 x 2.66 Dual-Core Intel Xeon
8 GB 667 MHz DDR2 FB-DIMM
Joe Malina is an Austin based colorist at (www.joemalina.com).
Joe’s Davinci Workstation
12 core MacPro
Two 2.93GHz 24GB
ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB
Black Magic Design Declink Duo
NVidia Quadro 4000
Tangent Wave Panel
FSI 2461 Monitor
Korey Pereira’s Soularity Sound
Avid Pro Tools 10 w/ Complete Production Toolkit
Plugins from Waves, McDsp, Neyrinck, Sonnox
Specific plugins used for this project:
LtRt Encoding: Neyrinck SoundCode Stereo LtRt
Level Monitoring: Waves WLM
Noise Reduction: Izotope RX2, Waves W43, Waves C4
Futz for earpiece: McDsp Futzbox
Blackmagic Intensity Pro (for video playback)
Violet Audio ADP61
JBL LSR4300 Series Monitors (5.1)