For me, this has been the year of cameras. So many times have Danielle and I had discussions on what camera should we upgrade to next, or which one will we like the most, or if we bought said camera, will it help book more jobs? Or does that even matter? Can we afford it? How will we pay it off? The list goes in circles… so many questions swirling around that we've almost gone crazy over the issue & we get mad at eachother everytime we talk about camera upgrades. I can see this same frustration with many others in the industry as well, where dicussions about the what the technology can or can't do overshadows discussions about technique & how or why to do something.
What we have come to realize is that in the end it really comes down to three key things that "what gear you have" has no effect on: Story, Vision, & Voice. Each of these things are attainable simply by going out and shooting as much as you can: Learn. Evolve. Repeat.
My hopes for 2012 are for it to be a year of change. Not neccesarily because a whole bunch of new ones are going to be released, but more so because the industry itself is evolving rapidly. A few years ago, HD was the limit and 4K was a luxury -- and now we are getting ever closer to 4K becoming the new high definition, and HD (1920x1080) the minimum standard. This years' CES show exemplified this with the many 4K television & projector annoucemnts.
On the 4K (or beyond) resolution end there is Sony with the F65, RED with the Epic, Canon with the prototype 4k camera we dont know the name of yet, JVC with the super compact 4k camcorder, and ARRI with their "in the works" 4K version of something similar to the ALEXA.
The most imortant thing to take from these new and future cameras is that things are changing. And well, if the worlds going it end, at least there will be alot of great cameras to capture it with. :)
But, enough about whats coming... and more about what's already here (and purchaseable soonish).
Danielle and I had an opportunity to recieve a pre-production model of Canon's C300 digital cinema camera to test out. Although we only had a few days with it, we were able to jump right in & run it through all the tests that we had in mind. The first day we had it, it was a rainstorm outside so we decided to do indoor tests running the gamut --> color charts, resolution, ergonomics, learning the menus, etc. Although these things were important, its really all about what the camera can produce when you go out and actually shoot with it.
In the film piece above I shot either handheld, on a monopod, or on a steadicam... no tripods for this shoot. I also really only used two lenses for everything shot above: The Canon 35mm f1.4L and the Canon 24-105 f/4L with IS. One shot is with the 70-200 f/2.8 L, can you guess which one?
For the tests, Danielle and I set up a few objectives & parameters for our short time with the C300.
I wanted to see where the C300 fits into the current crop of high-end cameras that we've used like the Sony F3, RED Epic & Arri ALEXA.
Also, note that all three of these cameras are more than a year old. The ALEXA being almost 2 1/2 years old, Epic being announced many years ago, and the F3 coming about a little over a year and a half ago. It's good to keep this is mind, because the C300 represents the latest technology put out by Canon and one should consider not only looking at what features it has now, but also what features on it will still be valid in 1-2 years if your looking to purchase it and pay it off in that amount of time.
From looking at the specs, the C300 seems like it adequately competes with the cameras that have already been on the market for a few years or more. But the kicker is that all these other companies are rounding the point at which they are going to be annoucing newer cameras soon. So, the question to think about is: how will this effect your invenstment in a C300? IS it going to be up-to-par with the next generation of cameras that come out in 2012?
I can't lie that I am disappointed in the 720p 60fps. When so many cameras now are 2-4K the C300 should atleast have 1080p 60fps especially if this camera is marketed towards the higher end filmmakers. I mean who wants to be sitting in a movie theater and every time the film switches to a slow motion sequence, a noticable drop in resolution occurs.
720p 60fps is something that forces people to rethink the price of the C300 ( which many including Canon already have ) I am not as worried about the bit rate, codec, how its encoded, etc,etc -- in the end, if the image looks good. use it. And the thing with the C300, despite all these technical argurments, short comings, whatever you may call them, is that the image still looks amazingly good!
I wanted to see how well the C300 could be integrated into the current line of cameras that we use the most & own ( 5DmII, 7D & 1D Mark IV ) For all intensive purposes, I'll just use the 5D as a comparison point throughout.
I wanted to evaluate how the C300 stacked up to the 5D. I say stacked up against, because the 5D, although it has it's short comings (aliasing, miore, line skipping) it's THE camera I consider to be a huge game changer over the past 3 years. Probably because it has got into the hands of so many people. It has worked its way into almost every facet of the film & creative industries , from casual artists, to wedding filmmakers, documentaries, sports shows & docs, and all the way up to multi-million dollar blockbusters. Either everyone knows & has used it before or has at least heard of it. I've never seen a camera system become so prolific & integrated into the creative industry. Just think. Before the 5D were two things: 35mm adapters & the RED ONE and thats was it. Everything else was either a video camera, or 35mm film.
You might think this is a crazy comparison ( 5D vs. the C300 ) seeing the difference in specs, but I think that if the C300 is going to become the next big thing then its going to have to beat the "best" other cine-camera offered by Canon (I know they have the XF series of camreas, however I and many consider those more of a "video" camera and not at all cinema style cameras, at least I do for sure )
Here is a quick rundown comparison of the C300 to the 5D & DSLR's in general:
• C300 has more dynamic range, noticable in the highlights and very significant in the darker areas
• The 5D has better LCD to final image precision. Meaning that what you see on your LCD is nearly idential to what you will get on your computer screen. The C300 is much different, the LCD is not always accurate to what you will get color wise when you import into your editing system.
• When grading the C300, color work is a charm, you dont run into blockiness or banded gradients. With the C300 you have a great deal more freedom when using color grading tools.
• High ISO on the C300 is beautiful at almost any range. I usually dont go past 1600 on the 5D.
• Sharpness, sharpness, sharpness. The 1920x1080 image from the C300 is VERY sharp, and not in an "its-too-overly-sharp" manner. For example, the thrid cut in the video is a 200% blowup zoom that I did in After Effect just see how the image held up. End result: very good, the grain looks great too. (example below - right click to view full 1080p still frame)
C300 INITIAL IMPRESSIONS
I have heard many times on post-Nov 3rd discussions/forums/tweets that the DSLR user community felt left out during the announcements in Hollywood. I was equally felling the same, as I had postponed buying a few other camera system in hopes that Nov 3rd would be the answer. For me, the event was a mix of feelings. On one hand I felt inspired and potenitllay content with the C300, yet another part of me felt abandoned, like my hopes for the evolution of the 5D (simply adding XLR & timecode ) just got cut short. However, after actually getting a chance to get my hands on the camera and use it, my opionion began to change.
OK, so now time for the full review. Just remember that we were given as PREPRODUCTION camera, so the actual production model camera that ships may be different than the one we used. The negative & positive comments might not reflect issues with the final product when it ships.
The ISO performance is what really sets this camera apart. It was at first something I underestimated, then I began to pull the images I shot into the computer. 5000 ISO... wow, clean image and almost no grain. 8000 ISO, still a clean and clear image and the grain that was there looked wonderful. At 16000 & 20000 ISO the image definitely had lots and lots of grain, but it was something I could see myself using and being happy about. I think this camera will find its edge in the ISO battle, this is definitely where it's king. I initially never considered this, but what really makes me want this camera is because of the ISO. I think that the phrase "real frame rates cost real money" can be effectively applied to ISO as well. When you'd be cursing at your 2500 ISO image on the 5D, your just beginning to hit the tip of the iceberg with the C300. 2500 ISO is child's play. I could easily shoot at 2500 ISO all day, in doors and outdoors on the C300 and not regret stopping down to a lower ISO. The image is beautifully grainy.
Using high ISO's opens up alot of doors to things many shooters without large lighting setups can shoot at night or indoors. This can gives filmmakers an edge creatively if they can shoot a night scene without having to put out the expense for large light sources. It is much more about giving the cinematographers very fine precision in lighting a scene rather than having to only light based on your cameras low light limitations.
The C300 at 850 ISO is cleaner than 320 on the 5D. Amazing.
You can download a few unedited .MOV files below. The first being at 8000 ISO and the second at 20000. Now, you can't see much of a difference in these still frames, however, if you download the originals, you can play around with them color wise.
View of Edmonds WA --> 8000 ISO .MOV (right click and save)
View of Edmonds WA --> 20000 ISO .MOV (right click and save)
From looking at the footage up-close you can definitely see more grain in the 20000 ISO image, but all in all, its not bad. And then the ISO 8000 image to me looks great. You'll notice that the 20000 ISO image picks up a good deal more color in the grain than the 8000 ISO image. This is definitely due to the grain itself having a blue/red tint to it which I would say is the only downfall of shooting at 20000, then again it IS 20000 ISO :)
The extra dynamic range in the C300 compared to the 5d is great. The images come out clean and you can definitely see a noticeable increase in the highlights. When I put the 5D and C300 right next to each other you could see a definite clear difference in DR. However, overall I wasn't as impressed with it as I thought (and hoped I would be). The downfall I found with the image was that when something clips, it clips. The harsh cliping takes a bit of time to work around as well. The key I found was to underexpose when in LOG mode, because it was much easier to bring up the mids and darks than it was to recover or roll off the highlights.
To other cameras like the F3, ALEXA, and Epic? the C300 holds up great. Alexa has a huge edge on highlights in general as well as with the roll off aspect of them where they never really seem to "clip" off. The Epic has the ability to edit in RAW, where you can more subtly roll the highlights and treat overexposure more filmically. And the F3 ( w/ S-LOG ) is similar in the highlights to the C300, however, the colors are not as great compared to all the others.
Overall, with the C300 I noticed that if you dont actively underexpose your image, you can easily clip to absolute white. I was surprised that it did this with the 12 stops of DR, even when compared to a DSLR image, the image on the C300 would clip harshly when you hit the white point, you can see this in the line/edge of the clouds and the white clipped area in this image below. If I had purposely underexposed this image I would have probably been a better off in the white area. (example below - right click to view full 1080p still frame)
Although the 5D image would without a doubt go white & clip much easier, the color and handling of the white was much more filmic to me and moreover, much more easy to correct and make look filmic in post.
Here is another test below of direct comparisons of the 5D vs the C300:
Things to note in the images: #1 The houses above the fence line in the C300 image are much more visable as well as the #2 glass top of the terrarium in the background, where the 5D image you can barley see the detail in the rim of the glass, where the C300 retains much more detail. #3 The table is one of the main things to look at, where with the C300 you can really see the pronounced grain in the wood and the 5D not as much.
The majority of what I shot was in LOG mode using CINEMA lock ( and everything in the film abobe was in LOG mode) . CINEMA Lock is a great feature if you are shooting multicam film style set up and want all your cameras to match in terms of gamma & color space. A few things to think about when shooting in LOG mode are that what you see through the viewfinder or LCD does not really represent what your footage will look like, its close, but not 100%. Just keep that in mind. Its not like the 5D/7D/MkIV where what you see is pretty much what you get.
Overall LOG is great. Its a huge improvement over the faux-log CineStyle that many of us put on our 5D's in hopes of spectacular results. Not to say that CineStyle is bad, but I got my hopes WAY up when this was annouced and tend to use it rarely.
I like to think of LOG as the closest thing you can get to RAW when your camera cant shoot RAW. It helps preserve highlight information as well as color depth and fidelity. The LOG mode on the C300 looks great right out of the box and it isnt something to fear if you've never worked with it before. After a few hours in Final Cut/Premier/After Effects LOG becomes something you'll begin to love.
Something to keep in mind when shooting in LOG mode is setting the white balance. Not that it's hard to physically custom set on the camera, but rather it tends to be hard to get an image that your used to looking at. When setting Kelvin temp in LOG mode I found it tricky to get it right & one thing that really got to me was the difference in Kelvin temperatures when comparing the C300 to the 5D. While 5600K might look great and match EXT daylight on the 5D I found 7000K on the C300 to be where daylight looked similar to the 5D's LCD. The C300 does have someting called "ViewAssit" mode where it adds contrast and saturation to the LOG image, but it was still equally tricky to work with when trying to nail the Kelvin temp using your LCD or viewfinder.
I say this as a CON on the C300 because, for example, the ARRI ALEXA utilizes two output options, you can select what image you SEE in the viewfinder AND what image you record to your media. Something that is INCREDIBLY helpful when you want to shoot in any type of LOG mode.
If you want to learn more about what Log C vs Rec709 looks like you can check out some comparisons HERE of what the images will look like
FORM FACTOR / ERGONOMICS / HANDLING
When I first slipped my hand into the C300 hand-grip I felt right at home. Overall the camera is incredibly light and the hand-grip is really something. It's not like the plasticy ones on other cameras, and since it screws in, it creates a solid lock to the body of the camera. The only disappointment was the inability to customize the scroll wheel button for my finger - in fact, none of the scroll wheel buttons on the camera are customizable -- this is one thing that I hope gets either changed or updated once the camera hits the shelves.
LCD / EVF
I was highly surprised by the electronic view finder on the camera. I was never in situation while shooting where I missed focus because of the clarity of the view finder. It was tack sharp and I really enjoyed using it. Danielle even liked it and she HATES viewfinders of any kind, type, price, etc.
One thing I really liked was being able to pop off the swivel LCD and just go out and shoot with the camera bare. There is alot of freedom in being able to go so compact for handheld use. So LCD gets a huge +1
Another thing that I think is often overlooked with the C300 is the outstanding battery life. I mean, WOW... I was highly impressed. We shot all day long for two days with the camera almost always on, either we had the record button rolling, or we were just checkin out all the menus, functions, and buttons and never once did we have to worry that we didnt have enough batteries to get us through the day. I had a total of three batteries and I never had to put any on the charge and reuse them.
In comparison to the other cameras ( F3, Epic, ALEXA ) the C300 wins hands down. The ALEXA drains batteries like there's no tomorrow... its so fast you'd be wishing you just rented multiple Pelican cases full of them... multiple.
And the Epic only lasts approx 20-30 min per RedVolt battery. I recall @PhilipBloom writing that he needed almost $12,000 in batteries to make the Epic an effective shoot on-the-go camera.
WORKFLOW & POST-PRODUCTION
Workflow wise, the camera is a breeze. You download the EX plugin from Canon's website, install it in Final Cut and your ready to rock. The camera shoots native .MXF and the plugin converts the footage to .MOV pretty quickly. You can also shoot to CF cards in continuous mode or dual recrod to keep a backup copy of your footage. This is something I havent seen in alot of other cameras and its something I really commend Canon for putting into this camera. I will definitely utilize this mode on any commercial, narritive, documentary work. Without question, its always great to have a backup.
So the question is... where does the C300 fit, what kind of camera is it? What will it become and what kinds of things will be shot on it? I can say with certainty that the 1920 x 1080 image out of it is amazing for HD. It's sharp, it can have audio & timecode attached to it. And it's free of almost everything that makes it look "digital" while it may not be as filmic as ALEXA or as resolution heavy as Epic - its one of the best HD images out there.
One of the main points that kept coming up over and over again with Danielle and I, was that the C300 represents Canon's latest & greatest at this very momen., In fact, it's not even purchaseable at the time im writing this. So when you are comparing it with the 5D, Sony F3, Sony FS100, RED Epic and the ARRI ALEXA, you are comparing it to cameras that are at minimum older than a year and a half. That is something to think about: What will those other camera companies be coming out with in the near future and will that may make the C300 no longer competitive?
This leads to two very important things for the owner/operator to think about. --- Is the C300 representative of forward future thinking technology? And is your investment in it going to pay off? Personally, I think that its a camera that is well overdue and will suit my needs in UPGRADING my DSLR lineup. However, will I be using it as my first choice A-camera on a large commercial or narritive production? That's a tough question and I have finally found THE ANSWER to the question that has left Danielle and I pondering, frustrated, and downright angry sometimes for the past almost 2 1/2 years:
WHAT CAMERA IS BEST AND WHICH ONE SHOULD WE GET???
The ANSWER is this:
TREAT CAMERAS LIKE FILM STOCKS, EACH ONE CAPTURES AND OUTPUTS LIGHT DIFFERENTLY. UTILIZE THESE STRENGTHS AND CHOOSE THE RIGHT CAMERA FOR THE RIGHT SHOT.
Below is what I like about each camera filmstock and what they are best suited for. This is also my personal opionion, I encourage you to form your own after finding what you like about each camera:
• ARRI ALEXA = shooting people in any light / brightly lit high-key scenes / shooting to match 35mm film
• RED EPIC = scenic / wide shots / landscapes / helicopter footage that needs to be post-stabilized / keying large amounts of elements within scenes / product shots /
• Canon C300 = anything at night or low-light in general / scenes that require you to move inside and outside a lot where you would need to have a good balace of being able to go high ISO but also get great outdoor light footage as well.
The C300 is an expensive camera and I think with the features, spec list, and image quality its definiltey worth part of the price. I personally (when compared to the competition) think that it's not worth all 20,000 BUT, if retailers are able to drop the price in the 16K range, I think that the price & what you get will be a perfect fit. Meaning, I will buy this camera if its below $16K.