Well, tonight I finally got to hold it in my hands and try it out. This evening, Canon had its official launch of the new Canon C300, along with the new 1DX, at the TIFF Lightbox. I spent a few minutes looking it over and getting a feel for all the buttons and menus and form factor, and I could definitely see myself getting used to this camera. Ergonomically, it’s a real departure from traditional cinema cameras (which modern models like the Panavision Genesis, Arri Alexa, and RED all emulate) and feels more like a digital Hasselblad from the stills world. For those of us coming from a photography background, this is actually a pretty nice and familiar feel. Just picking it up and holding it in my hands, with no rig or anything, felt nice and comfortable and I could easily see myself getting handheld shots.
I love the fact that you can build this camera up or strip it down, depending on your needs. With the XLR inputs and monitor removed, it’s quite a small package. I really favor small, portable and efficient setups with minimal muss and fuss, and I think almost everything on this camera is geared to fit that bill.
So: first off, great form factor, and nice and small and light (for what it does), better for shooting handheld video than with a DSLR.
Secondly, the low light performance. I know, this is Canon’s forte, and much has been written about it with regards to this camera. But I have to say, it was the first time I was seeing footage shot at 6400, 10,000, 16,000 ISO on large HD screens and in the Lightbox theatre, and I was truly blown away. I needed this camera on Monday, when I was shooting with a Steadicam rig in the basement of Campbell House, my actors lit mainly by candlelight. The panel of filmmakers who later spoke attested that you could easily shoot up to 10,000 ISO with a very clean image with this camera. That’s pretty incredible. There will be less of a need for big lighting setups and we’ll be even more able to work with available and dim light than we have before. The grain was visible in the demo shots taken at 16,000 ISO but it certainly did look very filmic and not your typical digital noise – it looked like stuff shot on a high end 35mm camera. Vincent Laforet was on hand and described some of the techniques behind making his short “Mobius” and basically said they shot everything in the desert (a very high contrast scene) with almost entirely natural light, and no fill. The camera was able to capture detail all the way from extreme highlights to deep shadows in these scenes.
Thirdly, the workflow. This isn’t something I’d really thought about as a major plus to this camera, and as I haven’t officially shot my own projects with the RED, Alexa, or F3 yet (although I’d like to) – I can certainly imagine the amount of computing power you would need to process 4k RAW footage. I’ve also run into problems with other cameras having their own proprietary cards and needing drivers in order to download and work with the footage – very annoying and time consuming. The costs of maintaining that kind of editing suite could also definitely add up. The filmmakers praised the C300 for the ease of use of the footage – and this is also a pretty important factor to me. Basically, it’s a codec that can be simply downloaded off of CF cards and can be imported straight into your editing suite and worked on right away on a decent home computer – no need for a high end suite and no converting to Pro Res. Canon states this footage should work with all current editing suites out there right now. When on a tight deadline (and budget) this is super important. I actually believe that all cameras should work this way – download and away you go – but that definitely hasn’t been the reality for the film industry for the past few years. So, the apparent ease of workflow from download to edit, sounds pretty great.
Finally, Canon has addressed all the major issues that many DSLR shooters have complained about – rolling shutter and moire are gone, there are manual audio controls and XLR inputs, HD/SDI outputs so you don’t have to deal with the pain that is HDMI when outputting to a monitor on set, and time code sync options. There’s even a built in intervalometer (no need to go buy a separate one), and when paired with the Wi-Fi transmitter, you can apparently view SD footage and control the camera settings from an iPad. Super cool. It’s not yet there to my wish of broadcasting an HD signal wirelessly for monitoring (I HATE cables on set!) but it’s definitely one step closer.
The evening featured a few hours to walk around and try out the C300 and see it set up in various rigs (stripped down to its bare essentials, in a studio setup with rods, follow focus, matte box and zoom control, and on a jib). And then, some keynote speeches from Alex Buono, the DP for Saturday Night Live, Vincent Laforet, and local shooters Paul Steinberg and Nigel Akam. Alex gave a pretty great explanation of how people obsess over high resolution 4k cameras, but give little consideration to how colour and luminance are also an important part of image quality. While this was all new (and valuable!) information to me, I can definitely see how people obsess over high resolution and can neglect other factors – this has been the case in the stills photography industry for years. The biggest criticism this camera has gotten is for not shooting 4k, but to be truthful what I care about is how great the image looks on a big screen – and the image certainly did look great on a big screen – both slo mo and regular shots.
Laforet’s insights into working with the camera on Mobius were great (Hey Vincent, where can I get one of those remote controlled helicopters??) and it was refreshing to see a female DP’s testimonials. It was also really nice to have local cinematographers Nigel and Paul there – and they were able to offer up some comparisons between their own cameras (a Sony F3 and RED respectively). It was also nice to see some footage that actually featured Toronto.