Canon C300: First Impressions
OK. So, we got a chance to use/play/tinker/shoot with the C300 for a few days courtesy of the amazing folks at Lensprotogo.com. Its time to do a little blah blah blogging. Here are our first impressions:
This camera will be weighed heavily against its much cheaper predecessors…the 5D, 7D, and 1D…it might be unfair, but I guess its unavoidable. The DSLRs truly created a revolution in providing filmmakers/hobbyists easy access to a cinematic experience. The saturated look running at 24p coupled with the shallow depth of field has taken over. These amazing cameras provided an ease-of-use + portability that is easy to take for granted. So, the first thing that we were curious about was how different the form-factor and functions would be.
The camera itself isn't that big. It has just a bit more girth than the 1D...BUT...then you have three pretty necessary attachments.
- The hot-shoe-mounted handle
- The (awkwardly) swiveling hand grip
- The monitor
You can operate the camera without these things using the eye-piece...which is cool...but for most things...these three attachments will come into play.
With all of these things attached, it isn't that much heavier than the 1D. It is somewhat less awkward to shoot handheld because the top handle and/or hand grip makes everything feel really ergonomically balanced. That being said, the bulkier nature of the camera definitely makes it a little less portable. For instance, it might be tough/financially frightening to hang it out of a moving vehicle upside-down on a monopod (which we've been know to do with the DSLRs). Also, it definitely has that "I'm a professional cameraman" vibe which is good in some situations (impressing clients) and not-so-good in others (sneaking shots in public places).
Monitoring and Playback:
The hot shoe mounted monitor really hit the mark with form and function. It swivels into all sorts of crazy configurations, and I'm not sure what the resolution/pixel specs are on the display, but overall it seems like a pretty great monitor. It has all of the nerdy things you might need...like waveform monitors and all sorts of focus assisting tools.
- Zoomed focus assist...while filming. AWESOME.
- Eye-piece for bright sun. It even cleverly pulls out and tilts up for easier low angle shots. COOL.
- The clamshell design of the monitor allows for more more playback controls like FF and REW.
- An external monitor doesn't steal the feed like a DSLR. However, mini-HDMI is replaced by full sized HDMI. This left us without a way to connect to our SmallHD monitor on Day1...but it is easy enough to pick up these cords from any electronics store.
- SDI-Out and more...see pic below:
- Focus assist can't be moved around the screen like a DSLR...it just zooms into the center of the frame.
- When you turn off display info...absolutely nothing is displayed. This might be able to be tweaked in the menus, but with nothing on the screen, it was really strange that there is no record indicator. You have to see that the light on the camera body is blinking. Also, there is no indication that you are zoomed into the focus assist...so it is entirely possible to be filming thinking that you are tight on something when you are actually recording a wide shot.
- The cables connecting the monitor seem a little cumbersome...and it was difficult to unplug them...but I was probably doing it wrong.
- Playback isn't as instant as a DSLR. You have to switch to 'media' mode and it takes a few seconds to boot up the thumbnails. This is reminiscent of the Sony EX...and it definitely seemed like they had it right with the DSLRs.
We didn't have a manual with our rental...so, we went a full day shooting with this camera with no audio. Then, we spent another day trying to find the setting in the menus. We finally googled it, only to find out....THERE IS NO INTERNAL MIC. Crazy. So, in order to get audio you have to use a shotgun mic in the holder with the XLR inputs. Once you get over the absurdity of there being no internal mic, its really not the biggest deal, but it definitely makes the camera a bit bulkier than it already is...and adds one more step to a run n' gun setup. Nonetheless, it is nice that this camera has the built in XLRs...even though the DSLRs have gotten us comfortable with the old school nature of the dual system audio capturing using the Sound Devices 702...and a shotgun on a boom pole.
We've used the DSLRs exclusively for 2+ years now, so we know where all the buttons are...and can pretty much do most things with our eyes closed. The C300 doesn't really have a similar button placement scheme...so, even towards the end of day 3...I still found it slightly cumbersome to switch things like white balance, ISO, and shutter speed. Aperture can be controlled by a dedicated dial on the back, but everything else was changed by clicking through the items on the on-screen display and toggling them once they are highlighted. Now, there must be a different way to do this...but that seemed like the easiest way without creating user-defined options. Again, this is very reminiscent of the Sony EX1 design...and something that I feel was really improved upon with the DSLRs.
- ND filters. These filters are just a click away and they flip up in a cool way. AWESOME.
- Record buttons galore
- There are a lot of options for user defined buttons...so I would assume that most issues can be solved
- Slow motion is buried in the menus....and takes 3 steps to accomplish. The first thing we did was put all these necessary menu items in the customized 'my menu.' So, when you want to switch from 1080/24p into slomo, you have to do 3 steps
- Switch into 720/24p.
- Choose the frames per second (you can choose 1-60 frames)
- Finally, the step that i forgot to do more than once...you have to turn ON Slow&Fast record mode in another menu item. So, even when all of those things are added to 'my menu', its still a bit of a process to switch over. I wonder if there would be a User Defined button that could do all of that with one click. That would be cool. Once again, this reminds me a lot of the Sony EX1...and thats not a good thing. Also, this goes without saying BUT it would have been amazing if it did at least 120 fps (or higher)...OR if the 60 fps was at least 1080p.
When all is said and done...the only thing that is really important is:
How does the footage look
My first thought is that it certainly isn't going to start another revolution...but at the same time...it somehow still feels like a necessary step up. I don't know if I can quite put my finger on it...but it definitely seems sharper...and because of that...even the stuff that is out of focus seems like a more quality bokeh.
After the first day of shooting, I came back to my hotel room (slightly intoxicated) and scrubbed through the footage. To my slightly drunken eyes, there was definitely a bump in quality, but at the same time I don't know if I would have been over the moon if we had just dropped $16,000 to get that small bump. The colors also seem a bit flatter and less saturated...but this is probably a good thing for color correction.
After shooting with it for another two days, it was apparent that certain shots really benefitted from whatever improvements they made with this camera. I think the true realization came when we went back to the 1D after sending the C300 back. It almost felt that when shooting at F1.2 or F1.4, nothing was truly in focus...and the stuff that is out focus...is crazy out of focus....which is cool for some things, but not everything.
I'm not sure if that is helpful at all...or even makes any sense... but I think that those small differences do make a big difference in creating a professional product for clients. I might prefer to use the DSLRs on personal/travel projects because they are just more fun/simple to use...but the fact that the speedier processor reduces wobble AND moire plus extra overall sharpness just seems like a necessary step up as we tackle bigger projects. Also, the codec seems much more robust...and no long, overnight transcoding is a dream come true.
- The MXF codec is able to be captured directly to PRORES through Log and Transfer in Final Cut Pro. This is a HUGE timesaver...and could be worth the price of admission alone.
- Moire reduction. Moire is a nerdy word that came to our attention when we first shot with the DSLRs. We would ask ourselves shoot after shoot...why is this roof OR brick facade OR suit jacket going all crazy with rainbow madness. Moire. Our first shoot with the C300, we were shooting in a hotel/casino with a lot of tight patterns, and we specifically wanted to test the moire reduction claims. Overall, it seems like an improvement, but its not moire-free...some surfaces are just too crazy for any of these cameras to handle.
- Wobble Reduction. AKA: The Jello Effect is supposed to be a be a lot less noticeable on this camera. We mostly shot on jib, dolly, tripod for these shoots...so unfortunately we weren't able to really test it...but that is an exciting thing...if it is true.
- Low light. We didn't get to test this all that much but it seemed to be grain-free at even 3200. The fact that it can go up beyond 12000 ISO is just crazy...and could be pretty useful.
- Timelapses. With DSLRs, its really nice to be able to take giant resolution, long-exposure stills to stitch into a timelapse. It just seems like a bit of a bummer that you can't do this on this very expensive camera. In 1920x1080 resolution, you can shoot 1 FPS with the S&F record mode OR do 1 frame at different intervals...but it seems like a huge step backwards...to the land of the Sony EX1.
There are a few strange and potentially dangerous things that we encountered
- CF Card Management. If you are used to being able to pop a card into the camera and shoot like on DSLRs...the C300 is a bit different. You have to initialize (C300s way of saying FORMAT) a CF card before being able to film with it. So, that means that if you have 12 GB of footage from shooting with a DSLR the day before...and you put the card into the C300. It will ask you to 'Initialize Media' in order to proceed to filming. So, you might click over to MEDIA mode to check if there is any footage before initializing the card and erasing all of its contents. The problem is that the DSLR footage will not show up as thumbnails...and the card will appear to be empty. Beware.
- Slow Motion Corrupts Clips: We ran into a problem when we were filming slow motion that would freeze recording and come up with an error message that says "Clip Appears Damaged. Would you like to Repair? Yes or No" We figured out that this only happens with 30MB/S CF Cards. Nonetheless, if you have a bunch of 30 MB/S card laying around...and you're used to them working flawlessly in a DSLR....Beware. :)
The last bit of advice would be for the capturing stage. You will need the Canon MXF software plugin for Final Cut Pro in order to ingest the footage as PRORES files.
Overall, it is a pretty great camera with a lot of cool features. Feel free to email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or post below.
Thanks for reading....AND HUGE THANKS to www.lensprotogo.com for letting us check out the camera.