Technical analysis of the new Canon EOS C300

18

Canon Cinema EOS C300

The Canon C300 is the first in the company’s new Cinema EOS line-up, a high end range of digital movie production cameras. The range will later be expanded say Canon, to include 4K movie cameras, a 4K DSLR, a camera for run & gun documentary makers (presumably with an auto-mode that the C300 lacks entirely) and a lower end offering priced for indie filmmakers.

The sensor

The new sensor in the C300 is not based on an existing DSLR CMOS. It breaks from the traditional bayer array where a single pixel is produced by averaging and interpolating colour data. Like Foveon technology the output of the sensor does not need demosaicing and instead of interpolating colour then de-bayering, the sensor has a separate red, green and blue photo site for each pixel – hence the 8MP count and the 1080p output. There are actually 4 photosites per pixel, 1 red, 1 blue and 2 green (green is dominant for better resolution). This is as true as 1080p gets and colour is improved as a result as well as resolution. It’s probable that the C300 will outperform the Sony FS100 and F3 for resolution at 1080p, it’s even probable that the C300 in 720p mode will out perform the Panasonic AF100 and FS100 in 1080p mode, but final confirmation of this is yet to be reported. Colour and resolution will be a strong point on this camera.

The analogue to digital conversion of sensor data is 8bit, rather than 14bit on the 5D Mark II. The codec, both internally and via HD-SDI is MPEG based and sadly 8bit not 10bit. Colour sampling is 4-2-2. Whilst this is a step up from a DSLR, it is much closer to the XF305 camcorder than, say, the Sony F3. In fact the image processor is taken directly from the XF305. The sensor is a strong point, image processor not so much in my view, but it is as good as it needs to be for most TV production jobs and movie studios.

Why not 4K?

Canon have a strategy here of getting into the industry with a very good HD camera for a wide range of applications, and then building the specs and coming out with a very serious Sony F65 competitor that is at least 4K. 4K really isn’t for general consumption, especially since so much TV and cinema is now viewed online or on ridiculously small laptop screens. In terms of TV it will be a long time before 4K catches on, because peoples living room walls are only so big. 100″ 4K TV anyone? Try getting that past your better half!

Why not 60p?

Canon say the sensor is capable of it but the image processor isn’t. The image processor is fan cooled with a heat sink and is already running close to its limits. Now the little Sony NEX 5N does 1080/60p but the Canon C300’s image processor has to cope with far more RGB data coming back from the sensor, and store it at a much higher bitrate than the NEX 5N does. Since the image is cleaner, sharper and more detailed each frame also contains more data than on the NEX 5N. Canon say they will add higher frame rates like 60p to future Cinema EOS cameras, because ‘the demand is strong’.

The good news is the C300 is PAL / NTSC switchable so you can use 25p in PAL regions and 24p everywhere else.

Dynamic range, highlights and latitude

Dynamic range is 12 stops. The native ISO of the camera is 850, similar to the Sony F3 and FS100. It is at ISO 850 where best dynamic range and noise performance is achieved, lowering the gain results in a steeper fall off from highlights but more dynamic range in the shadows. Raising the gain, obviously results in more noise but the image is usable up to around ISO 20,000 (+30db).

The camera has a built in ND filter – I have heard conflicting information over whether there is an electronic ND in there. Canon say it is standard glass, and it goes from 2 to 6 stop reduction (ND0.8 – ND2).

Low light performance

Canon claim a 54dB signal-to-noise ratio for the C300’s sensor which puts it slightly below the Sony F3 and FS100 which are rated 63db (according to Sony’s claims). Still this is very impressive and better in low light than the EPIC. The sample videos so far show a very fine film like grain at high ISOs with hardly any noise reduction being applied in-camera. Instead if you want a smoother look you can do better noise reduction in post with plugins like Neat Video. Most customers the C300 is aimed at will be using the camera with lights and on well lit TV sets, so whilst 54db isn’t ground-breaking it is very very good and more than enough for most people.

In the camera’s menus ISO or GAIN can be set for measuring and changing sensitivity. ISO is stills / film photography terminology whilst GAIN is appreciated by videographers. Cinematographers meanwhile use ASA which is similar to ISO. I am an ISO person so it is good to see that as well as video gain controls. Here is the full extent of ISO and gain on the C300:

  • 320 = -6dB
  • 640 = 0dB
  • 850 = 2.5db (native)
  • 1600 = 8dB
  • 3200 = 14dB
  • 6400 = 20dB
  • 12,800 = 26dB
  • 20,000 = 30db

Picture profiles

There’s no Techicolor CineStyle on the camera, instead there is the superior Cinema Canon Log. Here are the profiles in full:

  • Normal 1: Typical contrast and saturation; assumes viewing on TV monitor
  • Normal 2: Similar, but bright areas are rendered even brighter
  • Normal 3: Greater expansion of tones in shadow areas
  • Normal 4: Similar, but even more detail in dark shadows
  • Cine 1: Crisp, fairly vivid image, simulating ungraded motion picture film
  • Cine 2: Similar, but reduced contrast
  • C8: CINEMA Canon Log
  • C9: EOS Standard – Crisp, vivid image, similar to Standard Picture Style on Canon EOS HD-SLRs

Audio and design

The camera is of magnesium alloy construction – light but durable. XLR audio jacks are provided via the add-on monitor unit and top-handle. The camera itself features just a 3.5mm audio jack.

The pricing

The C300 is designed to compete with the Arri Alexa for TV production and film jobs. At $20k it is significantly less than the Alexa at $50k. This kind of pricing is not for artists, indie filmmakers so it only makes sense for when the production is part of a wider business plan and the equipment is an investment. It makes no sense for an aspiring filmmaker or lone cinematographer to splash down $20k (or even $10k) on a camera body! Canon will be offering much cheaper Cinema EOS cameras including a 4K DSLR later, and it is those that I will cover more of. Will the EF mount version of the C300 be cheaper than the PL version? According to Canon’s Larry Thorpe in an interview with DPReview, this hasn’t been decided yet.

There could be, but at the moment it seems probably not. At the moment we’re still working out the details. The list price is around $20,000 but it be another month or so [before details are finalized].

 

About Author

British filmmaker and editor of EOSHD, Andrew works in Berlin on his own self funded filmmaking and video projects.

18 Comments

  1. tuliocampregher on

    Gosh, The RED Scarlet X beats it to pulp on half the price. But then comes marketing and RED’s reputation for vapourware.

  2. For $ 6000/7000 it would have been ok, but $ 20000 for a camera that cannot do 60 fps 1080p is a joke. We are already seeing it in many sub $ 1000 camera. so they can’t put it in a $ 20 000 one. If one processing chip cannot do it then add another one make the case a little bigger, no one is going to dye if it is 5 cm larger. What I see in this camera is greed, they just surfed on their dslr success and thought that they could put anything at any price and everybody would applaud them.

    This camera does not have one selling point against for example a Sony F3 or now the Sarlet-X, is it the fastest, highest resolution, DR, codec etc.. None I can see. One example is comical, it can’t auto-focus with the Canon EOS lens but the RED can. I know that manual focusing is used more in the film narrative market but it does not mean that it has no use (steadicam shot for example).

  3. Ever worked with RED cameras? Specs is not everything!! I’ve shot a Feature and 15 videoclips with RED… Because I had to.. But I do not like them. Arri Alexa and Sony F65 are my favourits. Reliability!!!!!!!!

  4. “Canon say the sensor is capable of it but the image processor isn’t.”
    They have the courage to say it ???? Like they couldn’t afford to put a newer processor in it. RIDICULOUS

  5. danyyyel – Why does not having one small feature disqualify it from costing $20,000? It is too expensive, yes, but not because it lacks 1080/60p for slow mo.

  6. Yes they said it in the DPReview interview. TV production crews don’t need 1080/60p. It isn’t the massive issue some make it out to be.

  7. “Will not work. You NEED A WIRELESS FOCUSUNIT AND A FOCUSPULLER.”

    Err… t2i + magic lantern can pull focus (with AF lenses) thru the lcd sensor without touching the camera.
    That means t2i (1lb) plus a glidecam 1000 is greater than or equal to team of dbags achieving the exact same final result.

    You don’t NEED anything but your mind.
    And a company that hasn’t lost theirs.

  8. Pretty much agree except that, by looking at the illustrations Canon put up, it is in fact a traditional Bayer sensor but instead of demosaicing/interpolating it just uses a 2×2 block of the RGGB pattern to spit out one pixel with a red, blue and green reading. This sounds like what Sony is doing on their more expensive models as well. It certainly reduces the processing needed once the data come off the sensor, 2mp each of RGB data ready to go is a lot easier to push through than 8mp of data that needs demosaicing, that’s what probably allowed them to use existing video processing chips. The cinema/DLSR hybrid camera however sounds like it will have to do some pretty heavy lifting since it will have to go through the exact process the c300 is avoiding.

    All in all Canon’s roadmap for the next few years is starting to shape up, still a lot of unknowns but we can see now what they’ll be doing: dedicated cinema cameras like the c300, hybrid DSLR/movie systems like the red C, and traditional SLRs with video specs similar to the 1dx. I’d really love it if the hybrid DSLR/movie camera trickles down to the lower end but I bet Canon will take their time getting around to one, especially if the higher end model sells well. It’s a rather conservative but pretty sound model, they seem to know where they want to go and how they want to get there (unlike Nikon).

  9. Red’s codec has a lot of problems as well. I have DITed on a lot of Red One shoots where we lost clips to error and that sort of thing (fear the green screen of death). That being said 720p 60p being the only in camera slow mo is going to be a really deal breaker for a lot of high end DPs I know. I kind of feel that it should be as well. We have come so far in the camera wars and to have a function that was on the HVX200 is kind of well ridiculous. Before you say anything I know that it is 10bit and that they don’t want to push their processor but the DPs I work with don’t really see those things. All they see is 1080p and 720p. The fact that 10bit is a way better image doesn’t cross their mind.

  10. Arie, you are wrong; the new functions of the cameras like FACE FOCUSING, allow us to mantein focus in some pre-set points, ant the autofocus system do the job, works perfect, not for all situations, but is very good on stedycam shots when you are following someone or something. And the other thing I did’t hear about is the steadyshot for diferent kind of lenses on the C300

  11. Facefocussing steadyshot….. what are we talking about… amateur stuff or profesional filmmaking??
    I don’t get it! You need a proper reliable camera and manual focussing lenses and a professional DP.
    That’s it!!! I’ve made feature films, music videos, commercials and documentaries for over 15 years.
    Can’t stand ll this ……. Stay with the t2i and glidecam. Do not know what you have on IMDB?

  12. I Drive a Dodge STRATUS!!
    The whole point of the DSLR movement… the reason it’s terrifying is not because of what they are.
    They symbolize an idea. A movement.
    The 5d2 was a film competitor the second it came out, doubly so if you could afford accessories.
    That was 3 years ago.
    Do you think there was no outside pressure, no threatening influence keeping them from pushing as far and fast as they can truly go??
    Consumer equipment is baby steps away from being able to perform previously unthinkable things (like being superior to film in every way).
    The competitive advantage does not = he who wastes the most resources.
    There is something to putting on a show for everyone, making it look like a “real” production.
    It forces people to take it seriously.

    There is a great blurring of the line between professional and amateur.
    Recording/lighting/editing equipment is being revolutionized every 6 months.
    For so long people have only done one thing, and they did it great.
    MUCH, MUCH less is needed now (the intent, understanding, and vision still has to be there).

    On Harry Potter 6 they built two tarantulas…One Million dollars EACH!
    a massive one for the regular actors, and a slightly smaller one for Hagrid.
    The problem is, they were comping in the background (and the majority of the movie) anyway, and his character doesn’t interact with it.
    $1,000,000. They should be imprisoned.

    But, *shrug* that’s just the way it is.
    That’s what i find so fu$%ing offensive about the c300.
    It’s a whole new in-your-face wasteful, overweight solution.
    Canon: Because We Can!
    stupid.
    But you’ll look professional.
    I can’t wait for people to 4k pixel peep on youtube swearing there’s a difference between the $6.8k cinema primes and old nikons.
    Until we project 4k…and even then, i bet nobody can tell.
    But you’ll look professional.

    The point – one day, everyone is going to wake up without a job.
    And the funny thing – they won’t even see the glaringly obvious coming.
    Just ask Kodak.

    Lack of vision – Lack of innovation.

    There’s a reason features like video tracking autofocus on the gh2 got removed after preproduction.
    It’s the same reason it will never exist.
    Existing means someone will find a way to make it better.
    I don’t expect any non-hack related functionality advances in consumer/prosumer cameras.
    For one big reason.

    It threatens the well being of “professionals”

    “professionals” have always done it X way.
    idiots do it Y way.
    Y way is not as good, but it’s basically free + requires less non-essential man power.
    *update, Y way matches X way.
    Y way surpasses X way.
    I think Darwin had a theory about this.

    Scary.

    But we’re coming anyway :)

    Best of luck sir,
    Stay the Course!

  13. The Scarlet X isn’t half the price in any real terms. Unless you already own an EPIC and supporting gear you’re not going to be shooting anything useful with a Scarlet for much less than $20k.

    When you consider the additional workflow issues in handling the much higher datarates as well you are looking at spending quite a lot more with Scarlet than the C300.

    I don’t think the C300 is especially well suited to feature films, but then neither is the Scarlet. I do think the C300 is ideally suited to TV production. And also apparently will make a great B-cam to the Alexa.

  14. That’s a fairly condescending tone for someone with only a few years experience. It’s better to solve problems using “amateur” means, than to decide beforehand that they can’t be overcome.

    There’s an old saying “When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

    If a DP tells me he can’t solve a problem – I hire a new DP who will do what it takes, even if it means “lowering” himself to using “amateur” tools.

    When a “professional” uses a tool to solve a problem on set – voila – that tool is magically transformed into a “professional” tool.
    But if a “professional” cannot solve a problem on set because his mind is limited – voila – he is no longer a “professional” creative, but a slave to manufacturers.

    I’ve been working in film and video for a few decades – I’ve seen a lot of ingenious problem solvers use a lot of tools in clever ways. We once went from full 35mm BL-IV’s to SD news cams, to Polaroids all on the same movie Whatever Works – each tool worked its magic according to the needed images. There is no need to limit yourself to “professional” methods while denigrating your fellow filmmakers use of “amateur” tools.

  15. i miss taking “Polaroids”. I do hope one day they rise from they ashes, creating a camera that can print onto paper that’ll play the clip you just shot.
    wait, aren’t there ipads/ipods/droids?
    anyone notice how nothing is integrated well (for dslrs), particularly for video?
    stupid.

    Not spending $500-$6400 for a camera monitor or EVF in an ipad world.

    We can has thunderbolt?

Leave A Reply