BBC freelance cameraman tests Super 35mm 1080p on the Canon 1D C

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Johnnie Behiri has a Canon 1D C on loan at the moment as do quite a few other people. I’ve been watching the various footage and here’s my view of how it performs…

The Super 35mm crop on the 1D C is very detailed 1080p. It is how 1080p should look and is in the same league as the C300. This mode also has an advantage over the 4K option in that it uses a more modern codec – H.264 in ALL-I format which is a lot more space efficient than MJPEG.

MJPEG is a very old compression format and not up to the standard of H.264. It is based on the same compression engine as JPEG for stills. Being a stills camera, the 1D X was already equipped to compress JPEG at high speed. It is less complex to encode than H.264. That allowed Canon to avoid having to significantly upgrade the image processors in the 1D X when they stuck the C badge on it, but it means a bit of a rum deal for us at $12,000 and all those 128GB compact flash cards & extra hard drives. I’d probably transcode the 4K MJPEG to ProRes for editing and then to high bitrate H.264 for archival. Why not just go straight to H.264? For the simple reason that ProRes is easier to edit and not as CPU intensive as there’s less compression magic being done.

In my tests H.264 stands up very well at high bitrates, you certainly won’t lose any quality over the MJPEG masters.

4K

There’s certainly not many cameras like the 1D C, is it in a league of its own because of the 4K recording option?

Well… not really. 4K on this camera is actually quite soft and not true 4K resolution. When you blow up the 1080p shot in Super 35mm mode to 4K, it actually looks similar. The 1D C is not a true 4K camera and it is not as detailed as 4K from the similarly priced Scarlet.

It would be interesting to upscale the 2.5K of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera to 4K and compare the image to the 1D C’s 4K. I’d bet they’d look similarly detailed. I’m thinking of 4K on this camera as more like compressed 3K and of course it isn’t full frame in 4K mode, but a 1.3x crop making it not much bigger than Super 35mm. Super 35mm is a 1.5x crop.

In full frame mode the camera only shoots 1080p and sharpness falls off back to the 1D X / 5D Mark III level so no improvement there. Certainly not worth the $12,000 upgrade for full frame recording at 1080p, may as well get the 1D X for that.

The 1080/50/60p option is the softest mode on the 1D C. It looks like the 5D Mark III. To get the faster scan speed they skip out more data on the sensor, which results in a softer image. However you don’t lose detail between 1080/24p and 1080/60p on the GH3 at $1299 so I am not sure what Canon’s excuse is here. But thankfully no moire or aliasing is introduced.

There’s still a bit of moire in the 4K mode if you really challenge the camera, but nothing that become too big a problem in the real world outside of a chart test.

Low light is superb. Better than even the 5D Mark III and FS100 to my eye, but the Blackmagic Cinema Camera has a more film like grain to noise.

All in all – what have we got here for $12,000?

It is a very good Super 35mm 1080p camera, but only 8 bit. It also lacks the built in ND and other handling niceties of the much cheaper C100.

If you’re happy to use an external recorder there are better options for Super 35mm out there for less money.

If it was perfect Super 35mm 1080p I was after I’d go for the C100 at $6k and pair it with a good ProRes recorder to get around those low internal bitrates. Also the used price on a Sony F3 is currently just $7000 and you can even pick up a Sony F35 for close to the price of a 1D C at $12,000. That camera (aka Panavision Genesis) was a $300,000 just 2 years ago. Both of these do better Super 35mm 1080p than the 1D C and they’re far better than 8 bit. The F3 does 10bit 444 over dual link HD-SDI to the Blackmagic HyperDeck Shuttle which very cheap.

However on the 1D C’s side, you’re getting a very nice stills camera and a very compact, durable, weather sealed body. I love the DSLR form factor.

Now the 4K mode is not quite full frame at a 1.3x crop (APS-H) and it is not quite 4K because it isn’t as detailed as true 4K. So think of this mode as being a slightly larger than Super 35mm recording area and approximately 3k. That is close to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera MFT with Speed Booster adapter. The Blackmagic also has more dynamic range, a 12bit raw image or 10 bit ProRes but the 1D C has the better low light performance, more ergonomic body, better stills obviously and is more compact especially when it comes to the batteries. The 1D C is a lot less power hungry than a raw camera.

I’d say if the price isn’t an issue and you need convenience, stills, stealth factor and decent resolution then go for the 1D C.

If the cinematic quality of raw is important, as is the ability to do heavy grading and you’re happy to use a smaller sensor or Speed Booster adapter to get it to Super 35mm then the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is the one to get. Obviously with the MJPEG codec on the 1D C you are rather more restricted in post compared to what you can do with raw. On the Blackmagic you barely even touch the ISO setting or indeed any other menu option when shooting raw which makes the shoot more straightforward.

If you shoot a lot of stuff and drive space is an issue the best compressed codecs for the money are AVCHD on the FS100 and H.264 MOV GH3 respectively. MJPEG is not as efficient as either of those codecs but it grades about the same. 4K resolution on top of the low efficiency of MJPEG means you will have to cope with similar hefty space requirements to 2.5K raw but none of the workflow advantages. MJPEG 4K is 3MB per frame, CinemaDNG 2.5K is 5MB per frame.

There’s no doubting that the 1D C is the best DSLR yet for image quality.

But those on a budget shouldn’t feel too bad about not having one.

I’d rate it as good but not essential.

Once it comes down in price on the used market, I think that would be a better time to pick one up, unless you need it immediately.

Canon have done well with the Cinema EOS range but it’s desperately high time they sorted the lower end out.

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

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