Canon C300 MkII Reviewed

Ben Sherriff TV-Bay Magazine
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The Tech

It 's been just over eight months since the release of the updated C300 camera the C300 MkII and almost five years since Vincent Laforet shot Mobius with a pre-production C300. In a landscape dominated by self-shooters and the continued rise of internet video, the C300 perhaps surprisingly like it 's forefather the 5DMkII came to become a solid staple of broadcast / reality production, independent film and online content. In fact, it became the most hired camera in Great Britain, so when I was offered the opportunity to shoot for two weeks with the MkII on a job and review the camera for KitPlus, I was keen to really get to grips with the new offering.

The recent announcement that the camera had been given EBU certification for Tier 1 HD and Tier 2 UHD classification is hoped to silence the web 's doubters and naysayers, some of whom have contested the 15 stops of dynamic range that Canon claimed back in October 2015. The EBU certification supports this claim when shooting in Canon Log 2 Gamma. With that caveat in mind, this review is not about debating the cameras dynamic range, colour science and so forth, but it is about the key thing that matters to a camera operator, director of photography, self-shooter and producer alike - the results you can achieve and the experience in getting to those results. I used the camera for shooting a series of films for a corporate client which will be screened at a major awards ceremony in London and then released on YouTube.

Now, despite this destination for the final work, I am always keen to shoot at, or close to, the maximum resolution settings possible. Who wouldn 't try to get the best out of the new 8.85MP Super 35mm CMOS sensor? I set the camera to record Canon Log 2 3840 X 2160 25p in 422 10 Bit, and also revelled in the ability to record simultaneous proxy HD 420 35mbps files to SDHC card. I shot this job as a self-shooter with little or no assistance in operating camera, lighting, sound and movement kit. Personally, I think this is a great test for the camera as it 's a situation that pushes an individual. You need a tool in that situation that you can rely on, that is familiar, that is simple to rig and to operate. A great deal of the production work that the MkII will be used for, will be of this nature.

When you pick up the camera for the first time you immediately notice it 's become a little heavier - due in part to the new die cast body which results in a slightly steadier handled image. It feels well made and stronger in the hands. The new body allows for repositioning of circuit boards and integration of the fan cooling system, which is fairly quiet and can be set through the menu to your preference. I found no need to alter the factory fan settings during two weeks shooting. A plethora of custom keys (22 in total) are found around the body where you can provide access to common functions, however most of them are already there on the C300 MkII. I was shooting mainly with a 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. Possibly the most common lens to accompany the camera. Design wise, other key improvements are; new handle design with solid top cheese plate, the audio and video cables are now detachable from the (brighter) LCD monitor and audio unit, the ND filter system is now variable with up to 10 stops, a very useful on board microphone for recording scratch audio, and finally, and definitely most curious - dual pixel auto-focus and lens integration.

Overall the ergonomics are pretty much the same as the MkI: there is a new battery system and a 4-pin lemo 14.7v input on the back of the camera. There is an increased processing power, developed from the processing system off the C500, and the ability to crop in the sensor at 2K. This can be used to achieve higher frame rates. You can shoot HD, UHD, and 4K (including RAW output) in various flavours and bit rates. All of the aforementioned qualities are rounded off by quicker servicing and the possibility of swapping your EF mount to a PL. Technically speaking on paper (given the certification) the C300 MkII offers us HDR, better build quality and more flattering images than the predecessor. But the key question for me is where the camera actually sits in comparison to other options? One that I 'll return to later in the article.

The Experience

Excuse the metaphor but it 's like going out for dinner with an old friend who you haven't seen for a while, you pick up exactly where you left off but your friend is now better dressed and successful. In truth there 's not much I don 't like about the C300 MkII. For the most part it 's the perfect camera for a single shooter, but it 's also got a lot more to offer than that. I know it will be incredibly popular because the images you can achieve are beautiful, but there are some slight things I hope will change when Canon release another 4K system. Most all of my critical comments relate to the form factor. Now this is a somewhat contentious point because you could also argue that the camera has an amazing form factor in that it can be adopted to be big or small, drama or doco, handheld from the hip, shoulder or gimbal, gryo or drone. But from a pure shooting perspective here 's what I 've found:

  • The top handle and the LCD mounting system are still not strong enough for the price tag. The mounting options are improved but there are better third party solutions out there. A few weeks ago I shot with a MkII with the Arri top plate from Genesis Plus Hire and it 's a much more robust solution, that allows more options in terms of where you position the LCD and rigging other accessories. The same goes for the microphone bracket, these are going to break (but should be easily replaceable).
  • Higher frame rates in UHD. It 's not an absolute game changer because ask yourself do you really need 100fps? But keep in mind it has to compete with other cameras that can do this so for some this will be a negative.
  • I 'd like to be able to view a Vectorscope and also change the position of the Waveform monitor on the LCD, it 's stuck on the right hand side which is a nuisance when you 're shooting an interviewee on the right of frame.

Now I want to talk about the feature that has probably blown me away the most after the skin tones and images from the new sensor. The single most impressive and also useful feature for me, was the dual pixel auto-focus. Now this is an odd one, when I first heard about it my instant reaction was 'what a gimmick '. It 's a cardinal sin that goes against everything you 've ever been taught to use autofocus as a camera operator, but trust me, it is no gimmick. I used the C300 MkII on the Steadicam Scout without a focus puller and so it was the perfect test bed for the auto-focus system. The camera is ideally suited to the Scout, sitting right in the middle of the load range (up to 8 Kilos.) Having used the feature in a real world scenario for a good few days now, I can honestly say I am confident using it. It is even possible to predict how it is going to behave and use it to do focus throws from an object close to you to a group of people far away in the back of the shot.

The place in the camera arsenal

Without a shadow of a doubt the camera is going to be extremely popular amongst a wide array of people and productions. For me, it trumps the images that are achievable out of the Sony FS7 by a considerable stretch (not to mention out of the box timecode and genlock and the 4K RAW output). At the point of writing I 've not actually done the post on the work that I shot and I can 't include the real world images just yet because they are not for public release until July. For those who are interested then please check my website or follow me on Twitter @SherriffHD and I 'll be posting links when the films are in the public domain. The majority of the production is interviews peppered with some GVs and B Roll. I think it 's the perfect camera for this type of work. You want shallow DOF, a natural and highly malleable image, together with great audio quality and integration. You want the ability to shoot UHD and 4K and have simultaneous on board proxy recording.

For high-end corporate work, web based work and clearly for broadcast with the new EBU certification the C300 MkII is a great option, but if you want the Canon colours and look it could equally be applied to drama or independent film. For me it comes down to individual budgets, needs and requirements. I frequently hire in kit specific to the budget and the job I am working on. If I am going to shoot on EF lenses and the budget is limited then hire fees for the C300 MkII are basically the same as the FS7 or C300 MkI so I think it 's going to be just as popular as the MkI. Producers also like the familiarity of the C300 - it 's taken the FS7 much longer to become adopted by production because of this fact and the MKI C300 is still a very valid production tool. I expect that the MkII will also be much hired by independents, and think that it 's real advantage is the versatility of options it offers from data rates to multi-camera scenarios, and 4K RAW output.

With the REC 2020 integration and the choice of various gamma and dynamic range options, it strikes me that Canon have really provided a solution that will have a similar longevity as its predecessor. I anticipate that it will be valid for the next three years at least. However, where does it sit in relation to Sony 's F55, the Arri Amira and Panasonic 's new VariCam range? Well it 's more affordable than these cameras and definitely not a million miles away in terms of the sensor quality and the image. I 'd personally love to see Canon release a camera comparable in form to these other systems. That said, the C300 MkII is of course super configurable and the image is striking. This is what it comes down to for me. The image. I don 't mind the few shortcomings. Canon have concentrated on the image, the quality of the pictures and integration with their real strong suite - the lenses they manufacture. In this sense I can only imagine it 's going to continue to increase in popularity and it will be requested on productions more and more over the coming year. Canon 's new kid on the block is here, it 's gaining converts, certification and firmware updates and if you haven 't had the opportunity to try it for yourself, I strongly recommend you do so.

Let 's not forget Canon ignited a revolution with the 5D MkII and you 'd be foolish not to find out what the C300 MkII can achieve off the back of the past eight years in sensor and processing development. Pick one up and shoot, it 's pretty clear.

Tags: iss114 | canon | c300 mkII | DSLR | steadicam | Ben Sherriff
Contributing Author Ben Sherriff

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