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Quick Look: Canon EOS C300 LSS 1080p Camcorder

Canon confounds expectations; thinks very differently.

By Adam Wilt | November 08, 2011



Updated Scoopic? Minimalist C300 with EF 24-105mm zoom.

Last Thursday, Canon announced the EOS C300 (EF mount) and C300 PL (PL mount) "Cinema EOS" camcorders in a much-heralded rollout at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Saturday, I had a chance to visit Paramount and see it for myself. [Update 2011-12-16: fixed malformed movie embed code.]



The Event







Paramount has a large lot, but it wasn't hard to find Canon.




Canon's preso filled Stage 1.


Canon didn't pull any punches; their demo area occupied the entirety of Paramount's Stage 1, while they used the Paramount Theater for 40-foot-wide projection of C300 productions and behind-the-scenes reels.



Just inside the entrance to Stage 1.


The large showcase held Canon stills, TV, and cine lenses; as well as Canon cameras past, present, and future.



The main demo area, with C300s and other Canon camcorders and DSLRs.


Canon showed off the C300 alongside a variety of other cameras: the XF105 and XF305 1/3" camcorders, and a variety of DSLRs.



The post-production area.


The post theater screened graded samples, while demo islands showed editing and grading tools.



Canon is adding a Hollywood facility for pro-level support.


A large island educated visitors on Canon's support and training operations. Canon is creating a new support center at Sunset and Gower (as Jon Fauer has reported); Canon folks told me it'll be open in January. This new center focuses on Hollywood cine operations, which shows Canon's seriousness about the market: there's already in Canon service center an hour away in Irvine... but it's an hour away.

Behind the support island, Canon has a stage set up with a whole mess of C300s focused on it, equipped with various lenses...

...but I'm getting ahead of things; let's talk about the camera.



The Camera





One of the handy things about coming late to the party is that all the basics have already been covered. Chris Hurd has an excellent overview on dvinfo.net; Jon Fauer (again!) describes the camera and its background on fdtimes.com. Dpreview.com has an interview with Canon's Larry Thorpe. All are worth reading.

There's also Dan Carr's coverage on ProPhoto Coalition with links to Vincent Laforet's "Mobius" and the behind-the-scenes video, and his 10 Things You May Not Know. Mike Curtis opines on the C300 and Scarlet here on PVC.

Of course, Canon has its own info: there's the Cinema EOS website, and a comprehensive Cinema EOS FAQ, complete with over 100 questions, the answers for which have to be individually revealed by tediously twiddling their disclosure triangles (not that I bothered counting, or anything).

All the demo films shot with the C300, and their behind-the-scenes reels, are viewable at the Cinema EOS Media Gallery. Watch 'em if you haven't already.

To summarize: The C300 is a 3.2 pound (1.43 kg) HD camcorder using a large single sensor (LSS). The super35mm-sized, 24.6 x 13.8mm sensor is "quad HD": 3840x2160. The CMOS sensor uses an RGB Bayer-pattern color filter array, but derives a 4:4:4 HD signal via 2x2 sampling instead of deBayering; more on this below. The CMOS readout is very fast and "jello" or skew is minimal (watch the shaky-cam shots in Laforet's "Mobius" and see for yourself). The C300 has variable frame rates from 1fps to 30fps in 1080p, and 1-60 images per second in 1080i or 720p, as long as you're shooting in the 29.97Hz world (25Hz folks are limited to 25fps or 50fps depending on frame size and scanning type, which seems a bit unfair). The camera also has slow-shutter modes and a built-in intervalometer.

The C300 is unusual in that it allows both 23.976fps and true 24.000fps recordings; the latter is handy when marrying C300 footage into a true 24fps film workflow.

The C300 has a Canon EF lens mount with electronic iris control and full lens data reporting in the viewfinder, but no autoexposure or autofocus. The C300 PL has an Arri PL mount (pretty much the standard for cine lenses), with no electronic connection for Cooke or Arri lens data. Lens mounts are not interchangeable; it's one or the other.

It records 1080p, 1080i, and 720p (in both 29.97 and 25 Hz standards) using 50 Mbit/sec MPEG-2 in MXF wrappers onto CF cards, just like the XF100/105 and XF300/305 camcorders (35 Mbit 4:2:0, and 25 Mbit HDV-compatible 4:2:0 recordings are also possible). Both the recordings and the HD-SDI output use 8-bit signals.

The C300 offers eight individually adjustable Custom Picture settings, including an EOS DSLR color/gamma rendering, and "Canon Log", a logarithmic tonal curve along the lines of Sony S-Log, Arri LogC, or the Technicolor CineStyle curves for the 5D Mk II. A "cinema lock" setting in the setup menus puts the camera into Canon Log and locks out other image tweaks, so there's a one-button way to guarantee a consistent, high-dynamic-range image. "View Assist" restores a contrasty look to the camera's displays when shooting Log, making it easier to see focus and providing a director-friendly image.

The camera captures two channels of 16-bit, 48kHz uncompressed audio; the camera itself has a stereo mic minijack, while the detachable "monitor unit" includes dual XLRs with phantom power.

The C300 has single-link HD-SDI and HDMI outputs. It has genlock and timecode inputs, a sync terminal allowing two C300s to be locked together for stereo 3D work, a headphone jack, and a LANC-like serial remote. Dual CF card slots allow relay or simultaneous (main plus backup) recording, and HD-resolution stills can be grabbed to an SD card.

The camera is supposed to run for over three hours on a single BP-955 camcorder battery; a high-capacity BP-975 should run for over 4.5 hours. The 50 Mbit recordings run about 2.5 minutes per Gigabyte, so a 16 Gig CF card will hold 40 minutes of material.

The C300 will ship in January at a list price of US$20,000. The PL-mount version will ship in March for the same price. Speculation is that street price will be in the $14,000-$16,000 range.

Enough talk: pictures now. Unfortunately attendees were not allowed to record anything with the C300s on display, so I had to make do with images of the C300, and screen shots of its LCD.



The C300 in Pictures







Sensor sizes: 1/3", s35mm, full-frame (stills) 35mm.


Sensors from three Canon cameras show their different sizes: the 1/3" chips in the XF series camcorders, the s35mm imager in the C300 (roughly the same size as the sensor in the 7D DSLR), and the full-frame 5D Mk II sensor. The difference is even greater than it looks; the 1/3" sensor's active area is only about 1/3 to 1/2 the total area of its chip.



The sensor inside the C300. Note the start/stop button for operation without the handgrip.




Side view, no handle or monitor unit, EVF extended, Canon EF 24-105mm f4 zoom.




Top view: dual focus hooks, orientable handgrip; mini mic jack below right focus hook.




Handgrip can be rotated, removed; 3.5mm miniplug may allow extensions (as yet untested).


The handgrip's serial connection is carried on what looks like a standard stereo miniplug. I suggested that one might extend it with a headphone extender cable, so that (with the right mounting hardware) the handgrip could be relocated to a rail mount when using a long lens. Canon folks expressed some interest, but said it hasn't been tested. Normally, when the handgrip is removed, a threaded plastic cap covers the mount.

Reorienting the handgrip required unscrewing its threaded collar, pulling it free, and reseating it at the desired position. While it's a bit more involved than the pushbutton-released rotating handles on the Sony EX1 and EX3, it's very rigid and robust—and it won't suddenly spin on you because you pushed the wrong button.



Backside: plenty of I/O ports, CF and SD card slots, dual EXT connectors for the monitor unit.




Dual CF slots exposed. Note joystick on the back of the handgrip, top right corner.


The handgrip has a four-way joystick on the back, along with a parameter wheel just behind the start/stop trigger and an assignable button normally used for image magnification. The handgrip joystick, the joystick on the monitor unit, or the selector wheel on the left side of the camera may all be used interchangeably.



Rear status panel, at least on these prototypes, fades out if viewed from below.




Fifteen programmable buttons! Six on the body, one on the grip, eight on the monitor unit.


One notable aspect of the C300 is how configurable it is. There are at least four start/stop triggers (camera body: lower right front corner and upper left rear corner; handgrip: top front; monitor unit: top rear), two joysticks plus a selector wheel for menu traversal; and fifteen freakin' assignable buttons.

The top handle, side grip, and monitor unit—the LCD, XLR inputs, and additional controls—can all be removed. This allows the weight and bulk of the camera to be minimized as needed, and allows the monitor unit to be mounted in a variety of locations and oriented to meet almost any need.



XLRs plug into monitor unit, and its audio controls live beneath a flip-up guard.




Monitor unit mounted on camera's accessory shoe.




Monitor unit on the handle's front shoe.




Monitor unit rotated for convenience.




Monitor unit on handle's top shoe, aimed at the 1st AC.




Monitor unit on camera's shoe, LCD flipped down for eye-level shooting.




Monitor unit with LCD aimed forwards.




The monitor unit can be rotated and reoriented to almost any angle.


The monitor unit connects to the camera using two keyed cables with pull-off locking collars, letting it be repositioned and mounted in all sorts of ways, including attachment to rails, rods, and cages, in ways that hot-shoe connections wouldn't allow. The Canon folks said that production cameras might even have longer cables than the prototypes at the show had, for greater positional flexibility.

Pull all those removable bits off and you have a lumpy, rounded oblong; taller than it is long, and longer than it is wide. Canon previously brought us the "video chainsaw" form factor in the XL and XH series camcorders; with the C300 they have introduced the "cine potato" design. It looks weird at first glance, but it is eminently usable handheld:



Handholding the C300, with its front foot resting on the palm of my hand.


(If only I had focused my own camera as well as I'm focusing this C300... I'll never work as a 1st AC in this town again!)

The right-side handgrip is as close as practically possible to the center of gravity, while the anti-tipping foot at the front of the camera's base rests comfortably on the base of your left hand, freeing your fingers to adjust focus and zoom without affecting support or balance. Brace the eyepiece against your eye, and the camera is stably supported, even more so than an SLR.



Handholding the C300, using the LCD for viewing.




Right hand in the grip, left hand supporting the body and lens.


Don't like handholding? You can always build the camera into a shoulder-mount rig, if that's your preference:



C300 in a cage rig, with monitor unit front-mounted on rails.




C300 in a cine cage with the Zacuto EVF.


Redrock Micro is the first out the gate with an "ultraCAGE" designed expressly for the C300; Redrock's Brian Valente said that the company "basically took a quarter off" to design it and work out the bugs. The ultraCAGE was used in several of the demo productions, and it was wrapped around a camera or two on the demo set.



Redrock Micro C300 cage, with monitor unit on its own rod. (Glow stick not included.)




Friendly fotog's fortuitous flash highlights the back half of the ultraCAGE.



Next: compared to other cameras, lens options, controls and displays, discussion.

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Comments

stephen v2: | November, 08, 2011

Great report as always Adam. I do agree, the price seems much to high for those of us that are shooting with HDSLRs but am very interested in your tests - especially a side by side the new Mark 1D-X as it’s price point is much lower and points to what we might see on a 5D MkIII or 7D II or whatever they are called.

Adam Wilt: | November, 08, 2011

lightprismtv: no sign of heat issues, at least not yet. Parts of “Mobius” were shot in hot desert conditions, with no reported problems. The C300 has a grid of discreet ventilation holes at the base of the body (you can see ‘em at the start of my video clip) and even smaller ones high on the right side, and a quiet fan drawing air through the body. I never heard the fan running, and the body never felt warm.

stephen: I’ll see if the Canon folks will send me 1Dx along with a C300, all valued within the limits of my loaner insurance… hey, a fella can dream, right?

Mike Curtis says, regarding using extension cables on the handgrip, “[t]he handle cable - isn’t a standard headphone jack, the ring at the bottom carries signal/commands/eletropixeljuice of some sort. So standard headphone extender won’t cut it.” Dang.

stephen v2: | November, 08, 2011

Hopefully they will Adam. I’m guessing if they do send you both, that might just be a well read article wink

Charles Angus: | November, 09, 2011

If this camera was $2.5k, I could see them getting away with 8-bit recording. But for $20k? Get real.

Adam Wilt: | November, 09, 2011

Charles Angus: There are plenty of $20K-plus cameras shooting 8-bit for that sort of money. The entry-level 2/3” XDCAM PMW350L (without lens, like the Canon) is $20,500, and it only shoots 35 Mbit/sec 4:2:0. The 50 Mbit/sec 4:2:2 XDCAM camcorders run into the low $30K range.

Given that the street price on the C300 is likely to be around $15k, it seems to be real enough. Maybe not “OMG buy three of them now!” real, but competitively real. While Canon clearly isn’t aiming to be the low-price leader, and it certainly won’t be an impulse-buy camera, I’m not willing to say they’ve priced themselves out of competition.

You want cheap, comparatively speaking? Get an AF100, FS100, or a DSLR. Nothing wrong with having choices!

Burn-E: | November, 10, 2011

Panasonic finally realized that it had to fill the void between AVC-I and AVCHD and came up with AVC Long-G - 50 Mbit/s AVC with 10-bit sampling. This is a step forward, while keeping file size down.

Canon has never been a pioneer in codecs. It is known for a refined implementation of MPEG-2, but 8 bits won’t be as good as 10.

Hector Berrebi: | November, 10, 2011

Adam, maybe 8 bit recordings (considering they’re 4:2:2) are ok in this price range .
but an 8 bit output from HDSDI?

and what does this even means?
(from the canon FAQ)
“What’s the video data spec over HD-SDI?
Users can choose from the following settings:

MPEG-2 50 Mbps 4:2:2 (CBR)
MPEG-2 35 Mbps 4:2:0 (VBR)
MPEG-2 25 Mbps 4:2:0 (CBR)”


for this price range HD-SDI is expected to give out a clean, uncompressed, 4:2:2 10 bit signal. especially when F3 is capable of it and better (dual link HD SDI)

anyone knows what’s the HDMI outputs spec?

hector

Adam Wilt: | November, 10, 2011

“but an 8 bit output from HDSDI?”

If your ADCs, DSP processing, and overall pipeline are optimized for 8-bit workflows (like the JPEG pipeline in DSLRs and the MPEG pipeline in the XF-series camcorders, you can carry over the same infrastructure to a new camera very easily. But re-architecting everything to support a 10-bit output (which requires a higher bit depth / wider processing channels upstream in the DIGIC processors) is a substantial bit of engineering with an equally substantial up-front cost in chip fabrication.

My guess is that the first thing that’ll be added to the Cinema EOS line, if the C300 is at all successful, will be a 10-bit capable model, just based on the vociferous feedback… but that’s just a guess. A lot will depend on how the market receives the current offering.

Canon is very innovative in their physical designs and sensors, but seems to be fairly conservative in their products otherwise. They push their sensors to extremes of performance, but their codecs and even their market positioning opt for proven positions rather than ground-breaking advances. I get the impression they understand the old dictum that “pioneers are the ones with arrows in their backs”; they’re willing to let other folks be the first with a new codec, or opening a new market (HD back in 2004, 4k now), while they focus on their core competencies in sensors, glass, and operator-focused mechanical design. (Just my opinion, based on no inside info, just from watching the company and its products).

“and what does this even means?”

It means the FAQ writers got confused between the recording specs and the output specs, grin.

Hector Berrebi: | November, 11, 2011

I agree with everything you said about Canon and the way the company operates. if i remember correctly the Xl H1 had a 10 bit HDSDI output. so canon has (or at least had) the know how..
and that camera cost 1/4 of the 300.

just saying. even at 15K… this camera seems over priced. especially because of the 8 bit output. with so many good external recording options offered today, this is clearly not reading the market right on Canon’s end.

this cam shouldn’t cost more than the F3, and definitely shouldn’t cost more than the Scarlet, (whenever it may come).

i still wonder what comes out of the HDMI… couldn’t find valid info on this

hector

lightprismtv: | November, 11, 2011

I may be wrong, but I believe the H1 series was outputting 2 empty bits in the HD-SDI stream and was truly only putting out 8 bits.

The early adverstising was misleading IMHO as it made it appear to be a true SMPTE 10 bit stream. Still a marvelous camcorder and glass - especially when mated with an XDR or nanoFlash at 422 instead of 420HDV

Charles Angus: | November, 14, 2011

@Adam Wilt: This is how I look at this camera: they’ve taken their popular 7d, fixed the aliasing/moire problems, added pro inputs and outputs for monitoring, removed pretty much all stills capabilities, and are giving the option of PL mount.

For that, they’re asking for a 10x price increase!

It just seems insane.

And I realize that there are other cameras out there that only shoot 8-bit. I say to that: A) most (all?) of those cameras are targeted towards news-gathering primarily, not cinema production (like this cam). B) Just because other people are making feature-poor overpriced cameras doesn’t mean it’s right…

This cam just doesn’t stack up with the other similar offerings on the market, at the moment. The PL version is about the same price as an F3, more expensive than the Scarlet, and 14x the price of the 7d (it’s closest cousin at Canon).

Burn-E: | November, 14, 2011

I belive that the HDW-F900 Cinealta used by Lucas and Sokurov, shot in HD422, 8-bits. But this was almost a decade ago.

Charles Angus: | November, 14, 2011

@Burn-E: True, but that reminds me of another point: AFAIK, all of the internal 8-bit recording cameras mentioned do internal signal processing at >10-bits, and provide a 10-bit output.

IIRC, when the F900 was used on Star Wars, it was recorded in 10-bits to exernal HDCAM-SR recorders.

tunny: | November, 16, 2011

Just one point. You mention that the sensor is 3840x2160….. Not quite, that’s certainly the read area for the C300, but the actual dimensions are 4206 x 2340. May be a fairly academic point here, but is a sign that it’s been designed with 4k firmly in mind, and not just QFHD 4k!

An excellent review though, Adam!

Adam Wilt: | November, 18, 2011

“[T]he actual dimensions are 4206 x 2340”. True, and indeed the sensor may have been designed to allow Bayer-encoded 4K. Making a single-sized sensor for both quad HD (3840x2160) and full 4K (4096x2304) makes perfect sense since the actual pixel counts are so similar; there’s only a 7% difference in the H & V pixel counts between ‘em.

But it’s also the case that sensors are overequipped with photosites, the overage (the difference between “total” and “effective” photosites) most often used for black-level calibration, dark-current sensing, and other such housekeeping tasks.

Furthermore, to get a “true 4K” image out of a Bayer-encoded single-sensor image, you need to start with a 5K sensor: 5120x2880, assuming a 16:9 aspect ratio. DeBayering a Bayer-pattern image eats up ~20% of the pixel-count-based maximum resolution figure; that’s a much greater hit that the 7% difference between QuadHD and true 4K. And using the 2x2 decoding method used by the C300 would require an 8K sensor to yield a 4K image!

And all this (as well as the commotion about bit depth) may be missing the main point about the C300. Jon Fauer again reports, “the really big deal is the incredible beauty of scenes shot at Exposure Indexes from 320 to 20,000 ISO. This camera lets you focus on the night. While some blogerati are focusing on bits and Ks, the simple question is, ‘Do you want to shoot noiselessly and grain-free at 16,000 ISO?’ Studio heads are taking notice of the C300 because, as one mogul told me, ‘The dreaded words NIGHT-EXTERIOR no longer mean more expense than DAY-EXTERIOR.’” One need only look at the “sensitivity revolution” in high-end still cameras these past few years to see the importance of this factor.

I also think the form factor of the camera and its ergonomics are another big deal. Size, weight, and usability are frequently just as important as bit counts, pixels, and other tech specs. I have access to RED ONEs and Arri/Zeiss Ultra Primes, with all the 4K goodness and RAW recording bit-depth those cameras allow, but I’m far more likely to grab our 1/2” Sony PMW-EX1 or my micro-4/3 Panasonic GH2 or full-frame Canon 5D Mk II for any sort of location work. I love the images I get out of our REDs, but I don’t love hauling ‘em around. The same sort of “can I just pick it up and use it” calculus will likely drive the C300 into places where its numerical specifications alone wouldn’t make it seem so competitive.

We’ll see…

tunny: | November, 18, 2011

I agree with all of that. I was really pointing out that the “full” sensor dimensions were 4206 x 2340 - not 3840x2160. And yes, there is a difference between “total” and “effective” - but for true 4k we would still have that - 4206 v 4096 horizontally and 2340 v 2304. Overages of 110 and 36 respectively.

And yes to the points about a 5k sensor for true 4k video. But the 4k sensor naturally deBayers to a 4k raster, the deBayered 5k would then need a downconversion. I can see why the Canon sensor may well be a desirable “good enough” next step. Not “true” full 4k resolution, but….

As regards the “8k sensor for 4k” remark, if the 2x2 readout was used, then I have heard it mentioned that a holy grail of a “universal camera” may come with a roughly 32 megapixel sensor. (Say 7680x4320)

DeBayer normally for a high res still image, do a 2x2 read out for “true” 4k video, and a 4x4 read out for 1080. May be getting a bit off-topic, but I would be interested in your thoughts about that?

JohnHess: | November, 20, 2011

Hey Adam - love this overview and I think you are right on the money. I took a similar position on our site (although my technical know how isn’t as solid as yours) but we were soon inundated with RED Scarlet Fanboys. “It doesn’t shoot 4k! - you can’t grade in anything but Red Rawcode” - on and on

Glad to see this has happened here yet.

Bill Nelson: | November, 28, 2011

perhaps Canon is protecting the 10-bit territory for follow-on products?

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