Canon EOS C300 first impressions

A number of dealerships are hosting mini-events for video people to come and prod, poke, pet and stroke Canon’s new Digital Cine Camera – the C300. I popped over to Visual Impact in Teddington to see this fabled camera ‘on the hoof’ so to speak. A quick summary of the C300.

I came out with the following headlines:

  • £10k is so much better than $20k, it’s back in the game, but still a lot of money
  • Expensive looking pictures when graded
  • Clean pictures from raw rushes, but didn’t see Canon’s log images and how they grade
  • Viewfinder isn’t as magnified as I’d like, not so sure of focus as, say, an EX3
  • Top LCD is like FS100, not much help if I were interviewing David Prowse (i.e. lens well above my eyeline)
  • Not as heavy as I’d expected, but temptation is to shoot hand held from chest height
  • Audio inputs – XLRs only when wearing ‘LCD Panel hat’, or there’s an interesting addition of 3.5mm jack (radio mic? Reference audio?)
  • Power consumption – 2-3 big batts (similar to BPU-60s) for a day’s shooting
  • Price and marketing aside, it reminds me of Canon’s answer to the PMW-EX3
  • Wifi dongle allows camera control via browser – including iPhone, iPad. Lens can be focused remotely – set up two focus points and pull between? Not yet. Bother – that could have been a killer feature

The emotional similarities to the EX3 are, perhaps, my biggest takeaway at this price point. Okay, so it’s got an S35 sensor and a 50 Mbit 422 codec which are way ahead of the EX3, but it feels about equal in terms of its bulk, fit and finish. Certainly all those little features we love in the EX series are here: intervalometer, cache record, slow accumulation shutter, and so on.

We didn’t get to see the switch between Camera and Media mode. On the original EX1, it seemed a very long time. The EX1R is quicker, the F3 and FS100 don’t have a ‘power down, power up’ media mode, just a button that brings up thumbnails – first time I saw that, it was a real wow moment. Alas the C300 has a sort of Washing Machine dial to switch between modes, which feels a bit ‘last year’.

However, I’ll admit to finding the C300 to be a lovely breath of fresh air in camera design. Like the FS100, it’s an amalgam of DSLR and video camera, trying to capture the spontaneity and and immediacy of a DSLR whilst capturing video that will survive the broadcast chain. However, its challenging new looks will turn a few heads – it certainly is NOT something you could claim to be prosumer. It’s ‘medium format’, reminiscent of the Pentax 67 rather than the FS100’s Bronica ETRs (happy days).

At Visuals’ event, there were lots of talk about cages, bracketry and hardware. That’s one thing I’d forgotten as an FS100 owner – the 300C has a tripod screw or two at the bottom, a cold shoe on the top (!) and that’s it as far as I could tell. If you needed an EVF (in my opinion, you would want one), you’d need something else bolted onto the camera to bolt it onto.

Overall? I’m not trading in my EX1s yet. There are still plenty of situations where a 1/2” sensor is perfect. Should I have waited before buying my FS100, and perhaps held out for the 300C? I would have spent twice the money on hardware and my clientele wouldn’t have paid me any more. At £8k, this would be a very very exciting camera – and for any less, I’d find a granny to sell – a no-brainer shoo-in for medium format corporate and broadcast work. at £10k, you’re leaving the corporates behind save for the commercial end, and that tends to favour Reds and Alexas which are rented rather than owned.

As a digital cine camera, it’s up against the Alexa, Epic and S65 – three very, very good cameras for cine work. It will be the budget end of that. As a Corporate machine, it’s at the high end during a recession. So I’m going to sit on the fence for a bit, keeping my eye out for a C100.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

Of course the (at time of writing) unnamed 4K DSLR-style camera might just be that – which is extremely interesting. Whilst it is billed as a 4K device, the intention is that it will shoot HD (1080p) too. Now, if it’s basically the 1-DX but with a clean output and some audio controls, that is a very important device.

After all, if your 5D could be free of moire and aliasing, with very good resistance to ‘jello’ image sheer during pans and quick movement, and record to the new 1DX format or even a more robust format such as prores or DNxHD with an external recorder, how would that change things?

Filmmakers embraced the video DSLR as much for its form factor as its low light sensitivity and shallow depth of field. So quick and visceral to shoot with, not standing out or intimidating its subjects, many shooters are convinced they’ll keep shooting with DSLRs even though we have a wide choice of more, ahem, suitable cameras.

I’m in that camp. I really enjoyed shooting with my Canon. Still do, now and again (though only for jobs that won’t be ruined by moire or aliasing). The areas where it had let me down in the past could now, to all intents and purposes, be fixed. That resets my attitude to DSLR shooting.

I guess we could all find room in our menageries for a well behaved DSLR sometime next year.