C100 AF Upgrade – worth it?

Canon’s introduced Dual Pixel autofocus for faster, more accurate focus on certain lenses. It cost an extra £340 plus VAT. Is it worth it?

The demos have been very convincing, though until Philip Bloom’s recent trial they’ve been fairly ‘safe’ studio-based tests. Like most C100 owners, I’m more ‘run and gun’ – and whilst I prefer manual focus, there are times when it’s a joy to let the camera help out when you don’t have a chance to plan. Hand-held pick-up shots of activities, children, animals, or when you’re unable to reach the camera – cranes and jibs for example.

So I decided to further demonstrate the tax-deductible nature of our chickens by employing them as models for my test shoot. They are suitable unpredictable, active, and feathers are something fairly easy to judge focus by. The result is shared below – it’s got no sound, this is NOT a Philip Bloom style video, but it demonstrates the Dual Pixel AF in use. There are situations where it snatches focus well and holds onto it. There are situations where it just gives up.

I’ve done some slow motion sequences too, and with Canon STM lenses it really is quick – useful in the (limited) C100 slomo situations.

Of course, it’s not perfect.

Continuous AF can be a little TOO helpful, and luckily ‘1 Shot AF’ is still fully functioning, using the same speedy mechanism.

This way, you press the AF button when your subject spends a second or so in the centre of the screen, the AF settles, and it locks at that point. Not good for tracking, but much more helpful when you’re not using a composition that’s centre weighted. It’s also smart enough not to ‘defocus to refocus’ unlike contrast detecting AF, so I’ll be testing it out on conference shots following a speaker up and down the stage. This way, I can select WHEN the AF does its magic rather than suffer the embarrassment of having the camera develop an obsession with the background, or for me not nailing the focus at the end of a ‘walk’.

The STM lenses are designed for this mode. They’re great. I tried a few other lenses, and the 70-200 f4 is pretty snappy. The 24-105 is okay.

The Sigma 50mm 1.4 is… a dog. But I knew this. The Sigma as a photographic lens was so bad I almost ditched it. As a manual video lens, it’s pretty darn good, my second favourite after the Samyang 85 1.4. But the Sigma’s conversation with the C100 is still so simplistic that it can’t take advantage of the Dual Pixel AF mode, and insists on defocussing and then grunting away at pulling it into sharp focus – frequently giving up or getting it wrong. This is how it behaved on my Canon C550, so it’s no surprise.

Be aware that image stabilisation and auto focus systems make a noise. Leaving the AF in continuous on an image stabilised 70-200 f4 made quite a racket. You would want to turn off both in an interview, or at least use ‘One Shot AF’ if you need to rely on a camera mounted microphone.

Overall, yes – to an event videographer who owns an STM lens, this upgrade is Sine Qua Non. In fact, most C100 owners are going to find uses for it.

And therein lies the rub: this upgrade is not cheap. You have to send your camera off to Canon for a few days, and there’s been a waiting list. This upgrade has taken Canon by surprise in its popularity, it seems.

Canon initially offered this AF upgrade for C100 owners only. No, it wasn’t going to be available for the C300, and no, it would only be offered as an upgrade. Not ‘off the shelf’.

Well, guess what? You can now get the C100 with the AF ‘pre-installed’ at $500 extra on the price, there’s a waiting list for C300 owners to get the upgrade, and I’m pretty sure that at some stage the AF function will be on the C100 and C300 (or their newer siblings after NAB perhaps) at ‘no extra cost’. But hey – the original owners of the C100 got to pay the ‘shiny’ tax, but we had the camera earning its keep for 12-18 months before the upgrade. It’s not quite the ’S-Log upgrade’ that hung over the first PMW-F3 owners.

So, get your C100 upgraded – you’ll find the firmware goes up from 1.0.3.00 to 2.0.3.00 – showing that the hardware has been tweaked and proving it’s got the Dual Pixel AF upgrade installed.

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