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.]
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.
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”: 3840×2160. The CMOS sensor uses an RGB Bayer-pattern color filter array, but derives a 4:4:4 HD signal via 2×2 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.
5D Mk II compared to C300, both with EF 24-105mm f4 lenses.
The C300 compared to the 1/3″ single-chip XF105.
The C300 compared to the 1/3″ 3-chip XF305.
Any EF-mount lens, whether for full-frame or APS-C sensors, works on the C300. The camera provides electronic iris control and reads back lens data (zoom and iris) for display in the finder. Canon is repackaging its two new cine zooms (14.5-60mm T2,6 and 30-300mm T2.95-3.7) with EF mounts, and is introducing three new primes: 24mm T1.5, 50mm T1.3, and 85mm T1.3.
Canon’s new EF-mount cine lenses.
Canon adds three primes to the zooms seen (in PL mount) at NAB.
C300 PL with PL-mount 14.5-60mm cine zoom… and an Arri matte box bigger than the camera.
Another view of the C300 PL with 14.5-60mm zoom.
With a minimal matte box, this is as close to a run’n’gun rig as the C300 / EF-mount 30-300mm will allow.
C300 PL, Canon PL 30-300mm, Redrock Micro ultraCAGE, and Redrock microTape rangefinder.
A handheld C300 with a Canon fisheye prime.
My 90mm tilt-shift lens Just Works on the C300.
Hands-on with the 14.5-60mm’s smooth-spinning focus ring.
Displays, Operator Aids, and Canon Log
LCD with zebra, red peaking, and WFM enabled.
LCD image with normal gamma. Note clipped highlights.
Same exposure settings as above, but in “cine locked” mode with Canon Log gamma: highlights preserved.
Here’s a quick ‘n’ dirty video showing off various viewfinder displays, as well as the effect of Canon Log:
Quad-HD sensor and 2×2 Sampling
The C300 uses a “quad HD” sensor with 3840×2160 active photosites. It’s downsampled to 1920×1080 HD by reading out 2×2 clumps of photosites (two green, one red, one blue), which makes for a very simple 4:4:4 internal signal derivation.
The 2×2 readout is an old trick used in single-sensor SD interlaced cameras at least as far back as the mid-’90s; I recall seeing it described in Sony developer docs for some of their CMY Bayer-pattern industrial sensors.
The C300 uses an RGB color filter array. If the photosites in this sensor are arrayed in the standard Bayer pattern:
G R G R
B G B G
G R G R
B G B G
then the quad-HD sensor is (to a first, and very rough, approximation) “natively 4:2:0” at 3840×2160 resolution, but clumping it into 2×2 blocks gives you:
G R G R
B G B G
G R G R
B G B G
which gives you an honest 4:4:4 at HD’s 1920×1080 resolution. All you have to do to get that 4:4:4 is look at the R, G, and B values from each 2×2 block; you don’t need to do any complex processing as you do in full deBayering.
2×2 decoding in this manner gives you resolution measured in TVl/ph limited to 50% of the photosite-per-scanline count, whereas sophisticated deBayering gives you about 80% of the photosite-per-scanline value. A quad-HD sensor decoded in this manner yields precisely 1920×1080 full-color samples. Thus, this camera is optimized for 1920×1080 HD output and recording; there’s no sense in asking it to output anything bigger, because there’s no additional detail to be gained by doing so. (Yes, one could employ a 2×2 “sliding window” decode, incrementing by single pixels across and down instead of by twos. It requires somewhat more tricky decoding, and there isn’t a full 2x increase in resolution. Indeed, the C300 may be doing something like this already; it can result in a cleaner image. The general concept is the same, however.)
In any event it’s whoops better than the line-skipping seen in various DSLRs, and may well give a naturally crisper and more alias-free image that other LSS cameras with lower-resolution, deBayered sensors. It will be interesting to put this camera to the test when it finally ships.
I watched part of Sam Nicholson’s “XXIT”, a sort of Blade Runner / Metropolis / Firefly / Thomas Dolby mashup (grin), while sitting 20 feet from the 40-foot screen in Paramount’s theater. I paid special attention to hair detail, especially flyaway strands against the sky in the closing scenes. It all looked good, with no visible aliasing, no anisomorphic detail, no stairstepping, fringing, or chroma moir©.
High ISO shooting
The camera’s native rating is ISO 850, and it tops out at ISO 20,000. Again, the 2×2 sensor sampling allows the signal and the noise for any HD pixel to be derived independently from that of adjacent HD pixels; the noise from the C300 should be fine-grained and isomorphic, without the horizontal chroma smearing that screams “video”. And indeed, this seems to be the case.
LCD’s magnified view of an ISO 20,000 image.
Mind you, this is a Canon 5D Mk II picture of a 4-inch LCD showing a zoomed-in blowup of unknown magnification, and not an actual 1:1 sample of a C300 frame… but the ISO 20,000 projected footage at the event looked very filmic, like a high-speed film stock.
Jon Fauer considers this high-ISO performance to be the Big Deal about the C300. I can’t say I disagree.
Wireless control of a C300 (with optional WFT receiver) demoed using iPad’s Safari browser.
Wireless control requires a small wireless dongle to be attached to the camera. Image refresh rate is said to be one second (my photo is of a mockup, not a live demo), so this sort of remote control is more likely to be useful for remote jib arm setups and for record triggers than for live focus-pulling.
Underwater housing. Note: C300 is not a pocket camera in this configuration.
Just for fun: cross-section of an EF 400mm f4.
Lurking in the display case: mockup of a “future cinema optimized DSLR”.
A DSLR with the red “C” badge? It would appear that the C300 does not herald a turning of the back on the still-cam form factor.
Single? Double? Triple? Home Run?
I haven’t seen this much controversy over a camera announcement (RED aside, grin) since the last time Canon did this to us.
In the summer of 2004, Canon held a big press event in New York, just before DV Expo East. They went so far as to fly various ink-stained wretches, including your correspondent, across the country and put us up in a nice hotel so we could report on the Grand Unveiling. We were all certain that This Was It: Canon was about to reveal their first HD camera. Instead, we were shown the standard-def XL2, essentially the second revision of the iconic “video chainsaw” DV camcorder; a solid step forward, true, but not the revolutionary change we had been anticipating. JVC and Sony were both marching into the HDV future, but Canon was still refining a standard-def product.
Flash forward to 2011: Canon tells the world to be in Hollywood for a Big Deal: surely this must be Canon’s prototype 4K camera, turned into a product? Nope, it’s got a 4K sensor, but it’s “just” HD resolution, and it offers a paltry 8-bit-deep signal, at that. Furthermore, the list price of US$20,000 sounds mighty steep, especially seeing that the RED Scarlet is announced the same day for “under $10,000”.
Let’s look at the negatives first.
1) “Just” HD – why not 4K? Consider that the vast majority of digital acquisition, even for the big screen, is done at HD resolution or something close to it. RED has their Bayer-mask 4K and 5K; Arri has Bayer-mask 2880-wide ArriRAW images in Alexa (which resolves pretty much to HD after deBayering), but all the other players are doing 2K RAW (Silicon Image) or 1920×1080 (HDCam SR, XDCAM EX, AVC-Intra, SxS ProRes on Alexa, etc.).
The quad-HD sensor lets the C300 capture a truly clean, full-res HD signal, and the 1920×1080 signal can use the already-proven 50 Mbit/sec 4:2:2 MPEG-2 MXF format for immediate usability in any post pathway. Consider that you get 40 minutes on a single 16 GB CF card. That same capacity, in a 4K RED ONE, yields a mere eight minutes, and the resulting files have to be “developed” to be watchable.
2) 8-bits, both recorded and over HD-SDI – this is, for me, the most limiting factor in the C300’s design. Well-shot 8-bit video looks mighty fine; that’s not a problem. But when you need to push the levels around a lot in post, the limits of 8-bit recording can show up.
It’s an open question whether shooting 8-bit log is really a good idea: once the image is converted to a viewing gamma, won’t gaps in the tonal scale open up noticeably?
It’s not just an idle question; Frederic Haubrich (of LumiereHD fame; involved in early RED design work; and one of the very few doc filmmakers I know who is more active in producing fully-funded docs than in complaining about how hard it is to get funding) said that he saw some banding in sky gradients during the showing of Laforet’s “Mobius”. DV shooters may remember that the Canon XL1 sometimes showed banding in skies; its video was so clean that there was no noise to act as a “dither signal” to mask the limited bit depth of 8-bit DV recording. XL1 shooters often resorted to shooting exteriors at high gain, so that there would be enough noise to dither the signal. Given that the C300 looks very clean at rather high sensitivities, one can imagine the poor operator using all six stops of internal ND, plus considerable external ND, simply to be able to shoot outdoors at ISO 6400 or so.
Having said that, theory is one thing and reality another. I didn’t get a chance to see “Mobius” on the big screen, but I looked very closely at the Yosemite skies in “XXIT”, and they looked smooth and continuous. Before we get too much exercise from jumping to conclusions, let’s wait and see how the C300 performs once it’s released.
3) $20,000. That’s a list price, not a street price; street may be 25% lower. That puts it in the same general price range as other LSS camcorders like the Sony PMW-F3 and the RED Scarlet (once you add on all the bits ‘n’ pieces needed to turn the basic Scarlet into a working camera).
The F3 has only 8-bit, 4:2:0, 35 Mbit/sec XDCAM EX recording on-board, but you can hook up an external recorder (at extra cost) to its SDI port for a full 10-bit, 4:2:2 signal. Scarlet shoots a 4K image and records it as 16-bit RAW.
The C300 is limited to 8 bits both internally and externally, but its 50 Mbit/sec, 4:2:2 long-GOP recording meets the quality requirements of finicky distributors like the BBC and Discovery Networks. Unlike the F3’s XDCAM EX, the C300’s camera-captured files can go straight into post at the pickiest of networks, with no excuses. Unlike RED clips, the C300’s files are immediately playable without heroic measure to deBayer them and render good color.
Yes, it looks like I’m making weak rationalizations, but don’t discount the power of simplicity, speed, and convenience.
Consider the Arri Alexa: 1920×1080 10-bit ProRes files recorded internally on SxS cards, or 2880×1620 12-bit ARRIRAW files recorded externally. Sure, the ARRIRAW files are better… but the ProRes files are ready to edit with immediately, and don’t need a bulky Codex recorder. There’s a lot more Alexa footage going straight to ProRes than to ARRIRAW… and a lot of that footage is shot in Arri’s Rec.709-like viewing gamma, even if Arri LogC is “better”, because the Rec.709 pix don’t require grading to be usable. Sure, we’re all quality freaks, but at some point, “good enough” is good enough, especially if we can travel lighter, wrap faster, and have fewer hassles in post.
For this reason, I think the C300 has a stronger story than many give it credit for. Whatever else you say about Canons, they do make very pretty pictures. You can set up a shot on the C300, get your client to sign off on it (no fiddly monitor LUTs needed, because the image already looks good), and shoot it straight to an internal CF card. That same image goes straight into editing with no oddball SDKs or drivers to worry about, no fancy hardware accelerators, and no need for a deBayering step, “color science” processing, or a log-to-709 LUT (unless you choose to shoot that way)—and no one whinges about the bitrate being too low to get past the Technical Operating Standards gatekeepers. It’s fast, it’s simple, it runs forever on tiny batteries; what’s not to like?
Then, there’s that design. Bruce Johnson is peeved about the form factor, and he has a point. But consider that it’s trivially simple to build a small camera into a shoulder-mount rig, while it’s difficult to take a big shouldercam and cut it down for handheld or cramped-quarters uses. Small cameras are more portable; make for lighter-weight support gear; are less taxing for Steadicam operators; pack more easily for the Kafkaesque nightmare of modern commercial air travel. And Canon has really done their homework on the design: Canon folks at Paramount were saying they’d spent two years talking with DPs and operators about what they needed. What came out of the effort was a handheld LSS design that works as well as any such design can, given the variable weight and balance of interchangeable large-format lenses. At least in the limited time I spent with it, I felt more comfortable handholding it than I have the F3, the AF100, or the EPIC; the camera is well balanced, the front foot greatly aids stability, the orientable grip is comfortably contoured. The entire package just feels right.
With fifteen assignable buttons, four start/stop triggers, two joysticks, and a selector wheel, you’re not hurting for control. The displays include peaking, zebra, “digital grass” focus assist, image magnification, waveform and vector displays; all the conveniences Canon XF-series shooters have come to rely on. Canon’s high degree of image tweakability carries across to the C300, and adds a DSLR rendering and a Log rendering to the toolkit.
The whole things also has the fit and finish of Canon’s pro-level still cameras, even down to the same handgrip control dial and the side-mounted selector wheel familiar to 5D/7D shooters. The C300 feels solid, stable, sober, and professional in a way that Canon’s other camcorders haven’t, at least not to me (not that they felt cheap, but there’s something businesslike about the higher-end DSLRs that seems to have eluded prior Canon video cams).
When I first saw the specs, I was disappointed: 8-bit 1080p for $20K? But when I got my hands on the weird-looking C300, the logic of its design became apparent and the overall system-level aspects of the camera—direct-to-edit high-bitrate MPEG-2 with good color; high ISO (really high ISO) when necessary; video-style operational controls and displays; flexible image tweaks; long-running batteries and abstemious storage requirements—made me realize that this camera is very likely more than just the sum of its parts.
8 bits, not 10; HD, not 4K: “close, but no cigar”? After all, close only counts for horseshoes and hand grenades. I called the C300 a “cine potato”, but there are other lumpy ovoids it could be compared to. Like, for example, a hand grenade.
Don’t count the C300 out just yet. Let’s wait until it ships and we can get our hands in it. Then we can pull the pin, and see what sort of explosions ensue.
I attended the Canon Event at Paramount on my own dime: I paid for my own transport (Southwest, Hertz) and meal (breakfast at Astro Burger: veggie ham sandwich). I received no special consideration from Canon (other than two orange juices, a veggie panini, and two skewers of fruit); no material connection exists between Canon and myself. I do however own a Canon 5D Mk II and way too many lenses, bought on the open market with way too much of my money.