Canon C300 Mark II – Initial Impressions

04.01.16

Our C300 Mark II alongside our trust C100 on set during our recent project for Aventa.

As long time users of Canon cameras, in particular the Canon Cinema EOS C100 and C300, we were very excited when Canon announced the C300 Mark II at NAB in April 2015. It ticked all the right boxes for us; 4K resolution at 10 bit, better codecs, high frame rates, and most importantly that beautiful Canon colour that we’ve come to know and love over the last few years. We immediately put down a deposit, and after travelling down to Pinewood Studios to try out a pre-production camera in August, decided to purchase one of the first cameras to hit the UK. In early October a large and expensive feeling box turned up just in time for the start of production on our videos for Aventa. After using it extensively throughout the 7 day shoot for that project we were very impressed with the camera, so thought we’d take you through our initial findings.

Ergonomics and Build

One of the best things about the original C100 and C300 is their rock solid build quality. Our C100 has travelled with us all over the world, braving extreme heat and dust in Qatar, rain in Porto and the general rigours of video production with aplomb. Its also an incredibly easy and intuitive camera to operate, whether its stripped down for a run and gun shoot on the streets of Porto, or fully rigged up for a commercial shoot in Norwich. This aspect is hugely important to the way we work, as the best equipment gets out of your way and allows you to work quickly and efficiently, allowing you to concentrate on the most important thing; telling the story. After a few hours of shooting with it, we’re
pleased to report see that these traits have continued with the Mark II version. The ergonomics are very similar to before, meaning that if, like us, you loved the DSLR-like handling and button placement, you’ll be a fan of the camera. If you hated it…then this might not be the camera for you. The build quality is even better than the Mark I, with the camera’s internal skeleton now comprised of solid cast magnesium. This does make the camera slightly heavier than the older model, but its now reassuringly solid and feels like the professional piece of kit that it is. The camera is also slightly larger than the Mark I, but still maintains the ability to be easily handheld, and most importantly for us, can easily be stripped down to fit in a carry on bag for international travel. The camera makes use of new memory card and battery technologies owing to the increase in data and power the camera needs to throughput. Like the Mark I, the batteries are small, easily portable and airline carry on safe. We’re also pleased to see the camera comes with a dual charger (though we wish Canon had made it a little smaller!) The camera records to CFast 2.0 cards. Whilst a little expensive at the moment, their price is coming down quickly, and unlike other competing formats (and just like the CompactFlash cards used in the C300) are more readily available worldwide, so picking up an extra card or two in an airport shouldn’t be too hard.

Graded C300 Mark II frame grab from our recent project for Aventa.

Graded C300 Mark II frame grab from our recent project for Aventa.

New Features

On paper, its no secret that Canon cameras often seem a bit under specced compared to offerings from other camera manufacturers. However, in use its a very different story, and their capabilities often far outweigh what the spec sheet suggests. This has paid off for us many times over, allowing us to capture stunning footage with beautiful colour in some very challenging situations. This camera is packed full of new features, most of which help improve upon what make the C100 and C300 great cameras to shoot and tell stories with. The headline feature is of course the camera’s ability to shoot 4K at 10 bit 4:2:2 with approx. 15 stops of dynamic range, and it also features 2K 4:4:4 recording at 10 and 12 bit internally. That last one in particular is often overlooked and is pretty exciting if you ask us, as its the only camera in its class capable of shooting in such a high bit and colour depth internally, and this allows for a huge amount of latitude and choice when we come to colour grade the image in post production. Unlike its predecessor, the camera also features a large variety of high speed modes, allowing the camera to shoot up to 120 frames per second in 2K, producing some very nice looking slow motion footage, which expand and enhance the creative options available to us when shooting. One item that is missing from the spec sheet is 4K at 60 frames per second. At this stage, its a nice to have rather than a necessity and something we’re hoping Canon might address in a future firmware update.

The camera is also full of numerous improvements over its predecessor, all of which make everyday use even easier and more intuitive, allowing you to focus on the story, rather than diving through endless menus to find the right setting. These include a revolutionary new auto focus system that we’ve only had a chance to play with briefly. Our first impressions are very positive, and its a huge improvement over the version in the C100, which we put to frequent use when mounted on our Freefly MoVi gimbal, allowing us to get shots that otherwise would have been very difficult to pull off any other way. The camera now also features 10 stops of internal ND vs 6 in the Mark I, which should prove very useful when shooting in extremely bright conditions similar to what we faced in Qatar. There are hundreds of little improvements like these, both big and small, which add up to make the camera far more powerful, but also more intuitive to use on set than its predecessor.

Image

The most important feature of any camera, as far as we’re concerned, is the image. A camera can have the greatest, most advanced specs in the world, but if it can’t produce a beautiful, filmic image its no good to us. More importantly (given its what we end up filming most of the time!) it has to make people look great. So many cameras look great on paper, but their image (and skin tone rendition) fall apart in low light or mixed colour temperatures. Canon worked hard to make the colour science in the C-series do just that, and its for that reason we’ve loved using these cameras over the past few years, and is the primary reason we invested in this camera over its competitors. After our initial shoots, its clear that this heritage is alive and well in the Mark II, but that the image has also been improved and refined, pushing it closer towards the current gold standard in digital cinema, the Arri Alexa. In fact, the camera has a colour matrix designed to match the Alexa as closely as possible, and the resulting footage is very pleasing indeed. This is one aspect of the camera we’re really looking forward to exploring further on some projects this year.

Final Thoughts

Overall, we’re delighted with the C300 Mark II. Whilst its not the most heavily specced camera on paper (nor the cheapest!) it ticks all the boxes for what we need in a camera. It produces a beautiful, filmic and Alexa-like image in 4K and 2K, has great slow motion options, and most importantly is easy to use, transport and power; allowing us to concentrate on storytelling. We can’t wait to put the camera through its paces on some upcoming shoots, and we’ll be sharing our thoughts on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, so be sure to follow and Like us to see what we get up to.