Canon C100: Upgrading from a DSLR
It was time to buy a new video camera for my video production needs. I had used a Red Scarlet in my role as a freelance cameraman, and so had experienced a level of image detail and dynamic range that created a dissatisfaction in my Canon 550d and even the current crop of DSLRs that are available. So the search began about 2 months ago. My criteria were simple. Number one, I wanted a better image than my DSLR was giving me. Number 2, the new camera had to accommodate my Canon lens investment. Number 3, it had to work straight out of the box.
And so I read a lot of reviews and scanned the forums seeking information on the current crop of Super 35 chip video cameras in my budget range. For me the one that really stood out and I felt met all my needs was the relatively new Canon C100. Skip forward to the end of May and I am now the owner of a C100 and Atomos Ninja 2 setup.
What follows is a quick review based on my first week of ownership and using it on a couple of paying jobs.
My testing consisted of some back garden shots to make sure I could find my way round the menus, etc. I also set the picture profile to C-Log as I wanted the best dynamic range for post production.
Just for fun I did a comparison shot with my 550D and found the difference in detail is incredible (yes I checked the focus on the 550D using the ML peaking feature and 10x magnification!) Click the image to see a full 1080p image:
The 2 jobs couldn’t have been more different and have really allowed me to experience the C100’s excellent versatility.
Job one was a series of interviews with associated cutaways that allowed me to test the built in sound recording as well as skin tones and dynamic range. Job two was a series of landscapes for a tourist board, where I could see how well the camera handled a lot of detail.
I felt a little in the deep end with the first of the interviews as I had to go with a camera I wasn’t sure of and look professional. (translation: look like I knew what I was doing!) I set the camera on the tripod, plugged in the Ninja 2, tie mics and headphones, focused, checked exposure, and hit record. This is when it started to hit me how easy this camera was to use. Ergonomically its excellent, and coming from a DSLR it is quite familiar in shape. With the first interview complete, I set about shooting the cutaways, using a tripod and slider. An hour later I offloaded the footage with the editor, and left hoping everything was all good. Later that day I received a message from him stating “The image coming out of the camera [C100] is beaut. Pure sharp and lovely colour tones!” Here is a graded screen shot: (click the image to view a full 1080p image)
The C100 was perfect for these shoots. The vast majority was inside, so the LCD was easy to see. As many have said the EVF isn’t the best. It’s not completely useless but being a person who wears glasses its very difficult to get close enough and therefore use due to light leak. This is because its too close to the camera body and constructed of hard plastic. Why Canon did this is mind boggling! The C100 has been hailed as the logical progression from a DSLR which depended on the rear LCD so it’s not a killer point for me. I’m investigating some sort of eyepiece to help with this.
When it comes to Audio, the 2 XLR inputs are a great advantage over DSLRs. I no longer need a separate audio recorder. One device for video and audio. Syncing in post is a thing of the past. Regarding the audio the same editor stated “That audio is absolutely crazy clean!!” I own the same mics as him so thats high praise indeed for the C100 audio circuitry.
I spent a day in County Fermanagh filming stock footage of areas of beauty for tourist board use. I knew this would be a good test for the C-Log profile giving me 12 stops of dynamic range. The shoot started at 5am with a sunrise and continued throughout the day with cloudless blue skies. I was blown away by the detail in these shots. Here are some examples of graded screen shots: (click on the images to view full 1080p images)
The shortcomings of the LCD and EVF came to the fore in the bright sunlight. Thankfully I had my old LCDVF loupe with me though it was designed for the 550D 3″ LCD. It wasn’t ideal but it allowed me to focus and check exposure. I can’t fix it to the C100s LCD, so I could only hold it in place while I focused and set exposure.
Exposure was difficult in these bright conditions but I was confident that c-log would allow me some lea way in post.
Over the five days of constant use the C100 performed flawlessly. Physically everything is laid out very intuitively with the minimum amount of buttons required to operate the camera. The hand grip contains the 2 main buttons – the record button and the focus zoom button. Both are ideally located. The buttons on the left side of the camera provide features like peaking and zebras, waveform, white balance, etc.
One feature I also use regularly is the One-Shot AF button located front left side. It’s great for focusing in bright days when seeing the screen is difficult. It hasn’t let me down yet. One small infrequent problem occurred when I was using my Tamron 17-50mm F2.8 VC 2 lens. Sometimes the lens would refuse to focus and the aperture would jump to wide open. This didn’t happen with my Canon 70-200mm f4 L lens so perhaps there is a small incompatibility with the Tamron. Maybe a firmware update would fix this? As I said it was not a frequent occurrence.
There are built in mics on front of the detachable handle, as well as 2 XLR inputs, with adjacent switches to select the input (int or ext) and channel 1 or 2, etc. To be honest I don’t use the handle except when recording audio. When shooting the cutaways and landscapes mentioned above I removed the handle to reduce weight. If I needed scratch audio, however, I would leave the handle on as the built in mics are ideal. If sound quality is important I use my shotgun mic or tie mics.
Power is provided by the supplied Canon BP-955 battery which I haven’t managed to completely deplete yet. I seem to be getting 3-4 hours recording which normally equates to a whole day. I have purchased a Swit S-8845 compatible battery as backup, which also has a handy DC out plug.
The C100 records a 24Mbps AVCHD signal to SD cards. There are 2 slots at the rear of the camera that allow simultaneous recording to both cards or continuous recording – when the first card is full, recording switches to the second card. However, if you try to remove one card, recording stops. To be honest I haven’t even inserted an SD card in any slot, as I purchased an Atomos Ninja 2 field recorder. That’s not to say I won’t ever use SD cards, as reviewers have highly praised the implementation of AVCHD that Canon have added to the C100, even at 24Mbps. I think for handheld use I would go without the Ninja to reduce weight.
The Ninja 2 is an excellent companion to the C100 and it has been used for every shoot so far. The clean HDMI out from the C100 gives me up to 8bit 220 mb/s 422 ProRes which I can drop straight in to FCPx. Then Ninja OS is simple and intuitive and is controlled by a touch screen. The start / stop feature makes it ideal. I press record on the C100 and the Ninja starts recording. I press stop and the Ninja stops. Simple. Apparently Canon worked with Atomos to make this happen but you still have to perform a one-time simple configuration in the menus on both devices to make it work. Audio is also recorded through HDMI, meaning no more syncing in post. One thing I have learned the hard way is to always plug in both Ninja batteries at the same time, as when one runs out the second takes over. During one interview the Ninja stopped recording with only one battery attached which was embarrassing. Unfortunately the on screen battery symbols are a bit small and hard to read and I hadn’t noticed them drop. For me each battery lasted about half a day (not continuous shooting).
One slight worry I have is that I am currently using 7200rpm spinning hard drives with the Ninja which can be prone to failure if knocked, so these will be replaced with SSDs soon – having no moving parts to worry about. In the meantime I can record to the Ninja and the C100s SD cards simultaneously just in case.
I haven’t really many negatives points to make about the C100. The obvious one everyone states including me is the lack of slomo at this price. Why Canon?! Ignoring this the best way I can sum the C100 up was said by someone on Dvxuser: “It seems to be a camera that people love after working with as opposed to going from spec sheets. That says a lot about it.”
I can’t compare it to the Sony FS100 or the Black Magic Cinema Camera as I’ve used neither. However, I can comment as someone who has made a gigantic leap from a Canon 550d and say that the C100 image detail is crazy good! I’ve used the 5d Mark 2 on my freelance assignments and the C100 to my eyes is simply miles better. Its ease of use and ergonomics shine in comparison to these DSLRs and perhaps even in comparison to similar priced camcorder competition. Will it match the Red Scarlet for image quality? Probably not. But its close enough for me…
I hope that this has given you some more insight in to the C100, from a user who isn’t caught up in pixel peeping or Mbps rates, but rather the final output and the ease of use. I work alone on 99% of the projects I take on, and this camera has greatly reduced the amount of factors I had to worry about when using DSLRs. By that I mean, lighting is less important because the dynamic range of the C100 is more forgiving (though it should not be ignored!) and its low light capabilities are staggering. Picture and sound is recorded on one device rather than two meaning syncing picture and audio in post is a thing of the past. The Ninja 2 records ProRes files, meaning editing in FCPx happens without transcoding. All the necessary video camera features like Peaking, Zebras, Waveforms and ND filters are all there. And there is a headphone port!
Has the C100 met my 3 criteria set out at the start of this report? I can confidently say yes. The image it produces is way ahead of the DSLRs I have been using. My Canon lenses all work perfectly. It worked straight out of the box, with no expensive additions required to make it usable – I don’t need the Ninja 2 to record something.
Can I improve my setup? I’m currently looking in to the solutions to improve usability of the EVF and LCD in bright light. I’ve also just purchased a magic arm and clamp so that the Ninja 2 can be mounted on a tripod leg to reduce weight when using my slider.