Pixol: Video Production & Graphic Design | Canon C100: Upgrading from a DSLR
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Canon C100: Upgrading from a DSLR

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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.

C100_ninja2-01

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:
trees_C100_550d

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.

The Interviews.

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)
VQ Gaelic

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.
C100_EVF-01

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.

The Landscapes.

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)
fermanagh_boat02
fermanagh_erneside01
fermanagh_tower01
fermanagh_boat01

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.
C100_LCD_01
Exposure was difficult in these bright conditions but I was confident that c-log would allow me some lea way in post.

The Camera.

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.
c100_left-01

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.
C100_int_mics-01
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.

C100_no_handle_01

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.

Recording

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.
C100_ninja2-02

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).
C100_ninja2_batteries
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.

Conclusion.

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.

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Drew Curran

Director at Pixol
Drew is a filmmaker and designer and the founder of Pixol. Pixol produces corporate and commercial promotional films as well as graphic design and print for clients across the UK and Ireland. Drew is also a freelance cameraman and video editor for other production companies as well as a self-confessed camera nerd.

Latest posts by Drew Curran (see all)

15 Comments
  • Thanh long Bach

    June 5, 2013 at 3:15 pm Reply

    http://vimeo.com/67478934

    Here is a test for a working slow Motion with the c100 ūüėČ

    • admin

      June 5, 2013 at 7:31 pm Reply

      Thanks, I’d liked your video yesterday. I hope you will post a detailed explanation of how you achieved this in AE sometime.

      Drew

  • Charles Mackenzie-Hill

    June 5, 2013 at 7:17 pm Reply

    Great review. Reading this with envy. Love my 5D2 but boy can things go wrong very quickly. Confirms everything I imagine one needs to hopefully one day be able to upgrade.
    Thanks again and hope the investment brings you lots of further work and I am sure, good times

    • admin

      June 5, 2013 at 7:30 pm Reply

      Thanks Charles. Yes its definitely been a great investment, the simplicity alone over shooting with a DSLR has made it worth while. An of course the image detail is incredible.

      Drew

  • Paul Delcour

    June 5, 2013 at 9:08 pm Reply

    Great story and recognizable experiences. Coming form the ENG style XHA1 from Canon, the C100 takes some getting used to. However, for me the image quality prevailed in deciding to acquire this camera. Getting the hang of it after some shooting. Accurate exposure is my main learning curve as I find it difficult to judge the correct exposure. Using it with the standard setting, will look into C-log, but do not like to do too much post. If however the dynamic range improves greatly I will turn to C-log. I use an Easyrig mini which works really well. Three lenses cover a large range: 10-22, 24-105 and 100-400. Works really well. Need to get a hood for the LCD when working outside. Sound is fine. Would like to work without the Ninja-2, but for broadcast it is necessary. Not for web etc. really really good camera.

    • Drew

      June 5, 2013 at 11:39 pm Reply

      Thanks Paul.
      You’ve got a great selection of lenses. I would like a 10-20mm to give me more range. The 24-105 L is also tempting. I’ve used c-log since the start as I like to get in to the colour correction in post. It had been great in these sunny conditions we are having, allowing me to control the shadows and highlights better. I’ve been using the Ninja 2 predominantly as I’ve been shooting stock footage for broadcast use.

      Drew.

  • Ivo Borkus

    July 22, 2013 at 11:42 pm Reply

    Really nice review and really nice shots!

    The only thing I would really like to know is:

    Can you record the canon C-log with the Ninja 2 recorder?

    Ivo

    • Drew

      July 23, 2013 at 12:09 am Reply

      Ivo
      Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Yes the Ninja 2 will record whatever profile you have selected on the C100. I use C-log and Wide DR as my 2 go to profiles.

      Regards,

      Drew

      • Ivo Borkus

        July 23, 2013 at 12:14 am Reply

        The weird thing is that when I look up the information on the Atomos website, only the samurai blade can record C-log and S-log.. http://www.atomos.com/field-recorders/

        so to get things right, you use either C-log or Wide DR? I need to film a lot of material wich will be matched with a Sony F5 Shot on 4K. Best option will be I guess C-log?

        • Drew

          July 23, 2013 at 12:27 am Reply

          Yes C-Log has a very flat profile which allows the greatest dynamic range for colour correction. I only use Wide DR profile for jobs that require less post production.

          The Ninja 2 definitely records the C100 C-log profile as I use it for 90% of my work. I’m not sure why Atomos does not mention it.

      • Ivo Borkus

        July 24, 2013 at 8:22 pm Reply

        Hi Drew,

        Can you please tell me where I can find the C-Log because I really can’t find it.? I can see the Wide DR , Eos Stnd but there is NO C-Log? Is there something I need to durn/switch on in some other menu?

        Hope to hear from you!

        Ivo

        • Drew

          July 24, 2013 at 8:43 pm Reply

          Hi Ivo
          It’s called C9: Cinema. If you cycle through the profiles its just after Wide DR.

          Thanks

          Drew.

          • Ivo

            July 24, 2013 at 10:10 pm

            Amazing!! Thanks you. I will look it up next thing in the morning!

  • Hakan Acarel

    August 12, 2013 at 9:29 pm Reply

    I’ve got exactly the same setup. C100 & Atomos Ninja 2. Also upgraded from using DSLRs. It’s just mindblowing what level of detail I can achieve with this camera. Even just having an ND filter changes your workflow dramatically. And I don’t even want to start with ENG work.

    Here are some sample clips I made when I got it first:

    https://vimeo.com/70588356

    https://vimeo.com/70540915

    • Drew

      August 12, 2013 at 9:45 pm Reply

      Yes it’s a camera I love to use every time and the imagery it produces still amazes me. Your 2 clips are beautiful and really show what the C100 is capable of.

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