The Canon C300 has garnered quite a bit of interest as a mid-range digital cinema camera. At a retail price close to $16,000 for the body it has positioned itself as a competitive offering with the RED Scarlet-X, and the Sony F3. Here, we will not compare these cameras. As has often been said, one camera isn’t better than another. When choosing a camera that you will use or purchase, you will make a decision based on what is the best tool for your use. Also, this is not an exhaustive review. I was only able to tinker with the C300 for one day. And even the day that I had with the camera did not offer me the type of weather that I would like to have had for a few more test scenarios. Central Ohio in February. Blech.
Just looking at the C300, it’s different. It has a familiar look and feel to Canon’s SLRs, and a button layout that’s semi-similar to pro video cameras. The body is slightly heavier that I was expecting. All rigged up with the included handle, monitor module and side handle, it’s a little awkward. It’s pretty tall in that configuration. I opted to leave the handle off during my time with the C300. Despite not really having a handle to hold the camera I quickly felt comfortable with the monitor module on top and the side handle for a mix of handheld and on-the-sticks shooting.
I’m a big fan of user-assignable buttons. There’s a total of 15 user-assigned locations on the C300. At factory default, buttons 1-9 are smartly assigned, leaving buttons 10-15 for the user to custom assign. Only caveat is that buttons 10-15 are the playback controls located on the monitor module – no issue unless you plan on not using that module. The buttons are large with a solid feel. I quickly became familiar with the location of the camera’s knobs and buttons and after half-day of shooting felt very comfortable with the layout that I had assigned. With the monitor module and side handle attached to the camera, you are given four Start/Stop buttons, as well as three joysticks to navigate the menu.
The side handle is a separate module that fits onto the camera body. It’s adjustable, but not so easily adjustable that you will change its rotational position frequently. The threaded mount must be completely unscrewed in order to make an adjustment. The mount is of all-metal construction.
The lens mount feels more robust than the mount on a Canon DSLR. I stuck my 70-200 f/2.8 IS on the C300 with no lens support, and the connection was rock solid. During the test, I also used a Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 and a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC (the VC was respected by the C300).
The LCD monitor module is highly adjustable, with a variety of positioning options. Lens information such as telephoto and aperture are displayed on the LCD and EVF. The LCD also offers a waveform and vectorscope display. Camera information is also displayed on the rear of the body in a backlit LCD panel. Canon has included some nifty monitoring features. View Assist is quite handy. When shooting C-Log, it will give you a more dynamic image in the LCD and VF than what is actually being recorded. The SDI output also maintains its CLog-ness even if you have the feature on for the camera’s LCD and EVF. If you go to another Picture Profile other than C-Log, the View Assist feature is automatically turned off. Peaking can be set to show in white, red, yellow or blue; and two intensities of peaking are offered. The LCD and EVF are tied together – if one is in color, they’re both in color. That was a bit of a let-down as I have become accustomed to peeking at the EVF in BW mode to check focus.
The camera body has an internal fan that seems to run continuously, even when the camera is recording. It is a soft and quiet fan noise, and I don’t foresee the sound of the fan being an issue. There is a Peripheral Illumination Correction for lenses that vignette. None of my lenses vignette so I wasn’t able to test the feature. Apparently, the camera will detect the lens that you’re using and automatically set a defined vignette correction based on that particular lens. Image Stabilization translates beautifully. There’s loads of handheld 70-200 IS footage in the test video, and I’m thrilled with the steadiness. And as noted earlier, the VC of the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8VC works just as it does on an SLR body.
There is a 3.5mm stereo input on the body of the camera – could be handy for run-n-gun shooting with a Rode VideoMic or equivalent. The XLR inputs and audio controls are contained within the monitor module, with typical sensitivity and attenuation settings located in the menus.
Battery life is superb. A fully charged BP-975 claims to give me more than 300 minutes of life. I didn’t time that out, but during my test shooting I didn’t even go through one battery. And that’s with the LCD and EVF both on simultaneously. The camera records onto CF (Compact Flash) cards which are plenty robust to handle the XF environment.
As far as image quality goes, I will allow you to make your own judgments based on what your eyes see. I will say, though, that the image I was looking at in the LCD and EVF are great representations of what I see in my post monitor. Coming from shooting mostly Canon DSLR and Panasonic AF100, the MPEG-based 50mbps XF format has a clean and robust feel to it. And, as I am not a colorist, I will not be commenting on how the C300’s C-Log footage holds up in post; only that for my use I was able to get the image that I was looking for. Final note on image: I am very interested in testing the C300 with skin tones in un-diffused sunlight, as well as a graduated blue sky. The Columbus, Ohio, weather didn’t offer me that opportunity. In my test shoots I purposefully chose scenes that I have had trouble with in the past (moire, detail in vibrant chroma, greenscreen, low light, dynamic range, etc). The footage that I chose to include on the test was selected for particular reasons – the goal was not to make pretty pictures. Again, make your own conclusions based on what you see. If I can find a reasonable way to host raw footage from the camera, I would be happy to supply that to those who are interested to see the footage in their post workflow.
My 2 cents. I’m on the fence. The C300 offers a lot of features and quality that make it a common sense upgrade from my DSLR and AF100. The fact that it teams so well with my collection of EOS lenses is a huge plus to me. The 50mbps codec is a good upgrade from AVC’s 24mbps. The C300 has internal ND filters, SDI, HDMI, records to my already-existing CF card collection, batteries are strong and cheap, professional monitoring tools, SDI output, WFT-options, a compact body, on-board audio…the C300 has a lot going for it. But, at $16,000, it’s just too expensive. And the limitations of the 8-bit output leave me wanting a little more. 1080/60p would’ve been a nice addition, or maybe even 720/120p – but I understand the limitations of the codec. To me, those are significant omissions that could have made this already good camera a game-changer.