Sabyasachi Patra

Canon C300 Dual Pixel AF upgrade

Canon C300 Dual Pixel AF upgrade

Canon Cinema C300 Dual Pixel AF Review

I got the dual pixel AF upgrade when Canon India offered it for a princely sum of 30k INR (equivalent of 500 usd) more about the price later. I tried the Dual Pixel AF in the city to see its limitations before taking it to film wild leopards in the jungle. The following is my initial impressions. The detailed video review will follow later.

Canon Dual Pixel AF benefits:

The DPAF is very helpful when I am searching for leopard sitting somewhere in a tree. Slowly panning the long lens helps in the C300 progressively locking into the subjects and I can immediately focuson the leopard. Any one who have used long lenses (over 600mm or 800mm optical focal length) will know how difficult it is to acquire focus on a subject somewhere. I found the Dual Pixel AF to be a big help.

If anyone of you have been shooting for two decades like me, then your eyes would not be the same now. :)So this DPAF will be a big help in locating far off subjects.

In run and gun situations while you are changing your exposure the focus locks on and you are ready to shoot quickly. So full marks to the DPAF for making many shots possible.

I can now zoom in or zoom out smoothly on a subject while the dual pixel auto focus remains locked on to the subject. This greatly raises the value of my footage. Earlier this was not possible without an assistant as one cannot simultaneously zoom the lens as well as fine tune the focus.

Similarly the dual pixel Af will continue to lock focus when I use a slider dolly and physically move the camera close to or away from the subject.

Limitations of Dual Pixel AF:

Our Canon long lenses have a feature of fine tuning focus points. However while filming with C300, the DPAF overrides any small correction of the focus point. I have found that it may lock on to the branch behind the leopard and it becomes tough to get it right. So after the initial focus acquisition it may be better to switch off the autofocus and get into manual focus mode.

The Dual Pixel AF is limited to the central part of the image. So when your subject moves away from the centre, the focus shifts. In the following two frame grabs from my C300, in the first the Canon C300 has locked into the trees in the background. In the next instant when the leopard is more in the centre, the Dual pixel AF locks onto the leopard.

Leopard on tree out of focus DPAF example

Out of focus: The Dual Pixel AF locks onto the background when the leopard is not in the centre of the frame

 

Leopard on tree 4 DPAF example

In Focus: The Dual Pixel AF locks onto the leopard when it is near the centre of the frame

If Canon would have provided us with the ability to move around the focus point, then it would have been great. When the subject is bang at the centre the composition becomes static. With the Dual Pixel AF we will see a lot of such sterile compositions with the subject at the centre. Hopefully this will change sometime later.

There is an AF (autofocus) Lock setting which I have programmed to the No. 7 button on the handgrip. One can technically use this AF lock while panning from one subject to another. When I am handholding the camera with a short lens this is useful.

However, this is limiting in certain situations. If you are using a 3 axis gimbal then you cant touch the handgrip as it would cause vibrations. One can technically bypass this problem by removing the handgrip and mounting it on the handle bar. However, Canon doesnt make an extension of the handgrip. There is one handgrip extension available from Zacuto, which I havent used, so I wont be able to comment on it.




It is also limiting when I am shooting wildlife with long lenses. When I pan using long and heavy tele lenses, I dont use the handgrip of the camera to hold and pan. All of us use the fluid head pan bar. So now I have to move the pan bar to my left side and then use my right hand to lock AF and move from one subject to another. Definitely this is not a great proposition.

There are times when carrying my heavy Sachtler ENG 100 HD2 CF tripod and OConnor 1030HDs fluid head in long and arduous treks is simply not possible even with porters. Some of my wildlife subjects get easily spooked and in those situations I have to carry all the equipment along with my partner. At times the large tripod is too conspicuous or I am in a cramped safari where I take a photography tripod Gitzo GT3530LSV with a Wimberly V2 head or a manfrotto head. Unfortunately with such tripod and heads the tripod vibrates and I dont touch it when recording is going on. So AF lock in such a scenarios is not feasible.

I would be happy if Canon can create a touch screen LCD monitor to select the focus point. If it were to be a wired monitor then long cables would be of help. Else a wireless monitor would be really cool.

Canon does have a WFT (Wireless File transmitter) and may be Canon can make it work with the DPAF and allow focus points other than centre point to be selected.

The Dual Pixel AF hunts if there is less light.
If the scene is dark then the Dual Pixel AF will appear jumpy and will move back and forth before focusing. When we increase the light or increase the ISO, the AF becomes smooth and snaps into focus easily. So now I have to be mentally far more alert and examine the scene carefully before panning. Else while panning if the camera comes across a dark object, the dual pixel AF starts hunting. That would look really amateurish and remind us of shooting with a handycam a decade or two ago.

In wildlife, I found that birds with black/gray feathers are posing a challenge to the AF. Please refer to the video for footage.

Price of Dual Pixel AF upgrade: 500 USD?

I never complain about price. However, 500 dollars or 30,000 Indian rupees for the Dual Pixel upgrade is a lot. For C300 owners this would be about 3.5%. However, for C100 owners the price of upgrade is close to 10%. That is huge, especially since the DPAF is limited to the centre point and we cant change the focus points as per our requirements. Nevertheless, I knew the benefits and updated my C300.

Some suggestions to Canon:

One big difference between professional setups using cinema lenses and focus pullers vis-a-vis one man bands is the shots without proper focus. With decent Canon still glass and this DPAF in many situations you can match the quality.It would be great if Canon can launch cinema lenses with AF and image stabilisation or create a line of L series lenses that are optically as good as the cinema. I wont mind if those lenses are costlier.

Canon has millions of users who use EF mount. If Canon brings out still lenses that are optically equal or superior than the cinema lenses of competition, then with the autofocus and image stabilisation technologies, Canon will become the defacto standard even in the cinema world.

In terms of AF technology this is version 1.0. However, I am sure the Version 2.0 would be great with touch screen focus point selection in wired/wireless scenarios.

Verdict on Dual Pixel AF in C300:

This Dual Pixel AF is a big help for my work and Canon should consider enabling this in the C500, 1DC and in any future cinema cameras. Highly recommended.

The video review of the Dual Pixel AF is in progress and would be uploaded later. If you have any questions, you can ask it in the comments section below and I will answer as soon as possible.

Sabyasachi Patra
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Sabyasachi Patra

Sabyasachi is an award winning Cinematographer and shoots for international broadcasters, feature films and corporates to make a living. He is a passionate wildlife filmmaker and photographer and has won awards and accolades for his documentary 'A Call in the Rainforest'. He has been striving to make his films and photographs full of life and emotion and write articles to educate and evangelise the need for conserving the last tracts of vanishing wilderness and wildlife in our country. He hopes that his wildlife films, photographs and writings force people to pause, look, ponder and ultimately take action.
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