Sabyasachi Patra

Review: Canon C300 for Wildlife Filming

Canon Cinema EOS C300 for Wildlife Filming

Canon made a historic announcement of its Cinema EOS range of Cameras and lenses in Hollywood on 3rd of November, 2011 when it announced the Cinema EOS C300 camera. It was subsequently made available in 2012. The moment it came out, there were lot of critics who hit out at the high price of this camera. However, I knew that this camera is for me. I had even said so in an interview to Filmmakers for Conservation UK.

Canon C300 review

Canon C300 Camera

 

My impressions of this camera after shooting extensively with it, in several wilderness areas in India’s east, north and west and for Corporate Films is extremely positive.

 

Filming wildlife with C300

 

This C300 camera can shoot in Full HD i.e. 1080p at 24p (NTSC)/25p (PAL). It has slow motion capability only in the HD resolution i.e. slow motion only at 720p at 60p (NTSC) and 50p (PAL). If there is something I miss then it is shooting at 50 frames per second at 1080p.

C300 in EF and PL mounts:

The C300 camera comes in both EF mount as well as PL mount. Both the cameras are identical, except for the difference in the mount. Canon didn’t include an interchangeable mount and said that providing for interchangeable mount will ensure that there is difference in tolerance and that will impact quality. However, it seems to be a very smart strategic move to push the EF mount into prominence. Given the huge number of EF mount lenses available in the market, the EF mount can easily become the dominant mount. So no wonder I bought the Canon C300 with EF mount.

 

Canon EOS C300 EF Mount

Canon EOS C300 EF Mount

 

Canon C300′s Unique Sensor read out

The sensor size is 24.4mm x13.5mm.

We have seen the drawbacks of the large single sensor cameras using the Bayer colour filter array. The output from the camera is debayered to get individual RGB informations. The efficacy of this method boils down to how sophisticated your debayering algorithm is. The Canon C300 camera employs a very innovative method of sensor readout as it employs a direct read out of four video components ie. R, B and two greens (Gr and Gb) with each at 1920×1080. The two green Gr and Gb components are spatially offset with respect to each other and form a single 2K green component. As per the Canon white paper “..the traditional first order horizontal and vertical sidebands cancel which eliminate a major source of aliasing. As a consequence the optical low pass filter can be better optimized for an unusually high green MTF.”

As a result it won’t be incorrect if I say that the Canon C300 camera gives true 1080p (Full HD) resolution. The details in the files of the C300 is very good.

 

C300 Sensor (source Canon)

 

Canon C300 Physical Characteristics:

The Canon C300 is a compact camera and is only 133 mm(w) x 179 mm (h) x 171 mm (d).

Physically it looks slightly bigger than the professional still camera 1D Mark IV. The C300 also comes in with handle, grip and LCD. The grip is pretty nice and gives a feel of still camera ergonomics and helps in handholding the camera.

The handle is good as one can use it along with the LCD to get some pretty low angles. The handle also has two professional XLR connectors so that one can attach professional microphones with XLRs and +48V phantom power. There is also a 3.5mm microphone terminal built in to the camera. In the C300, the audio is recorded uncompressed in 16-bit PCM format at 48kHz. When I first checked the specs, I thought why not 24bit? However, the audio sounds pretty good. In fact recording sound directly to this camera has been a revelation and unless other wise needed I am not using double sound for interviews. Will it eliminate the need for my Sound Devices 702T sound recorder? Obviously not, because I simultaneously use it for recording other sounds and syncing with the C300. There is provision for automatic gain as well as full manual gain (-Infinity to +18dB). However, I found the plastic cover on it a bit awkward to open and close. That can induce vibration as well as sound.

The C300 is a big change from the traditional still cameras with video capability because the C300 has got some nice professional tools like zebra, wave form monitor, vectroscope and focus peaking. The zebra gives an indication when some parts of the frame is about to become overexposed.

I especially loved the waveform monitor. I was surprised to hear that not many people use the waveform monitor. It gives us an accurate idea about the exposure in IRE. I believe not many people would know about the use of vectroscope. One can use it to judge the colours.

The LCD is very nice. However, at times in bright light and with lot of dust on my LCD when I am in the midst of action, it may be difficult to check focus properly. The focus peaking is of help in those situations. One can also use the magnification feature to zoom in and judge the focus.

I was surprised by the viewfinder and found it to be pretty good. However, I missed waveform monitor in the viewfinder, as that feature is only available in the LCD. However, after use, I can judge the exposure without the waveform monitor using the LCD, as certain situations warrant that I use a minimalistic configuration i.e. without the top handle and LCD and microphones.

This camera has buttons in many convenient positions and I am not going to detail and describe those. However, one of the buttons helps in locking the camera’s selected features so that the settings inadvertently don’t change.

 

Canon EOS C300 Side Profile

Canon EOS C300 Side Profile

 

One of the key features is the ability to do time lapse. The maximum one can do is select one frame per second for timelapse. Ofcourse, one can retime it in post processing. You can see the use of that feature in my forthcoming film.

The C300 has a base sensitivity of ISO 850. It can go down upto ISO 320 and maximum of ISO 20,000. I must confess that before using the C300, I had never used ISO 20000. Only in one case I had used ISO 12800 for filming two gaurs dueling with each other in pre dawn in my previous film ‘A Call in the Rainforest’. The C300 definitely has noise at high ISOs. However, the noise is more like film grain and is not very distracting. With a touch of noise reduction one can make them shine.

 

Dynamic Range of Canon C300

The C300 has got a good dynamic range. There are cameras that boast of higher dynamic range than the Canon C300. However, what is important is that the C300 retains its dynamic range even at very high ISOs. 

 

C300 dynamic range (source Canon)

 

What may shock some of our readers is that the C300 doesn’t have any auto focus or auto exposure modes like DSLRs. Since it is meant for professional filmmakers, Canon didn’t think it was necessary to include these features.

This Canon camera comes with a C-Log which is actually a very flat profile and helps immensely during colour grading. For people who want to match their profile with the DSLR colour profiles, there is one profile as well.

 

C300 Canon Log (source Canon)

 

Much was made of the 50 Mbps 8 bit 4:2:2 codec of C300. However, Canon insisted that the files from the C300 can be graded well unlike its 8 bit and 4:2:0. As they say the proof is in the pudding and the files coming out of the C300 is pretty impressive.

The 50 Mbps Mpeg-2 codec of this camera is broadcast approved and hence features shot with this camera can be shown in reputed TV channels like NGC/BBC etc. The codec is supported by all the major NLEs and doesn’t place massive demands on computing power. So I have been able to edit even when I am in the field. If only, the internet connectivity in the farflung places improves! Sigh!

The files of this camera are pretty detailed and much much above the quality of DSLR cameras. Ofcourse, the 4K of the 1D C holds a lot more details. However, the 1D C is a part of the Cinema camera range. Other than that, none of the DSLRs come close to the C300.

The Canon C300 uses an S-35 sized sensor which is very near to the size of an APS-C sensor of the Canon DSLRs like 7D, 50D, 650D etc. So in effect, this is smaller than the APS-H sensor of the 1D series cameras. I found my lenses to have more effective reach. For example, 800mm optical focal length is equivalent to 1222 mm in the C300.

 

C300 sensor size in comparison to other sensors (source Canon)

 

The battery life is good and lasts for more than two hours plus. So carrying extra battery helps cover the entire days shoot. I also plug it in for charging in my vehicle using a simple converter plugged into to the cigarette lighter point.

Filmmakers using DSLRs to shoot corporate films know how moire can ruin a shot when the executive is wearing a pin striped suit. When one uses C300, those problems are not encountered.The C300 due to its high sensor read-outs has reduced moire. However, in certain situations one can get moire, so after thorough testing I know how to avoid it.

The C300 has got 3 ND filters and that helps in controlling the amount of light that I want to hit the sensor. So one can easily control the depth of field and create a shallow depth of field look to isolate the subject from the background.

By this time I have already used the Canon Cinema EOS C300 camera all over India in varying terrain and have come out pleased with its performance. Preview of my film “Leopards: The Last Stand” can be found here:

 

The C300 camera is also very good for social documentaries as well as for Corporate Films. Due to the small size of the C300 and amazing low light ability, I can move into cramped office spaces and still able to grab the shot.
Since the C300 camera is not heavy by film camera standards, and can be handheld. However, I felt that when I am using the Canon EF 24-70 f2.8 L USM lens, handholding the C300 becomes difficult as there are micro jitters. Handholding the C300 becomes far more easier with the Canon EF 24-105 f4 L IS USM due to the IS of the lens. However, the EF 24-105 lens has got its share of chromatic aberration and needs to be used within its limits. Nevertheless, I have been using the 24-105 lens for a number of interviews as well as close action. I use the 24-70 f2.8 L USM lens when I am using the camera on a tripod. I found the Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS II USM lens to be pretty good with the C300 as the image stabilisation of this lens helps in handholding. Even the Canon 100-400 f3.5-f5.6 L IS USM lens worked well with this camera. The following short film titled “Mother and Child” has got handheld scenes including one which was shot from elephant back. Check for the rhino calf suckling. It was filmed in Kaziranga National Park in India from the back of an elephant.

 

 

Due to the small size of the C300 and IS lenses, one is also nimble footed. While shooting the documentary “Blood Betting- Cock fights”, the injured rooster jumped at me. I had to jump back while holding the C300 and 24-105 lens on one hand to avoid the sharp steel knife attached to the leg of the cock.

Blood Betting

The small size of the C300 also helps in easily mingling with the crowd and getting candid shots as can be seen in the ‘Faith: Ganga Aarti’ video below -

Weather Sealings in Canon C300 Camera:

The Canon C300 has got weather sealings both in the camera as well as in the LCD. Canon calls it dust proof and splash proof. One can see it in the following image.

Weather sealing in Canon C300 camera

Weather sealing in Canon C300 camera

However, one should note that initially I had issues with dust spots appearing in the sensor and impacting some of my footage. However that was from the initial lot. Now Canon has improved the weather sealings and dust is not a problem.

This camera is pretty good for documentary work in low light. With just a small torch, I could follow nocturnal wildlife and document their behaviour. Earlier, I used to packup when the light levels were low. Now this camera makes me remain in the field for much longer, in the process enhancing my knowledge of natural history. Do I want more?

Absolutely yes! I would immediately demand two stops more sensitivity so that I can use my 400mm lens at a narrow aperture instead of the f2.8 or I can discard the torch light completely in certain situations. Given the pace of technological progress, I don’t think we will see such a massive jump in the next two years.

 

In the immediate term, I would love to have the ability to do slow motion at 1080. So if Canon could include an option to do 50p at Full HD i.e. 1080 @ 50p then it would indeed be awesome.

Overall, this is fantastic camera and I have no hesitation in highly recommending it to not only to wildlife filmmakers, but also to fiction, narrative and documentary filmmakers and for Corporate films, provided you can dish out the Rs. 13.90 lakh ie. 1.39 Million rupees, much more than the 16000 USD price in US.

I am very happy using this camera in New Delhi as well as in other places for Movies, Corporate Films as well as for wildlife filming. With our huge range of Canon EF lenses, the C300 EF mount camera makes for a good fit for clients requirements. This C300 is only provided to clients as rent when I am the DoP (Director of Photography) or cameraman.

 

Edit: Canon has continued to improve this Camera first with firmware upgrades and now with the Dual Pixel AF upgrade. For my specific views on the Dual Pixel AF upgrade please check this link: http://www.indiawilds.com/diary/canon-c300-dual-pixel-af-upgrade/

Sabyasachi Patra

Sabyasachi is an award winning DoP/Cinematographer, passionate wildlife filmmaker and photographer. 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.
His documentary film ‘A Call in the Rainforest’ has been screened at various national and international film festivals.

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