Good friend of planet5D Paul Gwilliams has let us have his hands on review of the Canon EOS C300 – and he did his testing while shooting in the hustle & bustle of a working restaurant kitchen – Jamie Oliver & Adam Perry Lang's ‘Barbecoa' in London, England.
Paul was going to do a special writeup for planet5D, but we decided his own post was extensive enough – tho he did send some photos not included in his own post.
Hands on with the Canon C300
The new Canon C300 is the kind of Justin Bieber of the camera world.
But instead of screaming girls we have DP’s, Cameraman & anyone who likes a big chip or two slightly excited prospect of Canon’s new baby.
There’s been just a little ‘fever’ over the last few months about the new Canon C300. First there was the ‘historic’ ‘Leave no story untold’ Hollywood launch (would it be a camera or a photocopier?) then the camera went on a tour of the kit suppliers & facilities houses that the Rolling stones would have been proud of.
I’ve been freelance nearly 15 years and inevitably shot on all sorts of cameras including a considerable amount in the last 3 years on Canon DSLR’s.
I, like many have been waiting for Canon to come up with a camera that gives me the big chip look but without all of the issues of DSLR’s.
Having invested in Canon glass I was hoping Canon might produce something else worth using them on & Sony & Panasonic had not done enough to sway me otherwise.
If this were going to be my next investment (and a bigger commitment than the very affordable 5d’s I have) it would have to be something worth opening my wallet for.
So I was a keen as the next man to get my grubby mitts on the C300 as soon as possible and do some shooting with it.
Well the next man is more patient than me so I got in touch with Nick Millen at Canon and he very kindly agreed to let me have one for a day or two.
So what to shoot? Well I thought I’d go back to where it all started for me on DSLR’s and get in touch with a mate who likes a cool camera & a bit of mucking around with food.
I have Jamie Oliver to thank for getting me into this whole DSLR malarkey in the first place so why not go & shoot some thing for him. Jamie & his team have always been on top of the latest camera tech & shot their content on everything from DSLRs to RED’s & recently the Alexa, so I thought they might like to get their hands on Canons latest offering.
I wanted to try the camera out in a real shoot situation – so we agreed that I would head over to Jamie’s celebration of Smoke, Fire & meat – Barbecoa at St Paul’s in London.
I would spend the day shooting the hustle & bustle of the restaurant & this would give me a chance to shoot in daylight, dusk & nighttime, interior & exterior and use the camera in different set-ups – tripod, handheld, tracking etc.
The camera – a pre production model, arrived with no manual (Fortunately I’ve never read a camera manual before in my life so no reason to start now!). Luckily setting up the camera was a breeze – the menu is just like that of the XF305 or even the Ex1/EX3 & camera allows you to program lots of assign buttons so you can get all of the main controls set up & right where you want them.
Having shot with video DSLR since their infancy I’ve been trough my fair share of set-ups to try & get the best package for each shooting situation & I have to say I’ve never really found one that I was completely happy with – there always seems to be some part of the rig that comes loose and wobbles around & I have just ended up going back to basics with DSLR’S & only adding the bits I really need!
With this in mind I really wanted to use the C300 as it came, – no shoulder rigs, follow focus or extra monitors – yet when I opened up the box I was presented with something resembling a Mecano set!
Ok so the camera is ‘customizable’ – the smallest setup is just the camera body & your lens of choice – stick, say a 35mm lens on & you have a really light set up not much bigger than a DSLR – you end up holding it like a medium format camera which is novel! You use the perfectly adequate eyepiece only in this set-up & it comes with a little round thumb grip that screws into the same thread that the handgrip fits. With this set-up, if you want sound you’ll need a top mic like the rode video mic which will plug into the mini-jack & mount on the cold shoe. I’m not really sure why I would use this setup, but if you were rigging the camera for say – car-mounted shots it keeps the size & weight down.
Building from there is the handle & this is where we start feeling more like a professional broadcast camera – one of the problems I’ve always had with dslr’s is there’s really nowhere that feels right to grab & pick up the camera, so this handle is a big plus & moves you away from a box with buttons on!
The handle has a number of cold shoes- 1 on top at the rear 2 at the front & these allow you to mount the add on viewfinder & xlr module (which also has 2 mounting points) in a what seems like multiple configurations – I did however notice a couple of little quirks in this seemingly endless design flexibility – If you are operating the camera at eyelevel or above you can’t see the pots for the audio levels – but wait! You can mount the viewfinder section upright so you have everything facing you – ingenious! Unless you are using a top mic mounted in the mic holder – it ends up facing skywards!!
I also have a concern about the two cables connecting the viewfinder/XLR module to the camera body – they are hard wired & the connection pins look potentially very susceptible to the slightest damage which could turn out to be an expensive repair. There’s is also a screw thread on top at the back of the handle which would seem to limited use as it is completely covered if the viewfinder section is mounted in the back position and it would be of no use for say a top light if the VF was in the front position.
The flip out screen is rather good though – it can be positioned to face you at high or low positions at virtually angle – rather than auto flipping there is a mirror button (although on the pre-production model I had it seemed to take a couple of hits to get the image the right way up!). The whole viewfinder module also spins round so if for instance you had a focus puller – in theory they could use that screen.
Speaking of which – the screen – it really is rather good, I found I could focus from it quite happily, its as good if not better & bigger than the Zacuto EVF that has become a must for my DSLR shoots & I’m sure in time someone will come up with some kind of flip up loupe for it!
The other bolt on item is the handgrip – it replaces the thumb rest and locates securely using the same screw thread – in the middle of this is a plug in control cable. The handgrip is really nice & makes handling the C300 a real pleasure. The handgrip can spin to any angle – my only gripe is that unlike the Sony Ex1 you have to fully unscrew the grip to change the position. The handgrip had a record button – one of several on the camera – including one just under the lens just like on full size cameras, a function ‘nipple’ & a probably the most useable of the two iris dials on the camera
The shoot at Barbecoa London would me give me a chance to use the camera in a variety of ways. The first thing I to shoot was piece to camera with Jamie – The camera is really light so I was able to mount it with a 70-200 lens on the Miller tripod I use with my 5d’s.
As I was operating pretty much one-man-band it was straight in the deep end getting a great shot & recording sound with a mic plugged directly into the camera, Setting up the audio was a breeze – no more fiddling with external recorders, and soon we were up and running with a lovely shallow depth look but without the audio ball -ache & no more clapper boards!
Next it was onto some nice detail shots of the restaurant & I could make use of my variety of Canon EF lenses (with the super35 crop) Again because of its size, not only could I use it with a Hollywood micro dolly but also on the table top with slider, its size would also be a positive when we got into the thick of the action in the kitchen.
Barbecoa is all about the way the food is cooked – with fire & smoke and so it was time to get off the tripod & into the heart of the action. Hand held the camera in its ‘out of the box’ set-up is a joy to use, Holding the camera with the grip which is solid & ergonomic & a nice little lip at the front – it feels natural & comfortable, both the viewfinder & eyepiece are easy to access & you have most of the buttons you might need – such as to control the 3 NDs, white balance etc on the side.
There’s also a MAGN button to punch into the picture not only before but also during recording – the only thing about this is that I quite like the 5x & 10x mag of my 5 d 7 this only gives me one step. For all the other functions you might need to get to quickly you can assign up to 15 buttons – If you have a good memory!
I set up a few presets for the functions I needed & pretty quickly navigation to them became instinctive. As the day moved along I quickly became at home with the controls & buttons of the c300 and it started to feel very natural. As darkness drew in and the restaurant came to life it was time to see how the camera fared in low light.
The restaurant like many has much more subdued lighting at night and I wanted to get some long lens shots of people chatting, laughing, eating etc. With the 70-200 on & the iso set to 8000 the low light shots were possible, useable & beautiful – having looked back on a large HD monitor these are the shots that really stand out for me – the grain at these high iso’s is really organic and very film like.
So the shoot had gone really well, the camera had handled well & all in all a very positive experience.
For me this camera throws up massive pros & cons…
On the plus side the camera seems to address most of the issues we have had to deal with shooting on DSLR’s for the last 3 years. I saw very little in the way of moiré and aliasing apart from when we really pushed it on some metal meshwork (where you would expect to see it on other high end cams).
Cameraman, soundmen & editors alike will rejoice in the fact that we now have proper audio in & metering (audio recorder & slate manufacturers less so!)
I haven’t really mentioned the tech specs – but for me providing broadcasters & corporate will take it then it keeps the camera on my wish list.
The form factor & usability I really, really liked, and of course it will remain highly customizable with shoulder rigs, cages & battery mods if you want.
I do feel very positive about this camera, I think it I really nicely designed but I do however have a few gripes…
Shooting quickly on the move with this camera works well with one reservation – EF Glass.
I like many DSLR owners have a fair collection of EF glass & this makes the c300 an even more convincing proposition, however I still have 2 main issues in situations when I have to work quickly – lens length & iris control.
I work in broadcast & corporate & if I’m going to use it for a wide variety of work I’m not always going to be able to use prime lenses under constant lighting conditions.
The camera has 3 iris settings – 1/2 & 1/3 stop & ‘fine’ – on fine setting you can more the iris in a more linear fashion but for me it still wasn’t smooth enough – I gather this is a limitation of the lenses.
Being used to using something like Canon’s J11 broadcast lens I'll still yearn for something similar on the c300 for occasions when I need to work run & gun.
The lack of an affordable reasonably fast Canon zoom covering wide to long is still an issue for me – maybe I’m expecting too much but dear Canon, please can we have a manual, sub 10k zoom?? I will probably search out a manual zoom lens from another manufacture for now.
The other issue is of course the price.
I think the camera will differentiate the professionals from the faux DP’s – but unless you have a very rich daddy you are going to have to make this camera earn its keep!
I know I’m not the first & I wont be the last but – £12k for a big-chip XF305 with no lens & no mic…. Hmmm. – When you see the camera in the flesh you do wonder where inside that little box your money has been spent.
It is however it’s only a matter of time before clients who want the big chip look & have been putting up with DSLRs start demanding a camera like this… Then its decision time.
Many thanks to Nick Millen at Canon UK for the loan of the pre-production Canon C300, Jamie Oliver, Richard Herd all the team at Barbecoa London & to my assistant Phil Arntz.
(cover photo credit: snap sent by Paul)