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Why I love the Canon C300

By Dan Chung

Filming in sub zero temperatures for Al Jazeera English

In January I collected a brand new Canon C300 from my friends at Jacobs Photo video in London. Since then I have been out shooting with it on a number of assignments and it has become my favorite video camera. I’ve used it for live crosses, interviews and news feature stories – each time I have been amazed by the results. The images are as sharp as anything I have seen from a HD camera and its dynamic range is impressive. The design is compact and it’s the first large sensor camera I’ve seen that I felt I could use straight out of the box, no extra accessories necessary other than a mic and cards. Its size makes it great for running around and quickly grabbing shots. It’s even possible to use handheld without a rig at all, although it does benefit from one.

The Super35mm sized sensor coupled with fast lenses give me shallow depth of field when I need it. The high sensitivity of the sensor allows me to stop down for greater depth of field at will, even in fairly dull conditions I can still stop the lens down to F5.6 and not have too much noise in the picture. This essentially means with the same camera I can get both deep and shallow depth of field looks in many light conditions. Check out this video by Mitch Gross of Abelcine which explains in more detail.

The camera has built in neutral density filters which allow for rapid adjustments as lighting conditions change – much easier than having to change filters by screwing them into the lens or using a mattebox.

The C300 is highly portable and small enough to fit in a discreet shoulder bag, fully rigged with lens and mics. I can comfortably fit the C300, a DSLR, several lenses in a carry-on backpack for airline travel. Battery life is amazing and you can go all day on a couple of Canon BP955 batteries.

When I bought the C300 I already owned a Sony F3 alongside Canon DSLRs and Panasonic GH2s. So why did I decide to buy a C300 and how can I justify it? The answer to that has a lot to do with the way I work and who I work for.

Broadcast clients often insist on certain technical specifications for HD – recording bitrates often need to be at least 50Mbps and sometimes they insist on interlaced 50i footage rather than 25P. My work is increasingly for TV and so this had become an issue trying to use DSLR. The C300 solves this problem by shooting BBC approved 50Mbps HD footage directly to its onboard CF cards. My Sony F3 can shoot beautiful 50Mbps footage too, but I need to add an external Prores recorder like the KiPro mini and that adds weight, bulk and extra cables. The advantage of the C300 is that does so without sacrificing the quick and nimble shooting style I have become accustomed to with DSLR video – you can handhold the C300 easily enough and it feels like an overgrown 5D mkII in the hand.

Setting up for an interview with the C300 and Litepanels

The built in EVF on the C300 is much better than the one on the Sony F3. I had to fit a Cineroid EVF to my F3 as the built-in one was so hard to use but I find using the C300’s built-in EVF is good enough for my daily use. The only thing I miss from DSLR is the ability to zoom in 5x and 10x for checking precise focus; the C300 only magnifies to 1-to-1 pixel on the monitor and EVF. Not having to use an external EVF keeps the C300 shooting setup even smaller.

I’m also especially impressed with the EOS standard gamma – most cinema shooters don’t need this but for news it’s important to have the option to shoot footage you can hand off for rapid editing without colour grading. I find the standard gamma footage from the C300 to have nice saturated colours that do not look too electronic or unnatural. I can’t say the same of most other camcorders.

Thanks to Canon’s plugins, editing the C300 footage is a breeze in Final Cut 7 (and now Final Cut Pro X). Footage is transferred to the editing software in no time at all and you can choose to edit in the native MXF format if you are in a hurry, rather than transcode to Apple ProRes. The MXF format the camera shoots is the same as the Canon XF300/305 and XF100/105 models which makes them a good option as a second camera for times when you may want a more traditional handycam style camcorder with all-in-one lens. I went for a XF105 which lives in my bag for the odd time that I need it.

For doing live crosses the HDSDI output of the camera becomes essential. Combined with EOS standard gamma and the camera’s amazing low light abilities I was able to shoot nicely illuminated backgrounds at night, where normally it would have been much blacker. The one complaint that I do have with the C300 is that there is no firewire port and so doing live crosses using Quicklink and a Satphone becomes a problem as that system needs SD firewire input. The only solution is to add a Canopus converter box, but that adds more cables and potential failure points. For now I am sticking to a regular camcorder for Quicklink live crosses.

Live cross with Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan

The audio jackpack/monitor unit gives two XLR inputs with Phantom power. This is much easier to use than any DSLR solution, but I have to say that I would have preferred Canon to put the XLR connections in the body of the camera itself and not have additional cables to the jackpack. While the pack is well built any bolt-on accessory stands a greater chance of being broken in the field. This is one area where I think the Sony F3 is better with its integrated XLRs. I thought I would hate the swivel LCD on the jackpack, but now I really like it. Its colours seem accurate and the sharpness of the display makes it a pleasure to use. You can turn it right around so the talent can see themselves and check how they look.

The top LCD screen is clear and quite accurate

I bought the EF lens mount version of the C300 so all my EF glass fits straight on, as do plenty of other manufacturers’ lenses with the correct lens adapter. There is no autofocus using EF lenses on the C300 (no loss as I rarely use AF for video) but you do get image stabilisation which is great. To get EOS lenses working on a Sony F3 currently requires an adapter from MTF services – another great tool but again it adds bulk to an already large setup.

Do I miss the full frame sensor of the 5DmkII? Honestly, yes. I would rather the C300 had a full frame sensor only because it would make lensing easier with my existing Canon lenses – not because I need the extreme shallow depth of field. The 24-105mm F4L is my main run and gun lens on the 5DmkII, but on the C300 it is not quite wide enough. On the C300 I use the Canon 17-55mm f2.8 instead – it’s also a good lens but not quite as wide or as long as I would want. Hopefully there will be better run and gun EF lenses for Super35 sensors in the not too distant future. For now I have found the best solution is to carry a Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 , Canon 17-55mm and 70-200mm f2.8 in a Thinktank Retrospective lens changer bag. This allows me to wear the lenses practically all day and they are close at hand for a rapid change.

The F3 alternative

My C300 and my Sony F3 - both set up to shoot 50Mbps

The Sony F3 is a great camera that I bought when there was no other clear choice for large sensor TV work. Like the C300 it shoots interlaced 50i as well as 25P but to get 50Mbps you need an external recorder. I bought the excellent AJA KiPro Mini but it adds considerable bulk to the setup.  If you want to use EOS lenses with aperture control and image stabilizer you now can thanks to the MTF services adapter. Image quality is excellent when recorded externally but behind the C300 when recording to cards internally.

Matt Allard and others have demonstrated what the F3 is capable of.  It is a better value proposition now too since Sony started offering the S-log upgrade for $699 instead of over $2000. The F3’s more traditional design and easily accessible gain switches and audio controls are preferred by many shooters. Personally I prefer the more DSLR style menus and dials – horses for courses.

The C300′s smaller body makes it far more suitable to my needs. It is discreet enough for me to use in many news situations where a bigger camera would prevent you shooting, I’d say this represents about 50% of what I do. I can use it almost with almost any equipment previously used with a DSLR – it works with my current Steadicam, Kessler Pocketdolly, tripod, car mount and lightweight shoulder support. I was in the process of upgrading/replacing all these items to take the weight of a fully rigged Sony F3 when the C300 came out – now I don’t need to.

For now I am keeping the F3 – it’s still a great camera that I can rent out to help pay its way. For some assignments it still makes sense but the C300 will replace it as my main camera. There may even be the odd occasion where I shoot them side by side.

C300 or DSLR?

Sony F3, Canon C300 and Nikon D4 together

As someone already joked on Twitter, maybe I should be renaming myself C300informer and not Dslrinformer – but rest assured, I don’t think the trend of news pros using DSLRs or mirrorless cams is going to stop. I am going to continue to shoot DSLRs alongside the C300 and will continue to focus on DSLR developments here on the blog.

I don’t think you need to buy a C300 in order to make a great news video or documentary – it just makes it easier and technically better. There are many videos on the blog shot on DSLRs to prove that you don’t need anything more to tell a story.  Content is king and a great eye and great storytelling don’t come from the camera you use.  Online or even on the big screen a DSLR can look great. My need for a better camera really comes from the fact that broadcast clients insist on certain technical specifications. My work is increasingly for TV and so this has become important.

I have also stated several times in the past that a top of the line camera is not as important gear wise as a good tripod, good lens, lighting or decent audio kit. Luckily I have accumulated all this kit in the past and so don’t have to budget for it again soon.

If your pockets are deep enough and your shooting style suits it then I recommend you try out a C300. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Posted on March 5th, 2012 by admin | Category: Canon C300 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Sony confirm new FS100 firmware release on March 22

By Dan Chung

Den Lennie of the F-Stop academy has let me know that Sony have announced that their much anticipated firmware update to the FS100 will be available as a free upgrade on March 22. The details of the upgrade to NTSC models are below, I assume that PAL models will have a similar upgrade but offering the additional 24 and 30P NTSC framerates instead:

Upgrade Cost & Procedure

No cost: follow firmware download instructions from FS100 webpage, connect PC to camera via USB and run user installable upgrade. Optionally, the upgrade may be professionally installed by Sony Professional Service Depots (labor charges apply).

Additional NEX-FS100U & NEX-FS100UK features*

1. Added 50Hz recording system (PAL): 1920×1080 50p, 50i, 25p and 1280×720 50p.
2. Camera Profile (camera settings can be saved to and loaded from a memory card).
3. Additional 4x and 8x Expanded Focus magnification: (with user selectable focus area).
4. Selectable ISO or GAIN sensitivity display.
5. Selectable Focus indication in FEET or METERS (E-mount lens only).
6. Selectable Shutter indication as EXPOSURE TIME or SHUTTER ANGLE.
7. Added the following Aspect-Ratio markers: 2.35:1, 1.85:1 and 1.66:1.
8. Display ON/OFF button enables Zebra and/or Histogram overlay onto video output.
9. Compatible with the new A-Mount to E-Mount adaptor, model LA-EA2. One push Auto-IRIS and continuous 15-point, Phase-Detection Auto-Focus operation with most Alpha A-Mount lenses is available. Lens metadata is displayed onscreen and stored real-time to image file.

These new features certainly make the FS100 a much more interesting proposition for news and documentary shooters, the expanded focus in particular is very welcome. Given the FS100 street price it is going to provide videographers an interesting choice if they are prepared to spend around $1800-$2000 more than the price of the newly launched 5DmkIII and Nikon D800.

Posted on March 4th, 2012 by admin | Category: Sony FS100 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Manfrotto to unveil ‘game-changing’ Sympla range of rigs at NAB 2012

By Dan Chung

Photo and video accessory giant Manfrotto are finally branching out into the DSLR and video support gear market with a new range of rigs called SYMPLA. The main features of the rigs seem to be tool free assembly, modularity and a rather giant mattebox.

Manfrotto products have a reputation for keen pricing coupled with Italian quality design and construction. Dslrnewsshooter.com will be at NAB2012 to see if the company’s claims that SYMPLA are a game changer are true.

Here’s the Manfrotto press release:

Manfrotto Distribution Debuts SYMPLA VIDEO & HDLSR Modular Rigs at the 2012 National Association of Broadcasters Show
 

 Game-changing Design and Technology for Professional Videographers

(LAS VEGAS, NV) Manfrotto Distribution, world leader in the equipment and accessories industry for photography and imaging, has announced the launch of SYMPLA, a new family of modular rigs for HDSLR’s, and camcorders. Aimed at making the videographer’s life simpler, SYMPLA will debut at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas.
“We are thrilled to debut the new SYMPLA line at the 2012 National Association of Broadcasters show,” said Wayne Schulman, Sales & Product Manager, Video. “The SYMPLA line bridges the gap between off-the-shelf, ready-to-use convenience and custom modularity, and we look forward to showcasing it to NAB attendees at this year’s show.”
SYMPLA supports can be assembled, configured and adjusted to a wide range of situations in seconds – all without tools. Every product in the line, from the unique Flexible Matte Box to the innovative Variable Plate, is made of steel and aluminum to withstand the rigors of professional use and meet Manfrotto’s high quality and performance standards. The number of components in the SYMPLA family gives users maximum flexibility and adjustment control with minimum hassle. Like everything Manfrotto makes for professional users, SYMPLA is 100% compatible with other Manfrotto photo and video support products.
SYMPLA modular rigs are yet another example of Manfrotto’s unparalleled research and development, engineering and manufacturing expertise. They incorporate design and technology innovations and best-in-class ideas from Manfrotto’s current products. Self-supporting clamps that stay in place even before they’re locked, for example, come from the world of heavy-duty stage lighting. Flexible, easy-locking ball-joint hand grips were inspired by Manfrotto photographic ball heads. Multi-axis micro-adjusters and single locking mechanisms, which make fine tuning easier and safer, come from Manfrotto photographic geared heads. And sliding plates with quick release and secondary safety buttons were borrowed from Manfrotto professional video heads. Together, these advanced components make SYMPLA modular rigs easier, safer and more comfortable for even the smallest video teams to use on location and on the run.

Posted on March 2nd, 2012 by admin | Category: Camera support systems, DSLR video news | Permalink | Comments (6)

Canon launch 5D mkIII – headphone jack, ALL-i recording and better controls

By Dan Chung

Canon have today launched the highly anticipated 5DmkIII with fanfare but relatively few surprises. From a video perspective it has the same video features as the EOS-1D X with the addition of a headphone jack for audio monitoring. The price of the camera has increased from the 5DmkII launch price – recommended retail price in the UK is £2999.99.

Headphone monitoring is a big deal on this camera and it is the first time this has been seen on a Canon DSLR – even the EOS-1D X does not have a headphone socket. For news video and documentaries this means the 5DmkIII is a much better choice than the more expensive flagship model. Other audio features are the same as the 1D X and they include adjustment of audio level while recording and on screen level meters.

The side of the 5D mkIII showing the headphone jack

A SD card slot has been placed alongside the CF card slot and the camera can record data to both cards simultaneously or automatically switch from one to the other when the card is full. As with the 1D X the camera can now record up to 29 mins 59 secs without pausing – a big improvement over the 5DmkII 12-14 minute limit.

Frame rates have been improved to come into line with the other Canon DSLRs. You can now shoot 1080P/24/25/30 and 720P/50/60 the same as the 1D X and 7D. For broadcast shooters there is still no 50i option (a major reason to look at cameras like the F3 and C300 instead for TV news use). The compression system is the same as the 1D X and supports the higher bitrate ALL-I compression system alongside a more regular IPB option. The ALL-I mode is supposed to offer easier editing due to it’s less compressed nature, whether it also offers improved quality over standard IPB remains to be seen.

The 22.3 megapixel sensor is only a modest increase in pixel count from the 5DmkII. Canon claim to have improved the image quality in several key areas including low light. For video the sensor output has to be downsampled to 1080P or less and Canon state that the way this is done by the new Digic 5+ processor in the 5DMkIII has less moire, false colour and rolling shutter than on the older Canons like the 5DmkII. There are a few sample videos online now but I think it is still too early to make objective assessments of final image quality.

EOS 5D Mark III: Radball from Canon France on Vimeo.

The camera’s handling for video has now been improved. Taking many cues from the Canon EOS 7D it now has a dedicated movie mode switch and start/stop button along with a locking mode dial to prevent accidental change in exposure mode (a paid upgrade on the original 5DmkII). There is also a new user configurable function button near the shutter release. The body is also said to be better weatherproofed and more durable than the 5DmkII (although my 5DmkII is still doing fine after 3 years of hard service).

The rear LCD has also been improved. As with the 1D X it is now a 3.2 inch, 1.04 million dot display. Colour and sharpness are said to be excellent.

The HDMI output of the camera is one area where there has been improvement over the 5DmkII. The 5DmkII dropped resolution to 480P on the HDMI out when recording started – the 5DmkIII no longer does this. The HDMI output is not ‘clean’ however and is unsuitable for recording to an external recorder (unlike the recent Nikon D800). Like other DSLR’s with video mode the HDMI is still the mini type and prone to being dislocated.

One thing I am disappointed not to see in the 5D mkIII is a crop sensor or ETC mode. Given the Canon’s own EOS600D/T3i, the Panasonic GH2 and Nikon D4/D800 all have some kind of crop mode it is a shame not to see one on a new Canon offering. If a lot of what you do involves long lens work this may be important.

One thing that has thankfully been carried over from the 5D mkII is that it uses the same LPE6 batteries. The should prove a major cost saver for anyone like me moving over from a 5DmkII, 7D or 60D system. I use these batteries to power not just the camera but my EVF, monitors and LED lights – not having to carry another charger for the 5DmkIII is great.

The camera will of course find itself compared directly with the recently launched Nikon D800. How the two shape up against each other will be interesting. The Canon does not have the D800’s crop modes or clean HDMI output, the Nikon does not have adjustable audio level while recording or ALL-i recording in camera at high bitrates. Ultimately I think the deciding factor will be image quality and how well each camera handles moire and rolling shutter. Canon dslrnewsshooters will be well served by the 5DmkIII, but as to which offers the absolute best quality the jury is still out.

Dpreview has this video preview of the camera:

Posted on March 2nd, 2012 by admin | Category: Canon EOS 5D MkIII, DSLR video news | Permalink | Comments (2)

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