Canon found itself in a strange position when the Digital Cinema "revolution" became mainstream. Having been a manufacturer of video camcorders for years it was surprised to find everybody wanting to use its still cameras to make movies. After adding a video function for press photographers, film-makers fell in love with the look provided by a large sensor and 24-frames a second. Canon (eventually) responded with the entirely new EOS C300 digital cinema camera nine months ago. Only two complaints with the C300 – too expensive and not 4K. Canon has now addressed those two little problems.
Unfortunately, not in the same camera though. We are dealing with a Japanese tech giant and market segmentation is the modus operandi; so we get the C500 4K camera to slot in above the C300 and the cheaper C100 to sit below.
The C100 is 15 percent smaller than the C300 and is being aimed at budget TV, indie film and event videographers. The viewfinder has been simplified and the 3.5 inch LCD monitor is fixed to the rear of the body. Button layout is rationalized and the camera is Canon EF mount only with no PL mount option. This allows autofocus and auto-iris, which are not possible on the manual-only C300
The good news is that the C100 uses exactly the same Super35-sized 8.3 MP sensor as the C300. The unique way the sensor works provides excellent picture quality and fantastic low-light performance. This is slightly compromised by the fact that that the 1920 x 1080 signal is recorded to SD cards using 24 Mbps AVCHD compression with 4:2:0 color sampling. The signal can be recorded uncompressed via the HDMI output using an external recorder but presumably still only with 4:2:0 sampling.
Naturally, no RAW output is available but there are a range of gamma adjustment options to allow the recording of pictures suitable for grading in post-production if needed or if a "filmic" look is required straight out of the camera.
Audio recording at 16-bit 48 kHz is possible and there are two XLR inputs in the removable top handle. There is also a side grip for “run and gun” single person shooting.
The C100 will be available within a couple of months for around US$8,000
The C500 is very similar in form to the C300 with a similar sensor but of course adds the ability to output 4K (4096x2160 pixels) plus Quad HD and 2K pictures. Here’s the slightly strange kicker though. The camera cannot record 4K (or even 2K) internally but only via SDI ports to an external recorder – which Canon does not make. Odd, and probably a limitation of the compact body form chosen.
Frame rates are variable from one to 120 frames per second (for slo-mo effects) and the camera records HD internally to CF cards at 50 Mbps with 4:2:2 color sampling.
The camera comes in two varieties – the standard C500 is compatible with EF, EF-S and EF Cinema lenses for Canon SLR cameras, while the C500 PL model is compatible with PL-mount EF Cinema lenses and other PL-mount lenses. The EF mount features a rotating collar to facilitate cine-style lens changes.
Both C500 models should be available before the end of the year for around $30,000
The cameras might have one scratching one’s head a little but there is no doubting Canon’s serious commitment to cinema optics. Since all the new Canon Cine EOS lenses are available in both EF and PL fitting, they are not dependent on the cameras for their success. Coming early next year are a wide-angle 14 mm T3.1 and telephoto 135 mm T2.2 prime lenses. These will join the existing 24 mm, 50 mm and 85 mm fixed primes, all of which are suitable even for full-frame cameras like the EOS 1D and 5D.
Two new compact zooms have also been announced; the CN-E15.5 - 47 mm T2.8 L S/SP wide-angle cinema zoom lens and the CN-E30 - 105 mm T2.8 L S/SP telephoto cinema zoom, which are designed suit the single-operator potential of the C100 and C300. These lenses will only cover up to APS-C sized sensors.
Available in January 2013 and November 2012 respectively, these lenses will cost about $24,500 each; which might shock some but is about par for the course. My first article for Gizmag was about the differences between still and cine lenses and why the latter cost so much!
All the Canon gear will be on show at IBC (International Broadcast Convention) in Amsterdam in a week. I’m going, so I’ll try and get some hands-on time and pics.