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The new Canon EOS C300 camera

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November 3, 2011

Canon's new EOS C300 digital cinema camera and prime lens

Canon's new EOS C300 digital cinema camera and prime lens

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The fact that Canon chose to release its new camera on the Paramount lot in Hollywood should be a big clue as to how it is positioning it's new baby. Scorsese was there! Ron Howard was there! Though it records to the same video codec as previous Canon cameras (50Mbps 4:2:2 Canon XF) 'video camera' would be a misnomer. Digital cinema camera would be more appropriate with the S35-sized 4K sensor designed to appeal to budget film makers and episodic TV producers. Canon sees an opportunity to sell the equivalent of an Arri Alexa for a third of the price and compete with Sony's CineAlta F3 large sensor offering. Of course, Canon has a bit of a psychological advantage in this regard.

Whilst a number of 'Heath-Robinson' arrangements were available for shooting film style on small sensor video cameras, it was the addition of a video mode to the Canon 5D MkII that really popularized the '24 frames per second, shallow depth-of-field' film style that's all the rage these days. Of course, if you had some money and wanted to seriously go down the digital cinema route you bought a RED One - but that's another story.

The spec's of the new camera are very interesting for both good and bad reasons. Firstly it is available in either the cinema standard PL lens mount form or a Canon EF lens mount form. Canon have announced a number of 4K-capable cinema-specific lenses -
  • 14.5 - 60mm T2.6 wide zoom in both mounts
  • 30 - 300mm T2.95-3.7 long zoom in both mounts
  • EF-mount-only 24, 50 and 85mm cinema primes (which presumably will work great on AP-C sized Canon still cameras)

The camera's sensor is a Super-35 sized CMOS of 3840 x 2160 pixels, which is actually Quad HD rather than cinema 4K but so be it. The bad news is that the camera only records 1080P at 24 - 30fps. onto its dual Compact Flash cards. That's right, there is no 4K output. The advantage of down-sampling is of course superior color, superior low-light performance, and the requisite shallow depth-of-field effects. In fact the sensor seems to be rather unique in the way that each color (RGB) plus luminance gets its own set of photosites. So 4K output would not be an option anyway.

The picture can be saved with a Log Gamma (very flat, low contrast but high detail - suitable for post-processing) or with a film-style look baked in. The buzz from the presentation was that the picture quality was very good indeed. The nominal speed rating of the sensor is 800ASA with a potential 11 stops of latitude if the Canon Log gamma is used. Slo-mo overcranking capabilities are disappointing with up to 60fps only being available at 720P resolution. There are no automatic facilities on the camera at all. i.e. it's only manual focus, manual exposure, manual white balance and manual level control on the two XLR mic inputs. It's a statement that this is meant to be a 'controlled environment' professional movie camera - which is a good thing.

Canon's new EOS C300 digital cinema camera and cinema zoom lens on location

The compact, boxy camera will come as a kit, sans lens, but with a combined XLR audio input/LCD monitor unit, top handle, side grip, battery and charger. Deliveries start at the end of January and the price given at the presentation was US$20,000 (GBP12,500 / EUR14,500). This is disappointingly higher than the predicted $16,000 but street price will probably be in that region. This puts it bang in line with the Sony F3 and comparisons are inevitable. The Canon records with a higher data rate (50Mbps as opposed to 30) and though that may not be be significant, the buzz is that the Canon edges the Sony on picture quality. The Canon only possesses a single SDI output connector whilst the Sony has two, enabling high quality 4:4:4 signal to be recorded directly from the sensor block. However, Sony charges you $4,400 (GBP2,700 / EUR3,100) for the privilege (which include Sony's own log gamma settings). In the end, Canon's advantage will be it's lenses and there can be no concerns about the quality of the new cinema primes.

Canon is also making a commitment to Hollywood with the announcement of a new service, support and research facility in the area. The company's Japanese CEO asked Hollywood to "welcome us to the community". This camera is unlikely to take the town by storm but this is clearly the first step for Canon and we have already heard that a true 4K SLR style shooter is on the way. Canon has launched a new site for the camera with lots of footage. Exciting times. Over to you RED...

About the Author
Vincent Rice Vincent Rice has been an audio-visual design consultant for almost 30 years including six years with Warner Brothers Cinemas. He has designed several large retail installations in London and a dozen major nightclubs across the world from Belfast to Brno to Beruit. An accomplished musician and 3D computer graphics artist, Vince also writes for AV Magazine in the U.K. and the Loudscreen digital signage blog.   All articles by Vincent Rice
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