Canon C100: cinema camera or maxed-out DSLR?

Canon C100: cinema camera or maxed-out DSLR?


I've been working with DSLRs almost exclusively ever since the Canon 550D was released in 2010, and its been such a great joy. It has brought me to many places and allowed me to work with some of my favorite artists. Just picking up my DSLR still excites me everytime. One thing that hasn't improved in these 4 years is the image-quality: DSLR footage still suffers from the same moiré, aliasing and lack of fine detail. Especially the latter has has disappointed me more and more, and lately I've been looking for a step up in image quality.

I've been working with DSLRs almost exclusively ever since the Canon 550D was released in 2010, and its been such a great joy. It has brought me to many places and allowed me to work with some of my favorite artists. Just picking up my DSLR still excites me everytime. A lot of the things that made the 550D a little cumbersome to work with compared to traditional camera's, have since been improved upon: Canon added audio-level control, a swivel screen, a 3x crop mode, 30min. record times, autofocus and on the 5D uncompressed output and (even) a headphone jack. One thing that hasn't improved in these 3 years is the image-quality: DSLR footage still suffers from the same moiré, aliasing and lack of fine detail. Especially the latter has has disappointed me more and more, and lately I've been looking for a step up in image quality.

In my research I kept coming back to the C100 for a number of factors:

I've been working with my C100 for a few months now, so I thought I'd share my first impressions. Since many will consider the C100 as their next step up from a DLSR, DSLRs will be the cameras I'll be comparing it to.

Image Quality

The image of the C100 is exactly what I had hoped of it: crisp and very detailed. Close-ups allow you to make out the fabric of clothes, and wide-angle street-shots contain loads of sharp detail in trees, branches and brickwork. Speaking of brickwork: with the C100 you can safely shoot brick walls, rooftops and striped shirts: moiré and aliasing are a thing of the past. Colors are vivid and skin-tones are great. Don't expect the colors and contrast to match your DSLR though: while DSLRs are configured to have a baked-in punchy look, the C100 image is made for maximum flexibility in post-production. Moreover, when I tried to match the C100 with DSLR footage on a multi-camera shoot, I got the best results when shooting flat on the C100 and applying an S-curve in post.

Update: We have now released the FilmKit UnFlat plugin, designed specifically for this purpose!

Ergonomics

While being bigger and heavier than a DSLR, I find the C100 lends itself very well to my style of handheld shooting. The included handgrip and strap allow for a much firmer grip than a DSLR, and the the modularity of the camera allows for different small configurations. I can remove the XLR handle, and attach a Røde videomic pro, wireless mic or EVF to the hotshoe. Coming from DSLRs, the camera didn't force me to change my style of shooting, and that's a great virtue of the camera.

The C100 in "action"

Audio quality

While I haven't done any extensive testing, I was instantly amazed at the clarity of the sound when I plugged my old Røde NTG-2 into the XLR input of the C100. Coming from a DSLR, the benefits are obvious: XLR inputs with clean preamps, the ability to change the levels of 2 mics independently WHILE recording, audio meters, high-quality built-in mics, and of course the much missed headphone jack. Having owned the Canon XH-A1, I really like how Canon translated the XLR-handle design to a large-sensor camera.

Screen

Maybe I'm spoiled by the detailed screens on DLSRs, but I found the screen on the back of the C100 harder to work with. It's bigger than a DSLR screen, but doesn't look as high res. Even with peaking engaged, I had a lot more difficulty judging focus than I ever had on a DSLR. Furthermore, the screen displays a much cooler image than the actual white balance as it is recorded, and I also found the colors to be a little off. I talked about this to a C100 owner, and he said it was the best screen he had ever worked with, but he was coming from black-and-white viewfinders. Anyway, I prefer to shoot with the Zacuto EVF attached, love the color-reproduction on that screen.

Update: I have now set the peaking to be a little more gentle, and the white balance of the screen to be a little warmer, this improves things a lot!

Out in the field, quite literally

Codec

A lot of work I do requires me to shoot with a flat profile, and this is so much easier on the C100 than it was on a DSLR. The C100 has a View Assist function which basically applies a Rec709 LUT to the screen, while recording flat internally. Together with the Waveforms and focus peaking you can easily judge focus and exposure while shooting flat, which helps enormously. I found that the internal AVCHD codec holds up quite nicely to moderate grading, much better than the h264 codec does on DSLRs. While I did have some issues importing the footage directly into Final Cut, I've found a great workflow using ClipWrap. ClipWrap converts/rewraps the 60i AVCHD files to progressive Quicktime .mov files without transcoding the footage, so it only takes a few minutes to complete. After that, I can immediately start editing the footage in Final Cut Pro X.

Clipwrap can quickly rewrap the C100's AVCHD files to .mov

Conclusion

While the C100 centainly has its quirks, the image quality, well thought-out ergonomics, audio handling, built-in ND's and price tag make it a compelling upgrade for anyone looking to move up from DSLRs without changing your shooting style or acquiring new accessoiries.




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