Although it gets some stick, there are few people who could argue that RED changed cinematography more radically than almost any technological advance since colour film was invented. 35mm cameras used in movies are expensive, the stock is expensive and the development, grading and editing is all expensive. A RED camera gives you a CF card with video you can edit on your MacBook Pro, or PC. It's also radically cheaper than any film-based camera.
Canon, for a long time, has led video in SLRs. Making the transition that Nikon seemed either unwilling, or unable to do, from shooting 5 minute, 720p video clips to shooting 1080p and now, 4k, cinema-quality footage. The C300 is the culmination of a lot of work, listening to feedback from people who have used the 5D and 5D MK II to make films, and this is Canon's first proper 35mm "film" camera.
The C300 isn't really designed to be used in the same way a TV camera is. The traget here is drama and single-camera shows that are shot with that film sensibility. It won't be used for TV news, or sport, but where things are planned and camera moves are blocked out before anyone says a single line, that's the market for the C300.
The design reflects this audience too. You can't shoulder-mount the C300 without optional kit, so really you'd put it either on a tripod or a Steadicam. Of course, like the RED, you can invest in all the gubbins to make it work as a shoulder-mounted camera, if that's the look you're going for.
The best of film and video
As with TV cameras, there are features that help you monitor overexposure and peaking. This means you can get assistance from the camera to make sure everything is correctly exposed. There's also a brilliant selection of outputs, including professional HD SDI and more domestic HDMI. All these outputs can operate at the same time too, which is excellent news.
The only downside seems to be that the C300 doesn't offer much in the way of slow motion capture. You can't overcrank the camera to 120FPS - the RED has some interesting slow motion options, although all reduce the total video output size. The Canon can shoot up to 60FPS, at 720p, which in film terms allows you to slow the video down 2.5x, while still keeping the fluidity and smoothness you'd expect.
The C300 can capture video at 1080p resolutions at a rate of 50Mbps - that's broadcast quality, and the minimum delivery for the likes of the BBC and Sky. It can achieve that resolution and data rate at 24fps, 25fps and 30fps. If interlaced video is acceptable, it can go up to 60fps, although that and 30fps are not formats generally used in the UK, but American customers will be keen to have them.
It's also interesting that although the CMOS chip at the heart of this camera is 4k resolution, it can only record at 1080p. Canon's processing is handled by the Digic DV III chip, which weirdly is also found in its domestic camcorders.
Your pictures are recorded to CF card, which is another cost efficiency. Other cameras in the professional arena use SxS cards, which are costly - about £400 for a 32GB card - and not as readily compatible with domestic set-ups. Like the RED, a normal person with a powerful computer can work with the files that the Canon produces.
Audio can be recorded too, although there's no built-in microphone. There are XLR sockets though, so you can easily record audio along with video.
Choice of mounts
Because Canon wants to attract everyone from university students, right up to major hollywood movie directors there are two ways you can use the C300. The first is, as you might expect, with a Canon mount, which enables you to fit any Canon lens you like. This is obviously a good way for people to use the camera without needing to invest in professional prime lenses for many thousands of pounds. This is likely to be the option most semi-pro users end up taking.
The other option is to get the PL mount. This enables you to use the same lenses as 35mm movie cameras. This is similar to the RED, and means that cinamatographers can use hardware of the highest possible quality and make use of the same lenses they would on a film camera.
It's interesting to see where Canon has entered the market in terms of price. The C300 costs about £10,000. While most "normal" people will think "crikey, that's enough to buy a second-hand Golf" for film and TV cameras, that's 99p store pricing. Indeed, the Arri Alexa, considered something of a bargain in movie circles, starts at about £50,000.
You get a lot included too. There's no lens, but there is a monitor, battery, separate charger for the battery - the camera doesn't have a charging circuit - a hand-grip and handle. This might sound like the basics of a camera, but the RED needs a lot of accessories to get up-and-running.
We want one, and so will you
All-in-all it's hard to be more excited about a camera. It was beginning to feel that Canon and Nikon were ignoring the film market for SLR cameras. Indeed, Nikon doesn't seem to be interested at all - odd, given that it was the D90 that started all this - and Canon hasn't exactly hurried.
But the C300 is here now, and for a starting price of £10,000 plus lenses, anyone can start making films that look as good as anything Hollywood can produce. Of course, there's a lifetime of experience needed to make movies, and there's more to it than a camera, but perhaps this could bring about a change that sees more independent films getting wide release, and that's surely going to up the ante.
And it's not just us that's excited.
It's interesting to see how powerful this camera is in low light, and how it's able to produce images that don't have any of the problems associated with CMOS-based video cameras of old.
Of course, compared the the RED, the Canon does have a few areas where it could be considered less advanced. RED, for example, has the HDRx facility, which enables two exposures to be recorded at the same time. This allows huge flexibility in post-production, and could change the look of film and TV substantially. Then there's the RED's higher possible frame size, which beats the Canon's 1080p maximum with its 4K+ recording modes. In fact, it's unlikely to be a huge problem, as a lot of feature films are ultimately shot in 1080p anyway.
And there's the lack of slow-motion recording too. As useful as 60fps might be, the 720p frame size is a little disappointing. The RED Epic can manage 120fps, although the resolution is sub-720p (1024x540). It can, however, record 60fps at 2048x1080, which is far more impressive.
With all that said though, the Canon C300 is still tens of thousands of pounds cheaper, and is perfect for HD TV shows and more than capable of producing a cinema-quality movie.
So are you persuaded? Could this be the next big step for wannabe moviemakers? After all, an investment like this could pay for itself if you make enough corporate and wedding videos. Then, with your debt repaid you can go about becoming the next Martin Scorsese.
Our thanks to Visual Impact for the chance to meet the Canon C300 and for giving us a really warm welcome and loads of top-notch information.
Are you going to get the C300? We want to hear your movie-making plans via the comments below.
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