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The Canon C300 Mk II vs C300 - What's the fuss about?

The Canon C300 has had a long and illustrious career as the camera of choice for mainstream UK TV for a few years and now with the release of the Canon C300 Mk II (C300 Mk 2), we investigate whether the fuss is at all justified.  

 

We think that it is and this short article explains why.

 

The Canon C300 Mk II is a Super-35, full 4K camcorder with interchangeable lens mounts to offer compatibility with EF, PL and B4 lenses (Workshop fit  only).

 

It offers fully automatic operation including an effective autofocus (subject to being used with suitable lenses) and is capable of internal capture of stunning 4K/Full HD video with a High Dynamic Range (HDR), external RAW output and Canon Log2 and DCI-P3 colour space.

Easy Post Production Compatibility

The C300 was highly praised for using the universally compatible MXF data format onto CF cards.  The C300 Mk II has gone a stage further and with similarly universal compatibility, the C300Mk II records 4K images to the XF AVC Codec, which is an H.264 format in the same widely-supported MXF wrapper - only now it is 4K.

 

You can even simultaneously record 4K to dual internal CFast 2 cards, 2K/FHD proxy files to SD card and output 4K RAW to external devices.

 

Colour performance improved with new sensor and DIGIC DV 5 Image Processor - more on this later.

Universal Lens Mounting

Another USP of the original C300 was that it was manufactured in a choice of either EF or PL configurations but the new Canon C300 Mk goes one better by making the lens mount interchangeable (VMI Workshop service only).  This means that you have a choice compatibility not only with Canon's existing broad range of DSLR lenses and EF-mount CN-E cinema prime and zoom lenses but also (with suitable lens adapters), also Nikon ZF and other DSLR lenses too.  The PL mount permits conventional film zoom and prime lenses to be used and B4 mount adapters available from VMI also permit the full choice of electronic HD zooms and Primes as well.

 

Solidly Built

The Canon C300 Mk II feels very solid and is cased in a sturdy Magnesium chassis.  Amazingly, this is not mentioned in the Canon specs.  The handle is also much more solid than on the Mark I, as Canon clearly realise that it will be used with film lenses which are larger and heavier than equivalent DSLR lenses.

In spite of this, VMI is providing the C300Mk II with the full Broadcast and Cine plate and bracket made by ARRI as shown in the images.  This combination works so well with the ARRI Amira and C300, so of course we would adopt this approach, as it includes conventional ARRI 15mm bars support and handle system with copious mounting points for peripherals and a very comfortable shoulder pad.

Brand New 4K Sensor

The C300 Mk II is based around a completely newly developed sensor which captures in a Super 35 format (24.4 x 13.5mm) and features 4096 x 2160 resolution to deliver Cine 4K images, as well as supporting Ultra HD (3840 x 2160), and Full HD (1920 x 1080).  

 

The DIGIC DV 5 image processor improves colour performance considerably compared to the Mark 1.  For more flexibility to adjust your image during postproduction, the camera also offers the new version of Canon's Log gamma mode, which results in excellent tonal reproduction in the highlight and lowlight regions of an image, and an expanded dynamic range.  It is also working in 12 bit colour space too. 

 

To put this into English.  The C300 captured in 8 bit colour which gave a choice of  2^8^3 colours = circa 16m colours and this was perfectly good enough for Broadcast programmes.    However, the C300 Mk 2 working in 12 bit colour space can now achieve 2^12^3 colours = 69bn colours - this is very impressive indeed! As a consequence, it will give much more grading options and more accurate chroma key etc.

 

The already great low light performance of the C300 is said to be improved. In addition, the ISO range now starts at a low 100 and goes to 102,400. Native sensitivity is ISO 800 when using Canon Log 2. Up to that point, the camera has slightly less dynamic range, and from 800 upwards the dynamic range of the camera remains constant.

 

Canon Log2 replaces the original Canon Log and is in essence a flatter version that allows for more information to be retained in highlights and lowlights. Canon’s WideDR, as found on the C100 mkII, also makes an appearance on the camera – great for shooters who want an image that retains some highlight and shadow detail, while still being usable with minimal grading.

Enhanced Colour Range... and then some.

A 4K image can be recorded at an impressive 410Mbps in 10-bit 4:2:2 at up to 29.97 frames per second (fps) internally to CFast 2.0 cards using the new XF-AVC Intra codec.

 

2K and HD imagery can be recorded at RGB 444 in 10-bit at 210Mbps, or even 12-bit at 225Mbps to CFast 2.0 using the same codec.

 

This comes into a very simple acronym known as High Dynamic Range (HDR).  Our mobile phones and cameras have been able to do this for years but the new REC2020 standard which is coming will allow you at last to see this.

 

This requires some explanation, as the colour Gamut (range of colours) available has also been widened to include the enhanced range of this new colour standard and as you can see from the range of colours on the chart on the right, REC2020 has a much greater range than we are used to seeing in REC709.

 

We saw images on 4K grading monitors at IBC which showed highlights literally popping out of the screen, so dramatic was the dynamic range on the screen and the C300 Mk 2 is capable of shooting this massive range of quoted 15 stops of lattitude.  

 

It is one of those WOW moments that you have to see on a new 4K monitor with HDR to really appreciate what this means.  Someone described HDR as the most profound development in TV since the introduction of colour and whilst we are not prone to exaggeration, we now agree with this statement, as it really is stunning!

 

 

 

New Looks Capability - ideal B Camera

A new feature is ‘Looks’ which is a baked-in emulator of Log settings of other popular cameras such as ARRI Alexa, Sony F55, Varicam and what was loosely described as 'documentary'.

The idea is that this camera will record images which will match your master camera.  This is a very useful function now that the capabilities of the C300 Mk 2 have been improved.  The C300 was commonly used side by side with Alexa and matched well in default mode but this takes it a stage further and reflects the reality that budgets are coming down and that this is becoming more popular than previously.

 

The C300 and now C300 Mk 2 bring greater portability to be used as supplementary cameras on brushless gimbals or rigged inside vehicles etc, so this is a very useful additional function.

Modular Construction

The beauty of the C300 was its compactness and portability which is retained in the Mk II and whilst the C300 Mk 2 is a little bit beefier, it is still compact and easily handheld at just over 1.4kg (3 lb).

 

The body has a modular design that can either be stripped down completely or be built up using the included handle, 4" rotating LCD unit with full controls, grip, and thumb rest – useful if being used in a lightweight Gimbal configuration. 

 

The interchangeable design means that longer cables can also be fitted. There are two different length cables available – the standard 50cm and a longer optional 100cm cable. This should allow for easy rigging even with very big lenses.

 

The LCD is built into the removable audio module and the integral high resolution (0.46"), 1.17 Megapixel colour EVF has a 60 degree tilt adjustment too.

It has a contrast ratio of 5000:1 vs 270:1 on the original C300. This should make it very usable when handholding the camera without a support rig.

 

There is a bright 1.55 Megapixel electronic viewfinder, and the camera comes bundled with a removable combination 4", 1.23 Megapixel monitor and control panel. The camera also has a removable handgrip with a control dial and function buttons for handheld shooting in DSLR style, or remove it and use the supplied thumb rest for completely stripped-down shooting.

 

The camcorder features two 3G-SDI outputs, timecode I/O, and genlock input BNCs.

 

The brand new battery model BP-30 will deliver circa 2.5 hours of run time in the field and we are informed from a CLM cinematographer that you can trust the battery info for remaining run time in the viewfinder.

Built-in Filtering

The built-in neutral density (ND) filters of the original C300 were a benefit. Canon have improved this even further with the C300 Mk 2. Now there are two ND filter wheels with a total of six ND settings (OFF, 2, 4, 6, 8 & 10 stops). The second filter wheel is engaged via a custom setting and adds stronger ND values. Since use of the second wheel will necessarily increase the optical path, the focus markings of lenses will no longer be accurate.  Canon are sensitive to this and make the engagement of the second wheel of enhanced NDSs a user accessible function - very sensible but also very useful when the operator is aware of this.

Autofocus that really works (AKA Dual Pixel CMOS AF Technology)

It was surprising that the C300 Mk 2 was introduced with a continuous AF (Autofocus) function for all autofocus lenses, using Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology. A new AF Lock setting also lets you change the image framing while holding the desired focus. This feature works well and is practical for location shooting, as it doesn’t hunt.  

 

Nick Millen of Canon confirmed that this function is only available in EF mount and when using auto focus lenses of which the Cine servo zooms are not. It’s not clear whether this will change in the future. Correct Oct 15.

 

Canon explain why this autofocus is so good with the paragraph below.  We just know that it seems to work.

"Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology features a CMOS sensor that consists of an array of pixels that each feature two separate photodiodes. By continuously comparing their outputs during AF mode, phase-difference autofocus helps ensure non-blurred images and smooth focus transitions even when the talent and/or camera are moving. The new feature places a high priority on maintaining sharp focus while providing a natural, smooth autofocus movement with select Canon EF lenses - including newer-generation STM lenses - which offer even smoother and quieter operation"

Ergonomonic control layout

A logical layout of buttons and dials make operation simple. A lock switch turns off all controls except the recording button and function buttons. Small ridges between the buttons help prevent activating functions by mistake. A backlit display panel is great for low-light viewing. A tally lamp is clearly visible from the side or behind the camera.

Rugged, Durable & Quiet

 

The C300 Mk 2 is dust-proof and splash-proof design includes sealing gaskets around the edges of all access covers, dials fitted with O-rings on the axis of rotation, and button key-tops sealed with rubber. The Mk II also features a built-in silent cooling system with a heat-dissipating duct in the centre of the body, a graphite sheet that conducts sensor heat towards the heat sink, three ventilation holes, and a cooling fan that pulls hot air out through an exhaust opening.  All air is directed through a discrete pathway that keeps dust particles away from sensitive components. Your camera runs cool, quiet, and clean and should no longer suffer from dirt on the sensor - a  scourge of the C300 Mk I!

 

Good Audio Controls

Audio is also improved on the original C300. It can now be recorded in 4 channel 16/24bit 48KHz LPCM. The camera also has an internal mic in the body now, like the C100II. The minijack remains from the original C300 but now its inputs can be used in addition to the XLR connections to provide the 4 channel audio. This is a very welcome feature.

 

As per usual, the removable audio module provides two XLR audio inputs with +48V phantom power. A 3.5mm microphone terminal is also built in to the camera. Audio is recorded uncompressed in 16-bit PCM format at 48 kHz for high fidelity sound. Both XLR inputs, as well as the mic terminal have the option for automatic, as well as full manual gain control (-Infinity to +18dB). Additionally, a 3.5mm headphone terminal with 16 volume settings offers accurate audio monitoring.   The audio module also holds the LCD monitor, which can be repositioned in a variety of places to suit the operator.

High-Speed, Slow-Motion, Time-Lapse & Stop-Motion

Beyond the advantages of file-based recording, the camera offers a number of creative possibilities in post-production including Slow & Fast motion.  (max. 120 fps supported), frame recording, pre-recording, interval recording.

 

The 2K/HD high speed recording at 120 or 100fps (depending on the PAL/NTSC setting) is perhaps the most limiting feature of the C300 Mk II compared to its nearest rivals.

 

If you want RAW output then the C300 Mk II can do that as well. It can output 4K 4:4:4 to an external recorder like the Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q or Atomos Shogun but the Canon SLog2 is so good that we think that few will want to use it.  Still, it is there if you should want it.

Full Manual Control & Focusing Aids

The camera has a Waveform Monitor (WFM) function that shows the overall brightness of a scene, with RGB Parade Display to view red, green, and blue brightness or Spot Display to isolate the luminance distribution of a chosen area. The Vectorscope (VS) display shows real-time hue and saturation levels. For sharp focus, the EOS C300 camera has two peaking modes and a magnified focus assist function. An Edge Monitor Focus Assist provides both a waveform representing the overall degree of focus and a red waveform that represents focus in three specific areas displayed on the camera's 4" LCD monitor. To maintain proper highlight exposure, it offers a zebra bar feature as well.

Conclusion

In short, this is a stunning camera which in our view is considerably better than the original C300 and closer to the premium cinema cameras than the Mark I.

 

This does not take away the fact though that the Mark 1 C300 was a fabulous camera which was excellently suited to Broadcast acquisition and what was good enough in 2015 really should be good enough in 2016, so we expect that the original C300 will have a place alongside the Mk II for some time yet.

 

The Mk II is a bit larger and heavier (though not much enough to worry about) but is much more expensive than the original and this is reflected in the rental price.

 

So the question is whether existing C300 users will trade up to the new camera?

 

Most factual broadcast TV is still acquired in 50Mbps MPEG2 and whilst this is a compatible format for the Mk II, it is still what the C300 does for way less money. However, as broadcasters and commercial clients demand more 4K in the near future this will necessarily drive demand for the C300 MkII.

 

The C300 Mk II also has competition from Sony with the Sony FS7 and Sony F5 which are now well established. It is worth mentioning though that to enjoy the full benefit of the FS7 capabilities, that you really need the Sony XDCA-FS7 4:2:2 Prores extender too for the FS-7 which adds cost, size and weight too.  You also have to mess about with lens adapters too with these cameras which you don't with the C300 Mk II.

 

Canon also has released the extremely capable compact and low cost Canon XC-10 recently which records to the same CFAST cards and records the same high data rate codecs as the C300 Mk II, so this pair will work really well together as A and B cameras.

 

However, LOTS of people are comfortable using C300s and for these, the C300 Mk II will feel very comfortable indeed for them and as it is natively EF or PL, there will be no messing about with lens adapters like on the FS-7 or F5, since EF glass has become much more accepted in the Broadcast world.

 

The improvement in image quality will undoubtedly make the C300 Mk II a desirable camera for both large and small productions and the LOOKS function will ensure that it can be considered as a B or C cam alongside ARRI Alexa, Amira or Sony F55 with ease and it will ride on the reputation of the C300 as a compact, easy to use camera which performs faultlessly in the field and presents no problems in post.  

 

In our view, with its 120 fps shooting capability and superb 4K and great colour reproduction quality, reliability and an easily gradable image with the winning formula of a compact camera body and easy post, we think that the Canon C300 Mk II will be a winner.

 

Gerard Botha/Barry Bassett,
VMI October 2015

 

 

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