NAB Show Update – Quickthoughts – The Canon C300 MarkII arrives

[Update- More info about backwards/forwards compatibility of accessories]

Canon finally unveiled the long awaited upgrade to the hugely popular C300 with the Mark II version. Though the announcement was made a few days ago, the final product was unveiled on the first day of the NAB Show 2015.

Many professionals and rumour sites had correctly predicted that the new C300 markII would be a 4K camera that followed the lines of the original. The form factor, shape and handling is largely unchanged, but Canon engineers seem to have made significant improvements that may fit the camera into modern broadcast environments, and also match upto comparable offerings from main rivals such as Sony and Blackmagic design.

Canon claims that the camera  fifteen stops of dynamic range – 3 stops more greater than the original C300 and also 1 stop more than its direct competitor the Sony FS7. It allows 4K capture internally in 4:2:2 at 10-bit depth. The camera can also record 2K or HD resolution at 120fps.

Canon c300

Image courtesy Canon on twitter

Canon has significantly increased the processing power of the camera with dual Digic DV 5 processors. As a result sensor read out and refresh speed is said to be twice as fast as the original C300. Rolling shutter artifacts, moire and false colour would significantly be be reduced as a result.

The images coming out of the camera are said to be significantly better than the very popular MarkI version. The original C300 was hugely popular for its small form factor, and convenience of using native EF mount photographic lenses.

Canon has improved the colour science and the recording formats.  Canon Log2 replaces the original Canon Log picture profile and provides more detail in the shadows as compared to the original profile.

The hugely popular  WideDR gamma picture profile also gets a bump with a new Wide DR (flat) picture profile. These picture profiles are great for shooters who want an image that retains some highlight and shadow detail, while still being usable with minimal grading and short production times and smaller budgets. In my experience, these picture profiles respond great in high contrast lighting situations where there is a lot of exposure difference between the highlights and shadows. The beauty of the Wide DR gamma profile lies in  a very efficient highlight roll -off and retention of detail. I hope the new WideDR (flat) profile further adds to that.

A very welcome feature is what Canon chooses to call “Looks”. These are certain adjustments  in the colour so that the Canon C300 mark II matchs the Log settings of other popular cinema cameras such as the ARRI Alexa and Sony F55. This implies that the C300 markII can be intercut as a B or C camera when used alongside those other mainstay production cameras. This is a significant step by Canon to become a major player as a B or a C camera in large productions. The small form factor and size now further enable the C300 markII to be  rigged in setups such as gimbals,jibs and dollies.

The already great low light performance is said to be further 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. Interestingly Canon has tweaked the picture profile to give constant dynamic range from ISO 800 onwards. Im not sure of how this works technically, but cant wait to test it out in a real world situation.

Canon has also made the camera “future proof” in the sense of providing a wider colour range. The Mark II is now capable of using the REC.2020 colour gamut which is considerably wider than REC.709. This makes the camera ready for future masters and shift in broadcast colour space if required as and when 4k broadcast becomes possible.

The Canon C300 Mark II records a 4K image at a extraordinary 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 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.

Canon’s implementation of the AVCHD codec, the XF-AVC Intra is similar in concept to Sony’s XAVC Intra frame codec. It essentially is a H.264 AVCHD codec using the .MXF wrapper. AVCHD is fast becoming a more largely implemented codec across camera models and various camera manufacturers. Canon expects most major pro editing platforms to support it by the time the begins shipping. Apple announced just yesterday their support for Sony XAVC-S format in their update of the FCP X. (See previous post for more)

The C300 MarkII has the capability of recording a proxy file  in lower bitrate 8-bit 2K/HD 4:2:0 to a SD card while recording the higher bitrate XF-AVC Intra  to a CFast 2.0 card.  In some cases this may be good enough to be used as a deliverable where a file has to be rapidly sent to a broadcaster in a quick turn around time environment.

Where the Canon C300 MarkII is the most limited perhaps is the  2K/HD high speed recording. It does high frame rates at either 120 or 100fps (depending on the PAL/NTSC setting). Both the comparable offerings from Sony, the  F5 and FS7 run at faster frame rates. Additionally the C300 MarkII needs to be set in a crop mode to attain these frame rates.

Even smaller competitors such as Sony’s A7s manage to shoot at 120fps without a crop factor mode engaged. However one thing to keep in mind is a degree of softness and aliasing the Sony’s are plagued with while shooting at high frame rate in the aforementioned crop mode. It will be interesting if the Canon can provide a better overall image at 120fps.

The shape and form factor of the C300 Mark II remain largely unchanged to those of the Mark I. The body in itself weighs 1880g, slightly more than the original at 1430g. With LCD, grip and handle it weighs 3.37kg compared to the Mark I at 2.7kg.

Overall though Canon claim the body is stronger and more durable. There are rubber seals on the buttons and more die cast parts. The buttons on the side of the camera now illuminate in the dark to help setup. The handgrip has also been upgraded and is more robust than the original C300 grip and offers more mounting options.

The EVF is now OLED and has an improved contrast ratio of 5000:1 vs 270:1 on the original C300. This significantly improves ease of hand held use.

The redesigned LCD and audio input accessories now feature  detachable cables at both ends. This really helps do away with the bending and breakage problems that plagued the cables of the original C300. The interchangeability also means that  longer cables can now easily be fitted by the camera operators themselves depending upon the size of their rig. Earlier, cable extensions could only be fitted by a service engineer at a Canon service center. The two different cable lengths now being offered are 50cm and 100cm.

Taking customization and interchangeability a step further, Canon have decided to do away with the separate PL and EF lens mount versions of the camera. Instead the camera comes in EF mount by default but it has an interchangeable front  that can be replaced by a PL service mount. This service mount can also be shimmed to guarantee proper flange back adjustment for cine lenses.

A big downside is that the the PL mount does not support the Cooke-I lens meta-data information system and power to the lens.

Built-in neutral density (ND) filters of the original C300 were very welcome by indie film makers making the jump from DSLRs. Canon have improved this even further with the C300 MarkII. Now there are two ND filter wheels with a total of six ND settings (OFF,2 stops,4 stops,6 stops,8 stops and 10 stops). The second filter wheel is engaged via a custom setting and adds the stronger ND values.

The C 300 markII draws more power that the original version due to the onboard 4k recording, hence, new batteries. The batteries are now 14.4 volts.The camera is NOT backwards compatible with the older batteries from the C300 and C100 MarkI versions. Also, the handle and the LCD from the Mark I version cannot be used with the Mark II due to a difference in the way the two are mounted from previous versions.

Autofocus is a huge strong point of Canon’s success. Canon’s Dual Pixel AF (DPAF) system also sees an improvement. It now comes fitted with the camera, unlike the original version where it was a paid upgrade. This is a very special feature. The AF area now covers nearly 80% of the sensor area. “Face detect” is also brought over from the C100 MarkII and the speed of AF can be adjusted in ten steps. You can also change the AF tracking characteristics in a similar way to altering them on a Canon Pro DSLR like the 1DX.

The AF area is also moveable by toggling using joystick on the handgrip.This is a revolutionary new AF system and I’m sure it will be widely adopted by more documentary and run and gun shooters internationally.

The C300 MakrII makes some significant departures from its earlier version by leaving out a few features. One significant omission is the MPEG2 XF 4.2.2. 50mbps codec which is hugely popular and a mainstay of the broadcast industry. Canon seems to be pushing new and existing users to migrate to the new AVCHD codec. This is a significant omission; the industry would not be migrating from the already well established MPEG2 4.2.2. 50mbps codec any time soon due to its ease, convenience and robustness. With television having significantly lesser and lesser turn around times, transcoding is rarely an option. I do not now if this feature would be added later by firmware upgrade. It should be in my opinion, and I’m sure I am not alone in requesting this.

The MarkII version also does away with onboard HD to SD down-conversion. This will significantly impact users of the C300 in live news situations such as Soccer, Formula 1 and Piece to Camera situations. A lot of the NEWS broadcasters (especially here in India) are still broadcasting in SD and use the HD files for archiving purposes. I’m not sure if this is a feature that can be added via firmware.

The big questions hovering over the C300 MarkII is the resistance it might face by  existing C300 users or Sony FS7/F5 users to migrate to the C300 MarkII system.

Canon faces stiff competition from Sony with their hugely popular and out spec-ed FS7 and F5 models. The FS7 at this point is priced significantly lower than the MarkII.

More over, the nature of field production has changed such, with many producers now engaging smaller cameras such as the BlackMagic Design, The Sony A7S and Panasonic’ s GH4 to great effect.

Another significant factor is the price gap between the current C300 and the MarkII version with the recently announced price drop. The MarkII version is priced approx 3times more, I’m sure this would play on the minds of broadcasters still demanding MPEG2 4.2.2. 50mbps content.

The Camera is priced at US $15,999/- internationally and will be made available by third quarter of this year.

The C300 too did face some tough competitions in its outset, however it quickly overcame that and became hugely popular with most shooters, I’m sure the MarkII will follow suite with a few tweaks.

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