Canon C300 MKII Review: Part 1

Introduction

I’m very excited to share my thoughts of the new Canon C300 MK II with you. I was lucky enough to receive my camera early, so I hit the ground running! I’ve shot handheld verite, sit-down interviews, stylized recreations, and even some wooden sailboat restoration in Newport, RI over the last few weeks. There’s been a lot of excitement and criticism around this camera, so I wanted to lay out my first impressions and experiences. I want to add that I am not writing this on behalf of Canon or anyone else. I have been a devoted C300 user for the last three years, so yes, I tend to lean towards their cameras inherently, but I also realize there are a lot of other cameras out there to choose from. I hope this helps you in either deciding to run towards (or even away) from the C300 MK II, and be better informed before making costly investments.


prodstills_027

Before diving in too deep under the hood, I first wanted to talk about some of the exterior features of the camera in this post. As we know, the C300 solidified itself into the world of documentary and reality TV cinematography, both for its image quality and its ability to adapt to large or small camera builds. The working relationship with your camera is very similar to the relationship with your crew. If you get along with your crew, are able to communicate well with each other, and move past the minor troubles that always arise, the shoot is guaranteed to go smoothly (from an operations side at least!). If you are always misunderstanding each other, fighting and holding onto grudges, the film will suffer as a result. While camera specs are of course important, so is knowing that you can pick up a camera and start shooting right away, without the camera fighting you back. I certainly fell into a groove with the original C300. All of its menus and buttons became an extension of my own body. I knew not only where something was out of muscle memory, but also because things were placed where they needed to be. This is I want to talk about these features first.




Size

For the most part, the camera is pretty close to its brother. It’s just a little bit fatter and a little bit heavier, but not as much as the C500 was in comparison. The C300 MK II is only 0.2″ taller, 0.7″ wider, and 0.9″ deeper than the C300. It weighs 0.8 lbs more than its baby brother. None of these things felt noticeable to me when shooting. With the addition of so many new recording options, I am happy with the design of the external monitoring port positions. When the C500 was released, it faced many of the same problems the MK II faces now. Fans, more ports, etc. But the way Canon designed them into the MK II, you don’t feel a difference. The ports are all positioned for easy access, without the added bulk we saw on the C500.





Top Handle

top-handle

The old handle was always a point of contention with C300 users. If was flimsy and cheap, unable to take the weight of the camera, lenses and accessories all off the cold-shoe mount on the top of the camera. Many of us resorted to using third party solutions like the Movcam handle or various helmet solutions, like the ones from Zacuto or Wooden Camera. It was great to have a solution that had more than one attachment point to better distribute the weight and add rigidity to the camera. But of course this meant spending more money to have the camera do what it should natively. With the C300 MK II, Canon has completely re-designed the top handle. They addressed many of the concerns we had from before. Now, included with the camera, is a helmet that attaches to the camera in three places: directly into the cold-shoe, and into two threads on the side of the camera. Onto the helmet attaches the top handle. This is done via two hex screws. This is great in addressing the problem of rigidity. Unfortunately, this means it is a relatively permanent solution. Given the placement of the two hex screws, you cannot easily take off the top handle for packing. But with that said, the new top handle gives you a multitude of ¼-20 and ⅜-16 mounting points (11 in total), along with 3 cold-shoe mounts (as opposed to 2 on the previous version). Unfortunately, due to the slightly larger build of the camera, those old 3rd party solutions will not work on this camera, so you have to buy new. In conclusion, if you have a bag tall enough to encase the camera body with the top handle included, you will be pleasantly surprised with the added features of the new handle. If you are looking for a more streamlined solution, it may be back to ordering a 3rd party handle.




Audio / Video Cables

The camera has exchanged its annoying cables that run from the monitor unit to the body for different annoying, yet much smarter, cables. Before, these cables were permanently attached to the monitor unit, making repair a bit of a chore. If you had to repair the connector end of these cables one time too many, you might have to rethink the placement of the monitor unit, since the cables are now too short. With the MK II, these cables are detachable at both ends. These cables are also interchangeable, with the audio and video terminals having identical pin configurations. While they still stick out and add an unnecessary amount of bulk to the camera body, they are easily repairable / replaceable. The word on the street is Canon will begin selling various lengths of these cables to give you more mounting options.

monitor-cables





Power


power

When the camera was first announced, I was excited by the prospect of investing in a new camera body, while still being able to transition over all of my old accessories. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The C300 MKII takes entirely new batteries, due to the 14.4V DC power system on the camera, upgraded from 7.4V on the C300. These batteries are also pretty expensive for what they are. The smaller BP-A30 runs $299, and the larger BP-A60 runs a whopping $499! I desperately hope these comes down in price as they become more available. The batteries are almost identical in size, though, to the original C300 batteries. The smaller BP-A30 batteries will power the camera for just under 2.5 hours when fully charged, which means you can still get a lot of juice from your battery. The camera comes with one of these batteries, as well as a 2-position charger, which is great. Unfortunately, the charger is substantially bigger than before. If you are like me, and prefer to run the camera off a larger battery pack, like an Anton Bauer or Switronix battery, this has been improved greatly. The camera has been upgraded to a locking LEMO DC input port at 16.7V, that keeps your power supply cable solidly connected to the camera. I have been able to run the camera off one 90Wh battery for 6 hours. This means I only have to change batteries once per day. With buying a couple Switronix XP-L90A batteries for only $248 a piece, this seems to be a more economical solution as well.





Assignable Buttons

The exterior layout of the camera is extremely similar to the previous version. All of the operator-side buttons are slightly recessed, making it harder to accidently pressing them when slinging the camera over your shoulder, or when sitting in a cramped car. These buttons can also be illuminated, making them easier to locate when shooting in dark environments. On the operator side of the camera, you have two ND buttons (as before), Magnify, Peaking, Zebras, and Waveform (as before), but in place of the Display, Status, and Custom Picture Buttons, you now have ISO/Gain, Shutter, and S&F Frame Rate. I find these changes great, since you are generally adjusting these settings more often. The headphone volume buttons have been re-labeled as White Balance buttons. But you can of course re-map any of these buttons using the Assignable Buttons menu layout. The REC button has been moved from the front of the camera to the operator side, giving you easier access. Two more assignable buttons have been added to the front of the camera under the lens mount. Theses are labeled as Auto Iris and One-Shot AF, but again can be re-assigned. On the back of the camera, an additional custom button has been added, as well as the original FUNC button from before. I find the familiarity of the camera hasn’t changed, making it easy to pick up and keep shooting the way you were before, but now with more features to keep you shooting quickly and smoothly.


Here is a list of all available Assignable Button options:


One-Shot AF

Backlight

Markers

Headphone Volume +/-

AF Lock

Spotlight

LCD Setup

Monitor Channels

Focus Guide

Function

VF Setup

Audio Level

Face AF

Shutter

LUT

Photo

Face Detection & Tracking

Gain / ISO

Onscreen Display Output

Review Recording

Tracking

White Balance

Display

S&F Frame Rate

Push Auto Iris

Peaking

Add Shot Marker

Status

Iris Mode

Zebra

Add OK Mark

Custom Picture

Iris +/-

Waveform

Add Check Mark

My Menu

ND +/-

Magnify

Timecode

Initialize Media

AE Shift +/-

Color Bars

Timecode Hold

Index

Vents/Fan

Due to the fact that the C300 MKII is doing some pretty heavy computing, larger air intake and outtake vents added to the camera. Unlike the spinning fans of the C500, the vents seem to be considerably quieter than the C500 (see Problems Solved! blog post). The fan speeds can now be adjusted in the menu. With Automatic selected, you can separately control the speed in STBY and REC modes at Low, Middle, High, and Maximum depending on your shooting environment. With Always On selected, you have Low, Middle, and High options.





ND Filters

ND-ext

The camera has built-in Neutral Density filters like before, but now you can take it up a notch. In the standard setting, you have the option of 2, 4, and 6 stops of ND. Under an additional menu setting, you can increase that range to 8 or 10 stops. This greatly improves the ability to keep the camera at its native ISO setting of 800, without having to shoot a deep stop.



The only caveat, is since the additional ND of 8 or 10 stops layers filtration, the camera gives you an indication that you may need to re-check focus. Not the end of the world in my mind.






Viewfinder Overlays

Viewing important information while shooting is neccesary, but often times, it conflicts with your ability to compose a shot. The MK II offers a new way of displaying that information. Like before, Pressing the Display button on the Monitor Unit will toggle through various options. Before, we had 3 options: All on-screen displays, Markers only, and Hide All on-screen displays. The MK II has added a fourth: Surrounding icons. This options reduces the size of the image, and moves all pertinent information to the black border around the image. This is a huge improvement in my mind, because now you get the best of both worlds. Here is what they look like:






Slow Motion

This is probably one of the biggest topics people are annoyed about with the release of the camera. The options have grown substantially from what was available in the C300, but probably not as much as people would like when compared to other 4K cameras currently on the market. With the MKII, you can shoot up to 120fps in 2K/HD, but only up to 30fps in 4K/UHD. In 2K/HD, you can shoot up to 60fps at full resolution, but have to move into Slow & Fast Motion (crop) mode to shoot higher. This effectively punches into the sensor 100% to allow these higher speeds. Since the image is being enlarged 100%, I did notice a small amount of noise added to the image, as well as a bit of softening. In neither case I saw it as noticeable or problematic. What this may mean for some, though, is that any frame rates beyond 60fps become a novelty and used sparingly.






Pre-Record

This is a function that is at times invaluable in documentary situations. As cinematographers and operators, we like to pride ourselves on having our eyes and ears open at all times, but sometimes the action happens when we least expect it. In comes Pre-Record. The camera gives you the ability to set this under the Recording Mode menu, the same place you will find Slow & Fast Motion and Interval Recording. Once activated, the camera will continually buffer the sensor, so when you press the record button, the camera will tack on 3 seconds of footage at the beginning of the clip. Just enough time to get the beginning of that “only happens once” shot. Might be worth considering leaving engaged at all times…



LUTs

Now that the world has shifted to taking advantage of the flatter Log profiles when shooting, LUTs have played a more prominent role in production. When shooting in Canon Log on the C300, you could incorporate the View Assist function, but this was pretty limiting. It would only display this on the LCD or VF screen, but not allow it to push through the external outputs. In addition, I feel this “look” was far too contrasty for what you would standardly grade to. You finally have the ability to load a true Rec709 LUT to the LCD/VF of the camera, as well as being able to push that LUT out through the Monitor & HDMI port, as well as the Record Out port. You can even assign a LUT feature to any of the assignable buttons to easily toggle your view on and off. We all wish the camera gave you the option of loading in your own LUTs, but for me, this camera is geared towards documentary shooting, so as long as I have a viewable image to expose and compose off of, I’m happy. Regardless, this is an important and long overdue feature. Glad it finally arrived.

color-space_luts



Magnify

As with the previous model, you have the ability to magnify the image for checking focus. You can do so via the pre-assigned buttons to the side of the camera, the handgrip, or the monitor unit. You can also re-assign this function to any button on the camera. You now have the ability to output the Magnify through the Monitor & HDMI outputs of the camera, if so desired.


There is one surprise with this feature that will leave us all scratching our heads. When recording, the Magnify function is disabled! How in the world was this overlooked, but hopefully this will be corrected in the next firmware update. As a workaround, check out some of the cool new Focus Guides discussed next.



Focus

The all-new Dual Pixel CMOS AF sensor greatly improves the camera’s ability to lock and hold focus on a subject, as well as smoothing out the change from one to another. Here are the focus features (no pun intended) of the camera:


One Shot AF – This function keeps your camera in full manual focus mode, but when engaged, it will lock focus until released. This is extremely useful when shooting in 4K where critical focus is a must, or when shooting interviews. Especially since the Magnify function doesn’t work when recording, this could prove useful to check focus on a subject during interviews.


AF-Boosted MF – This could be an ideal option for those not interested in turning over the focus controls to the camera, but still could use a little help. Here, you will always be in manual focus mode, but an indicator will appear telling you if you are in fact in focus or not. And beyond that, the camera will tell you if you need to roll closer or farther on the focus range. Sometimes it’s nice having someone watching your back, but letting you make the call.


Continuous AF – You can change the size and position of of AF reference box, depending on your needs. With Selectable, you can move the box around with the joystick on either the camera, monitor unit, or handgrip. Center Frame places the box directly in the middle of the frame, while Large (standard AF size) or Small (1/3 the size of standard) you can move the position of the box with the joystick.


Face AF – With Face AF selected, you can tell the camera to lock onto a subject, or if there is more than one in the frame, toggle the joystick to select the person of choice. The camera then does a wonderful job keeping them in focus. While you may not find yourself using this function when shooting handheld, it could prove to be extremely useful on a stabilizer rig, such as a Ronin or Movi.


Tracking – This feature is similar to Face AF, but here you don’t need a face to keep the camera on point. You can drop the focus crosshairs onto any object you want to track, and as long as the crosshairs turn green, you’re good to go. Since the camera relies on color, contrast, and pattern characteristics, if there is anything else in the frame with similar values, you may have some trouble. Very useful in slider moves or hard-to-nail tracking focus shots.


Focus Guide – Within the Assistance Functions, you have Focus Guides. Basically the same thing as AF-Boosted MF, these are screen overlays that give you an indication of whether you need to focus further or closer, or if you are in focus. But since its an Assistance Function, you can program this to a Assignable Button to easily toggle on and off. This is a good option to combine with manual focus to give you an idea if you are in the ballpark.






Recording Media

The C300 MK II utilizes all new media. Instead of CF cards, the camera now shoots to C-Fast 2.0 cards. With data rates of up to 515Mb/s, these cards are able to handle the internal 4K record. While the camera doesn’t require the fastest cards like the Amira, I would at least recommend going with the Lexar 3400x cards. Of course, these cards are expensive. It reminds me of going back to buying P2 cards! A 128GB card runs $300-$550, while the 256GB cards can run $600-$700. Record times are listed below.



Clip Naming

A brilliant (and long overdue) new feature is the ability to create filenames based on Camera Number, Reel Number, and Clip Number. Before, we were forced to let the camera create its own unique file-naming convention, which always left us wondering where that clip came from. Now you can ID a camera (for example: A, B, C), the Reel in which it came from (001-999) and the Clip Number (either starting over at 001, or letting it advance continually). The clip name appears in the lower left corner of the On-Screen Display, so both you and the rest of the crew have something to reference. The clip name appears like this in the on-screen display:


A001C001


But the clip is recorded to the card with a little more information to help us all out organizing media and later on in post.


A001C001_151031WV_CANON.MXF


A(Camera ID)001(Reel#)C001(Clip#)_151031(Date)WV(Arbitrary letters assigned by camera)_CANON(Customizable suffix, i.e.: Job Name).MXF


As you insert a new card, or roll over to another, the Reel # will auto advance. The Clip # will continue counting up, but you can go into the menu and reset that if you so desire.


If you are recording Proxy Files at the same time (more on that below), these file names will match precisely, with only the addition of the letter P at the end. This denotes the fact that it is a proxy clip.



Terminal Outputs

This is where the camera really starts to have some issues. While the external output capabilities of the camera may seem robust when looking at its terminal options, you are in fact pretty limited in what you can use all at once. The camera does have multiple outputs for both monitoring and external recording. There are 2 SDI terminals, MON and REC out, and 1 HDMI. Both SDI terminals can output 4K RAW data when using an external recorder.


Unfortunately, the REC terminal will only output the signal in which you are recording internally. So that means I can only get a signal on my SmallHD DP7 monitor (input resolution up to 1920×1080) when recording in 1920×1080. And even then, only when recording 422 10 bit, since the monitor cannot handle 444. In addition, the HDMI port does not simultaneously output with the MON out. It has to be one or the other. This is a bit of a problem, effectively leaving one video out (either HDMI or MON) when shooting 4K/UHD/2K internally, unless you are using an Atoms Shogun / Odyssey 7Q / etc that can accept a 4K signal via REC out.


The MON or HDMI outs do have the ability to push onscreen displays and assistance functions, such as aspect markers, waveform, peaking, zebras, magnification, and focus guides. Both the SDI and HDMI terminals support time code triggering for external recorders.

output-terminals



Audio

I know, you were all thinking I was like every other camera person and didn’t care about audio. But I do! See, its not even last on the list!


Finally, after so many frustrating situations of wanting some kind of reference audio on my C300, Canon has added an internal microphone. Not good quality, as to be expected, but useful nonetheless. Like with the C100, the levels of the camera microphone cannot be adjusted. So this means with the 2 XLR inputs on the monitor unit, plus the 2 channels of the camera microphone, the camera will always record 4 tracks of audio internally. When recording to an external device, you are limited to 2-channel 16bit audio, but with the option of choosing which 2 of the 4 channels you want to send.


When recording internally, you can now select either 16bit or 24bit depths. The sound department will be happy to hear that one! Here are the audio specs of the camera:

audio



Proxies

The camera has introduced a new feature that allows you to record either 2K or HD YCbCr 4:2:0 8 bit Proxy files at either 24 or 35 Mbps Long-GOP onto an SD card. On a 16GB SD card, you get 131 min of proxy record time. These files carry the same file naming convention, audio, and time code as the native clips. To really keep things in line, if you span a clip over two C-Fast cards, a new proxy clip will be created as well, ensuring all files match precisely. You also have the option of activating a Rec709 LUT on the proxy files, giving your editor and colorist a reference of how you imagined the shot to ultimately look like, while still retaining the Log profile on the native images. Unfortunately, proxies will not be recorded when either shooting in Interval or Slow & Fast Motion.

proxy-settings



Card Record Times

While the quality options are significant with the new camera, be mindful of how much more media you will be shooting. At the lowest Intra-frame quality setting on the camera (1920×1080 YCC422 10 bit), you are still shooting 3x the data per minute as you were on the C300. And that ratio skyrockets as the resolution/bit depth increases. With hard drives becoming cheaper by the day, this isn’t a deal breaker, but it is definitely something to make your post-production team aware of.

Resolution

Data Rate

Min @ 128GB C-Fast 2.0

4096x2160 YCC422 10 bit

410 Mbps Intra-Frame

42 min

3840x2160 YCC422 10 bit

410 Mbps Intra-Frame

42 min

2048x1080 YCC422 10 bit

160 Mbps Intra-Frame

113 min

1920x1080 YCC422 10 bit

160 Mbps Intra-Frame

113 min

2048x1080 RGB444 12 bit

225 Mbps Intra-Frame

78 min

1920x1080 RGB444 12 bit

225 Mbps Intra-Frame

78 min

2048x1080 RGB444 10 bit

210 Mbps Intra-Frame

84 min

1920x1080 RGB444 10 bit

210 Mbps Intra-Frame

84 min

2048x1080 YCC422 10 bit

50 Mbps Long-GOP

404 min

1920x1080 YCC422 10 bit

50 Mbps Long-GOP

404 min

In Conclusion

There is a lot to this camera. It may seem a bit overwhelming, but when I picked up the camera for the first time, I still felt a high level of familiarity with its layout and menus. Yes, there is a lot more inside , but you will be surprised how easy it is to adapt.

In the next post, Canon C300 MK II Review: Part 2, I will take a look at some more of the more intensive parts of the camera:

  • Dynamic Range

  • Gamma settings, including Canon’s new Log2

  • Over & Under exposure tests

  • Noise across the ISO range for each Gamma type and resolution

  • Working with Canon’s new XF Utility for XF-AVC

I hope this breakdown has been informative and helpful. Feel free to comment with any questions or concerns.