Canon C300 Mark II Review

The C300 has undergone a complete revamp in the newest version, the EOS C300 Mark II. At first sight the Mark II looks just like the original C300, but looks can be deceiving. It’s really a completely new camera. When Canon launched the Cinema EOS range, the first model was the C300. It recorded 50 Mb/s 8-bit HD MPEG-2 to CF cards. It had an new form factor than meant is was ideal for handheld, run-and-gun operation. The 300 was followed by the higher performance C500, but an external recorder was needed to gain full advantage of high bit rate 2K and 4K recording, with the CF card still limiting on-board recording. The line-up was joined with the entry-level C100, which records AVCHD to SD cards.

The original Canon C300 was suited to long-form television production like documentaries. However the codec limited the possibilities where the shots needed extensive grading and effects in post.

In the intervening years formats have changed, specifically the standardisation of UHD, with a wider colour space and enhanced dynamic range. The C300 Mark II addresses the developments in standards, particularly Rec. 2020. Moving from MPEG-2 to AVC level 5.2 compression allows the camera to support the higher bit depths necessary for high dynamic range (HDR) recording, along with 4:4:4 RGB, ideal for colour matte shots. The camera captures a very wide colour gamut including Canon Cinema, a wide colour space for film stock emulation. Within the bounds of this space the output can be rendered as DCI-P3 (digital cinema), BT 2020 (UHD), or BT 709 (HD).

The headline features in the Mark II include:

  • CFast memory cards. This permits an internal recording rate of over 400Mb/s, which also supports 4K capture;
  • A new 4096 x 2160 sensor supporting 4K/2K film resolutions as well as UHD/HD (the original camera had a 3840 x 2160 sensor);
  • Canon Log2 transfer curve to aid HDR recording, with Canon claiming 15 stops dynamic range;
  • And to support all these, new dual DIGIC DV5 processors.

Ergonomics

The camera has a number of ergonomic improvements, developed as a result of user feedback. When Canon first launched the Cinema EOS range it was an unusual form factor, departing from the conventional long body design dating back to videotape camcorders. The short body lends itself to handheld shooting, but can be rigged with after-market accessories for shoulder mounting, tripods, drones, whatever.

Like the previous iteration, the base camera has flexible configurations. The C300 MkII comes with an OLED viewfinder, a status display and a detachable hand grip (which can be replaced with a thumb rest for handheld work). It also ships with a top handle and monitor/audio interface that can be attached in a number of configurations using cold shoe connectors to suite all manner of shooting positions. The design of the handle has been improved over the original C300, give a much more solid fastening, but does need a hex wrench to attach.

The monitor and audio interface can be fitted in several configurations to suit tripod mount, shoulder mount or hand holding.

The monitor and audio interface can be fitted in several configurations to suit tripod mount, shoulder mount or hand holding.

The viewfinder display has been improved, in that the status information has been moved out of the picture area.

In operation, the menus will be familiar to Canon uses. A control dial controls aperture with a second dial to vary parameters like gain/ISO. Buttons give direct control of the ND filters and white balance. Further buttons provide direct access to focus peaking, exposure zebra and waveform monitor overlay. So all the most-used controls can be accessed without resort to the menu.

The camera looks to be well sealed against the elements. The connectors have covers and the access hatch for the battery has a gasket.

All the connectors have weather seals to keep out dirt and moisture.

All the connectors have weather seals to keep out dirt and moisture.

Sensor

The sensor has increased in resolution over the original C300, from 3840 x 2160 pixels to 4096 x 2160 to properly support 4K film recording. HD video is downsampled from 4K debayered frames. The native ISO is 200 at 0dB gain. When using the Canon Log 2 transfer curve, the base sensitivity is ISO 800,

  • gain/ISO 43dB/256,000
  • extended range to 54dB/1,024,000

To check out the dynamic range I went to a local church, noted for its large stained-glass windows. The pan from the windows to the dark area around the altar covers a wide dynamic range which can be easily reduced in post.

Testing dynamic range

The camera has a choice of colour spaces including Rec.2020, Rec, 709 and DCI-P3. The camera also has a Canon-developed space called Cinema Gamut. This exceeds the 2020 space and can be used for film emulation in ACES space. When shooting with several different cameras, the colour matrix can be set to match the C500 in either video or Cinema EOS modes, or to match EOS digital SLRs.

Recording

The C300 mark II offers a wide range of recording formats to suite different genres of shooting. The camera uses Canon’s implementation of AVC, XF-AVC and records to CFast memory cards. There is a choice of film 4K/2K (4096 x 2160 or 2048 x 1080) or TV UHD/HD (3840 x 2160 or 1920 x 1080) resolutions. A number of slow and fast motion modes allow for over- or under-cranking. Using a window of the sensor the camera can shoot HD up to 120 fps.

  1. The highest data rate, 410 Mb/s records YCbCr, 4:2:2, I-frame, 10-bit at frames rates of 23.98, 24, 25, and 29.97. AT this data rate a 64GB CFast card records for 20 minutes.
  2. For FX work, the camera can shoot RGB, 4:4:4 at 12 or 10 bit depth at 225 or 210 Mb/s respectively. Again these are at the lower frame rates of 23.98, 24, 25, and 29.97.
  3. For 2K/HD only, frame rates of 50P, 50i, 59.94P and 59.i are also supported, with data rates of 310 Mb/s (progressive) or 160Mb/s HD interlace.
  4. The camera can also record 2K/HD at 50Mb/s Long GOP

A 24 Mb/s XF-AVC proxy can be separately recorded to an internal SD card. With all this choice it makes sense to figure out the optimum workflow into post, then select the appropriate encode mode.

External Recording

The alternative to internal recording is to record RAW. The camera can output RAW over a single 3G-SDI cable to be recorded on the latest versions of Codex Digital Onboard S, Convergent Odyssey 7Q/Q+ with Raw bundle, and Atomos Shogun. Canon has a software utility to 'develop' the RAW files, which can be downloaded from their web site. Note that the C500 uses twin 3G-SDi RAW outputs and can record up to 60fps 4K externally. 

Lens Mount

The test camera was supplied was supplied with a regular EOS mount. Shooters can opt to change the lens mount from the default EF mount, to the EF Mount with Cinema Lock, or to the industry standard PL mount, both as a service option.

The ND filter turret has been redesigned, with two filter sections now giving a selection of off, 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 stops.

Focus

This is a very flexible camera and lends itself to a wide range of genres. It can be used documentary-style with zoom or digital cinema style with primes and a focus puller. One of the problems with shooting 4K for the operator working alone is trying to focus with a small viewfinder. OK there is peaking, but it can still be a challenge getting pin-sharp focus. The camera has autofocus (AF) with supported lenses, but AF is considered an anathema by experienced camera operators. However, Canon has used the AF information to give focus assist in manual focus operation. The sensor uses dual-pixel AF in common with other Canon cameras. Each pixel has two photo-diodes with separate readout. The camera processes the parallax error between the two signals to create a focus information. Unlike conventional focus rocking back and forth to find the optimum focus, which is OK for still photography, this method is better suited to video. In manual mode, the focus indicator shows whether the focus is too close or too far using arrow icons in the viewfinder. The focus processing includes face detection.

Remote Control Options

The camera can be remote controlled from the optional Canon remote controller, RC-V100 via a cable or from a browser over Wi-Fi using the optional WFT-E6 wireless transmitter. This supports a live view and allows camera settings to be adjusted.

Power

The BP-A30 battery supplied with the camera has a 2-hour capacity (45Wh). The larger BP-A60 doubles the time to around four hours, however, the larger battery protrudes from the weather-sealed compartment. An alternative for all-day shooting is to use DC in from a third-party external V-mount battery.

Summary

The mark II is superficially the same camera as the original C300, but the new sensor, high data rate memory cards, high bit depth recording and a new codec make this a very different camera. If you want to shoot HD at higher bit-depths for grading or want to try UHD or 4K, it’s well worth a look at the Mark II. The original mark was best suited to genres like documentary, but the mark II can meet the needs of a far more productions including commercials, episodic television, and with support for 2K/4K resolution, motion picture projects.

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