3 Years later… “Mobius” and the Canon C300 / C300PL

HDSLRs were born a little over 3 years ago – and my life and that of many others has forever been changed as a result.  

What an incredible time  it’s been for many of us!   And that is about to change again today…

The number "3" seems to have an unusual relevance to this short film "Mobius":  

I was asked 3 months ago to shoot a short film for Canon to highlight the new Canon C300 camera.

We wrapped our 3rd day of shooting on what turned out to be exactly the 3-year-anniversary of the release of "Reverie."  (I received a tweet about it that night which was a cool surprise and made me pause for a few seconds on set – what a strange coincidence right?! )

Canon is making this "historic" announcement on November 3rd.

This is the 3rd prototype camera Canon has asked me to test (Reverie / Nocturne / Mobius)

We used 3 C300 bodies for the shoot.   And this post is 4 posts shy of the 300th post on this blog.

And finally 3 is the natural successor to the Canon 5D MKII

*UPDATE: Oddly enough (and before this post was published) I was seated at table #3 at the Canon dinner on the evening of the premiere (out of more than 40 tables…)

Without further ado – here is the short we produced with a wonderful cast and crew (more to come on them in the upcoming days) -

Mobius – 720p Version from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

Note that this version is optimized for fast playback on the majority of systems – it does not show the optimum image quality in terms of resolution and compression.  To get the highest quality image go to the 1080p link below.

Here is a LINK to the 1080p version of "Mobius" for those of you who’s system can handle it.   

A downloadable version of the final film (5GB) will be made available shortly courtesy of Apple and iTunes.

Follow me on Twiiter @vincentlaforet for breaking updates on this and other events!

 First a behind the scenes look:

A special thank you goes to the Vimeo team for shooting and editing this piece – not to mention joining us on set!   Big thanks to Blake Whitman and Sam Morrill.

SPECS: For those of you who are dying for the specs here they are - with my commentary in italic:

Sensor:  New Canon 8.29 Megapixel Super 35mm Cinema CMOS Sensor – 3840 x 2160 effective pixels

Native 1920×1080 capture with 3 separate 2.0 megapixel color channels – 2.0mp G, 2.0mp R, 2.0mp B) without the type of interpolation required by most cameras in this price range.

Ergo this is in effect a 4K sensor creating a 1080p image.  This results in what I would say is easily one of the best digital cinema sensors on the market  - at least that I have worked with (I have worked with all of the digital cinema cameras released within the past 2-3 years.*)   The camera’s only competition right now are the Arri Alexa and Red Epic – although each of the 3 sensors and cameras have distinct advantages over one another  - there is no perfect camera.  

The Canon C300 produces an INCREDIBLY sharp image at 1080p on a 60 foot screen.   There is ZERO aliasing or moire – goodbye forever!!!

It should be said:  DSLRs are FAR FROM DEAD.   Their price point, size, and accessibility to the "masses"  will allow them to thrive for years to come in my opinion.  The above mentioned cameras are in a different price league.   I have not heard of an official price yet from Canon, but it is safe to say that the price will be north of the Canon 1Dx.

*(I haven’t tried the Sony F65 and I haven’t been able to test the new Phantom Flex – the Phantom Gold’s sensor is quite impressive.)


New DIGIC DV IIII Processor

This proccesor allows for unbelievable low light performance and color / image quality.   If you love the Canon 5DMKII’s image quality – prepare to be blown away by this sensor.   Both in terms of dynamic range and the richness of the image.    The image quality coming from this camera is incredibly organic – alpha channels show a noise pattern incredibly reminiscent of film.   In fact I had to walk up to the 22 foot screen at EFilm during the grading session on several occasion to examine what I swore looked like a Tri-X negative being projected onto the screen.

Low light performance:

High Sensitivity/Low Noise – Peak Dynamic Range of 800% or 12 stops (using Canon Log Cinema Mode at ISO 850 and higher.)

Signal Processing equivalent to a 3-chip RGBCamera system without the need for any debayering algorithms.

Although I have not had a chance to do en empirical test at this point with side by side results – it’s fair to say that this camera performs better than the Alexa and perhaps even the Sony F3 in low light.   It’s hard to compare the F3 because the noise of that camera is different (I have done side by side tests  - but the C300′s noise pattern at high ISOs is so organic that it looks like film and isn’t  a distraction.)  I would say that the C300 is 1&1/2 to 2 stops better than the Alexa in low light – which is incredible.   That being said – the Alexa is top dog in terms of highlight retention – and likely has a 1-2 stop advantage in retaining highlights (Again, given that no empirical tests have been done yet – take this paragraph as a whole with a grain of salt.  Alexa does claim a 14 stop range versus the C300′s 12.  The Red Epic has been reported at around 13.5 stops.)   The RED Epic is hard to judge against these as well given that the resolution of its sensor naturally makes noise more apparent (due to the higher resolution.) I have processed the 5K imagery with post noise reduction software and gotten impressive results.   Comparing a 5K camera to a 1080p camera is not something I’m willing to do at this point – to me the two are like Apples and Oranges.    Comparing the two would be the equivalent of comparing the same lens on a 1080p vs 5K sensor – the 5K sensor will show every optical flaw of that lens in crystal clear detail due to the incredible relative resolution.

Resolution and frame rates:

1~30 fps at 1080p

1~60 fps at 720p

The lack of additional faster frame rates at 1080p is one of the few disappointments of this camera – but expected given its expected price point.   This is one of the areas where the Red Epic shines at up to 300fps at 2K, and up to 120fps at 5K.  The Alexa also will also eventually go up to 120fps at 1080p.  

ISO Range:

320-20,000

We shot the entire film at 850 ISO to get the maximum dynamic range.   The image is incredibly clean.   Once we pull up the shadows the blacks have a pleasing granular structure to them.  More to come on that in the next few days.  I did do some tests at 3200 ISO and 6400 ISO and was amazed by what I saw.  One of the films Canon is showing today had a few scenes shot at 20,000 ISO – and the footage holds up on a 60 foot screen (with obvious grain/noise.)

Manual Gain: -6dB to 30dB

EF and PL versions

I wish that there were interchangeable lens mounts as with the RED Epic.   Choosing between the two models is going to be incredibly difficult for all out there… in fact that is probably going to cause many to debate which camera to buy – for days…. if not weeks.   I love my Canon EF lenses.  But Canon’s new PL Lenses as well as the current lineup of available lenses will likely have me go to the PL version first.

Rotatable and removable handgrip.

Monitor Unit/Control Panel can be mounted on the camera’s accessory slot or in a variety of different ways.

4-inch 1.23 Megapixel LCD is rotatable and removable.

We found ourselves using Zacuto EVFs with the camera and the new Marshall monitors with built in waveform graphs with excellent success.

Body weight:

EF Version – 3.2 lbs

PL Version – 3.6 lbs

Don’t overlook this spec.   This is HUGE – or in this case small and light.  The size and weight of this camera is incredible.  This will be a huge factor when choosing between this camera and the Epic and Alexa.  This is a significant advantage that Canon has notably over the Alexa in my opinion.   You can literally pick this camera up with your index finger… and ii is noticeably smaller than the Sony F3 for example (in length.)  It is also noticeable lighter than the Epic.  I should also mention that we shot with the C300 camera for 3 days in 95ºF + temperatures in the desert on RC Helicopters and Russian arms and we never had a single issue with the camera that I can recall.   Impressive given that these were prototype cameras…

XLR Inputs and audio control

We used a dual system for audio (i.e. a separate audio deck to record audio) on this project – but all of the bells and whistles appear to be there.

Output:

HD/SD-SDI

HDMI

Timecode in/out

Genlock

Sync out (3D)

XLR (2 Channel)

3.5mm Mic Jack

Heaphone 3.5 stereo monitor

FINALLY!!!! Need I say more!  Production-ready camera!

Media:

2 CF Card Slots

Relay record from one to another

Hot swap cards while shooting uninterrupted

Shooting simultaneously to both cards

HD/SD-SDI Output to external recoders

It’s wonderful to be able to record to CF Cards that you already have available.  CF Cards are dependable and cheap.  The dual record function is a superb function that gives you a tremendous amount of peace of mind. 

Codec:

Canon XF Codec:

MPEG-2

4:2:2

50Mbs

MXF Wrapper

Love the codec.  We shot 18 hours of footage and copied it all on a 500GB drive w/ audio and production stills.  Image quality is superb and it grades wonderfully.   For most- this will be more than enough.  It blows the 5DMKII away.  Completely.  That being said the RED Epic’s and Alexa’s RAW support will allow the digital image to be pushed further especially when aggressive color correction/grading is desired.  We edited out entire short in Premiere and After Effects without a single hiccup.   I am told the codec is supported by Avid as well.   At the time of production neither Final Cut 7 nor Final Cut X supported this format – though I’m sure that will change for Final Cut X at some point of course.

Power:

Long battery life - 

Included BP-955 up to 205 min

Optional BP-075 up to 310 min

A waverform Monitor and Vectorscope for exposure analysis built in.

The battery is excellent – never a factor on our shoots.   

Focus Assist:

Magnified Focus

Two Peaking modes to check and confirm critical focus

Wireless Remote (WFT-E6):

802.11 a/b/g/n/

Secure – user assignable IP address and password

Control over: Start/Stop, Shutter/ ISO/ WB etc.

Iris and focus control when using Canon EF Lenses

Metadata input remotely

Approx 150 ft range.

Operates using standard Web-browsers on WiFi-engable devices:

iPad/iPhone/iTouch 

Computers / Android Tables

Sound incredibly neat – we didn’t have these to test during our shoot.

New Canon EF Cinema lenses:

24mm T/1.5L F

50mm T/1.3L F

85mm T/1.3L F

With more to come…

Lenses have 4K image quality

300º Degree focus thrown

Mechanical 11-blad iris

Consistent matched gearing

These support the full size image cifcle of the the EOS 5D MKII and EOS-1D X

These lenses have the potential to be very disruptive… but until I see one I’m just speculating… but based on the zoom lenses below… Canon has the potential to shake up the lens world if their prime lenses are as good as their Zooms…

EF Cinema Zoom lenses:

14.5~60mm T/2.6L SP

30~300mm T/2.95-3.7L SP

The support the 35mm image circle of the EOS C300

I love these lenses and would love one of each from a very rich Santa from Xmas.   I  may just have to buy the 30~300mm because it was outstanding and a lens one can travel the world with.   The optical and mechanical performances were beyond excellent.   It is smaller (by approx 6 pounds!)  than the Angenieux 24~290mm T2.6  Optimo and much more compact – the Optimo is one of the godfathers in the zoom lens world…

So where does the camera stand in relation to the other cameras?  What about RED’s Scarlet announcement today?   That and much more in the upcoming days on this blog… STAY TUNED.

And here’s a little piece of nostalgia – Reverie from 3 years ago… :

Reverie from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

Director/DP – This was the first 1080p video widely released that was shot with the Canon 5D MKII. It was viewed more than 2 million times in the first week of its release.