These are interesting times for filmmakers – the tools keep getting better

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Just last week Canon unveiled the Canon C300 and C300PL cameras.  A series of cameras with incredible sensors with  wide exposure latitude and incredible low light performance that shoot 1080p video up to 30fps on CF Cards.

A little over an hour later – Red announced the Scarlet camera.  An equally compact camera capable of 5K but in effect 4K at 25fps in full RAW mode.

After what had already been a huge news day in the film world  – Canon snuck one last announcement in:   Their Canon Cinema Concept camera – that shoots 4K.

As I saw the announcements coming out – I felt like I was witnessing a fencing bout between two camera giants.   Each trying to steal the other’s thunder with subtle parries and strong reposts.

The truth is: all 3 cameras should be of strong interest to all of us.   

I do have the benefit of having shot with all of the cameras mentioned in this post- quite extensively.   (Notably the C300, and although I haven’t shot with the RED Scarlet (it isn’t available yet,) RED tells me the image performance (depending on compression settings) will be identical to the RED Epic-M that I own and use regularly.)

First an important rule that I firmly believe in:   a two newspaper town (or 3) is much better than a one newspaper town.   I can speak from experience following my old newspaper days, that a one newspaper town has the paper’s staff become complacent far too quickly.  

Without competition, there is no desire to show the other paper up.

I can also say without hesitation that the Canon C300 has one of the top 6 sensors (and supporting processing hardware/chips) in the world.   Many people/bloggers out there are erroneously saying the 5DM KII can do as well- but they haven’t a clue, to put it very bluntly.    

I’ve tested both – extensively and side by side.  The C300 wins hands down- and that’s in relation to almost all cameras out there today (short of the very high end,) not just the Canon 5DMKII.   I look forward to putting some tests out there this week.

The Scarlet was a fantastic announcement as well.   It is the "Little sister" to the Epic – as Jim Jannard said.  

The big surprise:  a Super35mm sensor, and the price tag – under $10,000 for the body.   Closer to $13,000 – $17,200 depending on how you accessorize it of course.   (I’d have to add their gorgeous EVF to the package myself and then add a few 128GB SSD Cards which will add up quickly beyond the $17,000 price mentioned above depending on how many $1,800 128GB SSD Cards you need.   Don’t forget that the C300 shoots on compact cards that you already likely own.   Both cameras can thankfully shoot on Canon EF lenses – which will significantly help your pocketbook when compared to cinema PL lenses.)   This is an incredible camera to own for almost any filmmaker out there – and future-proof.   Not only will you be shooting 4K+ resolutions for tomorrow’s screens – but you will also be able to swap out the sensor with more modern sensors down the line – something that is in line with Jannard’s desire to never let your cameras become obsolete.  A small detail that you should pay big attention to.

Then came the announcement of the Canon cinema concept camera.    All that’s really been said so far is that it will shoot 4K footage and be optimized with a better codec (Motion JPEG) – though likely not a RAW one (but that still remains to be seen or clarified by anyone.)

So where does that leave us?  (The filmmakers that is.)

In short:  in a very, very good place!  

Competition can only benefit us.   We will directly benefit from having Jim Jannard and RED going toe to toe with Canon.  

And don’t forget Sony, Panasonic, Arri etc.    No one can afford to rest on their laurels in this fight. 

Trust me.  

I will leave you with a few last thoughts:

I had a fantastic set of conversations with a few key executives at Canon as we celebrated the launch of the C300 and the Premiere of Mobius at Paramount studios.

To their credit – they said, and stood firm that a $20,000 MSRP was warranted, given the quality of the sensor and technology of their camera.   On that point I entirely agree- and even respect them for not racing to the bottom if you will (of rates/prices/fees) as is unfortunately so often the case today.

That being said, I am also very well aware of the market today, and of the economy.   Apple has proven that they can make a significantly greater amount of money by selling cheaper versions of their Aperture and Final Cut X software on their Apple Store – than they did when they sold them at higher prices.   (They’re making a significantly greater amount with volume selling the software at a lower price point relative to the higher priced boxed versions to a smaller group of people that they chose in the past (the lower price- not the box vs download is relevant here.)

The truth is, that a Canon 5DMKII, with a lens and a shoulder mount , NDs and monitor will quickly bring any HDSLR filmmaker right up to the $10,000 line in terms of investment.  That being said the $700-$2,700 entry point of a bare HDSLR body allows people to start small and dream big…  they can build up their system over time…  When the C300 starts at $20,000 (MSRP so likely closer to $17,000-$18,000) that barrier is regrettably too high for many.

The RED Scarlet and Canon C300 will quickly rise north of $20,000 when put into almost any production.

I do think, that that $10,000 mark is a very, very big mental limit for most of us in terms for what we buy, versus what we rent.   (Big Hollywood productions don’t care about $10,000 versus $20,000 when the alternative is a $60,000 camera, surrounded by $20,000-$150,000 of lenses and accessories.)  

I think that while (in the end) the RED Scarlet will likely cost as much, if not slightly more than the Canon C300 when it comes to shooting it on any production big and small – Jim Jannard’s pricing of the base kit gives RED an advantage for what is on paper, clearly a higher performing camera (4K resolution at 25fps and in RAW.)  The RED system is also built to be upgradable with new sensors and logic boards over time (not to mention accessories and modules.)   The C300, Sony F3, and HDSLRs have not been built to have their sensors etc changed at a later date.   Another important consideration.

The Canon C300 has one of the very best sensors in the world – and an image that I love.    I can honestly say that I will debate between the Arri Alexa, the Canon C300, and the Red Epic/Scarlet on future productions.    Each camera has clear advantages and shortcomings to anyone that has worked with them.

The Arri wins with the best overall dynamic range, notably in terms of highlight retention- but requires a crew, and expensive support, accessories, and additional expensive decks to shoot RAW at a max resolution of 2K.   An Arri "package" comes in at just under $100,000.   It should also be said that a clear trend is underway towards smaller, lighter cameras.  (You can always easily add weight to a camera should you need more stability  – not the reverse.)  I cannot for example take an Alexa package with me onboard an airplane in my carryon luggage.   I can absolutely do so with my Epic/Scarlet/C300 kits with lenses and matte box for example.

The RED Scarlet is cutting edge and offers RAW, HDRx, a tight and light package which is incredibly important.  The RED (Scarlet and Epic) is so bleeding edge though – that you will likely spend more on hard drives, and REDRocket cards to work with the incredible data coming off of that 4K-5K sensor.   But Stu Maschwitz has a great post on his Prolost blog where he discusses resolution and other factors – including the reality that in effect when you shoot at 4K on the Scarlet you are using a smaller part of the Super35 sensor in effect.

The Canon C300 offers one of the most impressive images out there – notably in low light (likely the best of any camera available today, I’d say better than the Sony F3, and close to 2 stops better than the Alexa) – and is ridiculously small and light – but offers no RAW, no high frame rates, and only shoots 1080p.   It does offer a built in EVF, LCD, battery, built in ND filters, and it works with your current CF Cards … that right there is $5K-$10K saved if you price things out – you’ll easily spend that much on the other systems to get those same features.  You can also stick a CF card into any machine in the world and look at your footage immediately – with no need for conversion or transcoding.

The Canon concept camera is nothing more than that at this point… there are no details to base any opinion upon at this point.  There is no clear winner for "everyone" out there.

That being said – I’d love to see Canon consider leveling the price out of their C300 – because I’d like to see it in as many hands out there as possible.   The camera is perfect for features, indies, and documentaries (probably the best large-sensor documentary camera in the world today.)    I do have to respect them for not racing to the "bottom" if you will – in terms of setting the price too low.

Nonetheless – the goal should always to bring the price down of a base camera closer to what I consider to be the "magical" $10,000 price level.

As we all know, the camera body is but the starting point of what will ultimately be an ever growing list of accessories, lenses and expenditures.   THAT is where the camera manufacturers win on their end – and rightfully so (or none of these options would be around for us choose from…)

Here are two examples that demonstrate the image quality of these cameras – what we all can agree on is that we’re light years ahead in terms of that image quality and dynamic range than we were just a few years ago… (not to mention price!!!)

The Canon C300:

Mobius from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

For more details and behind the scenes footage go to:

Note that this version is a 720p version of the film that is optimized for fast playback on the majority of systems. It does not show the optimum image quality in terms of resolution and compression.

For the High Quality 1080p version of this film go HERE.

The Red Epic (shown at 1080p below vs 5K unfortunately which isn’t quite fair to anyone out there… technology (and mostly our monitors) are standing in the way of me showing the footage to you in 5K.)

EPIC #308 from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.