Canon C300 “Organic” Noise

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Two of the most exciting things about the Canon C300 are the sharpness of the image, and also the "organic" or granular structure of the noise pattern the sensor produces.    

As I worked with the footage from "Mobius" with VFX and color correction – I noticed something I had rarely seen coming off a digital sensor.   The image structure, and notably the alpha channels looked strikingly similar to traditional photography/motion picture film (or negatives.)

You can read my previous post if you’re interested in a detailed opinion of where the Canon C300 stands amongst other cameras (notably the RED Scarlet/Epic, Arri Alexa, and Sony F3.)    

Below you’ll find a frame from Mobius – beneath it is the alpha channel (shot more tightly to emphasize important details) that shows two things:

1. The incredible sharpness of the sensor (1080p coming off of a 3.7K sensor) on the letters "Navigator" from the exact same frame below.

2. The granular structure the sensor produces. 

I can speak to this "organic" noise, following a half-decade of experience working in a series of darkrooms at the start of my photographic career (black and white film, C-41, and E-6) and regularly holding up a loop below a projected negative to ensure focus.

I’m also working on making "Mobius" downloadable on iTunes this week – both the finished product as well as a raw ungraded scene.  

For now, I’ll share with you a frame grab (click on the image below to enlarge it to its full 1920×1080 resolution) and you should be able to appreciate the incredible level of detail the camera offers.  Note that this is the RAW ungraded footage out of the camera. [Note: we used Scneider "Classic Soft" and "Sahara Gold" filters on the shoot, and on this shot]

Below you will also find a series of frame grabs off of a monitor.   

The only time that I have seen this type of granular structure in noise is with the Arri Alexa.   

I think that this just might be the future of digital sensors:  taking digital noise and giving it a more filmic or "organic" structure.  

While digital sensors are slowly closing the gap with film in terms of dynamic range – most don’t have the same granular structural beauty that film offers.  It seems that too is changing.

Below you’ll find another example of a shot made at the start of the film at sunrise.  The camera was able to hold (and exposed for) the highlights of the scene. But you’ll notice that the shadows still have an impressive amount of detail – deep down in the dark areas of the file.   

Here is yet one more example – shot on a Russian arm at 35 mph on desert roads on the Canon 30~300mm Cine lens.

One thing to note, is how well the 1080p file holds up when down sampled from an nearly 4K original sensor that the C300 offers.   Not all 1080p sensors are equal in this regard – notably not the image files we’re used to from the 1080p Canon 5D MKII (due to both the poor debayering of the image as well as the compression artifacts from the AVC H.264 codec the camera uses.)  

I would also note that I have always added noise to my photographic prints that originate from digital cameras for two reasons.   For one – it adds noise to the black and whites, and two, helps to hide jagged edges from the sensor.   When you then blow up the image (or make very large prints) – that same digital image doesn’t break down as quickly.  In fact many people I’ve shown my large 60X40 prints have erroneously guessed they were shot on film.    

So if you follow that logic, while the 1080p image coming off the C300 may not be 2K let alone 5K – it will blow up much more easily than many other 1080p cameras thanks to this "organic" noise pattern that naturally comes off of the sensor in my opinion.   We certainly witnessed that during our grade of this film.

In the end – these are exciting times as digital cinema sensors are behaving more and more like the film most of us still love and wish we could shoot exclusively.  That being said – the reasons for shooting film vs digital will surely wain over time as these sensors offer not only better resolution, better dynamic range and now – better "filmic" noise.   


On a totally unrelated note: As of today, Peachpit is offering a 35% discount on my upcoming book VISUALS STORIES that comes out next Monday –  go to the following link and simply enter PPE2011 on checkout:


Here is a link to the hard copy: Visual Stories: Behind the Lens with Vincent Laforet  (HARD COPY)

And a link to the eBook version: Visual Stories: Behind the Lens with Vincent Laforet (eBOOK)