Canon EOS C100 review – an underestimated cinema camera

For this video specifically: All sponsoring income from this video will go to the “rainbow of hope” children’s home in Moldova.

The most affordable of Canon’s “cinema cameras” the EOS C100, has been around since late last year when I had a chance to test it in a real world environment (see video above).
In the light of recent camera announcements at NAB and the current C100 price drop I’d like to share my experience and tell you why I think the EOS C100 is one of the most important and underestimated cameras of 2013.

Canon EOS C100 reviewEveryone tells you that each project requires a different tool. Well that’s certainly true and sounds very professional, but if you’re interested to read about the C100 your budget probably limits your shooting style and choice of camera to only very few valid candidates currently available.

In this price range you are like so many others still looking and waiting for a camera that truly supports and helps you express your filmmaking ambition, be it documentary or fiction or anything in between.

Here’s a camera I can truly recommend. It has no big red labels screaming things like 4K, 12bit, or 3D for that matter (that was last year’s hype), in fact it has nothing too fancy about it: It’s HD, it does 30p max and has a mediocre file compression system. But don’t be fooled by technical specs, because this camera is superb within its boundaries and a surprisingly strong, well rounded tool from top to bottom.

Let me give you some examples:

Lowlight, lowlight, lowlight
I’m thankful that manufacturers like Canon and Sony keep pushing the lowlight capabilities of their cameras even though they don’t get as much attention for it as others who can show off pixel count.
A camera that delivers nice images in very low light conditions is the low budget filmmakers best friend. I can bring a lighting crew or I can bring a C100, and in many cases the C100 (natural lighting) will do a better job.
Sony’s FS100 and FS700 show very similar lowlight capabilities as the C100 and offer many of the same features on the surface. In my opinion the C100 is stronger in providing an organic, filmic look and as an intuitive & ergonomic working tool.

C100 natural lightFor the “rainbow of hope” video (seen above) we were working without budget and without a light crew and had 1 day to get some shots. I made sure to switch off all artificial light sources in all rooms and used the natural light coming in through the windows.

This also worked quite well for an interview (screenshot above) that I decided not to use. The C100 is strong enough to bring out the beauty of even small light modulations and makes lighting with very small units possible. This is a big money and time saver.

If I had shot the same subjects with one of the Blackmagic Cameras, or a RED, I would have ended up with an extremely noisy or even entirely dark image. The C100 with a F/1.4 lens can sometimes actually see more than the human eye.

c100_grainIf I remember correctly I shot the sequence as seen on the left at about ISO 3200-6400 and pushed about 1 stop in post. The noise is apparent, but I think it looks quite organic. No noise reduction was used on the film except color reduction here on the left.

File compression
noise croppedImmediately noticable on the screenshot is the 24Mbit file compression which has a hard time to handle the noise. For this project I didn’t mind the slight artefacts.
The only shot that fell apart due to too much structure, where compression was too noticeable to me was the shot at 3:36 where the girl says “It’s better here than at home.”

To solve the compression problem (which is really the major disadvantage compared to the C300) many people are using the Atomos Ninja 2 harddisk recorder which gets the 4:2:2 uncompressed signal out of the hdmi port of the C100 and stores it to ProRes or another good codec of choice. This also helps in the editing process later on as you have immediately available formats.

c100_dr2Dynamic range is terrific
I underexposed all shots in order to preserve the highlight details and give an organic and naturalistic feel.

roh_c100_scr-12The camera’s dynamic range was extremely helpful to achieve that and serves with a beautiful highlight rolloff at the top range. This is what makes the images look so filmic. I had sufficient room in post production and didn’t miss RAW at all. I think RAW is very overestimated, many people don’t need that much information in their shots.

My advice on this point: Get the shots right while you’re shooting and in most cases you’ll have sufficient information on a C100 to get that look you like.
Also don’t forget: Small, sharp HD files help in a quick and efficient workflow. Don’t shoot 4K RAW if your target is HD Vimeo and you don’t have any special needs! Or do you go camping with your whole kitchen in your backpack just in case? No, you just take what you need.

Color Grading
I’m a big fan of filmconvert and I use it to grade everything I edit, I barely ever switch over to DaVinci anymore unless I have something to do in detail. Filmconvert emulates specific film stocks very realistically and while it still has some glitches in usability it has become invaluable to me.
It is simplistic and limited, but effective and helps me to be creative in color grading within well placed boundaries.
It’s compatible with many current cameras. The C300 and Alexa R709 profiles work very well with the C100, but I hear it will receive an update with a dedicated C100 profile soon.

cinema5D readers can benefit from the price reduction as seen below:

8bit and 12bit
Grading with filmconvert is where I first noticed that there’s actually not too much noticeable difference in my desired end result between 12bit coming from an Arri Alexa or Blackmagic Camera or the 8bit image coming from a Canon C100.
I must say I’d prefer a lowlight capable 8bit camera any day now over a more light hungry 12bit tool, because filmconvert will get it close to what I like. 12 bit IS smoother, slightly more organic, but the difference is not as heavy as I had thought.

That’s definitely personal preference, but I urge you to evaluate how much 10 or 12 bits can actually really do for what your viewer sees at the end. More attention to the craft will actually get you a lot further than using your time on gathering pixels and data in my opinion.

C100 image stabilizedLower cost lenses are often enough
I admit I’m a convinced unexpensive lens user. I have learned to avoid ever shooting wide open. I don’t like too shallow depth of field and any lenses quality improves drastically when stopped down one or two stops so that’s what I always do.

Stopped down 2 stops a $20000 lens looks only slightly better in HD than a $200 lens and in today’s time of color correction to think a more expensive lens will get you a nicer picture in my experience is an illusion. Certainly there are numerous reasons to use expensive lenses on high grade shoots, but if you use a C100 you most probably don’t need these features. Spend your money elsewhere.

Again lowlight capable cameras make expensive lenses obsolete. If you’re a low budget or run & gun shooter, save money by getting a camera that is strong in lowlight. I can’t stress this topic enough.

Canon EF-s 55-250mmThat said if I’m not using a tripod I’m a fan of image stabilization lenses for documentary and there are few that have the kind of IS that really works for moving images. Be careful, because many lenses’ stabilizer can destroy your image as they’re laid out for stills. Canon’s own lenses usually perform well.

For this project I used mostly the EF-S 55-250mm F/4.0-5.6 and a little of the great EF-S 17-55mm 2.8 for the wides.
For full frame cameras I can recommend the EF 24-105mm F/4.0. This one also comes as an affordable bundle with the C100 that saves you $500.

It’s hard to hide that I think this is a great camera. Here are the points I like:
+ great ergonomics / handling.
+ long battery life.
+ XLR connectors and mic holder / controls convenient.
+ built-in ND filters.
+ dual SD card recording (for backup), brilliant.
+ good menu structure.
+ great lowlight capabilities.
+ great dynamic range & highlight rolloff.
+ very neutral color response with C LOG profile (even slightly better than C300).
+ uncompressed hdmi out.
+ very crisp & clean HD image from 4K sensor.
+ great price for a lot of quality.

Certainly the C100 can be improved and the crippled high compressed codec and AVCHD format are among the more annoying things about this camera.
Here are the points you might want to look into when you make your buying decision:
– position of LCD is not ideal.
– LCD resolution is not ideal (you need another monitor or EVF to focus).
– hdmi connector is not ideal (that’s for telivision sets. For a camera we want SDI).
– 8bit color space might be insufficient for your application.
– lack of slow motion or 60p mode.
– strong image compression & inconvenient AVCHD container.

If this review helped, if you have a question or concerns please leave a comment.

Thanks to our sponsor B&H for the help in building this platform. Please make sure you buy their gear through our links.
For this video specifically: All sponsoring income from this video will go to the “rainbow of hope” children’s home in Moldova.

The Canon EOS C100 is currently -$1000 on the B&H website.

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