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Doc-Shooting Workhorse Kit with Canon C300 Mark II

C300 Mark II

A camera alone does not make a movie, as they say. But in reality, a camera alone doesn’t even power up, so we need a whole bunch of accessories to make it work properly. And many more accessories to make it work comfortably for a particular use case. So in this Gear Guide, I’ll walk you through my personal, yet utterly reliable Canon C300 Mark II kit for documentary work!

As you can tell from the featured image above, my kit includes everything you need to comfortably do some serious handheld documentary work. Other shooting scenarios work just as well, of course, but documentary style is my bread and butter most of the time. The kit includes a base plate for mounting the camera on the shoulder, but it also works on a standard VCT-14 tripod quick release plate. Powering options are there, a dedicated EVF, an external mic, a wireless audio system (TX/RX), a matte box, and a wooden handgrip complete the package.

First things first: the camera body. Granted, the Canon C300 Mark II isn’t the latest and greatest camera body on the market, but it’s rock-solid, has never let me down, doesn’t suffer from overheating, no weird quirks. And I (personally) like the colors that come out of this little beast.

Canon C300 Mark II
Image credit: Olaf von Voss

The nice thing about this rig is that is pretty much modular. If I step up to a C300 Mark III, for example, I won’t need to change much in order to make it work just as fine with this kit.

Core components

This rig revolves around two key hardware components: The base plate and the top plate. Both come from Zacuto, hence all the red anodized thumbscrews. The base plate not only provides a comfortable memory foam shoulder pad, but it also accepts 15mm rods on the front and back and is very customizable in terms of perfectly balancing the camera on your shoulder. It’s not exactly lightweight, but it works perfectly for me.

The top plate is called helmet and is one of the components I would need to replace should I want to upgrade the camera at some point, as it is specifically designed for the C300 Mark II. The wooden handle, Zacuto again, is attached to it via NATO rail. Note: The C300 II helmet doesn’t appear to be available from B&H or CVP, but you can source it directly from Zacuto here.

Dedicated viewfinder

The Zacuto Gratical Eye is a fantastic EVF and is attached to the handgrip via the so-called Axis Mini EVF Mount. This mount offers a wobble-free and smooth positioning of the EVF without having to fiddle with any screws.

Zacuto Gratical Eye VF
Zacuto Gratical Eye VF. Image credit: Olaf von Voss

However, there are a few drawbacks to this EVF. First, it requires an outboard power supply, and second, the very sharp and high-contrast OLED screen is susceptible to burn-in inherent to its design (and this becomes apparent after a few years of use). But the very sharp 4:3 display, which offers a lot of extra screen real estate for additional scopes and info, was definitely worth the purchase.

LCD display and audio section

The dedicated LCD screen module, which also hosts the audio section of the C300 Mark II, resides on the back of this rig but offset slightly downward so that the whole setup doesn’t get too tall. A 15mm carbon fiber rod and two 15mm cold shoe adapters were all that was needed to mount the unit to the back of the camera so that 1) the director can see the screen, 2) all the cables point downward, which is the cleanest solution in my opinion, and 3) a Sennheiser AVX receiver picks up the incoming wireless audio.

Canon C300 Mark II Kit
Image credit: Olaf von Voss

Underneath the entire I/O block is the Gripper 75Wh battery to power the Gratical Eye EVF. This battery also serves as a counterweight so the whole rig sits snugly on the shoulder.

Powering the unit

For powering the camera itself, I use standard Canon BP batteries, although I sometimes use a third-party battery that comes with a D-Tap, so I can get rid of the Gripper battery if I want to and still be able to power the Gratical Eye.

Mattebox
Image credit: Olaf von Voss

Audio and other accessories

In terms of audio, I use the aforementioned Sennheiser AVX transmitter/receiver package along with an MKE2 Lav microphone (never skimp on the mic!). For recording scratch audio, better than the camera’s built-in mic, I use a Rode M5 mic, which also connects to the I/O box on the back.

Microphone
Image credit: Olaf von Voss

On the front of the rig, I have a Wooden Camera Zip Box Pro and next to it is a Shape wooden grip mounted along with a telescoping arm. This is easily adjustable by simply pushing the big red button. It is pricey, but it is also very handy!

When it comes to lenses, I often use full-frame Samyang/Rokinon Cine DS lenses, which are certainly not high-end lenses, but especially the 24mm (about 38mm full-frame equivalent) offers a very nice minimum focusing distance. This feature cannot be overstated! Aside from these lenses that I own, I usually just rent a set of lenses that are suitable for the job at hand.

mini C300 II
Minimal setup. Image Credit: Olaf von Voss

I also use an ARRI Mini Follow Fous unit (not pictured above – I forgot to bring it from my office) when working with higher-end lenses, but with the Samyangs, I tend to work just by hand since the focus throw is not as great.

Conclusion

So this is my kit and it has served me well over the years (and still does)! I like the modularity and thus the flexibility it brings. I can fully rig it out, or use it with just the grip and EVF. I can use it on a tripod or handheld. I can connect different audio options, it outputs various video streams, a dedicated TC generator can be attached to the side with a bit of Velcro. A director can see what’s going on without needing a wireless video solution, and the whole thing is still relatively compact. And I don’t mind the weight, as it helps balance the camera.

So for me, this is almost a perfect camera package, and if I want to upgrade the camera, all I have to do is get another top plate to attach the handle. Pretty neat, I’d say.

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