This last weekend I rented the Canon C100 for a shoot and I was anxious to see how it performed compared to Canon’s DSLRs. I’ve had my eye on it a while and have been debating whether or not it’s worth buying so I figured it would be wise to rent it to see how it works.
I rented the C100 for this particular shoot because I was doing a lot of run-and-gun shooting in order to get a lot of shots in a short amount of time and I wanted to get a little more dynamic range since I was shooting without any lighting equipment and I didn’t have time to be adding light to darker areas or blocking light sources to keep things from overexposing. There were also plans for some dusk/sunset shots so I wanted to make sure it could hold up in low lighting as well.
My biggest concern for the shoot was how well the 8-bit 4:2:0 24Mbps codec was going to hold up. The project will be published on the web so it isn’t a huge deal for the codec to be top notch but I did want some extra headroom for color correcting. If the project did need a better codec quality I would have rented either the C300 or an external HDMI recorder. I also wasn’t sure how user-friendly it was going to be – is it fast to adjust focus, move around, monitor audio levels, use hand-held, change exposure, et cetera?
So going into the shoot I had some basic requirements that it needed to fill while still hanging onto some concerns about the camera.
Fast forward to the end of the shoot day – my first thought after wrapping and on my drive home was, “Wow, that was easy.” I considered how many shots I was able to get off and I knew that it would have been impossible to get the same numbers on a DSLR. There are just SO many features that the C100 has over DSLRs that helped me get my shot and move on to the next thing. Throughout the day there were also numerous times that I told myself (and others around me) that I won’t ever be able to be content with my DSLR again. However, the debate isn’t ever about which is better, DSLR vs C100 (the answer is obvious), but is instead about which camera is more worth buying. A Canon 5D Mark III currently sells at $3,300 while the C100 is at $5500; a $2,200 difference.Hopefully, by the end of this I’ll be able to show you what an extra $2,200 buys and you can decide if you think it’s worth the money.
As a note this review is comparing the C100 to DSLRs. Many things about the C100 can be found on other video cameras so I’m going to keep the focus on “video camera vs DSLR” rather than “video camera vs video camera”. That is an entirely different discussion and since I’m coming from the DSLR world I’m going to talk more about that.
The C100 has MANY features and there are a few of them that greatly contributed to how quickly I was able to work and complete my shot-list. The biggest ones being:
- Built in ND Filters
- Focus Peaking
- Top Handle
- Adjustable LCD Screen
Can you put a price on time during a shoot? Can you put a price on getting, say, 20% more shots done in a day? It would certainly be difficult to calculate. The point is that if you can get more shots and save more time on your projects their production value will increase. You’ll be able to be more creative and give more flexibility in post production. However, for a moment, let’s pretend that none of those features actually saved me any time and that their monetary value didn’t reach into the production value. How much would it cost to get all the same features with a DSLR? Here’s a list of some possible solutions and how much it would cost:
- ND Filters - Tiffen Variable ND (you might need different sizes or at least conversions to different lens sizes) – $150
- Top Handle – Wooden Camera Quick Kit – $700
- Adjustable LCD Screen with waveforms, focus peaking, and zebras – Zacuto EVF with articulating arm – $1100
So we are already up to about $2000 and we haven’t even included XLR inputs with phantom power (JuicedLink Amp – $400) and an on-camera microphone (Rode VideoMic Pro – $230). All this gear will be approaching $3000 when it’s all said and done – well over the $2,200 difference. Not to mention that assembling all this gear on the camera and making sure it’s all working together takes tons of valuable time. So it’s no question that the C100 gives a better value especially since it will achieve a better picture quality, saves you time, and is hassle free.
What I liked specifically about the C100
A big thing that I like is the dynamic range. When I shoot with my Mark II I always feel like it’s a battle between dark and light areas and I can only choose to expose for one or the other. With the C100, however, I was able to expose for my subject and trust that I still get enough details in the shadows and in the highlights to create a smooth and natural image. Here’s a still taken from the end of the shoot during the blue hour:
I’m a big fan of exposing things for how the eye sees them. So if it’s dark outside I’m not going to pump up the ISO or open up the lens to be able to see the details of a face. I want it to feel dark. The dynamic range of the C100 allows me to keep it dark while still being able to see details in the shadows. Here’s another example:
I also really love the ND Filters because they are a huge time saver. I’ve already mentioned them before but it is something that not all video cameras have and it gives the C100 a huge advantage if you’re trying to maintain that shallow depth of field in the bright sunlight. I can simply roll the ND wheel and go from 0 to 6 stops of ND.
The ergonomics of the C100 makes it comfortable to operate. The side handle fits the hand nicely and I found that rotating it clockwise just a notch helps relieve any pressure on the wrist while holding is at a normal height. You can rotate it around if you are shooting at different angles. The top handle is well balanced and easy to hold while doing low angle shots (but it is a little funny looking). There are three record buttons (side handle, top handle, front) that make it easy to press record from whichever way you are holding the camera.
What I Didn’t Like
The LCD Screen could use improvements. You can view it from about any angle as long as you are behing the camera. It can rotate to one side a little but not the other so it does limit you a little bit on where you can view the LCD. It would have been nice to have it turn all the way out and be able to flip it so you can see it from the front of the camera. The resolution on it could also be better. The viewfinder is worthless; there is almost no situation where I would find myself using it. In bright sunlight it can be difficult to see the both the viewfinder and the LCD on it’s normal setting. There is a a setting to turn up the brightness but you have to go into the menus to find it. A small button to toggle the Brightness on the side of the screen would have been really handy. However, while I was happy to have an LCD screen that I could twist and turn; it just could have been better.
The magnification feature only zooms into the center of the screen. So if my subject is outside of that I have to move my camera to center it. Canon is talking about a firmware update this summer/fall that will change this so you can move around the screen. Yet, it was a mistake to not include it in the first place.
The poor bit rate seems to make clean images look grainy and muddy even when shooting with a low ISO. We all know that the C100 can shoot at higher rates – the only reason they cripple it is so the C300 can have higher sales. This really rubs me the wrong way – luckily, it has the clean and uncompressed HDMI out so it is possible to have a cleaner image.
I did some tests this weekend since I had a C100, 5D Mark II, and a 5D Mark III sitting around. They are all very quick but should offer some idea of how the image quality compares between those three cameras. So first is the comparison video between the cameras:
Here is another video testing the options and differences between the C100 Picture Profiles:
Here is one more just showing the difference between Canon’s Full Frame sensor that is on the Mark II/III and the S35 sensor that is on the C100:
Who should consider buying the C100?
If you’re buying your first camera and don’t have a lot of money I would suggest buying a DSLR like the 5D Mark III. You will be able to start shooting for less money and you’ll be able to put more money into essential gear like a tripod and microphones. However, if you own a DSLR and basic gear and want to start making better videos you should buy the C100. Don’t waste money on buying all this extra gear to give your DSLR the same features as the C100. You’ll only end up spending more money and creating a bigger hassle with a worse picture without the reward and convenience of having a fully featured video camera. After using the C100 this past weekend I’m sold on it and I hope to be buying it sometime in the near future. If you’re going from DSLR to a camera like the C100 your projects will get better not because the quality of the camera is better in every way but because it will save you time and convenience which will help you focus on telling a better story.