Almost two years have gone by since the worldwide launch of the Canon EOS C300 Cinema series professional video camera, and a lot has already been said and written about this highly successful product.
Internet is full of reviews and tests that report on its technical features and underline this video camera’s extraordinary performance in terms of picture quality. It is, however, precisely for this reason that what you are about to read will not be the umpteenth article about the number of pixels of the sensor or the various video formats that the C300 can record in..
On the contrary, this post aims to tell you how it feels to work with this video camera, what results you can achieve with it (especially when producing documentaries) and above all what sensations it is capable of giving, after a year of passionate coexistence and the proof of the facts of using it for work in the field. That is, in environmental conditions which can be controlled much, much less and which are decidedly more demanding than a television studio or a film set.
In short, I’m going to tell you how the C300 can become the ideal companion for a documentary film maker, particularly a documentary maker who wants to deal with nature and tell its story.
First of all, it’s small, really small, to hold. Damned small and light! But...it’s not a reflex camera that also takes videos! Quite the opposite... It’s a proper PRO video camera that costs around € 15,000 and, even before you examine its technical features (sensor, codec, dynamic range, etc.), it is immediately clear that this is a broadcasting-quality – even movie-quality – cinecamera (the latest big Hollywood director who has used it is Ron Howard, for his recent film "Rush").
Its pedigree as a thoroughbred professional video camera is immediately made obvious thanks to:
• The quality of the material it’s made of;
• The presence of buttons and ferrules for the use and control of purely high-video functions (such as built-in filters, peaking, zebra pattern, on-screen crop marks or the waveform monitor/vectorscope), which are non-existent on reflex cameras;
• The replication of some of these (such as the Start/Stop button, the mini joystick for menu navigation and the diaphragm ferrule) in various parts of the camera to allow you to control it even in really difficult positions;
• The important possibility for the user to customize the various functions to the greatest extent, assigning them according to your needs to as many as 7 buttons and 2 ferrules distributed between the camera body and the handgrip;
• The powerful fan which is practically inaudible, so its noise never gets recorded by the microphone mounted on the camera;
• The beautiful adjustable viewfinder;
• And the presence of all the most important video inputs.
In a word, from the very first time you hold it, the high ergonomics of the C300 gives you the very pleasant and exciting feeling that you are holding a "powerful" device, with which you can feel ready to face any kind of videographic challenge, right up to the highest levels!
Because the ergonomics of the C300 are designed to maximize the camera’s efficiency and ease of use during professional shooting.
Other features that contribute in a crucial manner to this goal – even if their role is still rather unacknowledged – are the "well-known":
• and handgrip
which are completely removable and modular.
Since their first appearance these have given rise to a heated debate and what has been said and written about them is mainly that these "parts" which are not integrated into the camera body would have represented a weakpoint, both structural and conceptual, of the Eos C300 system.
And yet, in reality (above all if you’re a "one-man shooter"!), it is precisely this modularity, together with the camera’s extreme simplicity, that makes the C300 the only broadcast video camera with which you can truly say you’re immediately ready to shoot any type of scene, even if you’ve literally just taken it out of its package or your bag. Provided, of course, that you’ve charged the battery...
If you think about it, this is astonishing.
The flexibility of the camera’s handgrip, handle and monitor (which can all be assembled and adjusted in a large variety of different configurations) makes it practically unnecessary, or at least no longer indispensable, to use any type of rig and external accessory which, conversely, are essential with the C300’s direct competitors, particularly for freehand filming.
Obviously, if you’re shooting cinema or television drama scenes, even the C300 needs to be set up with all the necessary equipment, but if you’re shooting a reportage or nature documentary, walking around with a heavy backpack, you can simply forget about needing to carry an extra shoulder rig, handgrip kit, monitor or loupe.
Everything you need is already in the Canon EOS C300’s package.
A further – but not less important – crucial contribution is the Canon’s immeasurable range of EF photo lenses and Cinema lenses (both with EF and PL coupling), on the basis of which the C300 was launched. In particular, the photo lenses allow you to enjoy the renowned quality and brightness of Canon’s professional lenses, while at the same time adding an amount of weight to the video camera’s overall system which, with wide-angle lenses and medium telephoto lenses, is still only a few hundred grams. And if these lenses are also stabilized, freehand filming with the C300 becomes a thrilling experience!
By removing the monitor and the handle (a truly easy operation that takes a few seconds, and this is true for when you mount them, too) the C300 fit easily into my trusty old Tamrac photo bag which I’ve had for about a dozen years and which, once I became a professional filmmaker, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to use again...
And instead I dug it out of the attic precisely for a recent, rather demanding, shoot for RAI: this was an assignment to produce two documentaries about trekking with donkeys on the Alps. Translated into practical terms this meant several days of trekking in the mountains carrying all my video equipment in my backpack. And obviously this type of undertaking forced me to make a number of important decisions regarding what equipment to take with me – and how.
Several years ago as a photographer I climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, and my Tamrac Expedition 7 backpack did its duty perfectly, allowing me to take camera equipment and various lenses with me. It would be ideal to be able to do the same with the C300 on the Alps.
It goes without saying that the experiment was a success, and my bag managed to hold not just the camera itself but also 3 lenses, a technical mountain jacket, a 1-litre water flask and a mini-slider attached to the outside of the backpack.
What I want to point out, even at the risk of becoming repetitive, is that the C300 really is a "complete system" that doesn’t need any further essential accessories to make it operational. With two 64 Gb CF cards in the slots and a BP-955 spare battery you can film for a whole day, as long as you’re careful about using the battery wisely.
So, apart from a circular polarizing filter, a lens cleaning cloth and a few plastic trash bags (see January's TIP OF THE MONTH) I didn’t need to put anything else in my backpack!
That’s also thanks to the fact that the main video camera already has three excellent durable glass ND filters, respectively for 2, 4 and 6 brightness reduction stops.