My 30 days of shooting with the C100 are officially over. I really put this camera through its paces in almost any situation you can think of. My perspective is to judge this camera for what it is intended; as a viable replacement/upgrade from a DSLR. Overall, I think it’s an excellent option for anyone looking for this kind of solution. It does a pretty good job of blending the look and creative style of a DSLR with the practical functionality of a traditional video camera.
So, rather than blabbing on and on, I thought I would just get to the point and briefly describe what I liked, what was slightly annoying, and what I didn’t like.
CANON C100 LIKES:
1. LOW LIGHT PERFORMANCE
The low light performance of this camera is quite remarkable. I actually found myself staring at the picture in disbelief after comparing it to what I was seeing with my naked eye. I never felt comfortable pushing my 5D MKII much past 800 ISO. With the C100 I was up around 10,000 on a couple of occasions and still had good results. For the type of work I do, this in itself made me feel good about my decision to buy one.
Having this traditional video feature in this type of camera was a god send. Focusing was a breeze, even when viewing the LCD screen from a slight distance in bright light. The focus point really cracks back-and-forth nicely. When I pulled out my old MKII with a Zacuto Z-Finder for comparison it was like looking at the image through a Pro Mist filter or something. How the heck did I manage without peaking? I can’t go back. Yes, you can add an external EVF that includes a peaking feature but that’s another thing to mount on the camera and I always found that awkward and somewhat unwieldy.
3. ACCESS TO CONTROLS
After a few days of shooting I found all the controls were pretty much exactly where I wanted them to be and everything became second nature. I could start/stop record, adjust f-stop, ISO, white balance and the ND filter without removing my hands from the operating position. You can assign almost any function to any button, but I found the factory settings to be just fine and didn’t mess with them at all. Plus the buttons are labeled with their default function so why cause confusion.
The small thumb-operated joystick on the handgrip was extremely useful. With one click you can activate it and easily jump around to several functions such as ISO in the viewfinder display. Loved this thing!
4. BATTERY LIFE
The battery life was crazy good. The small battery that comes with the camera would almost last me all day. Before I set out on this trip, I bought two of the larger, high capacity batteries and I barely used them. I would typically shoot for about 6 or 7 hours and I think I only drained the stock battery once. I would recommend buying just one additional battery for average use. See how it goes and only buy more if you find you need them.
5. RECORD TIME
The down side of the AVCHD codec is 4:2:0. The good side is awesome recording time. 2.5 hours on one 32GB SD card. That’s outstanding. I could put two 32GB cards in the thing and shoot all day without worry about it again. For traveling, it also means I can bring enough SD cards (which are relatively cheap) with me and not have to dump anything to a hard drive. You can also set the second SD card slot to dual record so it will create a backup copy simultaneously. Great feature.
6. HAND GRIP
I’m a big fan of the side handgrip. I find it extremely comfortable – even over a long period of time. I can remember some other video camera handgrips that left my hand as numb as a canned ham after just a few hours. This one just makes sense. It felt right from the moment I picked it up. You can rotate the grip but it does take a couple of minutes as you have to unthread it, rotate it where you want it, then rethread it. It’s more of a “set and forget” kind of thing than something you adjust several times during the day. I found the straight-up center position quite well balanced.
7. CARRYING HANDLE
Such a simple thing but did I ever put it to good use. It kind of reminded me of using my EX1 when I needed to get low angle shots of feet walking along a path or hang the camera out a car window etc. One one occasion, I found myself laying out of the back of a van while filming an Olympic triathlete running and cycling down a twisting canyon road. I held onto the handle and let the camera just barely skim above the road surface while eyeballing the shot on the LCD screen. Try that with a DSLR. I know it’s possible if you have one all rigged up, but for me, I don’t really do that with my cameras. I prefer them clean and compact without all the extra bits and pieces attached everywhere.
The handle also made it possible to comfortably carry the camera while I was walking around. This is no small deal. It’s the little things that really add up to make your day easier.
8. USE OF EF-S LENSES
I had a few EF-S lenses from my old 7D that I couldn’t part with including a 10-22mm and a f-2.8 17-55mm. Because the C100 excepts EF-S lenses I decided to bring them along and see how they performed. I ended up using them a lot. Because of the C100’s crop factor I found my EF-L 24-105mm just wasn’t wide enough for up close documentary work. It had the reach, but I just felt boxed in. The 17-55mm worked great. It has IS, it’s fast enough at f.2.8, and it’s considerably lighter than an L series lens. I couldn’t see any real difference in the image quality, so for future road trips, this lens is coming with me. The 10-22mm was more like a 16-35mm with the crop factor so it was really handy for the occasional ultra-wide shot.
Now the C100 does have a menu option for what it calls EF-S Lens Correction. When activated, it enlarges the image by approximately 1.04% to crop “peripheral illumination fall-off”. To be honest, I couldn’t see any advantage to turning this on. And because I was swapping EF-S and EF-L lenses all the time, I didn’t want to be bothered, and more likely forgetting, to turn it on and off. From just my naked eye, all the EF-S footage looks just fine. If there was any fall-off on the edges, I couldn’t see it. Maybe I’ll regret it later when I’m editing all the footage and see it on a big screen. I’ll keep you posted on that.
9. MAGNIFY WHILE RECORDING
Being able to magnify the image to double check focus while you’re recording was quite handy on a few occasions. On most of our interviews I was shooting with a very shallow depth of field, so it was nice to be able punch in to make sure my focus was still accurate as the subject moved around a bit. Just one thing to be aware of, resist the urge to re-frame the shot slightly when viewing the magnified image! It’s just such an instinctive habit that a couple of times I found myself doing it even though there are big letters in the screen display that say “MAGN”. Felt a little embarrassed inside my head.
CANON C100 ANNOYANCES:
1. ND FILTERS
If you want to maintain an f-2.8 to 5.6 aperture range in bright lighting conditions such as a sunny beach etc, the built-in ND filter wheel doesn’t quite cut it. I found that I needed to add an additional screw-on ND filter on more than a few occasions. I added a 4-stop ND, which was probably overkill, but it did the job.
The built in ND wheel works great and it’s well placed on the camera. But the three options are 2-stops, 4-stops and 6-stops. Unfortunately, that’s about 2-stops short. Given the choice, I would rather have 2-stops, 4-stops and 8-stops. It’s easier too add more ND than perhaps you ideally need and bring up the ISO to compensate – keeping a larger aperture and relatively shallow depth of field. There is no negative ISO so without additional ND filters you could find yourself shooting at f.11 or similar in bright conditions.
2. LOW VOLUME AUDIO OUTPUT
I haven’t really tested this with several types of headphones, but the volume of the audio output to the headphone jack was low – even with the volume control maxed out. Like-wise for the speaker on the body of the camera. If there’s any kind of background noise you won’t hear much from the speaker when you’re checking playback.
3. AUDIO METERS
Unlike the Sony XDCAM-EX cameras, the only way to view audio levels is via the small meters in the viewfinder/LCD. There is a “Status” menu function that brings up all kinds of detailed information options, but I was disappointed to see that expanded, more accurate audio meters wasn’t one of them.
CANON C100 DISLIKES:
In my opinion, this is the C100’s one major flaw. The fact that it’s so small, has poor resolution, doesn’t tilt up, and doesn’t include any type of eyecup to block out light is just plain silly. Most people will probably ignore it completely and rely on the LCD screen. This does work in most situations but obviously not in all. In almost any photo or video of the C100 in action you can see all kinds of hand-made sunshades or hoods that are taped or clamped on in some fashion. It’s like Canon got us 90% there with this camera and then just left us to our own devises to figure this out.
That being said, I did find that my temporary workarounds described in my previous post worked reasonably well. And, as much as hate to say it, I did find that adapting the old Sony PD-170 eyecup made the eyepiece much more usable than I thought. It actually worked and got the job done. I’m not saying that’s it’s good – more that I just got used to it. I suppose I’ve used worse over the years. I’m going to refrain from looking through the eyepiece of the C300 because that will just make me angry again. What could have been!
2. WATER/WEATHER RESISTANCE
Once again I haven’t done extensive testing on this, but it appears water getting anywhere near this camera could be an issue. I was shooting handheld, following a swimmer walking into the ocean. My plan was to just go in about waist deep and let them swim away from camera. On our way into the surf, a small little wave kicked up a minor splash that hit the side of the camera. Nothing major, just a few drops here and there.
Well, I’m not exactly sure where the water entered the camera body or if was more about the battery compartment, but within a few seconds the entire picture flickered in an “oh-oh” kind of way and then went completely blue. Restarting the camera didn’t solve the problem. After going to my happy place for a few minutes, I just turned it off, left it in the sun for about 45 minutes and pretended nothing happened. Then I turned it back on and all was well. Hmmmmm?
This could have been a one-time, fluke kind of incident or it could be something to be truly concerned about. I don’t really want to splash some more water on it to find out. If anyone else has any experience with this I’d like to hear from you.