Over the past couple of years, new video cameras are being released with the frequency of Tic Tac flavors. But few have generated more debate than the Canon C100. Some think it’s an excellent step-up from DSLR shooting. Some think it’s an over-priced and under-performing boat anchor. When it was first announced and its technical specs and original estimated price revealed, people were heaping negative criticism on the thing like it was responsible for killing puppies or something.
But when the street price dropped to about $6,400 and operators actually got their hands on it, opinions started to shift a bit. People realized who this camera was meant for. This was a video camera for videographers, not a cine camera for film makers. If you’re looking for a high quality, compact camera with an excellent form-factor and well thought out functionality that’s designed for hand-held shooting, then you might be interested. If you’re obsessed about codecs, bit-rates, sensor size and frame rates, you’re probably better off looking at the C100’s bigger and more expensive brother, the C300.
Let’s just start this off by saying that I bought one. You can probably guess which camp I’m in. While no single camera is the perfect solution, the C100 came pretty close to being the camera I’ve been looking for – for the most part. Here are my initial impressions after gleefully unpacking the box – and after my wife stopped giving me the evil eye for buying yet another camera. She says: “Didn’t you just buy a camera?” He says: “What? That old thing? Come on honey, that was almost two years ago. I was thinking of donating it to a thrift store.”
First, the good stuff. For me, usability is a big factor – perhaps even more than technical specs. If a camera is awkward and frustrating to use, I don’t care how wonderful the picture quality is. There are many new cameras out there with outstanding technical features – but they’re basically just a un-wieldy box that needs to be rigged-up with 3rd party gack before you can even hold it. That’s not for me. I need to travel light and get the most out of what I can fit in a backpack.
From the moment I picked it up it just felt right in my hand. Everything was where I wanted it to be. The button placement was perfect. I could operate and make adjustments without having to take my hands off the camera. The weight and balance was great. That was a good start. The normal video camera features that were missing on my Canon 5D MII were there; built-in ND filters, XLR audio inputs – what an amazing technical breakthrough!
With the exact same sensor and image quality as the C300, the low-light performance is off the charts. For someone that shoots a lot of run-and-gun documentaries in available light, that in itself almost makes it worth buying one.
People were jumping off buildings about the C100’s 4:2:0, 24Mbps codec. But for me, when you look at the images this camera spits out, they look fantastic. Even compared to the C300’s 4:2:2, 50Mbps you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Yes, 4:2:0 is not the best if you’re doing heavy grading and effects and it’s not broadcast compliant, but you can always use the “clean” 4:2:2 video output via HDMI to an external recorder if required.
Now the bad stuff. Well, there really isn’t much I don’t like about this camera except for one thing – and it’s extremely annoying and almost a deal-breaker. The viewfinder/eyepiece is less Canon and more Fisher Price. As a videographer, I’m used to placing my eye in a comfortable eyecup and seeing a nice, big, clean and crisp image. Handy for things like, hmmmm, I don’t know… focusing perhaps.
There is a flip-out LCD screen which is decent. Its kind of placed in a slightly awkward spot and doesn’t fully rotate, but it serves the purpose. But, I tend to use an LCD screen just in certain situations. The built-in viewfinder/eyepiece on top of the camera is almost completely useless. It’s to the point of being ridiculous. Seriously Canon? The C300 has a very good eyepiece. I don’t know what they were thinking with this thing. The general consensus is that Canon realized the the C100 was going to be too good at less than half the price of the C300 and decided to punish the C100 be eliminating the ability to see what your filming. “Oh, you want to actually see stuff and focus? Well, check out this other camera we have….”
I’m not really sure how I’m going to work around this problem, but I have a few ideas. Also, I’m sure that over the next few months we’ll start seeing 3rd party manufacturers creating some solutions. Zacuto for example, is working on adapting one of their Z-Finders to clip onto the LCD screen. That’s expected out sometime in the next two to three months.
So, now what? Well, I’m committed to giving the C100 a shot. I’m off on a 30-day trip to shoot three different projects in three different countries. I’m going to haul this baby around with me and see what it’s got. I”ll update you along the way on how its performing and what solutions I’ve found to the perplexing viewfinder debacle. I’m sure I’m going to love the C100. I’m sure there will be times I hate the C100. Hopefully more of the former than the latter.
Off I go!