Canon C100: My 30-day Road Test

Canon C100: My 30-day Road Test

 

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.

Canon Cinema C100

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.

EOS_C100_BCK_HANDLE_LCD_OPEN

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!

Scot McDonald

Scot in Guatemala with C100

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11 Comments

  1. Wally Crow
    May 22, 2013, 6:15 am   /  Reply

    Good review, I am about to purchase this camera. At $5500 price right now it’s hard to pass up. I wanted the C300 but not at $14,000. Have you had any problems editing with the footage ? I edit with Mac adobe CS5. Thanks

    • Scot McDonald
      May 22, 2013, 6:26 am   /  Reply

      Hi Wally,
      I’ve been editing the AVCHD files in FCP X without any problem. Effect rendering is slower and overall performance not quite as crisp, but generally it’s just fine.

  2. Greg
    June 2, 2013, 7:03 am   /  Reply

    Scott,
    What is your camera pack/case solution for the C100?
    I’d like to carry it built and read to shoot out of the case.- which would ideally be a backpack and roller combination.
    for the vf , I put a rubber eye cup with a chamois on mine, but I also have an Alphatron EVF that clamps on to the top handle- for when my eyes need extra help focusing. Also looking for a good source for short flexible HDMI cables to attach the EVF and my Ninja2 recorder.
    It’s good to read that you have no issues with avchd, – maybe I wont need the ninja 2 as often as i originally thought. Also – which lenses are you favoring? Thanks for your insight.

    • Scot McDonald
      June 3, 2013, 1:01 pm   /  Reply

      Hi Greg,
      I tend to travel with my gear more than shoot locally so I always have to think about camera bags that work for carry-on etc. I recently just bought a Cinebags CB40 HIGH ROLLER and it’s awesome. It’s absorbs a lot of gear and it has integrated wheels and a retractable handle. I have it configured to carry my C100 with the handle removed and a lens on but I’m pretty sure you could move the dividers around to create enough space to place the entire camera in there completely rigged up.

      For me, the perfect combination for air travel is the HIGH ROLLER and the LENS SMUGGLER — another great Cinebags product. It acts as your second personal item as it basically just looks like a laptop shoulder bag – but it’s full of lenses. It actually works out so well I’ll probably just keep things this way for local shoots as well. Between the two bags I can pack the following without breaking my back!

      Canon C100
      Canon 7D
      Canon EFS 17-55MM f/2.8
      Canon EFS 10-22MM f/4.5
      Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8
      Canon EF 24-105mm f/4
      Canon EF 35mm f/1.4
      Canon EF 50mm 1.4
      Zacuto EVF with Z-Finder
      NInja 2 Recorder, Batteries and Charger
      4 x 32GB Compact flash cards
      10 x 32GB SDHC Flash cards
      Sennheiser ME64 Microphone
      Sennheiser MKE 400 Microphone
      2 x Canon BP-975 batteries
      1 x Canon BP-955 batteries
      6 x Canon LP-E6 batteries
      2 x G-Drive 500GB Hard Drives
      MacBook Pro Laptop

  3. Simon Douglas
    June 20, 2013, 11:39 am   /  Reply

    Hey Scott, great post…just wanted to ask about the ME64 with the C100. I’m looking for a really short shotgun mic & love this one although when I spoke with a distributor they said I would need the K6 power module for it to work. Can you phantom power from camera without the extra K6 which in effect makes the mic nice & short? By looking at your set-up, this is what I’m after…it looks great. Cheers, Simon.

    • Scot McDonald
      June 20, 2013, 5:14 pm   /  Reply

      Hi Simon,
      If you use the C100’s handle and built in XLR inputs, then you don’t need the K6 power/battery capsule for the ME64 as the camera will supply phantom power. What you need to look for is the K6P, which is a much shorter, phantom power only capsule. That keeps the overall length of the mic way down. I actually have both capsules – just in case I need to use the ME64 in another application without phantom power.

      Cheers!
      Scot

  4. June 28, 2013, 8:31 pm   /  Reply

    What is the best profile to use on the camera. I’m looking for the dreamy Mark III look. Thank you

    • Scot McDonald
      July 10, 2013, 5:28 am   /  Reply

      Hi there,
      Sorry for the late reply to your question – I’ve been swamped with a busy production schedule. When it rains it pours!

      Rather than creating specific camera profiles, I’ve been using the available Canon Wide DR setting and then doing some simple grading in post. This works really well. Unlike a flat or super-flat picture profile, you could almost use Wide DR as is, but it allows you greater flexibility and more options to create the perfect look than the EOS Standard. That being said, I’ve also created a slightly tweaked version of the EOS Standard profile where I dialled down the detail levels to better match my 5D. That gives me a good option if I just want to get a good look quickly when I know I won’t have much time in post to correct or grade anything.

      Cheers!
      Scot

  5. Cliff Bumgardner
    August 25, 2013, 8:40 am   /  Reply

    Hi, Scot. Great review!

    I recently purchased a C100 myself, and, as a young filmmaker who’s previous camera experience pretty much began and ended with DSLR’s, I’ve felt like a kid in a candy store with all the REAL video features!

    One question for you. In trying to mount my Rode NTG3 on the camera, I found that the C100’s mount is too large to hold the microphone securely. I packed the mount out with some foam, but it’s really not an ideal fix. Other than buying an additional shock mount (and having to spend more money), is there a simple way you know of to fix this? I’ve seen people wrap the mic in gaff tape to thicken the barrel, but I’d rather not do anything like that to my mic if I don’t have to.

    Thanks for your time.

    Cliff

    • Scot McDonald
      August 26, 2013, 1:57 pm   /  Reply

      Hi Cliff,
      I know exactly what you’re talking about and I have a great solution for you. I’ll post it on our blog with some photos. Check it out later today. Thanks for the positive feedback and don’t hesitate to ask more questions or even share some of your tips!

      Cheers!
      Scot

  6. September 29, 2013, 6:20 am   /  Reply

    Hi Scot,
    How do you manage to keep the dust off the C100 sensor whilst changing lenses? Do you use a hand pump blower during each change?
    Thanks–Ajit

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