Posted 1st Sep 2012 (Updated 2nd Jan 2016)
At the end of August 2012 Canon announced the C100. Below is my reasoning of why, within 24hrs of this announcement, I had put in a pre-order for the Canon C100. For the record, the initial pre-order price with CVP here in the UK is £4162.50 ex VAT, the only price that matters since my company Shooting Image Ltd is VAT registered. UPDATE 27/11/12 - It’s arrived! In the end I paid a few hundred less than this initial price thanks to CVPs price match pledge.
Currently, my main camera is the new Sony PMW-300, see HERE . Before that I had a Sony EX3. I also own a Canon 7D and a little Panasonic TM900. The C100 appears to be a VERY good complementary fit to those cameras for the corporate videography work I do around the Cambridge (UK) area.
Below is my personal justification for choosing the Canon C100 over the Sony FS100 or FS700, AF101, Canon 5DMkIII or Blackmagic Cinema cameras. I am posting this as it may help professional videographers with a similar decision. So if this interests you, read on!
First off, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. There are a few things missing from the Canon C100 that its big brother C300, and most of the competition already have in their offerings. I’m not going to list every spec detail but just focus on a few of the more critical ones.
Lack of 720p50/60 for slow motion etc. is of course a very big omission, along with the lack of any incremental/variable frame rate control. Many cameras now offer 1080p50/60 including key competitors (some like the Sony FS700 even offering much higher frame rates for slow motion work). Initial reaction from many was that this must have been a simple oversight in the initial specification information that Canon posted on 30th August - not the only error on their C100 info on that day! Unfortunately, it is beginning to look like Canon thinks this was necessary to protect their C300. Shame on you Canon – but this is a limitation I can, just, live with because I have other cameras that shoot all the frame rates I need - really well. Heck, even my tiny Panasonic TM900 camcorder that cost less than £1000 will do 1080p50, beautifully! Note: Let’s hope this omission really was a typo by Canon and this feature will be in the C100 at launch. If, as I fear, it is not then maybe one day Canon will release a C100 firmware update to enable a few more frame rates, a bit like they did (eventually, with a lot of customer pressure!) for the 5DMkII? I’d not hold my breath on it though.
No XF 4.2.2 50Mbps Codec
Next, the other most obvious omission on the C100 is Canon’s XF 4.2.2 50Mbps broadcast friendly/compliant codec - its just not there! Bearing in mind Canon put this codec in their little £2000 XF100 some time ago this is a blow. That’s their corporate marketing machine trying to protect their chosen segments at work. I’m no big fan of AVCHD 4.2.0 (even though I can edit it with ease on my Mac Pro with CS 5.5.2 Production Premium workflow). 4.2.2 with at least 50 Mbps is where its at with professional cameras now - and isn’t this C100 aimed at professionals?
Clean 4.2.2. HDMI Out
But, all is not as bad as it might seem. It was confirmed (after a few hours of confusion on the web and some calls to high end Canon executives - see DVInfo) that the HDMI on the Canon C100 will output 4.2.2 clean and uncompressed (with 2:3 pulldown, with or without time code overlays). This is critically important - it means a sub £1K external recorder like a Atomos Ninja2 or more expensive Nanoflash will give direct access to the output from that sensor. As well as providing a useful back-up, this will of course allow the use of very high quality/high bit rate codecs. Great for when I ever need it, and it’s a locking HDMI socket too! [My work is rarely targeted at the broadcast arena, but only last week both the BBC and ITV did put a short news item out involving something I’d shot on my Sony EX3 – so you never know!]
With the C100s internal AVCHD 4.2.0 compression we’ll just have to wait and see how good a job Canon has done in implementing it (when the C100 is supposed to ship in November). Note: Canon slipped on delivery dates of some key models quite a bit recently so let’s hope this is a realistic ETA.
XF 4.2.2 Versus AVCHD 4.2.0
However, I can share some initial thoughts on this right now from previous viewing Vimeo or YouTube test examples - not ideal I know - but most of my clients use my films on the web so it’s sort of relevant to me. Well, I found it's actually very difficult to spot the difference between the exact same scene shot on the Canon XF100/105 and the XA10. Why mention this and those cams? Simple – they both have an identical 1/3 inch sensor and the same lens. So, ignoring the slight differences in their form factor and ergonomics, all that separates them in image rendition is the codec: The XF codec at 50Mbps in the XF100/105; and the AVCHD codec at 24Mbps in the XA10. I’m hoping this will be the same “sort of thing”, albeit with a larger and superior starting point, with the C100 giving an image very close to the C300, despite the obvious technical inferiority of the AVCHD codec.
In about 2 months time we’ll know the answer for sure, but it’s worth stressing that the clean, uncompressed HDMI output really is one of the killer features of this cam. Since the C100 has the same lovely s35 sensor as the C300 and C500, I already know it will produce wonderful, razor sharp images with fantastic depth of field control, really good dynamic range and beautiful colour rendition even in sub-optimal light. If the in camera AVCHD 24Mbps 4.2.0 compression does not produce good enough images for the majority of my needs, no problem, I’ll just buy an Atomos Ninja2. With that I’ll get all the 4.2.2 colour space and high bit rate goodness I’ll need for better colour correction work etc. in post if needed.
Not a perfect solution (as it adds some cost and is one extra bolt on) but one I can easily live with in order to get “C300 mage quality” at a more reasonable price! I (sort of) understand the marketing reasons why Canon chose to remove the XF codec and 50p/60p frame rates to try and protect their C300 mark up (I don’t like it, but I have some experience in marketing techniques applied to new product positioning). But at least an external recorder enables me to circumvent the AVCHD compression and its limiting 4.2.0 colour space. My other cameras plug the frame rate gap.
C100 Versus FS100 or FS700
However, I think Canon have more competition than they think, especially from Sony’s FS100 and newer FS700. So why am I not buying one of those Sony cameras? After a lot of time thinking I decided against these bulky plasticky boxes. I’ve handled them both but hate, yes hate, the build quality and ergonomics. Both these Sonys need a ton of extras to make them usable in the way I’d want to use them (Metabones lens adapter for EF, rails and cage, decent EVF etc.) and that adds significantly to the cost and (even more) bulk – I have enough gear to cart around already!
Sure, the super slow motion of the FS700 (in short bursts of up to 240 fps in Full HD) really tempted me for a while but I suspect it'll be so over-used that in 6 months’ time we'll all be sick of it! I can get reasonably decent slow motion from my EX3 (720p50) or my TM900 (1080p50) for stuff slowed down by 50% (which is often enough). By the way, the 720p50 output from the Canon 7D I have is an aliasing nightmare - not worth the effort in most situations!
Also, I really dislike the top mounted LCD position on the FS100 and FS700 (what were they thinking!) and the eye piece tube thing is way too flimsy. The tube won't lock in position when doing run-n-gun with your eye to it so you can’t get more stability in hand held work that way. It’s a bad viewfinder design, and so inferior in execution to what’s on my EX3, for example. There are also quite a few blog reports of various things breaking off FS100 and FS700 camera bodies all too easily. I generally love Sony cameras but I don’t care for this current FS series ergonomics and build quality at all. I baby my gear but I would not be confident those cams are rugged enough for the type of work I do shooting in factory/industrial environments.
So OK, surely it would be worth tolerating all those issues for the image, right? After all, the output from the FS100/700 can look pretty damn good when those cameras are set up well (Sony’s implementation of AVCHD is one of the best and with good picture profiles there is a lot of scope). However, I still think the C300 has the edge on producing a more beautiful image, and a capability to be much sharper too. That may be helped by the Canon C300s XF 50Mbps codec rather than just the sensor design. I don’t know, but we’ll know soon - when we eventually see AVCHD compressed images from that very same sensor that’s now in the C100. One thing’s for sure, the design of the Canon s35 sensor is a winner and my money’s (literally!) on the Canon producing better results!
C100 Versus Canon 5DMkIII
I’m no Canon fan boy but I do own a Canon 7D and a ton of Canon EF and EF-S glass (and other lenses that fit the EF mount via adapters), so what about the recently introduced Canon 5DMkIII? It would be a lot cheaper, right? Well I looked long and hard at the 5DMkIII. The thing that stopped me buying was its “slightly soft” video look (but that can be sorted in post, to a fashion with in NLE sharpening). Sure, they fixed the moire and aliasing of the 5DMkII – which is what everyone wanted them to do – but they should have done so much more to keep the 5D a killer low budget/big sensor video cam. Unfortunately, Canon chose not to. For example, omitting peaking as a focus aid, no articulating LCD, no 3X crop mode in video and not allowing clean HDMI out (without overlays) to mention a few things that irritated me a little. Sure the 5DMkIII is a still a great video cam and superb for photos (its primary market). It is a worthy successor to the 5DMkII and I may still buy it one day if only for its stills capabilities. But now, with the C100 announcement, we see why Canon “left it short” on video centric features.
C100 Versus Panasonic AF101
OK then, let’s run through another contender that I’ve looked hard at. What about the Panasonic AF100/101? Not for me. Great price but the AF101 is getting long in the tooth. It’s just too crippled with its small sensor size and only 10 stops dynamic range/highlights clip way too easily. Great build quality though, if a little clunky looking! Whilst it was a bold move when launched, Micro 4/3 is already looking a bit iffy as a future platform for professional video production, at least that’s what I currently think. Don’t get me wrong, Panasonic make many great, well priced and superbly featured cams. Even my tiny TM900 consumer camcorder does amazingly sharp 1080p50 at 28Mbps AVCHD2. As another aside, it’ll be interesting to see what the new, soon to be released Panasonic GH3 brings to the party – but again, it’ll be a Micro 4/3 sensor, so not something I personally want. My bet is that the AF100/101 successor will be s35 not Micro 4/3 (but we won’t see it for a while, in 2014 is I guess).
C100 Versus Blackmagic Cinema Camera
Lastly, the one that everyone is talking about, what about the Blackmagic Cinema camera? Yep, it’s going to be a killer cam with amazing images - judging by the initial films that I’ve seen the last few days (e.g. on Rick Young’s new site). It’s great to see disruptive technology keeping the Sony/Canon/Panasonic giants on their toes! However, despite its very attractive pricing and that EF mount it is just not the right tool for MY particular needs. Its high sensor crop factor (making wide angle lens choices tricky) and inbuilt battery along with “fisher price ergonomics” is just not suitable for the majority of work that I do in the corporate video world. Would I like one to play with and shoot personal projects on, you bet! It’s just not what my business needs right now.
Key Reasons for C100 Purchasing
There is no perfect cam that does EVERYTHING but the Canon C100 is as perfect fit as I can afford to complement the cams I already have and the amazing technical capabilities they each bring to my work. It ticks about 90% of the boxes I need it to tick - and I’ve been looking hard for about a year for a camera to come that close.
All my Canon EF and EF-S glass will fit the C100s 1.53x crop. This is obviously a big deciding factor for me. The C100 will be light and small enough to fly on my Steadicam Merlin with the Canon 10-22mm F3.5 EF-S lens on too, once I’ve worked out the settings to balance it! Again, it’s real pity about the lack of 720p50/60 frame rates – they work well for slow motion Steadicam shots. The razor sharp Canon 17-55mm F2.8 IS EF-S will work well on the C100 (since it was designed for 1.6x crop Canons) and I’ve got a lovely Canon 100mm F2.8 Macro IS and an equally superb Canon 70-200mm F4 IS too, plus a Canon 1.4X Converter and some other, older glass with EF mount adapters – so I’m all set on that front!
With all these lenses the Canon C100 will give me a superb complementary A or B cam kit to my Sony EX3, and a first class back up if I ever need it, should my EX3 (bought in mid-2008 at launch) ever die on me mid-shoot -gulp! The EX3 is a great cam for corporate and run-n-gun or event work - yes still! The excellent controls, near infinitely variable frame rates, slow shutter, wonderful viewfinder, XDCAM workflow etc. etc. still make it a great tool. However, its now past its 5th and last year of Sony Prime Support cover and sensor technology (in particular with low light performance and improved noise characteristics) has marched on a fair bit, as indeed has the demand for a more filmic look. Sure, when the EX3 eventually dies on me I’ll look hard at a Sony PMW-200 or hopefully a better featured “PMW-300” would be a true EX3 successor, if that ever comes out - EDIT, it did!
Whilst my Canon 7D (now on the latest firmware with audio controls) is capable of some of those lovely film like shots, it is not really good enough as a B cam to the EX3 and certainly no A cam substitute if my EX3 died on me mid-shoot. The 7D is still a very good professional stills cam, something I often need when working with clients. If it sees out its days doing nothing but stills I’ll still remain very happy with it.
So in summary, despite the limited frame rates/lack of slow motion and less than ideal internal codec that the new Canon C100 is being launched with, I for one have voted with my wallet. I also predict HUGE demand for this cam because that Canon s35 sensor in the CX00 series is very special. It promises amazing low light performance, colour rendition and razor sharp images, all within a rugged yet small and light body that has excellent ergonomics. In fact, the C100 probably has even better ergonomics and button position than the C300 - I suspect - and I’ve handled a few of those. The C100 seems to have benefited from some of the feedback from C300 users since that one launched. The C100 has better vent grill placement plus auto exposure, auto focus, auto white balance and better button layout for fast paced run-n-gun and an always attached LCD. So it'll even do a few things that the C300 cannot (currently) do, and for quite a few £1000 less! The fact that it’s essentially ready to shoot right out of the box without the immediate need for expensive add-ons (albeit only at 4.2.0) is also highly attractive to me, the way I work and (especially) my budget.
Is it going to be the perfect camera? No! The non adjustable EVF is not ideal and that LCD has limited positions but those are things that I can live with. Will it replace the capabilities of all my other cameras in one single unit? Heck no! Is it priced right for the features it gives someone like me in the corporate video world? Well yes! Sure, we all want this stuff to be cheaper/don’t like Canon’s tendency to price high, but it is affordable for my business needs and that’s what really counts. Will someone bring a better camera out in 3-6-9 months’ time? Of course, the day after I take delivery! Who knows, as the competition hots up even more in the £3000-£6000 area we might see a “C105” from Canon one day, sporting that lovely XF codec and variable frame rates for slow motion etc!
But my business needs can’t wait that long. I need a good camera and I need it very soon – by the end of 2012 is a long as I was prepared to wait. So that camera will be a Canon C100. So there you go! My reasoning and rationale may or may not be relevant for what film work you do, only you can decide that (so please, no phone calls etc. about this - I really don’t have time to answer individual queries). Hope it was useful.
UPDATE: 8th Jan 2013: It arrived in late November and, for now, I’ve posted most of my experiences with it on the DVInfo Forum in the Canon Cinema EOS section. If I ever get time I’ll do a mini-review (but there are plenty of those on the web already).
UPDATE: 2nd Feb 2014: The C100 has proven to be a superb tool so far. Lovely, lovely images and flexibility. Heck, I was shooting with it in a cramped helicopter cockpit recently and inside a dark aircraft cockpit too (that one was at 12,800 ISO!) and I still got some absolutely great footage. That would have been very difficult with my other cams - the EX3 would have been just too big and noisy.
Also, the recently announced C100 Dual Pixel Autofocus upgrade feature looks interesting, allowing continuous focus tracking with EF (and EF-S) lenses as seen in the very recent 70D. To be honest I rarely use autofocus on any camera so it remains to be seen if I’ll pay the $500 upgrade price (plus it needs the camera shipping off to Canon to do the work). Also, the 70D seems to really shine with setting up this feature, in part due to it having a touch screen LCD - which of course the C100 does not. We’ll know more in Feb 2014 when early adopters start upgrading their C100’s.
UPDATE: 19th June 2014: I recently paid for the DPAF upgrade. Seems to work pretty well on all my Canon L and EF-S lenses, albeit within the compositional limitations of the central letterbox target. The focus lock feature gets used a lot! I’ve also now got the C-Cup with a shammy eye-pad fitted, thanks to that recent Kick-starter project. These are worthy upgrades for the C100 and definitely make it easier to use in certain situations. Of course, the viewfinder will never be described as excellent, even with the C-Cup, but at least it’s now usable in bright/outside shooting environments, even to a glasses wearer like me.
Earlier this year, I also bought a Sony PMW-300 to replace my EX3/complement the C100, see why HERE . That has an absolutely superb viewfinder arrangement and has 10-bit XAVC codec capability. I love using them both and like having different tools for different shooting scenarios. I also bought an Atomos Ninja Blade and, along with optional hood and a Sandisk SSD (and a variety of HDMI and attachment options) find that a highly useful additional monitor and recorder.
UPDATE: 3rd Nov 2014: The C100 MkII, announced a few days ago, appears to address almost all concerns I (or anyone else) had about the C100… EXCEPT it still does not feature a broadcast compliant 50Mbps 4.2.2 codec. Otherwise it looks like a good solid update. At last, 1080p50/60 (both AVCHD2 and MP4 - the latter only really suitable for low quality straight to web work I suspect, especially since it has just ACC low bit rate sound encoding). The new EVF and LCD, extra joystick, plus all the other new features certainly show that they have been listening to C100 users like me. However, it seems their Marketing department still won regarding keeping it away from the 4.2.2 50Mbps (min) broadcast area that the C300 serves. Well, at least my Ninja Blade will see sterling service on a C100 MkII if I do buy one.
I’ll await user reports before I decide if it’s worth the (likely very small, incremental) upgrade in picture quality from my C100 that Canon are promising with the C100 MkII. My guess is we’ll have to wait until NAB for any hints on Canon’s next move in the Cinema camera area. It sure will be interesting to see if they announce a C300 MkII soon - and it had better be a 4K capable cam (with some high frame rate options at least in 1080p). I think they now have to embrace 4K (especially at a C300 kind of price point) or Sony and others will wipe the floor with them, especially with the keenly priced and interesting FS7 (once Sony have sorted out some minor firmware and design issues that the early production units seem to have). Meanwhile, my C100 (and my Sony PMW-300) will continue to produce stunning images and keep earning money while I watch and wait.
UPDATE: 26th Feb 2015: I had a good look at the C100 MkII at BVE in ExCeL in London yesterday. Sure, all very nice upgrades/improvements and if anyone wants a C100 then I would definitely advise them to buy the MkII version. However, I still think Canon should have put a better (50Mbps 4.2.2) codec into the MkII. It’s not a big enough leap for me to upgrade, especially with so many 4K cams now appearing (and other HD cams which do offer a 50Mbps 4.2.2 codec at a lower price point). I’m going to wait until NAB and see what the C300 MkII looks like before deciding my next move, and in the meantime the C100 and Ninja Blade combo will easily meet my current needs.
UPDATE: 16th Sep 2015: Been thinking hard about buying a C300 MkII all summer but in the end it’s just too damn expensive an ecosystem for a 4K camera that still has some (in my view) serious limitations, especially concerning high frame rate options. Sure it will have some terrific capabilities, but media costs and those huge 4K files for archiving worry me. I also looked hard at the Sony FS7 but, whilst it’s a terrific camera, it’s just too cumbersome for my specific needs (and it’s sluggish menu system, bugs etc. would annoy me - plus it still needs add ons to make it a true shoulder mount cam anyway). I’m also considering buying a brushless gimbal and I really wanted a smaller cam for that.
So I sat and waited for IBC and, as I’d hoped, Sony launched something smaller - the PXW-FS5 on 11th September. It looks like a Canon C100 MkII killer to me! I pre-ordered one immediately (and a Metabones MkIV EF to NEX adapter, both with CVP.com) as this cam will fit my needs far better.
With 10-bit Full HD (4.2.2 1080p50 XAVC Long GoP at 50 Mbps) the Sony PXW-FS5 should be a terrific S35 successor to my Canon C100. The PXW-FS5 has a much better codec than what Canon is offering in the C100 MkII (although the Inter-frame version of XAVC would have been even better). It also has Full HD HFR (high frame rate) burst options at up to 240 FPS. Furthermore, it’ll allow me to dabble in 4K (actually QFHD) with its internal 8-bit 4.2.0 XAVC Long-GoP at 100Mbps capability - sure more of an “entry level” 4K capability for a S35 sensor cam - 10-bit 4.2.2 and a higher bit rate would have been terrific. However, what’s on offer is good enough for my specific needs (at this point in time) as 4K is still some way off with my client base. Even better, a future firmware update for “true 4K” and raw output has been promised - so with an external recorder some future options become possible.
Even at the rather high launch price of £4,100 + VAT (which I expect will fall quite a bit nearer actual availability date), the PXW-FS5 makes the C100 MkII now look very overpriced. I might also buy the Sony 18-105 G lens too - still wondering about that. Anyway, if all goes well I should have my FS5 by November and the C100 will then be downgraded to my C cam. UPDATE: 8th Dec 2015: Well my Sony FS5 arrived about 10 days ago (and a new Letus Helix Jr 3-axis gimbal about a week earlier). Not had much time to use the FS5 and Letus yet as this is proving to be a very busy time for me - lot of client film work going on! So for now I’m just posting my thoughts, as and when I can, in a thread on the DVinfo Forum - Google PXW-FS5 Initial User Impressions. I did buy the Sony 18-105 G lens too - but it’s a bit of a love/hate relationship! There is also a very useful thread on the DVinfo Forum about lens choices for the FS5 too.
UPDATE: 2nd Jan 2016: I’m now posting new information on how I’m getting on with the Sony PXW-FS5 and Letus Helix Jr. 3-axis gimbal HERE
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