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Camera Graduation

24 Feb Camera Graduation


For a long time I was not sure what camera to get next as my Canon 5D mark II was getting old. I was still very happy with the images it produces, but I also knew that there are better cameras available. For a long time I studied various tests and read opinions of the available cameras, but nothing seemed a perfect fit. 4K and the question if one really needs it made things very complicated. One gets drawn into must having the latest spec camera easily when following the online community, a community that often does not actually shoot any meaningful material. I am not saying I am, but if you are looking for advice it should be from people that have exposure to real productions as their main line of trade.

To cut a long story short, in the end I got a Canon EOS C100 coupled with a Atomos Ninja 2 and I am very happy with that decision… for now.

Let’s take it back a little, for some time I shot with a 5D mk II, 5D mk III and a Blackmagic Cinema Camera. In terms of colour rendition Canon comes out on top and that is an aspect that is very important for me. Obviously the 5Ds lack dynamic range and resolution, which is where the BMCC excels. The BMCC has some drawbacks, the image can be noisy, requiring a lot of post processing with Neat and the colour is just not Canon. In addition the crop made lens selection very difficult, especially if you trust Canon L lenses.

I know this is not scientific, but it was clear to me that just buying 2 more BMCC would not give me the line up I was after. In addition I was still recoding sound with a Zoom H4n and H6n recorder which meant carrying another piece of equipment that I had to operate whilst being busy with 3 cameras rolling and asking the talent meaningful questions.

The first problem I had to solve was do I want or need 4k? If the answer was going to be “yes” I would have been locked into the Blackmagic 4k as the other 4k cameras would have been out of my budget for my current line of work. To cut a long process short, I decided I do not need 4K apart from the luxury to reposition shots for HD in post.

What I wanted was a clean (and also clean in low light), high resolution image that has a good degree of dynamic range for interior interview shots. I wanted a S35 sensor so the lenses I own work as close to what I was used to from the full frame 5D with a similar Bokeh. Ideally I also wanted to consolidate my sound set up as much as I could along the way. Here is what I was contemplating with:

Alternative 1 – 5D mark III raw recording: Great resolution, dynamic range on a full frame sensor in a compact package. Sound would have been separate, but I could live with that. The biggest drawback, I cannot save a 60 minute interview on one SD card. If only there would have been a solution to connect an SSD via the CF card slot…

Alternative 2 – Blackmagic Pocket Camera: The raw recoding looks very good and I could accept the colour rendition in exchange for a very small package. The Metabones speedbooster would turn the camera into a S35 crop, I just had to wait for the EF lens version to come out. Perfect! But only 10 minutes raw recoding on an SD card was not sufficient. I also felt the alternative to feed the HDMI into an Atomos Ninja 2 did not produce super sharp images. So, in a way the same problem as with raw on the 5D, not enough recoding time.

Alternative 3 – Blackmagic Production Camera: I have one on pre-order since the day it got announced at NAB last year. On paper it sound like a dream, 4k, internal SSD, S35 mode and the early ProRes clips look very promising. I might take delivery and use it, but it would not have the Canon look and I need a sound solution. The biggest worry I have is that apparently one cannot shoot above ISO 400 and the ergonomics of the camera are not ideal. With my current BMCC I have to check frequently if it is still recoding as I could not tell how much recoding time is left. I guess this is not a priority for Blackmagic and there won’t be a “recoding time left” indicator in the firmware anytime soon.

In the end I went with a Canon C100 and am very happy with the decision. The camera has the Canon look, a S35 sensor and SLR inputs in a very compact body. Coupled with an Atomos Ninja it provides a clean and sharp ProRessHQ file that is very gradedable. The built in ND filters are so liberating and being able to see waveforms, peaking and “zoom in” to check focus whilst recoding makes one realise how much these features are missed on DSLRs.

I shot three times with it now and the images it produces coupled with the ease of use make it the perfect graduation camera for a DSLR shooter. I often thought why pay more for a smaller sensor that records a crappy AVCHD format and I have to say you have to use it to experience the difference. Specs are not everything. The image out of the Ninja is very nice, clean and sharp plus recording sound in camera is much easier. The flat Canon Log produces a nice flat image with enough information to compensate for the lower dynamic range.

Last week I took it with me on our ski holidays to get to know the camera a bit more. I wanted to shoot with it in a bare minimum configuration: one SD card, one Battery, no Charger, no Top Handle, No Ninja 2 and no ND filters. It worked very well, I shot about 45 minutes of footage and the battery was still half full at the end of the 7 day vacation. I only used three lenses: 24-104 f/4, 70-200 f/2.8 and 50 f/1.2 making the whole set-up easily fit into a rucksack. Focussing with the EVF is tough but doable and the AVCHD performed well when graded with FilmConvert. I could denoise it a bit to get rid of the compression artefacts, but I did not bother in the end.

The bits that could be better are: (1) a little more DR would be good, (2) a nicer EFV with a better eye piece and (3) a stronger third ND filter. Ergonomically the camera is great, as a DSLR shooter you have to get used to the record button being at the front and not the back, I kept on pressing magnification to stop and start the video. But everything else is where you would expect it. It would also be nice to shoot still from the full sensor resolution and not only HD as I am missing being able to shoot stills and video from the same body. You would need a Zacuto Z-Finder for the C100 to shoot handheld in a stable way.

Now I need to decide to take delivery of the 4k Blackmagic or not… the new price point makes it much easier.

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