At a gala spectacle on Nov. 3, 2011, on the Paramount lot in Hollywood, Canon debuted their C Series lightweight and portable video cameras, featuring the EOS C-300. This particular camera includes an EF mount system to support EF lenses and EF cinema lenses, but it also has a PL mount. The compact camera, on display in two large soundstages on the lot, also has a Super 35mm CMOS sensor and 8.3 Megapixels imaging processor which offers special low light performance capabilities. The EF cinema lenses represent the heart of the system and incorporate the latest technology through Canon’s R&D department, featuring 4K resolution.
The Dean of the UCLA Department of Theater, Film and Television, Teri Schwartz, hosted the Nov. 3 event. Canon CEO and chairman Fujio Mitarai arrived from Japan and spoke about the nascent development of his company and their foray into digital filmmaking. Canon seemed eager to enter the avenues of big-budget Hollywood filmmaking.
In addition to the camera, Canon is also presenting an extensive series of lenses, including a CN–E145.5-60mm (T.25 L S and L SP) and a CN-E30-300mm (T2.95-3.7 L S and L SP) zoom lens, the latter of which feature filmmakers have already used. Canon has been manufacturing cameras for almost 70 years and has already sold 70 million EF lenses.
They also have a new prime lens setup, including 24, 50 and 85mm models, as Canon deemed them the most in-demand in the film industry. There are over 60 different EF lenses. Given the Super 35 format of the C-300, those three aforementioned prime lenses were the ones that Canon required to be out first – the large aperture lenses for its high sensitivity sensor.
Chief executive of image communications products since 1975, Masaya Maeda, explained how the new camera has an antecedent that was developed by Canon – a DSLR camera. Of note, he said, 1987 saw the debut of the first EOS camera. Then, the EOS 5D Mark II in 2008 shot video, originally priced at $3,200. The response was “off the charts” and included the motion picture production industry. Madea then set up a new internal projects team to develop a product to suit the movie industry’s needs, leading to the development of the new camera. All of the images rendered on the C-300 are 50 megabit 4.22 with an outlay onto two CF cards – one as a backup.
Towards the end of the event, Jon Fauer, ASC, moderated a panel of filmmakers who have used the equipment, including Sam Nicholson, Richard Crudo, Felix Alcala, and Vincent Laforet. Also on the panel were Eliott Peck, senior VP and GM of sales, Imaging Technologies & Communications Division, Canon USA and Laurence Thorpe, senior director, Imaging Technologies & Communications Division, Canon USA.
Richard Crudo said that the end product was crucial, saying, about the C-300, “I thought the look was extremely filmic and almost effortless to achieve with tremendous consistency.”
Sam Nicolson appreciated the size and flexibility of the camera. “You find yourself carrying the camera around in one hand,” he said. “You move faster. It allows you to make beautiful images very easily. It fills a slot that no other camera does.”
Felix Alcala noted that over the past 20 years, the industry has gotten bigger, but that it has gotten more portable. “Kids can now do anything that they want to – this camera is the beginning. Other cameras are similar but not the same,” he said.
Vincent Laforet added, “It’s the 5D Mark III grown up. It allows you to focus on telling stories. It gets out of the way.”
Crudo did 50-60 set-ups a day and shot a full feature in 15 days. “The material at night on the street was shot almost completely with available light,” he said. “We used the Cinema Zoom at 300mm and shot with it wide open and used minimal lighting. It held all of the available light. We only had a 2K and some Kino Flos.”
Nicholson noted that there was, “very little grain at 16,000 for a night shoot. You can go to 20,000. You can shoot greenscreen on a stage at 16,000. It sees beyond what you can see with the human eye. I’ve been waiting for that for a long time.”
“With this camera, it is going to open so many doors,” said Alcala. “You can shoot 5.6-8 stop at night.”
“It opens up a whole new world of lighting in a different way,” said Laforet. “You don’t have to have lights, but now we can do things we all dreamed of. The colors and raw footage coming off of this camera is amazing.”
“The high definition 4K sensor is totally new,” said Thorpe. “You can start with a 3840×2160 image and output one at 1920×1080. You come up with a image that is totally clean.”
“Our intention is to really meet the needs of technology, production and schedules,” said Peck. “Today, we are very proud of the Cinema EOS C-300. We have developed a new professional dedicated team to meet filmmakers’ needs. We have a new technology and support center in the old Columbia Pictures Studios building from the 1920s. This is not the finale. This is the beginning of what we are going to do.”
All of the filmmakers concurred that there was no indication of rolling shutter.
The estimated list price for the camera is going to be $20,000 with a delivery date at the end of January 2012, worldwide.
Below the Line: What did your team do to develop this product?
Chuck Westfall: Our group was involved in interviewing motion picture DPs and ACs. We looked to other directors to get an idea of what they felt was missing and what they liked and needed from what we had. Anything that has to do with overall image quality is a strong point for them. They needed to have something that at least matched what they were getting out of film. We needed to eliminate digital artifacts and be able to have a cinematic tone curve. Film tone curves are obviously the main point of differentiation between one stop and another. With digital, they needed to have the ability to mimic that concept. The two most important things were getting rid of the moray factor and getting the low light sensitivity as much as possible. We designed the sensor to read and use every single pixel on it. There weren’t any lines skipping and there was an absence of moray. Because we operated in a Super 35mm format, we increased the pixels to the native resolution of 3840×2160 and are outputting 1920×1080. This is the first Canon camera to have the 3840 capability.
BTL: How does this camera meet low light sensitivity functions?
Westfall: Although you can shoot without light, that’s not what you should be doing. But you have the ability to create the mood in the low light condition. We have built in ND filters and you can get all the way to a six-stop reduction built in and go all the way to filters in the front. The ISO goes down to 320 on the low end, if you have a six stop cut, you can shoot at a fairly moderate aperture.
BTL: What else did you need to give filmmakers with this new camera?
Westfall: You give them a lot of these things that you can’t get anywhere else. Size, cost, and it has to do with the versatility of interchangeable lenses. If you [already] have a set of PLs, you can put it on our camera. If they want to take advantage of our lenses, we have excellent choices. There are going to be times that the primes that we have and the specialty lenses – the tilt-shift, the macro lenses, the super telephoto – are unequaled. These are all points in the favor of the C-300 regardless of the budget that you have. The people who are using this will concentrate on our L series of professional glass, which consist of over 30 lenses.
BTL: How do you differentiate the two different C-300 cameras?
Westfall: The weight is 3.2 pounds in the EF version and 3.6 pounds for the PL model. We are thinking that the two cameras will be equal in sales, but the PL mount will get its share – so many lenses are already owned that fit the PL model. The EOS mount has its advantages – accessibility to the Canon lenses. There are features on the EOS lens that you can’t get on the PL, for instance, Peripheral Illumination Correction – which evens out the vignetting of the lens – keeping the corners of the image from going dark – and have a clean image corner to corner. It will skew people towards the EF. It is also a factor for ultra-large aperture lenses. The PIC could be eliminated. You can always work on that in post.
BTL: How does this camera work with media – is it only a CF card system?
Westfall: Shooting on the CF cards is convenient and instant backup as well. Recording to an external is available. When you are doing your post, there is immediate compatibility for the NLEs out there: Adobe, Apple, Avid, Grass Valley, and Technicolor. This camera will have the same Codec as other cameras from MXF to QuickTime-compatible files for FCP. It’s not a perfect world for Apple at this moment in time, but we hope to cooperate with them on it. You have very strong points in their overall system.
BTL: Is all of this equipment developed in Japan?
Westfall: We had this project in Japan to develop the next generation of camera. I work out of the facility in Lake Success NY, and by the end of the project, we were number one in the US. We have been there for the long time and will soon be in Melville NY – the largest single acreage available in Long Island – to be a headquarters for Canon America. I traveled to Japan three times a year.
BTL: Was there an overall goal in developing this camera?
Westfall: One of the major objectives about this was to lower the price point to be accessible to as many cinematographers as possible. We didn’t get it down to the cost of an SLR, but we are focusing on distributing it to not only regular dealers but also to rental dealers. The idea of having a rental network trained on these cameras can do basic maintenance. It will make the camera accessible to more people.
BTL: Can you discuss how it came about that Bryce Dallas Howard directed a film using the C Series camera, produced by her father, Ron Howard?
Westfall: We launched a contest called Project Imagination and worked with Ron Howard to have him audit some clips that were sent in by users based on a storyline that we provided. It is a crowd-sourced thing in that we put out these storylines for the users to do their own interpretation. We selected the best of those for the final production. The concept was that having seen those various submissions, he would develop a film based on that concept. She could assist very well, getting good direction from her father, but showing off her own skills. It will be released on Nov. 15 as a 25-minute short film. She used an EOS 5D Mark II and parts of the film on the 300C.
BTL: Finally, what can users expect from the new Canon service facility here in Los Angeles?
Westfall: This is a huge turning point because we are getting behind the new camera in so many ways. We have reorganized our company so that we have a team specifically devoted to this product. The Canon facility will be an opportunity for filmmakers to come out and see our stuff, but it will also be a full-blown service facility. There are many reasons why that it important, but as the C-300 comes in, we need to match cameras and lenses and calibration. At the level of investment that these customers are talking about, we need to take it the final step. It will operate by appointment only and be of limited access to professionals focusing on the film and TV industry. It will be a working service facility by the end of 2011.