How Atlanta Forced me to eat Crow
At the end of August we traveled to Atlanta to shoot a TV/Web pilot episode and sizzle reel. As per usual we had many debates over what camera(s) to use – the GH4 has great 4K, 1080p slo-mo, takes very good stills, and has a very efficient codec. The 5D2 is tried and true, full-frame, can handle relatively low-light, and takes top-notch stills. Rental options were discussed.
Many cameras, many options, but as we got closer to the shoot date and location details emerged, we ultimately decided to go with the Canon C100, and by “we,” I mean Mickey convinced me we needed it despite my woefully incorrect prediction that we could work with what we had. Spoiler alert: The C100 ultimately made our shoot possible and I had to reassess how I viewed Canon’s “budget” cinema camera.
I have to be honest: I was never very impressed with the Canon “C” line. They always seemed to cost 30% more than they should and I could generally come up with a similar camera at half or less of the price. But, as you are about to read, I had to rethink this mentality. While I still think they charge a little too much for these guys, there are some great built-in components that I previously saw as “handy perks” that I now respect more as “features” that really up the value of these cameras. This article is part reassessment and part reviewing an older camera, but we find it’s always good to update opinions on gear currently in rotation.
- XLR-in. The C100 has 2 XLR inputs that, if you have a quick turnaround time/documentary work/really anything that can’t keep waiting for a slate, then the ability to feed straight from the mixer is invaluable. No mixer? Run your mics straight through. The use of this is pretty obvious, but with all the run-and-gun work many of us are used to doing on DSLR’s and DSLR-like cameras, it’s easy to forget how it isn’t just a convenience.
- Video auto-focus. Incredibly useful in a pinch, this upgrade is an addition to the C100 that was not available upon its release. The ability to snap quick, accurate focus on a faster-paced set is invaluable.
- Built-in ND. The ability to open up your aperture and drop ND quickly is fantastic. You don’t need to have a a matte box, different screw on ND’s (which might not even work on all your lenses unless you invest in adaptors), so on and so forth. Like most features with this camera, it just simplifies the process.
- Low-light. While more cameras are coming out now with low-light capabilities, C100’s at $3,000.00 are a pretty solid deal. They hold their own at 12,500 ISO and you can really push past that if you have to. The GH4 taps out at 1600 and even that is often not usable (beyond 1600 is basically for when you absolutely have to get it). The 5DIII, which comes in at barely a lower price point, strains past 6400. It comes close, but it does not have the XLR-in and other features of the C100. The low-light capabilities were incredibly crucial for our shoot as we were often shooting in bars and restaurants that wanted us to keep any lighting to a minimum so as to not disrupt their service – seeing as this was a pilot for a travel show where we needed life to our scenes, we could not just shoot after/before hours at these locations.
This camera is far from perfect, but if you are doing reality work, commercial, really anything where you need to be fast on your feet. I’m not crazy about the color palette and I think that at its original price point – over $7,000 – it’s pretty ridiculous that it couldn’t put out at much more than 30Mb/s in 2012. The Black Magic Pocket came out in 2013/2014 and cranks out raw at 1080p for, at that time, $1,000.00 (Confession: Probably my favorite camera ever). It is a seriously flawed camera, but we are talking over 50Mb/s for a camera that was a fraction of the cost released shortly after. Hey, I couldn’t just sing praises all day for this guy.
Overall: Great camera, great in low-light, XLR inputs are critical for speeding up your post-production (meaning faster turnaround AND saving money), ergonomics and layout make it easy to use. Even after three years – which in technology is an eternity – it holds up. At $3,000 and, consequentially, a lower rent-point, people should definitely consider using the C100. I was very much against it and, like most of us, had formed an opinion without enough firsthand experience with the camera. Many of our shoots center around live events and active spaces, as our style definitely tends to cater towards or a more “documentary feel.” This camera kept us moving quickly, allowed us to adapt to situations without constantly bringing the production to a halt (often requiring you to interrupt excellent, real moments with your talent), and allowed sound and camera to work together more harmoniously. In one word: it made things efficient, which for our style of shooting, is a must. Plus, it made Mickey happy, and a happy Mickey is a productive Mickey.