Canon C100: the Good, the Great and the Annoying

Canon C100: the Good, the Great and the Annoying

Canon C100 is a great camera. Even by today’s standards. Let’s be honest, few people care about 4K even today. If you review camera on YouTube you have to say that 4K is important. Just because you heard that from other YouTubers. But in the real life, few people are going to ask you about the 4K footage. They just need from you to make them the nice video.

That is why I am talking about 4K and YouTube. If you go there you will think that 4K is the most important thing and so Canon C100 is a bad camera. Which is not surprising, because beginners can understand the idea of a number of pixels. But you have to be experienced to understand colors, soft highlights, post-production of flat or log image, handling, etc. That is why Canon C100 is going to be relevant even for years ahead. Because is a very good camera from the advanced point of view.

Canon C100: The Good

With no particular order, I will start with the display. The display on Canon C100 is OK. On C100 Mark II is noticeably better. You will see everything you need to see using both of these displays. But they are not qualified to “Great” category. The problem for me was 3.5″ size. This means a limited number of magnetic viewfinders on the market. For the 5D/1DX display you have a large number of 3.2″ viewfinders, but for C100 you have two or three.

I bought Kinotehnik VF for C100 and I wasn’t happy from the first day. The glass on this viewfinder is very good, but everything else is not. Plastics feel cheap, glass was jiggling a bit, the strap was jammed. Price was the problem too because viewfinder cost me over 100 euros. For the quarter of that amount, you can buy similarly constructed viewfinder for 3.2″ display. With no more than 10-15% worse glass.

Low light can be in “Great” category. But it is not as good as a7S II and I am writing days before announcing a7S III. Still, it is amazing that five and a half years old camera can be still very good in this category. And Canon C100 Mark II is slightly better when it comes to ISO 3200 and above. Little problem was if you plan to use Wide DR picture profile. And I used this profile a lot because it simply gives a picture that you can deliver to clients immediately. And the more clients you have you will more appreciate good in-camera profiles.

After all, Arri Alexa can make nice footage without grading if you want. Wide DR makes noticeably more noise than C-Log over ISO, let’s say, 2000. First Canon C100 is also not great in combination with 50i/60i video and Wide DR. With 24/25/30p and Wide DR you can go as high as ISO 16.000 depending on the type of project.

You will have more noise than C-Log, but still, details are there and the material is usable. If you use 50i/60i and Wide DR, the picture starts to fall apart very early at ISO 1600. This is not unimportant. Because you can make a nice slow motion from 50i/60i with two clicks in editing software. Canon C100 has very detailed 1080p footage, and losing details in interlace mode is not a big penalty. You will not have this problem with Canon C100 Mark II. The newer camera has true progressive 50p/60p modes and a stop better low light in ISO values after 3200.

canon c100

I am putting sound handling here from my point of view. If you are coming from camera background, you will love sound control on Canon C100. But if you have DSLR background, you will need to adapt. Canon C100 has a detachable handle with an average stereo microphone, XLR inputs, and controls. I am using Rode Stereo VideoMic Pro and I am often in “Run ‘n Gun” situations. So I have to remove the handle to save space in the bag and weight for the Steadicam balance.

But sometimes you will need XLR input. And it is better for you to put the handle in some bag in the trunk of the car and drive around. Because you will forget handle at home when you need it one day. On Canon 5D Mark III, I was able to do some projects with automatic sound level. Only with moving -10, 0 and +20 gain on Rode Stereo VideoMic Pro. Don’t blame because I was using auto audio, it was the best solution for very paced days. With C100 you can do similar with, let’s say, semi-auto settings. Because you have to combine -10, 0, +20 on Rode and to turn on or off microphone attenuator in menus.

I planned to put ND in “Great” category but it is not perfect. First of all, having ND filter in camera is amazing compared to any DSLR or mirrorless. ND in Canon C100 is Good and not Great because offers maximum 6 stops. And C300 Mark II and C200 can protect you from too much light up to 10 stops. I needed more than 6 stops on Canon C100 sometimes.

Having Dual Pixel Autofocus is great. You will use this on Steadicam and gimbals, sometimes on the slider and when everything is wide and in focus. Still, this is the worst implementation of Dual Pixel Autofocus compared to any other Canon. Even Canon 70D has much better DPAF. For the first generation of Canon C100, you had to pay extra to have DPAF. And you will get the only small area in the middle that can autofocus.

Canon C100 Mark II was better on paper. But in reality, it was the same thing. You have the same area in the middle and face detection only if you use plastic EF-S STM lenses. And few owners of the Canon C100 Mark II will use plastic EF-S lenses. Not even 50mm EF f1.8 STM can enable face detection. It has to be EF-S. Still, Dual Pixel Autofocus works very smooth, precise and will work with 99% lenses. Including third party lenses. You are not limited to Canon lenses like you have to use only native lenses for Sony cameras if you want autofocus.

The crop factor of 1.5x (1.46x) will be good for almost everyone. If you are coming from 5D Mark III you will need to adapt. If you often use 35mm f1.4 lens you will need to buy 24mm f1.4. And if you use 16-35mm f2.8 on full frame it is best to buy Canon 10-18mm lens. Don’t worry because it is not “professional” lens. This lens works great and Canon C100 will compensate lost of the 1.5 stop of light thanks to better low light.

The crop will actually be a better thing for the most of the people. You can use both EF and EF-S lenses, which you can’t on full frame Canon DSLRs. You will have a perfect position of making or avoiding shallow depth of field. On full frame, DOF is often too shallow, no matter what. The best part of this Super 35 sensor is that you are getting better lowlight even compared to full frame cameras. Having crop DSLR or mirrorless is not good if you need clean low light. Canon C100 offers the benefits of the crop sensor (lenses, DOF) without cons in term of low light high ISO noise.

Canon C100: The Great

Picture quality and colors. It is well known that Canon gives desirable colors. No matter if you use DSLR, compact camera or ten-year-old camcorder. Canon C100 has a bit different, but still amazing colors compared to Canon DSLR, thanks to purpose build sensor for video and different processing. Canon uses new configuration to make the video more cinematic. DSLRs from Canon tends to have a bit of magenta shift sometimes.

But still, great colors compared to DSLR and mirrorless competitors. Canon C100 gives a bit filmish greenish less aggressive colors. This green presence is far from making footage bad, like on some Nikon cameras. Sometimes is just right to separate camera from DSLRs and make the video more analog. Sometimes is easy to correct. Canon C100 uses purpose build sensor that uses four pixels, RGB(G), to make one pixel. Without de-bayering. It gives one of the most detailed 1080p footage ever.

It is not artificially sharp like most Pansonic footage. You can add sharpness if you want, but even “soft” setup gives a lot of details. You can upscale this footage to 4K and few people are going to notice that. After all, it uses 4K sensor to make 1080p footage. Video has a great balance between highlights and shadows if you are close to native ISO 850. I don’t know dynamic range of this camera compared to others. I am guessing that is not going to be best in some table studio scene. But I can tell you that this camera handles highlights very good. Which is very important if you do a lot of uncontrolled documentary work. Some cameras have a better dynamic range in theory. But make highlights very easy “radioactive.” Canon C100 is not that camera.

 


Canon C100 Wide DR footage almost ungraded. 50i slowed to 25p. Uploaded as 4K to YouTube just as an experiment. The camera is actually 1080p.

Battery life is great and batteries are not that expensive. I never had more than two genuine batteries. And not even a larger one – I used smaller one BP-955. I never used full charge of both batteries for the single wedding. It was risky to have only one battery, but often I have to use only 20-30% of the second one. And for some corporate work and events, you won’t be anxious with one genuine battery. You can power camera of the grid with battery charger and cable that connects charger and camera. This is the biggest difference compared to DSLR. What I have to do with four and a half battery and 5D Mark III, I need only one and a half battery with C100.

Canon C100 has two SD memory card slots. Let be clear, SD card is not a professional card in any way. No reason to be mad at Apple for removing SD slot from MacBook Pro. SD cards are too flimsy to be called professional next to CF, CFast or XQD cards. Yes, SD card is a most popular card for years and will be in years ahead. But simply is not designed for professional handling. So it is crucial to have two SD memory slots if you want to call some product professional. Luckily, Canon C100 has two slots. I will say even 24mbps bitrate is great on this camera. You should know that more bitrate doesn’t guarantee better quality. If you have fast enough hardware inside the camera, you can make small files without losing quality.

I never looked at C100 footage and thought that higher bitrate would give more details. You can have hours and hours of footage from this camera and never make a dent on your hard drive. It was great camera when I shot interviews every day and had to upload them quickly to for use in another country. You really appreciate very detailed 1080p from just 24mbps.

Wide DR and C-Log are amazing profiles. As I said, I used Wide DR most of the time. You really can use Wide DR without any grading and this footage will look professional. Wide DR looks like graded C-Log and actually when you apply LUTs to C-Log you are getting Wide DR. Theoretically you will get more dynamic range from C-Log, but not every time. You will not always get better footage out of C-Log if you put more effort. And if you are not experienced it is better not to use logs at all.

I saw so many badly graded Sony and Panasonic log footage. People are thinking that log is going to give them more space to grade. But sometimes you just put yourself in the maze while grading log. It is just different than RAW photo. Speaking of Sony and Panasonic, Canon C-Log on C100 and Mark II is more alive at easy to see. You can enable “View assist” on display but even without it, you can see white balance and exposure on screen. It looks more like finished footage, with all the benefits of log profile.

Canon C100: The Annoying

I will start with AVCHD. It is so frustrating on this camera. If the AVCHD gives some benefit on any camera, please let me know. But for me is just wrong. Canon C100 Mark II doesn’t have this problem thanks to MP4 option. The first generation records everything in one AVCHD file. And I know that it is not actually one file, it is a container, but that container makes a lot of problems. You have to format the card after every project if you want to have a separate backup. Which is not always practical. Because you have enough space on the card with 24mbps codec and you sometimes work days in the row. And you don’t want to backup card every night when you want to sleep.

If you plan to copy out individual MTS files from AVCHD, don’t do it. Yes, they will work, but they will be so badly optimized. You have to import files from whole AVCHD container and then FCP X will make them MOV. Instantly, without recompressing. That way you will get optimized files for editing. But if you just import individual MTS files to FCP X you will need to make them ProRes, because they are just too slow. You can use a program like ClipWrap to take single files out of AVCHD and you will end up with MOV files. MOV files work much better than MTS generally, not only in FCP X. Once again, this is not recompressing in any way. You are instantly getting footage in a better package.

Handling of progressive and interlaced files. This is just horrible. To make some antique camera standard, this camera marks all footage as interlaced. Except for 24p, I believe. I won’t go into details and proper terminology. I will try to explain this in normal language. So, you are safe with 24p because 24p will be marked as 24p. 25p, 30p, 50i, and 60i will have interlaced mark. To add more confusion, 25p will be marked as 25i and 50i will be also marked as 25i. So if you shoot 25p for normal speed and 50i for the slow motion you will end with all 25i files. And then you have to mark 25i to make them progressive and to mark 50i files to deinterlace them.

So you have to know which files are 25p and which are 50i and this is a BIG problem if you are giving this footage to someone. I believe Apple at some point makes some system-wide update that makes things worse. I believe couple years ago I was able to recognize files easy. Now all files are listed as 25i. I had worked with 25p-50i combination and that was a nightmare. If you use 24p-60i combination for maximum slow motion it is better. Because you will get 24p and 29.97i files and you can separate them easily. I never tried 30p-60i combination but I believe the situation is same as 25p-50i. All in all, it is just terrible and much worse than any MOV or MP4 workflow out of DSLR or mirrorless cameras.

I missed DSLR auto modes on Canon C100. Because sometimes you simply need an auto mode for unpredictable situations. The only way to have auto on C100 is to assume some middle ground for ISO value, set shutter and chose the automatic aperture. But, once again, the automatic aperture will be available only with plastic EF-S lenses. Auto white balance is there, it is OK, but it is slow to change. Which is sometimes good, and sometimes bad. I also missed predefined white balance sets from DSLR. You can do a lot with daylight, shady, cloudy and tungsten on DSLR. I am using this setting only in specific situations, but still, they are useful.

I remember shooting something in the street bar and going in and out often. Inside bar was classic tungsten light and outside was cloudy. I can change WB on DSLR with the twist of the wheel, but on Canon C100 you have to go from 3000k to 7000k in 100k increments. Yes, you have A and B place for your custom white balance, but that is gray card custom setting and almost always too cold for me. You have tungsten and daylight predefined setting on C100 with -9/+9 correction. But it is not fast or effective like DSLR predefined WB settings. I can give you many examples when to use auto exposure in documentary work, but you cannot to that with Canon C100. I am using P, Av, Tv, M with Auto ISO on DSLR, for some unpredicted situations.

You don’t even have Auto ISO on Canon C100 and there is no good reason for that. That is just Canon wants to show us how professional their camera is. But that is a stupid idea. Because many of us will use this camera alone in unpredicted situations. And why they put the autofocus on this camera and forget to put other auto features? Following someone on Steadicam or gimbal using autofocus from outside to inside building is a realistic situation. If you shot feature film you have a team of people to run with reflector, pull your focus and open aperture remotely when you enter the building. But if you are doing that alone during a wedding, you have to really on auto settings of cameras. And any Canon DSLR from the last couple of years will do much better in this situation then Canon C100.

Startup time is horrible if you ever use DSLR for video. On first Canon C100, startup time is becoming slower the bigger your AVCHD files is. Which is depressing. I know every “cinema” camera has a slow startup, but I don’t see the reason for that that comparing to DSLR. Playback is painfully slow. You have to turn off camera completely and enter in playback mode. And every operation is 5x slower than DSLR.

Remember that you have to count in startup time when you are getting back to record mode. On DSLR you can instantly erase the last file and start to shoot a new one. On C100 you are getting home with a bunch of unsuccessful files because you don’t want to get into playback mode. Like you will use free time to erase unsuccessful photos when you do photography, you can do an identical thing if you shot video with DSLR. But doing that with C100 is too slow. You are not going to erase unwanted files in camera.

Canon C100 doesn’t have the option to go to standby after some time. This is again Canon trying to be too smart for their own good. Even going to standby after one hour will be good for me. For two years I have several occasion when I put the camera in the bag while was still on. Imagine you are going to shot something in the morning, taking the hot camera bag. The camera just worked through the night. Canon C100 is like a tank and survived this scenario number of times with me. And I believe will survive many times again. But you don’t need to start your day this way. And most importantly, you don’t want to discharge whole battery overnight because the camera doesn’t have an automatic standby mode.

Before the last thing, I will quickly add bad and small viewfinder on Canon C100. Mark II has a better viewfinder, but I wish these cameras have a much useful viewfinder. On the first C100 looks like some viewfinder from 90s camcorders.

Service. I had a bad experience with servicing this camera. I broke display on my C100 because I was stupid. It is not hard to replace the display. Anyone who ever fix the camera, or lens or phone can probably replace display for C100. But there is no display for C100. You cannot find one. You cannot even find the number of the part or any code to maybe trace display somewhere.

I contacted authorized service for Canon in my city and they reply to me that there are not allowed to service Cinema cameras. And this service can easily fix your 1D X Mark II and 600mm f4 combination. But they cannot replace C100 display which is not even inside the body of the camera. They asked 200 euros for insurance only (one way) to send the camera to authorized Cinema regional service in another country. That is $250 in one-way insurance without shipping, service and return shipping and insurance.

Conclusion

Canon C100 is an amazing camera. While gives a better picture than DSLR, it is not without flaws. Sometimes handling is good, and sometimes is bad. Battery life is always good. Features are again good or not so good, depending what you are doing. Probably best camera for individual “Run ‘n Gun” use is someone between C100 and DSLR. One group of users will be happier with DSLR, while others will enjoy C100. DSLR is faster to work with, especially if you are alone. If you are working in a less paced environment and maybe have one assistant, C100 will be better. Because it gives noticeably better picture than DSLR. Canon C100 can go head to head with picture quality against any today’s camera. And even being 1080p only camera is not really a problem.


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