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Senior Director of Professional Engineering and Solutions at Canon, Larry Thorpe, calls it “a parallel readout pattern, wherein the C300 sensor pulls out a true 1920x1080 red and blue, and green as two times 1920x1080. All coming out of the sensor as full res, 4:4:4, RG1G2B.” He continues, “The two greens were added together to extend the dynamic range and bit depth. We call it Super Green. Luma, made up of 70% green, is transferred right to the greens to up the resolution, hence you are working with more colour. Most importantly, Canon eliminates the aliasing, because the pixels are offset by half a pixel horizontally and vertically. There is no longer a phase reversal issue or interpolating which causes aliasing, it is eliminated by the offset.” This step has also allowed Canon to change the grain and noise structure typical of video images.
The Bayer pattern creates what is known as a “Fixed Pattern Noise,” – not very pleasant to look at. Film grain, on the other hand, is much nicer to look at. Enter C300 sensor design. The pixel offset removes the fixed pattern noise and provides a grain structure in higher ISOs more like film. It is ultimately more pleasant to look at, like an old black and white photo that has beautiful grain in it. This also makes the C300 better adapted to cut cleaner with film projects. Word is C300 also cuts well with the ALEXA.
Canon has also made advancements on the digital rolling shutter, which is sometimes known for causing undesirable effects. In the C300, 24p capture, for example, wherein the photosites are capturing at 24 pixels per second, are now read out at 60 pixels per second, with a frame memory delivery at 24 frames a second. This is a speed increase of 2.5 times, which in effect, reduces the rolling shutter by 2.5 times. The result is significant, and I could see this in post compared to Canon’s famous HD DSLR series – no more jello shutter, and far less image smearing while fast tracking subjects.
Canon lifted their long developed Digi DV3 processor, which is capable of 30p at 1080/60i, 29.97p, 23.98p and 720/59.97p, 29.97p, 23.98p. Variable frame rates in 1080 are from 30fps down to 1, and in 720 from 60fps down to 1. They also pulled their codec which is currently MPEG-2, wrapped in an MXF file. It is technically an 8-bit camera with output of 4:2:2, at 50mb/s. However the design of the sensor and how it captures light and colour starts you off with full 4:4:4 information before compression. I Skyped with Alex Buono, director of photography on Saturday Night Live, who has been using the camera on the show. He said, “Compressing into 8-bit is not the same as shooting in 8-bit; it still looks like a 10-bit image. It doesn’t look like an 8-bit codec, because you are starting with so much more info to begin with.” He filled me in on this interesting math as well – in a Bayer pattern there is one photosite per pixel and it is processed at 12-bits, therefore every pixel has 12 bits of colour/luma, which makes for 4096 unique colours/luma. In the C300 there are four photosites per pixel, each processed at 12 bits, which equals 48 bits of real info per pixel, that is over a billion unique colours/luma –an amazing amount of real information.
C-Log is part of the make-up of the C300. C-Log offers 12 stops of dynamic range and can be recorded directly onto the CF cards. It can also read out in 4:2:2 from the HDSDI output. The true 24.00p feature records native 24 frames with no 2/3 pull-down. It was made to better match film workflow, so that you can print back to film with native 24p. It is not useful when the project does not involve film, and it is recommended to stay in an NTSC/PAL format of choice. Be aware that even though the camera converts itself when 24.00p is selected, the cards do not. If the cards are initialized for NTSC, they will not record in 24.00p until re-initialized.
The C300 body weighs 3 lbs. Add an EF mount prime lens or short zoom, C300 top and side handles, monitor, battery and card, and it’s barely 10 lbs. I do a lot of handheld work with all kinds of cameras, and this one never fatigued me over five days of shooting. Steadicam operators would love it, even in a 3D configuration, it is so light! The built-in ND filters are fantastic in a pinch. The “peaking” feature is brilliant especially when shooting in low light. I shot outside at night with no controlled lighting, in the rain and a clear plastic bag over the whole camera. The plastic covering the monitor was covered in raindrops, while I pulled my own focus handheld and followed actors. I could see the bright coloured peaking through all that; it allowed me to find focus quickly and get the shots we needed fast.
Something to be aware of while using the C300 pistol grip: the image magnification button lives very close to where the tip or knuckle of your thumb might rest on the grip. When pushed, the image on the LCD is zoomed in to confirm focus or other, and it is crystal clear. However, all of the menu displays remain, and the only thing to let you know you are magnified is a yellow icon reading “MAGN”. The icon comes up between other icons, hence you may not entirely realize the image is in magnification mode and begin to record on a close-up which is not actually your real frame size. It got me once while shooting fast. Luckily, Canon has instilled the use of a “return” button classic of ENG styled cameras, wherein you hit the return after a shot and the camera will show you exactly what you just shot, or not. Checking the gate, anyone?
In post I have been amazed with C300’s performance in low ambient light. I was shooting dark skin tones and was able to bump up the ISO without showing noise though providing more info. It exposes amazingly on high contrast and hard light, hard edge shadow situations as well.
Canon has pulled many features from cine imaging cameras to ENG video and DLSRs to find a hearty balance that makes the C300. Thorpe says, “Canon will tailor their cameras to industry needs as time goes on and are working on the future now.” Hence the PL mount is just starting to ship now, and 10-bit is coming!
Sarah Moffat’s camera experience includes motion picture and still photography. She has worked in narrative, documentary/factual and live broadcast.