I just finished shooting my first feature film on the Canon C300 Mark II: Equipment Review

I just finished shooting my first feature film on the Canon C300 Mark II: Equipment Review

I just finished shooting my first feature film on the Canon C300 Mark II: Equipment Review, blog post by Darius Stevens Wilhere

 C300 Mark II with modified Zacuto Recoil Rig and Gratical.

C300 Mark II with modified Zacuto Recoil Rig and Gratical.

In advance I apologize for the rambling nature of this article, it's just how I blog, but I hope you find it informative. I'll put up a vlog as well on it. I'll also make some 4K footage available next week for subscribers to play around with.  

Update Nov 25th, 2015: Almost done with the VLOG which will show actual footage. Wanted to share a link that I found to a fantastic article by the extremely talented Tim Fok which between this article and his, should provide an excellent source of information on the C300 Mark II. Find his article here:http://timfok.com/2015/11/10/canon-c300-mark-ii-mini-review/ End Update!

Okay, how to start this article? I just spent the last three weeks working 20-22 hours a day, stressed out of my mind, constantly on the edge of a nervous breakdown and simultaneously having the time of my life while shooting my first feature film entitled The Hollywouldn'ts: A comedy about the struggle of trying to hold onto your dreams as actors and filmmakers while attempting to make a movie with almost no money.

While we didn't have enough money, enough crew or enough time to make The Hollywouldn'ts we certainly had an overabundance of ambition shooting a script with 50 plus locations, more than 35 speaking roles and a ridiculous number of scenes for less than $45,000 in the middle of the LA Film Zone (notoriously expensive).

Make no mistake, at this budget level (no to very low) the most crucial skill you have to possess as a director is the ability to problem solve. I have several dozen things I want to share with you to catch up to what I'm doing now (I'm preparing the footage for editing in the background), but before I ramble too much, let me focus this article on the subject of the camera equipment I chose and why. To understand the why, you have to also understand the size of the crew.

 90% of the film was shot handheld using the Canon C300 Mark II on the Zacuto Recoil Rig with the Gratical Viewfinder.

90% of the film was shot handheld using the Canon C300 Mark II on the Zacuto Recoil Rig with the Gratical Viewfinder.

CREW

In addition to being the writer/director I also opted to be the director of photography simply because I didn't have a budget that afforded me one. My camera crew was my chief gaffer (the brilliant Axel Johannsson) and my DIT/On-set dailies assembler and professional on screen wiper (the inimitable Joe Bagtas).

This meant there was no lofty directorial airs as I pranced around like a gazelle waiting for a team of crack professionals to set-up everything for me. I was pretty much always first in and last out, setting up and breaking down the gear with my two compadres, sweating my ass off and working my guts out as we all do in the independent film world.

Added to the three of us there was a make-up artist (the fantastic Jessica Vergnon), a locations manager/line-producer who was also one of the actresses in the film (the unstoppable Amelie Pimont), we also had a one man sound crew (Mr. Shoulders like Boulders Ben Kamm), script supervisor (the eagle-eyed Ihab Gabra), two people in the Art Dept (the beast Mr. Jesse Taylor and Lawrence Kim) and then we had two friends/family helping on make-up and hair, behind the scenes and crew food plus general all around confusion control (the amazing Marine and Karen Ramelli).

It was essentially a ten person crew trying to do the work of a 17 person film and we all felt the burn, but I think we all had a great time doing it.

 Most of our close-ups were lit with a china ball for eyelights and smaller LED panels to create layering and falloff both on the actors and the environment.

Most of our close-ups were lit with a china ball for eyelights and smaller LED panels to create layering and falloff both on the actors and the environment.

CAMERA EQUIPMENT

I've shot on the Arri Alexa, the RED Epic + Dragon, the F55, BMCC, the FS7, the C100/300/500 and pretty much every DSLR out there and I don't believe that there is a one camera fits all type solution, but I knew from the start that I wanted this film to have a very warm, rough around the edges, handheld independent feel to it.

Also I didn't have the crew to run an Arri Alexa. I needed the camera package to be as light and movable as possible. I knew that I'd have to be doing between 50-70 set-ups daily as a minimum and I knew we'd be moving to new locations every day and multiple times per day and we had no camera or grip truck, so it needed to fit in my car.

 The Canon Zooms were an unexpected blessing, but coming from a primes only background, definitely required some getting used to.

The Canon Zooms were an unexpected blessing, but coming from a primes only background, definitely required some getting used to.

I figured I would probably go with the C100 Mark II with an external recorder. I wasn't thrilled about this because I did want to do a capture in 4K, but I was also very aware of the budget limitations and speaking frankly, the C100 does have an amazing image that is very flattering on skin tones in particular. While not as good as the Arri, it's a fraction of the cost and pretty damn effective.

Note: If this had been a sci-fi I'd probably have gone with the Sony or a RED because of their tendency to produce extremely clean (almost clinically so) images that would be an easier push in final coloring to get the look I wanted.

But for this film I really had my heart set on the C300 Mark II, the problem was that it wasn't released yet. So I was in between C100 MK II and C500, but my heart still yearned for the C300 MKII.

Fortunately for me, my lead actor and fellow producer Serge Ramelli is an internationally renowned photographer and wrote to Canon asking them to sponsor our film by lending us the C300 Mark II prior to official release. We also asked for the full set of Canon Cine Primes.

Meanwhile I kept moving forward, with a plan to shoot the film on the C100 MKII and L-Series lenses. But one day before we started principal photography I won the Canon lottery and a package with the C300 MK II and the Canon 15.5-47 Compact Zoom, Canon 30-105 Compact Zoom and a Canon Cine 85mm 1.3 prime. Canon asked us to try and shoot the film using only the zooms to see why so many film makers were opting to do just that. 

Serge had also asked Zacuto to sponsor the use of the Recoil rig and the Gratical Viewfinder for the length of the shoot which they also graciously did and for which I am extremely grateful. I knew that being the Director as well as the DP/Camera Operator and A/Cam was going to be beyond taxing and that I needed to be able to put the camera down on a tripod as fast as possible so I could talk with my actors and crew. The recoil rig was my go to solution for that.

 The Canon C300 Mark II. My newest favoritistest thing in the whole wide world. Of cameras that is.

The Canon C300 Mark II. My newest favoritistest thing in the whole wide world. Of cameras that is.

FULL CAMERA EQUIPMENT LIST

C300 Mark II

Two 128gb Lexar 3400x Cfast 2.0 cards and 2 Sandisk 64gb SDXC cards for proxies

Canon 15.5 - 47 Compact Zoom f/2.8, Canon 30-105 Compact Zoom f/2.8, Canon 85mm f/1.3 Cine Prime, 24-105 f/4 L-Series.

Zacuto Recoil Rig with Gratical Viewfinder and Tornado focus knob

Marshall 7" monitor

Kessler 5' Cine Slider

One tripod that wasn't rated for the weight of the camera.

One Laptop with two 2tb rugged drives for immediate offload of shots. 

THOUGHTS ON THE CANON C300 MARK II

 Serge as Jacque waking up in the hospital

Serge as Jacque waking up in the hospital

As a disclaimer, I wouldn't have been able to afford this camera had it not been lent to us as a sponsorship, but I am certainly saving up for one!

Image: Let me state openly that when I saw the official film release for the C300 Mark II "Trick Shot" there was absolutely no inspiration to run out and buy this camera. I'm sorry Canon, but it was underwhelming at best. I don't say that in slight to the film makers or Canon, I'm just being honest about my personal reaction to the film as a sales piece for the camera. I'd shot on the C300 plenty and I didn't feel there was anything there that I couldn't get out of the C300, other than some small amount of detail in the windows during the bar scene. But in the months that followed I started seeing a couple of random test clips bouncing around the internet and was thinking "this is more like it." But I don't like to shoot on a camera that I haven't tested so I knew I was taking a gamble on the camera just showing up and being as amazing as I hoped it would be.  

My reaction? In short: love at first sight. The image is just ridiculously good. I remember shooting on the C300 and having windows blowing out during interior scenes on location and wishing for a few additional stops of DR and wow does the Mark II have it! But beyond that is Canon's secret sauce on color. I have no doubt that you could intercut this footage with the Arri cameras and 99 out of 100 people wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

 Hiking the camera gear up the Griffith Park trails along with all the props was...fun. Yeah let's just call it fun.

Hiking the camera gear up the Griffith Park trails along with all the props was...fun. Yeah let's just call it fun.

I know that there are some gripes out there about this camera for two things: the price and the frame rate. And I know that a lot of people have opted for the feature heavy FS7 which I almost bought, but didn't for one important reason: there just is something about the native Sony image which felt too clean and too "video'ish" for me for this film. It's hard to describe but it is the way Sony handles colors vs Canon and for the image I wanted to get straight from the recording I knew Canon would be closer to the look I wanted. Because reaction to image is such a personal thing, it's always hard to comment on image without offending someone else out there, so realize this is my personal taste.

And so my biases are clear: up until now the Arri Alexa has been my defacto standard for any film where the principal focus would be on actors and making them look good. So Rom-Coms, dramas, thrillers and so on, Alexa would be my go-to choice for films or projects with a budget that could absorb those costs. But as I mentioned, for Sci-Fi and a futuristic look I'd go RED or Sony because the image from those cameras naturally lends itself to my perception of that aesthetic. But here is the problem with the Alexa, you really need a three man camera team minimally to handle that camera properly and a large DIT station. I needed to be a one man camera team and the Canon C300 Mark II was everything I hoped it would be.

As a final note on this, if you have the budget for a top notch colorist to work your film over, you can pretty much shoot on whatever you want. They can almost make anything look like anything these days. But the budget for such a finishing color pass would probably be 5x the budget of my film, so I opted for an image that if I had to, I could color to get what I wanted as fast as possible.

 The Canon beautifully, amazingly, captures the warmth and richness of golden hour light and how it reacts to skin tones.

The Canon beautifully, amazingly, captures the warmth and richness of golden hour light and how it reacts to skin tones.

Price: I do wish it was about $8K. But I also wish I could afford a Tesla. At our budget level we just have to wait longer to get the level of technology we want at a price we can afford, but it will be affordable within a year I have no doubt. As a rental it's a no brainer.

Frame Rate: Here's why frame rate doesn't bother me: I rarely shoot slow motion and when I do, I rent a high speed camera designed to do that awesomely, such as the Phantom. But 99% of my work is done at 23.976 FPS so frame rate has never been a deal breaker for me. Would I like to have it? Sure. But more important to me is amazing image quality.

Light Sensitivity: The camera is also ridiculously sensitive to light without introducing lots of noise, even in situations with almost no light, I rarely went above 1250 ISO and the camera's native ISO is 800. I also like that while shooting in CLOG2:Cinema that you still can drop the ISO down to 160. Shooting on the Sony with SLOG3 and ridiculously high ISO was incredibly frustrating for me due to the amount of ND'ing I needed. Also the C300 has ten stops of BUILT IN NDs. For the low budget/no budget film maker, this is amazing. I will state that I have a slight concern with one of the shots I did where I wanted very little light in the scene other than the light that was directly falling on the actor. I haven't had a chance to review the 4K footage yet, but through the viewfinder I'm pretty sure I saw a surprising amount of noise despite the fact that I was only at 1250 ISO. I'll report back on this later. I don't remember seeing this in any other low-light scenes, so I'm still a bit baffled. But when I review the 4K footage later this week, I'll get to the bottom of it.

Battery Life: Canon nailed it with these batteries. Even when shooting 16 and even 18 hour days, there was never a day when the two battery packs didn't last me til the end of the day. I always had the charger nearby, but never ended up needing it. Stunning accomplishment.

 The C300 MKII batteries are incredibly long-lasting.

The C300 MKII batteries are incredibly long-lasting.

I could go on and on, but it's probably better to just ask me questions in the comments section about any specific things you want to know and I will answer as best as I can. I also did a video interview with Serge that should be up on his channel soon.

THOUGHTS ON CANON ZOOMS

I've never shot on the Canon Cine Zooms before so this was a real treat. But I very rarely have used Zooms in any of my filming always preferring to use primes and "zoom with a dolly or your feet." But I'd certainly seen a lot of movies and tv shows doing this and read a lot about cinematographers having cameras with one zoom on it and shooting entire films without removing it, so I was curious about the method.

 Oh, before you decide to shoot an entire film handheld using cinema zooms, get your back checked by a chiropractor.

Oh, before you decide to shoot an entire film handheld using cinema zooms, get your back checked by a chiropractor.

These lenses are works of art by themselves. Solidly crafted. Beautifully smooth aperture, zoom and focus rings and the optic quality is simply superb. As for optics, I love Canon glass. There is a smoothness and richness to the images it captures. A quality to the flares. Etc. What can I say? I like this glass. I've done a ton of shooting on Zeiss and Arri lenses which are also fantastic. I've never used any Cookes or Panavisions myself but I've certainly seen enough images made with them and I think DPs who expect the highest quality of image resolving, color matching and smoothness in their light falloffs will not be disappointed in these lenses.

They are certainly way above my pay grade, but for a rental item, if you want to use zooms to simplify camera change outs or have the flexibility or need to do snap zooms as part of your shooting style, these lenses are amazing.

That being said, having used these I still prefer primes. Why?

THOUGHTS ON CANON ZOOMS VS PRIMES

Let's be honest amongst us kids, no matter how amazing the Cooke or Arri Master Primes or any other high-end brand primes are, most of us don't have the kind of bank account to have a set of those at our beck and call. Sure I have nice L-Series glass for run and gun situations that require it, but after you've used Cinema quality primes, you kind of don't want to shoot anything else when not absolutely required, largely because (aside from optic quality and color matching) pulling focus and aperture shifts is incredibly easier on cinema primes.

And up until Canon's release of the Cine Primes, the only affordable high quality option was the Zeiss CP.2s which I owned a set of for 5 years and used continuously until selling them off along with a lot of other gear when my second daughter arrived. I know there are some other Asian cinema prime lenses on the market, but the last time I tried one (granted this is a couple years ago now), I wasn't impressed with the build quality, which at that price is understandable.

So I've been on the fence for a bit about buying the Canon Cine Primes. I'd heard some amazing things about them, but I'd used and loved the Zeiss Compact Primes as my go to lenses for low budget work for six years now and just love their flexibiity, sharpness and ease of use. Plus the ability to change out from PL mount to any other mount is awesome.

After having used the Canon 85mm Cinema Prime for the last 3 weeks I can say with full confidence that I will be working towards buying a set of these babys. Just spectacular imaging and while it is sharp as a tack at critical focus, it still has that Canon quality of not being unpleasantly sharp for skin. Again, this is my subjective reaction to the glass so take it for what it's worth. I'll put up some ungraded 4K footage for subscribers later this week for you to play around with and make your own judgement call. It has shots with the Canon Cinema Zoom 15.5 - 47, the 30-105 Zoom and then the 85mm Cinema prime.

Now why can I state so emphatically I'll be going back to the primes instead of using the zooms?

It absolutely has nothing to do with quality. These zooms are outstanding. So what is it then?

My shoot style rarely employs optical zooms or snap zooms (and when it does, then of course I'll use zooms), so for the price to work ratio I wouldn't be able to justify it. But again that's not really the deciding factor because I'll be renting for some time before I'm able to buy.

So how do I say this? For me the difference between f/2.8 (which is as wide as the zooms go on their aperture) and the f/1.3 that the primes hit is just too large a gap to give up. It isn't just the difference in the amount of light between 2.8 and 1.3, it's how the light reacts at that aperture. It's hard to describe but you know it when you see it. And let's face it, since these primes are all the same size, you don't have to change around follow focuses or matte boxes, you can just do a 30 second change out and you are good to go.

Besides the primes are also significantly lighter than carrying the cinema zooms around on your shoulder for three weeks. It's a minor point, but worth thinking about.

I know many people are saying "Oh no, he's one of those shallow depth of field fetishests who like everything mushy." Not so. I just like the flexibility to drop below 2.8 when I need it. Focusing is hard enough at 2.8, and at 1.3 it's damn near impossible. But I have my tricks for when I need to go there and it is absolutely worth it every time.

In summary: I greatly enjoyed the speed at which the zooms allowed me to work but I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that I really felt like I was missing my set of primes on this shoot.

Case in point, I really did try to stick to just shooting on the zooms as challenged by Canon, but about halfway through the film I had a scene where I really had absolutely no light, and then I went and pulled out the 85mm Cinema Prime and wow. Blown away. After that I pulled that lens out continuously for my close-ups, particularly on my lead actress.

THOUGHTS ON ZACUTO RECOIL RIG AND GRATICAL VIEWFINDER

 Getting a properly set-up handheld rig is crucial when shooting an entire film handheld. Every flaw magnifies into pain transmitted straight to your back.

Getting a properly set-up handheld rig is crucial when shooting an entire film handheld. Every flaw magnifies into pain transmitted straight to your back.

The gratical viewfinder is amazing. On the C300 shooting, I'd always tried to use the monitor which for handheld situations is a total pain in the ass because it doesn't go far enough forward for a comfortable shoulder shooting situation. The gratical is easily positionable, the image is amazing and the ability to see your shot with a lut on it while your shooting is pretty dope. It's also got a ton of scopes to ensure you are keeping everything groovy plus magnification, peaking, exposure aids and a ton of other stuff. Definitely, definitely, strongly recommend this now that I've used it and it will be on my mandatory gear list for future rentals.

The recoil rig was great. Let me get one small beef out of the way real quick so I can then talk about all the good things about this rig. When Zacuto released the C300 MKII interview video they had the smiling dude holding the rig with an L-Series lens on and it balanced perfectly. And then in all the interviews they had the rig set-up with the Cinema Zoom on a tripod. Subliminally this made me think the rig was good to go with Cinema Zooms. It is not. If you want to balance this rig perfectly with a Cinema Zoom on it, you are going to need to add weight to the back. The C300 MKII simply cannot get far enough back on this rig to offset the front heavy load of the zoom. You also can't use the Zacuto lens support under there either as there simply isn't enough room. Okay. That's my gripe. Let's get to the plus'es.

First off, I knew from the start I wanted to use the Zacuto rig as it was the only one I could see that had the ability to go from handheld to tripod stably in the blink of an eye. Being the director and operator, it was critical to have this ability so that I could interact with the cast and crew between takes and not be glued to the camera or have to set it somewhere awkwardly. This feature alone makes it a winner for a run and gun handheld situation.

Second, it does take some getting used to. With the weight of the C300 + a cinema zoom, it can hurt your shoulder until you adjust. It's critical that you take the time to balance this rig as best as possible because handholding a shoulder rig all day for 21 shoot days means that any ergonomic flaw is going to hurt. A lot. When I shot with an L-series lens for a test shot, this was a no issue as it was so light!

Third, beware the extender cable that goes from the Canon handle to the side of the C300 MKII where the handle used to be. It notoriously came loose several times during the shoot costing me several crucial shots because in the heat of the moment, I hadn't noticed that the camera didn't start to roll. This was extremely frustrating and ultimately I wrapped a rubber band around the camera to keep it in.

Fourth, the tornado focus knob is very cool for being a one man operator and A/Cam. But I've also used the Redrock rigs plenty when pulling my own focus using their follow focus rigs, and I have to save that it was easier using a more traditional follow focus for critical focus in telephoto situations. The tornado is great for balancing, but I really, really missed having positive stops on the focus wheel so that I could have an A focus mark and a B focus mark when following actors around on their marks. Otherwise it's a fantastic balance between being able to handhold your rig and focus at the same time.

SUMMARY THOUGHTS ON CANON C300 MARK II

We've all been waiting for the Holy Grail of cameras: 8K sensor, 500 fps with 20 stops of dynamic range priced at around $2,500. And I have no doubt in 6 years that will be available.

For me, the C300 MK II is my holy grail of cameras. It is the one I have been waiting for since the Camera Wars began back in 2009. The image quality, the sensitivity to light, the form factor, the fact that I can shoot 4K internally, that you can shoot out of the box with nothing else required other than memory cards, the dual proxy recording and on and on. Yes I wish it was at least $6,000 cheaper, but I know that this is a camera that will last me far into the foreseeable future and that's asking a lot of a camera these days.

I know that within 2 years Canon will have a C500 MKII but I can only assume that will be competing in the 6K resolution plus market which I have no need for. I've seen 4k projection and that is going to be good enough for at least the next 10-15 years of Cinema and certainly far beyond that for home viewing.

So, yes, the C300 MK II is definitely on my Christmas list this year and I want to again thank my amazing friend and fellow producer Serge Ramelli and the incredible people at Canon and Zacuto for giving me this opportunity to use their gear to shoot The Hollywouldn'ts. I also want to thank my amazing cast and crew for all their hard work and sticking with me through thick and thin.

As mentioned above, I've got a ton of other topics to cover which I will do as fast as I can in the weeks to come while I edit the film.

 Getting actors to do a dialogue only take on location.

Getting actors to do a dialogue only take on location.

Best,


Dare

I just finished shooting my first feature film on the Canon C300 Mark II: Equipment Review, blog post by Darius Stevens Wilhere

 

Shooting a Feature Film on the Canon C300 Mark II - The video review Part 1

Shooting a Feature Film on the Canon C300 Mark II - The video review Part 1

The Hollywouldn'ts - Location Walkthroughs

The Hollywouldn'ts - Location Walkthroughs

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