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December 8, 2011

(Note: I thank David Arbor for this article)

By Bill Howard, Extreme Tech

Whatever the faults of the new Canon C300 high-res video camera — too costly for enthusiasts, not enough pixels for cinematographers — they’re fleeting. Canon has its sights set on entering the professional cinematography market and quickly moving upmarket as movie-makers continue their migration from film to digital and from 2K to 4K digital video cameras. This is Canon’s first serious effort and it can only get better.

The Canon announcement last Thursday was for a boxy four-pound video camera, the C300, priced at $20,000 with one of two lens mounts: the same Canon EF mount used on SLRs or the PL (positive lock) cinematography mount. Canon also announced a pair of zoom lenses and three prime lenses (single focal length); their aggregate cost dwarfs the camera. Canon calls its full-court Hollywood press the Canon Cinema EOS system. Canon also described an upcoming DSLR-looking 4K video resolution still/video camera. It hopes to be a a heavy hitter in a market where there are only a handful of vendor of digital cinematography camera vendors, including Sony, RED, and Arri. High-res video cameras for cinematography run anywhere from sub-$10,000 for the RED Scarlet announced the very same day as Canon to $1 million, give or take, for Sony cameras used by George Lucas.

Canon C300 Cinema camera

Canon is counting on a wider range of offerings as digital cinema gets more serious. There’s time. The first significant all-digital movie came out a decade ago: Once Upon a Time in Mexico, where “significant” applies more to digital cinematography than to the flick. Some movies are shot with a combination of film and, for special effects, digital. Even in Hollywood, the ability to streamline production and see daily rushes without the cost and delays developing and printing film, can be an important money-saver when studios shoot all-digital.

Early digital movies were shot at 2K resolution (1920×1080 pixels, the same as HDTV) and now they’re moving to 4K resolution (about 4000×2000, depending on standards). 4K is equal to 8 megapixels. The Canon C300 sensor claims 8.3 megapixels. Some analysts says the C300 is actually a 2K camera. Wesley Fenton on Tested.com says it’s only 1080p output (1920×1080), but Canon says the C300 actually samples a total resolution of 3840×2160 (4K) to arrive at the final 1080p image.

RED Scarlet body (with a Canon lens...)

Whichever resolution, it may not matter as much as you think. Even when movies are shot in 4K, sometimes they’re mastered and distributed on 2K equipment. Even if 35mm movie film is capable of higher apparent resolution equal to 25 to 100 megapixels for the finest film, worn projection equipment can reduce its effective perceived resolution on onscreen to not much more than 1K. All this suggests Canon isn’t at such a disadvantage right now even if the C300 isn’t 4K resolution by every measure. On the one hand, the other November 3 announcement, the RED Scarlet-X, $9,750 sans lenses, is a bona fide 4K camera — but on the other, the bit rate is also less for Canon than the the RED Scarlet.

If Canon gains traction in Hollywood, that may spur sales in the commercial video, TV, and advertising markets. At the same time, for some, Canon’s C300 may be overkill on features and they’ll be looking at Canon’s upcoming 4K DSLR video camera dialed back a lower resolution setting. While it’s shaped like other Canon DSLRs, this combo still/video camera could be a new model entirely, between the 5D Mk II and the upcoming Canon EOS-1D X. Some think it’s an overdue replacement for the 5D Mk II, one of the favorites of videographers living in a world less rarefied than Hollywood.

Call the C300 insurance against getting left behind as a new market emerges for the photo and imaging market. Canon needs only to look at how badly Kodak fumbled the digital future to assure itself in the importance of succeeding in this new venture.

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Jonathan Yi takes on everything from low light to moiré in this hilarious test footage showing of the capabilities of the Canon C300 via self-absorbed actors, strategically censored female nudity and more. Surprisingly, Canon won’t endorse the video which, though off-beat, definitely shows off and praises their camera in a highly entertaining way. What’s not to like, Canon? (via FreshDV)

In early Fall 2011, I shot some footage with a pre-production model of the Canon EOS C300 for one week in NYC. I created an article and a video for Canon based on my experiences with the camera. The video is meant to poke fun at most camera test videos I’ve seen over the years. Canon, not thrilled with my sense of humor, does not credit or condone this video, but I think it shows a lot of the camera’s strengths.

You can read my full article about the EOS C300 here: learn.usa.canon.com/resources/articles/2011/c300_for_cinematographers.shtml

I believe that Canon made a beautiful camera that is sensible, reliable and portable in a way that I’ve always dreamed a camera could be. It prioritizes great skin tone and has higher ISO sensitivity than any other camera out there.

I know there’s nothing I can say to change the minds of the RED fan club. For the rest of the skeptics, I think once you get your hands on it you’ll understand how great this camera really is. Please buy this camera in January and go film some good skin tones in the dark. You’ll love it.

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