The launch of the original Canon EOS C300 offered DSLR filmmakers a step up to a true motion picture camera, which was soon used across broadcast and even in feature films. The next-generation Canon EOS C300 Mark II, which added 4K capture and a sophisticated autofocus system, cemented the range as the go-to for single shooters, small crews and factual productions.
With the release of the Canon EOS C300 Mark III, Canon Europe's Paul Atkinson, European Product Specialist, Professional Video, looks back at the Canon EOS C300 and charts the evolution of the cinema camera range and its latest innovations.
Offering unparalleled image quality in a body that DSLR users would be familiar with, the Canon EOS C300 was an attractive prospect for a variety of shooters, particularly those working in documentary and broadcast.
"The Canon EOS C300 really did punch above its weight," says Paul. "It quickly gained a really good reputation for its clean image, relatively low noise levels and great low-light performance."
With its release came the birth of the Cinema EOS System, offering then-innovative technologies from an 8.3MP Super 35mm CMOS sensor to Full HD recording. The Canon EOS C300 was soon in the hands of award-winning DoPs, with the camera being used to shoot Jeremy Saulnier's highly-acclaimed Sundance feature Blue Ruin.
"It was just a very versatile image capture tool," says Paul. "The fact it was able to take the full range of EF lenses – there's 90-odd lenses in the range – meant you could just integrate it into different workflows. It was a 4:2:2 8-bit camera that recorded 50Mbps, which happened to fit in with what a lot of broadcasters wanted at the time when they were moving to a solid-state recording medium. There's still a lot of these cameras being used daily."
That was certainly the case for documentary filmmaker and photographer Zed Nelson, who used a Canon EOS C300 to shoot his 2019 feature film The Street, which charts the transformation of an east London street and its close-knit community under waves of gentrification. The Canon EOS C300 proved to be a reliable partner across hundreds of hours of shooting, from street reportage to interviews to camera, across four years.
"In terms of having a camera that is designed to be used on the fly, hand-held, but can produce an image that will end up on a cinema screen, the Canon EOS C300 is the best combination I've found," Zed says. "You have a slightly more ergonomic body than a DSLR, and the sensor gives you a good picture, linked with the ability to have on-board sound."
The camera's EF mount enabled Zed to pair his photographic EF lenses with his cinema camera. Its enhanced sensitivity of up to ISO80000 met the varied low-light demands of the production, and a neutral Canon Log Gamma profile provided a wide dynamic range for maximum freedom when grading.
The Canon EOS C300 Mark II brought with it a suite of enhancements, including 4K capture and Canon's powerful Dual Pixel CMOS AF system. The EOS C300 Mark II has become a mainstay for single shooters, thanks to its hardy build quality, modular design and ability to produce broadcast quality images.
"After the success of the EOS C300, we released the EOS C300 Mark II," explains Paul. "Nearly every single specification change on that camera is a result of feedback from end users." With an enhanced 8.85MP Super 35mm CMOS sensor, ISO capacity up to ISO102400 and 15 stops of dynamic range, the EOS C300 Mark II became a versatile workhorse for many cinematographers.
When filmmaker Steve Turvey moved to the Canon EOS C300 Mark II, he loved the improved features of the new camera compared to its predecessor. "You can shoot at higher frame rates in better quality, but the camera isn't any bigger and it's still compact and easy to use," he says. "It has built-in ND filters for extra exposure control, and better audio than smaller cameras. It's ideal if you have to move quickly between locations or shoot in fading light."
The Canon EOS C300 Mark II has also proven itself to be reliable in some of the toughest conditions in the world. When cinematographer Peiman Zekavat documented his arduous expedition through remote jungles in Guyana, he wanted a high bit rate and the capability to shoot in Canon Log. "In post-production you could see the 12-bit of the Canon EOS C300 Mark II was amazing in the highlights," he says.
At a time when commissioning organisations such as Netflix were becoming highly specific and requiring true 4K images, the Canon EOS C300 Mark II offered a range of recording options. "It was important that the camera has the ability to record 4K images internally in a format that wasn't RAW [with its huge file sizes] but was still at a high enough data rate to undergo fairly extensive post," says Paul. The camera enables 4K recording at up to 410Mbps/10-bit to dual internal memory cards, while 4K RAW footage can be recorded to external devices.
The ongoing evolution and "natural progression" of the EOS C300 line has now led to the development of the Canon EOS C300 Mark III. "The three most important things are image quality, image quality and image quality," says Paul. "This is combined with our legacy of lower noise in shadow areas, plus improved low-light performance, which is something that the whole range has always had a really good reputation for."
The Canon EOS C300 Mark III incorporates serious innovations to more than meet the demands of commissioning editors, including 4K RAW at up to 120fps, 10 stops of internal ND, and a new sensor technology called DGO – Dual Gain Output – which gives the camera sensor 1.5 extra stops of latitude, meaning up to 16+ stops of dynamic range.
DGO works by creating two signals, one optimised for highlight areas, the other for shadow or low-light areas, which are amplified separately. These two signals are then combined to produce an image with in excess of 16 stops of dynamic range, but also with lower noise levels.
Lower noise levels can also be achieved when shooting in low-light conditions. DGO will work at any ISO setting, but the optimum setting is ISO800 and Canon Log 2.
"There's more and more demand for high dynamic range output," says Paul, "and to get the best possible HDR output you need the best possible capture. To get that, you want the best colour space with the most colour information possible, which you get with Canon's extremely wide Cinema Gamut colour space. Then you have as wide a dynamic range as possible to make sure that the full range of tones is being captured, in combination with the newly developed DGO sensor technology to give you the extra stops with Canon Log 2.
"The advantage of being able to record in an internal RAW codec in the form of Cinema RAW Light, but also the multiple options for non-RAW, will make the EOS C300 Mark III a great choice for things like drama production that you want to shoot in Super 35 as opposed to full-frame, and for documentary and news features."
The EOS C300 Mark III also builds on many of the strengths of the Canon EOS C300 Mark II, including its modular design, meaning the base camera can be used straight out of the box, rigged onto a drone or gimbal, or kitted out with expansion modules to make a studio or on-set camera. To change to using anamorphic lenses, as with the Canon EOS C300 Mark II, changing just four screws will enable a switch from an EF mount to a PL mount in minutes.
"The Canon EOS C300 Mark III also inherits from the EOS C300 Mark II the way that the autofocus works, so it more closely emulates the way a manual focus puller would work," says Paul. "The way a person will focus pull is this: they will start off quick, they'll steady off towards the middle of the action, then just before they achieve focus they slow it down.
"What this does is give you a much more natural looking change of focus point, which is more pleasing on the eye. This camera is really, really versatile."