Friday, January 06, 2012

The Canon C300 comes to Boston

Rule Boston Camera has been running their Pub Nights - a slightly less formal, evening lecture series - for about a year now, but I’m pretty sure that last night’s “Canon EOS C300 New England Debut” had the largest attendance of any of them. A large crowd turned out to eat the free pizza and drink the beer, and hear Larry Thorpe explain what’s so different about the C300. Larry brought with him four cameras, including one with a PL mount, and they were set up in different configurations and rigs for those present to handle.

But they couldn’t tell us one thing; the price. They won’t tell us that until January 17th. Until then, all they will say is “the list price is $20,000.”

Introduced by John Rule as “an engineers’ engineer,” Larry began by asking how many creative people were present - at least two thirds of the crowd put up their hands - and then, how many techie people were present. When only two or three people put up their hands, he continued, “Oh great, no PowerPoint tonight!”

While they are clearly proud of the camera, Larry said he was going to explain what the C300 is, and what it is not. “It’s the first in a road map” Larry said, adding “it is a true-blue 4K sensor, but we elected not to make a 4K camera.” They feel that the action at the moment is in high definition for television etc. Even for most movie making, he pointed out, much of the current digital work is being acquired in an HD format. But this camera isn’t their final statement; “Where the market goes, we will be there.” He also added that the new lenses they have developed are 4K lenses.

Larry Thorpe

The camera uses a standard Bayer array sensor, with a resolution of 3840 x 2160, or “Quad HD.” They don’t de-Bayer the sensor, but use the Bayer mask to do the color encoding. The readout from the sensor gives a 1920x1080 red image, and a 1920 x 1080 blue image. The green image is 1920 x 2160, or the equivalent of two 1920 x 1080 frames. These two green images are combined, which raises the sensitivity and dynamic range of the green and creates a very clean, sharp image.

The imager is producing a true 4:4:4 image. That’s the good news. But according to Larry, they were in a hurry to get it to market, and didn’t have enough time to produce a new image processor and codec, so they used the one from the XF305, which is 8bit MPEG. And MPEG is limited to 4:2:2. The camera sends out the same 4:2:2 8-bit image - on a 10-bit carrier - out the HDMI and HD-SDI port. But, Larry argues, if they do the processing well, “You don't lose a lot…you lose a little. That's our argument,” he continued, “but seeing is believing.”

Rolling Shutter, while still present, is virtually eliminated by reading the sensor at 1/60th of a second. At 60fps it’s read at 1/120.

One of the demo movies, “XXIT,” produced by Stargate Studios, featured a lot of green screen work, and the images looked very clean. They also shot some interesting material strapping the camera to some motorcycles, so it’s worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.

An interesting addendum is that while the sensor can produce 60p at 1080, the processor and codec can’t, so you would have to use an external recorder for 60p [CORRECTION: The camera supports 60p at only 720]. Also, the camera supports both true 24p and 23.98p.

The other “secret sauce,” according to Larry, is that the photo sites in the sensor are totally new and very sensitive. “Is there noise? Yes, but the noise, it's not what you're used to seeing when you jack up the gain in a camera.” They’ve managed to eliminate the fixed pattern noise. “It's not grain, but it's evocative of film grain.” Noise starts to appear at about 6400, and is noticeable at 12,000.

Rick Macomber checks out the PL mount Canon C300

When asked what the ISO of the sensor was, he said that at Master Gain Zero, it’s 640, but for best image results you should use 850 and Canon Log. They think the camera is reproducing 12 stops of latitude, though “Some say we’re getting more.”

The C300 is, said Larry, “a legacy of the unexpected reaction to the 5D Mark II.” Canon spoke with over 100 DPs in 2010 to find out what they wanted. “One overriding message; the 5D is marvelous for hand held shooting. If you can make a video camera as easy and light to hold, that's what you should do.” When asked why the audio is a separate (included) module, Larry said that most of the people they spoke to shoot audio separately, and they wanted to be able to strip the camera down. Striped down, the camera and EVF weigh 3.1 lbs, yet Larry says the robustness of the mechanical design is quite remarkable.

Taking a veiled swipe at Red, Larry said; “We make all the accessories, they are in the box, unlike some others. You don't have to go out and buy a viewfinder separately. We think it's best for the majority [of users].”

Talking about lenses, Larry briefly mentioned the new 4K lenses they have announced. They will be producing these in both EF and PL mounts, with the EF versions arriving first, and the PL a few months later.

He said that they debated creating one camera with an adapter to support EF and PL mounts, but ultimately decided to make two cameras. ‘They felt they could keep the back focus precision if they made dedicated EF and PL cameras.”

Later this summer, variants, of these 4K lenses in a wide and telephoto PL and EF will be produced that will be lighter, slightly smaller, and about half the price. They’ll have somewhat lower performance, still 4K, but with not quite the same MTF. When asked what the benefit of a 4K lens is for a 1080 camera, Larry said that you still get higher resolution, and less chromatic aberration, though he didn’t add that with a 4K lens you’ll be ready for that next camera they release.


Barry said...

Curious. Your suggestion that the camera can do
1080 60p through a recorder
Is the first I've heard of that anywhere. Was that Actually mentioned by Thorpe last night, or just surmised. It would be very big news indeed if true.

Michael Murie said...

I thought that's what he said, but I might have made a jump to an incorrect conclusion. I know he said the sensor could do 60p at 1080, and that it was a limitation of the compressor that they couldn't save it to the card.
I will check the audio of the meeting tonight and see how it was phrased and let you know.

Michael Murie said...

I checked the recording and it turns out my notes were incorrect. The camera supports only 60p at 720.
I've posted a correction (and also a transcription of the actual discussion from the meeting)