C300 Mark II review: Canon pulls out the stops for 4K
The C300 Mark II is a flexible 4K powerhouse but is it worth the price
Since its introduction three years ago, Canon’s C300 has been one of the most popular cameras on the hire market. It was a real winner in terms of picture quality, although there were a few niggles, such as poor options for slow motion. So, we eagerly awaited the specs for the new C300 Mark II.
4K was to be expected (with a 4K RAW output) - all new cameras in this price range are now 4K. However, 4K is only available at 24p, 25p and 30p (sadly not at 50p or 60p). There is 4:4:4 recording and 10- and 12-bit colour sampling, plus a new XF-AVC codec at up to 410mbps (intra- frame) or 50mbps (long GoP), and a new Canon Log mode - Log 2 with a boast of 15 stops dynamic range.
At first sight it isn’t easy to tell the difference between the MkII and the MkI C300. If you are a seasoned C300 user, fear not, many of the buttons are in the same place. ND Filter, Magnification, Peaking, Zebra and Wave Form Monitor (WFM) have not moved. However the Display, Status and Custom Picture buttons have morphed into ISO/Gain, Shutter and Frame Rate. One Shot Autofocus now has a well-placed dedicated button – no need to assign it. White balance has moved down the body and headphone volume control has slunk back into the menus.
There are eleven assignable buttons on the camera body, so that you can make the camera your own, plus another ten on the monitor unit and one more on the grip handle. This generosity of buttons does mean there are three assign buttons marked 1 (all of which can do something different), and two marked 2 to 10. You also have a list of fifty assignable functions to choose from and you can also choose from any of the hundred plus cameras menus. Keeping track of what has been assigned and where should be interesting.
The handle on the MkI was fairly lightweight with only one connecting point into the camera. On the MkII you have to first attach a mounting bracket (with an Allen key) to three fixing points on the body - then the handle with two fixing points, which makes things feel much more substantial. This is just as well as the handle has three cold shoes and 11 (1/4in and 3/8in) fixing points.
A whole new set of batteries
At first I was pleasantly surprised to see a double battery charger in the box, but then disappointed to see that the MkII uses totally different batteries to those used on the MkI. This means having to (yet again) buy a whole new set of batteries. The cheapest I could find was £174.26 (inc VAT) for a Canon BP-A30 giving 126 minutes battery life. The larger and longer-lasting BP-A60 was £354 (inc VAT). While you’re checking out battery prices make sure to look for the new CFast 2.0 cards too. The review camera came with a 128GB CFast card (around £350) with a recording time of 42 minutes in 4K.
Users of the original C300 will have to buy new batteries
Cables from the monitor unit to the camera are now thankfully detachable at both ends. On the MkI they were hard wired into the monitor unit, which was a pain if you suffered a cable malfunction. Now you don't have to send off the whole unit for repair – just replace the cable. You will also be able to buy longer versions should you need to keep the monitor unit separate from the camera.
White balance and shutter functions have pretty much stayed the same. You still have a choice of ISO or gain – but interestingly they have been extended. The ISO now goes from 100 to 102,400 while gain extends from -6 to 54dB.
The neutral density filters have also been expanded, and ND offers 2, 4 and 6 stops standard, which can be extended to 8 and 10 stops. Great for achieving very shallow depth of field on a sunny day.
Focus needs to be considered in two parts – the mode of focusing and focusing assistance.
You can of course focus manually, but then you would be missing out on all the ways the camera can help you. My least favourite focusing mode is continuous focus. Here the camera is in continuous auto focus (AF) and you assign a button to AF lock to hold the focus and stop it hunting.
One push AF is the tried and tested “Push Auto” where the camera is in manual focus until you press the assigned One Shot AF button to momentarily go into auto focus.
AF-Boosted AF is an interesting mode. You start off in manual and pull focus towards your subject. It then takes over and focuses for you and then locks onto the subject.
Graphics show if you need to focus farther away (left), closer (right) or are in focus (centre)
Face detection is one of my favourite features. I use it a lot on my XF305 when shooting interviews. And with tracking it is invaluable for a walking piece to camera. It will recognise multiple faces – you select the primary face using the joystick.
The tracking function is also supposed to keep focus on a moving object. While I found it easy to lock on to the object, it went out of focus when I moved around. Maybe I was unlucky but, try as I might, I really struggled to make this work.
Once you find a mode that works for you – you’ll still want to feel confident that all is well and in focus. Peaking is still my favourite way to check focus. Plus magnification is also useful – especially now that you can move the magnification box with the joystick (thank you, Canon).
The new way to check focus is the Focus Guide. I think this might be a Marmite thing – you’ll either love it or hate it. There is a white target box below a set of triangles. Depending on their configuration it lets you know if you need to focus closer or farther away (to get the object in the box in focus). When triangles and box go green – Bingo! You’re in focus. While this did seem to work well when everything was well lit, the Focus Guide just sulked in grey in low light.
On the menu
So, while the exterior controls are now pretty much all in a good place, you’re in for a big surprise when you press the menu button. I love my C300 MkI menus because they have a logic to them and they are very similar to my XF305 – going from one camera to the other is so easy. However, the MkII menus have proliferated and some things have moved from one set-up menu to another. It is that feeling you get when they rearrange things in the supermarket - you can’t find what you want and really wish they’d put everything back where it was.
The 4in 854x480 LCD is adjustable for ease of viewing
The Recording/Media Setup menu is the place to go for initialising your CFast cards, choosing the system frequency, frame rate (including slow and fast), resolution, colour sampling and bit rate. Yes this is the place to find the 4K options – which is probably one of two reasons why you’re thinking of upgrading to this camera.
At (Y:Cr:Cb) 422 10-bit sampling you have a choice of 4K (4096x2160), Ultra HD (3840x2160), 2K (2048x1080) or HD (1920x1080), but if you intend to do green-screen or extensive grading, there is also a choice of (R:G:B) 4:4:4 at either 12-bit or 10-bit in 2K and HD - 4K/UHD would require much higher bitrate recording for 444.
The second reason for buying this camera is in the Custom Picture set-up menu, which is now part of the main menu. The Custom Picture menu is where you get to choose the gamma, colour space, colour matrix, etc, whether you mix up your own look or choose from Canon’s presets. The original C300 has a lovely “look” right out of the box – with no grading, and thankfully this also applies to the MkII, which is important because not all of us work on projects that can afford post production tweaking.
But, if you are going to grade you have a great choice of colour space and dynamic range:
- Canon Log 2
- Canon Log
- Wide DR
- EOS Standard
- Normal 1 (Standard)
- Normal 2 (x4.0)
- Normal 3 (BT.709)
- Normal 4 (x5.0)
- Cinema Gamut
- DCI-P3 Gamut
- Production Camera
- Cinema EOS original
- EOS Standard
- Canon Log 2 : Cinema Gamut
- Canon Log 2 : BT.2020
- Canon Log 2 : DCI-P3
- Canon Log 2 : BT709
- Canon Log
One thing that may put you off buying this camera is its slow motion options. The highest frame rates are 100 frames per second in 50Hz or 120fps at 60Hz, whereas several rivals can do better.
I’m often asked: “What camera should I buy?” The best answer I can give is: one that will make you money. The MkII is a sizeable investment at around £11,300 ex VAT. You could buy a Sony FS5 (£4,130 + VAT) and an FS7 (£4,800) and still have change for some accessories. It is an expensive camera and may take some time to pay for itself.
If you don’t need 4K just yet, you might want to consider buying a pre-loved C300 MkI (for less than £4,000) and hiring in the MkII for those clients prepared to pay the extra.