You don’t need to bring a bazooka to every gunfight. When it comes to cameras, often times smaller, lighter, and faster is needed to get the job done, better. I took the new C100 Mark 2 out for a spin on a few different professional applications and found it to be a quantum leap improvement over the first generation C100. I will say, arguably, the C100 Mark 2 has positioned itself as the ultimate, low-cost, solo-shooters camera. Sure, one could argue that the Sony A7S, or the Black Magic camera, or any other DSLR has equally good image quality for a lower price, but what they lack is exactly why the C100 Mark 2 shines.
Where to start? For me, what stands out as the most obvious improvement is the new professional grade viewfinder. It has a much larger eyecup that articulates up and down whereas the last generations’ eyepiece is a completely useless vestige. Many might balk at this because they prefer using a monitor to operate over an eyepiece but I find there is no substitute for a good viewfinder and the C100 Mark 2 delivers here. There is even an on/off button for the eyepiece to conserve battery power when using the monitor. And speaking of the monitor, the Mark 2 has a newly designed, fully articulating OLED display that rotates 270 degrees. The OLED is bright enough to see in direct sunlight and flexible enough to fold flat along the side of the camera to be useful as a director’s monitor. This was exactly the scenario that played out for me on a recent project for McDonald’s. While we were quickly grabbing interviews with people, I had the agency watching the small OLED folded flat to the side. Another improvement is the 17 programable user buttons on the outside of the body that allow you to completely customize the camera to your liking making menu-diving a thing of the past. The camera also has two tiny joysticks for quick setting of all the important functions like ISO, white balance, aperture, and shutter angle. One joystick is conveniently located on the handgrip for easy thumb toggling and the other is located on the bottom of the OLED screen. Honestly, I can’t think of two better locations for these joysticks. The only downside revealed on our shoot was they proved to be too small to operate when wearing thick gloves on a cold day.
The camera is a winner ergonomically speaking but what about the picture quality? Well, for starters, the Mark 2 has all new DIGIC 4 processors for improved picture processing which bests the DIGIC 3 processors found in the outgoing C100 and current C300 and C500 models. Regardless, I don’t think the new processors show their full potential with the paltry 24mb/s internal bit rate. The files look good, but in in my opinion, the codec is just too compressed for me and is not that suitable for even light colour grading or post work. However, the story changes radically when using the uncompressed clean HDMI out. I had the Mark 2 recording on two different Atomos recorders and I have to admit I was pretty blown away with what I saw. One important change to note between the two versions of the C100 is the first generation camera did not offer a clean HDMI out signal! Depending on the set-up and external recorder configuration used, it was all too easy to record the character displays like zebras and camera settings directly to the file!! Thankfully, the Mark 2 has a CLEAN HDMI out regardless of what or how it is configured. Another HUGE recording improvement over the first C100 is you no longer have to manually select the correct media slot for recording. For example, if you had a card in slot one but slot two was selected the camera would still say it is recording to slot 2 even if there was no media in it! It’s absolutely mind boggling that Canon engineering let this one pass through to market with the first C100. The Mark 2 fixes this by auto switching to the correct slot containing the media.
When using the HDMI out you get all the benefits of the new DIGIC 4 processors. Check out this Test Clip I shot using a Ninja 2. But keep in mind that Vimeo compresses when uploaded so the quality suffers a little bit. Notice the background lighting that subtly grades from light to dark. This test is killer on cameras because it tests compression artifacts and banding through the subtle changes in tones from light to dark. The quality setting I chose for this was ‘standard quality’ 422 Prores; one setting away from the highest quality Prores HQ, so I know the image can be even better than this. The file is straight from the camera, uncorrected using the canon log picture profile. Unlike higher end cameras like Alexa and Red, the log file in the C100 Mark 2 is not that flat looking and I found it doesn’t need any one-light correcting for viewing. Interesting, the camera does offer a REC709 LUT that can be applied to a monitor out when recording in Canon Log if you feel the image needs a bit more punch when viewing.
As you can see the C100 and Ninja 2 working in concert handle the tonality brilliantly with almost zero banding. I’m sure HQ Prores setting would eliminate any hint of banding entirely. Another pleasant surprise is how well this camera now handles highlights. The light on the model’s shoulders and sides of her face have a smooth, natural roll off. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t ever remember the C300 ever handling highlights this gracefully. I’m not exactly sure what is responsible for this improvement but I’ll take it, thank you very much. Whether you are using an external recorder or not, the auto white balance in this camera is remarkable. Under tough, mixed lighting conditions, break the rule and forget about a manual white balance. My testing showed that under cool gas discharge light mixed with warm florescent, the auto-white had the nicest colour balance without any green or magenta shifts. Colours popped and were more saturated than any custom white I could achieve on my own. Keep in mind that the auto white can’t be locked so if you are moving about the auto will constantly shift which can be both good or bad depending on your situation.
It’s pretty clear though, that the best image acquisition comes from using an external recorder in conjunction with the C100, but there is a downside. Depending on which recorder you use, there could be a negative impact on the ergonomics during hand-held work. I used the camera with a Ninja 2 in studio mode on a tripod and all was fine, as you’d expect. But on a different project doing all hand-held, the camera equipped with a Ninja 2 proved to be too unruly and awkward to use. On the other hand, our A-cam was equipped with the smaller Ninja Star which made all the difference in the world. The ‘Star’ is still small and light enough to keep the whole rig contained without sacrificing balance or ergonomics.
It’s not all peaches and cream with the C100 Mark 2. One of the touted features is the new 60fps but there is a catch with this that needs to be pointed out. Recording at 60fps can only be achieved with the inferior MP4 codec, not the AVCHD codec. What does this mean? In my humble opinion, anything shot in MP4 looks pretty crappy and I’d go as far to say I wouldn’t use MP4 to shoot a kid’s birthday party with so it’s puzzling to me why this codec is even an option? Isn’t the low bit rate option small enough? Whatever the reasoning, I think Canon should indicate that 60fps recording can’t be used with the AVCHD codec. The other thing I find challenging is using this camera with a shoulder rig while running and gunning. I had two shoulder mounts for both A and B cameras and at the end of the day it proved to be too much, making the whole experience uncomfortable over the long haul. No fault of Canon, but the problem comes down to a matter of design. Any camera of this general form factor needs to be positioned so far to the front of a shoulder rig which makes the whole rig unbalanced and stressful on the arms and back. I’m still better served to get a shoulder mounted camera like a Sony F5 or F55 and maintain a neutral, comfortable balance while shooting. (As a side note, the F55 is the best handheld camera on the market to date in my opinion, and that includes the Arri Amira) In fact, I get better hand-held performance with the C100 when I ditch the shoulder rig and hold the camera up to my eye for those few interviews I need to do. A shoulder rig might be more useful with the C100 for solo operators who operate completely autonomous and run the day on their schedule without the demands and pressures of a faster moving set.
There is one last unfortunate fact I need to point out. I was looking forward to using the Mark 2’s famed ‘face recognition autofocus tracking’ feature, but sadly, it’s not compatible with all Canon EF lenses. In fact, it is only compatible with four lenses! The EF-S10-18 f4-5.6 IS, and the same 18-35, 18-55, 55-250. All EF-S IS STM. Why is this feature not compatible with Canon’s latest 2.8L series glass? Hopefully we will see a firmware update in the future that supports these lenses too.
To wrap it up, this is a fantastic compact solo or documentary camera that can keep a small production team moving quickly and efficiently. It’s designed to do what it does, admirably. Just having professional XLR mic inputs and time code differentiates this camera from the Black Magic cinema camera and all the other DSLR’s out there that shoot video. The handy OLED panel is a fully articulating monitor that can be used to operate in any position or can be used as a director’s monitor on the run. The large eyepiece gives the camera far more versatility for camera operation. The hand grip is perfectly placed and very ergonomic allowing for efficient handheld operation that will have the C100 Mark 2 shooting circles around the competition. Combine this with an off-board compact recorder like the Ninja Star and it’s the icing on the cake. With this configuration the C100 Mark 2 is a compact, but potent little cinema package that puts out some amazing images at a low cost.