Canon’s New EOS C700 FF

The C700 was Canon’s bid to introduce a competitor to industry-standard higher-end digital cinema cameras from competitors like Arri, RED, Panavision and Sony. Up until this point, Canon’s sole entry into the high-end digital cinema camera wars was the EOS C500, a camera capable of creating nice 4K imagery but only when hooked up to an external recorder. The C700 utilized an S35 imager, but even at the introduction, there were hints that Canon was viewing the C700 as a platform that users could purchase and grow with. Soon after the introduction of the S35 rolling shutter model, Canon offered a global shutter version of the camera for users who needed to avoid any type of rolling shutter artifacts.

Going back a few years, Canon began serious research on the C700 design in 2013, based upon customer feedback from the first generation C100, C300 and C500 Cinema EOS cameras about which features would be most desired in a next-generation, higher-end digital cinema camera. The C700 was intended to serve as an “A” camera on crew-served feature and episodic production. In keeping with the recent trend toward full-frame digital cinema cameras, Canon recently announced its version of the C700 at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in Las Vegas, known as the EOS C700 FF.

Imager Terminology

The C700 FF features a fully detachable camera Remote Operation Unit and customizable configurations.
The C700 FF features a fully detachable camera Remote Operation Unit and customizable configurations.

I spent some time with a C700 FF prototype at Canon’s Burbank, California, Professional Technology & Support Center. Loren Simons, a Canon senior engineer for field applications, served as my tour guide to explore the new C700 FF. Conversationally, I referred to the C700 FF as a full frame camera. Simons responded, “I like to think of the C700 FF as a full format camera, rather than a full frame camera. So what’s the difference between full frame and full format? If you think about it, a camera like the EOS 5D MKIV is what people have considered a full frame camera for all this time, meaning that the imager matches the full frame of a still camera 36x24mm film frame.”

The C700 FF’s imager isn’t 36 x 24mm; it has an effective image area of 38.1 x 20.1mm but shares the same 43mm diagonal as a full frame sensor, making it wider and not as tall as a traditional full-frame image. The imager in the C700 FF is an 18.69-megapixel imager that outputs a raster that is 5952 x 3140, a 1.89:1 or 17:9 aspect ratio, not coincidentally the same aspect ratio as the standard DCI 4K frame, which is 4096 x 2160. If you crunch some numbers, you realize that the C700 FF uses its 5.9K imager to record a 4K signal that is clean, clear and crisp, much in the same way that the first generation Cinema EOS cameras used a 4K imager to record some of the nicest 1080 video I’ve ever experienced. Without getting super technical, the De-Bayer process used to derive color images from single imager cameras results in a significant loss of resolution to arrive at the final 4K image. Most cameras that use a native 4K imager to record a 4K image are actually resolving about as much resolution as a typical higher-end 1080 camera, not exactly utilizing the 4K format to its ultimate potential. It’s been proven that oversampling a higher resolution image, if done well, results in more detail and a cleaner, clearer look to the image with a visual reduction in noise and grain as well.

Layout And Operation

The C700 FF seems to have been conceived primarily as a crew-serviced camera, meaning that a camera operator will typically have at least one AC (assistant camera) and sometimes two to make image adjustments, ride focus, iris and zoom, take care of lens, filter and media changes. This is standard operating procedure on higher-end feature and episodic TV production. The C700 FF features a fully detachable camera Remote Operation Unit, the OU-700 that mounts to the right side of the camera. I ended up playing First AC as I observed Loren making changes in the camera’s menu from the operator side built-in side panel. The OU-700 mirrors any input from the operator side and vice-versa. Canon wisely adopted a similar button and menu function layout used in the Arri cameras, which has kind of become an industry standard. The OU-700 layout is intelligent and intuitive. The unit can be attached to the camera using either 75cm cables or 10 m cables for setups when the AC cannot physically be located right near the camera.

Triple card slots, and easy switching between them, makes working with the C700FF than other cameras.
Triple card slots, and easy switching between them, makes working with the C700FF than other cameras.

Lifting up the OU-700 reveals the C700 FFs card slots; there are three of them. Two of the slots accept CFast 2.0 cards, used for recording the camera’s XF-AVC and ProRes codecs, and then slightly to the left of the two CFast slots is an SD card slot, used to record a small, lower data rate proxy, much like the same slot on Canon’s C300 Mark II. Above the card slots is an AC-side record button, and, to the right of that, a slot select button for choosing which card slot is recording. Moving to the lower left are two XLR audio inputs, both of which can accept analog or AES/EBU digital signals. Each input can accept mic level, mic level while supplying 48V phantom power to the microphone or line level inputs.

A comment here: I appreciate that Canon seems to take audio recording on its medium- to higher-end cameras more seriously than some other competitors seem to. Audio recording on the C700 appears to be the same quality level as the C300 Mark II and C200, which is to say decent and completely usable for dialogue, although no camera onboard audio is going to sound as good as a Sound Devices or Zaxcom pro audio recorder. It’s amazing to me that you can purchase a camera of this level that basically is only capable of recording scratch track audio. The audio inputs on some other high-end cameras I have experience with are truly poor quality with hiss-filled audio that sounds worse than a $200.00 portable audio recorder.

Above the audio inputs are a row of BNC connections, all 3G SDI outputs, four of them, clustered in with a headphone output, Ethernet and two different-style camera remote jacks. Directly to the left of this area is the camera’s exhaust vent, then to the left of the vent are more outputs with two monitor output BNCs, a D-Tap 12V DC 50W output, a Genlock/Sync output and a Timecode I/O BNC, an HDMI output and a 12V DC In 4-Pin XLR. Moving back to the right of the OU-700, we have a small panel area with a 3.5mm Mic IN jack, Video output for an EVF, a 24V DC 2A 3-pin LEMO out, a 12V DC 2A 2-pin LEMO out, a remote control connector and a 12-pin Lens Connector. The camera has numerous 3/8”-16¼”-20 threaded holes on the top and bottom of the body. The top handle can attach in many different positions, and there are focus tape hooks on both side of the camera.

Lens Mounts

This brings us to the front of the camera, the lens mount area. One of the features that the C700 FF has that none of its competition has is Canon’s Dual Pixel Auto Focus (often referred to as DAF) system. It’s a very sophisticated and useful phase detect autofocus system that has impressed me a lot since I began using Canon Cinema cameras. You may think that a camera of this size, price and intended function will only be used by a crew with ACs who take care of focus using PL Mount cine-style lenses, but that brings us to one of the revelations that I had about the camera as I spent some time with it.

The C700 FF body only weighs 7.6 lbs. with the Cinema Lock EF Mount, which saves you having to rotate the lens to mount it, which can be a real pain when using rods, lens supports and matte boxes. It behaves similarly to a PL mount: Insert the lens straight into the mount and rotate a locking collar. Note to Canon, this mount should really be standard on all new Cinema EOS cameras from here on out! Sure, once you add a lens, media, a battery and EVF to the C700 FF, the weight goes up from there. But compared to some other shoulder-mounted documentary-style cameras like the Arri Amira, the C700 FF is a featherweight when outfitted equally. That brings me to another side of the C700 FF that hadn’t occurred to me. This camera is small and light enough and shoots high enough quality images to easily be considered for any high-end documentary production.

In-the-field lens swaps are simplified by good control layouts.
In-the-field lens swaps are simplified by good control layouts.

I know from my experience shooting my own documentary films that DAF is indispensable when following and capturing moving subjects in adverse conditions and needing to nail focus in 4K for each and every shot possible. The fact that the C700 FF includes Dual Pixel Auto Focus and a Cinema Lock EF mount needed to utilize DAF with Canon and most other still EF lenses and with Canon’s S35 Compact Servo zoom lenses means that I began thinking about the C700 FF as more than a higher-end digital cinema camera to be utilized on features and high-end episodic TV. The camera is also very viable for shoulder-mounted documentary and event coverage. PL Mount is available if you’d rather utilize PL mount lenses. The camera can be purchased with either the PL or Cinema Lock EF mount, and the mount you didn’t purchase with the camera can be swapped by Canon at an authorized Canon Service Center. Unfortunately, if you change the mount yourself, it voids the camera’s warranty. If you opt for PL mount, the C700 FF enables Cooke’s /i “Intelligent” Technology mount, which passes through lens information to the camera’s metadata file when used with lenses with the technology built into the lens connection. The /i Technology is standard on all new Cooke 35mm lenses: Anamorphic/i, S4/i, 5/i and mini S4/i lenses.

Shooting Anamorphic

Speaking of anamorphic, the C700 FF supports anamorphic lenses. The image is desqueezed electronically for 2.39:1 in the excellent-quality OLED EVF-V70 viewfinder and on monitors connected to the camera. The camera supports a wide variety of anamorphic lenses by Cooke, Hawk and Panavision. 

C700 FF Codecs And Codex RAW Recording

The Canon C700FF can shoot in Full Frame (as the name implies) and also in Super 35mm and Super 16mm.
The Canon C700FF can shoot in Full Frame (as the name implies) and also in Super 35mm and Super 16mm.

The EOS C700 FF records in a variety of codecs, including Full Frame RAW (with an optional Codex Recorder), ProRes and XF-AVC. The camera also allows three sensor modes: Full Frame, Super35 and Super16. While I question the value of utilizing a full format capable camera in a Super16 sized imager format, those who own treasured and interesting looking S16 capable lenses will rejoice. Additionally, the Super16 mode allows for usage of Canon’s B4 mount broadcast lenses, with the proper adaptor. The Codex CDX-36150 RAW integrated recorder allows RAW 5.9K, 4K or 2K capture to Codex Capture Drives in 1TB and 2TB sizes. If you are not familiar with Codex recorders and the Codex workflow, Codex is a proprietary recording system that utilizes Codex’s own recorders, drives, drive dock and software to record a RAW signal. The Codex system is not inexpensive, resulting in a list price for the C700 FF kit and the Codex recorder, drives, dock and software of around $60,000.00. This cost gives you a robust, industry standard, studio-friendly workflow that is actually specified in certain insurance company completion bonds I have seen. It’s also the only method, at present, to record a RAW signal from the C700.

The C700 FF is also capable of recording ProRes and XF-AVC codecs internally to dual CFast 2.0 cards. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the C700 for me personally. The C700 FF implements a unique “Over-Sampling 4K Processing” algorithm that effectively mobilizes the resolution of the 5.9K sensor to produce very high-quality 4K DCI/UHD and 2K recording. In my experience, most events, documentaries and even lower-budget indies, commercials and music videos rarely have the budgets to support an uncompressed RAW workflow. If you are going to be shooting many hours of footage, uncompressed or even compressed RAW file sizes really add up. The options of high-quality XF-AVC and or ProRes codecs make a lot of sense in a camera like this that may be utilized on many different levels of production. While ProRes is an industry standard and is handy, especially when adding the C700 FF to a project that may be shooting with other ProRes cameras, the sweet spot seems to be Canon’s XF-AVC format, which the C700 FF can shoot at DCI or UHD 4:2:2 resolutions at up to 60 fps in 10-bit and in 2K 4:4:4 10-bit and 12-bit at up to 60 fps. The C700 FF also has an SD card slot to the left of the CFast 2.0 slots for recording an XF-AVC proxy, very similar to the proxy recording on the C300 Mark II.

In Use

I’m still on the waiting list to actually shoot with a C700 FF for a few weeks to work on some of my own projects. The shipping camera bodies are not available yet, so the prototype camera that we shot some test with at Canon couldn’t be taken into the field. We were able to shoot two tests, a resolution chart test and a skin tone test. The idea was to explore the settings and the camera for a while and then to shoot the two tests to both the Codex recorder and to the camera’s CFast 2.0 cards in XF-AVC. We mounted a Schneider Optics 50mm Xenon FF lens and got to work shooting.

The footage from the C700FF is easy to import and manipulate.
The footage from the C700FF is easy to import and manipulate.

I found the controls, being a longtime Canon owner, to be intuitive and fairly simple to navigate. The OLED EVF-70 is probably one of the clearest, most user-friendly EVFs I have ever used, almost reminding me of the optical VFs we used to use on Arri 35mm cameras. The camera is rated at 15 stops of dynamic range, and from what I experienced, the image was clean with very little noise and all of the pleasant skin tones and color science that the EOS Cinema cameras are known for. We didn’t have the time or resources to shoot dynamic range tests or a lot of different types of footage—I am saving those for when I am able to take the camera out into the field—but it was interesting going through the Codex workflow from camera to finished image. The Codex drives are easy to insert and eject from the Codex recorder. Canon Burbank’s edit and color correction bay easily handled downloading and converting the Codex footage into a signal that could easily be manipulated in DaVinci Resolve. While I didn’t have any C300 Mark II or C200 Cinema RAW Light footage in the edit bay to split screen with the C700 FF footage, my casual observation was that the C700 FF seemed to have a noticeably cleaner and more refined look to it to my eye, but of course, I was viewing the C700 FF footage on Canon’s beautiful 24” 4K DCI reference monitor, the DP-V2420, which I think will make any signal look better than it looks on a lowly computer monitor.

Reflection

The market for digital cinema cameras is crowded and ever-changing. Why full format? It’s simple; a larger sensor can have better dynamic range, sensitivity and a larger pixel pitch and shallower DOF with shorter focal lengths and subject distances than an S35 camera can.

The different formats provide different aspect ratios, as is illustrated with this model shot at the same distance and aperture in different modes.
The different formats provide different aspect ratios, as is illustrated with this model shot at the same distance and aperture in different modes.

Here’s the same shot with the camera in S35 mode and then in FF mode at the same focal length, camera to subject distance and T-Stop. Notice the difference in the field of view with the larger imager circle in FF mode? In the end, the C700 FF seems to me to be a chameleon of sorts. In its normal configuration, it’s a capable higher-end event, documentary or indie production camera. One cannot discount the importance of Dual Pixel Auto Focus on many of these type shoots where an AC is not part of the crew to pull focus and you are trying to track rapidly and unpredictably moving subjects in sports, action scenes or even an interview subject that bounces and weaves in their chair as you try to follow focus while shooting with shallow DOF. The C700 FF’s longer, lower form factor is a wish come true for those of us who like to shoot shoulder-mounted, and the ability to shoot in ProRes or XF-AVC while still recording a very high-quality 4K signal derived from the 5.9K FF sensor is impressive.

For those on the other end of the scale, the C700 FF’s implementation of the robust, industry standard Codex workflow, the flexibility of lens mounts and technologies, the OU-700 Remote Operation Unit, the category-defining EVF-70 OLED viewfinder and, most significantly, the lovely images the camera is capable of means that the C700 FF should be equally at home on features and episodic TV at the highest level. It remains to be seen if the C700 FF will be able to grab significant market share from competing cameras in high-end production but none of the competing cameras offer the flexibility, weight, size and cost that the C700 FF does. I think it’s smart to look at the C700 FF through a different lens than its competition because it’s a different interpretation of a full format digital cinema camera. The C700 FF is available at a list price of $33,000.

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