Stepping into the wayback machine, I can recall the excitement I felt when I finally bought my first digital cinema camera, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Canon didn’t intend to start the DSLR revolution, but that’s what ended up happening. While I had owned many film and digital video cameras, I had never dreamed that a low-light-sensitive, large-imager, interchangeable-lens video camera could ever be so affordable and accessible.
Soon, competitors like Blackmagic Design began introducing cameras like the BMD Pocket Cinema Camera, lowering the price below most of the competing DSLR cameras while offering higher-quality codecs like ProRes and RAW recording. While the BMD cameras offered improvements over DSLRs, they were still a long way from a traditional digital cinema camera with built-in NDs and a form factor that easily allows the camera to be cradled or shoulder-mounted.
A few years later, Canon finally decided to get serious about digital cinema, introducing the EOS Cinema line of cameras. The first generation of EOS C cameras was well received, and the C100 and C300 both achieved success in the marketplace. A few years later, Canon capitalized on the popularity of the original C300 with the C300 Mark II, adding 10-bit, 4K 4:2:2 internal recording to dual CFast 2.0 cards, as well as an array of output monitoring options.
The New Kid On The Block
Fast-forward to May 2017 at Cine Gear Expo in Hollywood, where Canon introduced a new model to the EOS Cinema lineup, the 4K-capable EOS C200 Digital Cinema Camera. As details about the specifications of the camera spread throughout the digital cinema world, the one feature that caught everyone’s eye was the addition of a new format, Canon Cinema RAW Light. This is a compressed RAW 12/10-bit codec that records to internal CFast 2.0 cards, negating the requirement of external recorders to shoot RAW. Priced at $7,500, the new format and the camera’s specifications sparked speculation that spread like wildfire on message boards and Facebook groups. I received my C200 in mid-August and have already put it to work on several client projects, as well as shooting on two documentaries that I’m co-producing. I’ve had a chance to use the camera now in a variety of situations, and I thought that writing about my experiences with it might prove interesting for those who are considering buying the C200.
A few things to consider: The specifications and finer points of how the camera operates are available at
the Canon website, usa.canon.com/internet/portal/us/home/products/details/cameras/cinema-eos/eos-c200, and all over the web, so I won’t waste valuable space for this review listing all of the specs for the camera. I will mention specifications and functions within the context of how I’ve used and continue to shoot with the camera.
Comparisons With The EOS C300 Mark II
I’ve used and rented the EOS C300 Mark II for quite a while now, and I feel it’s a great tool for production and closely matches my own needs for quite a few projects, but it’s not the perfect camera for my work all of the time. Canon loaned me a C300 Mark II so I could compare it with the C200 side by side, so I did on several project shoots, both for clients and for my own company. The C200 ships with only two codecs, Cinema RAW Light and 8-bit 4:2:0 MP4. Cinema RAW Light is recorded to a single CFast 2.0 card that meets the VPG-130 specification, allowing the camera to record only 4L DCI (4096×2160) at 1 Gbps. With the C200, UHD (3840×2160) MP4s are written to SD cards internally at 150 Mbps 4:2:0 8-bit. The camera is also capable of recording a 35 Mbps 4:2:0 8-bit 2K “sub-recording” while shooting Cinema RAW Light, as well as 1080 FHD at the same data rate. The intention is that the 2K sub-recording can be used as a low-bandwidth editing/viewing proxy file without having to convert and use the Cinema RAW Light footage during the off-line editorial process.
The C300 Mark II offers time-code input/output, which the C200 doesn’t, and, most importantly, it offers 10-bit 410 Mbps 4:2:2 XF-AVC recording to dual CFast cards, but up to only 30 fps compared to the C200’s 12-bit 24/30P or 10-bit 60P options of Cinema RAW Light recorded to a single CFast card. Also, the C200 can record up to 120 fps in 1080, using the full frame of the sensor; the C300 Mark II uses a windowed portion of the sensor.
For what it’s worth, the 8-bit 4:2:0 UHD recording in the C200 looks great and is totally usable for events and other non-critical, non-broadcast work. But when using an 8-bit codec with limited color space, it’s crucial that you get your white balance and exposure correct. This codec won’t allow for radical color and exposure changes without falling apart. The 10-bit 4:2:2 footage from the C300 Mark II is more robust and will stand up to grading and exposure compensations much better. But taking that format one more step up, the 12-bit at 23.98, 24, 25 and 29.97 fps and 10-bit at 50p and 60p DCI 4K Cinema RAW Light from the C200 is more robust and higher quality than the 410 Mbps XF-AVC from the C300 Mark II. Therein lies the conundrum—the C200, as far as codecs, lies both below and above what the C300 Mark II has. Canon has promised an XF-AVC firmware upgrade in February of next year, but it has been rumored that the update won’t be 10-bit 4:2:2, so I wouldn’t buy a C200 hoping that it will gain a mid-range 10-bit codec.
On The Set And In The Field
I don’t have the space available to break down my experience each time I used the C200 on a shoot, but I’ll go through my impressions about specific positive and less-positive impressions about the C200 that have been accumulating through the half-dozen shoots I’ve used it on so far. For those who are using gimbals a lot, the camera is available in a non-EVF version called the C200B. The EVF can’t be added to a C200B or removed from the C200.
- I’ve always been a fan of Canon’s Dual Pixel Auto Focus technology. The DPAF and Face/Object Tracking are far and away the best features of the camera.
- The overall ergonomics have improved from the too-tall previous EOS C cameras. I’ve never been a fan of the C300 Mark II’s clamshell monitor, detached from the body’s XLR inputs and dual A/V cable ergonomics. The C200 improves on all of these issues considerably by adding dual XLR inputs on the body, which allowed Canon to replace the large clamshell monitor with a slimmer version.
- In reviewing Cinema RAW Light footage I’ve shot, to date, the sharpness, organic look and feel, latitude and resolution are excellent. The quality of the low-bandwidth MP4s is better than expected for such a low data and bit rate.
- The new camera grip attachment to the ARRI rosette is an improvement.
- The newly relocated audio level controls and A/M switches to the rear of the camera body are very handy and much better than being located on the camera handle.
- The addition of an SDI BNC connector for monitoring is welcome.
- The EVF is excellent. The quality is very high, and the EVF can even properly display HDR output when shooting in High Dynamic Range mode.
- The C200’s menu system, for the most part, is straightforward and easy to understand, especially if you’ve used Canon EOS C cameras in the past.
- Battery life is very good; I was able to shoot 173 minutes with the included BP-A30 battery, pretty impressive for shooting 4K Cinema RAW Light.
- Built-in WiFi is very handy for using the C200 on a crane or gimbal or controlling the camera remotely. The C300 Mark II requires an expensive dongle to do this.
- I have extensive experience with DPAF and face tracking with my C100 and C300, my 80D DSLR and with the C300 Mark II, so I know its limitations. I found that in certain situations, for some reason, the face tracking wouldn’t lock onto a subject’s face or would lock on, then disengage, even straight on, with no oblique angles, underexposure, glasses, hats or other issues that would normally cause face tracking not to work correctly.
- When I’m shooting UHD at 23.98 to SDXC cards, switch to shooting Cinema RAW Light to the CFast card in 23.98, then go back to shooting with SDXC cards, the camera always defaults to 60p, so if I forget to manually switch back to 23.98, I roll 60p footage when I don’t want to. The camera should retain the last settings used in each mode.
- The C200 isn’t capable of outputting a BT-709 LUT to its HDMI output, only to its SDI BNC output. The C200 can only output a signal to the SDI or HDMI output, not to both at once as the C300 Mark II can. The SDI output is only 1080-capable, not 4K like the HDMI is.
- The camera’s default out of the box is to output the Magnify screen function to the HDMI or SDI outputs. You must know to reassign the Magnify function using the assignable button function to only the EVF and Touchscreen, which the manual doesn’t make clear.
- The C200’s fan output is located exactly where your right ear is located when shooting with the C200 shoulder-mounted. You can’t turn the fan off. It runs most of the time the camera is on, switching off when you begin recording. So when you’re shooting shoulder-mounted, you’ll have warm air blown into your ear. The fan intake is on the opposite side of the camera. Why Canon didn’t reverse the location of the input and output is a mystery.
- The camera doesn’t allow quick function adjustments (white balance, shutter speed, ISO adjustment) by just pushing the grip joystick button in as it does in the C100 and C100 Mark II. But, to be fair, neither of the C300 models does this, either.
- While the C200’s touch-screen focus adjustment works well, the way the touch screen is mounted to the camera’s handle using the included LA-V1 mount means that trying to touch focus without a light touch results in camera movement that’s visible in your recording. This can be somewhat mitigated by mounting the touch screen centered high over the handle as the screen is mounted on
the C300 Mark II or detaching the touch screen and mounting it to a tripod or tripod handle, but you may have to pay an extra $350 for the longer Canon touch-screen cable to do so.
The Canon EOS C200 presents an interesting choice for users, but you need to consider the camera with an awareness of its capabilities, limitations and workflow. Cinema RAW Light eventually will be supported by all of the major editing apps, but as of press time, there’s only a plug-in for Avid. BMD’s DaVinci 14 Public Beta supports it, or you can use Canon’s free Cinema RAW Development software to convert your Cinema RAW Light files into ProRes 4444, DPX or other editable format.
If you like the other features of the C200 and are pondering whether you should buy it, the test is pretty simple. Do you shoot mainly for non-broadcast or the web, with the occasional passion film project, short film or music video thrown in? The C200 will suit you nicely. Do you shoot mainly for broadcast, do a lot of multi-camera shoots or typically work with a sound mixer who wants to send or receive time code? Do your clients require 10-bit 4:2:2 codec footage? Then buy the C300 Mark II. In my mind, the C200 is a nicer C100 Mark II that shoots 4K and has the added bonus of being able to shoot exemplary 12-bit 4K DCI RAW footage. If I need to shoot 10-bit 4:2:2, adding a recorder to the C200 will allow that, other than the UHD output is 8-bit with the 1080 output being 10-bit. Buyers don’t always understand that all cameras can’t be all things to all users. The C200 is a good example of a well-thought-out tool that has a few baffling shortcomings but overall is capable of incredible footage for the money, if you can live within its constraints.
Writer, producer and cinematographer Dan Brockett’s two decades of work in documentary film and behind the scenes for television and feature films have informed his writing about production technology for HDVideoPro Magazine, Digital Photo Pro Magazine and KenStone.net. Visit danbrockett.com.
Be sure to check out our hands-on review of the Canon CN-E Compact-Servo 18-80mm T4.4 and 70-200mm T4.4 zoom lenses, “Putting Canon’s Dynamic Lens Duo To Work”