Price When Reviewed: £7,699
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We take a look to see if the latest update to the Canon C200 makes it an essential buy for your next video project.
The Canon C200 has been around for over a year now, but with a new firmware just released, we asked Canon UK to lend us the very capable cinema camera to see if the update will give us the features that we (and everyone else) have been waiting for.
To give you some context, we’ve been using the Canon C100 for most of our in-house video production here at Digital Arts for quite some time now. But the camera was getting a bit long in the tooth and required an external recorder to get usable 10 bit video files into our workflow. So we decided it was time to check out the C100's successor, and to make a good case for upgrading from the (still very capable) camera.
We will spare you too many technical details, which you might have probably read in many original reviews. But it’s fair to say that the C200 is an all together new camera, re-designed by Canon from the ground up, to be a cinema production workhorse.
It’s bigger and heavier than the C100 at 1.43Kg (body only), and looks and feels more solid as well. XLR audio input, controls and SDI out have been incorporated into the body. You no longer need to attach the handle, as you did with the C100 to get pro audio inputs. This is a great move by Canon.
Speaking of handles, the top handle unit has a much better design too. You have the option of two screw mounts to fix it to the body so it’s very solid indeed. But the biggest design change is to the LCD monitor, which is no longer permanently attached to the back of the body. Instead it can be configured in many positions thanks to the attachment unit arm. It is also a touch screen now, but can also be accessed via buttons and a joystick, if one prefers.
The other huge improvement from the C100 we’ve been using to the C200 is the addition of Canon’s Dual Pixel Auto Focus. (The C100 mark ii had DPAF but it was limited.)
Now, you might think that most serious filmmakers use manual focus anyway so what's the big deal? Well, after playing around with this new feature we quickly realised how useful it really is.
Canon has used this technology in its new DSLR range, but the implementation of this tech in the new Cinema line has really pushed the brand to stand out from the crowd in the very competitive camera market. The autofocus works, and works very well. That saud, it can struggle a bit in poorly lit environments or when shooting reflective objects.
The focus point can be adjusted in size for more precision, and can be re-positioned anywhere on the screen. This alone makes framing and focusing so much more easier then ever before. There are Face Detection options as well as a Focus Assistance function if you prefer to shoot in MF but want to be sure you got the focus spot-on.
You can also use the touch screen to simply touch an area you want in focus, and even tap an object on the screen to lock focus on it while you move the camera. We’ve been using this feature quite a lot and it works incredibly well. One thing to note, the LCD screen is difficult to use in direct sunlight, so it’s a good thing that the electronic view finder has been considerably improved over the rather useless one on the C100.
While the C100 uses a Super 35 4K image sensor, it is restricted to shooting 1080p only. The C200 on the other hand can shoot in Ultra HD, 4K as well as full HD resolutions. It shoots 4096x2160 4K(DCI) resolution in it’s native Cinema RAW Light format and Ultra HD in 3840x2160 when using the 8bit H.264 MP4 format.
Let’s start with Cinema RAW Light. RAW recording is done to the single CFast card slot only and can record in 12 bit at 25fps and 24fps or 10 bit when shooting 50fps. When recording RAW you also have the option to records a compressed proxy 2048x1080 MP4 file to the SD card slot at the same time. This is useful for when you want to use the considerably smaller proxy files to edit with, before switching to the RAW footage for final output. Unfortunately, the MP4 file naming does not watch that of the Cinema RAW files, so you will need to manually rename them if you want to sync the RAW files to their equivalent proxies.
Our RAW footage looked very sharp with plenty of dynamic range; Canon claims 15 stops of dynamic range in its Cinema RAW Light and 13 when shooting in MP4 format. There is more noise in the dark areas when shooting RAW, which Canon claims can be cleaned-up by applying it’s new Log 3 LUT in post, and you do get a warning about this before shooting.
Canon’s Cinema RAW development software is a bit clunky and not very intuitive to use. Apart from changing the colour space, length of clip, brightness and white balance, it provides very few options to grade the RAW footage, as shown below. We are hoping this will get a very much needed update sometime soon.
Luckily, we were able to download the Canon plug-in for FCPX and import the Cinema RAW Light footage right into Final Cut. Note that for those using Adobe Premier or Avid, there is also now a plug-in to edit Canon RAW Light.
We were very impressed to find that the Cinema RAW files import and are ready to go, just like most other files. There is no need to transcode the files first, and we were able to even use an older 2013 13” MBP to playback the RAW footage, although at 1/4 of the resolution, in real time, which is pretty amazing.
When shooting with the C100 or C200 in the MP4 codec we prefer to use Canon Log and Log 2 respectively, and grade the footage without any LUTs applied. However, shooting Cinema RAW we found that the files are so flat that applying a LUT (Lookup Table) is almost a must before you start grading. The advantage in shooting RAW of course is that you can apply any LUT you want to use after the shoot. You can apply different LUTs and see what works best for you, as seen below. There is a learning curve when grading RAW files; we are still playing around with the footage we shot on the C200 to get the best image out of it.
The only other issue with shooting Cinema RAW is that it takes up a lot of storage; in fact at 1Gbps, we managed to get just 16 minutes of RAW video footage on a 128GB CFast card, which is not very practical for shooting interviews, product demos, or news stories, as we often do here at Digital Arts.
You can argue that in those situations you wouldn’t use RAW anyway, and you’d probably be correct. However, your only other option is to record in a compressed 8 bit MP4 format at 150 Mbps in 4:2:0 colour space. To be honest, the 8 bit footage looks quite good, but not as crisp as the RAW footage, without that 15 stops of dynamic range and with less room to push the grade.
One other thing to note. While you can shoot slow-motion at 50/60p in both Ultra and Full HD in the Cinema RAW Light and MP4 formats, shooting in the even slower 120p is only available in Full HD and only in the MP4 format. We found such footage to be quite soft and not something we would be happy to use, unless desperate to have the faster frame rate. On the plus side, shooting in 120p does not crop the image as happens on some other cameras.
We (and many others) were really hoping to see a new MP4 recording codec that would give us at least 10 bit Ultra HD. That was why we were very exited to hear when Canon finally released the new firmware at NAB 2018 - only to be disappointed that the new codec is a XF-AVC format and only supports 8 bit 4:2:0 just like the MP4 format. The only advantage here is of extra metadata being recorded with XF-AVC, so if you choose to record proxy files along your Cinema RAW Light footage, the files names will now match.
Apart from the, in our opinion, somewhat useless codec upgrade, there are a few other minor updates. These include the ability to record LPCM audio in 24-bit (however only when shooting RAW), as well as a PsF output function from SDI and HDMI, and 4X magnification has also been added to make it easier to nail focus.
So what does that mean to us coming from a C100? It means that, unless we are prepared to buy very expensive CFast cards, and plenty of storage to shoot everything in RAW, the only option we have is to continue using the 8 bit MP4 codec on a camera that costs a small fortune. Canon has decided not to give us a nice medium high-quality 10 bit format in this camera. Yes, there is a work around to get 10 bit footage to an external recoded via HDMI or SDI, but that is limited to 1080p only.
Do we feel that this camera is the upgrade we’ve been waiting for? That's tricky to answer. The C200 has some great features and design improvements that make shooting in a small team or even as a one person shooter much easier and more ergonomic than before. Cinema RAW Light is fantastic too, but the MP4 and new XF-AVC 8 bit 4.2.0 formats are very constrained, and unfortunately might not be enough for everyone’s needs. For most of the type of shooting we do, the 8 bit codec will be adequate, but it could have been so much more. With the firmware update Canon could have had a real killer on their hands.
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