C100: New Member of the Family

While a camera is a tool for storytelling, I think many artists develop a relationship with their tools. It’s like good friends you have come to know with time. You also know there is never one friend (unless you are supremely lucky) that meets all of your needs. Some friends would love to go hiking in the mountains but would be detest a crowded party. My Canon 60D takes great pictures and delivers decent video in a lightweight, portable package. My two low profile JVC GY-HM100U cameras have convenient zoom and autofocus features for doing basic multicam shoots. They have paid for themselves hundreds of times over.

But there comes a time when you desire a better image or an easier way to get the image especially when you are tempted by all the incredibly affordable offerings. 5D Mark III, Blackmagic Camera, FS100/700, Panasonic GH-3, C100, C300.

C100 Photo (small)I’ll have to confess though that I am lazy. I wanted an upgrade without having to completely revamp my workflow. My colleagues and I had plenty of Canon lens already so other cameras like the Panasonic GH3 or FS100 didn’t appeal to me although the speedbooster was an intriguing adapter. I was happy to work with the much smaller AVCHD files that could be saved on my many SD cards. With web delivery, did I need RAW or RED? But perhaps my biggest need was I wanted a documentary camera with good ergonomics. That left the C100.

The price seemed high, but not so high that it wasn’t worth it for business. So I rented the C100 to use for a documentary short on a mural painter.

What I found was (no surprise), a huge step up from the Canon 60D. The details in the image were a revelation to me. See some of the framegrabs. The greater dynamic range meant I could capture details in the shadow (like underneath the scaffolding or the brim of a hat) and the light.

20130523131239.mts.Still001 - Michelle Loughery

And I found the colours and skin tones to look great out of the camera. The images above and below were shot with a wide dynamic range profile without colour grading. I do find that a little bit of contrast needs to be added back and the blacks pulled down with the WDR profile which is nothing the AVCHD codec can’t handle.

20130525124549.mts.Still001 - Assessing the Letter

Then there is the low light capability which in documentary is a blessing. Consider a common dark indoor room situation: the Ukrainian Church. As you can see, the C100 had no problem handling the light in there. No noise reduction was really necessary. The ISO was around 2000 and it could have gone higher. I like to be able to scout all my locations, but sometimes you just get what you get, and it’s pretty neat to be able to increase gain with the flick of a joystick.

Amanda and Chris Wedding Frame Grab

When it comes to ergonomics, the C100 feels like a heavy DSLR with a convenient handle on top. Improvements over the DSLR are much better sound (with 2 XLR inputs, good clean gain, and surprisingly good auto gain if you’re running and gunning), long battery life (5-hours non-stop on a large battery, but in practice it often lasts the whole day), and lots of great video features (waveform monitor, RGB, dual-record to SD card, pre-record, built-in ND filters).

The LCD screen doesn’t flip all the way around like the 60D. Nevertheless the screen is very usable even in daylight. In bright sunlight, I rely on Zacuto’s Z-finder. I’m sure it’s more expensive than others, but I’ve loved their service. They fixed two things I (and others) had reported: the z-bands snapped easily and the z-finder didn’t sit flush with the larger battery.

C100 with Z-finderLike most people say, the viewfinder is terrible. I wear glasses so it’s completely un-usable. Even the viewfinder on my JVC is better.

There is no continuous auto-focus although I’m told that you can have your sensor and firmware upgraded for that. Normally I don’t use auto-focus, but there are two situations where it is really useful. One is when flying it on a glidecam. The other is when you’re following a fast moving subject in run n’ gun style.

The other thing it doesn’t have is mechanical zoom. For docs, not a problem. For event shooting, It’d be nice to have a slow zoom. And typically good Canon lens don’t have a long zoom range. My JVC has a 10x zoom. I have at most a 5x zoom with my 24-105 F4 lens.

Let me know if you have any questions about the camera and I’ll be happy to try and answer them.