Size Matters: Why I Bought The Canon C500 MKII.
I’ve always been a sucker for the full-frame 35mm look. It’s the format I started shooting with when I first got serious about my photography as a kid. It’s the format used in some of cinema’s most iconic films. It enables you to create luscious, glossy imagery; it brings glamour to portraits and a sense of epic drama to landscapes. It’s a versatile format that allows you room to be creative in ways that smaller formats do not. Bigger is better.
Having spent the first ten years of my professional career working exclusively on 35mm film I was never happy when first, videotape, and then, digital video began taking hold on productions I was working on. I would employ various techniques to enhance the video images and make them appear more like the film shots I loved; grading the footage with a film look, adding grain, vignettes, even adding a slight flicker. It worked, up to a point. The one thing I could not change however, was the physical size of the format. Video sensors were smaller than the film formats we used.
Around twenty years ago I started experimenting with lens adapters to mimic the look of a larger format camera. The early ones were large, uncompromising devices you attached to the end of your camera lens. Again, they worked up to a point but there were trade-offs; they were extremely cumbersome, difficult to use and degraded the video quality.
Then came the DSLR revolution. When the Canon 5D MKII was enabled for video we were finally able to capture the full-frame look on an affordable camera. The 5D was truly revolutionary but it had one major drawback - it was a stills camera not a video/film camera. You could get a nice image out of it, but the video quality was very low and it didn’t have all of the things a real dedicated video camera should have - like ND filters and XLR sound inputs.
Following the success of the DSLRs, manufacturers started producing video cameras with Iarger sensors, not full-frame, but bigger than the tiny video camera sensors that had ruled for years. These new cinema cameras were a vast improvement and with the addition of a focal reducer, like the Metabones Ultra I used on my Sony FS7 we were able to produce images close to the full-frame look with only a few drawbacks; zoom lenses wouldn’t hold focus for example and you could get some unwanted flares and ghosting in the image.
Now, with the C500 MKII I have the real thing. A genuine full-frame 35mm sensor in a digital cinema camera body with all the bells and whistles. It’s a joy to shoot with; finally, my lenses work as they should and I can capture the best images they are capable of producing. It’s truly freeing. Add in the fact the larger sensor enables noise free images at much higher ISO’s than before and you begin to get a feel for how versatile the C500 MKII is.
The ergonomics have been improved on the C500 MKII. It’s much better than previous Canon cinema cameras. It can shoot slow motion in 4K up to 60 frames a second using the whole sensor and it can shoot and monitor in anamorphic. You can even swap out the lens mount to use top of the range PL mount lenses.
One major benefit of the C500 MKII is it’s ability to shoot in both high quality XF-AVC format and RAW. I’ve shot RAW using stills ever since owning my first digital stills camera fifteen years ago. For moving pictures, I’ve only shot RAW on Red cameras, maybe three or four times a year for the last 12 years or so. Shooting RAW means shooting without compromise. It gives access to the highest quality the camera is capable of producing and allows for maximum versatility in post-production. Now, with the press of a button, I have this option on the C500 MKII. Canon have implemented what they call RAW Light. It’s not as data intensive as other RAW cameras - it has a similar data rate to ProRes HQ - and captures the the full 5.9 resolution available from the C500 MKII sensor. The images are staggeringly good and given how digital storage has dropped in price over the years shooting RAW is now an affordable option for many productions.
Another feature which will make shooting, (particularly when operating as a one-person-crew), so much easier is auto-focus. Forget what you have heard about auto-focus being for amateurs or not being great for video. On the C500 MKII the autofocus is great and with face tracking it will mean you can shoot interviews with razor-thin depth-of-field and not worry about losing focus if the on-screen talent starts moving around. It really is child's play.
Canon colour science has long been lauded and the C500 MKII offers a range of colour solutions to suit a number of different workflows in both the XF-AVC and RAW. Grading footage from this camera is breeze.
Ultimately, what I like about the C500 MKII is it means I will be able to offer my clients a superior package at the same affordable price as before. I can move faster on set with a lighter more agile set-up while capturing outstanding images and work with those images more efficiently and effectively in post-production.
Having spent most of the last three weeks shooting on location in Nicaragua, Peru, Panama and Barbados I can confirm; bigger is undoubtedly better, but it is also lighter, quicker and more cost-effective.