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Canon C700: Can auto-focus propel Canon into the competitive high-end cinema market?

Wednesday, September 07, 2016 1:20 PM

WTS’ production specialist Denis Moldovan takes a look at Canon’s newly announced high-end production camera, the EOS C700, and finds a camera whose market-leading auto-focus may prove key to any hopes of breaking into the crowded high-end cinematography market.

Canon EOS C700 cinema camera

Canon last week kicked off the pre-IBC hype with the announcement of its forthcoming flagship cinema camera, the EOS C700.

Equipped with a 4.5K image sensor, which Canon claims can deliver 15 stops of dynamic range, the C700 will be available in both EF and PL mount, with the PL version also being available in a much-desired Global Shutter variant. Immediately it’s abundantly clear that the C700 is targeting the high-end cinematography market – that is, if a price point starting in the upper £20,000s – without any of the accessories – hadn’t already given the game away.

Familiarity of form and functionality for cinematographers

One look at the camera’s form factor tells you that Canon is trying for something rather different with the C700 – at least to its own existing range. The camera block is a much more ‘traditional’ design for the C700, straying from the ergonomics that we’ve become accustomed to with Canon cinema cameras.

Canon EOS C700 form factor and control panel

The camera controls have more than a whiff of familiarity to them, seemingly taking inspiration from a number of competitors. With, for instance, a side panel that on first glance closely resembles that of the Panasonic Varicam 35 or the Sony PMW-F55, experienced cinema shooters are going to immediately be comfortable with the C700 – which, presumably, was Canon’s aim.

A base plate (pictured below), sold separately, allows the C700 to be easily shoulder-mounted, again offering the familiarity and flexibility of form that cinematographers now take for granted.

Canon EOS C700 shoulder mount  and accessory mounting plate

One pleasant surprise is the incorporation of a plethora of mounting points all over the top and bottom parts of the camera’s body (pictured above), which will make it easy to combine accessories with the C700 with minimal rigging.

Image processing and gamma curves

Internally, the camera is equipped with triple DIGIC DV5 processors supplying all the computing power required to deliver stunning high resolution imagery. And with an ISO speed range going up to 102,400 and built-in ND filters able to control up to 10 stops of light, it achieves this even in the poorest lighting conditions. 

The C700 features C-Log, C-Log2 and the newly released C-Log3 gamma curves, ensuring you get the most out of the 15-stop dynamic range sensor (14 stops for the C700 GS PL).

It is also supports Canon Cinema Gama, BT.2020 and DCI-P3, as well as ACES 1.0 workflow and HDR monitoring with SMPTE ST.2084, making it ideal for High Dynamic Range capture, especially when paired with Canon’s new 4K HDR reference monitor, the DP-V2420 – another new announcement last week. 

HD and 4K frame rates in the C700

The C700 records 4K internally at up to 60fps in Canon’s proprietary XF-AVC 810 Mbps, and 10-bit 4K Apple ProRes 422HQ up to 30fps, as well as 12-bit 2K/HD in ProRes 4444 up to 60fps – all to CFast 2.0 cards.

Higher frame rates are possible with the C700, but be warned, they come at the cost of resolution. You can record 2K 10-bit ProRes 422 at up to 180fps utilising a centre crop mode, or 2K at 120fps in Canon’s XF-AVC, with full Super35mm sensor readout.

As we’ve seen on the C300 Mark II, the XF-AVC codec definitely holds its own when it comes to HD high frame rates, so it should be no surprise that the C700 will pick up where it’s ‘little sister’ left off.

Codex CDX-36150 external RAW recorder for Canon EOS C700 cinema camera

If you’re thinking that really high frame rates at 4K are forever going to be out of reach with a Canon camera, then fear not! The addition of the dedicated Codex CDX-36150 external recorder, which will be available around the same time the C700 starts shipping, will increase the camera’s performance significantly, enabling you to record 4K RAW at a whopping 120fps, and 4.5K at 100fps (although the 4.5K 100fps feature will only be available in a future firmware update). The CDX-36150 simply bolts on to the back of the camera for a perfect fit. 

Market-leading auto-focus in a high-end cinema camera

The EF version of the C700 also incorporates Canon’s much-appreciated Dual Pixel CMOS Auto-focus system. We’ve seen this formidable tool in action with the C300 Mark II, and it really takes auto-focus to a new level, ceasing to be merely a vaguely useful aid and emerging as a powerful creative instrument. The concept of auto-focus may not have won over all the purists, but with more and more 4K footage being shot now, a little help from the camera is surely no bad thing.

Canon EVF-V70 OLED Electronic View Finder for Canon EOS C700 cinema camera

As there is no viewfinder or monitor included as standard with the camera, Canon has also announced the EVF-V70 OLED Viewfinder, which will use the same type of connection as the C300 Mark II’s monitor and control unit. However the C700 will work with all viewfinders and monitors on the market provided they have SDI connections.

Inputs, outputs and remote operation

Inputs  and outputs on the Canon EOS C700 cinema camera

The C700 has four 3G-SDI ports for running the signal to an external recorder or display device, genlock and timecode in/out for running timecode off an external device. Two  three-pin XLR inputs capable of providing phantom power are included, whilst the mini-jack provides another two inputs, making a grand total of four audio inputs. The camera also has a headphones port and a remote control port.

The dumb side of the camera sports 12V and 24V power outputs, required to power various motors and lens accessories as well as a Hirose connection required for use with servo lenses.

Along with the camera, Canon have announced a multitude of accessories designed for different styles of shooting, like the OU-700 remote operation unit (pictured below right), a control panel that can either be tethered or attached to the dumb side of the camera, providing an AC full access to the camera’s main recording settings without causing the operator any kind of grief.

Canon SG1 grip unit and OU-700 remote operation unit for Canon EOS C700 cinema camera

Using the C700 as an ENG-style camera

The camera does not include a control grip, however there is one available – again to be purchased separately. This SG-1 control grip (pictured above left) looks remarkably similar to the Servo grip announced with the CN-E18-80 T4.4 Cine Zoom lens, however they are two different units. The grip, in conjunction with the Shoulder mountable baseplate, will allow for a much more ENG-style configuration, making the camera easy to balance and comfortable in all-day shooting situations.

Canon B4 lens mount adaptor for Canon EOS C700 cinema camera

Canon have also introduced a B4 adaptor, which will enable the use of 2/3” lenses. This adaptor expands the image generated by the broadcast lenses to one inch, making them usable in 2K/HD mode.

Will the C700 make its mark in the high-end cinematography market?

Whilst the price of the C700 will make it a less attractive option for individual shooters to purchase, it will no doubt be a great acquisition for rental houses and production companies.

The global shutter PL version will definitely be an option for shooting action, while Canon’s colour science and overall image quality will make it a great contender for episodic TV drama and documentaries.

Whether the C700 will be able to leave its mark in a market that is currently dominated by the likes of ARRI, Sony and RED remains to be seen.

The specs, as we’ve become accustomed to from Canon, are, for lack of a better word, unimpressive, and definitely outclassed by cameras like the Amira (albeit, a more expensive camera) or the resolutions and framerates that RED cameras are capable of.

That said, the true test of the C700 will be in the field, not on a spec sheet – and that’s where we might see Canon’s market-leading AF and renowned colour science, supported by the camera’s more utilitarian form factor, bridging the gap to its more established rivals. Because, regardless of where the C700 ultimately positions itself in the market, in the realm of auto-focus it truly is a pioneer in its own right: it is the first pro-level cinema camera to introduce a truly functional AF system. This will give the C700 a leg up when it comes to aerial cinematography, gimbal work and other shooting situations where manual focusing is difficult.

While many feel left out by Canon as a result of the newly announced 5D Mark IV’s underwhelming video features (although it is a spectacular stills camera), particularly since it is widely known as the product line that started the DSLR video revolution, I would argue that they have simply matured their technology to the point where they feel ready to compete at the high end of the market. I would not be surprised to see the coined ‘Canon look’ making its way into both big screen and high-end television productions.

Unlike the 5D Mark II, or the C300, the C700 will most likely not revolutionise the industry, but it does serve as an assurance of Canon’s commitment and drive towards excellence.

Shipping dates and price points

The Canon C700 EF and PL will start selling in Q4 2016, most likely in December, whilst the C700 GS PL (global shutter) will start selling early in 2017.

The cameras will be on display at IBC2016 in Amsterdam starting on Thursday 8th September, and are sure to generate a massive crowd at Canon’s stand.

Suggested UK list pricing for the Canon EOS C700 and accessories is as follows (all prices inclusive of tax):

EOS C700 EF £28,839.99
EOS C700 PL £28,839.99
EOS C700 GS PL £30,789.99
Shoulder Style Grip Unit SG-1 £2,319.99
OLED Electronic View Finder EVF-V70 £5,539.99
Shoulder Support Unit SU-15 £1,869.99
Remote Operation Unit OU-700 £2,769.99
Remote Operation Unit Cable UC-V75 £354.99
Remote Operation Unit Cable UC-V1000 £444.99

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