01 May 2018

Canon’s C700FF is up there with the best cinema cameras. We’ve tried it

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Canon’s C700FF is up there with the best cinema cameras. We’ve tried it Canon

We visited Canon's new facility in Burbank to take a close up look at the new C700 FF, a camera that has got a lot of people talking.

It's always fun to get hands-on with a brand new camera, especially when it's housed at a facility that's clearly intended to represent a filmmaker's playground of cameras and postproduction gear. A visit to Canon's new facility in Burbank was therefore very much worth the trip.

Setting up the C700 FF in the prep  bay.jpg

Setting up the C700 FF in the prep bay

The new full-frame variant of the C700 is a little disarming because it really is externally identical to the existing Super 35mm version, retaining the same squarish body and mount for the Codex recording system. That square body was widely applauded when it was first seen, perhaps because it's a practical choice that makes life easier, but perhaps mainly because it was a welcome relief from the – um – innovative layout of Canon's other Cinema EOS cameras.

Raw recording requires the Codex  recorder, shown here on a conventional C700.jpg

Raw recording requires the Codex recorder, shown here on a conventional C700

The C700 FF retains the PL lens mount, in contrast to Arri's adoption of the larger LPL mount for the Alexa LF. These tests were shot on the Schneider Xenon primes. The camera pictured in this article was the first in the United States, and, didn't quite have final firmware. There weren't any obvious problems, though, and the company was sufficiently confident in the camera to let some (very simple) footage leave the building. The sensor technology in the C700 FF is, reading between the lines, essentially an upscale of that used in the conventional camera, so that each photosite has the same performance but there are simply more of them.

Waveform monitor of the dynamic  range chart_ here the monitor is reading the uncorrected log.jpg

Waveform monitor of the dynamic range chart_ here the monitor is reading the uncorrected log

Canon's log mode displays a dynamic range chart as a nice progressive stack of indications on the waveform monitor, suggesting a fairly literal interpretation of the concept of logarithmic encoding. Based solely on glancing casually at a monitor, the inbuilt Rec. 709 LUT is attractive, which is important given that it'll often be the first version of the image most people see. As with many current C-series cameras, the C700 FF offers Canon's capable dual-pixel autofocus features with compatible lenses, as well as some Canon favourites such as the ability to record still photos onto SD cards. It seems a little out of place, at first, but may have relevance to script supervisors and crews keen to be able to match the angle of a reverse.

Recording the sensor's full 5.9K resolution requires the Codex recorder, which has been mounted on most if not all of the C700 FF cameras seen in public so far. Internal recording, to CFast 2.0 cards, accommodates a downsampled image 4096 pixels wide. The effective sensor size at that point doesn't match any particular dimension of either true VistaVision or full-frame 35mm stills negatives (and a camera targeting DCI resolutions wouldn't be expected to), though lenses which cast a usable image 43.1mm in diameter will work fine.

Barco 4K digital cinema projector  serving the facility's grading suite.jpg

Barco 4K digital cinema projector serving the facility's grading suite

As we've discussed in the past, downsampling is a very good thing, although anyone going to the lengths of shooting a full-frame format might well reach for the Codex recorder and record the full 5.9K raw. Recordings are made in Canon's variant of H.264, called XF-AVC and capable of 12-bit pictures in 2K and 10-bit in 4K at a healthy data rates up to 810Mbps. The format will use long-GOP encoding at 2K and below, although the 4K material was intra-frame only. There's ProRes too, and should ProRes Raw take off, this is exactly the sort of place where it might be found.

Canon's facility includes a dressed  set with various lighting states controllable from the tablet.jpg

Canon's facility includes a dressed set with various lighting states controllable from the tablet

We only had time for a few simple test shots, enough to look at noise performance and dynamic range using the available charts, and to shoot at least one human being courtesy of longsuffering PR person Lauren, who, let the records show, was a good sport despite having not been given any advance notice that she'd be spending time in front of the lens. Canon's facility is extremely well-equipped with 4K digital cinema projection and various colour grading options. Some simple charts showed healthy dynamic range; noise itself is well-controlled, as we'd expect for an image that's 33% oversampled. While the noise characteristic has some chromaticity to it, most observers would be happy to assess a fifteen-stop dynamic range.

Experimenting with the C700 FF's  output on the big screen.jpg

Experimenting with the C700 FF's output on the big screen

With any luck we'll have the opportunity to look a little closer at some point fairly soon. It's exactly the sort of equipment that's likely to find a home on big car commercials, big movies, big TV shows, and anything else with a certain degree of bigness. Several convenience factors also apply, since the C700 FF (being the same size as a conventional C700) is smaller and lighter than at least one major competitor, has lower power consumption, and is the most affordable camera it its class. The camera itself is essentially a C700 with the performance benefits of that larger chip, implying about two-thirds of a stop of dynamic range or noise benefit over its little brother in otherwise equivalent circumstances, but that's probably not the main attraction: most people will be interested in the full-frame aesthetic, which is a field Canon has, after all, been serving for years.

Below are some frame grabs with 100% crop inserts.

Inset - pixel for pixel. Shows both  the good aliasing performance of the camera, and a little softness and  aberration from the Xenon prime.png

Left - pixel for pixel. Right -  full frame.png

Thanks go to Canon's Loren Simons for organising the visit and for persuading his employer to release the footage.


Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes is a Cinematographer, Technologist, Writer and above all Communicator. Never afraid to speak his mind, and always worth listening to, he's a frequent contributor to RedShark.

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