The C100 has been out for some time now, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I actually considered it a viable option for my work and decided to purchase one. When trying to decide on camera options earlier this year, it came down to the C100 vs. BMCC and ultimately I chose the Blackmagic Cinema Camera at the time, as shooting RAW was too tempting to pass up. I was also deterred from the C100 based on the codec (AVCHD) and relatively high price point – it didn’t make any sense to me. But after months of shooting on the BMCC (which is still a favorite of mine) I did realize I had an immediate need for a camera that didn’t need to get rigged up to work on every shoot, so I decided to give the C100 another look. I really just wanted something that would work as a dedicated video camera and didn’t need loads of external accessories to make it function well in real life shooting situations.
One of the first things I did with the camera after picking it up, was test out the new extended ISO range that allows for shooting at up to 80,000 ISO, which is really quite impressive. Since then, I went out and shot a lot of test footage in run and gun situations, and also in controlled environments to see how well the camera holds up, and particularly how it compares to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera.
Below is my full video review on the C100 which includes sample shots and comparison footage with the BMCC
To summarize – I was pleasantly surprised to find that the C100 over delivered in just about every area. Earlier this year I remember looking at the specs on paper and I couldn’t believe that a camera that cost this much was still shooting AVCHD while the BMCC was able to shoot prores and RAW at less than half the price. I just didn’t get it until I started using the camera and realized that the C100 was able to deliver results that far exceeded what I thought was possible while using a highly compressed codec. It’s able to maintain such a great overall image quality by allowing you to shoot in a beautiful log color space that leaves much more room for color grading than most other cameras shooting compressed formats. It’s never going to have the flexibility of shooting RAW, but that isn’t what the camera is about for me. This camera is all about ease of use. There is really something to be said about having a tool that you can pull out and just start shooting with. It has built in ND filters, XLR inputs, timecode, manual control for just about everything, and truly functions as a proper video camera should. It can also shoot in ridiculously low light and is able to deliver very strong results with little noise at up to 20,000 ISO and usable noise (when denoting in post) at 51,200. All of this comes packaged in a form factor that is amongst the best of any camera on the market today. The moment where I was sold on the camera was when I actually picked it up and held it. I almost forgot what it was like to shoot on a camera that was ergonomically designed for handheld video work. It’s been a number of years since I’ve shot this way as my recent smaller shoots have been DSLR/BMCC based and larger shoots are often done on RED, so it’s really a breath of fresh air to get back to this type of form factor. I also happen to think that the sensor on this camera is amongst the best out there right now and have always been a huge fan of the Super 35mm format.
There are some downsides to the camera as well of course, most notably the viewfinder which is less than ideal. The screen inside is quite small and difficult to see, there is no eyepiece to cover light from leaking in when you’re looking through it and it’s generally awkward to use. In regards to the codec, even though it is delivering one of the best (probably the best) AVCHD image I have ever seen, it still would have been nice to have a higher bit rate codec like the one implemented in the C300. Even so, this isn’t a huge concern for me as the image still looks great and I have yet to have had any issues as a result of the compression. If this is something that bothers you though, there is always the option of buying an external recorder like the Atomos Ninja 2, which will allow you to record prores directly off of the sensor, effectively matching and possibly exceeding the quality of the C300. The other big downside to the camera is the lack of 1080/60p for slow motion. Granted I was not expecting the camera would have slow-mo capability when it was announced as even the C300 could only do 60p in 720 mode, but it is still a factor to take into account if you shoot lots of over cranked footage and need that ability in camera. I’ve been doing some experimenting with shooting at 1080/59.94i and converting to progressive in post to get slow motion from the camera and it’s actually working relatively well, although it’s not a substitute for true 60p.
In comparison to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera…
It’s like apples and oranges. These are two extremely different cameras for very different uses. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera still delivers my favorite image out of any camera under $10,000, hands down. It’s not just the ability to shoot RAW, it’s the overall aesthetic of the image that is truly cinematic and more filmic than the C100, at least right out of the camera. However the C100 still stacks up very nicely and isn’t far off by any means. The C100 image quality is also quite cinematic in it’s own way and it delivers a very nice image that is about as sharp as the BMCC when shooting at 2.5K. If you’re deciding between these two cameras there are two main considerations to take into account. The first is whether or not you need RAW. If all you’re shooting is narrative work and want the most control over your image, the BMCC is going to be hard to pass up. The second consideration is whether or not you need a camera that will work straight out of the box without rigging it up. If you’re like most shooters and are tackling a wide range of projects (commercials, docs, television, film), the C100 is going to be the more versatile option and easier to use. Having built in ND filters alone is a life saver, not to mention the design of the camera which is extremely easy to shoot with and very modular. And in regards to the cost of the cameras they are much closer than they may seem to be on paper. The BMCC is currently less than half of the price of the C100, but by the time you add your rig, external batteries, SSD’s, EVF, and other add ons the price balances out. You could do a budget solution with the BMCC and get some lower cost peripherals, but if you’re using it professionally there are some costs that really can’t be avoided. So ultimately if image quality is the most important factor for you – get the BMCC. You really can’t beat it for the price. But if you need a camera that is versatile, and ready to shoot with from day one – the C100 is the way to go.
As always it’s important to recognize that it isn’t the camera that makes the image. It’s all of the other components – the lens, the framing, the lighting, and most importantly your understanding of the craft. But having a camera that you enjoy working with and that inspires you to go out and shoot is really important too, so be sure to choose wisely. If you’re interested in purchasing the C100, it’s currently listed at $5499 here at B & H. The BMCC is now down to $1999 and is also available through B & H.