This weekend I bought a Canon C100. A camera that at one point I thought was ridiculously overpriced and hadn’t even considered as an option, but that recently completely changed my mind thanks to a few recent shoots where I was working directly with the camera. I’ve really done a 180 with this camera and it’s now one of my favorite cameras out there – up there with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. In a future blog post I’m going to give a more thorough review of the camera and specifically compare it to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera as many shooters have been torn choosing between these two cameras (even though they are very, very different animals). For now though, I wanted to share some quick thoughts on my initial reaction to one of the cameras most impressive features, it’s extremely high ISO range.
One of the main reasons I bought the C100 was it’s low light ability. I come from a MFT background and while my GH2/GH3/Blackmagic and other cameras have often outperformed Canon/Sony cameras in terms of resolution and general image quality, the one aspect where they always fell short was low light. The smaller sensor size, coupled with other variables meant that I could never go out and shoot under street light with results like you might get on a 5D MKIII. This never bothered me too much as in most scenarios I don’t want to (or need to) do this. But there are some circumstances where it’s necessary and ultimately it became important to me that I owned a camera that could shoot at very high ISO’s without getting too noisy, especially given that I have specific projects coming up that will require me to shoot this way.
When I decided to buy the C100 a little while back, I hadn’t yet heard that Canon was planning on announcing a new firmware (188.8.131.52.00), that amongst other features was going to add an extended ISO range of up to 80,000. For me, the current regular ISO limit of 20,000 was more than sufficient, at least on paper. I could never imagine going over 5000 or maybe 6400, especially given the fact that my other cameras top out around 1600. That said, once I got the camera in my hands it became apparent that this camera could shoot useable video at ridiculously high ISO’s. After I got great results at 20,000 ISO, I immediately updated the firmware to see how far I could push the extended ISO range. Ultimately it left me completely blown away.
As you might imagine, ISO 80,000 is extremely noisy and unusable for narrative work, even with heavy noise reduction applied. What you can use it for however, is documentary work. The images will still be very grainy, but often when shooting a doc, the content is far more important than the image quality and this camera can literally see in the dark. When shooting at 80,000 ISO, I could point it at a car parked in a dark shadow in the distance that I could not even see with my own eyes, but on the viewfinder I could read the license plate and see the interior of the car. For many shooting situations, this is absolutely critical and will open a lot of possibilities.
To get an idea of just how noisy 80,000 ISO can be, take a look at this shot that I took last night overlooking the valley here in LA. This was using a Tokina 11-16mm at 2.8. I purposely used a 2.8 lens, rather than faster glass to really push it to the extreme:
Here’s a shot taken on my iPhone of the camera in action. Note how bright the images on the screen appear as opposed to the city lights in the background:
So while 80,000 may not be useable for narrative work, but the good news is that with noise reduction, you can get away with shooting up to about 51,200 ISO. I absolutely do not recommend doing this for more than a few shots here or there, but if you are in a pinch, you can get really solid results shooting this high and using a plugin (like Neat Video, which I used), to do some heavy noise reduction. Another point to consider is that if you’re shooting using street light on a relatively fast lens (let’s say an F1.4 or 1.8), you will probably not need to go much past 20,000. Maybe 30,000 in some cases and possibly up to 51,2000 for very specific shots. But 80,000 on a fast lens will actually blow out your highlights even in street light, and in some cases you may be blown out at as little as 20,000.
Below is a shot taken at ISO 51,200 without noise reduction (keep in mind this is at F2.8!):
This is with noise reduction and minor crushing of the blacks:
It may not be perfect and there are some artifacts in the sky (which are actually more apparent on a still image than when played as a video file), but for a quick insert shot it is useable. And keep in mind this was about 10 seconds of my time to reduce the noise. With a bit more effort and tweaking the settings more carefully, this could have yielded even cleaner results.
So is this a feature I will be using a lot? Absolutely not. And I don’t recommend anyone does, no matter if you’re shooting a doc or a narrative. But it is absolutely amazing to have. it opens up possibilities for shooting in the dark in situations where on other cameras there is literally no option. It also makes the ‘lower’ ISO’s (10,000, 20,000) seem less scary to shoot on. And on a side note, I can tell you that ISO 20,000 on this camera is remarkably clean. Yes there is some noise, but to my eye there is less noise than most DSLR’s at 3200 ISO and the noise pattern seems to be much easier to reduce in post.
If you’re wondering, the extended ISO range is not the only feature added to the C100 by any stretch. Here is the full list of updates on the new firmware:
- 1. Ability to move the magnification viewing area around the LCD using the MAGN Function.
- 2. ISO up to 80,000 has been added.
- 3. A Key Lock menu setting has been added which now makes it possible to lock all operations, including the START/STOP button.
- 4. Peripheral Illumination Correction Data has been added for seven (7) Canon Cinema lenses (EF mount) and eleven (11) Canon EF Lenses.
- 5. Internal camera menus are now controllable from buttons on the camera body. Previously, they were only controllable from the joystick grip unit.
- 6. In addition to the [EF-S18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM], the function to enable continuous focusing and correct aperture on a subject in the middle of the screen when one of the two EF STM lenses is attached, has been extended to include the [EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM] lens.
For those of you that already own a C100, you can download the new firmware from Canon here.
If you don’t already have one and are in the market, be sure to pick one up for $5499 from B & H!
Check back soon as I’ll be doing a more thorough review of the camera with some low light tests. For now, check out my Top 10 Affordable Lenses For Shooting In Extreme Low Light.