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Why I Shot My Latest Film On The C100 & Not Blackmagic, RED EPIC, Or GH4

Yesterday I shot my latest film (The Mechanic) guerrilla style on the Canon C100 in Malibu, CA. Initially I had considered shooting the film on many different cameras including the RED EPIC, BMCC, and GH4, but ultimately chose my C100 and I couldn’t be happier with the results. 

Before I get to my rationale for choosing the C100 over these other cameras, I want to share a brief background on the nature of this project to help put things in context.

For some time now I have been planing to shoot a feature film with hopes that it will be in the can by the end of the year. Some of you may have read an article or two that I’ve posted on this site with regards to that project, and if so you probably also know that part of my development process involves shooting some short form content before hand to test out some stylistic and creative techniques. With this feature on the horizon I really wanted to get another short film under my belt – I have done 2 others in the past year but felt that I needed to complete at least one more. I also heard about the recent Project Greenlight competition which requires a 3 minute short film to be submitted by the end of this week, and decided to use that deadline as a reason to force myself to turn this project around as quickly as possible. For these reasons and more it became increasingly important to be able to choose a camera format that would suit the needs of this project and allow me to turn things around as quickly as possible.

Choosing The Camera

When it came time to actually choose the camera that would be used for this film there were a number of options I was considering, but in the end it boiled down to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, RED EPIC, Lumix GH4, and Canon C100. Truthfully, when I first considered which camera to shoot this on, the C100 was at the bottom of the list, even though it’s one of the best cameras I own. For some reason I have always treated the C100 more like an event or documentary camera, and haven’t ever really pulled it out for narrative work – even though it is more than capable of delivering some great results.

Initially I really wanted to shoot on the BMCC, as I’ve shot some of my favorite material on that camera and the image quality is just staggering. Here’s a frame grab from my film ‘Model’ shot on the BMCC:

Model__

In many ways the Blackmagic Cinema Camera produces my favorite image of any camera under $15,000, but in order to get those images the camera really needs to be treated right. This is especially the case when you are shooting handheld (which I was for this film), and that would have meant I really would have needed to fully rig out this camera with rails, a shoulder mount, follow focus, matte box, additional power, and much more. This is not normally a problem as most cinema cameras are designed to be worked with in this way, but for this particular project it just wouldn’t have worked. I needed to shoot guerrilla style and be low key with my camera, and the BMCC with all of those bells and whistles attached is quite the attention grabber. With all that in mind, I ruled the BMCC out right off the bat.

I had also considered the RED EPIC at one point, but eventually decided against it as it would have posed many of the same problems as the BMCC with regards to rigging and overall size. That said, even if we were shooting in a studio environment or with permits and the size of the camera wasn’t as much of an issue, I still wouldn’t have chosen the EPIC for this film based on the style of shooting. Since this film was shot entirely hand held, it required lots of focus pulls and based on the budget of the project (and also my preference as a DP in this situation), I didn’t want to have a focus puller on set. Ergonomically, the EPIC is not as easy to operate as a one man shooter/puller as other cameras (like the Canon C-series cameras) are. In the end, it would have just been too much hassle to shoot with the EPIC. The camera would be bulky and require another body on set – both of which were issues that I didn’t want to deal with given the nature and small scope of this project. Not to mention that even though the EPIC produces some beautiful images, I’m a pretty firm believer that lighting, movement, lensing, and framing play a much bigger role in the final aesthetic than camera choice, so I really didn’t feel like I was missing out.

Then there was the GH4, my favorite new DSLR for video. The GH4 is a really amazing tool and I’ve written about it lots on this site already – but in the end it also wasn’t right for this type of shoot. It would have been a better choice than both the BMCC and RED EPIC in that it would be much smaller and more low key (even fully rigged up), but there were some other issues that kept me from choosing it – mainly relating to ease of use while shooting in a run and gun style narrative environment. Unlike the C100, the GH4 doesn’t have built in ND filters which would mean I would be swapping out ND filters for every setup, since I don’t normally like to use a variable ND for narrative work. This alone was a huge drawback, but possibly a larger issue was the fact that I prefer the image stabilization capabilities of the C100/L-Seties lens combination over the GH4/Lumix lens combination. Since I was going handheld and wanted to avoid a big rig, I knew that having stabilization on my lenses was a must. I did some tests using the C100 and my 24-105 F/4 L-Series lens and the GH4 with the Lumix 12-35 and 35 – 100 F2.8 stabilized lenses, and the 24-105 on the C100 undeniably gave better results. I’m not sure if this was more related to the ergonomics of the camera body, or the stabilization of the lenses themselves, but for whatever reason the Canon combination just worked better.

So in the end it came down to the C100. It was the only camera that would allow me to shoot covertly and still get beautiful results. Each of the other cameras would require some sort of sacrifice while shooting – either in terms of the physical build of the camera, or issues with operating it handheld, but the C100 had me covered entirely.

Going into the shoot I was a little bit weary about shooting with the C100 for this type of project, even though I absolutely love the camera. As I mentioned earlier, I have never shot a narrative project on this camera so I knew that there was some risk there, but when we finally wrapped and I was able to watch back the dailies, I was truly blown away by the footage. Specifically the ability to get really smooth handheld shots with no rig at all. I normally avoid shooting handheld as without a heavy camera and a perfectly balanced rig it can produce some pretty nasty results (namely micro jitters). But with the stabilizer engaged on the lens, the C100 was able to give me that feel of a very heavy cinema style camera in terms of the movement, without the headache of holding a heavy camera on my shoulder. 

The image quality itself was just fantastic too. Here are a couple of very lightly graded frame grabs from the shoot:

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

The dynamic range when shooting in Canon’s cinema setting is really quite incredible. On paper it might be a half stop (or even a stop) less than the BMCC which already has fantastic DR, but in a real world shooting environment, I really couldn’t tell the difference. I was able to shoot inside a car with no sunroof and very little light hitting the talents faces, and still pickup detail both inside and outside the car.

Not to mention the resolution is staggering on this camera too. The only reason that I love shooting in 4K is so that I can get the best possible 2K or HD image, and the C100 effectively does all this work for me. Since it is using a 4K sensor and downsampling to 1080p, the net result is the same as it would be if I shot in 4K and down converted it myself, but the camera is just saving me a step.

In the end, while there are some things I would love to see on a C100 MK II (if that ever comes out), such as slow motion and a higher bitrate codec, I am pretty blown away by the quality of this camera and will certainly consider it for more narrative work going forward.

About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

34 Comments

  • David Johnson
    April 14, 2020 at 1:18 am

    I just bought this exact rig… can’t wait to try it out tomorrow. This post was really helpful, thanks for taking the time to write it.

    Just one more question… do you think there would be an observable difference is shooting to SD cards as opposed to an Atomos?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 5, 2020 at 3:40 pm

      Awesome! You will see a difference in quality on an Atomos, but for 99% for use the SD recording is perfectly fine.

      Reply
  • Ajay
    July 18, 2019 at 7:10 am

    Hi Noam, I am currently doing a lot of corporate talking head videos, and not too many moving shots, or handheld stuff, and I am still using the 5d mark 3, with cinestyle, and a 70-200 @2.8 I love the look of this combo, but, there isn’t much I can do with it once it’s done. It’s definitely not raw, or a real gradable codec, it’s still not 10bit, and it’s kind of mush when it comes to detail.

    How is the C100 on details, and is it 10bit? Does it really grade well even though it’s not able to shoot in Raw? I hate how all the videos I see are all over graded, and over-edited. I am aiming for super clean, crisp white whites, and black blacks, and rich skin tones. I love canon, and have all Canon glass, is this the camera to go with, even now, in 2019??

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 22, 2019 at 1:49 am

      Great questions, Ajay. From my experience, the C100 grades way better than the 5D, even though the original is still 8bit. The C100 II does 10 bit, and may be a great option for you if you need a bit more wiggle room in post. Neither will give you the flexibility of raw, but 99% of the time you don’t need it anyways! I would certainly consider a C100 (even a used original version) today in 2019.

      Reply
      • Anorda Photography
        February 3, 2021 at 7:23 pm

        It is 2021 now and I am still using my C100. I read in another post that if I use an STM lens the camera will be able to start face detecting during autofocus so I am excited to try that out.

        Reply
  • Jay B
    August 4, 2018 at 1:32 am

    I have played with both Panasonic G7 and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. The Canon C series seems quite interesting – even some movies been shot with them. I been hearing some good reviews of C100 (C300’s brother), about it’s color science – Super 35 – ease of use/grade. They are coming down in price. I may choose it for narrative work.

    Good job you did on your short!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 21, 2018 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks so much Jay! Hope you enjoy the C100 if you pick one up…

      Reply
  • Andrew K
    February 2, 2018 at 8:01 pm

    I may have read this wrong, but you said…

    “Not to mention the resolution is staggering on this camera too. The only reason that I love shooting in 4K is so that I can get the best possible 2K or HD image, and the C100 effectively does all this work for me. Since it is using a 4K sensor and downsampling to 1080p, the net result is the same as it would be if I shot in 4K and down converted it myself, but the camera is just saving me a step.”

    It may be obvious, but did you find a way to use the C100’s 4k to actually shoot in 4k???

    Also, is there links to your work on YouTube???

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      February 27, 2018 at 11:26 pm

      Hey Andrew! No, unfortunately it’s not possible to get 4K off the camera, but there is always the Canon C200 or C100 MK II if that’s a critical feature for you…

      Reply
  • Ande
    February 2, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    A lot has changed since you wrote this article. What’s your opinion on the C100 II? Is it still a valid camera in today’s market? If you were to have limited budget to get an all purpose camera, would you consider a C100 II in 2018?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      February 27, 2018 at 11:23 pm

      Absolutely – I love the C100 II and if I didn’t have multiple cameras for various purposes, the latest C100 or C200 might be the camera I would choose. They still deliver amazing image quality and incredible all-round workhorses if you need one camera to do it all.

      Reply
  • John Evans
    December 3, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Youbsaid you used a couple lav mics? Which ones? Did you use an audio mixer and/or external recorder?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      December 6, 2017 at 10:10 pm

      This is going back a while but I believe we used Sennheiser mice plugged into a Zoom recorder. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  • Austin
    September 19, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    Did you have the dual pixel AF on your c100

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 22, 2017 at 2:02 am

      Nope, it was the original C100.

      Reply
  • Seamus
    December 20, 2016 at 2:03 am

    Canon 5d mark 4 or this?? Need a camera to get shooting lots of projects soon!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      January 4, 2017 at 7:30 pm

      If you don’t need 4K, I would go C100. If you shoot stills as well though (and need 4K), it’s worth sacrificing the ergonomics of the C100 for the 5D – at least in my opinion!

      Reply
  • Oleg
    October 31, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    can u say something about sony a7s in a comparison with the c100?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 12, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      Very different cameras… Low light is a bit better on A7S, but C100 is still incredible. And of course the form factors are completely opposite. Personally I like the colors much better from Canon’s cinema cameras, but Sony is stronger in other areas. Ultimately choosing between the two comes down to ergonomics in my opinion.

      Reply
  • James
    November 30, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Hi Noam.. Tnx for the great spot
    Loved your work!!!
    I recently bought a c100 (yeah I know two month before they announced MKII..) so I’m still learning the capabilities & limits of this Camera 🙂

    Couple questions if you don’t mind 😀
    What picture style did u use? C-log?
    I’ve noticed the camera has some grainy noise effect (even after black balance) .. (Your shots are extremely sharp & noise free!) Do you add NR in post? And what’s the max ISO limit you would usually use to get a nice noise-free image?

    Thank you for your help in advance 🙂
    Cheers,

    James.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      December 3, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      Hi James – thanks for visiting!

      I believe I used Wide DR for this project as I wanted to test it out and hadn’t used it before. I’ve found that shooting with wide DR also helps with the noise issue you’re describing as it doesn’t lift the shadows up as much. There were one or two shots in this spot where I used noise reduction, but for the most part it was just raw footage that had a grade applied to it. I even added a little bit of grain at the end of the process using FilmConvert.

      Typically I like to keep the camera at the base ISO of 850 whenever I can, but I have comfortably shot up to 5000 with very little noise! Depends on what you’re shooting exactly… Hope this helps!

      Reply
  • Jay
    October 26, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    What a great film! Looking forward to find out what happens next…
    Just wondering can you share more info on it:
    – What ISO did you shoot at? Any noise issues or de-noising in post?
    – Any sharpening done in post?
    – Can you share how you graded it, I’m unable to get such ‘punchy’ picture after grading c-log. Before-and-after graded samples maybe? 🙂
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      October 27, 2014 at 8:44 pm

      Thanks Jay! To answer your questions…

      – I shot at ISO 850 for the most part. There wasn’t any noise issue, other than on one shot (I can’t remember which off the top of my head), where I had to bump up the ISO higher and de-noised using neat idea.
      – I don’t believe I sharpened anything at all in post.
      – The grading was done by first adding a contrast curve, then pushing the mids and highlights to yellow/green, and finally desaturating it overall.

      If I have some time in the future I will certainly consider doing a post that outlines more of the color grading process on this as some others have asked too.

      Reply
  • Brett
    August 21, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Our experience with the C100 has been the same. It’s an incredible camera. And we’ve had great success with the 60i work around for slo mo. Google it. The image holds up terrifically.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 22, 2014 at 6:10 pm

      Glad to hear! I am loving the C100… Such a great camera.

      Reply
  • Xiong
    August 6, 2014 at 4:07 am

    Great post Noam, I would agree built in ND are a great thing to have and saves a lot of time. I see that male actor in a lot of your features, he has a great look to him that makes him really stand out in a lot of your films. Cant wait to hear more about the shoot.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 12, 2014 at 3:46 pm

      Thanks a lot Xiong, so glad you enjoyed it. Yes, I have collaborated with him a number of times – fantastic actor, and currently working on some big projects! Keep an eye out for him.

      Reply
  • David Chen
    August 4, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Hi Noam,

    Great post! Can you comment on the codec that you used? Did you use the default AVCHD codec, or did you use an external recorder (e.g. Ninja) to capture to ProRes? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 12, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      Thanks David! I did use the AVCHD codec, but in an ideal world I would have used a Ninja. Just wasn’t possible with the limited time that we had.

      Reply
  • Clay Butcher
    August 4, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Great article. I just had the same decision to make filming an ad, c300 or gh4. Chose c300 for lowlight, but really wish it had slo-mo options. Gh4 is amazing for 4k and slo-mo, but in low light it looked more like video than filmic.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 12, 2014 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks Clay! The slow motion is definitely a deal breaker for some people. but personally speaking I use it so rarely that it wasn’t a huge deal for me. It would have been nice to have that option of course, but for now I will settle for the 60i workaround.

      Reply
  • Slav
    August 4, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Noam, thanks for posting that. I totally agree. I even found I don’t mind the viewfinder (everyone complains about compared to C300) I like to shoot handheld, too. I find it beautifully balanced with Canon TSE 17mm. With the lens being heavy enough (and giving interesting flares to) I shoot handheld with my eye on the viewfinder. I also started using Ninja 2, but honestly the camera’s AVCHD is good enough even if you do extensive post. I rented C100 and NEX700 a couple of times when I was shooting “Fighter’s Room” a documentary short. I ended up buying C100 getting 50% off CA sales tax off. (Cmon California you can do better than that!). I could not be happier. Bottom line: it’s $5K camera with a 4K sensor technology, so it’s cheaper then a pro DSLR. No brainer! I already own a collection of Canon primes so it works great for me. What IS lenses did you use? Also, what is your best B camera for C100 (other than another C100 of course) D800E? Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 12, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      Hi Slav – Not a problem at all, and thank you. Glad to hear you’re enjoying the C100! I used just the Canon 24-105mm F4 lens on this, except for one shot which I used the Tokina 11-16. I have never actually used a b-cam with the C100, but would consider any camera that could shoot as flat as the C100 can!

      Reply

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