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:
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:
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.