Using the Canon EOS C300 for a Harley-Davidson event

The post production for the event I shot for Harley-Davidson in St Tropez is now completed so I thought I’d share my thoughts on using the Canon EOS C300 on an event shoot for the first time. Previous to this event I’ve been using a Sony EX1 and Canon 5D mkII combination which have produced some nice results. The EX1 has been my main camera for event work over the last few years and even though I’ve felt the results from the 5D2 have been better at times the functionality and ease of use that the EX1 provided meant that it was just a better all around camera for my needs.

My shooting days at these events involve a lot of walking, I’m generally out shooting from 10am until the early hours of the morning for three or four days in a row so it can be very hard on the feet and becomes tiring after a few days. Because of this I tend to try and avoid carrying too much kit around with me and certainly didn’t like carrying both the EX1 and the 5D at the same time with all the batteries and lenses that go with them. My preferred method was to head out for a few hours with the 5D and my Glidetrack grabbing some more stylised material and then head back and swap over to the EX1. This worked well most of the time but invariably there would be times with the 5D that I missed the EX1′s over cranking feature and shooting aids, likewise when using the EX1 I’d really miss the ability to shoot really wide and have more control over the depth of field of my shots.

A major factor leading to my investment in the C300 was the hope that it would be able to replace both the EX1 and the 5D for these events and give me the best of both worlds, read on to find out if it was up to the job.

Picture Profiles

I’ve shot a few projects using the C-Log gamma and Cinema modes with the C300 and whilst I can see the benefit it produces in dynamic range and latitude it’s not a very efficient way of working as the footage always needs to be graded and that can be time consuming. With my EX1 I settled on a picture profile that pretty much gave me the look I needed for these events without much adjustment in post. I wanted the C300 to do the same so I set about trying various profiles I found on the web to see if they would work for me. I tried profiles from Alister Chapman, Abel Cine, Kevin Ritchie and the BBC’s recommendations but none really produced the results I was looking for. I do give thanks to these providers though as their files definitely helped me to better understand what it was I wanted to achieve when building my own picture profile.

Another great resource was Art Adams ‘Stunning Good Looks‘ post about correcting white balance on the C300. I applied Arts settings on my C300 and saw an immediate improvement as it had a tendency towards a green bias previously and with Art’s settings applied colours and skin tones looked a lot more natural.

If you want to try out the profile I created you can download it here. You’ll need to place the uncompressed file on your SD card and replace the SD1 picture profile to make sure you back up any profile in that position first

   

Lenses & Accessories

Because this event involved flying and keeping gear to a minimum I had to be quite picky about what I took with me. I decided to take just three lenses for this event, the Canon 17-55 f/2.8 IS EF-s, The Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS L and the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8. Normally the Canon 24-105mm f4 IS L would be included too but that was needed by my partner for a wedding photo shoot so I had to leave it behind for this one.

I decided to take my EX1 as well, mainly because I’ve read about a few C300′s dying in the field when swapping lenses if you forget to switch the camera off. The EX1 is also great for filming from the back of a motorcycle as it provides auto-focus which is essential when you can only shoot one handed at moving subjects. The EX1 has nearly met a sudden end a few times doing this so I didn’t want to risk the C300 in that situation anyway.

For the C300 I took my Pearstone dual chargers, four BP-955 batteries, four 32GB CF cards, my Senheiser MK-416 mic as well as a Rode Videomic incase I wasn’t using the monitor unit.

Support wise I took my trusty Miller DS20 Solo and a Glidetrack Hybrid SD.

Packing and Travelling

The modular design of the C300 makes it a dream for packing. I carried the C300, all my lenses and other vital items in my Think Tank Airport International V2 carry on bag.  The EX1 slummed it in the hold wrapped up in clothes and packed in a normal suitcase. My Tripod and glide track get packed into a Manfrotto tripod bag, again wrapped in lots of clothes for padding against drops.

We tend to fly with EasyJet to these European events and I have an allowance of two hold bags up to 20KG each, the carry on isn’t weight restricted but has to fit in the overhead lockers and the ThinkTank bag is perfect for that.

Never enough ND

The C300′s ND’s are great but heading out for the first days shooting I quickly realised that I should have also packed an additional ND filter. With the maximum 6 Stops of ND applied and the native ISO of 850 I still couldn’t open the lenses past F5.6 for correct exposure in the bright sun so I opted to set the ISO at the minimum setting of 340. The native ISO of 850 provides the biggest latitude from the sensor but the results at 340 were good and I used that setting for all of my daytime shots throughout the event. Of course f/5.6 and higher are fine for general shooting but it’s nice to push down to f/2.8 sometimes and grab some stylised shallow depth of field shots.

At night I tended to stick to the same picture profile but up the ISO to 2400 and I haven’t noticed any noticeable noise in my shots, I’d be happy going higher in the future.

   

Handling

Handling the C300 was a real pleasure, during the day I left the top handle and monitor unit attached with a Senheiser MK416 shotgun mic attached. The camera lends itself to being held against the chest when using the monitor on the top and this provides a stable and comfortable shooting position. In bright sunlight though the monitor can be hard to use so switching to the EVF  and lifting the camera to your face makes more sense.

One side note is that I manage to lose the EVF cover int he first hour of shooting, I knew I should have tied that sucker to something! Anyone know where replacements can be obtained?

The EVF has plenty of resolution and with it’s extending design it’s very comfy to use. The only downside to the EVF is that the diopter adjustment keeps changing itself when the extending EVF assembly is extended and retracted. This seems like a small thing but it’s actually a major pain as reseting the diopter is a two handed job requiring two fingernails and the camera to be supported whilst you do it. Considering how hard it is to turn the diopter adjustment knob it’s crazy how easy it goes out on it’s own, I might try taping it up to see if that helps at all.

Accessing the various controls on the C300 is starting to become intuitive now, the only time I find the layout to be cumbersome is when needing to change aperture whilst holding the top handle as the aperture control dial is near the back and tends to be awkward to get to when holding the camera close to the body. When using the side handle it’s not a problem because I use the aperture dial on the side handle itself.

In the evenings most of my shooting involved bands on stage and capturing the party goers in the bars scattered throughout the event ground. I prefer not to walk around with my expensive camera on show at night if I can help it so I removed the monitor unit and the top handle and put the C300 in my shoulder bag. I have to say that shooting with this config is just great, the camera feels very small, especially considering the quality of the images being captured.  During the last nights shooting the wind picked up and there was a lot of dust and seeds from the tree’s flying around, it was great to be able to put the C300 in the bag whilst moving from venue to venue keeping it out of the elements.

Exposure & focussing tools

In terms of exposure I decided to go into this event shooting using an exposure technique I’m familiar with, a combination of monitoring zebras and using my mk1 eyeball. From previous experience with the C300 I knew it could have issues with blown out highlights but I opted to ignore that and just let certain things blow out from time to time in order to keep the overall image close to correct exposure.

I used the waveform monitor as well when using the LCS but because this isn’t in the EVF I tended to be led by zebras and perceived exposure. It worked well most of the time, there were a few overexposed shots but in general I was pleased with the results.

Focussing however proved to be more of a challenge. I’m used to trusting the peaking feature on my EX1 and so trusted it on the C300 as well. It soon became apparent however that the C300′s default peaking settings are not to be trusted for critical focus, many of my shots came out soft because I had wrongly assumed highlighted red elements were sharp when in fact they were not. The peaking settings can be adjusted so this may just require a bit of fiddling but it’s something to be aware of next time.

   

Dust & the elements

As I’ve already posted I had an issue with dust appearing inside the C300′s sensor / ND cavity, this happened during the first days shooting and progressively worsened throughout the event. This is definitely the biggest downside when using this camera for event work where there might be dust flying around and I became very paranoid about it as the event went on. I avoided swapping lenses outside and kept the camera switched off whenever possible but still the dust could be seen building up on the internal ND filters and inside the IR glass as the days went by. Interestingly there was no dust between the lens and the camera, it seems to be getting in via another route.

I called Canon about this and they requested that I send the camera to them to be cleaned and checked. I haven’t done this yet as they estimated a ten day turnaround and with another beach based event in early June I thought it best to get that one out of the way first incase I had to send it again.

We didn’t have any rain luckily so I can’t comment on the cameras ability to cope with moisture and condensation but I can tell you that it survives sun cream pretty well. Having to stay creamed up was essential in the Riviera sun and the camera did get quite greasy from my hands and face touching it, it all cleaned off though and there’s still lettering on the plastic so all’s good. My EX1 is pretty much gloss black with no lettering now after a few years in this environment so it can be tough on any camera.

   

The results

This is the fourth time I’ve filmed this event in St Tropez so I’m very used to seeing the results from my EX1 and 5D2. The clips from the C300 are noticeably better than both of those cameras in so many ways. Resolution is noticeably better, above that though the biggest improvements are colour rendition and just how natural the shots look. I found myself being blown away by shot after shot as I loaded them into Premier Pro. The night time shots especially look really vibrant yet not overly saturated, the camera has done a fabulous job of capturing the images in that situation.

Have a look at the video below and let me know your thoughts. All of the C300 shots are ungraded, straight from the camera into Premier Pro CS6 and then encoded to H.264 and uploaded to vimeo. The only effect is the aspect ratio bars and quite a bit of warp stabilising as it’s built into CS6 and is extremely useful. The shots from the bike towards the end are from the EX1 and look extremely dull in comparison. I have tried to grade these up to the C300′s image but failed miserably.

The music is “Walking in the Sun” by Dizzy X which was provided by Triple Scoop Music.

Conclusion

If it hadn’t been for the dust issue I’d say switching to the C300 had been a success and an improvement in every way, the camera is ergonomically better, I love that the modular design allows me to configure the camera depending on location and the images are in another league. I’ve enjoyed being able to shoot a lot wider that I could with the EX1 and surprisingly I didn’t miss the zoom range of the EX1 at all.

Post workflow has been easier with the 5o mb/s 4:2:2 XF codec being easy to work with and higher quality than the footage from both of my previous cameras. If I were deciding now whether to go with the C300 with cameras like the FS700 becoming available I’d make the same choice again. I just hope the dust issue was a one off, if not then I may have to rethink.

 

 

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  1. Paul,

    True, real world review. Thank you for taking the time to document and share. I too have a C300 and go thru periods doubting justification for the expense. But the ergonomics, lens compatibility and that lovely image always end up reassuring me that I made a solid choice. I have not be out in dusty, windy conditions yet so I do hope that ends up not being an issue. Good luck with that and hope to hear how you resolve and avoid.

  2. Hi Paul, thanks for these reports, they are very useful in deciding about this camera. I have what might be a silly question regarding camera vs lens on tripod mounting. I noticed that you have the 70-200 on the camera, but the camera mounted on the tripod, not the lens. When we use the 70-200 f2.8 IS II L with the 5D Mark II, we mount the lens on the tripod and have the camera ‘hanging’ off the back to improve stability and balance.

    I’m assuming you mount the C300 on the tripod – even with the heavier lens – for the convenience of swapping lenses quickly. Do you find any balance issues with the C300 mounted to the tripod while using a heavy lens? Do you feel that the lens mount on the camera is strong enough to cope with heavier lenses in the long term? What’s the heaviest lens you would put on the C300 and still mount the camera to the tripod?

    Adrian

    • Hi Adrian

      The EF mount on the C300 seems extremely strong, I have no concerns at all hanging the 70-200 2.8 on the front of it. More of a concern though is the tripod mount when doing this as it’s towards the front of the camera and only secures in one place. Using something like a red rock micro ultra cage would solve, or mounting at the lens bracket would work too but for speed I tend to just stick with the tripod mount and be careful.

  3. Have you refined the peaking settings?

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