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Cinematic Combo Platter: Production with the Canon EOS C300 Mark II Zacuto ENG Package

Canon EOS C300 users looking to enter the world of 4K acquisition while retaining the look and feel of their original C300 will appreciate the advances that the EOS C300 Mark II brings to the table. Users who may have struggled to cobble together a rig for their C300s will particularly appreciate the Canon EOS C300 Mark II Zacuto ENG Package, which combines the camera with a Zacuto ENG rig, Zacuto Gratical Viewfinder and Canon Cine-Servo 17-120mm T2.95-3.9 EF lens.

Since its launch in 2012, the EOS C300 has been a favorite of run-and-gun documentary, reality, event and even sports videographers looking for the versatility of a Super 35mm sensor in a package that’s easy to operate.

The Canon EOS C300 Mark II at the heart of Zacuto’s ENG package.

The original C300 recorded in the MPEG-2 4:2:2 50 Mb/s XF codec, a format perfectly suited to broadcast workflows, but most traditional shooters picking up the camera had to acclimate themselves to different control positions and an entirely different ergonomic construction.

The C300 Mark II retains the form factor and basic operational controls of the C300 but sports a new sensor, new image processors, new Canon XF-AVC codec and a new log gamma tone curve. The updates allow 4K/UHD acquisition, ISOs up to 102,500, 15 stops of dynamic range and 2K/HD frame rates up to 120 fps.

The new Super 35mm CMOS sensor supports internal video recording from full HD (1920 x 1080) and 2K DCI (2048 x 1080) to UHD/QFHD (3840 x 2160) and 4K DCI (4096 x 2160). The Canon XF-AVC codec compresses the camera’s 4K data to a bandwidth that can be recorded on CFast 2.0 memory cards. The camera has dual CFast card slots, as well as an SD card slot that allows simultaneous 4K and HD Proxy recording. Simultaneous to internal recording on CFast 2.0 media, the camera can output its signal via 3G-SDI ports for full uncompressed raw recording to an external recorder. (The frame rate for 4K raw output is limited to 29.97p.) 10-bit recording with YCbCr 4:2:2 color sampling is available at all resolution settings, but the 2K and full HD resolutions also support 12-bit recording at RGB 4:4:4 color sampling.

EOS C300 Mark II Zacuto ENG Package

The Zacuto ENG kit allows you to use the EOS C300 Mark II and Canon 17-120mm cine-servo zoom lens as an ENG-style camera package. 

While the camera’s acquisition capabilities are much improved over the original C300, the same rigging issues remain. In order to create a versatile, sturdy setup, Canon partnered with Zacuto on the Canon EOS C300 Mark II Zacuto ENG Package, which allows the C300 Mark II to be operated with the Canon 17-120mm cine-servo zoom lens as an ENG-style camera package. The kit includes Zacuto’s C300 Mark II Helmet Kit (with 3-inch Z-Rail and Zacuto Recoil Top Handle), VCT Pro Baseplate, Gratical HD EVF, Zacuto Axis Mini and cheesebox counterweight.

The ENG rig is built on Zacuto’s VCT Pro Baseplate, a universal plate with VCT wedge and tailhook, a very comfortable shoulder pad, V-lock tripod connector, removable and extendable 6.5-inch rods, and rows of 1/4”-20 mounting threads along the side for accessories. It then adds lens support via Zacuto’s VCT Lens Support, which is designed specifically for the servo zoom in this package, a quick release mount for the C300 monitor unit, and a helmet kit including handle, cheeseplate helmet and rail. Add the Zacuto Axis Mini mounting arm for the Gratical and you’ve got the front and top of the rig. The Gratical HD EVF packs more than 5.4 million dots on a 0.61-inch OLED panel to display 720p resolution images.

The adjustable counterweight cheesebox attaches to the back of the baseplate using two 3-inch 15mm rods. The cheesebox includes three counterweights and features a V mount battery plate with two D-Tap outputs and one LEMO connector to power the camera. The box features multiple 1/4”-20 and 3/8”-16 screw holes to mount additional accessories. It also features attachment plates for optional wireless transmitters. My test unit arrived with the C300 monitor unit mounted on the rear of the camera, as Zacuto shows it on its web site and introductory video.

Elements in the Zacuto ENG kit for the Canon EOS C300 Mark II include a custom VCT baseplate, Zacuto C300 Mark II helmet kit, Axis Mini, Gratical HD EVF and a cheesebox counterweight with V mount battery plate.

Zacuto knows how to put together a quality package. The completed unit balanced perfectly on my shoulder hands-free. Zacuto’s promo video shows an old Betacam unit to demonstrate that this contraption is about the same size.

On the downside, all of this engineering comes at a cost. The EOS C300 Mark II Zacuto ENG Package, which includes EF mount C300 Mark II camera and Canon CN7x17 KAS S Cine-Servo 17-120mm T2.95 lens, sells for $46,570. (Much of that price comes from the camera, which is available for about $16,000, and the lens, which can be purchased separately for about $30,000.)

The kit is fairly hefty. While the EOS C300 Mark II weighs 3.9 pounds (body only), adding the 1.5-pound monitor unit, 150W battery and the rest of the Zacuto accessories tips the scales at 19.5 pounds. That’s without the 6.4-pound Canon cine-servo zoom lens or counterbalance. The weight may be a deal-breaker for some, while for others it is a reminder of days gone by.

In my assessment, the Zacuto Gratical HD Micro-OLED viewfinder is the best third-party electronic viewfinder on the market. It sells separately for $3,100. With a 5.4 million pixel OLED display resolving 1280 x 1024, its image is unsurpassed. With HDMI and SDI in and out, Gratical HD supports cross-conversion as well as custom LUTs on both the viewfinder’s display and downstream video. It is weather-resistant, includes scopes and video assist functions, and offers a variety of mounting options.

Most significant for this camera is Gratical HD’s ability to import viewing LUTs. Many shooters in the log realm prefer to expose while viewing through a LUT rather than attempting exposure of the log material itself. While this is often a matter of personal preference, the ability to apply a LUT in the viewfinder is still an attractive option. It can be particularly appealing if the operator chooses, for whatever reason, not to output a display LUT from the camera.

The EOS C300 Mark II’s removable monitor unit includes 4-inch LCD panel, recording and playback controls, two audio input terminals and related audio controls. 

The 17-120mm cine-servo zoom lens has a maximum aperture of T2.95 when set to 91mm or wider. While some might complain about a $31,000 lens ramping from T2.9 to T3.9, those familiar with cine lenses will be well aware of the additional weight and cost that a constant aperture lens would bring. Everything is a series of compromises, I suppose.

The lens exhibits good sharpness and contrast, and I find it somewhat neutral in its rendition. While cinematographers might choose lenses on the basis of warmth or creaminess or sharpness or a host of other criteria, this lens exhibits no particular bias, and thus is well suited for creating whatever look is desired in post.

Canon knows how to make lenses, and certainly ENG lenses. The 17-120mm cine-servo zoom combines the functionality and form factor of a broadcast, ENG-style motorized zoom lens with the optical precision of a cinema zoom. The lens’ servo drive unit is detachable. Of course, fully manual zoom, focus and iris are also available.

EOS C300 Camera Body

The original C300 was in strong need of 4K capabilities. The C300 Mark II adds full DCI 4K and UHD resolutions, recording to Canon’s XF-AVC codecs. 4K recording is intra-frame 10-bit 4:2:2. A significant limitation in 4K/UHD resolutions is the 29.97p limit. Other cameras in this category are able to record 4K/UHD 60p internally. The C300 Mark II is not able to output 4K/UHD 60p to an external recorder either.

The EOS C300 Mark II’s removable monitor unit includes 4-inch LCD panel, recording and playback controls, two audio input terminals and related audio controls. 

In 2K and HD resolutions, the camera can record RGB 4:4:4 at 10- or 12-bit. 12-bit recording tops out at 29.97p. It records 2K/HD 10-bit 4:2:2 up to 120 fps progressive.

The camera uses CFast 2.0 cards for in-camera 4K video recording. The C300 Mark II features two CFast card slots. The camera also includes an SD card slot for HD and Proxy recording. For example, the camera can simultaneously record 4K on two CFast 2.0 cards and 2K proxy images on the SD card.

CFast 2.0 cards are among the priciest of all contemporary media, but they have proven themselves across a number of camera platforms. I tested the camera with Lexar Professional 3400x CFast 2.0 cards, which did not drop a frame even with 2K 4:4:4 12-bit footage. Note that Lexar also produces a 3500x card, which it recommends for the C300 Mark II but which has limited compatibility with other CFast camera systems. For optimal reliability, I would recommend using the 3500x cards. And as a final note, Lexar will be introducing a 3600x card that is incompatible with the C300 Mark II. As always, confirm card compatibility on Canon’s web site, as well as with the card manufacturer.

Shooters coming from a traditional camera background will need to relearn control positions for EOS Cinema cameras. Nevertheless, EOS Cinema cameras in general have well labeled controls that activate effortlessly. One of Canon’s strengths is its camera menu structure, which is on display in the EOS C300 Mark II.

Zacuto EOS C300 Mark II helmet kit

C300 users have remarked that even in the 8-bit MPEG-2 days, there was always a certain pleasing look to the images, particularly skin tones. That is certainly the case here as well. Cinema EOS cameras don’t require a lot of fiddling to look good.

The Canon Log gamma curve in the original EOS C300 camera was tailored to manage a 12-stop dynamic range within the constraint of an 8-bit MPEG-2 codec. While it worked very well—it grades easily and still produces eminently usable images—there were limitations in terms of reproducing tonal ranges.

The C300 Mark II has a significant extension of dynamic range to 15 stops with the application of Canon Log 2 and additional color space options. While various independent reviewers have questioned whether the camera actually shoots 15 stops of dynamic range, pixel peeping for our purposes here is of no consequence. The facts are in the images, and the images exhibit dynamic range commensurate with the needs of C300 Mark II production.

Canon Log 2 is a flatter curve that gives more emphasis to the highlights. Thus, ungraded images may seem noisy. One recommendation here is to shoot the camera at ISO 400 rather than the native 800 ISO of the sensor. Combining that one-stop exposure change with the appropriate LUT controls noise. In addition, the built-in noise reduction option can greatly improve footage even when shooting at higher ISOs.

Zacuto Gratical HD EVF

Noise is always a concern with log footage because it is dependent on where the curve decides to place middle gray and how many stops above and below middle gray the camera can then acquire. This makes the use of LUTs significant both in the shooting and grading process. Canon’s web site includes LUTs for both C Log and C Log 2, with the C Log 2 LUTs applicable to all of the color gamuts offered by the camera.

In addition, there is a wide dynamic range gamma curve (Wide DR), which is not exactly log but is an excellent compromise between Rec. 709 shooting and log, which requires substantial additional grading.

Gamut is another consideration in shooting and grading, something perhaps less familiar to those moving from the traditional ENG world. The C300 Mark II offers choices in color gamut to meet the needs of HDTV, UHDTV and digital film production. The color gamut choices include Rec. 709 gamut, DCI-P3 gamut, Rec. 2020 gamut and cine gamut, as well as ACES support. ACES will become more significant over the years as camera manufacturers and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences collaborate on profiles. The C300 Mark II is ready for the move to ACES.

All of these options can be output via SDI or HDMI to external monitors and recorders. While the C300 Mark II is recording either 4K or UHD internally in the XF-AVC codec, it can simultaneously deliver an uncompressed 10-bit log-encoded raw version via 3G-SDI output terminal. I recorded raw to Convergent Design’s Odyssey7Q+ monitor/recorder. Other than saying that the 7Q+ is one of my go-to devices, I will say that raw output transforms the C300 Mark II to a cinema-level production camera, adding to its versatility. It is a welcome addition.

Canon EOS C300 Mark II

The C300 Mark II remains a prime candidate for run and gun, reality and high-production-value sports and interview applications. The camera is available in EF or PL mount. The EF version supports auto functions with Canon EF and EF-S glass. The C300 Mark II’s new Dual Pixel CMOS AF Technology achieves smooth focusing using Canon EF lenses with much higher speed and accuracy than was possible with previous technologies.

In its ENG configuration as tested, it is a very heavy rig, topping out at over 25 pounds with the lens and battery, plus a couple more pounds for counterweight.

Summary

The lack of 4K above 29.97p and limited HFR abilities put the EOS C300 Mark II at a competitive disadvantage to other cameras in its class, and its $16,000 price tag might give buyers pause, since similar and sometimes more advanced features can be found in less costly cameras. Price and performance ratios are very personal decisions.

The C300 Mark II represents a significant advance in Canon Cinema EOS technology, and the ENG package represents a great value in a preconfigured matched system that is capable of all levels of production.

Product:Canon EOS C300 Mark II with Zacuto ENG Package

Score:

Pros: Excellent color science and great highlights. Menu system is easy to use. Fast autofocus. Versatile configuration of Canon and third-party attachments. Zacuto ENG rig is well balanced. Canon 17-120mm cine-servo zoom is superb lens.

Cons: Price much higher than comparable cameras from other manufacturers. Lack of VFR in 4K. Lack of 4K 60p. The camera’s awkward form factor requires the use of a rig. Zacuto ENG rig, while powerful, is very heavy.

Bottom Line: A worthy update to the popular C300 and a camera that might retain its market position in on-the-run reality, documentary and dramatic productions, but missing features and high price point might give potential users pause.

MSRP: Camera (body only) in EF or PL mount, $15,999. Camera with Zacuto ENG package and Canon 17-120mm lens, $46,570

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