Canon C300 Tips for DSLR Filmmakers

This week we had production on the Creative Mornings doc we’re making (hope to have it ready next week, by the way). Thanks to our good friends (and Crossing the 180 sponsor) LensProToGo, we were able to shoot the bulk of the visual b-roll with the Canon EOS C300. This camera was announced to huge fanfare last November. Videos like Mobius by Vincent Laforet and this very “non traditional” review video by Jon Yi have helped to make this baby an instant player in the higher end cinema camera game.

Screen shot from BTS video we’re producing.

I’m not one to usually give camera reviews. I like to leave that kind of stuff to the Philip Blooms and the Nino Leitners of the world. Besides, by this time, there have been a plethora of Canon C300 reviews made. So what can I bring to the table that would be different? (and as you all know, I love to be different).

So, I thought I’d share a few of those little things, the “gotchas”, that the “big boys” don’t normally tell you about. (At least these were things I didn’t find in all the reviews I watched). In some cases it’s because to them it’s so basic, they would never think to talk about it. But, I know a number of my readers are people starting out. Or, are photographers who don’t have a video background but have been bitten by the DSLR Filmmaking bug. So I think these tips will be helpful to many of you interested in using this camera but may wonder, “Um, what’s this button for?” and can’t find anyone to tell you (or you’re too embarrassed to ask. 🙂 )

(Note: I would have loved to have done this for you on camera, but we just didn’t have time to record any tutorial lessons while we had the camera. Hopefully my writing will be descriptive enough. You may want to follow along using the C300 online Menu Simulator.)

Slow Motion. The C300 has the ability to shoot in at 59.94 frames per second (aka 60 fps) at 720p. Many reviewers have commented on this, as well as their disappointment that a camera at this price point ($16k street) doesn’t shoot 60p at 1080p. When you shoot at 60 fps for a project that will be played back at 24 fps, the footage shot at 60 fps, when converted to 24 fps, in effect becomes 40% slow motion. This is a much better way to achieve slow mo than just slowing it down in your computer.

Normally I wold convert 60 fps footage with Cinema Tools on the Mac. However, the C300 has a “Slow and Fast Motion” feature where the conversion in essence is done in camera.

  • Access the menu and go down to the wrench icon (“Other Function”). Select bi-rate resolution to switch to one of the 720p modess.
  • Then back out of bit rate/resolution and scroll down to access the Slow & Fast Motion setting. Select 60 (it increments from 1-60. Note, the menu simulator may not change to show you all the increments).
  • Then back out of Slow & Fast Motion and scroll up to “Special Rec”. This will allow you to activate the “Slow and Fast Motion” feature.

Once activated, you’ll see an “S & F” at the top of the viewfinder. Where the frame rate shows you’ll see 60/23.98. This represents the shooting rate and playback rate. Any clips you shoot now will be at 40% slow motion in camera. No need to convert on the computer.

Shutter Speed. To achieve the optimum level of motion blur, you’re supposed to shoot at what’s called a 180 degree shutter angle. (Read about it here.) The easiest way to figure this out is just double your frame rate. If you’re shooting at 24 fps, set your shutter speed to 48 (i.e. 1/48) to get a 180 degree shutter. (You’ll have to select 1/50 on most DSLRs as 1/48 is not an option).  The C300 comes with shutter speed defaulted to shutter angles. So instead of setting the speed manually to 1/48, you choose a shutter angle of 180, and it’ll make the correct shutter speed adjustment for you. But, if for whatever reason you want to achieve a different look and need to change the shutter speed, but you’re not familiar with dealing in “angles,” you can change the C300 setup to display shutter speed.

  • From the menu go to the camera icon (“Camera setup”) and choose Shutter speed.
  • Then choose mode.
  • Then choose “angle” or “speed” depending on what you want to use.

White Balance. This tip is for you DSLR filmmakers who never had a video camcorder background. You may be familiar with white balance settings and changing Kelvin settings. But you may not be familiar with how to set white balance on a traditional camcorder.

  • Hit the “Func” button on the back of the camera near the top. Keep hitting it until the “White balance” icon is selected.
  • On the left-hand side of the camera is the “white balance” button.
  • Point the camera at a white card, sheet of paper, or anything that is pure white. Then hit that button. (Make sure the lighting is what it will be when you shoot).
  • The white balance icon on the menu will begin to flicker. Keep still until it finishes. Once it stops, you have manually white balanced. The camera will then give you the correct Kelvin reading.

CP Cinema Locked. The camera has the ability to lock in your values so you can’t accidentally change anything. If you find that you can’t change the Custom Picture profile, it could be that CP Cinema Lock feature is on (this happened to me).

  • Access the “Camera Setup” in menu
  • Scroll down to CP Cinema Lock
  • Make sure it’s turned off

Canon Log. If you’ve done your homework on this camera, you may know that Canon’s “Log” feature is a very desired feature to shoot in. It is the closest thing to shooting “raw” on the camera, and gives you the greatest dynamic range (12 stops of latitude). To turn this on…

  • Hit the Custom Picture button on side of camera (this button is also on the simulator)
  • Go down and hit “Set”
  • Click through the selection until you get to C8:Cinema. That is the Canon Log setion. It doesn’t actually say Canon Log anywhere in this part of the menu, so it took me a while to figure it out. Once you have set C8 then back out to the top of the menu, you’ll see a new set of functions under the “Set” function. Scroll down to the “CP” icon and that’s where you’ll see the setting’s name, as well as the individual settings for gamma, saturation, sharpness, etc. This is where you can make custom settings.

Custom Buttons. You can set up to 15 custom buttons the camera. The first 1-8 or so are already set (e.g. Magnification, Peaking, Zebra, etc.) Half of the customizable buttons are on the viewfinder control panel you attach to the top. They are the playback buttons. Take the time to assign features to these buttons for the features you’ll use most often that don’t have pre-assigned buttons. I created buttons for changing resolution, frame rate, and the Slow and Fast Motion feature. The “Assign” button feature is located in the wrench icon (“Other functions”)

  • Go to “Assign button”
  • Then select the button you want to assign/change.
  • Then scroll up until you get to “User Setting”. Hit that.
  • You’ll then be taken to a blue version of the menu. Locate the feature in the menu you want to assign.
  • A star will appear next to it.

Transcoding. This is for those of you used to transcoding DSLR footage with something like MPEG Streamclip. The C300 shoots in Canon’s MXF Codec. Simply put, this is how the camera compresses the imagery to fit on a CF card at the highest possible quality. What’s great about the C300 is that it can record 422 color space right to the card. DSLRs shoot at 420 color space. (It’s beyond the scope of this blog post to explain color space. Suffice to say, 444 is the best and is optimal if you plan to do a lot of Hollywood-level color grading or visual effects. 422 is a superb color space and is more than enough for most of you. Other cinema cameras like Sony’s FS100 can only record 422 if you use an external digital  recorder. So the fact that the C300 can do it in-camera to the card is awesome.)

Anyway, each clip you record is stored in a folder with a bunch of other files that make no sense to the untrained eye. So to convert this MXF footage to a format you can use on your NLE, you’lll need to make sure you have Canon’s plugin installed. Once installed, Adobe Premier users would select the correct sequence format for the camera when you create your project (it may already be installed for you).  FCP7 users will have to use the Log & Transfer mode to covert footage. Here are my personal instructions.

  • Make sure scratch disk in FCP is set where you want files to go.
  • The structure of the files needs to be CONTENTS > CLIPS001 > The Clips. If you have a different set of Clips, put them in a separate CONTENTS folder.
  • File > Log & Transfer
  • In upper left hand corner click folder icon to select folder in which the XF media is stored
  • Make sure Log & Transfer prefs are set to Canon XF Plugin
    • Select files then right-click to select “Preferences”
    • Set Target format to whichever format you’re using. DDM uses ProRes Proxy or ProResLT for most work. You can select “Native” if you want to keep the footage in it’s native 50mbps format. Note: Any ProRes setting of LT or higher will make clips 150% larger and more.
  • Set any in and out marks for each clip if necessary
  • Add clips to Queue
Update: #8 Peaking (bonus tip). The peaking function is used to see what’s in focus. This is perhaps one of the things I love most. I’ve been so used to focusing on a DSLR for the past few years, I forgot how cool this feature was from my HD camcorder days. Make sure the peaking color is set to something that stands out. When I was testing this feature at home, I didn’t think it was working. Then I realized that my Peaking color was set to white. So I couldn’t see it in the room where I was shooting where everything was white.
  • From the menu access the LCD/VF menu
  • Make sure Peaking is turned on.
  • Then go down to Peaking 1 or Peaking 2 to set the color.

My Conclusions

I LOVED shooting with this camera. If you have any kind of traditional video camera background you will find it extremely intuitive. You probably won’t need a manual, but in case you do, click here to get it. The imagery is gorgeous. I am looking forward to finishing up the doc and showing you what we got. (Speaking of which, time to get back to that).

If you’ve used the C300 and have any additional tips I may have missed, please share.

7 thoughts on “Canon C300 Tips for DSLR Filmmakers

  1. Hey Ron,

    Thanks for the tips. As someone who has created an entire career with DSLR’s, the big gotcha for me was the lack of line exposure meter like my 5D has. Waveform Monitor? Zebras? What the bleep are those? Now I love them, but if you are new to an actual “video camera,” I would strongly suggest reading up on those pro grade features in the C300.

    1. Excellent comment Brian. That is definitely an 8th tip. Zebras are set to make sure there are no areas of brightness that go beyond 100 IRE (Google IRE). For broadcast production, your exposure need to be within a certain IRE range. Waveform monitors are good for that too. I used the WF monitor a few times during the shoot to make sure I wasn’t over exposing.

      It’s definitely worth researching how to use and read WF monitors.

  2. Great article, Thank you so much,

    Do you know why when I record the hdmi output (with black magic hyperdeck V2) I have an unterlaced stream ?
    I dont find any information to change that.
    Do I have to record by HD-SDIto have a progressive one ?


    1. As far as I know, the kind of connection does not determine if you have an interlaced or progressive stream. That would be an issue for the recorder itself or the output settings you’re using.

  3. question for you Mr. Ron Dawson. i was using c-300 on location today and it locked up on me.. Meaning i couldn’t get into the menu or do anything.. only thing i was able to change was my ISO…? Any thoughts on how to trouble shoot this problem?

    thank you for your time,

    1. Sorry. I’ve never heard of that happening. Could be an overheating issue or just a bad camera. Maybe bad firmware. So many different possibilities.

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