3 Reasons the Canon C100 is Great for Documentaries

On April 27th, my wife and I were blessed to be able to create a video for a wonderful family from our church, the Dwyer’s.  They are in the process of adopting two kids from Uganda, and they’ve partnered up with Lifesong for Orphans and Both Hands Foundation to do a service project to help raise funds for their adoption.

Both Hand Sequence.Still001

This is the second video that we’ve done for the Both Hands Foundation (Watch the first video here and learn more about the organization). This organization aids families in the process of adoption by helping them organize a service project that also serves as a fundraiser.  Adopting one child is a huge financial undertaking in itself, but this particular family is adopting two!   We volunteered our services as filmmakers to create a short documentary of the service project as a part of the fundraiser.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT CAMERA FOR THE SHOOT

On these short documentary projects, I am the only one filming so I was looking for these things in the camera I was going to use:

  • Small form factor with good ergonomics
  • High quality image (not necessarily hi-resolution)
  • Professional audio connections
  • ND filters
  • High Frame Rate

I ended up choosing the Canon C100 because of three main reasons:

  • Professional video and audio features
  • Ergonomics/Ease of use
  • Image Quality

An additional consideration was cost.  I was volunteering my services and the price of renting the C100 was within reason.

I was giving up the ability to shoot high frame rate but decided that it wasn’t a huge issue for this specific project.

PROFESSIONAL VIDEO AND AUDIO FEATURES

This is definitely geared towards DSLR shooters because the form factor is very similar.  Moving around and adjusting exposure was great.  Shooting outside and having exposure tools like a waveform monitor was such wonderful thing to have even though I made a few mistakes in exposing.  I didn’t realize that I could underexpose parts of my image without introducing that much noise, so I let the sky blow out to expose for underexposed areas.  I realized after sitting down to color grade the final project that I could bring up my shadows without introducing that much noise.  However, more noise was there at the underexposed areas at higher ISOs.

C100
C100 with top grip removed. See that nice waveform monitor on the LCD screen?

When sitting down to film the interviews, being able to record continuously was essential.  Even though this is something generally expected in video cameras, it’s a good change for those coming from DSLRs.

Additionally, the C100 has 2 XLR connections in its top handle, both extremely useful when doing interviews because I can use my shotgun mics and wireless lavs.  I used a Sony wireless lav and an Audio-Technica lav for the interviews.

ERGONOMICS/EASE OF USE

The camera was a joy to hold in my hand.  I was on sticks and a slider for a good part of the shoot but when I went handheld, the C100’s weight was hefty enough to be steady but light enough that I could hold it for the entire day without getting too tired.  It’s not light (~4 pounds) but it’s not a RED Scarlet. 

C100
C100 & 28mm prime with top grip removed. It’s a nice compact package.

The LCD flip-out screen isn’t as usable as the flip-out rotatable screen for a 60D/T3i, but it is clear and definitely usable.  One issue that I have (along with many others) is the puny EVF.  When looking through the EVF, the screen inside is low-res and prone to light leaks.  There are workarounds but it is not a very robust EVF.  This is one of the weakest parts of the camera.

Nearly every button on the C100 is customizable.  This is a very useful feature because you can have access to menus and features that are typically hidden deep inside the menu at a push of one button.

Having 3 stages of ND Filters built in was wonderful to have back in a camera.  It made shooting outside so much easier since I could quickly switch between ND’s and keep my f-stop between f/4-5.6.

IMAGE QUALITY

Image quality and dynamic range (12 stops) were the things that really opened up my eyes about this camera.  Everything looked ok on the little LCD monitor or puny EVF, but when I got home and hooked the HDMI out of the C100 into my TV and played the raw footage off the camera, I was REALLY pleased with what I saw.   I love how they are using a 4K sensor to get the 1080p image.  If you want more information about the nerdy science behind how they are deriving that image from the 4K sensor, you can search for Canon’s whitepaper on the sensor technology.

In fact, the image quality was really similar to RED 4K footage resized to 1080p.  Obviously the color science and texture of the RED is a bit different, but I really liked what I saw.  For a 1080p image, this camera slots in right below those RED/ALEXA cameras in terms of image quality.  Sure, the dynamic range is not as wide as the others but WIDE DR and Canon Log (Cinema) mode are really useful.  I shot everything in the Cinema mode and it really helped capture a wide range when shooting in bright sunlight and shade.

Related to the image quality, this camera has amazing low-light capability.  The current firmware allows you to shoot up to 20,000 ISO, but in the near future, you can shoot all the way up to 80,000 ISO.  I’d say 12,800 ISO is usable as long as you are exposing properly.  Noise is dancing around in your image at that point, but it’s usable depending on the type of documentary you are shooting.  People love to compare the noise to DSLR noise and the C100 absolutely has a less digital noise pattern than other DSLRs, but it’s still noise in your image.  As long as it isn’t taking away from the story you want to tell and the way you want to tell the story, then it will be fine.

FILMING THE PROJECT
 WITH THE CANON C100

I captured the project day with the Canon C100 as my main camera.  I also used a Canon 60D with Magic Lantern for time-lapse and a Konova Slider for a lot of the shots, also.

sherwins-c100

It was a beautiful day and Judy, the widow in this project, was deeply moved by the heart of this family and the volunteers to serve her. Typically, it’s difficult for Judy to move around because of health issues so I’m thankful she was feeling well enough to see the progress on her house and speak on camera.   The team of volunteers helped with landscaping, removing unsafe and unusable structures, electrical work, replacing lighting fixtures, painting, and cleaning up the home.

At the end of the day, I ended up with a ton of great footage that I put into a short 5-minute video.  I used Adobe Premiere, After Effects, Audition and Da Vinci Resolve for all the post-production work on the video.

To get an idea of the image quality please watch the video fullscreen or download the original file.

To donate, please visit: http://bothhands.org/joshua-and-amber-dwyer

Here’s another documentary I shot with the C100. This documentary is about the realization of an immigrant family’s dreams.  With their children living successful lives with their own families, an immigrant couple have decided to close down their restaurant business and retire after 30 years of struggles and triumphs in this country.

What are your thoughts on the Canon C100?  Would you use it for your next documentary?  If not, what other cameras would you want to use?

C100

Sherwin Lau is an award-winning filmmaker and educator based in New Mexico.  He and his lovely wife, Monica, started Walk/Humbly Films. His mission is to glorify God by using the visual arts to serve individuals, organizations, and the community.  Sherwin also teaches film production courses for the Creative Media Institute at New Mexico State University.

10 thoughts on “3 Reasons the Canon C100 is Great for Documentaries

  1. The c100 will most likely be my next tool. Looking at images the experienced guys are posting at places like DVXuser.com has completely won me over.

    1. You are going to really enjoy shooting with this camera. Since the post was about documentaries, I stuck to it, but if you are shooting commercials, short films, feature films, etc., this camera is going to be GREAT for your productions.

      What type of projects do you shoot? I would love to see the work you create with the C100!

  2. Great job. Glad to see people using the C100 for docs. In case you might be interested, we have a product to make handheld ENG Style shots easier with the Canon C100, the CameraRibbon Rig QRC. The new model for the Canon C100 can be seen on our website cameraribbon.com

    Thanks

    1. Thanks for watching, Russ! Shooting with the C100 has been such a joy. The CameraRibbon Rig looks interesting. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Hmm, did the shooters use c-log? I’m surprised at how blown-out the highlights appear. I would have to say the shooters didn’t use the camera to its full potential in these videos, since as moving as they are, the images just aren’t that great.

    1. Noah, thank you for your comments and I appreciate your honest opinion. I did use c-log for the videos. To a certain extent, you’re right about the images. It was my first few times shooting with the camera so I definitely did not know the camera as well as I do now, but on the other hand having some of the blown highlights was also a choice. I had a very very short turnaround time for the video so I had to get what I needed to expose right in camera because I did not have the time I needed to do a full correction in post given the nature of the shoot. Thank you again for your comments.

  4. I’m gonna buy one too. Good prices on Amazon. Will be great to have a nice video camera. I like to shoot documentary and ENG type stuff all the time. The noise performance on this was amazing too. I saw it at 20k ISO and was impressed.

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