Canon C500 First Impression Review
With the EOS C500, Canon decided to embrace 4K recording this year; Canon often holds out on new technologies, so this is a big deal for 4K enthusiasts.
Early November of last year, Canon made a huge announcement about the “future of filmmaking” at an event in Hollywood, California. That’s where the company unveiled its new line of Cinema EOS cameras: DSLRs designed exclusively for video production. The EOS C300 and C300 PL models were both announced at the event, and the crowd went wild.
Now, a mere six months later, Canon has taken its Cinema EOS lineup one step further with the new EOS C500 and C500 PL. These cameras, which were on display at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, have the ability to record 4K digital video—in addition to executing anything that the C300 models are capable of. The cameras I got my hands on at NAB were prototype models, but they were still functional cameras. Upon release, Canon expects to retail the C500 for around $30,000, and just like the C300 camera, the C500 will be available with either a PL or EF lens mount system.
Design & Usability
Most handling features are identical to the C300, except Canon removed the rotating hand grip from the C500.
The C500 is certainly a daunting camera from a basic consumer perspective, but compared to most bulky professional camcorders, it's actually not too hard to wrap your head around. The camera is petite (compared to shoulder-mounted ENG models), it has well-labeled controls and an easy-to-read menu system, and it can be customized with countless accessories. Basically, the C500 can be molded to fit your needs, and that’s exactly what a professional camera should do.
Canon seems to push the C500 less as a "handheld" device, at least compared to the way it markets the C300. The C500 has no rotating hand grip, which was one of the primary handling features on the C300, and one that allowed you to carry the camera like a traditional camcorder. The absence of this grip on the C500 is somewhat disappointing, but I'm sure there will be plenty of third-party grips hitting the market as soon as the C500 is available. And that’s where the real fun with the C500 begins. The camera’s body itself is fairly compact and light, but you can outfit this model with accessories and extra components however you see fit: External monitors, multiple viewfinders, rigs, mounts, you name it. Canon claims it “collaborated with some of the most respected names in the industry” in order to ensure its 4K/2K output terminals would work with existing digital recording units, as well as portable external monitors and color grading systems. Of course, the camera is new, so we can only expect to see more products come out in the near future that will enhance the way the C500 handles.
The C500 is more of a DSLR camera than a camcorder, thanks to its ability to work with a wide variety of lenses.
The EOS C500 is available with an EF or PL lens mount, but you must make the choice before you purchase. The PL-mount version gives you access to more professional cinema lenses, while the EF-mount is Canon's standard mount for EOS cameras (which also contains a number of new EF Cinema lens options). The right choice really depends on what kind of lenses you like to use and what lenses you have access to. The sensor on the C500 is an 8.85-megapixel CMOS chip that Canon describes as “equivalent to Super 35mm film.” According to Canon, the CMOS sensor in the C500 is the same as the sensor in the C300, but the C500 utilizes it differently in order to record 4K video.
From what I can tell, there are a few auto controls on the C500, but the camera is clearly meant to be controlled manually. There is no autofocus system present, something the C300 also lacks, but you can have the camera set exposure, white balance, and audio levels automatically. Speaking of audio, the C500 has no built-in microphone, but it does feature a 3.5mm mic jack and can be expanded to include two XLR inputs on the external monitor attachment.
For the most part, the C500 has the same extensive connectivity features as the C300 camera, but there are a few significant differences. The C500 has two 3G-SDI ports for outputting uncompressed 4K/2K video captured by the camera. There are also two extra HD-SDI terminals on the back of the camera to support external live monitoring.
4K workflow solutions are complicated and expensive, but at least the C500 has a ton of different options.
Using new technology is never easy, so it’s likely there will be a few bumps in the road should you choose to switch over to a 4K workflow. That said, Canon clearly put its energy into making 4K recording accessible to users of the C500. The camera has multiple 4K recording modes, each designed to fit into existing cinema and television standards, and its inclusion of various 2K recording options helps people ease their way into a full transition over to 4K.
In order to record 4K video, the EOS C500 deconstructs the Bayer color sampling into four video components RGGB 4:4:4:4, and each are captured at a 2048 × 1080 (or 1920 × 1080) resolution. To make the camera more versatile, Canon includes two options for recording 4K. There’s the DCI production standard that records at a 4096 × 2160 resolution with a 1.896:1 aspect ratio, or there’s the TV-centric Quad Full HD production standard that records at a 3840 × 2160 resolution and a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Both modes output the 4K video as a 10-bit uncompressed RAW data stream with no debayering. Both modes also offer the ability of recording what Canon calls a 4K Half Raw video, where the vertical resolution is limited to 1080 pixels.
The frame rate options for recording video on the C500 are astounding. The camera can utilize frame rates from one to 60fps in the full res record modes, and you can record up to 120fps using the 4K Half Raw settings. The camera offers the same DCI and QFHD production standard options for recording 2K video. One allows for 2048 × 1080 recording, while the other records traditional 1920 × 1080 Full HD video. The 2K shooting modes have the option for 10-bit or 12-bit recording. For all these RAW 4K recording settings, you can output video using the camera’s 3G-SDI terminal. There are also dual uncompressed HD-SDI outputs that support live monitoring. Additionally, you can simultaneously record an MPEG-2 HD proxy video at 50Mbps to CF cards inserted in the C500’s dual memory card slots. But remember, the camera cannot store 4K video Compact Flash memory cards. These cards can only be used to store regular HD video, or to store proxy video for editing 4K content with an offline non-linear editing system.
Prices haven't been set in stone, but Canon expects the C500 to retail for $30,000—roughly twice the cost of the C300.
The EOS C500 certainly isn’t as innovative or as groundbreaking as the C300, but its ability to record 4K video means that the industry is in full swing to embrace this new recording format. The C500 isn’t even the only 4K camera or camcorder at NAB this year: JVC has its GY-HMQ10 camcorder that was unveiled at CES and Sony has its new NEX-FS700 as well. But the fact that Canon decided to embrace 4K recording this year is hugely significant. Canon is a company that often holds out on new technologies, so the presence of the C500 on Canon’s roster is a big deal for 4K enthusiasts.
Just like the C300 before it, the EOS C500 looks impressive, and the 4K footage I saw on display at Canon’s booth at NAB was breathtaking. Still, it's hard not to be at least a little bit weary of the camera since it's a "first-generation" product. The 4K workflow solutions offered by Canon seem well thought out, but they are certainly expensive. You may want to hold out for a year or two—if you can—and wait for prices to drop on professional 4K products instead of jumping for the C500 right away.
If you’re dying to get your hands on the C500 you’re going to have to wait a few months anyway. Canon announced the C500 and C500 PL won’t be available until later this year, and although specific price points have yet to be determined, Canon expects to retail the cameras for around $30,000. In a way, that $30,000 price tag makes perfect sense. It’s roughly double what you’d pay for a new EOS C300, so you’re essentially paying twice as much in order to make the jump from full HD to 4K video. And those extra pixels aren’t free.
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