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 are on display at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, have the ability to record 4K digital video—in addition of doing everything that the C300 models are capable of. The cameras we got our hands on at NAB were still prototype models, but we collected enough information to give you our first impressions of these cutting-edge creations.
The C500 is more of a DSLR camera than a camcorder, and one of the main reasons for this distinction is its ability to work with a wide variety of different lenses. This is also the main difference between the C500 and C500 PL models. The EOS C500 camera can use EF-mount lenses, while the C500 PL is fitted for use with PL-mount lenses (makes sense, right?). Essentially, the PL fit gives you more access to professional cinema lenses, while the EF-lens mount is Canon's standard mount for EOS cameras (the EF line also contains a number of EF Cinema lens options).
The sensor on the C500 is a newly-developed 8.85-megapixel CMOS chip that Canon describes as "equivalent to Super 35mm". 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.
The ability to record 4K video is the big story here, and it is likely to be the big story with cameras and camcorders over the next few years as well. As with all new "recording formats", companies like Canon must deal with how to compress and capture this video. As we saw with the JVC GY-HMQ10, this process can be very confusing to understand because it is so new.
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 x 1080 (or 1920 x 1080) resolution. To make the camera more versatile, Canon includes to options for recording 4K. There's the DCI production standard that records at a 4096 x 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 x 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 de-Bayering. 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.
Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of different compression types.
The frame rate flexibility for recording video on the C500 is 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 x 1080 recording, while the other records traditional 1920 x 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 the 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.
Like the C300, the C500 has two Compact Flash memory card slots on the back of the camera. CF cards can't be used to store 4K video recorded by the camcorder, but they will simultaneously record a Full HD proxy video for editing 4K content with an offline non-linear editing system. To store the uncompressed RAW 4K and 2K videos captured by the C500, you must use an external recording system and connect it to the camera via its dual 3G SDI terminals. This solution is expensive—any camera or camcorder with multiple SDI terminals is very pricey—but it makes more sense than the quad SD card recording put in place with the JVC GY-HMQ10 4K camcorder. The C500 also has an SD card slot for storing preset data and saving various settings.
Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of different media types.
From what we can tell, there are some auto controls on the C500, but the camera is clearly meant to be controlled manually. There doesn't appear to be an autofocus system on the camera, which is something the C300 also lacked, but you can have the camera set exposure levels automatically as well as white balance and audio levels.
Remember, the C500 has an interchangeable lens camera system. This means zoom isn't controlled by a small toggle or rocker, but on the lens itself (using the zoom ring). The amount of zoom you get on the camera is, of course, determined by what lens you have attached to the model. Again, the options for the C500 include all Canon EF lenses (including new 4K EF Cinema lenses), while the C500 PL grants you access to the PL mount lens system.
Like zoom, focus on the C500 depends on the lens. You use the lens ring to adjust focus, but the camera has no autofocus mechanism. We assume the C500 will offer the same amount of extensive focus assist functions that are seen on the C300 cameras. These include two peaking modes, a magnified focus assist, and edge monitoring.
With the C500, you have complete control over exposure in the form of shutter speed, ISO settings, mechanical ND filters, as well as aperture controls (based on what lens you're using). The camera has the same ISO range of ISO 320 to ISO 20,000 that was featured on the C300, and Canon's Log Gamma recording ensures the ability of offering a 12-stop exposure latitude in your recordings.
The camera is also equipped with professional-grade exposure assistance controls, including zebra patterns, waveform monitors, RGB parade display, spot display, and a vectorscope display. Most of these functions have their own dedicated button on the left side of the camera.
There's a dedicated white balance button on the side of the C500 and the camera has two custom Kelvin settings that can be stored in the camera's memory. There's also an auto white balance mode and two white balance presets: daylight and tungsten.
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 being said, Canon clearly put its energy in 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. The C500 is certainly a daunting camera from a basic consumer perspective, but compared to most bulky professional camcorders we found it easy to wrap our 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 we like to see from a professional video camera.
All of the C500 cameras at CES were mounted to tripods, so we didn't get to exactly hold one in our hands. But, unlike the C300, it seems Canon is attempting to push the C500 less as a "handheld" device. The camera has no rotating hand grip, which was one of the primary handling features on the C300, and it was something that allowed you to carry that camera around more like a traditional camcorder. We're somewhat disappointed with the grips absence on the C500, but we're sure there will be third-party grips and similar accessories 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 the camera with accessories and extra components however you see fit. External monitors, multiple EVFs, 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.
Canon doesn't have the full specs for the C500's weight or size at this time, but it is safe to assume the new camera will have similar proportions to the C300. The C300 main unit weighed just over three pounds (1430g), while its provided battery pack added another half pound (220g) or so. Whatever lens you choose to use with the C500 will dramatically increase the camera's bulk as well. Still, we should be clear that the body of the C500 is very compact compared to most professional camcorders in the same price range. It's small enough to fit in your hands and doesn't require a shoulder mount, although if you put a huge lens on the C500 you'll probably be forced to use the camera with a tripod.
It is unclear if the C500 will come with the 4-inch LCD monitor unit that Canon provides with the C300 camera. Either way, it is likely that this unit will be available for the C500 in some way or another (either free or for an additional cost). The monitor unit connects via the camera's external monitor ports and has two XLR inputs on its base.
The built-in viewfinder on the C500 isn't fantastic, but it gets the job done. We found the viewfinder showed relatively crisp images and was good enough to adjust things like focus and exposure. But at NAB one of the C500 cameras was outfitted with a larger, third-party viewfinder that was far better than Canon's built-in EVF. Basically, the C500's EVF is good enough, but you can get much better if you want to spend the extra cash.
The C500 has no built-in microphone, but the camera features a 3.5mm mic jack and is expandable with two XLR inputs (on the external monitor attachment). There's also a headphone jack on the camera and a wide variety of audio controls. If you want to, you can record good audio with this setup, but it may be preferable to use a dedicated audio recording system instead—just to keep the C500 less cluttered when you're shooting video.
For the most part, the C500 has the same extensive connectivity features as the C300 camera, but there's a few significant differences. The C500 has two 3G-SDI ports for outputting the 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.
Other than that, the C500 has the same ports and terminals you'd find on the C300. These include two external signal terminals, a wired remote port, a sync output, HDMI terminal, Genlock, Time Code, an HD-SDI port, and a DC-input (as well as the audio ports we mentioned above).
When Canon announced the EOS C300 camera a few months ago, videographers were almost universally enthralled. The C300 was seen as the future of digital cinema; a DSLR camera designed specifically with video in mind. It's small package and powerful sensor, along with the capability to work with a huge variety of lenses was (and still is) very exciting. There was just one thing missing—the ability to record 4K video.
This is the stage Canon set for the EOS C500 camera. The model 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 (its lack of a mirror-less interchangeable lens camera is a good example), 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 we saw on display at Canon's booth at NAB was breathtaking. Still, we're a bit weary of the camera, as we always are with "first generation" products. 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 the C500 on your hands 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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Managing Editor, Video@nematode9
Jeremy is the video expert of our imaging team and Reviewed.com's head of video production. Originally from Pennsylvania and upstate NY, he graduated from Bard college with a degree in film and electronic media. He has been living and working in New England since 2005.See all of Jeremy Stamas's reviews
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