Canon C200 Review: A Perspective from a C100 Owner
If you were a resident of the corporate, documentary or wedding worlds (realms? I like “realms” better. We’re going with realms from now on.), you can probably attest to the fact that the Canon C100 was a popular camera. A relatively lightweight body, great low light performance, and professional audio inputs made it a beast in that budget range. It certainly had its limitations. Most of them were easy enough to work around. For me personally, it was a workhorse for years.
As of this writing, the C100 is more than five years old. The realms in which it was once formidable are now want for things this camera can’t deliver. Clients are asking for 4K now. Post production workflows have become more tolerant of this extra resolution. As a C100 owner, the time has come to hunt for a new camera. There are a lot of options out there. But if you want to stay in Canon’s ecosystem, an interesting option entered the market a few months ago: behold, the Canon C200!
The Canon C200 sits somewhere between a C100 and a C300 Mark II . Depending on who you talk to, it might just be the new hotness. Others have been a bit uncertain of who exactly the Canon C200 is for. In my opinion, it’s pretty clearly Canon’s replacement for the C100 line. I think it makes sense to lay out the ways in which the C200 now occupies the seat the C100 has been sitting in for years. I’ll address how the C200 mirrors some of the aspects of the C100 and then move into some of the new tricks it has up its sleeve. This is not a comprehensive review but more a look at something new through the eyes of someone who used the old version a lot.
Body Talk: Build of the Canon C200 vs the C100
One of the most attractive features of the C100 is its relatively compact frame. It’s a camera that you can hand-hold with no rig and get usable footage. The C200 is a solid pound heavier. It does feel substantially beefier in the field. Is it still usable handheld? Absolutely, but you’ll fatigue quicker. The added heft is due to some of the image-making goodies that have been packed into the camera.
Depending on how you like to shoot, the added weight might actually be point in the C200’s favor. If you like to work shoulder-mounted or on something like an EasyRig, you might prefer the added weight of the camera. It can sometimes make operating the camera feel a bit more stable. This is purely subjective, so the best approach is to get your hands on it and see how it complements the way you work.
Modularity of the Canon C200
The Canon C200 made a significant departure from the C100 in its modularity. The C200 has been designed to be broken down to a completely bare-bones package for something like drone or gimbal work. This new design allows you to detach the side handle, top handle, and LCD monitor. Even with all this removed, you can still use the camera. This added modularity makes the camera far more adaptable to a wide array of work. With a C100, if the rear LCD placement was inconvenient you just had to live with it (or buy a monitor). The C200 allows you to reposition the monitor anywhere you’d like – a small but welcome feature.
Learn to Love that Compression. Or Don’t.
One of the biggest complaints about the original C100 was the limiting AVCHD compression. At 24mb/s, the bitrate wasn’t exciting. Granted: I’ve personally never been EXCITED about bitrates to begin with. But I won’t judge anyone else for feeling otherwise. A lot of C100 users, myself included, got around this bitrate issue by pairing the camera with an external recorder, like the Atomos Ninja Blade. Taking a clean, 8-bit 4:2:2 signal out of the camera’s HDMI port, you were now able to record lovely ProRes or DNxHD files that more or less matched something like a C300, which was very popular at the time. I used this exact setup for years, often as a B-camera operator on shows where the C300 was the A camera.
I think that the C200 is designed to be used with an external recorder, especially if you’re shooting in 4K. The camera is able to record 8-bit 4:2:0 internally, which isn’t great (especially if you’re shooting LOG). Luckily, the C200 can output 10-bit 4:2:2 in HD over HDMI and SDI (8-bit 4:2:0 for 4K). So if you’re in need of a robust 4K image for color grading, all you need is an external recorder and you’re good to go!
In addition to the bit depth of the camera, it’s also important to mention the LongGOP codec that the internal recording of the C200 uses. I’m not a codec expert, but the tl;dr on LongGOP codecs is that they require a lot of computing power when editing. As I understand it, it largely comes down to the fact that a LongGOP compression doesn’t actually record every discrete frame. It instead records reference frames at certain intervals. That allows 4K material to be recorded at relatively low bitrates. The burden is then transferred to your computer to interpolate the frames in between the reference ones that were recorded.
Depending on the specs of your computer, this footage might be very difficult to edit smoothly. In my case, on a 2017 iMac, I notice a momentary stall when I first play back a clip in the timeline. I also get the occasional hiccup when scrubbing around. If you’re working on an older or less powerful machine, you might find that you’ll need to transcode the footage to get smooth playback. Here is another area where having a monitor/recorder will solve a little headache for you.
Canon C200’s Cinema RAW Light
In a big departure from the C100, the C200 allows you to record a new flavor of Canon RAW to CFast 2.0 cards. They call it Cinema RAW Light but be prepared for some pretty heavy media consumption. I got about 15 minutes per 128GB card, recording 4K 12-bit files at 24 FPS. Canon claims that recording in Cinema RAW Light gives you the best out of the sensor, and I have to agree. I found that I had a lot more color depth and flexibility in post production, which allowed me to more subtly affect the color and tonality of the image in the grade.
The workflow to get these big, pretty images to play nice with your computer is a little finicky. When it comes to working with the RAW files, you’re limited to two options: Canon’s proprietary software or DaVinci Resolve. If you’re looking to have complete control of ISO, White Balance and Color Space, you’re going to need to use Canon’s software. At the time of this writing, DaVinci Resolve is able to read the RAW files but does not support making those kinds of adjustments. I also found that playback was a bit stuttered in Resolve. I ended up transcoding to ProRes 4444 XQ. Once transcoded, post production was a breeze and I still found that I could push and pull the image a great deal.
In general, I also found that RAW was a little less forgiving of underexposure, which you can see in the screenshot below. If you look in the shadow detail inside the bowl, you can see some noise. I didn’t find the noise to be unacceptable and it’s certainly something that you can reduce with a plugin like Neat Video if you find it distracting.
A Documentary Sensor
One of the most impressive aspects of the original C100 was that the sensor (like its big sister the C300) was great, especially in low light. This made the camera great for documentaries and weddings because it could get you a good exposure in most lighting conditions. Though I wouldn’t want to do so frequently, I’ve shot usable material on the C100 up to ISO 8,000. Is it noisy at that value? Sure. Given the scene and circumstances, I didn’t find it to be excessive.
The C200 continues this tradition. It sports a very flexible sensor that I was pushing as high as ISO 5000. The clips below were shot between ISO 3200 and ISO 5000. While there’s certainly some noise, I think it held up reasonably well. If you’re shooting in CLog2 or CLog3, the shadows will appear noisier before grading. Those picture profiles are flatter than original recipe CLog, so if you’re used to that sensor, use a little caution when exposing the camera. If you use a monitoring LUT, you can help yourself in this regard. A LUT should crush a lot of the shadow detail and show you something that’s closer to what a final graded image might look like. I find it’s best to keep the Log image viewable on the camera’s LCD and use some sort of LUT on an external monitor so you can swap between the two.
Frame rates were a sore spot for C100 owners, as the camera could go no higher than 30 FPS. For a lot of people (myself included), it was the biggest drawback of the camera. The C200 has answered this critique and given filmmakers a lot of options when it comes to frame rates. In fact, it’s got better frame rate options than its bigger sister, the C300 Mark II. The camera can shoot up to 60 FPS in 4K and can overcrank up to 120 FPS in 1080p, all without windowing the sensor. I made a lot of these mixed frame rates in my time with the camera and I have to say that this feature is one of the biggest selling points of the camera.
There is already a lot of written material about the autofocus capabilities of the Canon C200. The short answer is that it’s pretty fantastic. During my time with the camera, I didn’t have a ton of opportunity to test this feature, but what I did see was extremely impressive. Nobody needs to see footage of my face getting closer and closer (especially if it’s kept impressively in focus), but I’ll say that this feature is great. In addition to face-tracking, the touchscreen LCD also makes the autofocus very useable in a wide array of circumstances. Even if it’s just a quick tap on a subject while on a documentary, it’s an added convenience that I think a lot of people will use.
Here is yet another area where the C200 feels like a deliberate step up from the C100. Whereas the C100 was limited to HDMI out, the C200 offers both SDI and HDMI. At the moment, the HDMI port is the only one that is able to output 4K, as well as 60 FPS. This is essential for external monitoring while shooting high frame rates. But it’s a nice bonus to have access to a secure, lockable SDI port for something like an external recorder.
In addition to a new output option, the C200 gives the user far more control over what each port is looking at. The C100 limited the user to simply “clean” output (with no overlays), or embedded overlays. The C200 adds to this by allowing the user to send monitoring LUTs to each of the outputs (including the LCD) individually. This is great if you’re using an external monitor for a client or operator and you’d like them to see a non-log gamma curve.
So, Who is the Canon C200 For?
There’s bit a bit of a bru-ha-ha (I’m so happy that I got to use that term) about this camera. At first glance it seems like a strange set of features packed into a body at this price point. In my time with the camera, I think I figured out exactly who it’s most aimed at:
It’s aimed at me. Not JUST me, but folks like me. C100 owners who have leveled up, so to speak. Let’s do a little Story Time – I promise it’s going somewhere:
When I bought the C100 4+ years ago, it was exactly what I needed. I was relatively new to the business and it was the most affordable “Pro” cinema camera that I could comfortably use on other people’s productions (and my own). At the time, the C300 was king in the corporate/documentary market and I wanted to own something that would match well with what other folks were using at the time. It was limited in frame rate options and the codec wasn’t altogether impressive, but it made great images and worked a TON over the subsequent 4 years.
Now, I’m 4 years older, doughy in weird places, and I’m working on different stuff that has a different set of needs. For me personally, I’m comfortable renting the very fancy stuff from BL when I need it, but I don’t need to OWN the very fancy stuff. I need to own something that is flexible, makes pretty images, and is easy to use. In those ways, the C200 is essentially a C100 for our current filmmaking epoch. It’ll surely be a workhorse, and while it has some quirky limitations, they’re relatively easy to work around.
Once More on RAW
Now, the interesting wrinkle here, which makes the Canon C200 an extremely attractive new camera, is the RAW capabilities. While I love my C100, it’s not something I would choose to use on a TV pilot or indie feature film. The C200, however, might prove to be an interesting rental if you want very high quality images but you can’t afford something like an Arri or RED. Maybe you’re a Canon user who is about to make a feature film. You’ve already got a set of lenses that you want to use and you need something that feels like a good step up at a reasonable rental rate. Don’t sleep on the C200 – especially if you’re already a Canon shooter and you like the results you’re getting from that platform.
I mean…don’t sleep on the Canon C200 anyway. I know BL has you do that damage waiver thing, but of all the ways to break a camera, “I was tired and my head was super heavy” is kind of the worst excuse.