Menu Account

Canon C500 vs. Film Camera Test

  • February 28, 2014
  • Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Canon C500 vs. Film Camera Test

Today we’re doing a side by side comparison of the Canon C500 and a good old fashioned Kodak Film Stock.

C500 vs Film

March 14 is right around the corner, the theatrical release of Need for Speed.

Need for Speed

On opening night, when everyone sits in their seats and the lights go down in the theater, hopefully you’re in a 3D theater that has a 60 or 80-foot screen. Get ready to be immersed through a wonderful mix of art and science. This film was an amazing journey that I would never have been able to get through without my incredible crew: camera, grip, electric, stunt team, special effects, production design, costume, wardrobe, everything firing on twelve cylinders to be able to make this movie possible. Our Director Scotty Waugh had amazing energy and passion to make the whole movie practically and deliver a movie-making experience that will be unlike any other. To get to the final product, there were many camera tests that needed to be done. We wanted to show you some of them. I have talked in depth about the Canon C500. If I had to compare it to a film emulsion, I would compare it to Kodak. So I thought, why not do a test where we show film versus the C500?

We are going to break it down into five different tests that take you on my cinematic journey that infuses the look that we were going for on this movie. These are not just ‘make it balanced’ kind of tests or just raw tests. These are color-corrected tests that are set in the look and feel of how Scotty and I wanted the movie to look. Mike Sowa was our colorist at Technicolor. We all sat in a room and did these color corrections on a 40-foot screen, and we are going to be sharing this with all of you. So sit back, relax, dim the lights in your dining room, your office, your kitchen, or wherever you might be, and relax and enjoy the C500 vs. 35mm Kodak film stock.

C500 vs. Film: Back Light Test

The first test that I want to start with is the back light test for day exteriors. Back light tests are mostly about skin tones, looking at the color spaces of both cameras, and the subtle nuances of different skin tones on a face. In this test it was important for me to recreate real-world situations that we would actually be dealing with because they help me understand how the sensor or film stock would react in that exact situation.

During the back light test, we noticed that the skin tone when shooting with film was very creamy and gave off a kind of whitish tone.

Film Backlight iso 160

But the 35mm film missed a lot of the subtle tones in our model’s skin as well as adding in a lot of red/brown tones in the blacks. Not only were we missing a lot of subtleties in our model Monette Moio’s skin, but it also exposed a lot of red/brown tones in the blacks. The grain intensified in the shadows and the fall off areas were much more extreme compared to the C500.

Film Backlight test comparison chart

The C500 was still able to show the detail in her shadows. It falls off like a gentle slope, where the film falls off like a cliff. The C500 has a much wider range in the shadows than you do on film.

C500 Backlight ISO 850

If we were to compare the C500 and film side by side, immediately you can see more of the different tonalities in the background. The C500 kept a much cooler tone in the shadows and the background, while the yellow forklift comes across as a very punchy energized color. The film on the other hand is more grey in the background and the color of forklift kind of blends in the background and doesn’t stand out.

Overall the C500 really blew film out of the water on the back light test. Scotty and I really fell in love with the C500 after seeing how Monette’s skin tone reacted in this industrial back lit scene. The subtle nuances in tonality were absolutely beautiful. This camera somehow sees skin in a very soft palate. It has a creaminess to the skin, but the image itself is nice, crisp, and sharp. While Scotty and I kept testing the C500 in different settings, day vs night, etc., we kept coming back to this scene. You know what I love about the C500? It’s that we didn’t need to sharpen the image or crank the contrast, and we hardly had to put any color into it because it comes baked. You have to be very exact with the C500. I love that it’s almost as if you are exposing the C500 like you were exposing film. You have to get it right, and that’s what is great about being an artist.

C500 vs. Film: Fill Ratio

Next, we move on to testing the skin tone and skin color by doing a fill ratio test. I lit the model with a tungsten side light so that we could see the fill level better. I then took the level down in 1/2 stop increments so you can see how well the C500 and the film handle the shadowed areas. I like to light -2 stops down on the fill when lighting a woman and -3.5 stops down on the fill when lighting a man.

Film Fill Ratio Test _-2.4_1024

Looking at -2 stops down on the fill with the C500, you can see that the blue in the bounce is reading much more. And our warm key light, the gold light, doesn’t look as warm because the camera is seeing the blue a little more. I really felt that the C500 really energized the subtle colors, even with the background color. The C500 sees it beautifully into the shadows. It looks very creamy into the underexposed area.

The film really started to get a little ruddy and you start to see brownish red undertones into the shadows at -3.5 stops down. You can see that the film has got a slight grain texture to it and that the background wall was not blue, but grey.

Film Fill Ratio Test chart

The C500 is not as saturated on the skin, but what I’m noticing is the C500 seems to see the subtle nuances in the key light and in her skin tone a little better, which we really loved. This is what Scotty really responded to when he saw these tests. He just felt the C500 delivered a very real feel.

C500 Fill Ratio Test chart comparison

I felt that both cameras delivered the test well. The fall off into the shadows was gradual and elegant. It did not feel like the shadows were falling off a cliff. Everyone always talks about how they remember film being so creamy and so beautiful on the skin and so forgiving. Well, I have to say that the C500 has that same forgiveness. It has the sharpness, but the skin tones remain creamy.

C500 & Film Ratio Test comparison chart

C500 vs. Film: Dynamic Range

Understanding the dynamic range of a camera requires to use an old processing trick called “pulled process.” On film, there’s not really a way to do that other than pull process, which is a whole other topic that we will cover in a future blog post so you can see what it is all about. I love doing it. I did it on the movie Deadfall in all of the snow scenes. Every snow scene was pulled two stops, which is kind of extreme, but I thought it gave this beautiful, pearlescent kind of softening of the snow and the highlights. It just made it feel otherworldly, which is exactly the way the director wanted it. I’m pulling in third stop stock increments and we’re juxtaposing that with the C500 doing the exact same thing.

I’m going to start the pull process with film at 250 ISO. Notice the detail in the sky and the clouds. On film we can really see the subtle nuances in the grey and the white areas of the back lit clouds. This is where film just rules. Look at the cloud detail. Even as we move into ISO 200, the background is getting softer, but the detail in the clouds are still holding.

Film Dynamic Range Test_1024

This is where the C500 shows its hand in a poker match. As I reduced the ISO off the native 850 ISO, the clouds that are just holding detail immediately start to clip.

C500 Dynamic Range

C500 vs. Film: Latitude Overexposed

In the C500 versus film latitude test, we pushed the limits and overexposed. You are really going to see film kick booty on this test. Film handles overexposure in such a more beautiful organic softer blowout than the C500.

Film latitude overexposed test chart

The C500 gets to a point where it just clips and produces this haloing around the overexposed areas.

C500 latitude Overexposed test chart

The C500 just doesn’t look sexy in the overexposed stops. Film looks sexy.

C500 vs Film Overexposed Latitude Test chart

C500 vs. Film: Latitude Underexposed

The C500 really shines in underexposure because it sees in the dark. With film, it tends not to see much more past -3.5 to -4 stops under. Immediately with the underexposing on film, you start to see the ruddiness, the red in the blacks, and the grain coming out.

Film latitude underexposed test chart

With the C500 at -3.5 stops under, we can still see the details in the faces of our models. Even though the C500 is incredibly underexposed, it’s still much cleaner and its gradation of falling off to black is much like a slope and not like a cliff.

C500 latitude underexposed test chart_sm

C500 & Film latitude under Test comparison chart

I found this C500 versus film to be an interesting test. Where film shined was in the dynamic range of overexposure, and the C500 really shined in the dynamic range of underexposure. Looking at C500 as a film emulsion, I think with its color, tone, and vitality, it looks very much like Kodak film.

Watch the videos in 1080p on Vimeo.

Camera: Arri 435
Lenses: Panavision Primo primes
Film stock:
Daylight: 5201
Tungsten: 5219
Camera: Canon C500
Lenses: Panavision Primo primes
Color Space: Canon Raw 4K 10 BIT
Picture Profile: CP locked
Recorder: Codex S


Buy the Canon C500:

  • canon c500
  • Cinematography
  • Cinematography Online
  • Director of Photography
  • Film Education Online
  • filmmaker
  • filmmaking
  • Need for Speed