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The Power of the Canon C300 MK II in a Narrative Documentary Format

  • April 9, 2019
  • Shane Hurlbut, ASC
The Power of the Canon C300 MK II in a  Narrative Documentary Format

Since it’s documentary week for us at Hurlbut Academy, we are releasing some of our classic blog posts related to the genre as well as writing some incredible new posts from on set!

This blog comes from one of our Hurlbut Visuals superstars, David Wheldon, back in 2014 about the Canon C300 MkII and it’s role in Narrative Documentary Filmmaking.

Enjoy!

Shane


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By @davidcweldonjr

In my time working for Shane Hurlbut, ASC as his Creative Director, I have had a lot of opportunities to be a sponge soaking up as much knowledge as I can from him and have my own career outside of Hurlbut Visuals begin to expand and grow. Moving to Los Angeles has increased my personal education in filmmaking, as well as my filmmaking network. One of those network connections has been working with Director Jon Carr (@jon_carr), who has also become a great friend.

Like me, Jon’s introduction to Los Angeles came on a permanent basis a few years ago while working for Vincent Laforet. Jon worked on Vincent’s Canon C300 release of Mobius, which is perfect for what we are about to share in this article.

Jon’s personal career has also grown. He has built his career as a Director working on Documentaries and Commercials, as well as taking the next step into Narratives (where Jon and I collaborated on another project, a short film Late Shift that will be out soon). Jon came to me after we shot Late Shift and said, “I’ve got another project, but this time it may be a bit more challenging.”

DP David Weldon with Canon C300 Mark II, 2x Extender, Canon L 70-200mm.
DP David Weldon with Canon C300 Mark II, 2x Extender, Canon L 70-200mm.

I was intrigued to say the least and Jon started to tell me about a short profile documentary project he was putting together for Ryan Basseri of Rywire Motorsports. Jon’s Producer, Benjamin Ariff, had made the connection with Ryan and brought the idea to Jon on creating this profile documentary about Ryan’s build out of a Honda “Integra” that was going to have all of the performance and power of a Porsche GT3 RS. It all had to be done in time for the 2015 SEMA Auto Show.

The timeline was tight, not only for the car to be completed for the show, but for this project to profile Ryan and the car. Here is the final piece of the Rywire Profile Documentary:

Now that you have seen the piece, I’m going to let Jon take it from here on how the project started.

Director, Jon Carr – The Look and Feel of Rywire

Director Jon Carr, DP David Weldon, Ryan of Rywire
Director Jon Carr, DP David Weldon, Ryan of Rywire

This was the second automotive project that Benjamin and I tackled in 2015. Earlier this year, we shot a piece with a 2015 Stingray convertible Corvette. We captured amazing visuals but not much of a story and the film suffered as a result. I knew David and his crew would deliver beautiful footage but we needed more than that and story became a primary driver. It was important to tell Ryan’s story and dig into his motivations for building his new car. He put his heart and soul into the build.

I do have a long history with Canon and we had access to the C300 Mark II. The camera has a ton of impressive tech under the hood and is a major advancement over the original C300. It turned out to be a perfect complement to our small production crew for a variety of reasons. Best of all, the images are beautiful and it’s very easy to use.

We also used an XC10 and the DJI Inspire One. The XC10 is a bit of a controversial camera and I think it has been dismissed by many but for me, the most important thing is that this camera produces a great 4K image. Our plan from the outset was to deliver this project in 4K and we used the XC10 much like most would use a traditional GoPro. We mounted the camera all over the cars using a variety of Matthew’s car mounts and captured beautiful XF-AVC 422 4K footage that cut easily with the C300 Mark II. It gave us more dynamic range than you would have gotten from a GoPro and the best part was that I didn’t have to remove any fish eye distortion in post.

Canon XC-10 mounted with a Matthews Car Mount
Canon XC-10 mounted with a Matthews Car Mount

I am really happy with how this all came together and think David did a great job visually. One of the things that gives us a great sense of pride is that we have had numerous people from outside the automotive world tell us they enjoyed the piece, adding it is a great story and they appreciate Ryan’s dedication to building a world class car.

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Director of Photography, David Weldon – Using the Technology to Our Advantage

David grabbing some final shots on the dry lake bed at sunset
David grabbing some final shots on the dry lake bed at sunset

I’ll admit it. When we first talked about shooting some of this material using the “Auto Focus” system, I was not thrilled. I personally associate “Auto Focus” with “Low Budget” or “Not Professional.” That’s just me and I think it stems from my days working in Broadcast Television and Sports where there were a lot of times where people I worked with just assumed that putting the camera in “Auto” was OK.

This would be the first time in my life that the word “Auto” is now OK.

I’m a believer and I can support the use of the technology, embracing it in this style of shooting and the format we were looking to deliver.

I have always felt that the Canon Cinema cameras deliver the best camera to use in a documentary setting. The physical design, while quirky, does allow for simple hand-held use and getting into tight spaces that you are going to be unaware of when shooting a documentary. The ability to use Canon EF glass, which you may have already had with your Canon 5D Mark II or III, makes it even better. Plus, everyone has EF glass these days. Ask your neighbor, they have them. I promise. The internal NDs, the list goes on and on.

Let’s Talk More on Auto Focus
Canon built an auto focus function into all of their cameras with an upgrade. We used it on every single shot in the video, except for the interview with Ryan and when I was pulling from something ten feet away to close focus to get a stylized shot. The camera puts a small white box, which is moveable, in the viewfinder, so you don’t have to be center framed all of the time in order to use the function. You can reposition the box around 80 percent of the sensor.

There were many shots that I was shooting at 400mm with a 2x extender (all EF L Series Zooms and Primes on the project) at a f5.6 on the lens, shooting the Porsche GT3 about 100 yards away and a few times maybe 1000 yards away, with no problem on focus. We were riding in the back of Jon’s Ford Escape shooting out of the back window doing a small follow car position with no problem. For this style of a project, even with all of our planning, a lot of our shots were in a “run-n-gun” documentary style and with the ability to throw the camera into auto focus and let the technology do the work, I was able to increase our shot total around 30-40% on a day of shooting than what we would have normally been able to get.

In any other instance, we would have missed focus and had to get the car back into place and try it again. It’s not that I’m not for having a strong focus puller, but on this project, it was not in our budget. To have someone pull at 200-400mm at a f2.8 to a f4.0 while you’re driving 80mph and you NEED to get about 100 other shots in the day, that’s a lot of pressure. Sure, with a much larger budget, crews of trucks and a team with years of experience, YES, that is the way to go, but you’re not limited to your budget with the Canon cinema platform. I felt like I was only limited to my creativity.

Camera Performance – Dynamic Range, Color, Functions

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First – Dynamic Range
Canon cites the camera as having around 15 stops of Dynamic Range and it feels like it does. I cannot say 100% for sure until I am able to do a full test of the camera (which Shane and I have planned for the future). In the opening shots of the video, Ryan walks behind his workbench and to the car. Outside the window is a 6K Par only going through a 4×4 of Full CTS and illuminating the room. To fill the room, I have a Kino Flo 400 Celeb at about 10% just behind camera at 5600K with Full CTS on it as well. You can clearly see detail in the windowpane itself. It’s not completely gone and the shadow detail is substantial.

I rated the camera at 320 ISO as it did feel somewhat noisy at 800 ISO. When I say noisy, the pattern it created felt more like the Alexa at 800 ISO, versus where a Dragon (with the Standard OLPF) is much cleaner at 800 ISO or the Canon C500 at 850 ISO is much cleaner. I chose to go to 320 as I knew when we got to shooting the exteriors in the desert, I would play in that ballpark and I wanted to make sure that the image didn’t feel like it had different texture based on the locations where we shot.

Second – Color
The Canon color science continues to improve. This camera feels like it can cut perfectly with the C500, as it appears to have a similar debayering method behind it. We shot everything in 10bit in 4K DCI, maxing out the sensor, pushing it to its limits. The ability to lay a LUT into the camera and output that LUT from the Monitor out of the camera was something that I was very happy to see since we shot the entire project in Canon Log2. The camera just has that “Canon” feel, very warm and crisp. It made me feel like we hit a sweet spot every time we had beautiful light to work with. We wanted to use Canon glass on the entire project and we ended up using a lot of EF L Series primes and zooms (for the auto focus function) and some Cinema Zooms and the color just pops. Matching up Canon glass with the Canon sensor makes the Canon glass shine.

Showcasing the Dynamic Range of the C300 Mark II
Showcasing the Dynamic Range of the C300 Mark II

Third- Functions
The functionality of this camera hasn’t changed a whole lot. And that’s good. Canon just tweaked it by adding to what they had already gotten right. I hate when cameras come out and you get comfortable with it and then the manufacturer says, “Hey, we are going to change it all!” Why? What do you accomplish by doing this (other than me jumping ship to using something else)?

Canon added functionality without getting in the way. Multiple SDI outputs, the ability to record external 4K and Monitor at 1080p. C-Fast 2.0 Cards. I cannot tell you how happy I am to see a more stable system capturing 4K. These cards performed incredibly well and we never had a problem with them. In the past, I have had CF Cards fail over and over again, so it’s always concerning when you’re recording such high data rates.

Additional stops of ND are now in this camera and there were definitely a few times where I thought about using ten Stops of ND, but I was just too afraid! HAHA. I never really needed that much in this setup but I can see how this could be incredibly beneficial for an artistic standpoint of being able to stay incredibly shallow, with lots of natural daylight in your frame.

Dynamic Range from the C300 Mark II
Dynamic Range from the C300 Mark II

Director, Jon Carr – Where the Canon C300 Mark II Fits

I really have grown to like the C300 Mark II so much so that I purchased one. The versatility of this camera was the biggest draw for me. I think it fits in a unique place because it is an amazing run and gun camera yet you could just as easily shoot a feature film that looks incredible. I think Canon had Arri in their sights with the C300 Mark II especially with the new Canon Log 2 as the Arri Log to 709 LUT in Resolve does a solid job adding proper contrast and saturation to these Canon images. I know this camera has taken a lot of heat on price compared to some of the competitive cameras but I think it is just a matter of people getting out and using it and opinions will sway. Would I like better/more high-speed options? Yes, but the bottom line for me is that it comes down to ease of use and great looking images and the C300 Mark II continues with those traditions.

Shout out to Revolution Cinema Rentals for providing all of the camera accessories for this project.
Shout out to Revolution Cinema Rentals for providing all of the camera accessories for this project.
The inspiration for the custom Honda Integra
The inspiration for the custom Honda Integra

Gear used:
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  • BlueShape Batteries
  • Canon
  • Matthews Studio Equipment

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