When the producers of a leading reality/talent series began shooting its third season, documentary-style behind-the-scenes segments were a major priority. Vital for building viewer interest, footage of rehearsals, recording sessions, and interviews in contestants’ homes were shot by segment director and cinematographer Alex Van Wagner and his team of experienced Directors of Photography (DP). A dedicated “documentary guy,” Van Wagner achieved a cinematic look for these segments by using EOS C300 digital cinema cameras and EF lenses from Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging solutions.
“I was looking for a way to get a large-frame cinematic look while also getting ‘more bang for the buck,’” Van Wagner said. “We document the ‘journey’ of each contestant/performer from their first appearance on the show all the way to their last. We use multiple crews to shoot numerous two-camera interviews with each contestant, and we shoot so much B-roll that we need six cameras. The only way to financially make that happen for us is to use the Canon EOS C300 camera with Canon EF lenses, a combination that provides great images while also being cost-effective.” Van Wagner rented his Canon C300 cameras from Video Equipment Rentals (VER) in Glendale, Calif.
Compact, lightweight, and engineered to deliver exceptional full 1920 x 1080 HD images, the Canon EOS C300 digital cinema camera is the product of Canon’s years of expertise in designing advanced image sensors, lenses, and digital imaging processors. Engineered to meet the needs of filmmakers at all levels, the C300 features a Super 35mm Canon CMOS sensor, a revolutionary Canon DIGIC DV III image processor for superb cinematic picture quality, and a 50 Mbps 4:2:2 MPEG-2 codec for faithful capture of that imagery. The camera records to two CF (Compact Flash) cards through dual slots with a choice of serial or parallel (for backup) recording, providing up to 80 minutes of recording time on each 32GB card. The C300 offers a range of recording modes, resolutions, and frame rates.
“We shoot our location segments in 30p – 29.97 frames per second, actually,” Van Wagner noted. “Sequences showing performers on-stage are shot in a more traditional TV-style with another camera system in 60i. Even though we’re mixing progressive and interlace, the two HD frame rates cut together very nicely.”
The Canon EOS C300 digital cinema camera employs the industry-standard MXF (Material eXchange Format) for smooth workflow compatibility, and features such as Canon Log mode that ensures capture of the full 12 T-stop exposure latitude of which the camera is capable.
“We’ve been shooting at ISO 2,000 and the images look great,” Van Wagner noted. “I even turned the C300 up to ISO 10,000, and was pleasantly surprised. Also, the ability of the C300 camera to shoot in Canon Log gamma gives you all the latitude you need to shoot a ‘digital negative.’ You can bring all of your content back into post and create the ‘look’ you want with your online editor. We take a lot of care with our visuals both in the field and in post, which isn’t common in reality TV, and the C300’s Canon Log mode and workflow convenience makes doing that much easier.”
Built for Prime Time
Simple to operate, the Canon EOS C300 digital cinema camera was designed with input from a wide range of filmmakers to maximize its versatility. The C300 camera body weighs just over 3 lbs., and can accommodate virtually any shooting setup, from highly mobile run-and-gun situations to elaborate production rigs (the camera is compatible with major third-party shooting accessories, including matte boxes, support rods, follow-focus knobs, etc.). Included with the C300 is a detachable grip with control dial and function buttons for convenient hand-held shooting. A removable combination control panel and 4-inch 1.23 megapixel LCD monitor provides additional operator convenience.
The Canon EOS C300 digital cinema camera features a bright, built-in 1.55 megapixel adjustable-angle color electronic viewfinder (EVF) for accurate judgment of composition, focus, and color. Both the EVF and the removable LCD monitor can display a waveform monitor, vectorscope, and other screens for adjusting picture quality. Visual focusing aids on the external LCD monitor include two peaking modes, a magnified focus-assist function, and Canon’s original edge-monitor focus assist technology. The removable control panel includes two XLR audio inputs and a +48-volt phantom power connector. The LCD/control panel combination can also be used with a detachable top handle, if desired. The rear of the C300 includes a cluster of industry-standard connectors, including an HD-SDI output, HDMI type A output, genlock input, SMPTE time code input/output, and even a dedicated port for Canon’s optional WFT-E6A wireless file transmitter for secure viewing and control of the C300 via the web with a tablet, smart phone, or PC.
“The Canon EOS C300 is very intuitive and user-friendly,” Van Wagner summarized. “The camera’s menus are simple and easy to get around in, which is a very good thing. When I put experienced camera operators on the C300 for the first time they figure out how to use it right away.”
The Canon EOS C300 digital cinema camera is available in two versions. The EOS C300 is equipped with an EF lens mount for use with Canon’s line of more than 60 interchangeable EF and EF-S lenses designed for Canon EOS digital SLR cameras. A second version, the EOS C300 PL, is intended for use with industry-standard PL-mount lenses. Canon also offers EF and PL versions of its four EF Cinema zoom lenses, which include two competitively priced top-end zooms with over 4K resolution and two compact, lightweight hand-held zooms with 4K resolution. Canon also offers three EF-mount EF Cinema prime lenses.
“Canon glass is some of the best on the market,” Van Wagner stated. “The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto zoom is a great lens. It’s a favorite and we use it a lot for interviews. Other than that the compact primes are our go-to’s for interviews. I own several, including the 85, 50, and the 35, which are my favorites. The EF 85mm f/1.2 L-series is a fantastic piece of glass. I use it a lot on the show. Then there’s the ability to put a super wide-angle lens or a tilt-shift lens on the camera; with the C300 all you have to do is to put on the Canon TS-E 45mm tilt-shift and you’ve got a great look.”
“The number of lenses Canon has – as well as all the other compact primes on the market that you can use with the C300 – and the flexibility to be able to use so many different lenses for interviews and B-roll greatly enhances your creativity,” Van Wagner continued. “We try to make this show as cinematic as possible; a visual experience, and not just a story experience. The C300 makes that possible. For DP’s and cinematographers trying to get a real full-frame look, the depth-of-field you can get with the C300 is fantastic. Canon has taken everything that its EOS 5D Mark II digital HD-SLR camera did really well, and has made it even better with the C300. You can jam-sync time code, you have HD SDI out, and for those and many other reasons the Canon C300 can’t be beat.”