IN THE FIELD: Canon C500mkII & C70 on a Fashion Shoot by Kenny McMillan


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Jun 22, 2023

IN THE FIELD: Canon C500mkII & C70 on a Fashion Shoot by Kenny McMillan

In which I talk about my experience using these two cameras on a recent gig for

In which I talk about my experience using these two cameras on a recent gig for British fashion brand P&Co.

If you know anything about me, you know I’ve been a near life-long user of Canon Cinema Cameras, starting way back in 2006 with the XL2. Not for any particular reason, that's just how things have kind of shaken out. Since then I’ve owned the C100mkII and the C500mkII, and was given the opportunity to test out the C70 and C300mkIII when they came around, and was very impressed with both.

Recently I’ve been doing a lot more two-camera shoots and generally have relied on my Fujifilm XT3 as my B-Cam but the limitations of a DSLR-style body were starting to rear their heads more and more to the point that it was becoming problematic. For certain things it's totally fine, but the time-limited recording and the lack of NDs specifically were causing me issues. I suppose I could use the C100mkII to play second-fiddle to my C500mkII, but the difference between the two when cut together is pretty apparent. I had two gigs coming up, a corporate interview style shoot and a fashion campaign, and the added friction of the XT3's limitations were causing me concern. You can pretty much get any camera to match any other camera in the grade, especially when you have matched lenses, but it does take added time that I wouldn't necessarily have on these jobs.Specifically what I needed was the same 4K Clog2 image that my C500 is kicking out (for ease of coloring/matching), extended record times, built-in NDs, and audio recording.What I needed was a C70.

I could have gone with a C300mkIII, but I did like the idea of the smaller form factor for ease of packing/handling as well as the fact that my second tripod was built for photo cameras and likely couldn't hold the weight of a full-sized body like that, plus the image coming out of the C70 is functionally identical to the C300 so that wouldn't be an issue.Luckily, Filmtools was able to lend me their floor model C70 for my shoots and Canon really upped the game by providing me a set of Sumire primes as well as the PL mount for my C500mkII (I was able to buy a PL-R adapter for a very affordable price for the C70).

The corporate video went as expected; people sitting there being interviewed, so there's not a ton to report there, but the fashion shoot for UK Clothier P&Co is where the two camera setup really shined.I had my friend Adam Greene as my second shooter (who's previously helped us do our live coverage of shows like Adobe MAX and NAB) and he would hop between shooting second angles and BTS when called upon. The two of us would switch cameras on the fly, with the Sumire 50mm living on the C70 and the 35mm on the C500mkII instead of swapping lenses between bodies, but also because some of the content I had to shoot was vertical so the C70 was easier to manage for that stuff.

Except for when I saw vertical footage, which made it obvious, I pretty much couldn't tell which camera shot what. The C500/C70 combo really is the perfect pair (especially with the C500 just receiving a pretty drastic price cut, fully covering the cost of a theoretical additional C70 if you wanted it). The only giveaway image-wise came down to the rendering of the via the Sumires. At this point I’m convinced this pairing is the perfect two-camera setup for most shoots, only being bested by two C500s. I will have a separate review of those lenses going into more detail, but as this was a fashion video and we wanted the image to have some life, we shoot those things wide open at T1.5/1.3. When stopped down the Sumires kind of look like normal CN-E primes but wide open they have this wonderful soft character, especially around the edges, and some tasteful CA in certain circumstances as well as amazing focus falloff. In this regard I was sort of able to tell when I was looking at one camera or the other because the C70's smaller sensor was obviously only recording the centermost section of the imaging circle and therefore the edge personality was lost. The C500 was able to capture the full character of each lens and that was very pleasing. Additionally, shooting a 35mm lens on a full frame camera wide open at such a low stop gave a very cool look to the images, especially in the wides, and you better believe that we were almost always using all 10 stops of ND both cameras provide. Every so often we’d stop down a little bit to either extend the Depth of Field, sharpen up the image, or just shave off some of that exposure. The other advantage to such a fast set of lenses was, as the shoot got later into the day, we could just take off some ND and keep our look consistent while also allowing us to shoot way later than we ever expected without having to rely on ramping up the ISO.

Another thing that was an unexpected benefit (and became a teachable moment for me) was the internal scratch mic. Obviously it's not the greatest thing in the world, but I did end up using the audio it captured in the final edit in the form of engine noise from the truck and motorcycle. Weirdly enough I think because the sounds were so loud it somehow erased the low-fi quality you’d expect from those kinds of microphones. The client thought I went and got some stock audio! The lesson, though, is to always bring a mic. I was "sure" this shoot would be MOS, but why limit myself in the edit? Luckily I got away with it here but next time I’ll absolutely be running audio, even for things that "for sure" will not be using audio. It’d be akin to me shooting 709 because I was "sure" we weren't going to grade it later or something. Why would I do that to myself?As we were shooting handheld for the vast majority of the project, the internal stabilization really helped us out as well. Granted it is EIS, but obviously cinema primes don't have OIS built-in so I was able to get some shots that would otherwise look kind of cheap, including one instance where I was fully leaned out of the passenger side of a car filming a motorcycle driving through the desert on a rather bumpy road. It also really smoothed out my trusty "hip dolly" maneuver where I basically just pan one direction and physically move in the other for some added dynamism in the image.

One thing I love about the Canon Cinema Cameras is they absolutely sip power. We were shooting all day on one 98kWh battery each (well… more or less. We’d swap out to fresh ones for safety when we left base camp but the used bricks would usually be around 50% or so. The two card slots on each camera also allowed us to roll all day and not have to worry about swapping cards which was nice. Not a massive annoyance, obviously, but it's nice to just keep filming and just dump everything at the end of the day once.

In the grade, no surprise, the images were impeccable. We shot both cameras at 4K DCI in XFAVC, which is 10bit 4:2:2, and we had plenty of information to work with. As we were shooting outside the sun provided us with as much exposure as we liked so underexposure wasn't a concern and we got a nice "dense negative". The comment I got almost universally was "oh wow that looks like film" or "that looks like a movie". And that was just with the basic Resolve 2383 LUT on it!

One nice thing about the C500/C70 combo is both cameras can shoot 12bit raw, but I knew I wouldn't need to lean on that for this particular shoot, especially knowing that I was going to hand off the footage to the client after the shoot and didn't want to saddle them with a file format their future editor might not be familiar with. XF-AVC is widely adopted by every NLE worth its salt and, at least on my modest PC, never chugs. My computer, an i7-7700K and GTX1070 with 64GB of RAM, actually can edit the 4K RAW from either camera pretty well, but the 6K RAW from the C500 does start to slow everything down a bit. That being said my PC is like 7 years old now so I’m sure more modern hardware could handle it just fine.

Another thing that was great is both cameras have Timecode ports, so we ran the Deity TC-1 boxes on them so when I got into the edit I could just auto populate the timeline with all of the clips and they’d already by synced up, allowing me to edit the more "narrative" portions of the fashion video even quicker. Obviously for the interviews it's a bit easier to simply clap sync, but even so Timecode is just such a value-add to any multi-cam scenario. I never want to be without it.As a side note, Adam wasn't as familiar with the current gen of Canon C-Series cameras as I was and for the first day "exposed to the right" as that's how he tends to shoot with his personal camera. Having done plenty of tests over the past couple years I knew that skin should actually be exposed around 50-60IRE but Adam had everything up in the 70-80 zone. This made me nervous at first but as the latitude of these cameras is top-tier, I was easily able to pull down the exposure of his shots without sacrificing any quality. Nothing was clipped and the DR wasn't compressed by favoring the shadows like that.

One thing that people seem to get confused about when it comes to Full Frame over Super 35 is the imaging characteristics. No, Full Frame doesn't give you a "shallower depth of field". No, using a speed booster on a S35 camera doesn't "make your camera full frame". These are lens things not sensor things. What a larger sensor does give you, and I’ve shown this in my C300 vs C500 article, the ability to see the entire character of larger format lenses, less noise, greater apparent sharpness and softer tonality. In other words, a transition from black to white on a gradient (or say, the transition from the light side of a face to the dark side) takes place over more physical real estate, giving you a softer look and more visual data to work with. The appearance of less noise simply comes from cramming more information captured by the sensor in the same display. Resolution is one thing but physical resolution is where it's really at.

Even so, and while I do prefer a larger sensor when possible, these things are often times more academic than anything. The S35 sensor of the C70 is absolutely no slouch and as I mentioned, cut in beautifully with the C500. Having those Sumires was where the images really got their lift. It’d be a whole different ball game if we used, say, kit lenses.

These days the internet discourse seems to be obsessed with a camera's "relevance in xxxx year" while simultaneously championing the idea of using older cameras for whatever aesthetic or financial reasons. In my estimation, every camera is still "relevant" when the job calls for it. Maybe if you physically can't get the footage off the camera, like some of the older firewire-only models of yesterday, then that’d be a discussion but overall every tool has a purpose to someone.

That being said, I do understand the intent of those questions. When your client expects something around the standard of today's modern looks, you want to deliver on that. I don't necessarily subscribe to the idea that the "newest hottest features" are necessary for such a deliverable, but I do agree that it's important to have all the tools necessary to deliver on the promise of a high quality end product. So, while these cameras are in no way long in the tooth, do they hold up to today's newer releases?In a word: yes. In more words: of course yes. I’ve put the C500 up against the Sony Venice, Alexa, FX-9, and recently the V-Raptor and in each case the C500 was visually just as good and in some cases preferable, depending on what you’re looking for. The C70 is basically a C300 mini, and comparing the C500 and C300 as I’ve done I can tell you they fare quite well against each other as well. There's simply no denying the quality and flexibility of these cameras. I don't see a case in the next 5-10 years where something would come out that would blow the image quality of the modern Canon C-Series cameras out of the water, and even the "lower end of the C-Series spectrum" in the form of the C70 isn't appreciably lower quality than the C700FF or C500mkII. Will we get cameras with better Dynamic Range, Highlight Retention, or bit depth? Probably. Will it really matter? I don't think so. It's always nice, sure, but as I’ve shown here I wouldn't have needed it. In a high-contrast environment like the desert in the middle of the day I didn't lose any information in the shadows or the highlights.

Are there downsides to these cameras? To a degree. I love the body style of the C500mkII/C300mkIII, whereas the C70's more "DSLR"-ish body isn't my favorite. The LCD screen on it could use a tweak as well (it doesn't fold flat against the side of the camera, for instance) and I’d have liked to see an SDI port on it, but otherwise I don't have anything to complain about. I guess the C500 not doing 120fps at Super35 crop and instead opting for S16 is kind of lame but I honestly don't think anything over 60fps is particularly necessary for the work I do.Final verdict: the C500/C70 combo is absolutely killer for me. Compared to other offerings from Canon and even cameras from other manufacturers, I think they’re exactly the right tools for most jobs and have a lot of life left in them. If the C70 has a mkII, or there's a C90, all I’d want to see is the aforementioned LCD tweak, an SDI port added, and for it to be full frame. For the C500mkII? No notes.

You can watch the final fashion film I created for P&Co below:

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