My post from five years ago, Late 2012 Video Smackdown, looked at the image quality I was able to achieve as I progressed from filming with a Canon 1D Mark IV in 2010 to a 5D Mark III and then to a Canon C300 in 2012. The first two are DSLRs and the latter one a super 35 cinema camera.
Now it’s mid-2017 and an update is in order. Once again the image quality has improved and this time around the improvement comes from updates to both the camera and my lighting kit.
In 2015 I upgraded from Litepanels 1x1s (1st generation) to Litepanels Astras. I documented this in, Hitting the Astral Plane. The Astras brought better color via a broader and more accurate color spectrum. It also gave me lights which were four times as bright. This allowed for much more flexibility on set. The lights can be pushed through thicker diffusion creating a softer key or fill, they can better balance with daylight, and their increased output enables shooting at lower ISOs.
The Astras are quite versatile. I have used them on sets where they were mixed with Arri Skypanels, Arri tungsten fresnels, Cineo and Aputure lights. The Astras also have a great output/cost performance ratio.
This past February I upgraded cinema cameras from my Canon C300 to a Canon C300 Mark II. The C300 Mark II versus the C300 (Mark I) brings increased bitrates ( 160 – 410 Mbps vs. 50 Mpbs), better color sampling (10-12 bit 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 vs. 8 bit 4:2:2), a higher quality codec (MXAVC vs MXF), and higher resolution (up to 4K vs. 1080 only) along with other features like improved dual-pixel autofocus.
In less than four months my C300 Mark II already has over 80 hours use. Like the Astras it works great on its own and it plays well with others. I have mixed it with my C300 and on another project, where I was a camera operator, the C300 Mark II held its own as the b-camera to an Alexa Mini.
What’s it all add up to? The picture out of the C300 Mark II is stunning. That said, I often think that I have to point out to clients where the differences lie. It turns out I don’t. One of my long term clients, one who has been on the video journey with me since 2010, saw the C300 Mark II footage and let out a, “Wow!” He saw the difference immediately.
C300 Mark II with Litepanels Astra Lighting
Helping Illuminate a Path for Immigrants, filmed with a Canon C300 Mark II. Canon Log 3, Rec 709 color space, 10 bit 1080 HD capture. Litepanels Astras and a Sola 4 for lighting. Grading and editing in FCP X.
Canon C300 with Litepanels Astra Lighting
Sean Griffith’s Shareholder Objection Project, filmed with a Canon C300, Canon Log, and 8 bit 1080 HD capture. Litepanels Astras and a Sola 4 for lighting. Grading and editing in FCP X.
Canon C300 with Litepanels 1x1s (1st Gen)
Feerick Center for Social Justice, filmed with a Canon C300 Mark. Canon Log and Litepanels 1x1s (1st gen.) 8 bit 1080 HD capture. Grading and editing in FCP X.
If you see what I see, the C300 Mark II produces the highest quality image. The overall color and the gradients in the skin from shadow to highlight are the most natural. The C300 with the Astras is no slouch but its 8 bit capture cannot compete. And the C300 with the first generation Litepanels 1x1s suffers from the light not being full spectrum. The first generation 1x1s are not able to reproduce the full range of colors, most noticeably in the skin.
This is not intended to be a full smackdown, just a comparison of what I have in the studio and have shot over the years. While the samples were shot years apart the basic setup for each is exactly the same.