I recently watched two of the films that swept last years Cannes: Blue is the Warmest Color and Blue Ruin.
Both were fantastic independent films with inspired performances and scripts.
Adele Exarchopoulos's extraordinary performance was particularly mesmerising!
And although I liked the differing photographic style of both, I did find that I was taken out of the experience of both by something about the quality of the image that I saw projected.
I discovered afterward that both films had been shot on Canon's C300 camera. Great films and great photography slightly compromised by the camera perhaps? Of course great films can be shot on any quality of imaging device. The granular, super contrasy Festen ( shot on consumer High 8 video) is still one of my favourite films.
I have just completed work on a docu-drama in the States which was locked into using the C300 and thought it might be an opportunity for me to test the camera.
I had initially pushed to shoot on my go to 'documentary' lenses... The short Angenieux DP lenses (16-42 and 30-80). But this was deemed way to expensive. Understandable perhaps as these lenses cost around 3 times the price of the camera.
To shoot documentary on a budget with this camera, I learnt, typically means to shoot on Canons L series zooms. 16-35mm F2.8, 24-70mm F2.8, 70-200mm F2.8
And I hated these lenses.
Soft until 5.6, ugly flares, no focus hold across the Zoom ( but then few stills zooms do) awkward focus action, ugly Bokeh, darkening as you zoom, and no iris so a menu wheel to click the camera jarringly through in-motion 1/3 stop exposure increments.
The difference between these 3 zooms and the cinevised Nikkor primes I occasionally utilised (135mm f2, 85mm 1.4, 35mm 1.4) was enormous.
With the primes I was briefly back in the world of precision optics.
But then you do really need zooms for documentary work!
Ergonomically the camera is not bad, the rotating pistol grip is easy to use, the focus tools work well, all of the industry inputs and outputs are present. Its low light performance is stellar. I was quite comfortable with the cameras performance at 1600 ISO.
After 2 weeks of shooting I would have to say that I remain disappointed by the camera. It's main attraction might be its price, delivering S-35mm motion imaging for under 10k.
But it's the picture that I can't get away from.
It seems that try as you might you can't get enough picture into a 50MB, 8 bit parcel... There's just not enough data there.
Even in its latitude extending Cinema Log mode it seems unable to hold an extended highlight range. At its worst the picture looks like granulated plastic with metallic highlights, frequent banding and compression artefacts.
Perhaps I have been spoilt with more robust imaging choices and at this price point I'm sure it's an attractive ready to roll tool. But since an EOS mounted Red Scarlet would be a similar financial prospect I'm unsure why it's enjoyed its popularity. Perhaps its the simplicity of its workflow? Which of course is price in another language.
Despite my slight discomfort with the lenses and the look... I always love shooting in the States. It's a landscape steeped in the iconic history of imagery I've grown up with in the movies. I worked with a fantastic team and in truth everyone loved the images that were produced on the camera.
(these courtesy of my iphone)
I will have to maintain a lonely distaste for its 'look'.