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Cinema EOS: Canon’s first ‘dedicated’ motion picture camera

By Christine Bunish
November 11, 2011
Cinema EOS: Canon’s first ‘dedicated’ motion picture camera HOLLYWOOD — At a gala event held on the Paramount Pictures lot on last week, Canon introduced its new Cinema EOS digital camera system to the Hollywood community. Canon executives, leading cinematographers and industry movers and shakers gathered to see the first content shot with the Cinema EOS, panel discussions and to get hands-on time with the new camera.

Fujio Mitarai (below), chairman/CEO of Canon, unveiled Cinema EOS saying, “We are here in the capital of the American motion picture industry for one reason: to request that you welcome Canon to the Hollywood community.”

While Canon lenses are well known among filmmakers — its cinema zoom lens won a technical Academy Award in 1972 — Cinema EOS is the company’s first dedicated motion picture camera system. It offers a “broad set of tools to greatly expand the boundaries of visual expression” and “realize new possibilities of storytelling through motion pictures,” said Mitarai. He noted that the enthusiastic reception of the EOS 5D Mark II DSLR’s video capabilities unexpectedly gave Canon the opportunity to work with filmmakers, an opportunity they mined to develop Cinema EOS over the last three years with the “input and guidance” of the Hollywood community.

Director Martin Scorsese gave Mitarai the official Hollywood welcome he requested and recapped the art of storytelling from cave paintings to the camera obscura to the first moving images. Canon’s Cinema EOS will allow “a more intimate relationship between filmmakers and the world than ever before,” Scorsese predicted.

Cinema EOS offers two models of digital cinema cameras: the EOS C300 with EF lens mount for compatibility with Canon’s current line-up of interchangeable EF lenses for EOS SLR cameras and a new EF Cinema Lens lineup, and the EOS C300 PL digital cinema camera with PL lens mount for use with industry-standard PL lenses.

Masaya Maeda, chief executive of Canon’s image communications products operations, summarized the main features of the Canon EOS C300/C300 PL.  A Super 35mm-equivalent CMOS sensor developed for the system offers high sensitivity, low noise, an extensive dynamic range and low shutter distortion.  A compact camera body affords outstanding mobility; its modular design enables shooters to attach the handle in different configurations. Two CF card slots permit the simultaneous recording of video data with one card to archive and one to download.

The camera’s new Super 35mm-equivalent CMOS sensor incorporates approximately 8.29 million effective pixels and has a pixel size larger than that of conventional professional camcorders enabling greater light-gathering capabilities for enhanced sensitivity and reduced noise. The sensor reads full HD (1920x1080 pixels) video signals for each of the three RGB primary colors, decreasing moiré while realizing high resolution with 1,000 horizontal TV lines.

The camera features MPEG-2 Full HD (MPEG2 422@HL compliant) compression and employs 4:2:2 color sampling for high-resolution performance that minimizes the appearance of “jaggies” at chroma edges.  Supported by a heightened signal read-out speed, the CMOS sensor reduces rolling shutter skews, a common phenomenon with CMOS sensors.

Canon EOS C300/C300 PL allows users to adjust image quality to match that of professional camcorders and EOS-series DSLRs and offers Canon Log Gamma, enabling flat image quality with subdued contrast and sharpness for maximum freedom in post production.  In addition to frame rates of 59.41i, 50.00i, 29.97P, 25.00P and 23.98P, the camera features a 24.00p mode, matching the 24 fps frame rate of film cameras for high compatibility with film production workflows.

With a compact and lightweight camera body, the camera gives DPs exceptional maneuverability for shooting from vantage points inaccessible to larger cinema cameras.

Maeda also cited Canon’s new EF cinema lens lineup, featuring the CN-E14.5-60mm and CN-E30-300mm zooms, which “draw on the best qualities of Canon lens technology” and “cover the focal range most frequently used in movie production.” Also launching is the EOS cinema prime lens lineup for EF mounts, featuring the CN-E24mm, CN-E50mm and CN-E85mm, “selected as the most in demand [primes] in the industry.”

A highlight of the presentation was the screening of four short films shot with Canon EOS C300: “Max Is Back,” the tale of an aging underworld figure written, produced and directed by Richard Crudo, ASC; “Sword,” the story of an anti-terrorist action committee co-directed and shot by Felix Alcala, A.S.C.; “XXIT,” a futuristic thriller with VFX directed by Stargate Studios’ founder Sam Nicholson, ASC, and shot by Dana Christiaansen; and “Mobius,” a desert-based puzzler directed by Vincent LaForet, ASC, and shot by Polly Morgan. Canon approached the filmmakers to produce the short films to showcase the capabilities of the new camera.

In a panel discussion moderated by Jon Fauer, ASC, the filmmakers were polled about what they liked best about Canon EOS C300. “You can go through all the stats all day, but for me it was ultimately about the end product: what it looked like,” said Richard Crudo.  “I thought it looked extremely filmic, and [that look] was almost effortless to achieve in my application.”

Sam Nicholson said, “I’ve worked with a lot of digital cameras and really appreciate the size and flexibility” of EOS C300. “It’s very transparent – [sometimes] on-set technology can get in the way of directing; you have to wade through it to get to an image you love.This camera I could carry in one hand and easily move to locations.”

For Felix Alcala, “more than anything it was the small batteries that run forever.  And two chips that record simultaneously — I’ve been wanting that in a smaller camera.”

Vincent LaForet, a pioneering Canon EOS 5D Mark II shooter, called the EOS C300 “the 5D Mark II grown up and without any work-around issues. It stays out of the way, produces incredible images and lets the director focus on telling stories.”

The four films varied in style and content, allowing the EOS C300 to flex its muscles in very different applications, excelling in the low-light conditions of Crudo’s LA night exteriors for “Max Is Back,” the greenscreen sequences required for Nicholson’s VFX-intensive “XXIT,” the slow-motion ballet of Alcala’s “Sword” fight sequence, and the bright light of LaForet’s desert-set “Mobius.” LaForet believes the EOS C300’s high sensitivity will require DPs to “rethink the entire way you light a scene.”

The filmmakers also praised the camera’s color rendition with Nicholson saying, “I shot in color log and got a complete range in DI.” He calls the EOS C300 “a tool that’s a perfect blend of a lot of different things.  It makes it a lot easier to make movies, and that’s the bottom line.”

Eliott Peck, Senior VP & GM/sales of Canon USA’s imaging technologies and communications division, announced that a “professional, dedicated team” of technical support specialists would be based in town at Canon’s new Hollywood Professional Technology and Support Center to assist filmmakers as they explore and acquire the Cinema EOS system.

“We’re proud of our first step,” Peck said. “We’ve put a stake in the ground.  We’re here to support you. This is going to be our business.”

Canon’s EOS C300 EF mount digital cinema camera is scheduled to be available in late January 2012 with the PL mount version due out in late March. Each will have an estimated list price of $20,000.

The Canon CN-E14.5-60mm zoom for EF and PL mounts is slated for late January 2012 availability with the CN-E30-300mm zoom for EF and PL mounts following in March. The roster of prime lenses is scheduled to be available from late July to late August 2012.


(PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHRISTOPHER POLK (WIREIMAGE) AND BARRY GOCH)