THERE AND BACK AGAIN: LEARNING TO LOVE (AND HATE) THE CANON 1DC

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UPDATED 12-2-13: Philip Bloom has brought to my attention that canon log banding is prevented by shooting ISO 400. I am going to test this next week when I get my hands on the camera and see how it plays. Personally I still think shooting a standard profile will give you better results with the camera. I have the footage from the test out to my colorist now and will add his comments when I get them on Monday.

CORRECTED: Red Rock Micro's Brian Valente and Douglas Kirkland battle it out at the Canon C300 Launch

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE

It was November of 2011 and I was ready to drink every ounce of Kool Aid that Canon wanted to pour for me. After two years battling subway tunnels, parkour athletes and drug cartels with my 5D2, I was beginning to get bored. I was still getting great results, but with Sony knocking down the door with the F3 and FS100 I suddenly felt like I deserved more. Only a few minutes after shaking Vincent Laforent’s hand I stood in an LA studio backlot and saw the C300 for the first time. It was only a few minutes later I was ready to drop more than the price of my car in order to have my “next greatest toy.”

David "Cobra" Ellis and I in North Dakota armed with Charlie and Buster

A few months later both of my C300s (Charlie and Buster) arrived and I was the coolest camera person on the block. They were rented all the time and my clients couldn’t have been happier to leave their 5D woes behind. Everything should have been perfect, the camera was small, supposedly good in low light (but sadly not really) and had built in ND filters. On paper there was so much good but no matter what I did, I just couldn’t get excited about shooting with it.

While packing up Charlie and Buster for some North Dakota oil commercials, I was offered a chance to borrow a 1DX. Like most, I had dismissed the 1DX when it was announced. To my surprise (much like Philip Bloom) once I looked at the 1DX LCD I was hooked. Quickly I was picking up my C300 less and toting around the 1DX more and more. I thought it was just me missing the simplicity and immediacy of shooting with a DSLR until I returned back to NYC and talked to the projects’ editor. He told me that he didn’t know why, but as he edited more of the footage he found himself using 1DX footage more and more. We both were hooked and at that moment I knew it was time to ditch my C300s.

The 1DX slowly moving past the C300 to A Camera

The 5D2 was an accident and that was the magic of it. Everything about the camera suggested the video capabilities were not fully thought out, but those flaws were exactly what made it look so great. Something about the way it’s magenta spike enhanced skin tones and it’s inherent softness making everything creamy like butter captured our imaginations. The 5D2 was the first video camera that had an emotional impact on anyone who watched it’s footage.

Like most beautiful accidents, when you go to improve it, you usually end up choking it to death. The 5D3 had a longer run time and a really crappy headphone jack but none of the 5D2’s magic. The C300 had XLR jacks but looked like an EX1 with a blurry background.

My favorite screen shot from the 1DX. I had found my paintbrush again. I was ready to see if the 1DC could be even better.

On a technical level I think the 1DX’s magic comes from the dual image processors. The consequence of being able to shoot 14 fps stills somehow translated into smoother video with less rolling shutter. Even with the bigger body and I was hooked. With the 1DC only a few months away I was excited and hoped that the 1DX would serve as my appetizer to the first DSLR truly meant for video shooters.

KILLING ME SOFTLY

KILLING ME SOFTLY -- A CANON 1DC SHORT FILM my first 1DC short documentary on Vimeo. Do not watch if you have a weak stomach.

After months of waiting I was given the chance to play with a 1DC. I wanted to see how it handled in the field so went out and made a short doc. I wanted to tell a story that I though could be enhanced by 4K so I choose to capture the horrors of how we kill and prepared lobsters for consumption.

I was pleasantly impressed with how easy the camera worked. It was no different than the 1DX and the 128GB CF cards I had worked splendidly. The experience was no different than my 1DX but with a sexy new feature set. My computer did not like the native 4K footage but once I transcoded to Prores Proxy, FCP7 decided to play ball. Editor Justin Sharp put the film together in Prores then I reconnected to the raw and exported for vimeo. A little bit of a pain but I thought it was worth the added quality.

The 1DC taking a break on the set of "Killing Me Softly"

The film has been doing well and the comments inspired (whether due to the camera or the content). I thought I had found a new paintbrush until I discovered Philip Bloom’s 1DC review.

BLOOM-IN ON A COLD WINTER DAY

Review of the Canon 1DC from Philip Bloom Reviews & Tutorials on Vimeo.

I was excited to see what Philip Bloom thought of the camera since we both approach using these tools so differently. He finds beauty in nature and brings cinema to far corners of the world using these small cameras as tools.

After spending many hours shooting and editing footage from the 1DC I was confused about why his results looked so drastically different than mine. The level of sharpness and detail I was getting shooting Killing Me Softly was like night and day compared to his results (even beyond him freezing on a beach vs me in a warm kitchen). As I re-watched the video I realized the difference was Canon Log.

I don’t believe in 8 bit Log. I love 8 bit cameras but log just seems to wreak havoc on the footage. Try grading 5000 ISO C300 log footage and you’ll understand why. These cameras are closer to mini DV cameras than a RED EPIC and need to be treated as such. I’ve never gotten good results shooting flat profiles on my DSLRs. Even bringing that footage to some of NYC’s top colorists we always have gotten better results shooting with non log profiles.

I only had a few days left with the camera and decided to create a series of tests to help expand his review and go further into his results. I hoped by shooting both log and standard profiles I could help demystify the 1DC to a few more readers.

OFF TO THE RACES

Nora De starring in one of my 1DC tests

The following tests serve to compare the different shooting modes on the 1DC in terms of sharpness, dynamic range, noise and general image quality. I love Full Frame video. My main goal with these tests was to see if 4K was worth losing Full Frame to a 1.3x crop factor.

For each test I used the same lens on all shooting modes reframing the camera as closely as possible to make up for different crop factors. I shot in the highest quality compression for each shooting mode (ALL-I). I did not test IPB modes because I don’t foresee myself using them in the field.

I shot tests in Canon Log and Portrait. Portrait has been my canon preset of choice since I first got the 5D2. In all generations of Canon DSLRs I find there to be a lot of magenta in the skin tones. From my testing I find the neutral and standard profiles just lessen this magenta in the way that makes it look like a flaw. I find the portrait profile embraces this magenta in a way that makes it look like a choice (similar to ektachrome). From my testing I have found the following settings best for using the Portrait picture profile:

Sharpness 0

Contrast -2

Saturation -1

Color Tone +2

Image from one of my DSLR heroes Shane Hurlbert's blog showing how difficult it can be to color correct 5D footage. Taken from his "Put Your Best Foot Forward" blog post

As is well documented online by Shane Hurlburt, Canon DSLR footage does not grade well. For this reason I try to get the image 80% there in camera. These settings have given me results I’m generally happy with so I used them in the following tests.

When possible my preferred picture profile is Cineplus’ Lightform Picture Style. On the 5D2, 5D3 and 1DX it has boosted my dynamic range, improved the smoothness of the compression and most impressively figured out how to maintain proper skin tones if the white balance is off. At the time of my testing EOS Utility had not been updated to allow adding this profile to the 1DC. My hope is to include this profile on my next round of testing.

Canon Log footage was captured at the same exposure settings as the Portrait images. It’s a confusing concept but they both expose the same way except with Portrait middle grey is at 50% on your waveform while with Canon Log it’s at 32%. That’s what makes the log footage look darker. By using a De-Logging LUT (like the ones Canon provides online), middle grey is put back to 50% giving you an image that appears to be exposed normally while still retaining the extended dynamic range of log shooting. Contrary to popular belief these logs DO NOT effect the color of the footage, just brings it to a more legal viewing range making it better suited for color correction.

Abel Cine Tech's Andy Shipsides, Camera Assistant Johnny Sousa and I playing around with C300 scene files. Photo from Abel Cine's CineTechnica Blog

For these tests I added LUTs to the footage in FCP7 using Red Giant’s LUT Buddy. I used Andy Shipsides’ conversions of the C300 Canon Log LUTS he posted on Abel Cine Tech’s blog.

I choose to use the CLog to Video LUT which gave me the best results adjusting the image and still retaining highlight information when we were shooting with the C300. Canon has two LUTs specifically designed for the 1DC on their site but they are available in a .csv format that LUT buddy (and most other programs) do not like.

For each test I made two exports: PROFILE COMPARISON goes through each shooting mode (4K, Full Frame, S35 crop, 1080/60p) in all three profiles (Portrait, C Log, Clog with CLog to Video LUT) and FORMAT COMPARISON that compares each shooting mode side by side using the Portrait profile.

I was sorely disappointed how Canon Log was implemented in this camera (even after being de-logged). I found the compression artifacts to be unacceptable. Due to this discovery I put Format Comparisons at the top of each test and the Profile Comparisons towards the bottom.

Embedded in this post you will find Vimeo exports of the footage. I created all the web encodes from FCP7 Prores HQ exports using Quicktime 7. I exported all the videos as 1920x1080 .H264 Quicktimes. You can see my settings below.

Vimeo exports are important because that’s how we share our finished projects but to truly see the results you need to look at raw footage and Prores HQ files. To satisfy that need I created a dropbox folder that contains the following sub-folders:

  1. PRORES CLIPS -- These are the Prores HQ exports of the Format Comparisons
  2. 4K EXPORTS -- A MJPEG 4K clip from each test in Portrait and Log
  3. WEB EXPORTS -- The exports I uploaded to Vimeo

I will leave these files in my dropbox till 2/15/13. After that I will remove to get back the space. If someone wants to permanently host the files, please let me know.

Feel free to view and play with these files any way that help you understand the camera better. All I ask if that you please include me (twitter or email) when reposting. Please share any of your thoughts or conclusions you have here on the blog or via email. I am very excited to get other thoughts on the tests since I’m still having a tough time deciding whether or not to embrace the camera.

You can view the entire folder HERE. At the bottom of each test I include links to its relevant files.

You can also view all of tests together on vimeo in my 1DC Comparision Tests album

Benjamin Franklin also starring in my 1DC camera tests.

TEST 1 - LOW ISO SHARPNESS

1DC FORMAT COMPARISON - LOW ISO SHARPNESS TEST from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

When I was a camera assistant with film cameras we always checked the focus of our lenses. usually we had a fancy chart but when we were out of options we would use dollars.

For this test I put a $100 dollar bill on the wall and lit with with natural daylight. I chose to shoot 640 ISO considering it the base ISO of the camera for practical use.

After looking at MTF charts and reviews of my Zeiss ZE 100mm f/2.0 Makro (my sharpest lens) I settled on shooting at an f/4.0 eliminate any vignetting issues that could effect the test.

What makes the 4K stand out most here is the small red line you see between Franklin's right eye and his nose. It’s amazing the clarity it’s shown in the 4K footage as opposed to the other formats.

As is consistent with Philip’s review, you can see how sharp the S35 crop mode compared to all the other HD shooting modes. Like Philip concluded the 1080/60p mode appears similar to upresing 720/60p footage from the C300. I’m fine if that’s the case. At the very least it saves me some render time.

1DC PROFILE COMPARISON - LOW ISO SHARPNESS from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

This test began my disappointment with Canon Log. I was excited about playing with these modes but as you can see with this test the sharpness of the Portrait shooting mode blows the C log and LUT footage out of the water.

You can download the Prores HQ version of this test HERE

You can download an uncompressed Portrait and Log 4K clip from this test HERE

TEST 2 - HIGH ISO SHARPNESS

1DC FORMAT COMPARISON - HIGH ISO SHARPNESS from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

This is a repeat of our first test except I covered the windows to enough to need 5000 ISO for proper exposure.

As can be expected, the higher ISO softened all the shooting modes. To my eye it looks like it had the LEAST impact on the full frame shooting mode which appears just as sharp as it did in test 1.

1DC PROFILE COMPARISON - HIGH ISO SHARPNESS TEST from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

As is consistent with Shane Hurlbert’s 1DC ISO testing, the Portrait mode appears less noisy in higher ISOs than the log footage.

You can download the Prores HQ version of this test HERE

You can download an uncompressed Portrait and Log 4K clip from this test HERE

TEST 3 - LOW KEY DAYLIGHT INTERIOR 

1DC FORMAT COMPARISON - LOW KEY DAY INTERIOR from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

I wanted to put the camera through some of the more difficult situations I’ve faced the past few years. This was an indoor scene using nothing but window light at the end of the day. My subject (the lovely Nora De) sits with that afternoon’s final rays of light hitting the wall behind her. Her key is a few stops below the background and is provided by daylight bouncing off the wall in front of her.

I switch to my 40mm f/2.0 pancake lens. It allows me to shoot closeups and wider shots using all three crop modes on the camera without having to readjust the camera too much.

Now putting the 1DC in the real world it becomes harder to see the differences that 4K brings to the table. Yes it appears sharper (my assistant Danny says you feel like there are less layers between you and the image) and slightly more detailed but nothing that makes me want to throw away my 5D.

Because the differences are not huge it makes 4K a more subjective choice. Part of me likes the sharpness but it also seems to bring out the compression and noise in the underexposed areas of the image. While Full Frame is not as crisp, the modes softness seems to hide a lot of the images imperfections.

The S35 crop mode appears to be a nice middle ground but for me it would never be a main shooting mode. If I wanted S35 I would have not sold my C300s. This mode is a nice addition when your lenses won’t reach but if I was looking for a 12K S35 camera I’d pick that F35 off ebay.

1DC PROFILE COMPARISON - LOW KEY DAY INTERIOR from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

This test begins my true distaste of the way canon log is implemented into the 1DC. The banding from the compression and the colored noise it adds to the shadows kills me. Sadly this test helped show me that 8 bit MJPEG canon log is just a great sounding marketing term rather than a useful shooting mode.

You can download the Prores HQ version of this test HERE

You can download an uncompressed Portrait and Log 4K clip from this test HERE

TEST 4 - BACKLIT DAYLIGHT INTERIOR 

1DC FORMAT COMPARISON - BACKLIT DAY EXTERIOR from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

I took Nora De outside to see how the 1DC would fair shooting off NYC’s High Line. I placed her on a bench backlit by the sun framing to include a deep background and hints of a blown out sky.

What most surprised me on this test was how different the color on the 4K footage was with the same settings. Though her face appears “sharper” in the 4K footage it also feels like it has less texture and feels more blocky to me.

1DC PROFILE COMPARISON - BACKLIT DAY EXTERIOR from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

Once again we see the battle between compression and canon log waged all across the darker areas of this image. After this test I could never imagine delivering Log footage to a client (especially not in HD mode). It appears that the best way to get sharpness and range out of this camera is using your picture profiles and setting them the way you want the image to look like. I know this involves a few more minutes of set work as opposed to letting an editor handle it but I think the increase in picture quality necessitates the work.

You can download the Prores HQ version of this test HERE

You can download an uncompressed Portrait and Log 4K clip from this test HERE

TEST 5 - HIGH KEY SUNSET EXTERIOR

1DC FORMAT COMPARISON - HIGH KEY SUNSET from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

While I still had daylight I wanted to see how the camera handled a high key situation. We let the setting sun key Nora De while we see it’s reflection on the wall behind her.

In this situation we see more pleasant colors and tones from the 4K footage. We also see an increase in dynamic range on her face compared to the HD modes. For the first time since shooting Benjamin on my wall, the 4K provides more emotionally engaging image.

1DC PROFILE COMPARISON - HIGH KEY SUNSET from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

This was some of the first log footage I started processing and once I looked at the results I sent a blast out to Andrew Reid, Philip Bloom and James Miller trying to figure out what I did wrong. The compression and banding on the shadowed areas of Nora De’s face as completely unacceptable to me. As I dug more and more through my footage (whether I viewed transcodes, raw off the card or watched the footage in a different program) I saw the same issues over and over. It really breaks my heart to see one of the cameras key selling points selling the camera.

You can download the Prores HQ version of this test HERE

You can download an uncompressed Portrait and Log 4K clip from this test HERE

TEST 6 - HIGH ISO NIGHT INTERIOR

1DC FORMAT COMPARISON - HIGH ISO NIGHT INTERIOR from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

For our final setup, it was time to see how the camera did shooting 10,000 ISO. Low light is what has kept me using canon cameras. When I was first using the 1DX I was blown away by the way it handled 12,800 ISO and was exciting to see how it did in 4K.

Nora De is placed next to a fire to provide background high lights. She is keys by a distant desk lamp that I dimmed to provide just enough fill to bring her face up closer to the level of the backlight provided by the fire.

Of all the tests this truly brings the 4K vs Full Frame battle to life. As a consequence of the 4K’s sharpness we see colored noise everywhere in the image. Whatever is causing the Full Frame footage to be softer is also helping to smooth out the noise. My gut likes the Full Frame. What do you think?

1DC PROFILE COMPARISON - HIGH ISO NIGHT INTERIOR from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

Once again I’m not impressed with the canon log in this test. What’s interesting to note is how much flatter the 4K log footage is compared to the other formats. Does anyone have a guess why?

You can download the Prores HQ version of this test HERE

You can download an uncompressed Portrait and Log 4K clip from this test HERE

TEST 7 - FIELD OF VIEW COMPARISON

1DC CROP FACTOR TEST from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

Full frame has become the crack that filmmakers are unable to live without. Whether it’s paying the extra cash for a used 5D2 over a new 60D or adding a speed booster to the worlds least ergonomic camera (Sony FS700).

I love my 40mm on a full frame chip. I love it so much that I could never find a way to embrace the superior image of the C300 over my 5D which lead me to sell it. Now, once again, I’m in the same pickle: sharper 4K image or the field of view I love.

As a final test I took my Zeiss 28mm ZE and put it on the 1DC in 4K mode. Field of view this lens is the equivalent of the 40mm in Full Frame. I wanted to see if 1.3 crop was enough to feel a difference. Sadly it appears so.

I know the 4K looks great and so does the Zeiss, but still there is some more intimate and voyeuristic about the 40mm on Full Frame. From the way the background is rendered to the blur from full frames shallower depth of field it’s a tough battle to figure out if the technical achievement of the 4K trumps my emotional attachment to Full Frame.

You can download the Prores HQ version of this test HERE

BONUS JONAS - 4K WONDERSCOPE

1DC BONUS JONAS TEST - WONDERSCOPE 1.5X ANAMORPHIC from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

While shooting these tests I brought out the Wonderscope to see how it handled on the 1DC. I never really believe EOSHD’s Andrew Reid every time he says how anamorphic lenses make digital sensors more organic but after these results I will never doubt him again.

I think the scope brings a perfect balance between the creaminess of full frame and the pop of the 4K. The 1.3x crop is also perfect for eliminating the vignetting the had on the 1DX while still not making it too long.

When you put a 1.5x anamorphic on the 4096x2160 frame size of the 1DC it becomes a whopping 6144x2160 or 2.84:1 aspect ratio. Pretty epic in my opinion.

I think the final shots from the High ISO Interior test look great. I only wish I would have shot them in Portrait so the compression wouldn’t have taken all the magic out of them. 

You can download a Prores HQ of this test HERE

CONCLUSIONS

Lets begin with stating something very important: all of these shooting modes look great. I can complain all day about noise, detail and sharpness but compared to the mini dv cameras we were shooting less than 10 years ago it is an absolute miracle so much magic can come out of a small shell with a flipping mirror.

Beyond that, canon has achieved a technical milestone by giving us 4K shooting directly to CF cards with a camera that’s onboard battery can last more than 30 minutes (seriously RED?). 

On these two facts alone, the 1DC is a camera that should be respected and admired. The bigger questions is: is this the right camera for me (and I guess you too)?

When I began these tests I hoped the have a conclusion about whether or not the 1DC is worth purchasing and even writing this, I’m still not sure. The 1DC is a very interesting cameras with a unique feature set. Four features really set it apart from other DSLRs:

  1. 4K recording to CF Cards
  2. No more record limits
  3. HDMI output works without shutting off the camera LCD
  4. Canon Log

When the 1DX first came out I remember reading about the record limits preventing us customers from paying a 30% EU sales tax on the camera. At the time I said to a friend that I would gladly pay that 30% extra get rid of record limits and gain LCD mirroring.

That means that a year ago I would have paid $8,840 for those features and not thought twice about it. Now those features are here, like I wished, and for an additional $3,150 above that I get 4K and canon log. In the scheme of things it’s not that much more but there are a few things holding me back:

  1. I don’t trust the 4K. It seems like an accident or something an engineer discovered while making the 1DX and was rushed to market. It’s sharper because of the resolution but MJPEG is a really old compression and the camera maxes out at 24p. It the camera is pushed so hard that it can’t even make it to 30p (much less 25p) then I’m concerned. You wouldn’t want to pay top dollar for a car that’s just barely getting you to work each day, right?
  2. Canon Log is more or less useless. I know people will use it and rave about it, but between shooting these tests and the piss poor results I got with it at high ISOs on the C300 I don’t see the advantage of 8 bit log. If you are going to shoot it please use a de-logging LUT. I see so many videos with no detail in the skin tones because no one de-logs their stuff.
  3. This camera was announced before Black Magic changed the game. Despite it not being out yet, the BMCC has changed what we think is possible for a $3,000 camera (much like the 5D did not that long ago). It takes a camera 2-3 years to develop new sensors and processors. Do you really think none of the big guys are designing a camera to stand up against the BMCC? Will you still want a 1DC when that camera is announced in the next two years? If no one does then the market is ripe for smaller companies to take over using the business RED model (but hopefully less cultish and tyrannical). On the other end of the spectrum, high end 4K cameras are going to get better and better. There are still so many unknowns with products like RED’s dragon sensor coming out to really know where the 1DC will fit into the mix. Depending on what we see at NAB it could become completely irrelevant to the general market sooner than you think.
  4. The camera just isn’t as sexy to clients as the F55. I know the F55 is in a completely different price range but it has a lot more going for it marketing wise. Internal 4K with a codec that makes sense, slow motion and global shutter (a feature which you probably don’t need and most won’t understand but damn it sounds sexy). When you are on a job and you suggest renting your 1DC or for a few hundred more a day get a F55, do you think a producer is really going to want to deal with the 1DC? If you want to make money this year be one of the first to have an F55. I promise that camera will print money the way the RED ONE and C300 did. It also has a may more future proof feature set that will protect the camera for a few more years.

Business wise, the 1DC is the worst of a DSLR combined with the worst of a video camera.

DSLRs are traditionally owner/operator personal cameras. Everyone has a 5D in their kit and for the most part it doesn’t make you a ton of money. The C300 was smart because it was enough of a video camera to get clients to pay for it. What I’m worried about is that clients just won’t get that excited for the 1DC. The fact that it’s been out for only a week and B&H has it in stock means that there isn’t a huge demand (remember the fights for the C300?).

The 1DC will not retain value like a 1DX mode. In 1-2 years it will be worth a fraction of what you paid for it. Meanwhile, even though it has less features and only HD video, the 1DX will continue to retain most of it’s value for years to come because it’s a still camera and someone will still want it.

I am a lifelong DSLR shooter. I cannot imagine another form factor or approach to shooting that will be as organic as DSLRs have been for me. They are not for everyone but for my work they are perfect. Even with that in mind, I’m not sure the results from the 4K are impressive enough to make this purchase worth it. For now I’m going to wait for the Leica M to come out and see what it’s video mode feels like.

Still, the camera haunts me even knowing this, because 4K is a siren’s song and once you hear it you want it and suddenly the 1DX doesn’t seem as good (and the 5D3 sounds like crap). I’m not sure what to do. Next week I’m off to LA to shoot another commercial and instead of purchasing, I’m renting a 1DC from lensrentals.com to give it another shot and do some more testing.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what you think of the footage and if you think the camera is worth it. I’m not concerned about the money but investing into tools that will enhance my work. I’m taking a HDMI Teradek cube to test with the LCD mirroring function. Please let me know if there are any other tests you want to see with the camera while I have it. I’ll try to address as many as I can.

If you made it this far thanks for digging through this review. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey.

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