EOS C300 Mark III and EOS C500 Mark II: the DoP's view

Documentary filmmaker Ben Sherlock explores what the full-frame and Super 35mm Cinema EOS stablemates can offer in the field.
Filmmaker Ben Sherlock with the Canon EOS C500 Mark II.

Director of photography and documentary filmmaker Ben Sherlock has been working on a survival and bushcraft project, shooting on both a Canon EOS C300 Mark III and a Canon EOS C500 Mark II. His first-hand experiences have helped him to identify which camera is best suited to certain situations, and also just how well they work together.

The Canon EOS C300 Mark III and the Canon EOS C500 Mark II are Cinema EOS stablemates offering the latest technology to give stunning visual results. With large sensors for incredible low-light performance as well as a beautifully shallow depth of field, easy HDR workflows, a wide dynamic range, and internal and external RAW video capture, they make obvious choices for high-level productions across broadcast, commercial and documentary.

Industry-leading codecs, built-in image stabilisation supporting 5-axis camera shake correction and the advanced Dual Pixel CMOS AF are further commonalities, while each camera has its own distinct sensor technology – a 4K Super 35mm DGO sensor in the Canon EOS C300 Mark III and a 5.9K full-frame sensor in the Canon EOS C500 Mark II.

Director of photography and long-time Canon user Ben Sherlock has worked with both cameras since their release, gaining a deep understanding of their shooting strengths. Specialising in documentaries with a cinematic and adventurous edge, Ben has filmed in more than 70 countries, including extreme environments and conflict zones, and worked on TV programmes for BBC Studios and National Geographic. He recently used both camera bodies on a survival and bushcraft project, shooting in woodland in high contrast and low-light conditions. Here he shares his experiences with the two cinema cameras and explains how they match up in the field.

A Canon EOS C300 Mark III cinema camera.

The Canon EOS C300 Mark III shares the same modular design as the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, which means switching between the two bodies is quick and easy. © Ben Sherlock

A Canon EOS C500 Mark II cinema camera.

Both cameras also support Canon's Cinema RAW Light recording format, which has all the advantages of RAW, but is smaller, faster and more accessible. © Ben Sherlock

Synchronicity between a cinematic duo

Since the release of the Canon EOS C300 Mark III, Ben has had the opportunity to take both cameras out on location, shooting similar scenes on each and drawing direct comparisons about their respective strengths. Using both cameras together has also proved seamless in terms of workflow.

"The synchronicity between these two cameras on location is game-changing," he says. "The fact that the batteries and memory cards are the same – and the design of the cameras is the same – is huge. Anybody can jump from one camera to the other without having to constantly rewire their brain to move onto a different system.

"It speeds things up. In the world that I work in, a few seconds can make the difference between capturing the moment and missing it. The synchronicity that you get between the Canon EOS C300 Mark III and Canon EOS C500 Mark II means that you're never at risk of missing the moment."

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Both cameras offer a wide range of codecs in high bitrates and a choice of colour spaces, as well as RAW shooting for the best quality results and maximum flexibility in post-processing. Canon's efficient Cinema RAW Light format offers all the benefits of RAW processing – maximum highlight and shadow detail – but generates much smaller files, which can be recorded to CFexpress cards. For faster workflow, both cameras also record internally in 10-bit 4:2:2 XF-AVC, supporting all Long GOP and ALL-I formats, at data rates up to a huge 810Mbps.

Canon Log gamma delivers neutral image quality and maximum dynamic range for a softer, more filmic look. Canon Log 3 gives reduced noise in shadows and excellent grading flexibility, while Canon Log 2 provides up to 16+ stops of dynamic range.

The huge dynamic range makes both cameras ready for HDR workflows. For even faster turnaround, Canon's Wide DR gives extended dynamic range for use right out of camera. Both cameras also offer support for custom Look-Up Tables to convert a Log signal into a different colour space for more accurate monitoring on set, or to apply a certain look during colour grading or monitoring.

A still from a video shot on the Canon EOS C500 Mark II showing a man sat on a hillside next to the ocean.

A video still shot on the Canon EOS C500 Mark II. "I get asked to use the EOS C500 Mark II for various reasons," says Ben. "You've got 15+ stops of latitude. You've got that magic Canon colour science which just can't be beaten. Then you take it all and you put it into the extraordinarily well-built housing that has a 5.9K sensor on it that is also full-frame." © Ben Sherlock

Amazing colours from the Canon EOS C500 Mark II

The key difference between the two cameras is that the Canon EOS C500 Mark II has a 5.9K full-frame sensor that offers up to 15+ stops of dynamic range in Canon Log 2. The Canon EOS C300 Mark III has a 4K Super 35mm DGO sensor offering 16+ stops of dynamic range.

"The Canon EOS C500 Mark II is clearly geared towards the top-end of filmmaking," says Ben. "It's got all of the functionality, features and ergonomic genius that we associate with Canon's Cinema EOS cameras, and it is full-frame. When you take the best lens, you want to put it on a camera that is going to utilise every single inch of that sensor, and that's what the EOS C500 Mark II does."

DoP Patrick Smith with a Canon EOS C500 Mark II cinema camera.

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The Canon EOS C500 Mark II can be used in Super 35mm crop mode if needed. Its larger sensor means it can work perfectly with full anamorphic lenses, which it processes internally without the need for a separate monitor – which is what you would need to shoot full anamorphic on the Canon EOS C300 Mark III.

"There's something special about the image that you just don't get with anything else," Ben adds. "It is a camera associated with operating at the highest levels in the industry, that delivers an image that sets it apart from the rest of the Canon line. With the Canon colour science, it is the ultimate cinematic package."

Of course, the incredible 5.9K resolution is the headline figure, but Ben is blown away by the camera's other charms. "For me, colour and the latitude is more important. The resolution means if you do want to crunch in on the frame a little bit in post, then you have that flexibility. And when I have to shoot anamorphic, which is becoming more commonplace, I can take full advantage."

A still from a video shot on the Canon EOS C300 Mark III of sunlight shining through leaves, illustrating the cameras ability to capture high contrast scenes.

The survival and buschcraft project Ben has been working on involved shooting high-contrast woodland scenes in bright sunshine… © Ben Sherlock

A still from a video shot on the Canon EOS C300 Mark III of men inside a shelter lit only by firelight.

…and inside shelters lit only by firelight. For these scenes he opted for the extra dynamic range and high ISO performance offered by the Canon EOS C300 Mark III and its DGO sensor. © Ben Sherlock

The Canon EOS C300 Mark III rules for speed and flexibility

While the Canon EOS C500 Mark II offers frame rates up to 60p in 4K and 120p in 1080 HD, the Canon EOS C300 Mark III is faster, with 4K at 120p and 180fps shooting in HD. The Canon EOS C300 Mark III's new CMOS sensor offers Dual Gain Output (DGO) for even better performance at high ISO settings.

When shooting very high contrast and low-light scenes, Ben found himself reaching for the Canon EOS C300 Mark III for the extra dynamic range and stunning high ISO performance that was possible thanks to that DGO sensor. The faster frame rates, meanwhile, can add another creative string to a filmmaker's bow.

"If I need 120fps for slow motion in 4K, then the Canon EOS C300 Mark III is the camera that I go to," says Ben. "Even hand-holding and shooting action, cranking the slow motion up is incredibly valuable.

"I am mesmerised by how clear the image looks, how organic it all feels, how noise-free everything is. This DGO sensor is definitely a massive step up. The science in there has enabled us to push the latitude so much that it completely erases all the noise in the shadows."

Documentary filmmaker Ben Sherlock filming with a Canon cinema camera.

"Canon cameras have always been a part of my life, and they've been pretty formative to the way that I've shot," says Ben. "They're cameras that I know that I've been able to rely on for the whole of my career. They've never let me down."

The Super 35mm sensor gives extra reach for longer lenses compared to the full-frame sensor of the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, offering a different perspective and depth of field for even more creative options. That reach gives it the edge shooting wildlife and sport, or for more fast-paced run-and-gun work where a greater depth of field is needed.

"Ultimately, the two things that matter the most to me, is that when I take these cameras into a blisteringly hot desert or sub-zero conditions, I need to know that camera is going to be reliable and get the shot," says Ben. "And deliver images that are completely unparalleled."

Ben certainly wasn't disappointed by the cameras' performance on his survival and bushcraft project. "I knew we weren't going to have to worry about noise, because any condition I put these cameras in, they always came out with the goods – even when shooting in the middle of the night," he says. "When you point these cameras at a person or a natural environment, they just come alive – more beautiful than when I'm looking at it with my naked eye. The skin tones and the colours are absolutely mind-blowing."

Adam Duckworth

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