Canon C200 RAW delivers high performance dynamic range and color

Initial thoughts

I’m a big fan of the Digital Bolex D16. It delivers probably one of the best 16mm 2K images on the planet–especially when compared to cameras costing thousands more. I’m not happy with 8-bit images, any more and 10-bit images are ok, but if you want to really shape your image in post (and know that the image you’re shooting feels “thick” like film), then  shooting RAW is essential.

The CinemaDNG formate of the D16 is a strong codec (12-bit CinemaDNG) and the Blackmagic Cameras use it, too, although the comparable camera (the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with a 16mm sensor) does not deliver as strong an image (the sensor on the Bolex alone is the price of the Pocket Camera).

In either case, Canon’s C200, in their RAW Light mode, shoots a compelling S35mm 12-bit RAW image that blows the doors off of any 8- or 10-bit image. This camera will easily replace the C100 and it’s comparable to shooting on big budget cinema cameras. The 12-bit RAW image on the C200 contains similar levels of headroom as the Digital Bolex D16. When I first heard about Canon’s compressed RAW Lite, I was worried. Would it really deliver headroom needed in post? My expectations were low, and I was not disappointed. Instead, I was quite impressed. I shot a project over the summer in The Netherlands with the Canon C100 Mark II and I wished I had brought my D16 with me, because I was not impressed with the image quality (especially in post). I swore I would not shoot another project with anything but a 12-bit image, and so my Bolex is my go-to camera.

That has now changed. Canon’s C200 has features I love, not the RAW Light, but a waveform monitor, ND filters, audio inputs (although not as good as the Bolex’s 24-bit audio recording), and a sharp viewfinder, among other features, such as the auto focus (which I have not tried, yet). Indeed, I decided not to use the external LCD, but I removed it and used only the viewfinder and kept it all hand-held with Canon’s f/4 24-105mm lens for most of the shots. This kept the camera light and non-bulky. The side grip is essential for handheld shooting. I shot Preston, going on a walk, as well as some shallow depth of field with with flowers, plants, and trees.

I shot in RAW with wide DR on and using no LUTs (although you can put a LUT on a SD card and load it). To test out the RAW capability of the C200 in comparison to the D16, I integrated some shots from the D16 the next day (with a Veydra 12mm prime). Here’s the film:

Canon released RAW software for processing footage, Cinema RAW Development. It allows you to review footage and grade some within the software. If you’re a DaVinci Resolve user, you don’t need it for Resolve 14. Just like with the Bolex, I input the .CRM files into Resolve and just manage it like any other footage (although Resolve’s RAW color grading tool is grayed out and inaccessible at this time). However, it’s really not needed. I used the same steps for the D16 footage.

I used the ORSIRIS LUT to further flatten the images (Canon C-Log to Log), added a standard film curve using the curves tool to add contrast and remove the flat look of the LUT, pulling out the dynamic range. I also added 20 points to the Color Boost (a trick I used with the D16 footage all the time), which simply adds color to the rather colorless looking footage (which I’ve noticed in some people’s C200 tests; made me not like the camera until I saw some other footage where the color was added). I did not use ORSIRIS for the D16 footage, but juste added curves and tweaked levels.

Here’s a shot with contrast curve and the 20 point color boost added to the C200 footage.

Notice the blowout in the background. Here’s the waveform in Resolve (notice the values hitting 1023), are they clipped? An 8-bit image would be dead, here.

I pull down the highlights using Resolve’s “gain” on the Primaries Color Wheels. Note that all the data remains, and nothing is clipped. You can still hard clip RAW footage, so don’t get cocky!

This was the first test for me to realize that the 12-bit RAW (Lite) in the C200 delivers the goods and equated well with my experience over the past four or five years shooting on the Bolex D16. (I also adjusted some of the midrange values (Gamma) and the shadows (Lift) on the Primaries.  Below is the result. There’s still white in the background, but they’re not clipped and I can see details recovered in these highlights (the leaves behind Preston’s right leg).

Another test of RAW. Here’s the flat image before the contrast curve is applied (I believe the ORSIRIS LUT is applied, here):

This flat look is normal and this is what you want in order to dig out the dynamic range of the image when you the contrast curve. By doing so, I get this image:

Some nice detail, here, but it’s too bright. The waveform monitor confirms it:

I add more contrast and adjust the shadows, midtones, and highlights:

This leaves me with the scope looking like this:

The results:

I like the contrast, now. We can see detail.

Still in Resolve, I export the footage as ProRes 444XQ, giving me the highest possible quality within ProRes and keeps the image at 12-bit, because I want the option of additional grading in Final Cut. I also export it in 2K, to save some space, but I also feel we have enough 4K devices to view material in 4K, so why take up the bandwidth?

I make some additional adjustments in Final Cut and add the Koji Color (2383 film stock) LUT to each shot of the film and make additional tweaks, resulting in this image:

As can be seen, the Digital Bolex D16 footage integrates well with the Canon C200 12-bit RAW footage.

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