Back in 2008, Canon kickstarted an indie filmmaking revolution with the launch of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the world's first full-frame DSLR capable of recording in Full HD. With its large sensor, exceptional image quality, compact size and affordability, it was embraced by major studios, low-budget independents and hobbyists alike.
This was followed by the launch of the Canon Cinema EOS camera system, and these developments together laid the foundations for the video functions and performance offered by the latest DSLRs, full-frame mirrorless cameras and professional XA/XF camcorders. Right down to the present day, says leading cinematographer and director of photography Claudia Raschke, the quality, ease-of-use and affordability of the Canon range have lowered the barriers to entry for novice filmmakers. Women filmmakers in particular face hurdles, Claudia points out, but she says much of the Canon range is "at a price point that is within reach for a much larger group of people. That creates access for many more people to come into the film world."
The intuitive control layout and easy-to-understand menus of Canon cinema cameras, she adds, are "wonderful" for those starting out. Cinematographer Laura Bellingham agrees. "The menu system is very familiar right across the Cinema EOS range," she notes, "which is really good because you hit the ground running when you pick up a new model for the first time."
Here we explore some of the Canon technology that continues to challenge the conventional constraints of cost, complexity and time, helping to democratise filmmaking.
You might also like to read:
Canon's 4K cameras are opening up more creative opportunities to a wider range of filmmakers, and the 5.9K-capable Canon EOS C500 Mark II and Canon EOS C700 FF – along with the 5.5K capture of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and breathtaking 8K video resolution of the Canon EOS R5 – are taking image quality to the next level.
"Content is now watched across multiple platforms and, unless you're shooting for a very specific project, you don't know if your video will be watched on a large projector screen, a massive OLED or QLED TV screen, or on a smartphone," explains Paul Atkinson, Product Specialist for Professional Video at Canon Europe. "So you have to produce an image that will look good on the largest possible format.
"The beauty of shooting at 5.9K is that it gives you a sharper and more detailed image in a much bigger file, which can be reduced in size in post to produce the final format you need." An additional benefit is the flexibility to crop and reframe in post-production, taking advantage of the higher resolution starting point. "Alternatively, you can choose to record in 4K, 2K or Full HD, but this resolution is achieved by over-sampling, which allows the full capability of the sensor to be used but gives you the smaller file size when it comes to the output to the memory card."
Debuting in the Canon EOS C200 and now also available in the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, Canon's proprietary file format Cinema RAW Light delivers a substantial reduction in file size, enabling internal RAW recording while retaining the editing flexibility of RAW capture.
"Cinema RAW Light produces a much more manageable file size," says Paul. "Shooting Cinema RAW Light means you don't have to worry about external recorders, external connections, additional power supplies and a more complicated workflow – or the extra weight and cost that would entail. It can actually be processed on lower-spec editing platforms, compared with what you need for a full RAW from, say, the Canon EOS C700 FF."
Not every camera can record RAW – and it isn't the right option for every job. Canon Log is the next best thing, delivering a versatile file that will give you plenty to work with in post. Canon Log is a staple in Canon's Cinema EOS System range and also available in EOS cameras including the Canon EOS R, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and (via an optional upgrade) the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
Canon Log is a logarithmic gamma curve designed to capture the maximum dynamic range – up to 12 stops – in a manageable file size. This makes it possible to reveal more detail in post without exacerbating noise. The benefits of shooting in Canon Log outweigh the additional grading required – ultimately it enables filmmakers to get the maximum possible dynamic range from the sensor under given settings.
Don't have time for an extensive grade? When turnaround time is critical, you can use the Wide Dynamic Range setting, which captures a level of dynamic range similar to Canon Log but without the need for post-processing.
Production costs have always presented a barrier to filmmaking, but one of the advantages of the EOS system is just that: it's a coherent system.
"Take the universality of the EF mount," says Paul. "For users who have been filming on Canon EOS DSLRs and want to step up to a Cinema EOS System with cameras such as the Canon EOS C100 Mark II or Canon EOS C200, they can continue using their existing photo lenses and don't have to immediately switch to dedicated cinema lenses." The renowned optical quality and resolving power of Canon lenses ensure they'll get the best from the camera either way.
Many projects require multiple cameras, with a more compact or more affordable B-camera. Filmmakers have found it straightforward to match footage from different cameras, thanks to the availability of options such as Canon Log. "If you're shooting a multi-platform project, combining a DSLR or mirrorless camera and Cinema EOS all in the same production, for example, you can actually set the cameras up so that they capture footage that is quite close in terms of overall look," says Paul. "Obviously with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, the ability to shoot both RAW as well as Canon Log makes it even easier to marry footage from this camera with that from a dedicated Canon video camera."
Although there are situations where only a locked-off camera will do, being able to record stable footage without having to set up and take down tripods and gimbals really helps single camera operators shooting run-and-gun style.
In addition to Image Stabilization technology in some of its cinema lenses, Canon has a broad range of Image Stabilized EF lenses, in which IS performance can be optimised for the focal length of the lens. The innovative RF mount at the heart of Canon's EOS R System cameras features a revolutionary 12-pin connection that enables a faster, higher-bandwidth communication between the lens and the body, with the potential for even more effective stabilisation and lens optimisation with RF lenses.
Electronic sensor-based stabilisation has its advantages too – it can work with any lens. "The Canon EOS C500 Mark II was the first a Cinema EOS System camera to introduce a version of in-body stabilisation," explains Paul. "It's similar to what we find on some of our XF and XA models. What's unique about it is that it can work on its own or it can work in combination with an IS lens to deliver 5-axis stabilisation. So, with optical stabilisation you can have three axes of stabilisation when required, then you can activate the in-body stabilisation to compensate for movement in the two axes that the lens doesn't correct."
The Canon EOS R System also features advanced Digital Movie IS, providing 5-axis image stabilization for beautifully steady footage even if you're shooting handheld, and the Canon EOS R5 takes this to a new level to deliver the ultimate in shake-free super-sharp images and movies.
With the proliferation of high-resolution capture on large sensors, accurate focusing is critical. Canon's phase-detection Dual Pixel CMOS AF system has evolved to meet this demand. For lone shooters in particular, it's a game-changer. Not only does it automate smooth focus pulls through the image, it offers precise focus tracking of moving subjects – particularly with the addition of Face Detection AF and Eye AF.
Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology is also a benefit to filmmakers who need full manual control over the focus. It unlocks the Dual Pixel Focus Guide on a number of cameras in the Cinema EOS and XF Series ranges, which provides a visual guide to the direction in which the focus ring needs to be turned to bring details into sharp focus.
"This tool also works with EF mount lenses that don't have autofocus capabilities," adds Paul. "For a small crew or a single shooter, the ability to look at Dual Pixel Focus Guide and quickly verify that their chosen point of focus is pin sharp is really useful."
For small crews and single shooters, it's a big advantage to have a camera that's compact and lightweight but still capable of producing a high-quality image.
Canon's full-frame EOS DSLRs and mirrorless cameras offer the ultimate in convenience, capable of delivering the large format look in a smaller, low cost format that's well suited to discreet shooting. The smaller footprint also helps to keep down the cost of additional accessories such as gimbals.
Canon's XF Series of professional camcorders have a more traditional video camera configuration, and their compact, all-in-one approach will suit many productions. "For documentary makers who want a portable, self-contained unit that's easy to use but still provides outstanding image quality, then a camera such as the Canon XF705 is an excellent choice," says Paul.
You don't have to sacrifice portability when stepping up to the Cinema EOS line either. The modular design of the Canon EOS C200 and Canon EOS C500 Mark II enables them to be quickly scaled up or down as required – such as being fitted with follow-focus rigs or stripped back for drone work.
In all these ways, Canon technologies are lowering the barriers to entry into filmmaking. At the same time, as Laura Bellingham puts it, "things are opening up and an awareness is growing. There are the beginnings of a hunger to see different sorts of people telling different stories in different ways – especially women. It's a good time to be a female cinematographer."