A client stopped in the other day to share some good news and some bad. The good news was that her bid for a big shoot had been accepted by her client. The bad: her already squeezed budget was squeezed even further and the Arri Amira she had planned to rent from Videosmith was suddenly too expensive. “What are my options?” she asked.
I recommended that we compare the Sony PXW-FS7 and the Canon C300 Mark II. They rent for a good bit less than the Amira, and yet either would fulfill her needs just fine.
So we took a look at some of the differences between the two cameras.
First, their physical form factors. Both cameras are under 10 pounds but their shapes are very different. The Sony FS7’s longer body was designed with handheld shooting in mind, or as Sony likes to say, “Shoulder mount comfort without rigs – or rigmarole.” The C300 can be gawky to handhold, especially with zoom lenses. However, its shape and size is perfect for use with gimbals or drones. Both can easily be setup for studio-style shooting with the addition of rods, matte box, follow-focus, and other accessories.
With the C300 Mark II, Canon decided to keep the boxy form factor it developed for the first gen C300. Though the Mark II is slightly larger than the original, its body is more compact than the FS7 and is not nearly as long. This allows the Mark II to be used on three-axis gimbals (like the MōVI or DJI Ronan) or many of the larger hexacopters and octocopters, much more easily than the Sony. Because the Canon’s viewfinder is permanently mounted on the top center axis of the camera, the operator has to be directly behind the camera to view the image, which can make handholding awkward. There is an external 4” LCD monitor that comes with the C300. It normally mounts a few inches above the top of the camera, but with a little shifting about you can place it off to the left side and use it as a viewscreen. For handholding we recommend a shoulder support rig, like the Zacuto.
The Sony FS7 has, as I showed our client, a longer body and a more “normal style” viewfinder. That is to say, you can snap an optical eyepiece onto the camera’s 3.5” LCD screen and use it on the left (or right) side, with the camera resting on your shoulder.
Next let’s look at usability. The Sony FS7 has an extremely extensive menu. This offers a lot of options and flexibility. That being said, the setup can be cumbersome, and I feel that there is too much minutiae. In the Canon C300 Mark II the menu system is a little more user friendly, but not as much as the original C300. This is understandable because you have more shooting options in the Mark II, but still, no menu system is as simple and straight forward as the Arri Amira’s.
Lens compatibility can be an issue for the Sony FS7 because it has a proprietary E-mount. Because the majority of shooters want to use less-expensive Canon EF-mount lenses, you’ll need to have an E-to-EF lens-mount adapter, like the Metabones, in your package. The Canon C300 comes with the EF-mount, so it accepts all those EF lenses, and it can be adapted to use PL, Nikon, or other lenses. Both cameras have autofocus features that work with their respective OEM lenses. Canon’s dual pixel and face detection takes the cake in that category. One feature I like in the Mark II is the built-in 5-position neutral density (ND) filter system, which covers 10 stops, as opposed to the FS7 which has a 3-position ND setup (6 stops).
Image Quality and Specs
Image quality should always be a shooter’s first priority. At the end of the day the audience doesn’t care about your camera’s functionality. They care about what they see on the screen. So let’s compare the specs of the images coming from these cameras, starting with the sensors.
The Canon C300 Mark II features an 8.85 megapixel Super 35mm 16:9 CMOS sensor (24.6 x 13.8mm) that supports 4K (DCI) recording with a maximum resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels. The camera fully utilizes the image data delivered by the sensor to also enable over sampling HD processing for 2K (DCI) and full HD1080/60p recording. There are 15 stops of latitude. The native ISO is 800, but you can crank that up to an astonishing 102,400, perfect for those low-low-low-light work (if you don’t mind some noise).
The Sony FS7 uses an Exmor CMOS Super 35 sensor, also with 8.8 megapixels. Latitude is 14 stops. The native ISO tops out at 2,000, but you can go into the Sony’s menus and increase that to 3,200.
Both cameras can shoot full 4K and UHD. A great feature with the Canon C300 Mark II is the ability to shoot in 2K/12-bit 4444. The 12-bit 4444, although not 4K resolution, creates a very pleasing image, and is recommended for green screen shots due to its extensive color space. And both cameras offer a variety of imaging settings, including several Log profiles. In today’s resolution race, color science is often overlooked. I find the Canon C300 Mark II captures a warmer image, with better skin tones. The Sony’s image is a bit cooler. Canon claims to have a higher dynamic range, but I don’t see much difference between the two. When either the Canon or the Sony are set at 3200 ISO noticeable noise appears. Both cameras do show noise in the blacks in underexposed images, with Canon’s blacks being slightly cleaner.
Where the Sony FS7 really outshines the Canon is in high frame rate capability. The Sony can do up to 60fps in 4K and 180fps in 1080 HD. The Canon can only go up to 30fps in 4K (i.e., normal shooting speed) and 120fps in 2K crop mode. The crop mode punches in 2x on the sensor when shooting at 120 fps. This can become a challenge when trying to maintain a wide composition.
All-in-all, the FS7 and C300 Mark II offer very similar features. Right out of the case the Sony is able to be used on the shoulder, the Canon not so much (unless you add a shoulder mount rig). But the Canon’s form factor is better for mounting on drones and gimbals. In a studio setup, they’re comparable. The Canon’s image is a bit warmer, the Sony’s a bit cooler. The Canon has a more versatile original mount, but with adapters either camera can take a huge range of lenses. The choice boils down to your specific application.
I set up the FS7 and the C300 Mark II for my client and let her fiddle and fool with both. Because the two cameras rent for the same rate they fit well into her budget. She slightly preferred the Canon’s warmer image, but knew that post production grading would take care of any of the coolness in the Sony look. In the end she decided on the Sony FS7 because her project involved a lot of handheld work, and the script didn’t call for an aerials or MōVI-type gimbaled shooting.
She stopped in last week and showed us some of her footage. It was really nice. She was very pleased with her choice of cameras, and thanked us for demoing them to her. She thought that her next project would lend itself to using a drone, and was already thinking of trying the C300 Mark II. Having choices is a such a great thing.
Try Them Out For Yourself