A Canon C500 Test Case: Cinematic Images on a Small Scale

Recently, I shot a fun test of what the Canon C500 can do with very little support on a no-budget project. It was a very small, last minute shoot for a director friend of mine last week - a short scene to go with VO as an advert for a new book. The scene took place at night, and we had one night with the talent available to shoot it in everyone needed to be at real jobs in the morning. So, of course, time was of the essence, and we were working with minimal crew because there was essentially no budget. And by minimal, I mean a crew of 3, including the director. To really push the limits, the director & myself had planned about 15 shots, several of which included using rain & practical blood effects. Besides our on-set practicals (a table lamp and car headlights), the only instruments we had on hand were a couple of F&V 1x1 LED panels, one Lowel Omni, and one Tota. However, I was pretty confident we could pull this off because this is exactly the kind of shoot the C500 excels at.

We output 4K raw from the C500 into a Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q, and I only used 2 lenses for the entire shoot: Canon CN-E 24mm & 50mm primes. My ISO lived around 3200-4000 for the most part, except for the first & second grabs below which I believe were done at 1600. I transcoded the RMF files to ProRes 4K with Canon's Cinema Raw Development software, and did some quick preliminary grading on these frames with Final Cut Pro X's standard grading tools with no LUT applied. We plan to cut and grade the final piece from the 4K ProRes files and output a 2K master.

I'm very happy with how quickly we were able to move, and the C500's ability to retain such rich color information at high ISO is incredibly helpful in the grade. The dynamic range was very good as well, I had all the information I needed in both the highlights and shadows to create the look I wanted. Shooting uncompressed raw made the unexpected appearance of any compression artifacts a moot point, leaving me with much more room to push and pull the image as I wanted. The director, who is also editing the piece, appreciated oversampling in 4K since he could use that to his advantage in post. It allowed us to play a little more fast and loose knowing we could do some reframing and digital zoom later for added effect. We started at 8pm, and I was home in bed by 4am to get a little shut-eye before my 10am call time. We got every shot we had planned but 1 in the can, which we cut it because it was extraneous. We shot about 700GB of raw footage, which transcoded to slightly more than 300GB of ProRes 4K. The Odyssey 7Q proved to be an excellent tool for monitoring and recording the 4K raw image. There were no hiccups or errors for the entire shoot, and the image it displays was very crisp and clear and gave a very accurate reference. I also made plenty of use of it's exposure and focus aids, as well as it's LUT display option. It was also nice to be able to record on-board mxf proxy files in the C500 while the O7Q recorded master raws.

I would say that the best part of using the C500 is that it allows you be incredibly flexible in a huge variety of shooting scenarios. You can shoot stylistic or realistic with minimal equipment, and it lets you attack just about any scene with the confidence that the camera will give you a great looking image with the fidelity and resolution that even the most demanding project needs. In my opinion, it's the current swiss-army knife of digital cinema cameras.

Once the final piece is finished, I'll update the post with the video.

This was the first shot of the night, where our lead character is on a couch looking through a photo album. His key lighting is from the tableside practical with a 40W tungsten lamp inside. Outside the window I had an F&V 1x1 LED panel (daylight balanced) coming from the back right side of frame. The rain effect was done with a garden hose for the whole shoot, and here we just sprayed up and allowed it to fall naturally across the glass. The reflection in the clock is from a 13" tube TV playing static.

Here we have the same lighting setup as above in a wider shot, with the addition of a Lowel Omni as a tight, stylistic key for our actor to walk into. I had a hard time getting as tiny of a spot as I wanted with the lamp's supplied barn door, so I actually covered the front face of the lamp with blackwrap and stabbed a small slit through it with my knife. It was still too much. Finally, I noticed a tiny bright beam coming from the vented body on the back of the lamp, so I flipped the light around and used that back spill as my key. I covered it with 1/2 CTB and Lee 270 scrim to keep my exposure low where I wanted it.

In this shot, our character is searching the house after hearing a noise and noticing an open door. I put a single Lowel Tota in an upstairs bathroom, bouncing off the wall, and spilling out the door through the banister rail to illuminate and add shadow texture to the set. The front fill is coming from the 40W table lamp in the first frame grab.

Our character's investigation has taken him outside to the garage in this shot. Lit with only the headlights of the director's Jeep Cherokee and shot through the driver's side windshield. Rain, again, is done with a garden hose spraying up and falling on the windshield. There is an LED panel about 20 feet off camera right, dimmed down to about 50%, that illuminated our character coming outside and turning the headlights on, but it's not really playing at this point of the shot.

This is the reverse of the previous shot as our character steps into the garage. Lighting is super simple, and the same as before with the headlights blasting from behind, but this time the LED panel is playing slightly on our actors right side (camera left). Otherwise, bounce from the car headlights off the interior of the garage is giving me just the right amount of fill. Our rain is looking very convincing here, too, and giving a lot more interest to the background verses having only the car.

Finally, we have a shot where our character has met his demise at the hands of an unknown killer who is walking away through the vehicle headlights. This is using the same lighting scheme above, but the rain has stopped in story, so is obviously no longer playing.