One Reason to Get a Sony F3 Instead of the Canon C300: Flexibility

I’m not here to start a camera flame war between the Canon C300, Sony F3, and RED SCARLET. The fact is, with any of these new large-sensor camcorders, you can tell your story effectively, and that’s what’s important. However… these cameras are an investment. And a much more serious investment than a DSLR at that — $15k does not come easily, and that’ll just get you started with each. So I thought I’d share a thought I had the other day when watching Philip Bloom’s latest camera shootout. Bloom didn’t include the RED and I’ll have plenty of thoughts to share on RED going forward (to the chagrin of some of you!), but if I hadn’t gone the RED route I would go with an F3 over the C300. Why?

Renting an upgrade

Because you can rent the S-Log upgrade. Yes, it’s true — you don’t have to buy the firmware if you don’t need it all the time. Because it comes on a SxS card, you can rent the S-Log firmware ($150/day is one example), which is installable/removable from any F3, as far as I know (corroborated). Basically you can “unmount” the upgrade from one camera and use it on another — it’s valid for any F3 so long as it’s only being used on one at a time. Here are some F3 with S-Log results (and a dynamic range test). This to me changes the equation regarding the C300 — while shooters are going gaga over the Canon, and it certainly has its strengths (small size and low light), for the same price you can shoot on an F3 and then, when the need or desire arises, take your F3 to another level by renting an external recorder and S-Log firmware. This gives you the flexibility that I think the C300 is lacking, given the Canon is an 8-bit camera that most people will want to be able to use for the next several years, and not just for web stuff but potentially for features and/or television as well.

I thought I would share my own thoughts as everyone is lauding the Canon — I have no vested interest in either camera, but this site has been focused on cameras lately (to a fault, I know, but it’ll all even out in a few weeks) — and since it looks like the C300 will come in at roughly the same price as an F3 — I thought I’d put in my $0.02. I’ve owned and shot on both Sony and Canon cameras, and neither one is paying me or sponsoring this site or anything of that nature. Also, I recognize not everyone has the budget or desire to get one of these cameras, but for owner/operators, let’s take a quick look at the C300′s advantages.

Small size

Again, referencing Bloom’s shootout, without S-Log the F3 looks comparable to the C300. The C300 has no such “S-Log with external recorder” equivalent (just a flat picture profile setting). But it is much smaller and lighter. The amount to which the C300′s small size is an advantage depends on your own needs… if you’re trying to steal locations the diminutive profile of the C300 may be worth the price of admission alone (though a DSLR will be equally if not more incognito). Larger size comparison:

Low light

The C300′s “headline feature” is 20,000 ISO. That’s an astronomical number, and kudos to Canon’s engineers for making it look as good as it does. However, the F3 at 6,400 w/ S-Log also looks good (UPDATE: and in fact goes up to 12,800). In fact, you would think an astronomically high number like 20,000 ISO would look a world apart from 6,400 ISO, but I didn’t find that to be the case; here is a comparison from Philip’s result (no color correction other than to dial down saturation on the C300 image to more closely match the F3):

The C300 is certainly brighter — further evidence in the histogram at left — but if the high ISO setting is one of the C300′s main selling points, I’m not sure 20,000 ISO would yield a better image than pushing a F3 (recorded to an external recorder at 6,400 ISO at 12,800 ISO) in post. I won’t push the F3 here, given this is a screen capture from the 1080p h.264 download — and also because the F3 with an external recorder is more expensive — but… what do you think? It’s the F3′s versatility that makes it appealing to me, once you take into account the ability to buy or rent the S-Log firmware for a feature or larger paying job. And it’s worth noting this example is taken from an extremely low-light situation that just a few years ago wouldn’t be exposable at all. Getting a solid exposure at 6,400 ISO is already pretty amazing (and much better than what my RED SCARLET is capable of… with its current sensor, at least).

Since they were infamously announced the same night, I’ll use the SCARLET as a point of comparison: the C300 is for all intents and purposes a cheaper camera (especially if it’s coming in at $14k instead of $20k, and also taking into account RED’s price increase). However, the RED has interchangeable lens mounts — so if you’re sitting on an expensive pile of Canon glass, you can get the SCARLET, shoot with your own lenses, and if you’re working on, say, a feature, rent a PL mount and PL glass. If you’re buying a C300 to own and operate, on the other hand, you have to choose EF or PL version. And you’re stuck that way until you sell your camera (I’m actually getting a BNCR mount for my RED, but that’s another story). Similarly, the F3 has a PL lens mount available, and in fact because of its short flange depth can be adapted to a wide variety of lenses. Plus, both the SCARLET and F3 have upgrade paths — the former with an announced but mysterious Dragon sensor in a year or two (not to mention the ability to use it as a stills camera), the latter with S-Log firmware and an external recorder (not to mention the 3D link upgrade, which I assume is also rentable) — whereas the C300, to me, does not have the same amount of flexibility going forward.

People often focus on the base price, but to me it’s less about sticker shock and more about answering the question, “how much can you get out of your camera over the next four years?” Flexibility is a big part of that equation. Just my $0.02 — if you’re in the market for the C300 and/or F3, what do you think?


One Reply to “One Reason to Get a Sony F3 Instead of the Canon C300: Flexibility”

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