Real World testing of the Canon C300 Auto Focus Firmware

Art Aldrich and his Canon C300 sporting a Canon 400mm prime at the Farnsborough Air Show.

Art Aldrich and his Canon C300 sporting a Canon 400mm prime at the Farnsborough Air Show.

I recently had my trusty C300 upgraded by Canon for the Dual Pixel Autofocus firmware. This feature added live continuous auto-focusing of Canon EF lenses, and is a $500 factory installed firmware update.

Shortly after the update, I had a shoot that would put this feature to the test. The location was just outside of London, at the Farnsborough International Air Show. I wanted to shoot some of the planes that would fly that day, and my lens choice was the Canon 400mm F4 prime, which I rented from the good folks at Lens Pro To Go.

The autofocus works on a section of center frame, and can be locked via a user button, or disabled altogether. Read the details here.

I shot this clip with 3 stops of ND, at ISO 320, and an aperture of f5.6. Take a look for yourself.

Needless to say, this would be a very tricky focus pull for a single operator to pull off.

Mini Review: Zacuto C300 Helmet, Handle, and Z-Finder

I have owned a Canon C300 for almost 2 years now. Mostly shooting from tripods, sliders, or dollies. I have had a few occasions to shoot hand held, but only in a minimalist configuration.

c300 car mount

My shoulder mount kit consists of a ARRI dovetail system with a All Star Cine shoulder Pad and a Zacuto C300 grip extender. The system was ok, but my biggest gripe was the last of a true eye-cup viewfinder. For the most part, I was OK using the Canon EVF, especially since you need it for audio. I did not feel like I wanted to add another small monitor for such a dedicated purpose.

When the Deity Mira came along, I almost purchased one, but decided against it based on a few reviews.

2014-01-30 18.23.25

Movcam C300 Top Handle

Around the same time I was looking for a replacement top handle for the C300. The Canon factory handle was ok, but I was always a little leery of it’s strength. I purchased a used Movcam handle from a DVXUser member. It was a major step up in strength, plus added numerous mounting points for accessories. The biggest flaw for me was the sheer size of the handle.

Just before NAB, Zacuto released a new handle kit for the C300/C500 cameras which was much more compact than my setup, and since I spend most of my time on the road, I felt like this kit would save space.


Zacuto C300 Helmet

Zacuto C300 Helmet

I ordered the “helmet” and handle with the cold shoe adapter. The helmet is a single piece that screws into the top of the C300 camera, like the factory handle, put it provides two more screw points on the sides. The handle then connects to the helmet with a single z-rail. Right off the bat I was impressed with the rigidity of the handle. It offers a fair amount of flexibility in position and orientation. The handle itself is wrapped with wood, and feels smooth and sturdy. There are two cold-shoe attach points for the EVF, so no loss in functionality either. In terms of space, it takes up less room than Canon’s handle. Win-Win! The handle and helmet retail for $465. A no-brainer purchase for me.

Since I was happy with the handle, I decided to try the new Z-Finder as well. The Z-Finder is really a eye-cup for the Canon screen, with a 1.8x magnifier built in. There are 4 drop-in diopter lenses included to fine tune it your liking.


Fully kitted C300 with ZFinder

The Z-Finder attaches to the helmet with another speed rail, and includes a bracket which allows for placement of the Z-Finder based on your rigging. The eye-cup itself attaches to the EVF with a cleaver pressure mount which is quick and easy to take on and off. Zacuto even includes a little plastic lever to prevent the EVF from folding up when pressing your eye against it.
Like all Zacuto parts that I own, they feel well made. For $695, I feel it makes my hand-held shooting more comfortable, in the sense that I can now accurately get focus.

IMG_8250My only concern is that the Canon EVF cables may constrain how far you can push the Z-Finder forward on your rig. I know that I am planning on having my cables lengthened by Canon when it goes in for the AF upgrade next month.

Links from NJFCPUG NAB Recap presentation

A replay of the Livestream is available here.

In order of discussion:

Apple MacPro still backordered.

Lens Pro To Go provided raffle items.


Black Magic Ursa 4K Camera

AJA Cion 4K Camera

Panasonic NAB Announcements

Panasonic GH4

Sony A7s

GoPro Hero3+ ProTune 2.0 Update

Black Magic Studio Camera


DJI Ronin Product Page

DJI Ronin Demo Video “Brainstorm”

DJI Ronin Behind The Scenes Video

Free Fly Systems M5

Letus Helix

G-Rig Valos

Defy G5


SmallHD DP7

Convergent Design 7Q

Atomos Shogun and Ninja Star

Marshall 1080p native display

Post Production

Resolve 11

Lightworks for Mac

Adobe Anywhere (collaboration tool)

Cantemo Portal (asset manager)

Lumberjack (logger)

Sonnet XMacPro (rack enclosure)

GTech EV SSD’s & Studio Series

Lacie Thunderbolt Products, 8Big, 5Big, and 2Big

Promise Thunderbolt2 Raids, Sanlink2

CalDigit Raids

BackBlaze Report on drive failures 


DJI Phantom2, Lightbridge

My Phantom Crash Videos


Small-Tree TZ5 on the Iditarod Trail

Alaska’s Iditarod Trail, home to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. A 1000 mile endurance race that pairs man and dog together against mother nature.

The Iditarod Trail Committee produces a 90 minute race documentary each year, which helps support this not-for-profit organization. In addition to the documentary, the video team provides race fans with news style clips each day  from the trail as part of a subscription service called the Insider.

This emmy-award wining production consists of 5 camera crews spread across the 1000 mile trail, which travel by snow machine or bush plane. The workflow is centered around Panasonic P2 gear.

Art Aldrich frames a shot with a pre-production Panasonic camera.

Art Aldrich frames a shot with a pre-production Panasonic camera.

I have just completed my 8th tour on the Iditarod, where I serve as the production manager. This is a loose title, as all the crew members wear many hats.

There are two editors on the trail, which serve as ingest and supply stations for the crews. By the time all the crews reach the finish in Nome Alaska, which takes about 10 days, all the footage has been ingested into Final Cut Pro.

The normal schedule has the DVD finished in May, and on the shelves in June. This year, in partnership with NBC’s,  Sportsman Channel, the race documentary needed to be produced as two one hour specials by the end of March.

This posed a challenge for several reasons, not limited to the working space available in Nome, budget limitations, and of course the ticking clock.

Typically, the race producer, Greg Heister, handles the editing duties himself, but in order to facilitate the deadline, a couple of people were added to help the editing process.

The Small Tree TZ5 waits for transport up the Iditarod Trail.

The Small Tree TZ5 waits for transport up the Iditarod Trail.

The main wrinkle was how to share the footage amongst 3 or four people. The field teams use 3.5” drive systems with Raid 1 mirrors, typically using Firewire 800 connections. The plan was to have Tom, our assistant editor, receive a bare drive at different intervals during the race so that he could log and organize clips.

I have installed Small Tree systems for clients before, and most recently the new TitaniumZ storage appliance with great success. These are big, rack mounted systems, not suited for portability, let alone a trip down the Iditarod Trail.

Then I saw the Small Tree Titanium Z5 or TZ5 for short. Essentially a san-in-a-box, the TZ5 allows for up to 6 workstations to connect and use the storage simultaneously over ethernet (1GB or 10GB). There were many other options, but this offered three key features: Portability, Self Contained System, and the Small Tree Support.

On the trail, Tom used a Thunderbolt drive dock to connect the bare drives to his MacBookPro. He then copied the P2 converted files to the TZ5. Now here is where it gets cool.

Nome-small-tree2In Nome, City Hall serves as our work room. Think of it as a depository for frozen camera gear, live control room, and editing space for the staff. Racers continue to finish the race for about 5 days after the winner crosses under the Burled Arch.

While Mushers continue to finish, the camera teams are still shooting each and every one. One edit system was setup to handle basic editing and uploading to the website. This system was connected to the TZ5.

In the work room, a small corner is carved out for shooting post race interviews. This footage was archived using another MacBookPro edit system using Shotput Pro directly to the TZ5.

Station 3, another MacBookPro, severed as the main logging station. Tom, the assistant editor, would work from Quicktime 7 to generate logs and transcripts.

Station 4 was Greg Heister’s  27” iMac. Greg was connected to the TZ5 and would edit FCP7 timelines directly from the TZ5.

This type of collaborative workflow was critical to getting the show to air. The TZ ran without incident for the 2 weeks of production, and provided a safe (raid5) and simple method to share the workload.