Full Frame Sensor Size Demo with the Canon EOS C700 FF

August 31, 2018
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When Canon introduced the C700, nobody could have expected that barely a year later, they would have upgraded it to a full-frame sensor. But upgrade they have, and the Canon EOS C700 FF is a beauty to behold. As we have written about before, in a series of more technically oriented articles, the C700 FF is truly capable of miracles.

The EOS C700 FF packs a powerful full frame sensor, using a high-quality debayering algorithm to "over sample" 5.9K in 4K, UHD, 2K and FHD formats to help limit moiré and reduce noise graininess. This results in a superior image quality and a cleaner image. It also boasts 15 stops of dynamic range, Canon's very own dual-pixel autofocus technology, 12 and 10 bit recording options, Canon Log 2 and 3, slow and fast motion recording, support for "ACES, SMPTE ITU-R BT.2100 (HDR) and user LUTs." To read more, check out the info here.

The Setup

For our shoot, we wanted to focus on the camera's easy ability to switch between Full Frame, Super 35 and Super 16. To really put this camera through its paces, and also to play around because who wouldn't want to, we reached out to Canon and were offered access to the soon–to-be–released camera. And they said yes!

Freestyle Filmworks, Atlas Lens Co. and Quasar Science were also instrumental in the production of this series of tests and demonstrations, supplying us with lenses and support to really make this thing happen. Freestyle loaned us set a Canon K35 cinema primes dating back from 1976. Atlas also came through on our behalf, bringing to the table sets of anamorphic lenses for our other series of tests and an anamorphic reel coming in a few weeks. With the equipment locked in, we were ready to roll.

The Theory

The fundamental question that we set out to answer was simple, yet surprisingly complex below the surface: how does shooting in full frame affect the way you approach your shoot? There are the objective technical implications–a wider field of view, perhaps a higher resolution image – but what are the subjective real world implications? How different does this feel? Sensor size is but another tool in the filmmaker’s arsenal now. The way we use it will shape and define its meaning.

A 55mm Canon K35 on the EOS C700 FF.

The first thing to become apparent is that a wider field of view equals a smaller subject in the frame, all other things being equal. The immediate first instinct is to compensate by moving closer to your subject. This creates a shallower depth of field, which helps to separate your subjects from the world around them even more profoundly. If, instead, you choose to stay put, you create the opposite effect. The full frame sensor draws in even more of the world surrounding your character, making them feel a part of a larger whole.

The Test

EOS C700 FF ready to roll.

To really play with these dynamics, we decided to experiment with the number of different focal length's, as well as enlisting the help of Sean Flannery, a Steadicam operator, to fluidly shift between a variety of camera-to-subject distances in one smooth action. All while, switching between formats.

So, we set out to shoot one dance number, with one camera, the C700 FF but use its versatility of switching from Full Frame, to Super 35 and Super 16 all within the menu settings. Why? Well, to be fair these are three distinctly different settings that yield different resolutions, different field of views, depths of fields, and of course noise. Simply put, because the Super 16 setting literally crops in on the sensor, you are also limiting your resolution due to the lack of pixels. Because you are cropping in, the pixels are also then becoming larger which renders more noise in your frame.

Another capture of Sarah Hay in Full Frame.

Traditionally, we wouldn't advise shooting with three different formats. However, each provide their own unique quality. Full Frame is all the rage right now. Every camera and lens manufacturer is jumping on the full frame bandwagon and doubling down on the trend. Super 35 has been and still remains the standard format for professionals and the like. Whereas Super 16 had its heyday in the the 60s, 70s and 80s, and is still prevalent in a lot of doc/news formats today. What's the difference between the three? Well, read our amazing article breakdown by SG member, Mark LaFleur on what sensor size means and how it affects your image.

The ability to switch between the three formats really intrigued us. Though a little unorthodox, we thought it'd be fun to shoot and cut together one piece that used all three formats. Can you tell the difference? I think so. Watch the video above and let us know if you can spot any differences.

Jakob Owens handheld with a Canon 11-165mm.

Before we go any deeper in, I just want to reemphasize this will be my subjective experience of the images, not a hard fact. What I am really fascinated by is your experience– How does the larger sensor image make you feel? Tell us in the comments!

Recording 5.9K RAW to the Codex

What's great is if you choose to shoot RAW and at 6K, you can attach the easy to use Codex CDX-36150 in order to capture in RAW. You will need a lot of disk space for this puppy as our footage came out to over 10 TBs! However, the room in post to edit was astoundingly helpful to have. Why did we record to the Codex? Well, this allowed us to record a 12-bit 5.9K image that can easily be conformed to your editing needs in Canon's own Cinema RAW Development software. To learn more on how to attach, watch the easy tutorial below.

What was also great about this camera was the ability to record to a C Fast card in 4K simultaneously as a proxy. This is where Canon really gets to show off their muscles. By recording to a card internally, we were now utilizing Canon's Oversampling feature. Where a 5.9K image effectively becomes 4K.

Not only was this helpful to use while editing, but it was nice to know that you can still get a pretty amazing image out of the camera as your main footage if you so chose. 4K over sampled from a 5.9K sensors means a cleaner, less noisy image as stated earlier. You have the ability to record to ProRes4444XQ / ProRes4444 / ProRes422HQ / ProRes422 depending on your needs and card space. We recorded on ProRes422HQ.

Shooting in Full Frame

By utilizing the full 17:9 sensor in Full Frame, we were shooting with all 5952 x 3140 pixels for a pretty impressive 5.9K image.

Captured in Full Frame with a 24mm

When moving to closeups on their faces, the difference really becomes apparent. To me, the important difference is not the depth of field, but the choices that must be made in lenses. To maintain the same framing as we would with a Super 35 sensor, we must again choose a longer lens or “zoom with our feet” and move closer to the subject. Choosing a longer lens will flatten the subject’s face more than the equivalent Super 35 focal length, and moving closer to them will create the feeling of distance and and depth. Whichever direction you choose, the effects of that decision will be heightened in full frame shooting. We chose to simply move closer, and the effect on her face is clear as day.

Though keeping in focus became trickier, shooting in Full Frame was a treat. We had to retrain our brains when it came to framing because we are so accustomed to the frame size and field of view from the more popular Super 35 format. However, once we had the hang of it, we took full advantage. Closeups had more surrounding background yet had a stronger fall off in focus which was fun.

Sarah Hay captured in a profile in Full Frame.

Shooting in Super 35

What was exciting about shooting in Super 35, was that even though we were cropping in on the 5.9K sensor, we were still recording a true 4K image at 4096x2160 respectively. Though not a deal breaker by any means, I had wished that when we cropped, there was a way to take full advantage of the 5.9K sensor like it does in the proxy. It's always tough, as a filmmaker, to shoot while knowing you're not utilizing the full scope of the sensor. You always want to get the most out of your camera and its technology. However, the Super 35 4K image was still stunning and more than enough for post.

What was surprising to me was when we would shoot in Full Frame and switch to Super 35, I always found myself yearning to go back to Full Frame. Between the focus fall off and wider field of view, it just felt right for this dance. Which is evident in the edit as 2/3 of the dance's final edit is in Full Frame.

One major advantage of shooting in Super 35 comes when you are shooting with vintage glass. Now, vintage glass is all the rage in today's current cinematography climate. However, sometimes what comes with that is a vignetting of your image as well as a dramatic decrease in sharpness and contrast as you look towards the edge of your frame. With Super 35, if you are shooting on vintage glass that happens to be Full Frame, you are essentially cropping some of the "undesired" perimeter of your image. If you're going for a cleaner look but still want some of the vintage quality, then shooting in Super 35 on vintage Full Frame glass could be a perfect combo.

Sean Flannery balances his Steadicam rig.

We noticed that the K35s, like most vintage lenses, do have a vignette to them. I, personally, like it for this type of piece. So in order to match a Super 35 to Full Frame, I would have needed to add a slight vignette to the Super 35 footage in post. I did not do that in order to maintain the true look of each format.

Shooting in Super 16

The final stop in our journey was to experiment with a Super16 zoom lens that we had managed to get our hands on. This 11-165mm was a fast f/2.5 - in full-frame equivalent, that would be roughly 33-495mm! That kind of speed and zoom range is incredibly hard to find in this day and age. This ridiculous flexibility was a blast to work with, and not something that can be experienced often.

You can see the noticeable film grain and deeper focus in Super 16.

But how did it look? 16mm and Super16mm  always have a more “compressed” look to them. This is because we are capturing a much smaller portion of the sensor. So we are actually digitally zooming in on the image. This increases depth of field, but also increase noise and graininess because we are essentially making the sensor's pixels bigger than if we captured in Full Frame or Super 35.

Another frame grab from Super 16.

Matching this footage to the other formats was incredibly hard. The 11-16mm inherently is warmer and not as contrasty as the K35s. So right out of the gate, that become difficult to match. However, most notably, the grain structure and resolution was incredibly difficult to match. So, matching in color was about the most one could do. I wouldn't advise to shoot in all three formats as they all look drastically different. This was more of a fun challenge and simple demo than anything else.

As for how sensor sizes, images circles and distance affects your depth of field and field of view, I won’t go much more technical than that, but Fstoppers explained it remarkably clearly.

In Conclusion

What’s great about this easy demo is that it shows the differences in all 3 formats with full frame lenses and a Super 16 zoom, and what that does to your field of view (and, consequently, your depth of field). There is a general lack of knowledge and understanding in the industry when it comes to frame sizes, field of view and depth of field, so we hope this improved your understanding in some way. No matter your preference, you now have the ability to easily pick your style thanks to the EOS C700 FF. Let us know your subjective impressions of each format in the comments below!

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Brent Barbano

I have been a freelance Cinematographer in Los Angeles for over 12 years. Hailing from Syracuse, NY, I also studied at Syracuse University’s film program. I am a proud member of IATSE Local 600 International Cinematographers Guild.

I am the Co-Founder of ShareGrid and I happily contribute my findings, ideas and news on ShareGrid with all of you.

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