I am not a professional videographer. On my best days, I might be an amateur, but I do try. Like many folks making videos, I have struggled with the size of my crew, given that it has a count of one, and since I do reviews and training, I am often the camera operator, the director, the producer and the alleged talent. So when Canon announced the ability to make my loved C300 do useful and speedy autofocus, I gave it serious consideration. Classic camcorders were said to focus really fast. Not really, they actually used really tiny sensors so any aperture delivered massive depth of field so the focusing effort was minimal. Not so professional gear that uses DSLR or CINE lenses. Professional crews have an operator and a focus puller so precise these lenses can be, particularly when they have very wide F or T stops.
But if you are a one person crew, that becomes challenging, particularly if you are also the talent. The C300, out of the box would actually do autofocus using a select number of Canon's EF-S STM lenses. STM lenses are silent during focus which is critical for noise control and most of them are of sufficiently good optical quality to produce decent images. They aren't L glass or Canon or Zeiss CINE glass by a long shot but can help get the job done.
I had been using the STM 18-135 for the one-ups where I was all the parts of the video. It worked ok, but as I tend to move while presenting there were times it had to work to keep up. After seeing a C300 with the DAF upgrade and playing with it at a trade event for 10 minutes or so, I decided to bite the bullet and get my own done.
Canon Canada's Service Centre was excellent. They were friendly, helpful and fast. I got my camera back in less than seven days. Once I got it home I put the 18-135 on it and tried a few takes.
The AF is now much faster, more accurate and more usable in real world production. It looks to the centre of the viewfinder display and shows a rectangle where the focus function is looking. You can lock focus to hold it during a move, slide or pan if you need to, just like on a DSLR. I set mine on continuous AF and then sat down at my little set to record a test shoot of a product review.
Despite the head movement and waving of hands, the camera did a much better job at maintaining focus than in the past, so long as I did my job and stayed in the AF area. In a previous firmware update, Canon had significantly extended the usable range in low light and coupled with this new AF, the camera is even more flexible than it was out of the box.
You can of course turn AF off whenever you wish to, but when it helps, it really helps to have this level of performance.
All new C300s have the modification done at the factory. The prices have also come down since I got mine. Ah well. Some will say that the Canon CINE line is overpriced for what they deliver, but I bought mine with eyes wide open and following adding the DAF upgrade, I think that I will get even more usable life out of the unit.
The DAF upgrade costs $500 and is available for Canon C100 and C300 CINE cameras. You must return your camera to Canon for the upgrade.
I recommend it to all C100 and C300 owners.
(image courtesy Canon USA)