Sundance Documentary Filmmakers All Swear by This Camera

Find out why the Canon EOS C300 Mark II was so popular at the 2021 festival, and what lenses the filmmakers used with it.
Director Hogir Hirori Shooting "Sabaya"
Director Hogir Hirori Shooting "Sabaya"
Lolav Media

Documentary filmmaking is often a scrappy enterprise — at its core, all you really need is a camera and a desire to tell a story. In the case of at least eight of the filmmakers whose documentaries were a part of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, it’s one camera in particular.

Their gear of choice? The Canon EOS C300 Mark II, which was used for the U.S. Documentary Competition entries “Ailey,” “At the Ready,” “Cusp,” and “Rebel Hearts,” World Cinema Documentary Competition entry “Sabaya”; NEXT entry “Searchers”; and premieres “Philly D.A.” and “My Name Is Pauli Murray.” Of course, the camera body you use is only one part of the equation — the lenses you choose are equally as important. Below, find out where you can buy the best of this year’s Sundance filmmaker-approved kit for your own creative efforts.

Canon EOS C300 Mark II

Available At: B&H has a few different packages — a Touch Focus Kit with EF Mount and a Zacuto Z-Finder Kit with EF Mount, among others — and you can also find at Amazon and Walmart.

You can visit any of the above retailers for full specs, but the biggest ones to know: the C300MKII features a Super 35mm CMOS sensor for faster and more accurate autofocusing, and supports 4K/2K/Full HD internal and external recording, a Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus, and an expanded dynamic range of 15 stops. The versatile camera is perfect for indie shoots, TV dramas, commercials, news features, sports, and more.

Its modular design allows for easy customization for both comfort and operation, including full manual control, a removable hand grip and improved camera handle extension, a removable LCD monitor and control panel, and more.

“Sabaya” filmmaker Hogir Hirori knew that filming in Syria would be challenging, so decided to upgrade from his Canon DSLR to the C300MKII. Explained Hirori, “I wanted to be able to film on the go using available ambient or on camera lighting, both at night and in the daytime. I was going for a raw reality based in action feel, filming as things happened with no staged interviews or use of accessory stationary lighting. Therefore, I needed a portable, easily handheld, and lightweight camera. But I also wanted one that could produce a high image quality, had two XLR sound input terminals and at least two memory card slots. It was important that I could get the camera in and out of the bag quickly to start filming when opportunity arose.”

“At the Ready” director and DP Maisie Crow chose the camera for a similar reason: She wanted to use as small a crew as possible to capture her subjects, so, said Crow, “It was important for us to use cameras that could be operated by a single person so as not to interfere or distract from what was happening in front of the camera. I operated the main camera for the majority of production and ergonomically the C300MKII worked well with my small stature. It was a comfortable camera for me to work with during long shoot days.”

As for the filmmakers’ preferred lenses, some are certainly more in the “rent” than the “buy” category. But if you’re in the market, these are the most frequently used ones.

Canon Zoom Lens 24-70mm f/2.8

Hirori bought a C300MKII in preparation for traveling to Syria to film “Sabaya,” and brought along some of the lenses he already owned — including this one, which he used for in action shooting. Crow also used one while filming “At the Ready,” as did Yoni Brook while filming “Philly D.A.”

“In Syria I would be constantly moving places and filming in potentially dangerous locations, so I made sure I could carry everything I had in one backpack,” he said. “Since I knew that it would be hard to find a replacement camera or filming equipment in case something happened to my gear in Syria, I also brought my old DSLR and a Gopro just in case.”

Canon CN-E 18-80mm Compact Cinema Zoom Lens

“My Name Is Pauli Murray” cinematographer Claudia Raschke said “the Canon C300ii and the Canon cinema primes were a fantastic combination to express beautiful, glowing skin tones with a high contrast background, including deep shadow details and exquisite highlights, for the interview set-ups in our feature documentary. My natural soft lighting approach was inspired by the Dutch painter Jan Vermeer. Light source motivations were set up to match the particular location either with natural existing or imagined window sources while treating the background by setting specular highlights.”

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens

This is one of the three lenses Crow used to maintain her small footprint “to allow for intimate, unobtrusive access to the students and families we were filming,” she said.

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