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Review: Canon XF605 4K UHD Pro Camcorder

Think of the Canon XF605 as a high-performance sports car among everyday sedans. Both will get you there, but one definitely will enhance the trip with more useful features. If you're worried about the premium price of the XF605, I would still argue that while it may take another two or three jobs to pay it off, you will be happy with the results you get from it.

In June 2019, I wrote my first review of the Canon XF705, a 4K pro camcorder with an MSRP of $6,999. The camera had so many issues the first time around that I reviewed a substantially different version in November 2020 with new firmware that addressed many of the issues I raised in the 2019 review.

The review was been well over a year in the making. Though the XF705 camcorder takes beautiful video, and has excellent low-light performance, the first unit I received had some issues, and Canon and I went back and forth several times. When I first got it, it would record 4K only in the H.265 codec. While recording in H.265 gives you better color space and saves 40% in storage, it proved horrible to edit with on several editing systems. I had to transcode the video to another codec to edit it easily. On my 16-core Xeon, NVIDIA P6000, HP Z820 workstation, it took 6 minutes to transcode every minute of video. If I’d had an hour’s worth of video, it would have taken 6 hours to transcode it before I could start editing.

In April 2020, several months after I received the XF705 eval unit, Canon enabled 4Kp30 recording in the H.264 codec. For the most part I used the camcorder in 4Kp30 mode, but for all-day shoots I switched to 1080p60 or 1080p30. Besides the H.265 issues, there were a few things I didn't like about the camera that I was willing to overlook, because the video quality was excellent. Those issues were as follows:

  • Short (under 2 hours) battery life

  • Camera was bulky and heavy

  • Couldn't record on board and stream at the same time

  • No recording of 4K 60p / 50p, after 4K recording was enabled in H.264

  • More expensive than other pro 4K camcorders at $6,999 MSRP

Why do I mention all of this about the XF705, when this is a review of the XF605? The answer is, Canon has since addressed many of the issues I raised in my many exchanges with their engineering team and in my two reviews of the XF705 (the 2019 review in Studio Daily, and the 2020 review in Streaming Media Producer). Those issues were addressed in a new camera, the XF605.

How the XF605 Improves on the XF705

The first improvement I recognized in the XF605 was the battery life. The most I would get out of the XF705 was about 1 hour and 50 minutes. That meant that if I didn't have an outlet handy for a long shoot, I went through a lot of batteries. When I first got the XF605, I was playing around with it, got a phone call, forgot to turn it off, went out of the room for the conversation, and got caught up in other activities. When I returned a couple hours later, I was surprised to not only see that camera wasn't dead; it still had plenty of battery life on it. Once fully charged, the same BP-A30 battery packs lasted well beyond 2 hours and 40 minutes on the XF605, both when left idle and running in the studio and when I took them on recent hiking trips in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

On the hikes, I wasn't recording every minute, but I left the camera powered on so I could start recording quickly if I saw something interesting. The batteries lasted a lot longer than I expected, even when I set the codec as 4K 60p, 4:2:2 color space. Having the batteries last well over the 2-hour mark will eliminate the need to change batteries during most presentations or classes. I also noticed that the batteries don't drain while stored on the camera. I have always kept a battery on cameras that I use often, so they are ready to go. With previous Canon cameras, I’ve found that leaving the batteries on the camera will drain them in a few days. The XF605 doesn't drain the batteries, and you should feel confident in keeping one on the camera for last-minute “run and guns.”

While hiking with the XF605, I discovered that it is much lighter and better balanced than the XF705. I hiked with it mounted to a Manfrotto 501 monopod. When not shooting, I left the XF605 mounted on the monopod, and threw it over my shoulder most of the time. In all, over the Nevada and Arizona/Utah trips, I probably hiked 20 miles of trails, over mountains and cliffs and through desert and snow and mud, and I never felt like I was schlepping a camera around. The whole time I was hiking with it, it never felt like a burden on my back.

With all of the gorgeous scenery, I decided to shoot at the highest resolution, 2160p; highest-quality codec, H.264 with 4:2:2 color; and highest frame rate (for UHD), 60P. The highest frame rate and color space for the XF705 under H.264 was 4:2:0 and 30P. Being able to shoot at the 60p will allow me to do slow motion on a 30p timeline. The 4:2:2 color space and higher frame rate will require faster, more expensive SDXC cards. I used 256GB Lexar U3, V30 SDXC cards in the XF705. The XF605 requires U3, V90 cards, which are a lot more expensive. For a current example, a 128GB Kingston U3, V30 card (which will work fine in the XF705 at 4K 30P, 4:2:0 color space) costs $16. For the maximum 4Kp60, 4:2:2 color space on the XF605, a 128GB Kingston U3, V90 will run about $94. I had been using Kingston 256GB cards in the XF705. The U3, V90 version for the XF605 will run about $210, as opposed to the $28 V30 version for the XF705.

Shooting Events with the XF605

My first real shoot with the XF605 was an annual Chanukah festival that I shoot every year. This year it was a bit different, and it started while the sun was still up, so I had one of the ND filters on. As it got darker, I used an on-camera LED light. As the sun went down completely, with the ND filter I’d been using outside in daylight turned off, the low-light ability of the camera quickly became apparent. The stage was well lit, and not an issue. I actually had to stop the iris down so the image wouldn’t be too bright. In surrounding areas that weren't lit well, the most gain I needed to use was 6dB. At the end there were fireworks. When you shoot fireworks with many cameras, in the footage you see only white or at best tinted streaks. The XF605 footage of the fireworks had very rich color.

The next job I used the XF605 on was a local high school musical. I was operating the XF605 as the main camera shooting 4Kp30, I had a camera op with a Sony HD camera with a 1" sensor on the far right, and I had my Canon XA40 with its 1/2.3" sensor, shooting 4Kp30 to the far left with no camera op. As this was a new client and I wanted to have backups beyond the dual-card recording, I used my Blackmagic Design Video Assist to record a down-converted 1080p30 version. When I reviewed the footage, something looked off. There were red flecks in the video. I realized right away what it was: It recorded the peaking color on the Video Assist. I thought I had turned off all of the information on the SDI and HDMI camera outs, but I missed the peaking/focus assist. This made the BMD footage useless. Thankfully, the on-board recordings came out great. The XF605 was a lot cleaner and less noisy than the Sony in dark shots.

Even though the XF605 is a fixed-lens “video” camera, rather than a “cinema” camera with changeable lenses, you can get cinematic shots with it. You can achieve a sharrow depth of field with a little practice. That is a nice bonus.

Testing 4-Channel Audio with the TASCAM CA-XLR2D

While I was working on this review, the pro audio gear company TASCAM released the CA-XLR2D, a product designed specifically to work with the XF605 and some additional Canon DSLR and mirrorless cameras. By connecting this device to the XF605's rear hot-shoe, you add 2 controllable XLR inputs.

I put in for an eval unit and it arrived just before my next shoot—an event in Las Vegas featuring 2 authors and a moderator—where it would be a good test. As I often have more than two people speaking on camera, the idea of having four individual channels—one for each person—was very appealing. If it is only 2 people speaking, I will either put one on each channel, or run a shotgun mic on channel 1 as backup, and mix the two or more speakers on channel 2, using a mixer.

The CA-XLR2D did what it was supposed to. I heard all four channels, and saw their VU meters in the camera's LCD. I was able to adjust as needed on the camera and the CA-XLR2D using the volume knobs. When I transferred the footage to my HP ZBook after the shoot, I first transferred the card from the B-slot, the version that was 8-bit, instead of 10-bit in the A-slot. To my horror, there were only 2 audio channels. I quickly transferred the card from slot A, and was relieved to see all audio channels present. Upon checking the XF605, I found that the secondary slot was set to record only 2-channel audio. Moral of the story: Just because you see four audio meters, doesn't mean you are getting 4 audio channels on both cards. This is something you must check on every shoot, to avoid disaster.

Image Stabilization Issues

One issue that I found really annoying was the camera's image stabilization function while on a tripod. While it may seem odd to need image stabilization while on a tripod, sometimes you do. Often I find myself on a camera platform that has some “flex” to it. If there are other people walking around on the platform, the camera can flex, shaking the tripod and camera. When panning the camera, then stopping, I’ve found that the image keeps going for a second, and the shot is not where you want it. This makes it difficult to frame shots with the XF605 engaged on a tripod.

That has never happened with any other stabilized cameras I have used, including the XF705. Hopefully Canon will make a software fix for this.

Price and Performance vs. Other Cameras in the XF605’s Class

In the few months that I have been using the XF605, I have been very happy overall with its image quality, ergonomics, recording codec flexibility, four audio channels, and functionality. It seems almost as if the engineers at Canon read a critical review or two of the XF705 (one in Studio Daily and one in Streaming Media Producer), and decided to make a new camera based on all of the criticism of the less functional and much more expensive model. Yet the XF705 is still on sale for $6,999, and the more advanced, flexible, lightweight, power-efficient XF605 sells for $4,699, a difference of $2,300. The price of the XF605 is clearly a bargain compared to the XF705. For the price of the XF705, you could buy the XF605 and also buy a Canon XA70, a smaller 1” sensor camcorder, to use for B-roll or backup.

Compared to pricing and capabilities from camcorders from other manufacturers, the XF605 is not such a bargain. I reviewed the JVC GY-HC550 a couple years ago. While that one had similar specs and included on board streaming capability for $5,390, you could get the GY-HC500—the same model minus the HC550’s streaming capability—for around $3,000.

That said, I did notice that the GY-HC550, despite having the same-sized sensor, was not as good as the XF705 in low light, by a long shot. Based on my observations, the JVC started looking grainy at only 12dB gain. The XF705, which uses the same sensor as the XF605, delivered a clean image at over 30dB of gain.

Panasonic is currently offering the HC-X2 ($3,200) and HC-X20 ($2,600). Both have similar capabilities to the XF605, but the HC-X20 has no SDI, and they both are limited to two channels of audio. The HC-X2 will be my next camera review. I have a friend who just shot a job for me with the previous HC-X1 model and the footage was excellent, right there with the XF605. Being able to almost buy two HC-X20 cameras for the same price as one XF605 and get similar quality seems like a good deal, but I’ll withhold judgment until I review the Panasonic for myself.

If cost is not something you are concerned about, then there is no reason not to get the XF605. It takes gorgeous video, and being able to capture 4 channels of XLR audio inputs with the TASCAM CA-XLR2D is a great feature. I know as I review the Panasonic, I will miss the additional two channels of audio that I have gotten used to.

Think of the XF605 as a high-performance sports car among every day sedans. Both will get you there, but one definitely will enhance the trip with more useful features. If you’re worried about the premium price of the XF605, I would still argue that while it may take another two or three jobs to pay it off, you will be happy with the results you get from it. The Canon XF605 is definitely a camera I can recommend.

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