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Review: Canon XF705 4K 1" Sensor XF-HEVC H.265 Pro Camcorder

A critical look at several key features of the Canon XF705, including 4K and HD image quality, battery life length, heft, built-in streaming features, and the usability and effectiveness of its supported 4K/60P H.265 codec.

 I was very excited to see the XF705 for the first time at the SMPTE trade show last year, then again at NAB. It was on my short list for reviews. Earlier I reviewed its little brother, the XF405, a prosumer camera that actually worked very well in most professional applications. The few issues I had with it were having to deal with some functions having to be accessed through the menu system, rather than switches, knobs, and wheels like on larger pro cameras.

The other issue was size. In places like Los Angeles where “image is everything,” although the smaller XF405 could put out a better image than my 10-year-old Sony HVR-S270u ENG camera, if I showed up on set with such a tiny camera, clients would want a lower rate. Most clients believe bigger is better with cameras, and cannot be convinced otherwise. Therefore, many camera people are using larger, older cameras to get more money. The XF705, while not as big as my Sony, but big enough to be acceptable to my L.A. clientele, also has a mechanical ND filter wheel, as well as many of the switches, knobs and wheels pro camera ops expect to control functions on a pro camera without having to deal with menus.

Powering the XF705

The XF705 (Figure 1, below) comes with only one 14.4v battery along with a power supply and charger. The Canon battery usually ran down after about 110 minutes of use. I wasn't supplied with any additional batteries for my review. If you’re looking at this camera, I would suggest buying an additional 2 or 3 batteries to get you through a shooting day. In order to test out the camera and be mobile, I adapted an older Anton/Bauer Gold Mount to work with the camera, so I could use the batteries I use with my much larger Sony camera.

Figure 1. The Canon XF705

Testing

I got to test the XF705 on a couple of shoots over the short time I had it. The first shoot was a fundraiser dinner in a poorly lit venue. I did a number of handheld shots, but due to the camera’s heft, I had to go with my trusty Manfrotto monopod, for stable shots. Unlike the XF405, which is 1/3 of the size, you can't handhold the XF705 for a long time. This mid-sized camera class, similar to the Sony HVR-Z7u, is a bit of an oddball size: too big to handhold comfortably handhold, too small to go on the shoulder. If you “run and gun” a lot, a monopod is a must.

As this fundraiser was just going to be recorded for posterity, and wasn't going to be on TV or such, I set the XF705 to record at 1080/60p, H.264. Shooting in 4K would have been overkill. Shooting in 4K also drains the battery quicker, and only having been sent one, I wanted to stretch it as long as possible before needing to plug in to the A/C. As such, for the outdoor cocktails I used the new Canon XA40 for the outdoor shots, while the XF705 waited on the tripod inside, where the low light sensitivity of the 1” sensor gave it a huge advantage. In comparing the two cameras briefly in low light, the XF705 could put out a clean image to my 40” 1080p TV at 33dB of gain. The XA40, with its much smaller 1/2.3” sensor, could only go up to about 15dB of gain before the picture got too noisy and grainy. Trying the XA40 at 33dB of gain made the image useless.

I shot the program from about 50-60 feet away (Figure 2, below). The room was fairly dark, and from that far away, using my Comer on-camera LED light, even with the long throw lens, didn't do as good of a job as I would have liked. Boosting the gain to about 20dB made up for the non-existent venue lighting. On the tripod I controlled the zoom and recording functions with a 10-year-old Libec LANC” zoom controller. It functioned just as it should have, just like with my Sony cameras. Viewing on the 4” touchscreen LCD was adequate to see most details. You could also make many adjustments through the LCDs menus.

Figure 2. Capturing a lecture with the XF705

The camera has two pro XLR inputs, and a mount for a shotgun mic. Unlike the XA40, the XF705 has a lot more room if you want to find a place to mount a couple wireless mic receivers, and it won't look stupid. Put a light and a couple wireless receivers on the XA40 and it looks stupid, with more accessories than there is camera.

The second shoot I did was a bit more interesting. Over the summer of 2019 I was invited to do a story on the “On Stage Experience” and THX sound system installed at Aerosmith's residency at the Park Theater in Las Vegas (Figure 3, below). The interview portion shot with the XF705 went very well. Towards the end of the shoot, the single 2-hour battery was at its end, I had to switch to the Anton/Bauer 14.4 Dionic I adapted to shoot the stage before the show began. I had to use my homemade beltpack and was able to get a few shots before the band came out for their soundcheck. The XF705 was too big to shoot the show with, so I wound up using a Canon XC10, shooting 4K/30P.

Figure 3. Shooting at the Aerosmith event

My next shoot (Figure 4, below) was a classical music concert with singers and a 25-piece orchestra. It was a two camera shoot, with me on the XF705 in the upper balcony, and my other camera (a with a 1” sensor) was behind the first section in front of the stage. Because we were shooting HD 1080p, and was far away I engaged the “Advanced Zoom,” which allows you to go beyond the camera's 15x optical zoom to 30x, using the 4K sensor's “extra pixels” to do an electronic zoom, without degrading the HD image.

Figure 4. Shooting the classical music concert from 125 feet away

As I was at least 125' from the podium, this feature proved indispensable. The servo in the lens is so smooth, and the electronics are so good, you cannot tell when you go from optical to intelligent zoom. The cameras didn't match exactly, but during postproduction in Adobe Premiere Pro, I was able to get them to match. The client was blown away by the final product, and I got an immediate referral from it.