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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.

Editing H.265

When I got the footage to the editing bay, that is where it got challenging. I normally edit in Adobe Premiere Pro, but it wouldn't load the H.265 files. It brought them in as audio only. I tried a number of other programs and the only one that would load the files was Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve Studio (the $300 version that requires a dongle).

Even after I imported the files with DaVinci running on my HP Z820 workstation, with dual 8-core 2.4 GHz Xeon CPUs 32 GB of RAM, and an Nvidia P6000 GPU, it struggled. Resolve Studio wouldn't play them back natively. To make the H.265 files easier work with, DaVinci conformed them to proxy files to play them back. It was like reliving the introduction of HDV into post in 2005. Back then you needed to make proxy files in Cineform or Apple's ProRes, that were less compressed and required less computing power to edit on the computers of the day.

Within a couple years, computers, software, and GPUs caught up and you could edit HDV natively. H.265 is not there yet. I wound up using DaVinci Resolve Studio to render the H.265 files to 4K H.264 files. It took 6 minutes to convert 1 minute of H.265. Once the files were converted to H.264, I was able to import them and edit in Premiere Pro. The footage was great-looking overall. No complaints. The H.265 codec just wasn't ready for prime time yet.

After several months of going back and forth with Canon about the difficulty of editing H.265, they added 4K/30p in H.264. For some reason they didn't add 4K/60p. Why Canon didn't include a menu option to do 4K/60p in H.264 as it does for HD on other Canon cameras like the XF405, I don't understand. Maybe Canon can update the camera to use 4K 60p h264 via another software update. It's a great start though.

Around the same time Canon sent out its update to allow 4K 30p, Adobe sent out an update for Premiere Pro that allowed H.265 import, but playback wasn't great on most systems. Blackmagic Design updated Resolve Studio so that you can edit 4K 30p H.265 pretty well, though 60p is still not possible.

Testing 4K/30p

Because I haven’t had any real video shoots going on during the COVID-19 quarantine, I came up with a little video to shoot to test the camera's new firmware, that allowed for shooting 4K 30p in the much more user-friendly H.264 codec. As expected, the footage looked excellent, as expected. Editing was a breeze in Premiere Pro, as it didn't have the problems of the more compressed H.265 codec, previously the only codec option for shooting 4K. Hopefully the next upgrade will include H.264 4K 60p. At least having the 4K 30p will be good enough for most projects. Here is the video:

Preview: LaCie 12Big RAID from Information Today Inc. on Vimeo.

Streaming Features

As I am writing for Streaming Media Producer, it would be wrong to overlook the XF705's streaming features. The camera, while it has Wi-Fi connectivity, can only stream (itself) using its Ethernet connector. One major drawback of putting the camera into streaming mode is it disables the recording function. You cannot do on-board recording while streaming. I checked out the specs streaming camcorders from JVC, and they can record and stream at the same time. All of my streaming clients want a high-quality copy of any footage I shoot for them. The only way to accomplish this with the XF705 is by using an external recorder from Blackmagic Design or Atomos.

I sat with the guy I usually use as my “streaming engineer” on shoots, to set the XF705 up for streaming, and found it easier to used his external streaming system that connected to the camera through HDMI. So, the XF705 does have a streaming feature, but chances are, you won't want to use it. Maybe Canon will make it capable of recording and streaming at the same time, or release an “XF700” without the streaming function.

Conclusion

Overall, the XF705 is a very good camcorder that puts out excellent video quality. It has an excellent built-in lens and ample manual controls. I really like the fact that it is switchable between NTSC (60Hz) and PAL (50Hz). I do have a few overseas clients, so having a camcorder that can have worldwide capability is a huge benefit to many camera people.

There are some drawbacks that you should think about in purchasing the camera. The first, as mentioned before, is the 4K H.265 codec. If you need HDR and or 4K/60p, the only option is to shoot H.265, which is too difficult to work with in postproduction. If you are good with non-HDR 4K/30P in H.264, from the recent software update, you will be in great shape.

Second is the size. On a tripod, it is great. I did a two-day conference with the camera on a tripod and it was great. However, it is too big to handhold comfortably for more than a few minutes, and too small to put on your shoulder. Any “run and gun” work would require a good monopod. I think if Canon re-imagined the “guts” of the XF705 in the body of something like their old XLH1 HDV shouldermount cameras it would be more ergonomic and functional for “run and gun.”

The third issue is the price. At $6,999, you are paying roughly double what many of the competitor camera-makers are charging for a mid-size ENG camera with a 1” CMOS sensor that shoots 4K/60p. The competing models do 4K in H.264, you don't run into any issues trying to edit 4K/60p footage, but don't have the HDR recorded in the H.265 codec.

One comparable lower-priced alternative is the Panasonic AG-CX350 4K Camcorder. It has most of the same features, including HDR. For its sale price of $3,695 at B&H, you can nearly purchase two AG-CX350s for the price of one XF705. Panasonic also offers the Panasonic HC-X1 at $2,598.

The closest competitor, price-wise, is the Sony PXW-Z280 at $6,950. The two main differences are, instead of a single 1” CMOS sensor, it has 3 1/2” CMOS sensors, and instead of the standard SD cards. it requires Sony's much more expensive proprietary SxS media. I run from proprietary media formats. Between the Sony PXW-Z280 and Canon XF705, I'd go with the Canon, as the SxS media is $499 for a 64GB card. The Kingston high speed 256GB cards I use for the Canon cost $49.

In conclusion, this is a very good camera, with probably the best non-changable lens on any camera in its class. It has excellent picture quality with fairly easy to access controls, and room for mounting accessories. Shooting in 1080P 4K/30p is great. I was very pleased that, 5 months after I first started this review, Canon added 4K/30p H.264. That made the camera that much easier to use. The downside is that if you want to shoot 4K/60p, you need to use the new H.265 codec. and if you want to do streaming directly from the camera, it means no internal recording. If you don't need 4K/60p or to stream while recording internally, this is an excellent camera to consider for general video production, documentaries, and TV production.