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Review: Canon XA25, Part 1

An in-depth discussion on the features and usability, image quality, and capabilities of the Canon XA20/25, along with comparisons to the predecessor XA10 and next-higher models XF100 and XF300 featuring the author and Andrew Jones of Dallas's The Movie Institute.

I recently interviewed Andrew Jones of The Movie Institute in Dallas about Canon’s XA25 camcorder at roughly the same time I was testing it myself. This  edited transcript of our interview, will serve as part 1 of my two-part review. Part 2 will include video testing results and a more formal first-person review.

Anthony Burokas: The XA25 from Canon’s consumer cameras division but it’s in their professional line. It has XLR inputs and a lot of menu settings. I’m new to the XA lineup but I've already reviewed the Canon XF105 [[http://www.eventdv.net/Articles/News/Feature/Review-Canon-XF105-422-HD-Camcorder-75785.htm]] and the Canon XF300 [http://www.eventdv.net/Articles/News/Feature/In-the-Field-Canon-XF300-422-HD-Camcorder-70240.htm] and I liked those a lot so I wanted to give this a shot. Andrew, however, had his hands on the XA10 cameras all of last year. So for those who have the XA10 and are thinking of this as a step up, Andrew has a lot of feedback on that. For those who are coming down from above and looking at this is as, “Ooh! I get a 20x lens and I get to keep all my cool pro features,” I'll have a little information about that. So, Andrew, tell us what did they do right in making the XA20/25?

Improvements on the XA20/25 Over the XA10: Usability

Andrew Jones: If you love your XA10, and most people I know who tried the XA10 thought it was the greatest camera they ever touched… then they went to the menu. If you know anything about the XA10, I can do touch the screen all day long and nothing happens. Until you hit the sweet spot and then the menu appears. But they put this little knob down on the bottom of the XA10 that does absolutely nothing. You're like, “I just wish that would work!" They made it work on the XA20, and that’s the biggest thing I am so excited about.

On the XA20, there's a little joystick nub, next to the Record button which has up, down, left, right, all in one little joystick (Figure 1, below). It's exactly what you want. You don't want to actually use the touchscreen in the menu because scrolling is not as good as your iPhone or Android phone. But the "nub" makes it very manageable.

Figure 1. The new “joystick nub” on the XA20/25.

AB: On the touchscreen, the menu items are packed so tightly together, you have to use considerable effort. Phones are designed for finger size. The menu system in here is not designed for your finger (Figure 2, below). When you first bring up the menu it’s obviously designed for your finger-big buttons. But when you go into the actual "menu" menu, there's three tabs worth of stuff, you can use your finger, but really, the joystick is the way to do it.

Figure 2. Does this touchscreen make my finger look big?

Power and Battery Issues

AJ: Yes. The other big upgrade between this and the XA10 is that there is no longer a headphone port here inside the LCD screen area. Canon put all the ports on the dumb side of the camera and left the smart side of the camera smart. So you don't have to keep your LCD open if you want headphones. You can now viably use the eyepiece and save your battery, which you can't do with your XA10. That's a huge upgrade because when you buy this, it will come with a little small battery that lasts 75 minutes. It lasts a little bit longer if you use your eyepiece. Buying the extended battery is a must. I'm operating off two extended batteries and that will last me a good nine hours.

AB: I’ve used the XA25 in the field, on and off, for the whole day with the extended battery. The placement of the battery lock is such that you can't get to it with a tripod plate attached, especially longer plates that allow fore/aft adjustments on a tripod. I was expecting an hour of use and I was easily getting two-plus hours on a battery. I had a second battery always on standby. I was lucky enough that I had access to a couple of XA25s so I had a second camera charging batteries. That's important to note. I did not have a battery charger. The camera charges the battery. Unfortunately, Canon does not include a separate battery charger with this professional camcorder.

Related Articles
In Part 2 of our in-depth look at the Canon XA20/25, I'll touch on a feature new to Canon's pro line of camcorders, and to see how the AVCHD image stacks up.
The Canon XF205 pro camcorder resembles the acclaimed XA25 consumer model introduced last year in several respects, but adds welcome features such as individual rings for iris, zoom, and focus; 2 additional channels of internal microphone recording; 1080/30P HD-SDI output in the XF205, and more. As such, the XF205 comes highly recommended as a camcorder well-suited to webcasting workflows.
Both camcorders feature a genuine Canon 20x High Definition Optical Zoom Lens and a new, advanced HD CMOS PRO image sensor with low-luminance noise of +3dB for improved low-light image capture