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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.

Design

AJ: That's another shortcoming of the XA10 that they improved on this model. The DC input is up high on the back here. It's no longer underneath the camera like on the XA10. So you don't have to feel that every time you plug in the DC input it's going to short. Because when you set the camera down, you're crunching the cable. It's a light camera, but still, putting the jack up higher is a much better design.

AB: The placement of the menu joystick is convenient because it's under your thumb. This means you can operate different parameters while you're shooting--not that you're going to be doing a lot of "up, down, left, right" while you're trying to shoot. It's actually right next to the record button. However, there were a couple times where I'm pushing the button, trying to get the camcorder to record, only to realize that I was pushing the joystick instead, and not the record button. There's a distinctive click when you push "enter" on the joystick and you think you are pushing "record" but you're not.

Storage

AJ: In the XA20/25 there are two SD card slots, like the XA10, but the XA10 also has an internal 64GB internal drive. This is probably because the extra hardware for the HD-SDI/HDMI output takes up the space where that hard drive was. But that's not that bad. I found that I'd shoot onto the internal hard drive, then take the SD card with me and the next day, I’d realize that it was the internal hard drive I was recording to and that I hadn't backed up anything.

It was nice to be able to set up the XA10 to record hard drive, then A card, then B card. But there was a firmware flaw in that every time you turned the camera off it'd forget what you set. So I don't know if the lack of a hard drive in the XA20 is such a big loss.

AB: Another nice feature with the XA20 is that you can set the cards to "cascade"--to record A, then B. Or you can set them to "dual record"--the same video to both cards--so you can keep a copy and hand off a copy. And you can have it record at two different quality levels, such as a lower-resolution web stream to one card and your production master to the other. So if you need to quickly push a low-bitrate clip to the web and don't want to have to push a 25Mbps stream, then you can push the low-bitrate version very quick. There's WiFi in this as well. We'll talk about that later.

Audio Controls and Features

AB: Another feature of the XA20/25 that says “professional” is the wonderful short shotgun microphone holder. Unfortunately, there's no microphone included with it. It's shock-mounted, it has a little bit of rubber in the holder design so it doesn't transmit all your clicking and everything to the microphone.

The audio control (Figure 3, below) is very nice, just like the XA10’s. No one wants to be going through the menus to adjust the audio levels, even just the touchscreen; if you just want to turn down the audio a little bit, external hardware controls are great.

Figure 3. Physical audio controls on the XA20/25.

However, while it's great to be able to adjust your audio input on the fly, my headphones are plugged in, and I need to hear something louder. I wanted to similarly adjust my headphone audio levels. You can go into the menus, select audio levels, headphones and tick, tick, tick, adjust your headphone levels (Figure 4, below). But you really just want another knob.

Figure 4. Touchscreen audio controls for headphone volume adjustment.

One audio adjustment I did assign to a knob is the audio monitoring, which can be set to left, right, stereo, or mixed mono. So when I was listening with just one earpiece, I could mix both channels into the left earpiece of the headphones. But, for instance, if there's a buzz, I need to isolate the headphones, soloing the left and then the right. I assigned it to a button, which directly toggles through the various modes.

I did get hit with a conflagration of circumstances that ruined some interviews I shot. I had moved my DSLR audio kit onto the XA10 for a shoot on a plane. My short shotgun and wireless are both 3.5mm plugs, run through a BeachTek mixer which I fed into the XA10's internal mic input, not the XLR jacks. When you slide the switch to use the XLR jacks, the on-screen audio meter switches to stereo. When you use the camcorder's own stereo mic input, the meter switches back to mono--a single meter that tries to show both channels.

I thought this was just a function of the headphone monitor setting (L, R, ALL) and because I could clearly hear both the lav audio, and the shotgun audio, I assumed it was recording on discrete tracks because there was no indication that it was not. However, in the heat of battle, I had mistakenly bumped the mono/stereo switch on my BeachTek mixer so both my mics were indeed mixed together and that mix was fed to the camera.

As I said, in the heat of battle, I heard clear audio in my headphones. I could turn down each mic and the meter would go down, but there was no way to check each channel because the camcorder only shows a single meter when not using the XLR attachment. It was only in the quiet edit room that I found that all my audio was mixed and completely unusable. I admit operator error caused it, but know that with a stereo meter, I would have easily been able to identify the problem and fix it on the spot. The camera's audio meter should always show stereo channels.

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