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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.

Menus and Buttons

AJ: Back to the buttons. This is very much like the XA10 in that it's very menu-driven. If you want your waveforms, histogram, if you want anything that would typically be on a switch, you've got to go into the menu. What should be just switchable gain settings, there's a menu for that. It's a very menu-driven camera.

At the same time, the XA20 does include extra ports and extra custom buttons you can set. You can't assign just any feature to the buttons; there's a short list of features you can set. It's like shooting on the Vixia consumer camera; if you want a Vixia with XLRs, that's what this is.

AB: These cameras are obviously based on consumer models, and as such they're not designed to be augmented with all this stuff. My XA25 has a wide-angle lens that I can zoom through, a dimmable LED light on top, an XLR mic on it, and I haven't even added a wireless mic receiver yet. By the time I get done outfitting it, all the weight will be in front of my hand. It's very front-heavy. It's not like there's this big battery hanging off the back. If you're going to build this handle for the pro model, as Canon has, give me a cold shoe or a 1/4-20 threaded hole on the back of the handle so that I can mount the light on the back. I can mount the wireless in the back and pull some of this torque back.

Lens Cap

AB: The XA20/25 comes with a lens cap that goes on the front. It also comes with this hood that twists in and has this nice little flap that easily opens and closes to cover the lens. With the XA10, you had to continue to use the lens cap inside the hood to protect the lens. But there were a couple times I put the XA20 in the camera bag and, with just an eighth of a turn, a bump, the entire hood easily comes off. So it's just running loose in the bag. I wish there was more of a locking mechanism, like a little screw lock, to keep it from twisting off so easily. Because when it comes off in the bag, your lens has nothing to protect it.

Zoom Controls

One very nice feature that I found--also in the XA10—is that there are multiple zoom controls on this camera. I was on a shoot and I was using the heck out of it. I was doing run-n-gun and then on a tripod, back and forth. When run-n-gun I had the big rocker set to a fast speed so I could quickly zoom and get my shot, record it, done. When I had it on a tripod, I wanted that slow creep. They call it that presidential zoom. You don't realize it's zooming, but it gives an added polish to a shot.

You can set the top rocker to a constant speed and then dial that constant speed way down (Figure 5, below). You can have it be super-fast too. Set the wireless to be another speed. And there's also your variable speed Lanc zoom control as well. I had two cameras mounted on one tripod. The second camera was out on a magic arm and I didn't want to touch it and have it jiggle while shooting. So I had my Lanc remote zoom control come over to the tripod handle and I could have it very slowly zoom the remote camera in and out. This is a very nice feature.

Figure 5. Touchscreen adjustable zoom settings.

I have not seen similar functionality in higher-end cameras—the ability to manually set at least three if not more, different fixed zoom speeds. Or keep one variable and keep the others fixed for these specific purposes.

AJ: That was critical for a documentary I was shooting in Yellowstone. I'd use my rocker to get my tight shot but I didn't want to use it when I'm fully zoomed in. So I used the top zoom as my slow creep from the waterfall out to show the nature. It was mission-critical for everything I was shooting.

AB: If you’d had it on a tripod and didn't want to touch it at all, you could use the infrared remote. You're not even touching the camera and the camera moves the zoom on its own without any physical touching of the camera.


AJ: Now the other big thing to talk about with the XA25 is the HD-SDI. This is the big difference between the XA20 and the XA20. Some companies are buying three of these things, taking the HD-SDI and running it right to their multi-touch switcher, which means you can start switching three HD cameras on the fly cheaper than any other time in history. It's the cheapest HD-SDI camera on the market.

AB: For the output, you can have your overlays on or off, but this camera has HD-SDI and HDMI--dual outputs. On the lower-end cameras, often there's not the processing inside to do both of these things, or even have your LCD active if you're a Canon 5D user. There's a lot going on here--the screen, the eyepiece, the outputs. That is a world of functionality.

If you have this on a tripod, and you're doing your shoot, the 3" OLED screen is quite good. I never felt I was not getting a good representation of the shot. But to have HDMI out to a nice monitor on top and have the SDI going to the switch without having to resort to going to a splitter, converter, and all those other things is very nice. The functionality is built in.

AJ: I was shooting a dog show for five days and sometimes I was panning my camera far to the right, and when you’re doing that you can't see the LCD. Without an LCD monitor I wouldn't be able to see the shot. To be able to switch that then would be a big improvement.

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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.
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.