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Review: Canon XF205 Professional Camcorder

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.

XF200/205 Improvements Over the XA20/25

I really like my XA20. It fills a need in my workflow for a camcorder as I sold my last one in 2010 and have been using large-sensor video cameras exclusively since then. Admittedly, I do have to hire contractors with professional camcorders on occasion for event work when a camcorder is absolutely required, and this need was reason enough for me to buy an XA20. It paid for itself very quickly, thanks in part to its low price of $1,999, but it isn’t perfectly suited for all my outstanding video needs and both the XA20 and XA25 left something to be desired. The XF205 fills those needs.

I love the 20x f/1.8-2.8 lens but the single ring on the XA20/25 meant I needed to choose between zoom and focus to assign to the ring. I chose focus and was happy using the zoom rocker or an external zoom controller via LANC to adjust the focal length, but was left a little dissatisfied with sharing the custom dial with iris, gain, and shutter speed controls. I have to toggle between the individual functions by pressing the custom button that can be difficult to access when mounted on a tripod and with the touchscreen OLED screen open.

3 Rings are Better Than 1

The XF200/205 improves on the XA20/25 with three individual rings for iris, zoom, and focus. The menu system is accessed using a more traditional menu button and joystick controls, rather than having the option of also using the touchscreen as on the XA20/25. This goes a long way to keeping your LCD screen free of fingerprints, but is a bit frustrating if you own both because both cameras have different menu systems and controls.

xf205-2

One of my favorite features on the XA20/25 and XF200/205 is the electronic ND filters that can be set to engage automatically when you close the iris wheel beyond f/4, the sweet spot on this 20x lens. I find this a much more elegant and usable approach to ND filter use than slamming down or screwing-on ND glass.

Shutter Speed and Gain

In the place of the custom dial is one of three record stop/start buttons. This means the shutter speed and gain controls are adjusted in a different manner, although this wasn’t intuitive to me and after several minutes of trying to figure it out on my own I had to consult the manual and even then it took me a few minutes to figure out how to change my shutter speed from the value of 1/15 that I was stuck on.

It turns out that if I press the joystick control in, an orange box appears around the on-screen display of one of white balance, gain, and shutter speed. Once selected, up or down changes the value of the selection while right and left moves between the three controls. I would recommend practicing this a few times and committing it to memory because you can easily and accidentally change the setting you are working on to an automatic mode if you aren’t careful and the change is almost always immediately noticeable.

This joystick method of controlling the shutter speed isn’t a deal-breaker as long as you take a moment to figure it out before your first shoot, but I did grow to appreciate this method for adding another option to adjust the white balance and the gain. Both have three setting switches on the camera body that allow the operator to toggle between presets or custom values, but I have often felt this three-switch method is restricting, specifically for the gain. Why should we be limited to only three preset gain values? There is no off selection either for gain, which means one of the values is typically used for no gain. That leaves only two additional values beyond the base gain or ISO setting.

I have often found myself being forced to change the gain preset values while filming as lighting levels change, and when I find myself needing more (or less) gain than the three values I had previously chosen. The XA20/25 and XF200/205 both remove this limiting gain preset restriction. The XA20/25 allows you to adjust gain in 1dB increments with the custom wheel and the XF200/205 is almost as refined by allowing 3dB increments with the joystick.

Broadcast Codec

The XF200/205 has dual CF recording slots and add the broadcast friendly 50Mbps MPEG-2 MXF in 30P and 60i. 35Mbps MP4 24P, 30P, 60P is also available in the single SD card slot. Having two recording codecs and three media slots means you can record the same footage to two different media cards using different codecs and bit rates; record to both CF cards at the same time with the same codec for an instant redundant backup; and relay-record from one memory card to the other when the first becomes full.

The XF200/205 audio adds an additional 2 channels of internal microphone recording to the dual XLR or stereo 3.5mm inputs. Both XA20/25 and XF200/205 feature WiFi for proxy file transfer or monitoring on a tablet or smartphone and the XF200/205 adds an Ethernet output as an alternative for transferring files to the USB 2.0 output.

Related Articles
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.
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.
Rather than tempt you with the Next Big Thing, in this "Gear of the Year" feature we invited three contributing writers—and producers in their own right—to choose four products each, all released in the last year, that have proven themselves indispensable to professional online video production and webcasting workflows, or represent the best currently available choices in their particular category.
Almost Live with Streaming Media reports from NAB 2014 with a discussion of a recently introduced 200-400mm professional Canon lens designed with a built-in extender to serve the needs of sports photographers and videographers.