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REVIEW:  Canon XF305 Camera

50 Mpbs = Pretty Pictures

By Bruce A Johnson | November 16, 2010

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Photo by Adam Wilt, NAB 2010

It's hard to believe that twelve years have passed since I bought my first DV camcorder. My 1998 purchase? A Canon XL-1. At the time it was just about the closest thing you could buy to a professional camcorder for under $20,000. I remember my engineer-friends sniffing at the XL-1. Their biggest gripe? That DV only recorded 480 lines of video (instead of a full 486,) at only 25 MBit/sec in a 4:1:1 colorspace. "No TV station will ever air that (expletive)," they barked. Boy, were they wrong.

Canon kept coming out with updated versions of the XL-1, adding better viewfinders, some excellent lenses, and finally HDV capacity. But somehow the XL-series never seemed to gain the respect among broadcasters that their world-leading"big" lenses enjoy, possibly in part due to perceived "bandwidth bias."
Well, Canon has knocked that final issue out of the park.

At NAB 2010 they announced the release of the Canon 50Mb 4:2:2 codec. Finally Canon had a codec that engineers could respect. And they packed it into two new cameras that have a lot to offer - the XF300 and the XF305. I got an XF305 to test out, so I suppose it's sensible to point out the differences between the two Canons up front. In a word, it's connectivity - the XF305 features HD-SDI output (with embedded audio), genlock capacity and SMPTE timecode in and out. Other than that, the two cameras seem to be identical. Video monitoring can also be done via HDMI or analog component for hi-def or analog composite for standard -def.

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A quick glance at the XF305 demonstrates a bit of a resemblance to another recent breakthrough camera, the Sony PMW-EX-1. While there are some striking differences (the XF-series 1/3" CMOS imaging chips as opposed to the EX-series 1/2" CMOS, for example,) the form-factor similarities are pretty obvious, most noticeably the fold-out video monitor. When I had the opportunty to test out the EX-1 a few years back, I found the Sony's LCD to be among the brightest and sharpest I had ever seen; the Canon goes it one better. This 4" LCD screen would put some high-dollar home theaters to shame, with sharpness and brightness to spare.

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And it does a trick I haven't seen before - it can actually slide over to the right side of the camera, if that's what your setup demands. In fact, it can even pan past the 90 degree point on either side of the camera, a nice ergonomic touch. Other great viewfinder additions are selected by a row of buttons on the left side of the camera, including (FINALLY!) the ability to have zebra and peaking on at the same time. You can also rotate through a waveform, vectorscope and edge monitor if you like. Of course, you can pick and choose what you want to see in the viewfinder through the extensive menu system.

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Comments

Rob: | November, 17, 2010

So it’s the same price as the EX1 but with only 1/3” sensors. What, if anything, makes the XF300?

Rob: | November, 17, 2010

That is, makes the XF300 better than the EX1?

Bruce A Johnson: | November, 17, 2010

To me?  50Mb 4:2:2 and MUCH more reasonable media costs make a convincing argument.  By the time you buy a half-dozen Compact Flash or SxS cards, the price differential will be pretty large.  But honestly, I could be happy with either.  If you were going to ask about the EX3, though, the removable lens if a BIG deal in my world, especially if you are willing to spend the $4500 extra for the Fujinon EX-mount wide angle.  But of course, then the price differential gets much wider in the XF305’s favor.

BAJ

IEBA: | November, 17, 2010

I agreed with most of your likes:
http://www.eventdv.net/Articles/News/Feature/In-the-Field-Canon-XF300-422-HD-Camcorder-70240.htm

But moreover, I like that Canon has also continued this generous 50 Mbps data rate in the smaller XF100 series. It’s good to know that the GL series have a replacement, and that they are all tied together with the same codec capability.

Also, one thing that does not get enough attention (IMHO) is that it is 4:2:2. vDSLRs do very nicely with their 4:1:1 video, but if you’re keying, or grading, then the extra color data becomes invaluable.

Plus, CF is the speed leader for now. I love that it’s not some special new card system that costs extra. We can choose expensive superfast cards if we like, or use cards that are cheaper and just fast enough to save some money.

I just wish some of the noise reduction that the DSLRs use found its way into the XF300 high gain settings. But then, maybe they’re saving that for an XF500 (my speculation) based on the Canon 5D or an APSc sensor.

Richard Reay: | November, 17, 2010

I bought 2 Canon XL1 cameras when they first came out, and fell hopelessly in love with them. Then out churned the XL H1 which sent me spiralling into the gorgeousness of HD shooting. I’d long hankered after shooting film, but the growth of HD and HDV (it’s more affordable counterpart) let me put the dreams of 16mm to bed.

Now I’m shooting on HDSLR and though the images in the video above look nice, they still feel very “vidoey” to me. A fixed lens on a $7000+ video camera? When I can happily pick up a $600 550D body and shoot with Nikon fast primes at 23.976 fps? No contest. This camera feels like a missed opportunity at best, a step backwards at worst.

@IEBA I’ve had no problems at all pulling keys or grading from my 550D, a lot of what I’m shooting now involves keying work and so long as I transcode the footage to DPX or Pro Res 444 there’s no issues at all. For grading on HDSLR setting a flat gamma curve for acquisition is easy, and once again DPX transcoding gives excellent control in the grade.

With this essentially being an oversized handycam, you’re still going to require some kind of stabilisation rig/shoulder mount when out in the field, much the same as HDSLR. At the cost and quality people aren’t going to be jumping off their 550D, 7D or 5Ds anytime soon. Certainly not for this kit.

IEBA: | November, 18, 2010

Richard,
I heartily agree on the cost/look factor of vDSLRs. I used them in each stage of my test/review of the XF300. However, attributing it to 24p is probably not going to serve you well because the XF300 does 24p just fine. It also can shoot 60p and record it as 24p giving you in-camera slow motion.

I’m glad your 4:1:1 footage looks good to you. Imagine how good it could look with double the color information. Transcoding 4:1:1 to 4:4:4 doesn’t “make up” new detail, it just protects the footage from visible gradients as you push and pull it.

But the real reason people will gravitate to this is because of the “oversized handicam” nature where you can adjust one channel of audio on the fly, easily tweak any of the image parameters (iris, shutter, gain, focus, zoom, etc.) smoothly while you are shooting. The ability to both record quality audio in camera, or jack in any line or mic level external source without having to attach external adapters, rails, harnesses, etc.

While you may pick up a 550D body for $600, the price you pay for the equivalent coverage with good glass, audio adapter, stereo mic, rig, rails, etc puts you at the same cost, or more, and you can’t even get HD output while you shoot.

Add to this a high-bitrate, zero moire, zero aliasing image in the XF300.

In as much as people tout the “run & gun” of vDSLR’s, anyone who’s serious about production ends up spending upwards of $10,000 (depending on how much good glass they add). So it’s not cost savings either.

The vDSLR’s are about a filmic look with shallow DoF that can’t be replicated with most handycams. But if you need to run & goon and adjust on the fly, a handycam is the better choice.

Brett Perry: | November, 18, 2010

It’s good to see Canon still inovating their line of excellent camcorders. I’ve owned Canon’s since the late 90’s and they’ve never dissapointed me. I’m always amused when the DLSR owners use price as a reason to go that route. The extra gear that’s necessary to use them not only adds to their price but also has to be lugged around to shoots and kept organized. Eventually, all the manufacturers will produce cameras like the Red One’s Scarlet (supposed retail price around five grand) that will blow everything away and we’ll all laugh about the good old days and those handicams and DLSR’s.

astrology: | November, 19, 2010

a really sweet cam! the viewer is simply magnificent.

Nick WB: | November, 21, 2010

Forgive me but EOS DSLR cameras color sub-sample to 4:2:0, not 4:1:1

Great review of the XF305 - I was extremely fortunate to be lent a pre-production camera and more recently a production model. After using these cameras, video from the older XH series and EOS 5D MkII is hard to go back to.

Build quality is typically Canon and very much more robust than the EX cameras. Lens quality is superlative too and the image looks like a high Mpixel still, not a video frame. There is virtually no evidence of Chromatic abberation.

It is worth pointing out that the XF 300 / 305 are first ‘low end’ cameras to be fully approved by the BBC for all uses; quite some feat with their incredibly stringent standards. It will be interesting to see how the XF100 / 105 fare under such testing. Both utilize a single example of the same 1/3” sensor (XF300 / 305 have three).

Nick.

mopixels: | November, 22, 2010

Thank you for the great review Bruce.

For my money, the most compelling factor in favor of the EX1 is the low light sensitivity and low noise in the shadow detail and blacks.  Considering that the chips sets of these cameras don’t have the same native sensitivity (1/2” vs 1/3”) can the FX305 really compete with the EX1 in a low light situation regardless of 4:2:2?

Nick WB: | November, 22, 2010

A straight answer would probably be ‘No’ for absolute low light performance, but overall image quality + colour fidelity exceed the EX1 by quite a margin, hence the BBC’s approval of the type. Alan Roberts’ report on the camera make interesting reading, particularly his comments on low light sensitivity and resolution: http://tinyurl.com/2bvlpsd

A production company, enquiring about training last week told me that the XF305 was the ‘new standard’ (their words not mine).

cmoore: | November, 25, 2010

Ive missed a camera viable replacement for the GL series.  I think that Panasonic is pushing the envelope in HD cameras price point wise right now.  I have a DSLR that shoots HD and its great, but I sill miss the way a proper video camera works.  By that I mean the ability to lock down and roll a 2nd or 3rd camera for an hour or so.  Also motorized zoom lenses and the audio features and more.  The issue for me is low light and sensitivity at an affordable price.

Im going to be very interested in what the XF100 series can do, Ive heard good things.  I look forward to Bruce getting his hands on one of those.  In my case its really going to be value for the money…….. XF300 series and SONYs EX serious are till just a tad pricey for me right now.

IEBA: | November, 25, 2010

cmoore, check out Canon’s XF100 line. That’s almost a direct replacement for the GL series, which I also liked.

My personal favorite DV camcorder was Panny’s AG-DVC30. Absolutely minuscule body, 16x optical that could do 20x with an imperceptible digital zoom, control of zoom & focus remotely (but not iris AFAIK) and the remote zoom was pro-level smooth, down to an ultra-slow creep. Shooting IR was just a bonus. Why Panny hasn’t redone this as a HD camera is beyond me.

The Canon XF100 line has a paltry 10x optical lens, but if the light gathering capability is on par with the XF300, it’ll be an impressive camera at the price point, and the only one that does 4:2:2 color without the added expense or cumbersome usage of external HDMI recorders.

cmoore: | November, 25, 2010

My HV20,30 have been my intro to HD after the GL1 and 2 that I had.  I went from the GL zoom lens to the HV 10x it was painful but I have adjusted. I look forward to what the XF100s can do.  Its interesting to me that Canon has kept a very tight lid on these cameras, you cannot find really any video anywhere on line form these yet.

gauravshree: | November, 26, 2010

I heartily agree on the cost/look factor of vDSLRs. I used them in each stage of my test/review of the XF300. However, attributing it to 24p is probably not going to serve you well because the XF300 does 24p just fine. It also can shoot 60p and record it as 24p giving you in-camera slow motion.

cmoore: | November, 26, 2010

FYI

This Euro Canon site has much better information on the new XF100 series

http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/education/technical/inside_XF105_XF100.do

cmoore: | November, 28, 2010

Video from the new XF100

http://www.vimeo.com/16963810

tshirtsy: | March, 27, 2011

Stable workflow and beautiful high-bitrate pictures add up to a package that makes a very worthy successor to the Canon cameras that came before it.dog training courses

sweetypye: | March, 28, 2011

What a nice and great review about this Canon XF305 Camera. Please keep us updated about new products coming in.thesis editing

8string: | May, 12, 2011

Great review Bruce and I totally agree with your “pros” on this camera. I bought one, after reviewing all the field, stepping up from a Panny HMC150, which has been a great camera for me. I also have a 7D with full compliment of lens, and anyone that thinks that the image quality of a 550 or 7D is nearly the same as the quality of a 300 or Sony EX-3, just hasn’t played with them, or tried to grade with the two, I would gather. This isn’t about theory, it’s about an incredibly beautiful image. It can also get some better DOF than I’ve seen on other camcorders, likely due to the lens. I’m very happy with the camera, but do wish it would have had interchangeable lens. But the image quality makes up for it, hands down. I can add an adapter for DOF, if I go theatrical.  I still use my 7D a lot, but it’s for a very different type of shooting. The 4:2:2 color space along with the 50 Mbps on the xf305 really makes a difference.  Having full camcorder capability is much better in the field for most shooting situations, than the 7D. But I still use the 7D for web based. Putting the two images side by side on larger (projection) screens shows the breakdown of the 7D image. But it can look great on the web! I do use both for different reasons.

cmoore: | May, 12, 2011

Great comments “8string”, I have a T2i (550D), and love it but its no 300 and there is nothing like a proper video camera.

I have the feeling that Canon will replace the XH camera line with a large single chip camera in order to go head to head with cameras like the Panasonic AF-100 and or the SONY F3.  I predict thats how you’ll get your interchangeable lens’s and your DOF—- along with all the proper video camera features and true professional image detail.  I think its going to be a natural progression for them…...It has to be, I think the honeymoon period with DSLR video is reaching its nexus.

8string: | May, 12, 2011

Likely right Cmoore. I think that this sort of represents a logical end of the 1/3rd sensor line in general, as we have been begging for 4:2:2 and 50 Mbps for a while now, given the popularity of such add ons as nanoflash etc. The fact that so many DSLR shooters believe that the AF100 is the wave of the future (and likely it does represent that) it’s almost a self fulfilling prophesy.

Given how long it’s taking to purge the world of tape, I don’t think i’m going to worry about my new camera being ‘obsolete’ any time soon.  Likely a ten year life span is not out of the question.

lastly, I feel that the DSLR boom is like the gold rush. Not many ‘miners’ getting rich, but the guys who supply them with the gear are…(G)

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