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Canon XF Series HD Camcorders
Canon XF305, XF205 and XF105 (with SDI), Canon XF300, XF200 and XF100 (without SDI).


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Old September 19th, 2010, 07:05 AM   #1
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MacRitchie - Canon XF305


A short film made from test footages of Canon XF305 video camera, shot at MacRitchie Reservoir in Singapore.

Settings
======

- 1080p25 50Mbps
- Cine V picture profile
- Everything else default

Footages are largely ungraded except to correct some exposures. Colour is what you get from camera.

Impressions
========

Lens
-----
The label on the lens speaks volume: "Canon HD Video Lens 18xZOOM 4.1-73.8mm L IS 1:1.6-2.8 82mm" with a nice red L lens stripe. Excellent lens. While I felt JVC HM700's Canon 14x lens falls a little short on the telephoto end, I didn't feel so with the 18x on XF305. The images are sharp and very little chromatic aberration is noticed. There appears to be some barrel distortion at the corners at the widest end as can be seen in the timelapse scene.

Focusing
----------
Despite its larger 4" LCD screen and higher 1.2MP resolution, we actually find the camera more difficult to focus than some competitors. The peaking didn't seem to work too well at times (i.e. we can barely see peaking in some situations) and the magnify (focus assistance) feature is more suitable for still compositions.

In real world, when you are trying to frame a moving subject such as humans, animals or vehicles, the magnify feature is not too helpful. As the whole LCD screen is being magnified, we might lose our framing when we toggle it off. This is especially so when we were filming the restless monkeys and moving canoes.

I find Panasonic HPX170's implementation better as its focus assistance only magnifies the central portion. There is however on XF305, an edge monitoring feature which is somewhat like Panasonic's focus assist bar/graph. Nevertheless, what we really miss is Panasonic's EVF detailing and Sony's feature which works by making edges/details appear sharper and really help in quick focusing.

On the other hand, auto-focusing is very fast on this camera even though we are shooting in progressive. I don't have enough time with the camera to figure out the best way to focus. We are certainly finding ourselves taking longer time to focus during our test shoot. It seems to me that shooters will do well to make more use of the Push AF button and edge monitoring feature.

Although 4 inches in size and armed with 1.2 megapixels, we find that the LCD screen is still not dependable on getting focusing right. In certain shots, we thought the images are properly focused on the LCD but they turn out to be out-of-focus when we view in post later.

ND Filters, Iris, Zoom
-------------------------
It is wonderful to have 3 ND filters (1/4, 1/16 and 1/64) but I really do not like the motorized zoom and iris rings. There is a slight delay and we can't get instant feedback from the rings. The iris ring also lacks indicators and we have to depend on the LCD screen.

Image quality
----------------
Image quality is very good when view in post. Any noticeable artifacts seen in vimeo is largely due to the WMV compression. Otherwise, the daylight images appear very clean and detailed. We also did some low-light tests which are not shown in this video. Nothing special though. Low-light capability falls between EX1 and HPX170/HM700. +6db is quite usable although I find +12db a tad too much noise

The codec is also robust at 50Mbps with 4:2:2 colour sampling. Colours look more saturated than 4:2:0 cameras and details in complex scenes hold well.

White Balancing
-------------------
White balancing is excellent on this camera. Instead of the typical 3200K and 5600K presets. You can actually dial the preset from 2000K to 15000K in 100K intervals without diving into menus. Very cool. In other cameras, we would probably have to dig into the menus to change colour temperature. The camera also allows a high degree of image customizations in the picture profile menu.

Waveform Monitor
---------------------
I also like the waveform monitor. But you can't have everything as toggling the waveform monitor on will hide the audio levels monitoring. Toggling the WFM button also gives you vectorscope and edge monitoring.

Audio
-------
You can switch from auto to manual to lock. I find the audio lock feature very useful which simply locks up the audio level and prevent any careless meddling which often happen on competing cameras.

Media Access
----------------
The media screen is quite good. You can view multiple resolutions without any draggy delay or reset in the camera. Some other cameras require you to restart the camera to view a different resolution. The big LCD screen is a joy to view playbacks. But I feel there should be page up/down buttons to scroll though the clips quickly especially when you have many clips.

Ergonomics
========
The first impression is that the camera is big and quite significantly larger than EX1. A large part is taken up by the big lens. It also feels heavy and difficult to hand hold for long. Serious shooters may need to explore shoulder support accessories. Interestingly, the larger size means I can rest the back of the camera on my shoulder and still view the LCD screen comfortably.

Maybe I am more used to Panasonic cameras, I feel it is not too intuitive to find the buttons on XF305. I didn't have this issue with JVC HM700 though. The scroll dial on Sony can be pressed to set functions and I keep finding myself trying to press the select scroll dial on XF305. I think it is a little silly to have to press another set button located next to it. Canon engineers really need to look into this one. I find myself preferring to use the top joystick near the LCD screen which can be pressed. It is quicker to use but can be hard to operate when mounted on a tripod at your height.

It is also annoying to have to press so many buttons to get the variable frame rate going. We have to go through 3 menus to set up slow motion. Besides, variable frame rates can't be assigned to user buttons. I really miss this feature which HPX170 and EX3 has. What this mean is that variable frame rate shooting is very hard to configure while on the run. You need to have enough time to set it up.

Many people have complained about the power button which slides between camera/off/media states. I agree that it is a bad design since I find myself switching wrongly many times. I'd slide to media when I actually want it off.

I also find Canon's menu system not too intuitive. I find it hard to remember where the menus are and it takes time to find them. Sony and JVC win on this one.

Build Quality
=========
Contrary to some reviews, I actually feel that Canon's construction feels more solid than Sony's EX1/3. Perhaps it is the texture of the plastics that make it appear so. The material seems high quality and rigid. The only weak point is the battery cover which seems a little flimsy. The rubber eyepiece of the viewfinder can also come off easily. Do be careful not to lose it when on the run. I don't understand why Canon would not want to make it more difficult to remove since hardly anyone would remove it.

Post
===
I am using Final Cut Pro 6.0.6 on my old but trusty G5 Mac. Canon actually states that XF Utility software can only run on an Intel Mac. I couldn't run XF Utility installation app but I found an app called master installer in the software subfolder. Surprisingly, I can run this app and get the FCP plugin and utility installed. Unfortunately, the XF Utility itself still cannot be run. On the other hand, FCP plugin works but appears only partially so. I can ingest 1080p25 50Mbps footages but I can't ingest 720p25 50Mbps (i.e. my slow motion footages). Neither ProRes nor Native transcoding will work in log and transfer. That is why there is no slow motion footage in this video although we shot some.

ProRes and Native (XF codec) footages look identical in their respective sequences. But once you apply effects, native takes much longer to render as FCP will do the "Long GOP conforming" and there will also be some image degrading due to long GOP. So, I'd say go ProRes unless you want to do a quick edit or save hard drive space.

Conclusion
========
In short, Canon XF305 is a very good and capable camera. No camera is perfect and XF305 could do better with improved ergonomics and low light performance. It is certainly not an EX1R killer but definitely makes choosing between them more difficult. Interesting times.
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Old September 19th, 2010, 08:38 AM   #2
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Excellent review, Ng Chee Teng!

I like these real-world tests and comparisons to other cameras.
I like what I'm hearing and seeing from the XF300 so much, I'm considering selling my HPX500 to get one. Swapping a 2/3" chip cam for a 1/3" cam? Hmm.
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Old September 19th, 2010, 09:05 AM   #3
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I guess it depends on your needs. In my part of the world, it still looks more impressive to turn up with a HPX500 than a handheld camera.

Plus if you cover a lot of low-light situations, I think 2/3" cameras are still the way to go.

Most of my clients can't tell 720 from 1080... But if XF300 fits your needs, it's a camera you won't regret.
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Old September 19th, 2010, 03:36 PM   #4
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Funny thing is no matter how many clips I see shot on the new XF300/5 it still looks flat and dull compared to DSLR's - it sucks what DSLR's have done to brilliant video cameras.
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Old September 19th, 2010, 07:22 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Nicholas de Kock View Post
Funny thing is no matter how many clips I see shot on the new XF300/5 it still looks flat and dull compared to DSLR's - it sucks what DSLR's have done to brilliant video cameras.
Hmm.
I'd say the XF300/305s make DSLRs look flat and lifeless. Depends on a person's view, I guess.
And it must suck not to have broadcast-quality codecs, real professional audio controls, etc.
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Old September 20th, 2010, 12:43 AM   #6
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I've watched a lot of 300/305 footage, even downloaded some files from Vimeo and had a good look at the source files. I notice the camera has a distinctly different look from the EX1R, which seems to have more pop to it, more contrast, or something I can't quite explain. Anyone know what this is? Just the type of video processing that Canon employs vs. Sony? I really like some of the XF videos though. The recent ones on Vimeo by "Russian Hour London" (shot in Moscow) were just excellent. Well it all looks great, as I'm still shooting in glorious DV!
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Old September 20th, 2010, 01:25 AM   #7
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I suspect it is the 4:2:2 color sampling?
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Old September 20th, 2010, 01:25 AM   #8
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Great review, I concur with everything you've said, except perhaps the ergonomics which I rather like, but then I come from a Canon (not Panasonic) background. Like you, I also find it's possible to brace this camera effectively against the shoulder for short periods.

I don't have any issues with the battery doors, but a few times I've had trouble locking the CF doors shut. Haven't heard anyone else mention this but I find it tricky and often have to insert the cards a couple of times to get the CF doors locked in place.
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Old September 20th, 2010, 07:39 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nicholas de Kock View Post
Funny thing is no matter how many clips I see shot on the new XF300/5 it still looks flat and dull compared to DSLR's
I've said this before as well, although raw xf footage (seen from posted frame's) looks very good, all compressed videosamples (like on vimeo and such) I've seen so far look exactly what my xh-a1 can produce. Coming from a dvx100b in the past (which had great color right out of the box) I have never liked my xh-a1 colors and even find it hard to get nice looking colors out after color correction.
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Old September 20th, 2010, 01:02 PM   #10
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The Vimeo "Russian" files are outstanding. You guys really think you can do better with a XH-A1 or a DSLR?
IMO- the Canon look beats even the Sony Ex1.
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Old September 20th, 2010, 03:00 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Robyn Sands View Post
The Vimeo "Russian" files are outstanding. You guys really think you can do better with a XH-A1 or a DSLR?
IMO- the Canon look beats even the Sony Ex1.
Exactly. Some of the comments on this thread are becoming a bit outlandish. Let's try to ground this conversation in reality.
Everyone has their own ideas as to what looks best, but belittling the XF cameras' performance as below an XH or DSLR is stretching it.
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Old September 20th, 2010, 03:34 PM   #12
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I think most of the belief that the XF is no better than an XH or DSLR comes from people watching clips on Vimeo & Youtube. It's very difficult to really understand how huge the differences between the cameras are without watching footage on a television set, rather than a highly compressed image in a tiny window on a computer monitor. That being said, if you were to compare properly shot footage from an XH, a DSLR and an XF on an HD television set, the XF footage screams ahead the pack, no question. And that's not taking into account grading ability, either.
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Old September 20th, 2010, 03:45 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Robyn Sands View Post
The Vimeo "Russian" files are outstanding. You guys really think you can do better with a XH-A1 or a DSLR?
I never said that, I said that all vimeo samples I've seen from a canon XF series looks like xh-a1 footage to me, (and it seems I"m not the only one that gets that feeling) I did say however I have seen frame's (native resolution) posted here from a XF camera that show something different and certainly better but for webdelivery I don't see much difference compared to a xh-a1 to be honest. (taken moderate bitrates into consideration as you need to assure many people will be able to see it.)
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Old September 20th, 2010, 04:35 PM   #14
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I had a pair of XHs which I eventually sold after hiring Sony Z7s for a mulitcam shoot (the Sony's were superior in low light and had vastly superior LCDs, which alone made them worth the upgrade for me).

I shoot a lot with DSLRs and will continue to do so, but their shortcomings are well documented. The XF is very very good at what it does, and beyond image quality and codec, it has a lot to recommend it over the XH: a decent LCD (at last Canon!), better lens, much better IS (especially at telephoto), better build quality, and all the advantages of a non-tape based work flow.

When I need low light performance or tight DOF, I will use the 5D. When I need detail, fine gradients, run and gun convenience, zoom range, handheld shots, chroma-key, moire & aliasing free images, the XF comes to the fore. And with a better lens and codec, I think the XF also has it (if only marginally) over the EX in this second set of criteria.

If you want more punch in the images, you can alter settings to please. To me the consumer friendly - heavily saturated / contrasty - shots the DSLRs put out natively is a downside to those cameras: it's easy to add punch in post. The nice thing with the XF is this look is not there by default, ie: you can capture fine gradients, tonal information, and decide what to do with it after the fact.

Last edited by Josh Dahlberg; September 20th, 2010 at 06:29 PM.
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Old September 20th, 2010, 06:00 PM   #15
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it has a lot to recommend it over the XH
The xf300 is actually not comparable with a xh, it's 3 times the cost of what I paid for my xh-a1 three years ago so one would expect it to be a higher end model. Logically I would think a xf200 would fill the gap and replace the xh-a1 but I also think it will be almost twice the price of a xh-a1.
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