Articles, MyWork, Singapore — January 25, 2012 at 6:58 am

MacRitchie – Canon XF305

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A short film made from the 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 the 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.

Read my Canon XF205 test and review here.

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