- 26.8mm Wide, 20x Optical Zoom Lens with 3 Separate Lens Rings
- AF options (Instant AF, Face Detection) and Reduced MOD
- Enhanced Image Stabilization Performance
- Ergonomic, Rotating Grip
- Equipped with Wide DR Gamma (600%) Mode and Refined, 8-bladed Circular Aperture
- Infrared, High-sensitivity Shooting Function with Enhanced Exposure Performance
- Professional 0.45-inch Color Viewfinder and Precise 3.5-inch OLED Panel
- MXF and MP4 Dual Codec Recording
- Slow and Fast Motion Function Supported (MXF)
- 35 Mbps 1440×1080 Recording Supported for Broadcast Usage (MXF)
- Three Memory Card Slots
- HD-SDI Monitor Output, 3G-SDI Output, Time Code and Genlock (XF205 only)
- 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz Dual-frequency Built-in Wi-Fi® Capability
- Ethernet LAN Terminal
- Browser Remote, FTP File Transfer (MXF/MP4) Functions Featured
- Four-channel Audio Recording
Canon introduced XF205/XF200 to its range of professional HD camcorders in Spring this year, adding a middle tier to its well received XF305/300 and XF105/100 camcorders. I am rather curious about Canon’s marketing strategy because XF205’s positioning is rather awkward. If I am shooting a project where camera size is not an issue, I would pick the better XF305 while XF105 fits the bill when a small/light-weight camcorder is required. So why did Canon launch the XF205/200 cameras?
In this test and review, I am using the Canon XF205 which comes with additional HD-SDI Monitor Output, 3G-SDI Output, Time Code and Genlock. Otherwise XF205 and XF200 models are similar. When I first picked up the XF205, I was surprised by its weight. It feels rather heavy (around 1.9kg) given its smaller size and when compared to other hand-held professional camcorders. I would expect a lighter camera at this size. The weight distribution is quite balanced but it can get tiring on your wrist after a while. Thankfully, the camera is also literally heavy on its features and allows plenty of customizations.
The 20x HD lens is quite awesome and not surprisingly so, since Canon is a renowned lens manufacturer. The zoom range is greatly appreciated and comes in very handy. When I am shooting the test, most people at the park did not even realize my presence since I can really zoom in from far. When fully wide, the lens is 26.8mm (motion picture equivalent) wide at a maximum aperture of F1.8. When at full telephoto, the lens can reach an amazing 576mm at a maximum of F2.8. I have had a lot of fun shooting macro shots, rack focusing and even birds with the long zoom. Canon says the lens has a resolution of around 900 TV lines and it certainly looks sharp to me.
An eight-blade circular aperture provides natural and visually pleasing bokeh. Three separate rings control focus, zoom and iris — a feature that every proper professional camera should have. The rings are electronic though and turn infinitely. I have always preferred finite rings which give better control but looks like this is going to be the trend. The lens comes with a Five-Axis Dynamic SuperRange OIS System that stabilizes camera shakes really well. Again, it looks like the newer generation of cameras are all equipped with such OIS systems which is a very good thing. I have included a walking shot near the stream and as you can see for yourself, it stabilizes really well and gives a bit of that steadicam look. However, do note that the compensation can sometimes cause the stabilization to over-roll, especially at telephoto ranges.
There is no manual ND filter control. The built-in ND filter (1/2, 1/4, 1/8) kicks in automatically after F4.0 but you can also turn it off in the menu. I wish the ND filter on/off setting could be conveniently toggled by one of the assignable buttons but it is not possible.
And yes, I love Canon’s new implementation of the lens hood which is also found on the XA25. You simply flip open the lens cover with a switch on the left side of the lens hood. Newer Sony cameras also incorporate this feature and I wish Panasonic could implement something similar as lens covers can easily be lost.
The camcorder uses a single 1/2.84″ CMOS sensor which does its job but it is still a small sensor after all. Image noise is ever present and while not glaringly obvious, it is there if you try to look. The camera has a noise reduction setting in custom picture which is typically more commonly found in DSLR. The default is off but you can set up to a strength of 12 which is very aggressive and results in a significant loss of details. When I tested the automatic noise reduction function, the images looked about the same when toggled on or off, making me wonder when it will kick in.
Automatic Gain Control performs just about the same as every other camera and adds a lot of visible noise as well. Interestingly, there is a -6dB gain setting which you can use to cut down the noise in well-lit situations. When I try the full auto mode, the camera actually uses -6dB in a lot of situations. I suspect this could mean that Canon has calibrated the camera’s 0dB to a noisier image, perhaps to try to sell their camera as “brighter”? You may want to set Gain “L” at -6dB permanently.
Auto white balancing is unfortunately also not a strength of XF205. I tested in both indoors and outdoors and the AWB overcompensated at times. Panasonic AC90, at almost half the price, is more reliable with its AWB.
The shutter speed when turned off, is actually 1/25 which is puzzling. I am using the PAL model and the shutter speed should be 1/50 to emulate the film look. Therefore I have to turn on the shutter speed and manually set to 1/50.
Autofocusing works well in general although it can occasionally take a bit longer to nail it. You can see in my test that the autofocus did a good job following the boy running. In that same scene, we can see that the rolling shutter is well managed and hardly noticeable.
Canon XF series of camcorders utilize Compact Flash memory cards and I personally feel it is a disadvantage. While some professionals feel that CF cards are more robust than SD cards, CF cards are more expensive and it is much more convenient for me to use SD cards with my Macbook Pro which has a built-in SDXC card reader and allows very fast transfers. While XF205 has a SD card slot, it only records MP4 at 35Mbps and not the MXF 4:2:2 at 50Mbps.
I know I have pointed out quite a few flaws so far. But there are many things to like about this camera as well.
The big 0.45″ color viewfinder works a treat and the 3.5″ OLED panel is bright, sharp and clear although it sometimes block the access to the Push AF button when tilted. The camera is easy and natural to operate, allowing me to capture what I intended quickly.
Peaking works well but it may not be obvious at its default setting of 8. I turned it up all the way to the maximum of 15 and found myself very satisfied with its assistance. You can also use other focus assistance such as the edge monitor and magnification although I found peaking sufficient. Then there is the very useful DSLR-like exposure meter on the display which tells you whether your exposure is correct when you are in the manual iris mode. Again, I like it that the waveform monitor (WFM) is there if I needed it.
Another useful feature would be the 3.5mm microphone input allowing non-XLR microphones. Due to the proliferation of HDSLR, most microphones built for HDSLR are using the 3.5mm plug. The camera also has a Wide DR gamma mode which applies a gamma curve with a wide dynamic range. I have included a comparison footage of Cine1 versus Wide DR gamma and I think I still prefer the look of Cine1 as Wide DR gives a lower contrast. Nonetheless, you may prefer to shoot in Wide DR and color correct later.
XF205 also comes with Wifi and a Ethernet port for network connectivity. I suppose broadcasters and event shooters would find these features useful. Infrared recording, on the other hand, is very useful for documentary and news shooters and the mode works in either white or green.
The camera is highly customizable with 13 assignable buttons, 2 custom displays (allowing you to set what you want to see on the OLED panel/EVF), My Menu (allowing you to customize your own menu) and 9 custom pictures in the camcorder (20 on the SD card). Custom picture allows a long list of customizable settings and is a heaven for those who really like to tweak their camera.
Would I recommend this camera? The answer is yes if you can overlook the slightly noisier image. It is a very capable camera packed with loads of features with the ability to customize heavily. The full auto mode also works as advertised if necessary. I also realize I did not draw too much attention from passersby at the park. Maybe that is where the XF205/XF200 fits in — full professional features in the smallest possible package. Anything smaller would be the XF105/XF100 but you only get one ring plus a 10x zoom. Even smaller would be the XA25 which I feel is more prosumer despite having XLR inputs. It can be stripped down to the bare essentials and become very stealthy. But using XA25 can be quite a pain as the lack of buttons mean you have to delve into the menus very often.
About the Test Settings
- 1080p25 MXF 4:2:2 50Mbps ungraded
- Shutter speed 1/50
- Gamma Cine1
- Color Matrix Wide DR
- Noise Reduction OFF
- ND Filter Automatic
- Gain 0dB
- Other settings default
Gamma is set to Cine1 as I am always trying to emulate the coveted film look. However, I used the Wide DR color matrix which is meant for Wide DR gamma mode. I should be using Cine1 or Cine2 color matrix but I somehow prefer the colors of Wide DR. Canon’s Cine gamma modes seem a little muted in colors to me.
Read my Canon XF305 test and review here.