The Canon XA10
Canon has introduced a 1/3-inch CMOS camcorder that shoots 1080p video, stores the footage onto a 64 gig internal hard drive (or onto two SDHC cards), has all the necessary professional features, and weighs less than two pounds.
With technology constantly advancing, most new cameras no longer shoot in standard definition. The Canon XA10 is no different. Recording to AVCHD's MPEG-4, the single CMOS chip sensor routes the images to the 64 gigabyte internal flash drive. It features a total of five recording modes, with two (MXP at 24 Mbps) and the highest rate with six hours of recording time, and FXP (17 Mbps and 8.5 hours) providing full 1920x1080 HD modes. There's also XP+ at 12 Mbps with 11.5 hours of capture, SP at 7 Mbps with 19 hours, and LP at 5 Mbps with more than 24 hours of recording time. (All of the HD footage can be converted to SD if that is your desired end result.)
The camcorder has an f1.8 10X optical zoom system (4.25 mm to 42.5 mm) with multiple speed control; variable shutter speeds; frame rates of 60i, 30p, and 24p; a 1/4-inch color viewfinder; a huge 3.5 inch, 922,000-dot LCD touchscreen display that rivals that found in most high-end still cameras; slots for two SDHC/XC cards; an extremely low light (0.1 Lux) mode; and also infrared recording with a flip of a switch.
The audio side is also professional with two XLR inputs and rotary gain controls, along with a mini 1/8-inch audio input connector, and internal stereo microphones.
Viewing options include four modes of image stabilization, the previously mentioned color viewfinder and LCD screen, connectors for video and audio output, and a mini-HDMI output.
Once the LCD screen is opened and the camera's turned on, a plethora of options await you via the touchscreen. Pressing the function button on the upper right introduces sub-menus for zoom, story creator, decoration, and video snapshot. Each has a multitude of options. Much like a digital SLR, there are a variety of exposure programmed modes including: portrait, sports, beach, snow, fireworks, spotlight, night scene, and low light. Recording options allow the user to select which drive option they prefer, or once the internal hard drive is full, the other two 64 gigabyte slots may be used (with the appropriate media in place).
The Canon XA10 can be described in one word—amazing. In my experience, I've never seen a camera that does quite so much housed in a package of this size. When the review unit arrived, I was astonished at how sharp the recorded image was when displayed on the LCD screen. I knew I was shooting in 1920x1080, but rarely do you see this kind of clarity on the camera's LCD screen—at least at this price point.
When the LCD screen is opened, you have multple options: camera or playback; screen display info; and infrared on and off. (I checked out the infrared display, but I personally can't see much use for it unless you are shooting in minimal light and don't mind the green-tinted black and white images, or you're searching for the paranormal and want to fit in with the rest of the pack.)
With the incredibly sharp images aside, this camera has far too many features; probably more than most professionals will use. Luckily (or unluckily) each of these features can only be accessed through menu after menu on the touchscreen. My students liked this feature, as it reminded them of their iPhones and the finger-flipping accessibility, but I soon tired of having to go through so many menus to control capture speed, recording location, and the manual features.
The most important feature selection is difficult to find at first, but is one that should be used all the time. On the back right of the camera is the auto/M/cinema switch. In my opinion, this should immediately be switched to either manual or cinema, as these are the only way to access the manual features that put this camera in the professional mode. In past experiences, I've rarely been able to manually adjust my color temperature on the camera by using a touchscreen slider bar. You can always use the presets, but sometimes you want a specific temperature—from 2,000 degrees K to 15,000 degrees K—and the XA10 makes that a reality.
Exporting the footage works well with the latest versions of Final Cut, Avid, and Premiere CS5. There still are some compression artifacts when shooting in AVCHD, but with a camera costing less than $2,000, I would expect that. And I know that my last minor complaint is a bit nitpicky, but I really feel that the XA10 needs a little more weight for comfortable use.
The Canon XA10 is an amazing inexpensive camera for all that it can accomplish. While I would have preferred a slightly smaller set of features that were accessible through switches rather than a touchscreen, younger users who are more familiar with this technology (and have smaller hands) are very much at home with it. However, if you want crystal clear HD images in a small, frugal package, this camcorder just might be something to look into.
Chuck Gloman is an associate professor and chair of the TV/Film department at DeSales University. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.