The Canon XZ25
The Canon XA25 is a compact professional camcorder that features a 1/2.84-inch, 1920 x 1080 CMOS image sensor and records in either AVCHD or MP4 codecs in a variety of data rates onto two SDHC memory cards. The second memory card can simultaneously record a backup copy of video saved on card “A,” or a more compressed version for easier uploading to the Internet or FTP server. The Canon XA25 is Wi-Fi-enabled for wireless transfer of MP4 footage, and includes SDI and HDMI uncompressed outputs for monitoring or connecting to an external recorder.
Weighing only 1.7 pounds, the Canon XA25 is small enough to be held in one hand, yet has features generally found in professional camcorders. The detachable handle contains XLR inputs for professional microphone connection, and a holder for an onboard shotgun microphone.
Primary camera functions, such as exposure, focus and white balance, can be set to automatic or be controlled manually. To conserve space, customizable buttons control key camera functions instead of dedicated physical switches. These can be assigned to provide manual control of settings such as iris, focus, audio levels, and white balance.
The Canon XA25 has a 20X optical zoom lens with the 35 mm equivalent of a 26.8 mm to 576 mm range, and a minimum object distance of 23.6 inches. The optical image stabilization has the ability to compensate for motion over five-axis directions compared to the usual two.
The nearly 1/3-inch CMOS sensor has 2.91 megapixels that are individually larger, allowing low light shooting with a minimum subject illumination of 1.2 lux. The camera is also equipped with infrared imaging for shooting in complete “visible” darkness.
It records on two SDHC memory cards and offers the choice of two codecs: AVCHD at data rates of 28, 24, 17 and 5 Mbps, and MP4 at data rates of 35, 24, 17, 4 and 3 Mbps. Both codecs use H.264 compression. The 28 and 35 Mbps data rates are at 59.94p. The Canon XA25 can also shoot at 23.976 for a more film-like look. A cinema mode adds to this look by emulating the film color palette.
The two memory cards can be set up to record sequentially for maximizing recording time, or you can set the camera to record backup clips of the footage as it’s being shot. A third option allows the camera to record a low data rate version on card “B” for easy transfer over Wi-Fi to the Internet.
The XA25 has a built in Wi-Fi transmitter that allows FTP transfer of MP4 video. Recorded clips can be transferred to a PC or mobile device. The camera supports a Web browser interface to provide selective camera control remotely via smartphone or mobile device.
The HD/SD SDI output is a significant feature for a camera of this price range as it allows uncompressed video to be sent to an external recording device to attain maximum quality. The XA25 also has an HDMI output. Either of these output ports can also be used to connect an external HD video monitor.
The first thing one notices about the Canon XA25 is its small size. However, it’s equipped with a high-quality image sensor and produces a very sharp image with clean color rendition and smooth motion capture.
The camera allows automatic or manual control of key functions such as exposure, white balance and focus. Manual control, however, is not provided by physical knobs or switches, as most camera control operation is achieved through the LCD touchscreen where you can access controls on a quick tool menu. Or you can assign a function to any of the five customizable buttons. One of these is a turntable knob on the front, making it ideally suited for iris control.
I like the concept of assignable buttons, but found them to be oddly placed in different locations on the camera. After I assigned them to specific functions, it was easy to forget which button did what.
Although the customizable buttons enable you to gain manual control, some are effectively just shortcuts to an onscreen menu. In the end, this all made it hard to quickly change camera settings from automatic to manual and control the functions in rapidly changing situations.
The camera seems to function best when using automatic controls, which I do have to admit, work very well. The auto focus, exposure and white balance adjust quickly and accurately, making this a camera ideally suited for news and run-and-gun style documentary.
The Canon XA25 is designed to allow dual recording from the higher bit-rate modes of AVCHD or MP4 to lower MP4 bit-rate modes on storage card “B.” When shooting AVCHD 28 Mbps (59.94) or MP4 at 35 Mbps (59.94) you cannot perform identical backup recording.
I tested the higher bit-rate modes and dual recording to lower bit-rate modes and then examined the visual quality obtained on an HD monitor. The AVCHD footage appeared superior to the MP4 footage. However, the highly compressed MP4 footage (4 and 3 Mbps) is very impressive, considering the file size reduction. I recorded a clip at AVCHD 24 Mbps on card “A” and a simultaneous compressed version at 4 Mbps and observed that they held up favorably even though there was a large file size difference (133 MB and 16 MB). The clear choice for any final production video would be the highest data rate AVCHD; however, the 3 or 4 Mbps MP4 footage is of excellent quality for web posting or proxy editing.
The 24p footage looked good and successfully creates a more film-like look. This can be enhanced further by using the camera’s cinema mode, which enables nine filter effects. The first two are the most practical: “cinema standard” and “vivid,” which accentuate primary colors; the rest are more like special effects, which are better achieved through post applications. However, if you need a quick style, the camera offers “dream,” “cool,” “nostalgic,” “sepia,” “old movies,” “memory,” and “dramatic B&W.”
I should advise that when the “cinema“ mode is used you cannot record at the highest data rates for AVCHD (28 Mbps 59.94p) or MP4 (35 Mbps 59.94p).
Overall, I would say that the Canon XA25 falls somewhere between a prosumer and a professional camera. It’s primarily menu driven, and consequently behaves as a professional camera with additional effort. That said, the more familiarity I gained with the menu, the faster I could use it. This is a camera with a learning curve, but once you master menu navigation, you can operate it manually and achieve professional results.
The camera is best suited for ENG and documentary work, where using automatic functions is practical and efficient. If you’re planning to shoot a dramatic production, Canon makes a number of other excellent cameras that are better designed for that purpose. These include the EOS C100, C300 or C500 and many of their DSLR cameras.
I found that battery life was not so good, so I recommend getting an extra battery and an external charger to use with the camera.
If you don’t have a memory card reader, you can view and import card content by connecting the provided USB cable to a computer. I connected the camera to a Mac via the USB cable and two icons for cards “A” and “B” immediately appeared on the desktop with full drag-and-drop functionality for transferring files.
I could not get the “movie uploader” Wi-Fi application (which provides remote control over smartphone) to connect to the camera. Both my iPhone and iPad showed connectivity, but the app did not. I observed many similar complaints online. However, this is a third-party app that’s not made by Canon and apparently it needs an upgrade.
The Canon XA25 is a very good camera for ENG, documentary or second camera use where a compact, fast and versatile camera is desired. It has a combination of wide focal length capability, low light level capability, a sharp image, highly efficient memory card compression and extreme mobility. The ability to record simultaneous footage on a second memory card at very low data rates is a plus when shooting for multiple uses. Full manual control exists with some limitations, but the automatic controls are first rate, making it a great choice for fast-paced shooting.
Geoff Poister, Ph.D., is a member of the film and television faculty at Boston University and is a regular contributor to TV Technology.
ENG, documentary or second camera use
Dual memory cards, internal Wi-Fi transmitter, choice of two codecs, XLR mic inputs and more
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