Canon XF305 & XF300 – Hands On Preview

Canon XF305

Canon recently gave me hands on access to their newly announced and yet to be released XF305 & XF300. Although I haven’t had a chance to shoot with them yet, I have seen ungraded footage from a couple of shoots on which they’ve been used and am extremely impressed with both the cameras themselves and the results they are capable of delivering.

So what are they?

The Canon XF305 & XF300 are small bodied, file based, solid state camcorders, that record full HD to Compact flash cards. Built from the ground up and not based upon any previous designs, they sport 3 newly developed sensors that output true 1920 x 1080 at a variety of frame rates (including 24p & 25p), a specially designed L series lens based upon Canon’s highly regarded HD broadcast optics and a brand new codec that records MPEG2 4:2:2 at 50Mbit/sec to industry standard MXF files.

Why is this significant?

Because 4:2:2 (which refers to the way in which colour information is compressed) offers twice as much colour data as 4:2:0 (found in other equivalent sized products) it is far better suited to keying, grading and the demands of the broadcasting chain. That’s one of the reasons why, on paper, top broadcasters require the majority of any HD production to be originated and all of it to be delivered in MPEG2 4:2:2 at 50Mbit/sec or better. However, currently there are no small camcorders capable of recording full HD natively to this standard. Thus, to comply with broadcasters demands, one must either a) use large and expensive ‘broadcast standard’ cameras…which, by definition, are large and expensive, b) use small camcorders hooked up to third party solutions capable of recording their uncompressed sensor data over HD-SDI…which, by definition, is small and expensive (especially for multi camera shoots, as each camera requires its own recorder) or c) shoot on small, cheap non broadcast standard HD cameras and lie to broadcasters…which, by definition, is fair enough, as it makes a change from broadcasters lying to us, but is hardly ideal. As the world’s first small full broadcast standard HD cameras, the Canon XF305 & XF300 are game changers.

What’s the difference between the XF305 and XF300?

About 1000 Euros to you… The XF305 includes timecode & genlock. The XF300 doesn’t. That’s it, so although the rest of this preview refers to the XF305, everything applies equally to the XF300, which is identical in every other respect.

Canon XF305

First Impressions

In designing the XF305, Canon have clearly paid as much attention to the fine details, as to the big picture. The camera is extremely evenly weighted, whether held with a palm against its side, or by its top handle. The big surprise is that, despite its small body, it fits nicely on the shoulder too and when perched there, its large flip out LCD screen is conveniently located at eye level.

Canon XF305

This LCD screen lives underneath (and is protected by) the camera’s top handle (upon which are found its transport controls) and can be flipped out to either the left or the right side. The quality of this screen is impressive, as are the waveform, vectorscope, zebra patterns and focus peaking it can display, which, together with the five times magnification option, makes focusing a breeze.

Canon XF305

All four of these shooting aids are fully customisable via on screen menus that are mercifully uncluttered, as most aspects of the camera are controlled with knobs and buttons that seem to be magically located exactly where you would expect them to be. It’s here that attention to detail really shows, with controls for everything from locking the audio level knobs, to controlling the speed of the zoom rocker.

Naturally there are zoom, focus and aperture rings around the lens, the first two of which (when set to manual) are NOT continuous (thankfully) and ARE calibrated, the latter of which IS continuous and is NOT calibrated (unfortunately). However, perhaps the most interesting ring is the red one around the front, which indicates that it is an ‘L’ series lens, a moniker reserved by Canon for its highest quality, most expensive glass. This, coupled with its codec, delivers outstanding results that I have seen cut together seamlessly with footage from a Canon 7D.

Playing Cards

The camera has slots for one SD and two CF cards. The former is used to store camera settings, enabling camera ops to customise and save their optimal setup, then transfer it to whichever X305/300 they happen to be working with, at the push of a button. The latter are used to store footage and according to Canon, a 16GB CF card can store 40 minutes. ‘Hot swapping’ of cards is supported for continuous recording, though bearing in mind that 64GB cards are now readily available and that one manufacturer already has 128GB cards on the market, you may never need to swap cards on a shoot again.

Editing

Reassuringly, Canon have been talking to all the major NLE software manufacturers for a while. As a result, Avid, Edius, Final Cut, Premiere (and apparently even Vegas…ironically) will support the XF’s files natively, from the word go, making transferring footage as simple as sticking your CF card in your computer’s card reader.

Price and Availability

Both cameras will be available in June, with the XF300 listing at 7000 Euros and the XF305 at 8000. Whilst this is more than some people expected, it puts them in the same general ballpark as Sony’s EX1-r and EX3 which is clearly the market that Canon are going after…and are likely to get!

Conclusion

Although the XF305 and XF300 have a multitude of potential uses, they are ideally suited to the needs of documentary, reality, behind the scenes and ‘run & gun’, for which they seem to tick every box. Whilst they aren’t really pitched at the average wedding and event photographer, their ability to record a whole day’s events on as few as two cards, without the need for any post shoot capture or transcoding will have a clear appeal for the higher end of that market too. Although it’s a shame that Canon haven’t chosen to be more aggressive in their pricing, the XF305 and XF300 are a winning solution that I expect will sell by the pallet load. Stay tuned for a full review in due course.

More info: www.canon.co.uk

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