Automatic for the People (or Solo Shooter): Canon’s XF205 is a Small, Smart Camcorder

This $4,000 wonder is lightweight, compact, easily balanced, ergonomically sound and full of useful features.
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If I were shooting TV news as a solo photojournalist in a fast-paced environment, my go-to camera would probably be Canon’s XF205. This $4,000 wonder is lightweight, compact, easily balanced, ergonomically sound and full of useful features.

Let’s start the discussion with the qualities I would want as a photojournalist: automatic settings, image stabilization and zoom. First off, the camera is quite usable in full auto mode. We all know there are times when we need to get the shot and don’t have the time to fiddle with exposure or even focus.

The camera’s five-axis auto stabilization mode actually does smooth out both side-to-side and vertical motion. I should caution that if you’re intentionally panning, you might want to turn image stabilization off as it does try to compensate for that motion and will make your pan look a little jumpy.

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The 20x optical zoom stands out in a camera in this price range. There is no digital zoom, however. While most cameras deliver only passable digital zoom performance, sometimes it’s necessary to use it anyway to capture the story.

The tiltable 0.45-inch viewfinder offers 1.23-megapixel resolution for improved visual display, making it possible to accurately check focus, framing, exposure, white balance and other camera settings. The widescreen EVF can be tilted and turned upward approximately 68°. The 3.5-inch touch-sensitive OLED display panel is sharp and will display as much or as little information as you want.

Canon provides a waveform monitor (are you listening, Sony?) and histogram on this camera. Zebras are great, multiple color peaking options are available, and autofocus can be set to follow faces. Convenient switches allow toggling between auto and manual.

Something else I love: There are three separate lens rings for zoom, focus and iris.

The XF205 records 8-bit MPEG-2 4:2:2 at up to 50 Mb/s to CF cards (two slots) and AVCHD to SD card (single slot).

The camera’s MPEG-2 files, like the MPEG-2 from Canon’s other cameras, is MXF-wrapped. Between Canon-supplied plug-ins and native capability, the files open easily in most any NLE. (I’ve tested Apple FCP X, Adobe Premiere CC 2014 and Avid Media Composer, in addition to Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 11.)

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When shooting in manual mode, the combination of the 20x zoom and the continuous focus ring allows the camera to achieve an excellent shallow depth of field. Its eight-blade shutter produces a pleasing bokeh.

I shouldn’t overlook its infrared mode, which allows low-light shooting appropriate for investigative reporting or surveillance. The camera’s diffused LED is approximately three times brighter than the infrared light used on previous Canon XF models, providing greater usable distance range in dark shooting conditions. Users can choose between green and white IR recording modes.

Audio functionality is what one would expect from a professional camera: dual XLR inputs, phantom power, line/mic gain dials positioned where they won’t be rotated in error.

This camera is a shooter’s delight.

It offers 3G-SDI and HD-SDI output terminals in addition to genlock in/SMPTE timecode (in/out). To help ensure a reliable network data connection is always available, it has both an Ethernet LAN terminal and dual-band wireless LAN connectivity. Included Wi-Fi allows preview as well as FTP transfers, which is great for getting footage back to the station if you’ve got Wi-Fi but no satellite truck. Wi-Fi isn’t the fastest or most reliable method in remote environments, of course, but at least the wireless option is present.

One criticism: There is no ND wheel. ND is either automatic (yuck!) or set from within the menu structure. I guess it could work in run-and-gun situations, but I prefer an ND wheel.

Moving beyond the news professional, I would also position this camera for wedding and event videographers who need a highly portable HD system. The camera weighs about 4.32 pounds with lens hood, battery pack, eyecup, CF card and SD card (and 3.44 pounds without).

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The downside: This is a camera for today’s run-and-gun shooter; it’s not protected against future shooting requirements. Canon has taken a very conservative, here-and-now approach with its XF series of cameras. I will grant that there remain many applications for which the “traditional” 3-CMOS 1/3-inch video camera is appropriate. Also, HD recording at 59.94i, 29.97p or 23.976p frame rates usually satisfies current delivery requirements. But there are already cameras on the market that shoot both MPEG and AVC variants, achieving higher frame rates and higher resolution (4K or UHD), and using larger sensors.

Are you shooting news or events for today and don’t want to commit to a huge expenditure of funds? Is your workflow MPEG-2 MXF? Then the XF205 is a great choice. You are a user who needs to get a specific job done well, and the XF205 will deliver for you.

Do you need features like log color space or a wider depth of field? Do you need a camera whose functionality anticipates market trends? Then you may need to look elsewhere.

With all the camera options out there today, a purchaser needs to understand his or her needs. If your needs specify a traditional video camera with features far beyond its price point, the XF205 may be right for you.  

MXF clips: Available bit rate, resolution and frame rate settings

MP4 clips: Available bit rate, resolution and frame rate settings

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