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Small Camera, Big Sensor, Simultaneous Recording: Shooting with Canon’s XA25 Camcorder

The Canon XA25 is a compact professional camcorder that features a 1/2.84” 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. It offers SDI and HDMI uncompressed outputs for monitoring or connecting to an external recorder.

Features

Canon XA25

Weighing only 1.7 lb. (without lens or handle unit), the Canon XA25 is small enough to be held in one hand, yet it has features generally found in professional camcorders. The detachable handle contains XLR inputs for professional microphone connection, and a holder for a shotgun microphone.

Primary camera functions such as exposure, focus and white balance can be set to automatic or controlled manually. To conserve space, key camera functions are controlled by customizable buttons 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 35mm equivalent of a 26.8mm to 576mm range, and a minimum object distance of 23.6”. The optical image stabilization compensates for motion over five axis directions compared to the usual two.

The nearly 1/3” 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 equipped with infrared imaging technologies 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 Mb/s, and MP4 at data rates of 35, 24, 17, 4 and 3 Mb/s. Both codecs use H.264 compression. The 28 and 35 Mb/s 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 (relay recording), or you can set the camera to record backup clips of the footage as it’s shot (double-slot recording). A third option allows the camera to record a low-data-rate version on card B for easy transfer over Wi-Fi to a cloud-based server.

The XA25 has a built-in Wi-Fi transmitter, allowing 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 be used to connect an external HD video monitor.

In Use

The camcorder features five buttons to which you can assign various functions. By assigning often-used functions, you can quickly access them with the single press of a button.

The first thing one notices about the Canon XA25 is its small size. The tiny form factor includes a high-quality image sensor that 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 is not provided by physical knobs or switches, however; most camera control operation is achieved through the LCD touchscreen, where you can access controls on a quick tool menu. Or, as previously noted, you can assign a function to any of the five customizable buttons. One of these is a turntable knob on the front that’s ideally suited to iris control.

I like the concept of assignable buttons, but I 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 on-screen 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 with using automatic controls, which work very well, I have to say. Auto-focus, exposure and white balance adjust quickly and accurately, making this a camera well suited for news and run-and-gun style documentary shooting.

The Canon XA25 is designed to allow dual recording from the higher bit rate modes of AVCHD or MP4 to the lower bit rate modes of MP4 on storage card B. When shooting AVCHD at 28 Mb/s (59.94) or MP4 at 35 Mb/s (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 on an HD monitor. The AVCHD footage appeared superior to the MP4 footage, but the highly compressed MP4 footage (4 and 3 Mb/s) is still very impressive, considering the file size reduction.

I recorded a clip simultaneously at AVCHD 24 Mb/s on card A and a compressed version at 4 Mb/s on card B; the two compared favorably even though there was a large difference in file size (133 MB and 16 MB). The clear choice for any final production video would be the highest data rate AVCHD, but the 3 or 4 Mb/s 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 look can be enhanced further in the camera’s cinema mode, which offers 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 you shoot in cinema mode, you cannot record at the highest data rates for AVCHD (28 Mb/s 59.94p) or MP4 (35 Mb/s 59.94p), and dual recording is deactivated.

Overall, I would describe the Canon XA25 as falling 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 was able to 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.

XA25 ports

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, C500 and many of their DSLR cameras.

Run time with my battery 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 camera to a computer via the provided USB cable. When I connected to a Mac via USB, icons for cards A and B 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 via smartphone) to connect to the camera. Both my iPhone and iPad showed connectivity, but the app did not. I read many similar complaints online. Movie Uploader is a third-party app (not made by Canon) that apparently needs an upgrade.

Summary

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 strong low-light shooting capabilities, a wide range of focal lengths, a sharp image, and highly efficient memory card compression. The ability to record footage simultaneously 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.  

Product:Canon XA25 HD Camcorder
Score:
Pros: Small size with nice image and professional features. Records in dual codecs.
Cons: Manual controls are mostly menu-driven, which limits access speed.
Bottom Line: An excellent value for the price. Best suited for run-and-gun shooting situations.
MSRP: $2,999

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