Canon XA25 Camcorder Review

Review of the Canon XA25 HD camcorder.
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Canon XA25 Camcorder Since starting 10 or 12 years ago with affordable, unique-looking and competitive-performing camcorders, Canon has become a major force in high-end video acquisition. With the recent popularity of dSLR video for cinema-style production, Canon now has a broad spectrum of cameras for all levels of professional applications and is considered one of the camera powers.

The new XA25 camcorder slots into Canon’s lineup at the lower end of that spectrum, but don’t think that means the camera is short on features or quality.

FEATURES

Unlike dSLRs, the XA25 is a small-sensor camcorder with a single 0.35-inch HD CMOS Pro pickup element that has a native resolution of 2,136 x 1,362 pixels. Once it leaves the image sensor, the signal is sweetened by a DIGIC DV4 image processor, which Canon says results in great low-light performance.

At the front of the camera is a 20x zoom lens controlled by something close to a servo-zoom rocker switch familiar to ENG camera operators. In 35mm terms, the lens’ focal length ranges from 26.8mm to 536mm, quite a substantial zoom range. With my hand in the camera’s grip, my index and ring fingers fall right on the zoom rocker, while my thumb is on top of the start/stop switch.

The XA25 prominently features a handle on top, with an additional zoom and start/stop control there. At the front of the handle are two XLR connectors for either mic- or line-level signals, alongside two potentiometers to manually adjust the audio level. The XA25’s XLR inputs can drive phantom-powered microphones.

At the front of the handle, facing forward, is a red LED tally light and a virtually invisible infrared light for shooting in complete darkness. When you slide the infrared on/off switch under the 3.5-inch OLED touchscreen monitor, the XA25 goes into monochrome infrared mode.

For its modest price and small size, the Canon XA25 has a boatload of other features—too many to give even a quick mention here. However, many of you will be interested to know that it has both HDMI and SDI outputs, as well as composite video and analog audio outputs.

In addition to the aforementioned XLR audio inputs, there’s also a 3.5mm audio input jack and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The camera comes with a shotgun mic mount and a standard-size cold shoe mount.

There are two ways to monitor visuals with the HA25: the flip-out 3.5-inch OLED display and a pull-out-and-tilt eyepiece viewfinder. Both are quite clear, and the bigger flip-out display has touch sensitivity for navigation through the camcorder’s menus.

The XA25 records in HD, of course, but there are other file formats you can pick. These are AVCHD from 3 to 28 Mbps and MP4 from 3 to 35 Mbps. The two highest bit rates record 1080p/60 frames.

The last couple of features to mention are an adjustment ring around the lens for manual focus, while underneath the lens is a small knob that can be used to control a variety of functions but is defaulted to exposure. Stepping through the menus gives you LOTS of manual control over the camera, as well as presets for various looks—there really are a lot of features in the XA25.

The whole package is smaller than you might think, weighing only 2.6 pounds when fitted with battery, handle and lens-protective hood. The camcorder records on two SDXC cards, each of which can hold up to several hours of video, depending on their capacity.

IN USE

I shot quite a bit with the Canon XA25 in the three weeks I had it, including some wildlife/nature shooting and two “how-to” videos that I eventually uploaded to YouTube. Overall, it was a real pleasure to use and the camera has so many features that I couldn’t possibly get to them all.

The how-to videos I shot contained a mix of focus points from faces to a jumbled mix of hoses and machinery. With this confusing medley of possible focus points, the XA25’s auto focus did a remarkably good job of not losing its composure. It immediately locked onto a face if that was in the scene, and it usually held focus on the mechanical object I wanted to show. If focus drifted off that, tweaking the focus ring would get the camera’s mind back on the correct subject.

Although the flip-out display is gorgeous, I found myself using the eyepiece viewfinder whenever possible. Although the flip-out viewfinder was visible in bright light, the eyepiece viewfinder makes shooting comfortable in the sun—and both were clear enough to usually let me know if the focus was true.

The XA25’s auto exposure did a good job figuring out the right look for scenes, although there was considerable overexposure on the bright areas in one scene that was mostly dark. Adjusting the exposure knob under the lens quickly tamed that overexposure.

The 20x lens was fantastic for nature videos, and I got an amazing shot of a wooly bear caterpillar as it crawled just a few inches from the lens. A few minutes later, some whitetail deer provided a peaceful scene as they munched on leaves in the woods. The camera’s long focal length let me get tight shots of the normally skittish deer, although there was some red fringing at high-contrast edges when zoomed in tight.

I liked the lens’ zoom length and overall clarity, but I struggled to get smooth zooms with the servo-style rocker control. The XA25 has menu settings for zoom speed and I didn’t try them all, but I did try the touchscreen zoom controls, which did give me a slow-and-steady zoom in/out. That was not easy to duplicate with the zoom rocker.

Overall, the image quality of the XA25 was very good, although the camera’s sensor does not have the contrast latitude of a modern dSLR with its much-bigger sensor. Then again, the XA25 is far better than a dSLR for run-and-gun operation.

I probably could have squeezed even better video performance from the XA25 by taking more advantage of its manual controls, but I was deliberately moving the camera from sunny scenes to inside locations and focusing on objects near and far. All that was far more easily done with the XA25 than it is with either of the dSLR cameras I have.

The XA25’s audio flexibility is another area where it surpasses dSLR cameras. I have a semi-pro shotgun mic that has a 3.5mm connector, which plugged right into the XA25. I also tried a handheld XLR mic that required phantom power, and it worked perfectly. The shoe mount would be perfect for a wireless mic receiver, which would then plug into an XLR connector.

It so happens that my shotgun mic is a little narrower than the mount that comes with the XA25, so I used a bit of rubbery foam to hold the mic steady. With my shotgun installed, the XA25 made a lightweight run-and-gun package that I literally could hold all day.

When no microphone is plugged in, the XA25 defaults to its internal microphones. Many may turn up their noses at that thought, but I can say that the camera’s internal mics are clear and crisp. They worked quite well for my how-two videos where I worked just a foot or two from the camera—it made for professional sound that would seem to come from a more controlled setup.

Back to the video, I tried the infrared setting in a pitch-black basement room and the camera could see clearly. I have a thought in the back of my mind about making a scary movie all in the dark, using only a camera’s infrared setting. The XA25 could be used for this. I even took it to a local community’s annual Halloween “zombie parade” and got some fun shots with the XA25’s IR feature.

SUMMARY

The Canon XA25 has so many features that I feel a little guilty for barely scratching their surface. For example, I never used the HD-SDI connector or tried the 35 Mbps MP4 video setting. Yet I was impressed with how easy it was to live with the XA25, and how forgiving it was to get a range of usable shots in varying conditions. Despite the camera’s small sensor, it really did work well in dim inside light, and it held up beautifully in bright sunshine.

If you are looking to upgrade cameras for remote operations, such as shooting in council boardrooms, courtrooms, offices, workrooms or just about anywhere outside, the XA25 delivers pleasing pictures that will make you look like a hero. Don’t overlook the importance of the XA25’s audio flexibility, with its range of standard connectors that will work with any kind of microphone or audio source.

The Canon XA25 is easy to use, easy to carry for hours at a time and fairly easy on the budget. If you are replacing big ENG-style cameras, you are in for a pleasant surprise at how well the XA25 can match them in terms of audio/video quality—at one-third the weight and size.

More Info:

Model: Canon XA25

List Price: $2,999

Contact: www.usa.canon.com/cusa/professional

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