All-in-one solution: why filmmakers use Canon's compact camcorders

DoP Sébastien Devaud and Canon technical expert Mehdia Mehtal on the unique strengths offered by Canon's XF and XA professional video cameras.
A man in winter clothing on a snowy mountainside with a Canon XF705 camcorder.

French filmmaker and Canon Ambassador Sébastien Devaud has been using Canon's range of professional camcorders, including the Canon XF705, for many years. © Sébastien Devaud

With the rise of small-size Cinema EOS cameras and high-res mirrorless cameras, do camcorders still have a future in filmmaking? For those looking for all-in-one video solutions, Canon's professional XA and XF camcorders offer the complete package, with large zoom lenses, broadcast-standard connections and recording times limited only by the user's SD media capacity.

French filmmaker and Canon Ambassador Sébastien Devaud has been incorporating XF camcorders into his workflow for more than a decade. "The reason I love and work with Canon products is due to my passion for lenses but also the opportunity to combine cameras from across Canon's entire range," he says.

"Thanks to the Custom Picture feature, it's very easy to mix footage shot on a Canon camcorder with footage shot on other types of Canon cameras. The Canon XF705 offers Canon Log 3, for example, making it easy to match with other Log 3 footage during colour grading."

Camcorders are more compact than most Cinema EOS bodies, and offer more focused filmmaking functions and better ergonomics than mirrorless or DSLR cameras. Here, Sébastien and Mehdia Mehtal, Channel Marketing Executive for Professional Video & Broadcast at Canon UK, share some of the reasons why Canon's professional camcorders have a healthy future.

A man holds a Canon XF405 camcorder in the palm of his hand.

The majority of Canon's camcorders, including the Canon XF405, can fit in the palm of your hand. "They're very light and very portable, and if you need an even more discreet camera, you can take the handle off too," says Mehdia.

All-in-one solutions

Invest in a camcorder and you're ready to shoot right away. "It's a one-box solution," says Mehdia. "All you need is a memory card – and an XLR microphone, if you want to use one – and you're ready to go. With mirrorless cameras or Cinema EOS cameras, you need to build the system. You may end up having to add more extras to a mirrorless camera because it won't have the same level of professional controls and audio options as a dedicated video camera."

Although he shoots the majority of his productions with Cinema EOS cameras, including the Canon EOS C300 Mark III and the Canon EOS C70, Sébastien says there are situations where the all-in-one nature of a professional camcorder is more appropriate. "When you have to shoot live action and don't have any opportunity to stop and change a card or lens, that's when camcorders earn their rightful place in the industry."

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A Canon XF705 camcorder.

The flagship camcorder in Canon's professional video camera range, the Canon XF705 features a large 1.0-type 4K UHD CMOS sensor, 15x zoom lens and a wealth of recording formats.

The lens of a Canon XF705 camcorder.

"For professional users, the presence of the three rings on the Canon XF705's zoom lens offers a more useful and precise level of control than photographic lenses on a mirrorless camera," says Sébastien.

Integrated Canon 4K video lenses

The 1.0-type and 1/2.3-type CMOS sensors in Canon's 4K professional camcorders are smaller than the sensors in Cinema EOS, mirrorless and DSLR cameras, enabling powerful zooms to be incorporated into these compact bodies.

"Depending on which Canon XA or XF camcorder you're using, you're getting a 15x or 20x optical zoom lens," says Mehdia. "That can give you a focal length that runs from wide-angle right up to 600mm in some cases. To cover that range with a mirrorless or DSLR camera, or even a Cinema EOS camera, you'd need at least two or three lenses."

The performance of XA and XF 4K lenses is one of the reasons Sébastien loves working with Canon products. "The quality of the lenses is a real strength of the Canon camcorder range, particularly with the Canon XF705, which has an L-Series zoom lens," he says. "The XF705's 15x optical zoom runs from 25.5mm to 382.5mm in 4K UHD mode, and if you record in Full HD you can take advantage of its 30x Advanced Zoom that goes up to 765mm.

"The only interchangeable Cinema EOS lenses that come close to offering this combination of focal lengths are the CN20x50 IAS H E1/P1 and the CN10X25 IAS S, but they are both too expensive to be compared directly to the Canon camcorder zoom lenses," he adds.

A row of Canon XF705 camcorders in a multi-cam setup beside an indoor running track.

"I use the Canon XF705 on daily productions, when I have to deliver the footage just after it's been shot in order for it to be screened on the same day," reveals Sébastien. "I also find it easy to insert into a multi-camera Cinema EOS setup, where I can use the same Custom Picture settings." © Sébastien Devaud

A row of Canon XF305 camcorders in a multi-cam setup outside.

From 2010 to 2018, Sébastien used a wide range of Canon camcorders. "For three of these years I worked on a French multi-camera TV show, where five Canon XF305 camcorders (now succeeded by the Canon XF405) were used by camera operators, alongside two XF205 and two XF105 camcorders that were either set to wide-angle and locked off on tripods, used on a drone for aerial shots or mounted on sliders." © Sébastien Devaud

Professional controls that are easy to use

Canon's XA and XF camcorders have comprehensive controls, with all the vital settings close at hand, but they also come with a generous spread of customisable buttons – just like Cinema EOS cameras.

"Although there are already a lot of functions that you can change directly with the existing controls, any button with a number on it can be customised," says Mehdia. "That gives you easy access to key features, without the need to go into the menu."

Meanwhile, the Auto mode of Canon's camcorders makes it easy to capture high-quality content. "This allows any journalist or non-professional user who has no interest in the technical side of things to simply frame their subject and concentrate fully on the story," says Sébastien.

A video still of sun-dappled foliage against a blue sky.

A still from footage shot by Sébastien on the Canon XF705 to illustrate its cinematic qualities. "Starting with a shallow depth of field means you get full control over exposure and maximum optical quality," he says. "To get a shallow depth of field, always shoot with the largest aperture and use the camcorder's built-in ND filters when filming outside."

A woman stands at the top of flight of stone steps lit only by the torch in her hand.

Sébastien had the opportunity to use the IR function on the XF705 and XF405/XF400 while working in extremely low light on a TV game show for Netflix. "We had to spend many nights shooting in dark, haunted castles, which was a great experience," he says. © Netflix

Fine exposure control for video

A distinct advantage of Canon's XA and XF camcorders is their video-optimised exposure controls, including built-in ND filters. "Being able to adjust the strength of the filter with the tap of a button allows you to quickly manage your exposure and depth of field, especially when shooting outdoors," says Mehdia.

Furthermore, all of Canon's professional camcorders – from the Canon XA15/XA11 to the flagship Canon XF705 – can film in the dark, thanks to their infrared shooting modes. "That feature is specific to camcorders – even Cinema EOS cameras don't have an IR option," says Mehdia. "That's why the XA11 is popular with police forces. It's also useful for filming nocturnal wildlife and in those low-light situations where you know that the standard recording option is not going to pick up anything."

Professional inputs and outputs

Unlike mirrorless and DSLR cameras, you get professional audio controls and two XLR microphone inputs with XA and XF camcorders, and the majority of models offer four-channel audio recording too. "You do have the option to connect a standard mic to a hybrid camera," says Mehdia. "But without spending more money on a third-party attachment, you don't get the XLR benefits."

Sébastien appreciates the flexibility offered by this setup. "The audio features on the XF705 are the best of all Canon's camera ranges, with a better internal stereo microphone and a button that lets you verify all the audio settings on the LCD screen without any interruption while recording."

Canon professional camcorders identified by a '5' at the end of their model numbers also include an SDI terminal for video output, in addition to HDMI. The Canon XA45 features a 3G-SDI, for example, and the XF705 comes with 12G-SDI for single-cable 4K UHD transfer.

DoP Alfonso Parra looking out to sea with the Canon XF705 camcorder.

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Crew members watching a row of screens displaying the views of multiple cameras filming a church service.

Sébastien and his crew monitoring a multi-camera setup. Wi-Fi-enabled camcorders, such as the Canon XF405/XF400 and the Canon XF705, can be controlled remotely from a web browser. "With Browser Remote you don't even have to be in the same location as the camera," explains Mehdia. "It's useful for monitoring too. A DoP can adjust the settings remotely if required." © Sébastien Devaud

Built for streaming

With their compact size, ease of use and professional terminals, Canon's professional camcorders are perfect for a streaming setup. "2020 changed how people used video cameras," explains Mehdia. "During lockdown, there was a real shift to online streaming, with churches, mosques and other places of worship, in particular, opting for camcorders.

"While Canon's EOS Webcam Utility software enables compatible EOS and PowerShot cameras to be turned into webcams, if you're live-streaming for long periods then you really need mains power, and that means having to buy an adapter. But with a camcorder, that's already in the box."

The Canon XF705 also features a built-in Ethernet port for 4K IP streaming. "It means that I can stream easily and directly from the camcorder to my computer, even in HDR with the new HLG or PQ Custom Picture settings," says Sébastien. "This has proven to be a real benefit during the pandemic."

Marcus Hawkins

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