Nearly a decade ago, Canon released a standard definition miniDV camera called the GL2. This camera provided some of the more common professional features of larger cameras including three CCD sensors and a large 20x zoom lens, without breaking the bank. The GL2 was easy to transport and you could shoot handheld with it for long periods without fatigue. Fast-forward to 2011, and Canon has released the XF105 HD camcorder, packing an abundance of professional features and great image quality into an enclosure that is nearly identical in size and weight to the GL2. If you’re a budding cinematographer in need of big features in a small package, this camera could be right up your alley.
Building Up Steam
Until you get the XF105 in your hands, it is hard to really appreciate just how small and light it really is. Weighing in at a svelte 2.4 pounds (not including the battery pack and memory card), this camera feels nearly weightless in your hand compared to other, larger cameras. Even though the camera body is small, it still has lots of controls that provide access to several of its key features.
Starting on the left side of the camera body, we see the focus/zoom/iris wheel just behind the lens hood. This large wheel can be changed to control these three values via a small switch located just behind the wheel. Floating above the lens on the handle are the built-in stereo microphone and controls for switching to external audio, setting auto/manual gain control, and switching settings for the two built-in XLR ports. Behind the wheel, there is also an auto/manual focus button, and below that is a small, textured dial that can be customized to control one of several functions. Along the bottom are push buttons for iris, gain, and shutter settings, as well as controls for setting white balance and switching the camera between manual and full auto mode. Above these, the 3.5″ LCD panel flips out to reveal the two compact flash card slots as well as controls for controlling video playback, selecting compact flash slots, showing the shot index, and toggling the information display. The LCD panel has controls on the edge for bringing up the main menu and a small joystick for navigating through software menus. Above the LCD panel and towards the rear is the main power switch.
Moving to the back reveals the tilting viewfinder and battery mount. Terminals for headphones, composite cables and DC power input are under the battery mount. Along the side of the battery mount are control buttons for enabling image stabilization, zebra stripes, the built-in waveform monitor and a power saving mode. The main start/stop record button is built into the rear of the handgrip on the right side of the camera body.
The right side of the camera body is dominated by the large handgrip with a built-in strap and a large, variable speed zoom rocker. Above the handgrip is a terminal for a LANC remote as well as the compartment for the SD card. Below the handgrip is a flip up door revealing the HDMI, Component Video, and USB terminals. The HD-SDI and Genlock/TC (timecode) spigots lie just in front of the grip, while the two built-in XLR ports float above on the right-front side of the top handle. The handle also features a small zoom rocker that operates at fixed speeds and another start/stop recording button. The front of the camera has a single switch for toggling the infrared function on and off.
Full Speed Ahead
In terms of ergonomics, the XF105 is an absolute joy to use. The body is so small and light that you can use it handheld for lengthy periods without any fatigue in your hands or wrists. The handgrip is well designed, fitting your hand like a glove and providing an even center of balance below the camera body. The small, top handle is very useful when you want to hold the camera low to the ground and the extra controls near your thumb are very convenient. While the LCD panel is fantastically sharp and is a great tool for shooting and checking focus, the viewfinder is rather small and much lower in resolution.
Even though the lens and sensors are small compared to larger cameras, the XF105 is capable of recording fantastic HD video in several formats and frame rates, given the right conditions. Outdoors in daylight, the XF105 recorded color and clarity that rivaled larger, more expensive cameras. The images produced are surprisingly sharp, full of detail and the multiple auto focus features, including face recognition, actually worked better and faster than many other cameras we have used. Canon’s MXF codec, which records in an MPEG-2 Long GOP format held up remarkably well to fast movement and challenges like rushing water and whip pans. The enhanced 4:2:2 color space also makes green screen work much easier, allowing for faster and less fussy keying.
Recording indoors or at night, however, is a different story. With a single 1/3-inch CMOS sensor, a lot of gain is required to bring a poorly lit subject up to a proper exposure level. The problem is that setting the gain to anything above 9dB introduces a heavy amount of noise into the picture, marring the otherwise great quality considerably.
While there are a lot of advantages to a small camera body size, there are also a few downsides, like having less room for physical controls. With this in mind, the built-in neutral density (ND) filters and gain settings are a bit cumbersome to control. When set to automatic, it is not really an issue, but it took longer than usual to set a particular ND filter in place or cycle through several gain settings with a single button control scheme. A lot of other useful features don’t appear on the camera body at all as they are buried in the vast software menus. While this could have been a major issue, the good news is that Canon made the smart decision to allow the six playback control buttons to be repurposed as custom buttons while in Camera mode, allowing users to program them for specific settings.
We Made It!
Overall, the XF105 is a solid contender for a miniature professional camera. It’s jam packed with professional features and is capable of producing footage that rivals other cameras well above this price point. If you plan to do a lot of indoor shooting, make sure you have an adequate amount of light available so the picture quality will not suffer. Besides that caveat, we find the XF105 well suited for anyone who needs a camera that is small in size, but big in features.
Recording Media: Compact Flash (2 slots); SD card
File Format: MXF
Compression: MPEG-2 Long GOP
Recording Modes: 50Mbps 4:2:2 and 35Mbps 4:2:0 – 1920×1080: 60i/30p/24p, 1280×720: 60p/30p/24p; 25Mbps 4:2:0 – 1440×1080: 60i/30p/24p
Image Sensor: 1/3-inch CMOS
Video Effective Pixels: approx. 2,070,000
Iris/Gain Control: Auto/Manual
Shutter Speed: Auto/Speed/Angle/Clear Scan/Slow Shutter Mode
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/2000
Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/4 (1/3 at 24p)
Lens f-Stop: 1.8-2.8
Optical Zoom: 10x
Focal Length: 4.25-42.5mm
Filter Diameter: 58mm
Image Stabilization: Optical-Shift
White Balance: Auto, 3200k/5600k Presets, Custom Value
Viewfinder: Color 260K pixels (16:9)
LCD Monitor: 3.5″ 920K pixels (16:9)
Progressive Scan: Yes
HD Modes: 1080p/1080i/720p
Video In: No
Video Out: HD-SDI, HDMI, Component, Composite, Genlock/Timecode
Other Connectors: USB, LANC, 2x XLR, 3.5mm stereo minijack
Mono/Stereo Recording: Yes
Microphone In: Yes
VU Meters: Yes
Manual Audio Level Controls: Yes
Headphone Jack: Yes
Photo Mode: Yes (JPEG, 1920×1080)
Photo Media: SD
Memory Card Included: No
Wireless Remote: Yes
External Battery Charger Provided:Yes
Battery Type: Lithium Ion
Onboard Video Light: No
Accessory Shoe: Yes (non-powered)
Dimensions: 4.8″ W x 5.8″ H x 9.8″ D
- Tons of functionality
- Fantastic picture quality
- Extremely sharp LCD panel
- Lightweight, great ergonomics
- Weak low-light performance
- Some controls hard to configure
With tons of pro features, a small size and weight, and an aggressive price point, Canon’s XF105 is a full-featured HD camcorder that will appeal to a large audience of video enthusiasts.
Canon U.S.A., Inc.
One Canon Plaza
Lake Success, NY 11042
Adam Vesely is a Videographer/Director of Photography and Photographer.