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Field Test: Canon XA10The results speak for themselves!
Canon has come up with what it describes as its smallest professional camera ever. It's the XA10 and we've had it on test and on the road for a couple of weeks.
Canon just managed to get the test camera to us in time to head off for two weeks camping and four wheel driving through Arkaroola and the Flinders Ranges, some 700kms north of Adelaide. I used the XA10 for everything and gave it a serious workout. The results speak for themselves. Awesome pictures and excellent versatility.
Looking down the barrel
The XA10 has a boxy kind of look to it that speaks professional - functional rather than sleek. Landcruiser rather than Porche in its looks. I love the huge front ring - it can be multi-functional but I'd leave it for manually focusing. The lens is brilliantly wide at 30m and goes 10x for optical and 20x using the built in tele-converter. That's a digital jump but it works with no visible loss. My only issue here is that it's a software switch. I'd prefer a hard button on the outside like the HV40 has but it's a minor quibble. And that's the extent of quibbling for this camera. Everything you want is there but it's inside the door and software switched. For the price and what you get you cannot be complaining.
The camera fires up in a zillionth of a second and can be recording inside a second. This is the beauty of flash based cameras - super quick response times. My HV40 HDV tape camera takes 6 secs to fire up and roll so things do get missed (I still love the 40 though!). You can also have the XA10 pre-record for three seconds continuously so you'll miss nothing. What this means is that it records three secs to a buffer and then to the memory when you hit the button. Perfect for those times you're waiting for some action. Now you don't have to record endlessly to get that moment.
The Canon XA10
The LCD is huge and easily used even in bright light. The screen is crystal clear and has excellent colour reproduction. It has all the new generation of touch screen controls but most can be set and forget, which is a good thing. Simply touch the function button on the screen and up comes a page full of further options. Once you get used to it it's very easy to navigate around and get to the bits you need quickly.
XA10 front view
Controls on the handle
On the menu
The menu is simple to use too and the display font is clear and easy to read. The range of professional options to set is so extensive you will spend some time getting your own setup right. You can play with zebra patterns, test patterns, test tone, colour, sharpness, contrast, interlaced or progressive, scene settings, ND filters, assign buttons, zoom speeds, ring sensitivity (I've had that after a curry). Seriously it will be months before you shoot anything. Here's an idea. Leave it in auto and go out and play.
Under the bonnet
The engine is AVCHD driven and can idle at 5Mbps getting you 24hrs on the internal 64GB tank alone (so 48 hours if you add two 32gGB SD cards!). At full speed you racing along at 24Mbps giving you over 5 hours of storage time. Being a flash drive camera means you'll be exhausted long before the battery keels over.
The LCD screen displays the remaining battery life and storage time so you have a good indication of when it's time to refuel. When full the internal tank will switch to the first SD slot and when that's full it'll switch to the next. If you fail to have enough storage on this one then you're a dill!
It has a viewfinder that also marks it as professional and it's activated by pulling it out. A minor fault here is that it doesn't tilt up like its big brother, the XF300. Still you can't have everything at this price or Canon would never sell any bigger cameras! The XA10 fits in with the XF100/105 and XF300/305 family. The internal specs for the 10 are very similar to the 100 but it records to SD instead of CF cards and is AVCHD instead of MXF. The colour is 4:2:0 where the big brothers are 4:2:2 and the limiter is set to 24Mbps where the others can blast along to 50Mbps. None of which is going to matters a rat's rear end to most users of the XA10. Its awesome functions and small size make it a winner big time. My next camera family may well shape up to be the XA10 and the XF300. Oh and a bunch of GoPros (got 2 already), but that's another story.
Playback is very cool on the screen. Good images and it's interesting how they've adopted the iPhone method of going through those images. Swish across to change groups that are arranged by date order. I like the icon look but you can have a neat stacked approach too. Either way it works really well.
One of the big selling points is the handle that is removable and screw mounts onto the body. Apart from the obvious ergonomic value of this it houses the full pro XLR inputs and switches for pro audio. That gets it from domestic to pro camera in one jump. It also has the typical zoom rocker switch and stop start button. Every camera should have one!
The XA10 has a truly fabulous stabiliser. It's optical as usual but then there's the powered addition. Hold down the button on the LCD door and it's activated. I found I could shoot seriously zoomed in, hit the power switch, take breath and hold it steady and it's very close to rock solid. You can nearly leave the tripod at home it's that good. I took it flying recently and did some air to air pics that easily demonstrate the power of the XA10's stabilisers (view them at http://www.youtube.com/user/StephenTurnersFILM?feature=mhee. It did help that the Nangchang is a very stable aircraft but even so. Movement was the whole plane not the camera.
It also takes very good still frames. So good in fact that when I printed a batch out to show friends I couldn't tell which came from the XA10 and which came from my EOS450D. Awesome! Yes the frame size is smaller but short of enlarging to poster size it doesn't matter. It's not pretending to be a DSLR. It does have a eight bladed iris that get improved depth of field. Everyone wants their fields deeper these days. Another small gripe is that the photo button is a software switch on the LCD screen. You can't take pics with the door closed and sometimes I was slow to get it to trigger. It's really cool though that you no longer have to switch from video to photo modes and vice versa.
The Jury's verdict
I have to say I'm seriously impressed. I want one and I want one now. The good news for those on a budget is that there is a domestic version (the G10) for nearly $1000 less than the XA10 costs. The only real differences are it doesn't have the handle, so no professional audio inputs, and has half the internal tank size. Still I'd be a great starter camera. This is a great unit and again raises the bar for small pro cameras. As an entry level camera or a spare for the seasoned shooter this is a great package. The film world just gets better and better. My score is 9/10.
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We didn't like...
- Performance 9/10
- Documentation 9/10
- Features 9/10
- Setup 8/10
- Value for Money 10/10
- Help Functions. 9/10
The Bottom Line...
How much is the big question...
New - Around $2500 rrp (less on the internet)
For a video review click here .
Steve Turner has been working in video since 1980, working as a news editor, cameraman, producer, director and writer. He has worked in Australia and the UK (he helped cover the fall of the Berlin wall), as editor, producer and cameraman, as well as producing documentaries, CDRoms and DVDs. He has three gorgeous small children and is a part time stay at home Dad!<br><br>
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