Canon XA10 Professional Camcorder

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Professional videographers expect a certain level of quality and an advanced feature set in the equipment they use. In other words, professional videographers rely on professional equipment to produce professional-quality work. Unfortunately, such equipment is usually larger and heavier than they would like. Canon has addressed this problem with its new and compact XA10 professional camcorder.

Canon’s new XA10 professional camcorder is designed to be as compact as possible while still incorporating all of the features that professionals need in a camcorder. Let’s look at the size and weight first: the XA10 is 5.1 inches wide by 7 inches high by 8 inches long and it weighs just 1.71 pounds. That makes it lighter and less bulky than most other professional camcorders.

The XA10 has a detachable top-mounted handle that gives it a professional look and feel, aids in low-angle shooting and adds a measure of insurance for clumsy handlers. Not just for looks and convenience, the XA10’s handle also increases functionality by adding two XLR audio inputs with phantom power, along with an external microphone holder, an accessory shoe, manual audio level controls, a RECORD START/STOP button, an infrared light, a rear tally lamp and a zoom control. You can select a variable zoom speed or choose from 16 fixed zoom speeds.

Independent of the removable handle, the XA10 features a built-in stereo microphone with settings for mono audio capture, standard stereo, wide stereo and a setting where audio pickup is synced to match the zoom position. The microphone’s frequency response can be set to favor low, mid-range or high frequencies. An automatic attenuator evens out audio levels and prevents distortion when recording fluctuating sound levels. The built-in microphone and the XLR terminals both offer automatic or manual level control.

With the handle removed, the XA10 takes on the look of a much smaller handheld camcorder, and one that’s easier to store or transport. But the XA10 camcorder is more than just a basic camcorder with a detachable handle.

It goes without saying that the Canon XA10 records full 1080p HD video, and it uses the AVCHD (Advanced Video Coding High Definition) codec, which is also used for encoding Blu-ray discs. That makes it ideal for capturing content destined for Blu-ray distribution or for conversion to the Web-based H.264 format.

The XA10 can record at the maximum AVCHD bit rate of 24Mbps at 1920 x 1080 and 4:2:0 color space. Different bit rate modes (24Mbps, 17Mbps, 12Mbps, 7Mbps and 5Mbps) let you seek an ideal balance between video quality and recording time. Anything recorded in high definition can easily be converted to standard definition while preserving the original HD video. This makes it easier to share video online.

The XA10 sees the world through a Canon 10x zoom lens with a 35mm-equivalent zoom range from 30.4mm to 304mm. The lens is equipped with an 8-blade iris, which forms a rounder aperture than a 6-blade iris and thus helps to produce a more pleasing out-of-focus background, commonly referred to as “bokeh.” Everything seen through the lens is captured by a 1/3-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel CMOS sensor, and is processed by Canon's DIGIC DV III image processor.

One thing that helps keep the XA10’s size and weight to a minimum is the use of solid-state memory. The XA10 features 64GB of internal flash memory along with two SDXC-compatible card slots. The 64GB of internal memory is enough to record up to 24 hours of HD video, and if you pop a 64GB card in each of the slots you wind up with a whopping 192GB of storage space and the ability to record more than 73 hours of HD footage. When the internal memory is full, a relay recording function automatically switches recording to the memory cards, so that nothing is missed. You can also set the XA10 to record to two memory cards simultaneously to automatically generate a backup copy of your footage.

The XA10 is equipped with Canon’s SuperRange Optical Image Stabilization system. You can leave this system off, set it so that lens shift is constant throughout the zoom range, set it to work only at the telephoto end of the range or set it so that stabilization is variable throughout the zoom range.

The Canon XA10 is also equipped with a proprietary 5-mode Auto Focus (AF) system. Instant AF changes the focus as rapidly as possible, while Medium AF changes the focus more slowly and smoothly than Instant AF but still faster than focusing manually. Normal AF changes the focus at a natural speed that’s not distracting to the viewer. Face AF lets the user select a face to be tracked on the camcorder’s 3.5-inch touch-screen display; if the chosen face leaves the field of view, AF switches to the center of the screen. Face-Only AF automatically tracks a chosen face but switches to manual focus if that face leaves the field of view. The XA10’s 922,000-dot touch-screen LCD also lets you lock or compensate the exposure settings for the area touched by the user.

Professional camcorder users like to have lots of useful tools and be able to control everything manually, and the XA10 certainly won’t let them down in this regard. The Canon XA10 has a programmable key/dial combination that can be set to let you control shutter speed, aperture, gain and other functions. It also has a built-in waveform monitor that displays overall image brightness, an enhanced zebra pattern that indicates high brightness areas and a level marker that helps you keep the camcorder level while shooting. The viewfinder can also display a grid marker in one of two colors depending on the background color of your shot.

Color bars and/or a test tone can be recorded. The color bars comply with the SMPTE standard, and the test tone can be selected as -12 dB, -18 dB or -20 dB. The white balance control has six available presets and two manual settings. Color temperature can be set manually from 2,000K to 15,000K in 100-K increments and gain can be set manually from 0 dB to 24 dB in 1-dB increments. An automatic gain control limit can be set to balance brightness and noise in low light situations.

Other features include special shooting modes that mimic the look of old movies. There’s also an infrared recording mode that lets you capture video in little to no ambient light, and a built-in infrared emitter lets you shoot infrared-illuminated video in complete darkness.

The XA10’s connectivity options are numerous. There are HDMI, component and composite video outputs, a USB 2.0 port, two XLR audio inputs and an accessory shoe when the handle is attached, a microphone input, a headphone jack and a remote control terminal compatible with the LANC protocol.

Canon’s new XA10 crams professional features into a compact camcorder. If you’ve often yearned for a smaller, but full-featured camcorder, then you should seriously consider the XA10.

Note: The XA10 will be shipping in March, 2011, and will retail for around $1,999.00.