Jem Schofield
Jem Schofield

Jem Schofield is the founder of theC47, an online and offline resource that is focused on teaching the craft of video production and filmmaking.

Features and benefits of the XF200 & 205 Professional Camcorders

May 19, 2014

Introduction

With today’s large sensor camera systems such as the Canon EOS 70D, 5D Mark III, 1D C and the EOS C100, C300 & C500, it would almost seem like small sensor-based camcorders are irrelevant in today’s production environments. As someone who has a long history with small sensor-based camera systems and still uses them on projects that I produce today, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are, in fact, many situations where small sensor camcorders are actually better suited for the job at hand and are not only used daily in many facets of television and web-based video production, but also are preferred.

In this article, I will discuss some of these applications and how the Canon XF205 & XF200 represent the next generation of Canon’s small sensor-based camcorder systems that target productions where these cameras excel. I will also focus on some of the key features of the camera, such as its rotating hand grip, Wide DR Gamma, enhanced image stabilization, infrared recording and Wi-Fi features, which, together, make for a unique small sensor-based camcorder that can be used in a wide variety of today’s productions.

As a note, the only real difference between the XF205 and XF200 are the SDI, Time code, Monitor and Genlock terminals that are on the XF205. In this article, I will refer to the cameras collectively as the XF205/200, unless discussing the specific features related to the XF205 and where they might apply on certain types of productions.

Applications

So, where does the XF205 & the XF200 fit into today’s production environments? Before I dive into the form factor, functionality and some of the specific features of the XF205/200, I’d like to highlight some of the areas that I think the cameras are best suited for.

News Reporting (XF205 & XF200)

Electronic New Gathering (ENG) is an ideal application for both the XF200 and the XF205 (depending on the number of cameras needed).

For the Preditor (Producer/Editor) that works alone, the XF200 is a great solution. With its ability to quickly switch between a full auto mode and full manual control, the camera can adapt quickly to both the shooter and the shooting situation. For “run & gun” situations, this is essential.

With its additional terminals, the XF205 is well suited for news reporting where there are two or more cameras working together and their time codes need to be synced.

For both models, additional features like the broadcast friendly MXF recording format (50Mbps with 4:2:2 color sampling), enhanced infrared recording and Wi-Fi connectivity for camera control, clip review and uploading of content make them ideal for news gathering applications. In fact, by using Canon’s CameraAccess application, shooters can also have live view and remote operation of their camera through a smartphone or tablet and can even do instant transfers of low-resolution MP4 files to those devices for news flashes.

Documentary (XF205 & XF200)

Many documentary filmmakers are not aspiring cinematographers. They want to find a story and capture it as it unfolds. They need to produce beautiful images that don’t require a degree in camera technology. And, oftentimes, they are working alone. Such things as the XF205/200’s 20x zoom, new five-axis image stabilization system and four channel audio recording and auto features make it ideal for this type of work. The camera also has a small form factor that is ideal for many types of documentary work.

While there are still, at times, advantages to using large sensor camera systems in documentary situations (their extreme low light capabilities and selective focus), a majority of documentaries are and have been shot with small sensor camera systems. They allow the filmmaker to focus on capturing an evolving story and not on the technical aspects of the camera itself.

When a documentary or a reality television shoot requires more than one camera, then the XF205 is a better choice. With the ability to jam sync time code and monitor externally, it’s a great fit for these types of productions.

Small Studios (XF205)

More and more production is happening in non-conventional studio settings. Small, in-house studios are being set up at companies that are generating ongoing video content that is being pushed to the web on a monthly, weekly or daily basis. The XF205 is ideal for these, typically, 2-4 camera set-ups.

By using the XF205’s many features, such as the browser remote that allows users to create an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network to control the camera remotely using a web browser on a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer, and the camera’s 3G/HD-SDI terminal to connect to hardware/software solutions from companies such as Boinx Software, Blackmagic Design, Livestream and Tricaster (to name a few), it is now cost effective and relatively easy for companies and individuals to set up small studio spaces. The XF205 is an ideal multi-camera solution for these small studios that are being built on a regular basis to create ongoing content.

Sports (XF200)

When shooting sports and action, the ability to capture slow & fast motion and 1080/60P for fast motion is necessary. So is an intelligent ND filter that, when activated, will make sure the shooter is getting correct exposure in less than ideal conditions.

The XF200 has these features and also has a Wide DR (dynamic range) Gamma setting that is ideal for exterior shoots where protecting highlights in an image is important. Additionally, the advanced image stabilization and separate focus, zoom and iris rings on the lens barrel make shooting action and sports very intuitive for the operator.

Corporate & Event Videography (XF205 & XF200)

This is a broad category that can include a single shooter working with the XF200 on an event such as a gallery opening, launch party or shooting a talking head at a small corporate meeting or working with multiple XF205s to shoot weddings, corporate functions or live events. In all of them, the XF205/200 is a great choice.

For the smaller projects that only need one camera, the XF200 may be the best fit. But, when shooting live events or an event with multiple cameras, then the XF205 is a much better choice.

For a small sensor camcorder, the low light capabilities are excellent and the camera’s design allows for the operator to get to almost any function using buttons or switches. There is also a 3 second pre-record feature that will help users make sure they never miss the bride and groom’s kiss or that special moment that can never be caught again.

When shooting live events, where switching between cameras is necessary, having the XF205’s genlock terminal is essential. Without it, cameras can go out of phase and there can be serious problems when switching between different cameras in a production.

On a side note, there are times in productions where I have used both small sensor and large sensor cameras together. When shooting multi-camera events with speakers on a stage, small sensor cameras like the XF205 are ideal. The ability to zoom into the subject for medium and tight shots from far away is not really possible with a large sensor camera (without having a lens that would be unwieldy for the operator). That said, when picking off audience shots where very little light falls, a camera like the EOS C300 (which also has time code and genlock terminals), is a perfect companion to the other 3-4 small sensor cameras (XF205) being used in the house.

Used with an EOS C300 for audience reactions, where there may be very little light, is a way we can combine small and large sensor cameras together in productions.

While there are obviously other applications for the XF200 & XF205, I think the above production types and their shooting environments are a great fit for these cameras.

Now I’d like to look at the XF205/200 in terms of its form factor, functionality and some of its specific features that can assist shooters in their acquisition of content in the above-mentioned production types. This is less of a spec sheet and more of what I think are important features of the cameras that apply to the above-mentioned types of productions.

Form Factor and Functionality

Both the XF205/200 are professional cameras in terms of features, but they are also extremely compact. In fact, carrying two camera bodies, audio equipment and small lights can be managed very easily using a single carry-on case from a number of manufacturers.

Another great feature of the camera’s design is that users don’t have to go deep into a menu system to access features. Almost all functions of the camera can be controlled with the external buttons, switches and the camera’s lens barrel rings. The menu items only need to be accessed for very specific settings that wouldn’t normally be accessed when actually shooting.

The XF205/200 also have 13 assignable buttons on the camera body so that the user can customize the camera to their specific needs and shooting style.

There are three separate lens rings on the barrel of the camera (Focus, Zoom and Iris). The lens is also a 20x optical zoom lens with an effective angle of view that is 26.8 to 576mm (35mm equivalent). This makes for a camera that can be used in a huge number of shooting scenarios.

Monitoring features that make operating the camera more comfortable and easier for the operator are a new, professional, 1.23 megapixel color viewfinder that has a large viewing angle and superb picture and a large 2.5” 1.23 megapixel OLED display, which has great color reproduction and is easy to view even when shooting in daylight conditions.

There is one other feature on the camera that may seem small, but I think deserves its own focus in the article and that’s the rotating grip.

Rotating Grip

A frustration with many smaller body camcorder systems is the fixed position of the hand grip on the camera. When doing low angle shots, the camera operator is forced to remove their hand from the hand grip and to cradle the hand grip from below. This can be cumbersome and also affect the quality of the shot. Additionally, the operation of using the zoom rocker in this situation is less than ideal. Clunky at best.

The XF205/200 has a 120 degree rotating grip that is adjustable in 15 degree increments. This makes both high and low angle shots much easier for the shooter.

While any modern, fixed lens camcorder has features such as auto focus, auto iris, zebra patterns and a zoom rocker, I’d like to discuss some specific features of the XF205 and XF200 and their implementation.

Recording Formats & Features

The XF205/200 has three recording slots: two CF card slots that record in the MXF format and one SD card slot. The broadcast friendly MXF format can be set to Full HD at 50Mbps with 4:2:2 color sampling and is ideal for high quality recording for both television and web distribution.

While many camera systems will use an additional SD card slot to store and transfer scene files or capture stills, the XF205/200’s SD card slot can be used to record Full HD video in the MP4 format (at up to 35Mbps with 4:2:0 color sampling).

What does this mean in the real world? Well, shooters can use the camera’s double slot recording feature with the two CF card slots (for redundant MXF recordings), and also record a Full HD MP4 recording to the SD card slot. When activated, this effectively gives users three Full HD recordings. Not only can this create peace of mind on a shoot, but the MP4 version could be sent to an editor as proxies for the project or as a client hand-off for review.

External Recording

While most projects will use the internal recording capabilities of the camera using the broadcast friendly MXF format, there may be times when a user will want to bypass the internal recording codecs and use an external recording device to capture an uncompressed, 4:2:2 based image and then encode that into their codec of choice.

Using external recorders from companies such at AJA, Atomos, Convergent Design and Sound Devices, shooters can record to industry standard codecs such as ProRes and DNxHD. This can be done using the XF205/200’s HDMI port or the XF205’s 3G/HD-SDI terminal port.

8-Bladed Circular Aperture

The out-of-focus areas, or bokeh, of a captured image are oftentimes just as important and desired as the ones that are in focus. When shooting wide open at longer focal lengths, it’s a shallow depth of field, along with this bokeh, that brings the viewer in and allows them to focus on the subject matter and the beauty of a particular shot.

The XF205 has a new 8-Bladed Circular Aperture that was designed to provide beautiful, nearly circular, out-of-focus areas. This is an important addition to the camera as many shooters are now switching between large and small sensor cameras and are looking for that round bokeh when shooting close ups and b-roll for their projects, regardless of the camera they are using.

Scopes

Using a professional camcorder in production means having the tools users need to get the right picture. By accessing the XF205/200’s Waveform functions, users can not only use the camera’s built-in waveform monitor, but they can access its vectorscope.

The XF205/200’s scopes allow camera operators and shooters to confidently get correct luminance exposure and also makes sure that colors are being captured as desired and that skin tones are falling where they need to – great tools that make any production easier.

Dynamic Mode Image Stabilization

For handheld operation, the XF205/200 have a new advanced image stabilization system. Using the camera’s new Dynamic Mode, this five-axis system uses a combination of additional pixels, a lens mechanism and electronics to compensate for tilt, roll and up and down motions that would otherwise create unwanted motion in a shot.

I have used Dynamic Mode, handheld, at the longest end of the 20x zoom lens (576mm equivalent to a 35mm camera), and the results are amazing. It almost has to be tried to really appreciate this feature of the camera.

Wide DR Gamma

I have been shooting with Wide DR Gamma on the EOS C100 since it was released. In fact, it is my preferred way of shooting as it brings many of the benefits of a log-based gamma curve (which protects the shadows and highlights of the captured image), but it also adds the key benefit of not needing to grade the footage in post-production unless desired.

This type of gamma curve has not historically been included in small chip cameras and will definitely benefit shooters with its increased dynamic range when shooting, which is ideal when shooting in varied situations when protecting highlight data is important.

Sound Recording

The XF205’s internal stereo microphone is ideal for capturing ambient noise in the field, while its two XLR inputs (line, mic and +48dB) are ideal for dialogue recording using external microphones, such as dynamic mics for news reporting and shotguns & lavalier mics for documentary, live event and studio recordings. There is also an included 1/8” mini port terminal for situations where the shooter may want to use a small self-powered shotgun microphone instead.

Additionally, users can use both the internal stereo microphone and the two XLR ports together to capture 4-channels of audio for a project. Basically, the XF205 allows one and two person crews to tackle any audio situation that might normally occur on a production.

Infrared (IR) Recording

The XF205/200’s enhanced infrared mode can be used with existing infrared light sources or, in most situations, with the camera’s built-in infrared light. This diffused LED is much brighter than in many other camera systems and was designed to create an evenly illuminated picture in a relatively large area. It is also virtually undetectable to the subject matter.

Additionally, when switching back to normal shooting mode using the Infrared switch on the camera body, the infrared light is automatically disabled so that it does not affect the quality of the recording under normal conditions.

Infrared recording can be done in white or in green and is a very important feature in a camera when doing investigative reporting or shooting in dark locations or at night and users still need to get the shot.

Wi-Fi Features

Today’s ENG and documentary camcorders need to do more than just capture images internally. They need to have the ability to get clips out to the world and also allow the camera operator to review content on larger devices (such as tablets and portable computers).

Besides the browser remote that was discussed earlier in the article, the XF205/200 also has Wi-Fi capabilities to allow users to not only review clips externally, but to also use an existing network to connect to an FTP server and transfer files directly from the camera system. This is ideal in news gathering and documentary production environments.

Professional Terminals (XF205 Only)

I have produced a number of multi-camera shoots that require professional terminal ports in production. As mentioned above, there are many productions that benefit from these. Whether it’s multicam shoots that need to jam sync time code using a time code terminal or making sure that the cameras are in phase using genlock, they are essential to many professional shoots.

The ability to also monitor and record externally from a camera is important in today’s production environments. While HDMI can be used on smaller productions, dedicated and positive locking monitoring and recording terminals are needed on many productions.

Conclusion

As a producer/director/shooter who has a long history with small and large sensor camera systems, the XF205/200 represents a camera system that fits into many types of productions where a small sensor camcorder is better suited.

It’s truly a professional camera system that can be used by a single operator (XF200) or in multi-camera situations (XF205). Its compact form factor, coupled with the ability to access almost any imaginable feature that the camera has without digging through menu systems, make it extremely versatile for many types of professional projects.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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