If you’re a regular reader of Photofocus, you know I have been working with video for almost three years. Using hybrid DSLRs, I’ve captured plenty of great footage. But one of the problems with using the DSLR as a video camera is that you have to add on all sorts of gizmos to make the camera do the things you want it to in order to record broadcast-quality video.

While I still plan to occasionally use hybrid video cameras, I decided that the battle is not worth fighting for the most part. I got my hands on the brand new Canon XF100 Camcorder and that’s what changed my mind. It should be in some stores this week or next in very limited quantities. I noticed that Amazon still says it’s not shipping yet. I got one of the first to enter through the retail channel thanks to my good friends at Adorama and their connections to Canon.

Now the down side of all this is I received the camera less than 24 hours before leaving for my trip to Alaska so I didn’t really have time to read the manual or become familiar with the camera before using it in a production environment. Accordingly, my review should be considered a first-blush review and not something exhaustive. (Note that despite whenever this appears on Photofocus, it was written the last week of March while on my trip to Alaska.)

Let’s start with the basic info you need to know. The XF-100 offers:

* MPEG-2 4:2:2 50Mbps Codec (Canon XF Codec)
* Record to Compact Flash Cards
* 4:2:2 Color Sampling 60p/60i, 30p, 24p MXF File Format
* Canon 10x 30-300 EFL HD Video Lens

The XF-100 uses the latest HD technology, including Canon’s robust MPEG-2 4:2:2 codec for files which are captured in industry-standard MXF file wrappers using your choice of bit rate and frame rate.

I love that it uses CF cards instead of P2 cards or something else that is exotic. You do need very fast and large CF cards. I recommend at a minimum you use 16GB UDMA cards. With fast cards, this camera is capable of shooting 50MB per second.

One of the big problems with the hybrid DSLRs is getting good audio. That’s not a problem on the XF-100. It offers full feature professional audio recording capabilities. It has twin XLR inputs, the ability to pad the audio, headphone monitoring and plenty of additional audio controls for professional-caliber audio.

The camera is VERY small, compact and lightweight. That makes it easy to break down, transport and carry in the field. It’s the smallest professional video camcorder from Canon.

Looking at the video requires that you use the Canon software supplied with the camera. It’s called the Canon XF utility. With this software you can do some culling and very basic stuff like marking clips. I’ll primarily use it for converting the files to the format needed for Sony Vegas or Final Cut Pro. (NOTE: One of the downsides of this system is that you can’t natively use XF-100 footage in programs like iMovie or Quicktime. You’ll have to further convert the video for that. I used iMediaConverter quite successfully for this but it is an extra and time-consuming step. While these aren’t professional applications – and the XF-100 is a professional camera, I think it would have been nice if Canon included a conversion plug-in for the Apple format.)

Judging the early video I saw come from the camera, I’d say it’s very nice. There were little or no artifacts and the new sensor does pretty well on low-light performance for the size of the chip. In low light situations there is in fact some noise but good color accuracy. The 4/2/2 HD camera provides great color and great detail.

Some random cool features about this camera that I really like are:

It has a built in intervolometer
The battery lasts between three and four hours
It has a nice 920k hi res screen that articulates making it easy to shoot from any angle
The built-in, high-quality lens has the 35mm equivalent of 30 to 300mm. I like the wide angle
You have genuine full manual control over the camera

I’m including a link to a few seconds of sample video. Here is a longer segment of Canon XF100 video. Keep in mind that this was converted directly from the camera. It has not been graded or altered in any way. If it had been sweetened up in post it would look even better. Also, since you’ll be viewing it on the web it is a bit degraded. It looks better on my computer than it does the web so keep that in mind. In either event I am sure there will be more test footage online from other sources soon.

My reviews always center around my personal impression of a camera. And in this case, my impression is that I am in love – well as close as I can be with a camera any way. The Canon XF-100 is the benchmark in this class and everyone else is bound to be playing catch up once this camera is widely available.

Highly recommended.

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