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Canon's smallest pro camcorder has plenty of big features.
Our First Take
It's been a while since we've been truly excited about a compact professional camcorder from Canon. Over the past couple years, the company has pushed focus towards its Cinema EOS cameras, while effectively ignoring its line of fixed-lens prosumer camcorders. If you've only got a couple grand to spend on a new camcorder, then you're not going to be able to afford a pricey EOS Cinema model. But your wallet may be able to handle the XA25 or XA20, Canon's newest—and most compact—camcorders geared towards pros.
The XA25 features a robust set of upgrades over its predecessor (the Canon XA10 from 2011), which is what makes this product worth a significant look. Even though the MSRP for the XA25 is set at $2,999, Canon representatives have told us they expect the camcorder to sell for roughly $300 less when it hits stores in June. Launching at the XA25's side is its cheaper sibling, the XA20, which has no HD-SDI terminal but keeps the rest of the XA25's specs. The XA20 has an MSRP of $2,499.
Perfectly suited for handheld recording, the compact XA25 is ideal for news-gatherers and documentarians.
The XA25 and XA20 are a little bit smaller than Canon's XF105 and XF100, but they're a tiny bit bulkier than the XA10. The heftier design is mostly thanks to the 20x zoom lens, which is double that of the zoom found on the XA10. The XA25 also sports a redesigned lens hood with a manual flip-down cover. Just like the XA10, the XA25 (and XA20) has a removable handlebar that adds dual XLR ports, a suite of audio controls, and an additional zoom lever and start/stop record button to the top of the camcorder.
The screen on the XA25 has gone through a significant upgrade as well. The screen now uses capacitive-touch technology instead of resistive touch. We noticed this change immediately, as the XA25's screen is far more responsive than its predecessors, making actions like gliding and flicking through menus is much easier. The 3.5-inch screen has also been upgraded to an OLED and features a 1.23-megapixel resolution that should result in brighter, higher-contrast images, a better viewing angle, and improved power consumption over the LCD on the XA10.
Full HD 1080/60p recording, simultaneous AVCHD and MP4 recording, bitrate options up to 35Mbps—the XA25 does everything the XA10 couldn't.
Over the past two years, we've hammered Canon for being late to the 1080/60p party. Until now, none of the company's pro camcorders could record 60p at full HD, and its entry-level Vixia models only got around to introducing this feature in early 2013 (on the HF R400, R40, and R42). With the XA25 and XA20 (as well as the new HF G30), we can't complain anymore. The new camcorders have the ability to shoot 28Mbps 60p AVCHD video or 35Mbps 60p MP4 video, as well as offering the classic 24p, 30p, and 60i frame rates—all at full-HD resolution. In MP4 mode, you can also switch over to 1280 x 720 recording, or shoot standard-definition video with 30p or 24p frame rate options.
New image stabilization and WiFi features round out the XA25's upgrades.
The biggest new features on the XA25 and XA20 are the recording modes we just touched upon, but the camcorders also have new image stabilization functions and built-in WiFi. The image stabilization setting includes an improved Dynamic mode that makes use of both electronic and optical stabilization efforts. Canon claims this Dynamic stabilization mode is actually the main reason the XA25 and XA20 have slightly larger image sensors than the XA10. The extra space on that sensor is used to digitally stabilize a full-HD image.
The WiFi features, as modern as they are, may be the least noteworthy upgrade for the XA25 and XA20. Yes, you can use the WiFi to remotely operate the camcorder using an iOS device (no Android yet), and you can use the WiFi to upload video to the web or FTP, but on pro models like this we're not sure the WiFi functions are all that important. The classic manual controls, large focus ring, small control ring (for setting aperture, shutter speed, etc.), and new zoom rocker are probably more likely to excite those interested in the XA25.
The XA25 gives us a lot to be excited about, but the Canon HF G30 is the better buy for most users.
Our only worry is that the XA25 and XA20 may be a bit too expensive. The camcorders come with no internal memory (the XA10 came with 64GB), and they have only a few features that aren't found on the much cheaper Canon Vixia HF G30 ($1,699 MSRP). Even if the XA25's $2,999 price tag gets reduced to around $2,700 when it hits stores, that's still a lot of money to spend on a camcorder. But the technology is great, the feature set is impressive, and the design is spot-on, making us eager to get the XA25 into our labs for a test drive.