9 December 2015
- The XC10 is an easy-to-use broadcast quality camcorder aimed at non-experts
- It’s discreet and has excellent image stabilisation, great for documentary and events
- It can shoot HD or 4K, though 4K requires expensive memory cards
- The reflex loupe isn’t great, especially if you wear glasses
September 2016: There’s now a higher-spec version, the XC15, which comes with an XLR audio adapter for connecting pro microphones.
I’ve just been testing the Canon XC10. It’s an easy-to-use pro camcorder – with excellent image stabilisation – that looks like a DSLR stills camera.
It’s the only camera in its price range that can shoot broadcast-quality HD, and good quality 4K video, without expensive or cumbersome add-ons. It also shoots 12MP stills.
The XC10 is for people who want to be able to shoot high-quality video without a big, expensive or complicated camera. It’s not for indie filmmakers who want the shallow depth of field ‘film-like’ look.
The Canon XC10 with zoom extended and loupe fitted.
The XC10 is very compact for a pro camcorder. Here it is in the middle, compared with the XA20 semi-pro camcorder and a Canon 60D DSLR.
About the XC10
The XC10 looks nothing like a pro camcorder. No shoulder mount or top handle, no 3-pin sockets for connecting XLR microphones, and not many dials and buttons.
Instead of a top handle, the single handgrip – which carries most of the controls – swivels up and down. This works very well. It’s easy to hold the camera at high or low angles to take full advantage of the tilting screen.
Handgrip and screen tilted for filming low angle shots.
There are only three programmable buttons, so it relies heavily on menus, which slows things down. For example, unless you assign a button to it, exposure compensation needs two taps on the touchscreen and then a swipe. (You can use the joystick instead of the touchscreen.)
The one-inch sensor is a good compromise. It’s bigger than most camcorder sensors, but less than half the size of APS-C. So you get sharp, detailed images and good low-light performance out of a compact body. But you can’t get the same artistic shallow-focus effects as SLRs.
The internal microphone does a good job of recording ambient sound. There’s one stereo minijack input on the left side. There are no XLR sockets: presumably Canon expects most purchasers to use minijack-equipped microphones like the VideoMic Pro, or separate recorders. No level dials either, so you have to use the menus. If I had an XC10 I’d get a Beachtek MCC-2, so I could use dials to adjust the levels from external microphones.
The headphone socket position – on the right of the handgrip – is a bit awkward.
Display and loupe
The touchscreen is bright and I was able to use it in winter sunlight. It tilts up and down, but doesn’t swivel sideways.
You can choose how much information to display. Zebra patterns will show overexposed highlights; focus peaking shows what’s sharp. You need it, too, as the ‘magnify screen’ button doesn’t enlarge the image enough to check critical focus. There’s no histogram.
Instead of an electronic viewfinder, a ‘loupe’ clips over the screen. Its reflex mirror makes it more compact than DSLR versions. You have to tilt the screen up to mount and remove it. It doesn’t enlarge the image much, but it’s useful for working in bright sunlight. The image is OK unless you wear glasses: if you do, it distorts badly. I’d replace the loupe with a Zacuto Z-finder.
There’s a choice of picture styles. Pro videographers will like Canon Log, which keeps a lot of detail in the shadows and highlights. It looks very flat straight out of the camera, but it’s meant to be adjusted with colour correction software. I liked the Cinema EOS style, which is designed to match C100 and C300 cameras. There’s also a Wide Dynamic Range option.
A fixed lens might seem like a step backward for SLR users. But it’s much quicker than switching lenses, especially when you’re working handheld or on a monopod. You can set focus quickly: autofocus with the touchscreen, then lock focus with the manual/auto switch on the left of the body. Usefully, focus doesn’t change as you zoom in and out. The zoom is manual, not powered, but the focus ring is electronic (without an infinity stop, unfortunately).
The 10x zoom range goes from a genuinely wide angle 27.2 to a 272mm telephoto. (The still photo range is wider: 24.1-241mm). It’s not that fast – f/2.8 at the wide end, f/5.6 at the long end – but that keeps the bulk down.
Some shooters really don’t like variable aperture, but I didn’t find it a problem. I set the lens to f/5.6, so it stayed constant as I zoomed in and out.
The image stabilisation is superb: best I’ve ever used. There are several options: Standard; Powered, for handheld tele shots; and Dynamic (only in HD mode) which smooths out walking shots by cropping the image slightly. I wouldn’t normally dream of shooting long telephoto shots without a support, but the XC10’s stabilisation made it easy. In Dynamic mode, handheld walking shots were remarkably smooth.
Video formats and quality
The XC10 records HD footage on an SD card, and 4K ultra high definition video on an expensive CFast 2.0 card. I had the ‘bundle’ which includes a CFast card and reader; if you’re only planning on shooting HD, get the cheaper version without these.
It uses Canon’s new XF-AVC video format. Strangely, 4k footage imported straight into Final Cut Pro X, but HD footage wouldn’t appear until I downloaded Canon’s FCP plugin.
The camera records HD footage by downscaling 4K video. This is a big plus over Canon DSLRs, which only use part of the sensor for video, missing out some lines of the image. Using the whole sensor makes for good low light performance: its base ISO is a high 500, with a maximum of 20000. (There’s a built-in three-stop ND filter, for shooting in bright light when ISO 500 is too fast.) Because it’s not ‘skipping’ lines, you get less ‘aliasing’ or ‘moire’ when you film detailed patterns.
The PAL (Europe) version shoots 4K at 25fps; NTSC is 30fps. In 1080p HD, frame rates are 25 PAL/30 NTSC or 50/60. It’ll also do 100/120 fps slow motion in 720p. NTSC cameras can also shoot 24fps.
Even in HD quality the video is visibly sharper than I get from a 60D, or the EOS M3 I was also testing. There’s much less moiré, and the claimed 12 stops of dynamic range makes for more shadow detail. It’s also much better in low light. Maximum ISO is 20 000, but the European Broadcasting Union test (mentioned below) suggests that it’s too soft for broadcast over ISO1600. For general use, it’s OK up to around ISO 4000.
Canon XC10 video examples
Both the clips below were shot in the basic 25fps 1080p mode. I’ve done some minor colour correction on some of the shots. Sound is from the internal mic, which does a good job of recording ambient sound (though you might want to turn the volume down before you play the clips).
I shot this sequence in auto mode, using the touchscreen controls. The pizza guy was working really fast, and the camera was great for lining up shots and changing camera angles quickly.
Pro camcorders usually attract a lot of unwanted attention, but nobody in Cardiff market seemed bothered by the handheld XC10. Most of the time they assumed I was shooting stills. The excellent image stabilisation let me handhold at the full telephoto setting, as well as getting smooth walking tracking shots. You can get reasonable shallow focus at the long end of the lens range.
Here’s an example of footage originally shot on 4k, from Alf Pryor on Vimeo, that has been color graded.
Is the Canon XC10 a pro camcorder?
Yes, if you ignore the lack of XLR audio inputs. It has a good sized one-inch sensor, and it shoots ‘4:2:2’. This means it saves twice as much colour information as consumer camcorders and most DSLR/mirrorless cameras. So its footage is easier to ‘grade’ or adjust at the editing stage. It looks to be the only camera in its price range that can do this without an expensive external recorder. It records HD at a ‘bit rate’ of up to 50mb/s (a minimum requirement for some broadcasters) and 4k at 305 Mb/s. The European Broadcasting Union approved it as a Tier 1 camera for HD broadcast in this detailed test.
Should you buy one?
With the XC10, Canon is putting broadcast-quality video recording in the hands of people who don’t want a big, expensive or complicated camera. But if you’re used to pro features like XLR inputs and a lot of customisable buttons and dials, you might find it limiting.
If you’re a news, documentary or event shooter, it has potential as a compact camera that doesn’t attract attention. And pros who already own a C100 or C300 are buying it as a second camera, as the footage matches well.
I don’t think 4K is important for most people, so I’m judging the XC10 as an HD camera. I really liked it: it’s quicker and more straightforward to use than my DSLR, better in low light, and produces sharper images. And it’s a lot more discreet than normal pro camcorders.