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Technical

November 2010

The Canon XF105 and XF100 camcorders have built on the success of Canon’s groundbreaking XF300-series models, bringing high-end recording formats and features into palm-sized bodies. The XF100-series models feature the same broadcast-quality 50Mbps 4:2:2 recording codec and dual CompactFlash slots provide storage with relay recording. CPN reveals the main innovations in these outstanding camcorders.

 

Close-up of the HD-SDI, Genlock and Timecode connections on the forward right hand side of the XF105 model.

Canon XF100 series - Key features at a glance


  • Records MPEG-2 MXF files to CF cards at up to 50Mbps (4:2:2 colour sampling)
  • Comprehensive non-linear editing software support; Canon file management utility supplied
  • 10x wideangle Canon HD Video Lens, with wide angle (30.4mm) and wide aperture (f/1.8 max.)
  • 1/3 type Full HD (1920x1080) Canon CMOS sensor with 2.07Mpixels (effective)
  • 8.8cm LCD (920K dots) with focus assist and waveform monitor; 0.61cm (260K dots) EVF
  • 3D shooting assist functions
  • Infrared recording mode
  • Independent audio control with XLR outputs
  • Variable frame rate recording (12-50fps/
  • DiGiC DV III image processor
  • Extensive customisation: 34 functions assignable to 10 buttons
  • HD-SDI, SDI and Timecode output, Genlock input (XF105 only)
  • Canon Professional Services (CPS)

MPEG-2 recording format brings ultimate quality to new compact size

Despite weighing in at not much more than 1kg, around half the weight of an XF300-series camcorder, the XF105 and XF100 boast the same high-quality recording format as the XF300-series, and continue Canon’s move to solid-state recording. The MPEG-2 compression offers data rates of up to 50Mbps, which is twice that of HDV, and the 4:2:2 colour sampling provides twice the vertical colour resolution as well.

Before Canon released the XF300-series of camcorders, an MPEG-2 codec with 4:2:2 colour sampling was only available in video cameras costing in excess of €10,000. Now, the XF100-series brings this broadcast-standard format to an even greater level of affordability.

The primary benefits of 4:2:2 colour sampling are found during post-production. In particular, grading and chroma keying can be performed more accurately, providing an improved end product. The XF100 and XF105 can output outstanding footage usable in all kinds of production environments – a commendable feat for such compact camcorders.

 

Left hand side view of the XF100 showing the layout of controls including Iris, Gain, Shutter and White Balance (WB) buttons.


MXF files and Compact Flash media

Allied with the MPEG-2 recording format, and in line with their larger XF300-series siblings, the XF100 and XF105 store their video in an industry-standard MXF wrapper, and record files on CompactFlash media. Two slots are provided, with the option to switch from one to the other automatically without a break in shooting. This relay mode, allied with a hot-swap ability where cards can be changed without a pause in recording, means that shooting duration can be effectively as long as the blank media available.

It’s also possible to record to both card slots simultaneously to save time if two copies of footage are required, or to provide additional data security. One 64GB card will record up to 160 minutes of video at the maximum 50Mbps data rate, or more in the less data-hungry formats (see below).

Flexible recording options

The same wide array of recording modes found in the XF300-series models is provided in the XF105 and XF100. Alongside the headline 50Mbps 4:2:2-colour shooting mode, there are options to record at 35Mbps and 25Mbps.

In 50Mbps mode, both 1920x1080 and 1280x720 resolutions are available. The former provides 50i (interlaced) and 25p (progressive) alternatives, whilst the 720 setting allows 25p and 50p frame rates.

The same 1920x1080 and 1280x720 options are available at 35Mbps, but note that the colour sampling drops to standard 4:2:0. This is also true of the 25Mbps option, which is primarily supplied for HDV compatibility. This format uses the same anamorphic 1440x1080 resolution as HDV, although again both 50i and 25p varieties are supported.

Slow and fast motion shooting options are also available. In 720p mode, there are 20 frame rate options between 12fps and 50fps. In 1080p mode, there are nine steps between 12fps and 25fps. Interval, or time lapse, recording is on hand as well, with bursts of two, six or 12 frames possible at 25 different time intervals, from one second up to 10 minutes. This comprehensive range of resolutions and frame rates means there are shooting modes possible for every situation. In all cases, audio is captured as stereo Linear PCM with a 16-bit resolution and 48kHz sampling, for optimal sound clarity.

New 10x Canon HD Video Lens

A built-in high-resolution 10x Canon HD Video Lens, with a wideangle of 30.4mm (35mm equivalent), is incorporated in the XF100-series models.

Three lens shift groups have been included for the first time in the Optical Image Stabilizer system used in the XF105 and XF100. The increased precision of this new configuration helps to reduce chromatic aberration and maintain resolution, even in wide angle shots. Two lenses with double aspherical surfaces are deployed to offer enhanced resolution performance.

The aperture range of the lens is high, spanning from f/1.8 to f/22, whilst the minimum focusing distance is just 60cm, significantly less than many camcorders. At the wide end of the zoom range it is even possible to focus on objects that are just 2cm from the lens. A metal eight-blade iris diaphragm produces more aesthetic blur, or ‘bokeh’, in out-of-focus areas.

The focal length range of the 10x zoom can be expanded via electronic tele-conversion with 6x, 3x and 1.5x options available, so up to 60x magnification is potentially on tap.

A gradation ND filter is built-in and applied automatically when required, though this feature can be disabled by the user if necessary. The ND filter provides up to a maximum of 1/8 light reduction.

Three Image Stabilization (IS) modes are available for greater flexibility when shooting handheld. In Standard mode, the maximum compensation remains the same across the zoom range. Dynamic mode is designed for wide angle shooting where low frequency camera shake tends to occur, for example whilst walking. Conversely, Powered mode applies additional compensation at full telephoto, for steadier images when zoomed in on static subjects.

 

Back left side view of the XF100 showing the 8.8cm 920,000 dot LCD panel flipped out on the left side and two CF card slots (A and B) at the side of the camcorder.

3D shooting

A combination of superb image quality and compact size make the XF100-series camcorders, and the XF105 in particular, an intriguing prospect for 3D video capture, especially in the field where large and cumbersome 3D rigs may be impractical. With this in mind, Canon has included four key features designed to make it easier to set up the XF100-series for 3D shooting.

Firstly, Genlock allows precise synching of images from two cameras to ensure that the recordings don’t get out of step (this feature is only available on the XF105). Secondly, an Axis Shift function re-purposes the lens-shift Image Stabilizer system to allow the user to individually select and maintain an image centre point for each camera. Small changes in convergence during 3D shooting can be achieved without physically moving the cameras. Thirdly, a Focal Length Guide provides a precise numerical indication of the current zoom position, helping the operator manually match two cameras. Last but not least, complete in-camera image inversion is possible (left-right, up-down or left-right-up-down) – ideal when using a mirror rig.

Though each camcorder must still be individually configured and controlled, these new functions provide a considerable saving in the time and effort required for set-up.

Infrared recording

The XF105 and XF100 are the first Canon HD camcorders to offer an infrared (IR) shooting mode. A switchable IR filter and new lens coatings combine to pick up a bright monochromatic image in very low light - particularly useful for night-time nature cinematography, for example.

A built-in IR lamp is provided, whilst an internal diffuser ensures uniform lighting across the image. Options for green or white-toned recording are available.

 

The XF105 and XF100 camcorders both employ a 1/3 type 2.07Mpixel CMOS sensor to capture native Full HD video. The sensors offers high-speed data readout to minimise ‘skew’ and incorporates Canon’s noise reduction technology to help to deliver clean, detailed pictures, eliminate smear, and use less power than CCDs for increased battery life.

CMOS sensors and DiGiC DV III image processor

The XF100 and XF105 incorporate the same specially designed 1/3-type CMOS sensor found in the XF300-series camcorders, though this time in a single sensor configuration.

This sensor captures images in native Full HD resolution, with an effective pixel count of 2.07Mpixels for video or photos. A Bayer pattern filter combines with wide dynamic range and proprietary noise reduction to provide accurate colour reproduction whilst minimising grain and over- or under-exposure. The quality of both the featured Canon lens and CMOS sensor means that XF100-series camcorders can capture extremely fine detail: each model is capable of producing more than 900 TV lines of resolution.

The sensor also sports high-speed data readout to greatly reduce the ‘skew’ – or rolling shutter – effect that's sometimes associated with CMOS technology. Skew is a term used to describe moving objects that appear misshapen in recorded video due to incremental scanning of a sensor. Canon’s high-speed readout greatly reduces this unwanted effect.

The CMOS sensor in XF100-series models is partnered with a DiGiC DV III image processor – the latest in Canon’s DiGiC DV family of processors, which are optimised for HD video recording. In addition to being a major contributor to the outstanding image quality produced by XF100-series the DiGiC DV III processor supports a bevy of additional features, including face-detecting autofocus and a huge range of image customisation.

 

The optional 0.8x magnification WD-H58W Wide Converter increases wideangle capability to 24mm (35mm equivalent) when attached to the XF105 or XF100 professional camcorders.

Monitoring and control

The large 8.8cm LCD provides a very high level of detail thanks to its 920,000-pixel resolution. A waveform monitor can be displayed on-screen for managing exposure levels, and is utilised in Canon’s unique Edge Focus function. Other focus assist tools, such as peaking and magnification, are available along with zebra and an array of markers such as safe area and grid. Brightness, contrast, colour, sharpness and backlight can be adjusted, with a black and white option also available. The 0.61cm EVF sports a healthy 260,000 pixels and a similar array of quality adjustments.

The single lens ring is multi-function, and is selectable between focus, zoom and iris. This provides similar levels of control to a triple-ring approach, but in a much more compact form. There’s also a Custom Dial which can be configured to control iris, teleconverter level, headphone volume, the Face AF mode or the IR lamp.

A new Face-only AF mode will adjust focus automatically when faces are detected, but otherwise relies on manual control. So, if the camcorder locks onto a person who moves out of the frame temporarily, the camera won’t hunt for another focal point but will instead remain fixed until a human face reappears in the frame – useful for some interview situations, for example. Medium AF smoothes out the rapid response of Canon’s acclaimed Instant AF, for a more gradual automated rack focus.

When shooting under unpredictable circumstances, a three second pre-record buffer can be enabled. This constantly caches video to memory, keeping the last three seconds on hand. This pre-record footage will be added to the beginning of a clip, so even if the record button is pressed a split-second too late the cameraman won’t miss an important moment.

Customisation

Canon professional camcorders have historically offered a wealth of customisation possibilities and XF105 and XF100 are no exceptions. A comprehensive range of Custom Picture options is available, allowing complete control over the image. Six gamma profiles are provided, plus a huge range of adjustable parameters such as master pedestal, master black, black gamma, low key saturation, knee, sharpness, noise reduction, skin detail, selective noise reduction, colour matrix, white balance offset and setup level.

Even camcorder operation can be customised for different operators. Ten user-configurable buttons can be set to operate one each of 34 pre-defined functions, whilst 15 Custom Functions help to fine-tune how the camcorder is controlled.

Canon’s usual flexible White Balance options remain on hand, including two user-configurable settings, plus presets for daylight and tungsten illumination alongside numerical colour temperature adjustment.

Almost all of these settings can be stored for later use or sharing between different cameras and users. Three factory presets and six customisable entries are stored in-camera, but it’s also possible to save and retrieve up to 20 from an SDHC memory card.

Connections

Despite its compact form, the XF100-series has a high level of professional connectivity. Both the XF105 and XF100 camcorders offer twin XLR audio inputs with 48V phantom power, but also a 3.5mm mini-jack for non-balanced audio inputs. HDMI output allows Full HD output for monitoring, or uncompressed video capture via an appropriate computer or stand-alone device. There’s also a component video output for analogue HD viewing.

The XF105 goes one better by including the full gamut of high-end professional digital studio connectivity, including HD-SDI for uncompressed HD video transmission, plus a further BNC terminal for Timecode and Genlock. So this model will be as at home in a live studio multi-camera HD production environment as in the field.