We Test Canon XA55
The first time the XA55 is held in the hands, one could be misled into believing to be in possession of an advanced home camera. However, this impression soon vanishes as it is actually a professional, truly complete and compact camera. Let us look at it in more detail.
By Yeray Alfageme, Service Manager Olympic Channel
The Canon XA55 has been launched into the market along with its twin sibling, the XA50. The only difference between them is the 3G-SDI output featured in the XA55 as compared to the 1.5Gbps output in the XA50. This enables the XA55 to deliver a linear video signal up to 1080p50 at 10 bits, while the XA only reaches 1080i50 at 8 bits. Aside from this small difference, all other features are just the same.
As we have being by making a mention to it, let us discuss in detail the body of XA55. Canon’s XA range has always boasted being a truly compact device and, with the leap into UHD, Canon has not left this important feature aside for its most compact product family. And the XA55 weighs less than a kilo, yes, less than one kilo. And if the small battery and the upper handle –which provides the connectivity and audio control, as well as additional recording controls- are added, it hardly reaches 1,400 grams. Really light stuff.
Its matt finish and build –resistant plastic- provide a high degree of durability against abrasion or scratching. All controls, from menu buttons to zoom controls or power knobs, achieve a really professional, reliable feel. One limitation Canon had to adopt when keeping such a compact format was that the camera just has one control ring around the lense, which only enables controlling focus or zoom, but not at the same time. A small selector at a side of the ring enables us selecting its function.
The XA55 uses a compact lense from Canon featuring a 15x zoom that ranges from 25.5mm to 382.5mm, equivalent to 35mm, and an opening between 2.8 and 4.5. Although this is not particularly impressive, it can be seen that Canon is an experienced lense manufacturer, as no aberrations or errors can be noticed in the image, either at widest opening or at the highest zoom range. Also, the camera has available ultra-wide angle accessories and 1.5 tele, which make it even more versatile.
Furthermore, digital options featured by the software are also very flexible. Although it is true –mostly in 4K, of course- that the 300x digital zoom is not really recommendable, the 2x doubler does work as a useful tool. Under HD, the loss of quality is hardly noticeable mainly due to the interpolation technique from UHD used by the camera to generate an HD signal, as we note below.
A great detail is the camera’s touch screen, which enables controlling the focus just by selecting a point in the image. This feature was already present in most cell phones offered in the market, but including this in a reliable manner in a professional camera was quite a challenge, one which Canon has more than successfully overcome.
The XA55 belongs to the first family of UHD cameras in Canon’s XA series along with the XA40 and the above-mentioned XA50. As opposed to the other models in the range, the sensor of the XA is a CMOS 1.0 sensor. The XA range had come this far equipped with a ½.84 sensor, but now the sensor in the XA55 features a higher area, about 6.8 times bigger, and therefore increased sensitivity and lesser noise, a must-have in UHD. As this is a bigger sensor featuring a bigger bouquet achieved through lesser field depth, it provides the image with a much more perfected aesthetics, which coupled with the autofocus feature, allows for great possibilities in regard to image composition.
As noted before, HD signal generation deserves a separate comment.
And the Canon does not discriminate between pixels when generating the HD image from the UHD sensor, but captures a full image with 4K definition and interpolates an HD image by discarding extraneous information. This is noticeable mostly in high-contrast scenes where HD image generation is really faithful to reality.
The XA55 features a 5-axle image stabilizer resulting from a combination of both optical and electronic stabilization. Autofocus is offered by means of a proprietary technology developed by Canon, the so-called Dual Pixel CMOS AF. This technology offers a continued autofocus during recording that covers 80% of the center of the image. As we have already mentioned, the touch control through the focus screen perfectly blends with object monitoring, which makes the focus follow the object when the latter is moving along the image. An incredible, really easy-to-use effect. Last, the device features face detection and tracking and an advanced focus system only for faces, which -again- makes focus easier, something that is critical in 4K-UHD scenes.
The XA55 is an UHD-native camera that supports the following recording modes:
- UHD: 3840 x 2160, 50P, YCC 4:2:2 (8 bits)
- HD: 1920 x 1080, 50P, YCC 4:2:2 (10 bits)
And their 30FPS and 60FPS equivalents, respectively.
As for recording formats, it offers both MP4 and XF-AVC (MPX) with the following qualities:
- MP4: 3840 x 2160 (150 Mbps)/1920 x 1080 (35/17 Mbps)
- XF-AVC: 3840 x 2160 (160 Mbps)/1920 x1080 (45 Mbps)
Alter testing both formats, we can say that the compression quality of MP4 is nearly the same as XF-AVC, so the codec choice will be determined by the subsequent use we intend for our images. If our production targets ENG or social media, no doubt the MP4 format will offer us quickness and higher compatibility, while the XF-AVC format will offer greater integration with advanced post-production and edition environments.
As the camera has two recording slots for SD cards, dual recording in both formats can be achieved, if required. This offers both extra assurance and the possibility of having not only a backup copy of the material but also the same material in the two formats, which is very useful if you do not know for sure about the end use it will be given.
As for audio, the XA55 offers to AAC channels or 4 16-bit LPCM channels. With the standard accessory included, we have two XLR connections in addition to the in-built stereo microphone located in the body. Each of those external connections has a microphone preview featuring adjustable or automatic gain, including 48V phantom power.
In addition to the already mentioned SDI output, 3G in the XA55 and, 1.5G in the XA50, the device has a headphone jack and microphone mini-jack input, directly on the body, and HDMI output.
Incredible as it may seem in a body weighing less than one kilo, the XA55 has all features that are to be expected in a professional camera. Its small size makes also possible reaching up to 2 hours of uninterrupted recording with a single charge of its small battery.
The XA55 is a professional camera within the body of a compact camera, which is really surprising when we see its recording quality and the countless possibilities it offers. The arrival of UHD to the XA range is god news, as it allows news reporters to make small productions and even documentaries. An option to really bear in mind when size matters.