5 things I love about shooting with the Canon XA45

Filming a music video on the Canon XA45 gave DoP Peter Demetris plenty of time to familiarise himself with its features – here he reveals his five favourites.
A man crouches down to film with a Canon XA45 professional camcorder.

DoP Peter Demetris put the Canon XA45 professional camcorder to the test on a music video shoot in London, UK. © Phil Hall

For a DoP who's right at home behind a full-size Cinema EOS rig, Peter Demetris is highly impressed by the potential of Canon's latest camcorder: the Canon XA45. "Having so many professional features on a tiny camcorder is just fantastic," he says.

The latest XA-series camcorder is certainly compact compared to Peter's Canon EOS C300 Mark III, but downsizing doesn't mean sacrificing performance. With its extensive professional feature set, including a 20x optical zoom lens, XF-AVC codec, and XLR and 3G-SDI connectors, the Canon XA45 punches above its weight.

Peter was an ideal choice to put the XA45 through its paces on a music video shoot, due to his background in both live broadcast and narrative productions. His route to becoming a self-shooting DoP began in his native Australia, where he served stints as a video technician, vision mixer and studio director, specialising in entertainment shows and multi-cam events. After relocating to London, his focus shifted to more narrative work, including a work-in-progress documentary on the making of Lost in London – the world's first feature film to be broadcast live – on which he served as live gallery director.

Here, Peter shares his thoughts on the Canon XA45's top five standout features.

1. Professional connectivity

Just like the Canon XA40, the Canon XA45 offers a wealth of connections in a compact body. However, in addition to HDMI, USB and remote terminals, it also boasts a 3G-SDI output that enables it to integrate easily into broadcast-standard equipment.

"If you're doing anything critical, and you want to output it to a big monitor so that you can look at levels, that's the best way to do it – straight out of a 3G-SDI," explains Peter. "HDMI out of a camcorder is fantastic, but HDMI connectors are domestic, and as they get smaller they get more fragile. You just can't beat a BNC connector and a BNC cable connected to a monitor for a rock-solid connection. They also tend to run further distances as well, so it's a great option if you need to get a long way from the camera for safety reasons."

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To ensure that the high-quality pictures are complemented by finely detailed sound, the Canon XA45 features two XLR inputs on its removable handle. "That makes the XA45 a terrific option for documenting behind the scenes on a small film production," says Peter. "The XLR connectors mean you can put radio mics on the camera. Often when you're working on film shoots, they'll have a radio signal on set that has a mix of the microphones. So, if you borrow a receiver from the sound person, you can shoot behind the scenes and capture all the audio that they're recording."

The XLR inputs on a Canon XA45 professional camcorder.

Peter says that being able to attach professional mics via the Canon XA45's XLR inputs is a huge bonus. "If you're shooting on location with the Canon EOS C300 Mark III, you've got four audio channels and you can put four radio mics on it. But what happens if a fifth person enters the room? If you've got a B-camera such as the XA45, you can put the radio mic receiver on top of that, plug it into the XLR and then you've got another audio channel." © Phil Hall

The ND Filter setting on a Canon XA45 professional camcorder.

The Canon XA45 comes with built-in ND filters. "That's particularly fantastic in bright daylight, as it means you can stop it down if you want to, in order to get that shallower depth of field," says Peter. © Phil Hall

2. Versatile lens

The Canon XA45 is an ultra-compact camcorder, yet it has a large 4K 20x optical zoom lens, making it suited to a wide range of professional disciplines and productions. "Lenses are the most important thing for me," says Peter. "You have to start with the lens and work backwards, and to have a lens that has the 35mm-equivalent of 29.3-601mm at f/1.8-f/2.8 on such a tiny camcorder is just incredible."

A 2x Digital Teleconverter adds to the lens's versatility, with 5-axis optical image stabilisation ensuring sharp results. "It's really useful to have IS on a camcorder like this, particularly as the current trend is for everything to be on the move rather than static," Peter explains. "If you were shooting a presenter doing a walking piece to camera with the Canon XA45, you could switch on the face detection autofocus and use the 5-axis stabilisation to get a really smooth shot as you walk with them."

3. Stunning 4K UHD image quality

With its combination of a 1/2.3-type CMOS sensor and a DIGIC DV6 processor, the Canon XA45 delivers a sharp and detailed 4K UHD image. Canon's Over Sampling HD processing technology ensures superior Full HD footage as well. "The majority of broadcast TV work I'm doing at the moment is in Full HD, and I really like the crisp image you get when it's downsampled from 4K," says Peter. "The fact that you can shoot at 50p in Full HD is a real bonus when you're working on location as well. You can shoot in real-time at 50p, then if you want to drop it into a half-speed slow-mo, you can do that in your NLE."

In addition to recording in web-friendly MP4, the Canon XA45 supports 4K UHD XF-AVC with a bitrate of 160Mbps at 25p, and Full HD XF-AVC at 45Mbps. "I usually shoot in XF-AVC because it's a rock-solid codec, and to be able to get XF-AVC out of this tiny camera is superb," says Peter. "The 160Mbps bitrate at 25p is more than enough for broadcast TV too. I think a lot of other manufacturers don't pay attention to bitrate, and it's really important when you're capturing dynamic scenes. Low bitrate cameras just look awful when there's fast movement."

A video still showing journalist and cinematographer Elisa Iannacone filming with the Canon XA55 camcorder while cliff camping in Wales.

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A woman dancing lit by beams of sunlight falling through a row of stained glass windows.

The Hybrid AF system makes it easier for a filmmaker to track a subject as they move around the room. "Having the camera chase the faces to keep them in focus means one less thing that you have to worry about," says Peter. "And it's so reliable, you don't need to pay too much attention to it." © Phil Hall

A man films in a low-lit room with a Canon XA45 professional camcorder.

"The Canon XA45 does have a tripod point and you can put it in a gimbal," says Peter. "But because it's so light and has 5-axis stabilisation, it really shines for handheld work." © Phil Hall

4. Hassle-free focusing

One of the advantages of shooting with a professional camcorder is that the autofocus system is optimised for the built-in lens. The Canon XA45 offers a host of focusing setups, including Face Detection and Tracking, Face Only AF, and manual focusing via the lens ring and touchscreen.

Peter admits to a growing admiration for Canon's face-tracking autofocus. "When I got my Canon EOS C300 Mark II, I initially thought that I had no real need for its Face Detection AF. As soon as I got used to it though, I absolutely loved it.

"Although the XA45 doesn't have Dual Pixel CMOS AF, it has a Hybrid AF system that's very, very good. It takes some of the stress out of a shoot when you're working with people, particularly when you're producing, and having to think about the content as well as the framing," says Peter.

An external monitor showing footage of a man filming a music video on a Canon XA45 camcorder.

The Canon XA45 fits seamlessly into a multi-camera setup. "It would be great as a B-cam, particularly if someone was shooting with the Canon XF705 or similar as their main camera," says Peter. "It's so simple to use that you could just set it up, hand it to someone, and show them the record button. They can then hoover up stuff that you can't get when you're shooting on the A-cam." © Phil Hall

5. Compact and powerful

Despite being palm-sized, the Canon XA45 makes no compromise in terms of controls, with a three-inch touchscreen, an array of assignable buttons, and a convenient customisable dial. "I try to get everything that I use a lot onto a custom button," says Peter. "So I've got iris control on the dial, and magnification, white balance and photo assigned to three of the buttons.

"For such a small package, it's really versatile. If you're a journalist shooting reportage, or if you're doing travel videos, you could carry the XA45 all day and not even know you've got it on you. It has dual SD card slots, so you can load it up with a couple of large cards, and you can shoot all day using relay recording. The ability to have so much footage in the camera without having to change cards is a real asset for a small camcorder. The batteries last ages, and they're tiny too, so you can easily fit a couple of spares in your pocket.

"The Canon XA45 is also perfectly suited to covert journalism," Peter adds. "If you went around with this camera, I don't think anyone would have a clue what you were doing. It's so compact that you can almost hide it in your jacket."

Marcus Hawkins

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