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Canon XC15 Review

Introduction

Initially released in the fall of 2016, Canon’s XC15 comes to market to add more professionalism to the previously released XC10, which debuted the previous year. Technically it’s a camcorder. But, one that travels the grey area between traditional DSLRs and other larger camcorders and cinema cameras. So it’s neither conventional, like the XA or XF series, nor truly professional like the C300 series.

Even so, it’s a camera that Canon aims at multimedia creators wanting an all-inclusive tool for shooting handheld editorial and ENG work. And it’s also a camera aimed at existing C100 and C300 users looking for a compact and portable b-camera for a second angle. On paper, it looks to fill an interesting gap for DSLR shooters wanting a more video-centric camera. But those who aren’t quite ready to leap to the higher-end cinema range or ready to venture to interchangeable lens cameras. And it does so with a surprisingly attractive price point. But, considering its age, is this a relevant camera today? Let’s find out.

 

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Canon XC15? 

Pros:

Image Quality

It features a 12-megapixel 1-inch CMOS sensor and the DiG!C DV 5 processor, letting the camera produce uncropped 4K UHD video at 30 FPS and 1080p full HD video at 60 FPS. And it does so using oversampling to create uncropped full resolution 4K UHD. This sensor and processor configuration also boasts 12 stops of dynamic range, providing excellent latitude to work the footage in contrasting scenes. While for stills, it’s a fully functional photography camera that shoots 12-megapixel JPEG images using a mechanical shutter. Compared to rivals, its sizable 1-inch sensor produces a more shallow depth of field. And it also helps the camera resolve fine details. Plus, you can easily get smooth defocusing by zooming in towards the telephoto end.

But, back to the video capabilities. Like the XC10, this camera incorporates the XF-AVC codec to balance storage demand and image quality. As such, the camera records 4K video to the MXF wrapper. And it does so at a maximum data rate of 205-305 Mbps via Intraframe compression to an 8-bit 4:2:2 codec. With Intraframe, the camera captures all the detail and resolution possible from the sensor on a frame-by-frame basis. And doing so lets you edit with more fidelity and pull higher-quality still images. While 1080p videos record at 35-50 Mbps in the MXF wrapper with Long-GOP compression to an 8-bit 4:2:2 codec. Log-GOP encoding is better for maintaining efficient data rates, but it doesn’t provide as much fidelity. Canon’s also separated the resolutions here to streamline workflows and avoid mixing up the data.

The camcorder also obtains new Movie Look Settings to adjust the gamma curves for seamless cross-compatibility and easy grading. And they’re here to match its colors to other EOS Cinema cameras, namely the C300 Mark II. In this case, it has both Canon Log and Wide DR Gamma curves to maximize its full 12-stop range. And these profiles are ideal for post-processing the footage, grading, and color corrections. But, Wide DR is the better option as it replicates Rec 709. But, it records the sensor’s full dynamic range without needing to do extensive color corrections. Lastly, it obtains the Highlight Priority Mode, which creates a similar gamma and effect as HDR to prevent loss of detail in the highlights. But, it does so while maintaining highly saturated and realistic colors with better gradations.

Overall, the video quality in 4K is good. But it’s quite soft compared to other cameras. So we will touch back on this in the cons section below.

Let’s move on to some other notes.

It also has an integrated 10x optical zoom 8.9-89mm F2.8-5.6 video lens, giving it a 27.3-273mm equivalent focal length for movies. This lens also has dedicated focus and zoom rings and controls to switch from manual to autofocus. And it uses a combination of low dispersion lens elements to compensate for chromatic aberration and maintain image quality across the zoom range. Plus, it has a retractable lens barrel design with integrated guide bars to ensure precise movement when zooming but retains a compact size. Otherwise, the lens has engraved focal length markings to maintain consistency. And it leverages Canon’s superior optical stabilization technologies, which combined with the DV 5 processor, lets you capture stable handheld clips across the entire zoom range. You also have three intensity levels, ranging from Dynamic, Standard, and Powered, to tailor the image stabilization to the shooting demands. Dynamic IS compensates for walking and shooting handheld, while Powered IS is best for static pan, tilts, and zooms. But, they work extraordinarily well, and you can grab usable clips even fully zoomed in and using the 2x digital teleconverter if you’re still.

Outside of that though, it features a built-in 3-stop ND filter, which helps ensure you can maintain the proper shutter speed during bright conditions.

It obtains the 4K Frame Grab feature. Here you can extract individual frames from a 4K clip in-camera saved as 8.3-megapixel JPEG images.

It features Slow and Fast Motion Recording to vary the playback speed of the recording in-camera. And with this mode, the camcorder captures 1/4x slow-motion or 1200x fast motion. But, this mode does record at 720 SD resolution with a data rate of 14 Mbps. So the quality isn’t the greatest.

It offers an integrated Waveform Monitor, letting you check the levels and exposure to make accurate adjustments.

Note: you can change the file name and the metadata afterward for better compatibility with other EOS cinema cameras, such as the C300 Mark II. 
Note: you can also change the shutter speed notation to shutter angle if you’re already familiar with this terminology. 

Low Light Performance

The camera features a native ISO range from 160-20,000 (0 dB – 42 dB gain). And low light performance is good considering the sensor size. Its relatively large 1-inch sensor improves its signal-to-noise ratio compared to other smaller camcorders. So users can expect usable footage up to ISO 3,200.

Note: you can also change the notation of sensitivity from ISO to gain. 

Focusing Performance

For focus, it features a TTL-based autofocusing system with Face detection & tracking. This system offers three states of transition speed, ranging from low to high. And this lets you configure the camera’s rack focusing for smoother effects. With automatic face detection, the camera can recognize multiple faces within the frame. And it intelligently determines the main subject, then tracks them as they move. But, touching on the screen enables an override, letting you select any subject for it to follow. Overall though, the focusing is good, but it’s moderately slow. Canon’s pushed a firmware update that improved the focusing speed, which they claim is twice as fast as comparable models. But, the camera does take upwards of 30 seconds to shift between subjects. Thankfully, when it gets there, it hits, and it’s rock solid. And the Face detection is surprisingly good and it’s confident at recognizing dominant subjects. But, bear in mind, without a human subject, it will have difficulty in some situations. So depending on your medium, manually focusing would prove to be substantially faster.

It has focus peaking and magnification to ensure precise manual focusing.

Battery Performance

It uses the standard LP-E6N series battery found in much of Canon’s EOS range. And battery life is excellent. Expect 2 and a half hours of continuous 1080p recording on a single charge or about 90 minutes of 4K

Display & Viewfinder

It features a 3.0-inch tilting touchscreen LCD with a resolution of 1.03M dots. This screen uses a unique two-axis parallel hinge mechanism, letting it tilt 90º to 115º degrees. And overall, the screen is excellent. It’s bright, vivid, and accurately displays the recording footage. And the tilting design here is versatile and highly advantageous when working at odd angles. Plus, being a touchscreen, it supports various touch gestures, including swiping, touch tracking, and full menu navigation.

Canon also includes a removable viewing hood that attaches to the rear LCD, perfect for composing outdoors in bright environments.

User Interface

The user menu and interface borrow many elements from Canon’s EOS system. And in design, it’s excellent and masterfully done. They’ve organized the menu into: camera, playback, recording, audio, Wi-Fi, and system settings. And it’s quite easy to understand, navigate, and relocate settings. So it’s unlikely newcomers will find it particularly difficult and challenging to master. The entire interface is also touch-sensitivity, including all camera functions and the individual settings. And you can swipe between menu pages and scroll by dragging. So together, it’s well-executed and a win on Canon’s part.

It features an Operation Lock mode, which prevents unintended changes to camera settings.

It also has a customizable Function (FUNC) menu to quickly access 15 of your most-used settings. And you can save these settings to the SD card for future recalling.

It obtains a new menu setting dedicated to audio settings. Here you can adjust the internal microphone trimming, add a low-cut filter, adjust the sensitivity, and much more.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

Physically, it offers a unique DSLR-styled body design. Yet, it’s quite compact and lightweight at only 2.1 lbs (955g) compared to other camcorders. Interestingly, it offers a rotating hand grip that rotates 90º in either direction. It’s a small change, but one that makes filming at awkward angles far more comfortable. The grip itself is also quite large, well-contoured, and similar to, say, the 80D DSLR. As such, if you’re already familiar with DSLR ergonomics, you will find it immediately comfortable. And it includes several helpful controls, including a thumb-control dial, a menu button, and a record button. Outside of that though, you’ll find a familiar host of camcorder controls. These range from three customizable FN buttons and the MF/AF toggle.

Overall, the physical design is excellent. And it makes the camera well suited for shooting in tight spaces, where larger cameras are not feasible.

Niche Features/Extras

It features dual-band Wi-Fi. In this case, it offers built-in 5 GHz and the standard 2.4 GHz band. With Wi-Fi, you can connect the camera to the Browser Remote, letting you preview images and remotely control its operations with a live feed from a computer or smartphone.

It offers a mini-HDMI port that outputs a 4K UHD 30 FPS signal.

It has a microphone input.

It has a headphone output.

It has a DC-IN socket for continuous power. And connecting the adapter also charges the installed battery.

It has a cold shoe to attach compatible microphones or the MA-400 adapter.

It has a built-in stereo microphone to capture scratch or reference audio.

It features dual card slots. In this case, a single CFast slot and an SD slot. The CFast records higher data rate footage used in 4K, while SD is for 1080p.

Canon includes the MA-400 Microphone Adapter, which offers two XLR-format audio ports. XLR is the standard for professional audio devices, such as microphones and audio mixers. And now, with the MA-400, users can interface with such devices without adapters. On the MA-400, you’ll also find manual audio level controls and line-level inputs. It also includes an integrated microphone holder for a shotgun microphone. As such, it’s an excellent option for run-and-gun filmmaking and ENG workflows.

It has flicker reduction to reduce changes in white balance and brightness caused by artificial lighting.

It has zebras for highlight clipping indication.

It has a 2x digital teleconverter, which doubles the camera’s effective focal length to 546mm.

It has Rolling Shutter Reduction to reduce this form of distortion in recordings.

It has a built-in Time Code, and you can adjust the count-up, drop frames, enable rec, or free-run as needed.

Cons:

Image Performance

It lacks RAW (DNG) capabilities. Instead, the camera only shoots JPEG in the 3:2 or 4:3 aspect ratios. As such, you have very little room to work the still images in post-processing before they fall apart. So careful with the exposure.

The maximum aperture on the lens is f/11, which means you’ll have to use the built-in ND filter when recording outdoors. And there’s little to do to avoid that.

Video Capabilities

The footage on this camera is quite soft, even compared to other models from its manufacturing year. Even without reviewing the footage at 100% view, you can see it lacks detail, especially compared to the C300 Mark II. And even its 4K remains softer than some rivals 1080p footage. Additionally, the camera has dull and flat-looking colors, especially compared to the C300 Mark II. And this occurs regardless of recording in C-log or the standard picture profile. Together these result in footage that’s noticeably different from Canon’s other EOS cinema cameras. As such, it’s quite a problematic pair as a b-camera for their C100 and C300 series. And it will surely require some grading in post-processing to integrate this model into those workflows.

It lacks the MP4 format. Instead, you’re stuck with the MXF codec, which requires Canon’s XF Utility to preview the files. Otherwise, you’ll have to transfer the footage to a post-processing editor and battle the rendering process. This is strange, considering the XC10 eventually got a firmware update with these capabilities. Sure this is the more “professional” model in the line. But, dealing with MXF files is quite tedious. Overall, it’s a shame as some of the target demographic for this product are unlikely to be familiar with this particular codec.

It lacks 10-bit.

Autofocus Performance

The lens uses an electronic fly-by-wire focusing motor rather than a mechanical connection. The problem is that it’s impossible to use dependably, as the focusing speed changes as you rotate the collar slower or faster. And it is not easy to predict when it will jump to another rate. Fly-by-wire focus always has this issue. But it’s strange to see such a design on a camcorder aimed at professionals, who mostly use manual focus. Instead, you’ll have to rely strictly on autofocus at all times. The autofocus is accurate when it hits. But, you’ll be waiting as it gradually gets to the target. So it’s not ideal for quick run-and-gun moments. The best bet is tapping on the screen and engaging subject tracking instead.

Display

The only area of note here is that you’ll have to use the viewfinder when shooting outdoors, as the screen can suffer from glare. The main problem you’ll run into is this: adding the viewfinder disables the touch tracking since you can’t touch the rear screen. And, sadly, removing the viewfinder is a slow process. With that, you’ll have to rely on the autofocus algorithms to have the camera decide what the main subject is. But, often, it will take upwards of 30 seconds for it to settle. For a second-generation model, we would appreciate it if attaching the viewfinder loop was easier. Alternatively, if users can initiate touch tracking using the thumb-control dial. Either or solves this problem.

Menus

The camera only offers a single adjustment dial to control the aperture by default. And without another dial, changing the ISO or Gain requires a trip to the function menu, which is tedious when using the viewfinder hood. It’s a change that takes several steps since you have to go into the FUNC menu and many button presses. And it can result in a missed shot when shooting outdoors in a run-and-gun fashion. Sure, you can change the default to control ISO, but then changing the aperture becomes a several-step process. So it’s an unfortunate trade-off either way. It would be great to see an option to map a toggle to a function button to switch the default behavior in a future model.

Another setting of note that’s tedious to change is the white balance. This is also a several-step process that involves the FUNC menu. And it’s a relatively slow process to change Kelvin’s values by using the d-pad and gradually scrolling through the range. Not ideal for run-and-gun applications either.

Lacking Features

The cold shoe lacks contact pins for still image syncing. Thus it lacks support for external flashes and triggers.

It lacks weather sealing.

It lacks a full-sized HDMI.

It lacks a time-lapse movie mode.

Is this a good beginner camera?

No.

At its current price, we would not recommend this as a video-centric camera for video. There are plenty of other more affordable options that are equally as capable.

Is this a good camera for you?

Yes.

This is a good option for multimedia journalists and ENG videographers that want a compact and portable camcorder. But one that provides outstanding stabilization and a powerful 10x optical zoom lens. Given those two features, it’s a great tool for filming handheld editorial work and makes a solid alternative to Canon’s XF and XA series. And suppose you can overlook the relatively clunky setting changes for white balance, exposure, and the slow AF. In that case, it’s a powerful handheld camera indeed.

While Canon markets this as a b-camera for C300 users, it’s a difficult match considering the difference in the footage. So unless you’re willing to battle grading the footage in post, consider another camera instead.

In the end, Canon’s XC15 is a brilliant addition to their XC range of camcorders. And it improves nicely on the already unique XC10 with much-needed XLR capabilities and specific user requests. Canon specifically markets this camera as a b-camera in higher productions.  But, no, we’d argue it’s not a good choice there. Instead, it’s a solid option for TV, web, and multimedia journalists who don’t already use high-end equipment but are looking to add a video to their arsenal. And it’s a great alternative for the price to a similarly capable DSLR, without battling the more complicated accessory setup, rigging, and workarounds needed. As it stands, the XC15 is a great camera that’s simple to use, efficient and effective. Sure, camcorders are often an area overlooked by reviewers and content creators. But, they’re going strong nonetheless as an intelligent and effective solution towards a specific niche. But one that sports DSLR ergonomics and superior simplicity. As such, it’s a good mediator between a DSLR video camera and other higher-end camcorders and cinema cameras. And it could be a one-stop solution for filmmakers wanting something affordable.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
3.8

Summary

The Canon XC15 is a rather niche but highly unique camcorder that travels the grey area between traditional camcorders and DSLRs. It’s not a perfect tool by any means. But, as a package, it’s a one-stop solution that’s an ideal fit for filmmakers wanting something portable, compact, easy to use, and affordable.

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