Thursday, 1 August 2013

A very in-depth look at the Canon XA20/XA25 a great little camera and a big improvement over the XA10

Earlier this year Canon released an update to the largely successful XA10: The new Canon XA20 camcorder is much more than just a simple update, it is actually a whole new beast!

If you are familiar with the XA10 then you will know what great little camera it is and why it was such a hit with event shooters and documentarians alike.  It offered some great pro features like balanced XLR audio inputs, relay recording for continuous shooting and a waveform monitor. All of this in a very small package that can be stripped down into an even smaller and less conspicuous package when removing the handle/XLR module. I have talked to many of my clients who say they loved working with the XA10 for run & gun documentary work and getting in and out of places where shooting was risky or deterred. Stripping the camera down gives it a very streamlined "consumer" camera look which is great for crossing borders where custom officials like to ask a lot of questions.

The XA20 expands on all of this and more. Let's take an in-depth look at what this camera offers and the main differences over the XA10.

Size and visually the XA20 is very similar to the old XA10 however the XA20 is a bit wider, this is due to the full zoom rocker they have added onto this camera. The full zoom rocker is  a big improvement as the XA10's zoom rocker felt cheap and had less finer control. With the full variable zoom rocker on the XA20 I now feel I can properly control my smooth zooms with confidence.

Canon has added an assignable accessory wheel shown below. A feature borrowed off of the more pro XF100 series cameras. This dial is great when you quickly want to access manual controls such as Iris and still have the main lens ring for manual focus or zoom. 


Having the additional accessory wheel directly below and to the right of the main lens ring is a great improvement over the thumb dial that was located on the back of the XA10. 

One notable improved feature is the a-posable viewfinder they have added to the XA20. Having the ability to tilt up and while handheld shooting to get the perfect angle for image and comfort is a nice feature. The viewfinder is still very tiny and some people will find it difficult to use however on those very bright days when the main OLED screen is unusable the viewfinder will be a welcomed option, not to mention another point of contact to help steady the camera while handheld shooting. 

Another feature they have added is the ability to switch the main lens focus ring over to a zoom ring. This is now possible via a switch close to the back of the camera shown below. 

For those who dislike using touch screens Canon has decided to add an additional manual menu control joystick with a menu access button located at the rear of the camera. Those who wish operate the camera with the OLED monitor closed can still access the menu via this this joystick. It is conveniently located close to the record button for quick access while shooting. 

An integrated lens cap? Yep they added that too. Nice addition Canon! No more misplaced or lost lens caps to do deal with. Check out the images below. 

This lens cap can be closed via a switch on the side of the lens hood. Unlike other intergraded lens caps on some consumer cameras this does not feel cheap and has a very simple mechanism to close it,
so there is very little to go wrong with it and should be an easy repair if it breaks. 

Now the technical stuff. The above features are nice but what does this camera really bring to the table in-terms of image quality. Well one of  the biggest differences is the newly designed sensor Canon has put into this camera, it is slightly larger and offers more dynamic range than the XA10. They also have a new processor onboard. the Digic DV 4. This new chip is responsible for the increased dynamic range. 

The XA20 has now the option of recording in AVCHD Progressive at 28Mbps as well as MP4 35Mbps for sharper images. This also the first Canon video camera to do a true 1920x1080 60p record mode. Which is great for those looking to get full HD slow mo. Something Canon has been trailing in to competitors like Sony.

The lens. This is another area where Canon has decided to make a really big leap. With a 20x optical zoom the Canon XA20 is really unique when it comes to price point and size. Most cameras with a 20x optical zoom traditionally have been much larger due to the larger lens size and more elements of glass needed to optically enhance the image. The XA20 has a thread size of only 58mm and still keeps the same 8 blade aperture as the XA10 however delivers twice the magnification while maintaining a sharper image.  

Wifi Capability: 

So Wifi is a feature we have seen lately being added to many different cameras. From point & shoots to DSLRS, from consumer palmcorders to pro-sumer camcorders, this trend is only going to continue as the integration between web & video become more streamlined and unified. The XA20 is no different and embraces its Wifi capability in a couple of different ways. 

First and for most you can control the XA20 from a smart phone or tablet. You do not need to download an app as the camera shows up as a wifi hot spot on your phone/tablet's network. First you must setup a in camera wifi password before connecting. Once connected this will bring up a web interface that allows you to control the camera. Check out the video below for a great walk through of how to setup the remote control from your smartphone/tablet, as well as additional features. 

You can also now not only control the XA20 via Wifi but also upload files directly from the field using FTP file transfer via wifi.  This make it a great camera for news gathering, when getting files uploaded quickly to the web is a priority. 

Here are some of the main specs of the XA20 has for quick reference, please note I am not going to list all of them because the Canon website has a full breakdown. 

Sensor size: 1/2.84"
Video Resolution: 1920x1080 
Effective Pixels: 2.91 Mp 
Total Pixels on the XA20's sensor: 3.09 
Color Filter:RGB 

Aperture: 1.8 -2.8 
Focal Length: 3.67 to 73.4mm
35mm Equivalent: 26.8 to 576mm 
Filter size: 58mm 
Minimum Illumination: 1.2 lux 
Low Light Mode: 0.1 lux 

OLED Monitor: 3.5"
Color viewfinder: 0.24" 

Media: Two external SD card slots. Can be setup fro relay or tandem recording. 
No onboard media. 


28 Mb/s 1920x1080 
24 Mb/s 1920x1080
17 Mb/s 1920x1080
 5  Mb/s 1920x1080

35 Mb/s 1920x1080 
24 Mb/s 1920x1080
17 Mb/s 1920x1080
 4  Mb/s 1920x1080
 3  Mb/s 1920x1080

Video outputs: 
1 x HDMI mini 
1 x USB 2.0 mini USB which is an output only. 
1 x mini jack 3.5mm composite A/V output RCA breakout cable 

Audio Inputs:
2 x Balanced XLR inputs with 48v Phantom Power as well as line select input 
1 X stereo mini jack input 

Other specs: 
Power supply 8.4V DC 
Power Requirements: Battery 7.4V DC
Operating Temp: -5 to 45C 
Dimensions: 10.9 x8.4 x 18.3 cm
Weight 1.7 lbs (765 grams) 

So now for the proof. I have gathered some of the better examples of the XA20 in action. Of course when possible download the file for best quality. As I update this blog if I find more footage will add it. This camera is still very new so there isn't a tonne out there... yet. 

Here is some footage shot by jvaphoto in my home city of Toronto:

Some more footage from the XA20:

Some comparison night tests done against the XA10

Some test footage using the HFG10 vs the XA20 

Lowlight test compared to the Panasonic GH3

At this point you are probably wondering why I haven't made a single mention about the XA25 and there is a very good reason for that. The Canon XA25 differs in only one main feature from XA20. 
It's BNC connector to output HD/SD-SDI. That is it. Image quality wise the two cameras are identical.  

Overall I like this camera but there is one complaint I have about the XA20. Check out the pic below. The headphone jack is in a bad spot. Anyone with decent sized hands will find that it is just too close when you grip the camera and gets in the way. It should be in the back of the camera like most other camcorders. i would have also moved the mini HDMI port as well, to a place that was less of an obstruction when holding the camera as many people may want to hook up and an external recorder to the XA10 to achieve a true broadcast codec such as an Atomos Ninja Recorder. 

I hope you have found this information useful. I really think at  $2,200 dollars Canadian the Canon XA20 is a great deal for the amount of features you are getting. The fact that you have 20x optical zoom. balanced XLR inputs, advanced image stabilization, higher grade MPEG 4 codec and WIFI upload capability puts this camera in a class by itself. After using this camera for the past week I have really gotten to appreciate this little camera. I think for documentarians, news gathers in the field, web casters or event shooters this camera will fit their needs perfectly. Please leave your comments and questions below. Any feed back about this blog is greatly appreciated. Also any gear you would like me to review in the future please let me know.


  1. This is a very helpful post, it may have tipped the scales for me vs Panasonic GH3. I shoot a lot of interviews but also warehouse and basketball game environments so many have said to stay with video recorder instead of DSLR. Thanks

  2. So, if you know that your videos will live on your computer screen either through web delivery (Facebook / YouTube / MetaCafe) or by virtue of being on your hard drive you can select either video resolution and be perfectly happy. However if you intend to play back your video on a large screen HDTV you might notice an advantage if you choose a 1080p capable camera.
    Atomos External Recorder

  3. Great review, thanks for your information.

  4. I am having problems with it better to shoot MP4. Because av hd is hard to edit