One-stop solution: broadcast shoots with the Canon XF605

Journalist Nina Stevens and DoP Charles Rare reveal how Canon's XF605 fared when put to the test in a variety of broadcast scenarios. Plus we explore the new features added to the camcorder through firmware updates.
A woman wearing a blue shirt films with a Canon XF605 camcorder in a field of tall grass.

Broadcast journalist Nina Stevens was one of the first filmmakers to get hands-on with Canon's latest XF series camcorder, the XF605. "It's lightweight and easy to use," she says. "Being able to pick it up and go, just with batteries and the base plate, and not having to worry about which lens to take, is really important for my kind of journalism."

"In documentary and journalism, you've got to be able to shoot at the click of a button because you don't know where the action is going to happen," says Nina Stevens, who has shot for major broadcasters from the BBC and Channel 4 through to the Discovery Channel and Sky.

For Charles Rare, a DoP, colourist and co-founder of a topical debate show who turned to cinematography to give life to the stories people shared, a camera is a tool for storytelling. "I'm always looking for new ways to redefine creativity," he says.

Both self-taught filmmakers who have learnt on the job, Nina and Charles tried out Canon's XF605 camcorder upon its launch. It is one of the industry's smallest three-ring 4K camcorders, with a large 1.0-type CMOS sensor and DIGIC DV7 processor delivering exceptional image quality, a 15x zoom lens and Dual Pixel CMOS AF with EOS iTR AF X, an intelligent deep-learning technology that tracks a subject's head, even when they are looking away from the camera.

The Canon XF605 offers 4K 60p/50p 4:2:2 10-bit XF-AVC, up to 120fps recording in Full HD, Canon Log 3 and LookFile support, plus four-channel audio and a wide range of connectivity including 12G-SDI, Wi-Fi and an Ethernet port for Canon XC Protocol, IP streaming and browser remote.

The filmmakers put the camera through its paces in a variety of settings, from beekeeping to football, filming everything from solo talking head interviews to roundtable panel discussions in order to showcase the camera's versatility. Charles also used the XF605 handheld to film a band on stage, putting the camera's AF, IS and low-light capabilities to the test.

Here, Nina and Charles talk about their experiences when using the camera, while Canon Europe Pro AV Product Specialist, Paul Atkinson, explains the improvements made to the XF605 via a range of firmware updates.

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A man wearing headphones filming on a Canon XF605 camcorder with a microphone attached.

Self-taught filmmaker Charles Rare, pictured with the Canon XF605, first started filming video on a Canon EOS 700D and EOS 750D. "That's when I started learning everything there is to know about film,” he says. "I started filming events, went on to documentaries and roundtable conversations and then shifted into commercial work."

30x zoom and outstanding low-light performance

Charles is no stranger to filming roundtable discussions but has previously used cinema cameras. "I'd never thought of using a camcorder in this setting, so I didn't know how much time it would save me," he says. "When it comes to this kind of work, things like depth of field don't matter too much and I don't need a Super 35mm or Full Frame sensor. I'm looking for a clean image that looks great straight out of camera, supports the right codecs and is easy to work with in post.

"With this camera, everything is compact, you've got the XLR inputs and built-in ND filters. I could use it for filming talking heads, documentaries – that zoom range gives you so many options – and for roundtable discussions."

When filming three subjects in conversation, Charles was particularly impressed with the scope of the 15x zoom range, which increases to 30x (in FHD) when using advanced zoom. "There have been scenarios when I've hired a lens kit for a job and wished I had a bit more range," he says. "Being able to punch in so much creates new creative possibilities, because you don't usually get that range in a DSLR or cinema camera setup."

A man filming with a Canon XF605 camcorder. Two women are seated at a table behind him illuminated by large studio lights.

"My experience with the Canon XF605 made me realise I really need to explore a wider range of cameras," says Charles, who filmed a roundtable discussion with the camcorder. "The nature of cameras is changing so much. When I'm taking on certain jobs, I might be missing out on something that can save me a lot of time on set."

A man filming on a Canon XF605 camera with a microphone attached. A Canon PTZ camera is visible in the foreground.

Pairing the Canon XF605 with two PTZ cameras and controlling them remotely showed Charles an entirely new way of working.

Despite working with a limited team, Charles also wanted to be able to shoot interviews on multiple cameras, so he paired the Canon XF605 with two PTZ cameras controlled with a Canon Remote Control RC-IP100. "This setup made me realise I could shoot a roundtable discussion with a very small crew, knowing everything is being monitored behind the desk," he says. Since the firmware update, the XF605 now also features Canon XC Protocol, meaning a multi-cam setup like this can be monitored and controlled remotely from a single point in any location with a reliable internet connection.

As a colourist, Charles is always considering post-production when shooting. "The band performance was quite a low-light situation, which can result in artefacts in the shadows and noise in the image," he says. "Whatever processing was happening in the camera, to me there was no visible noise. That sensor was working magic. When I started to use false colour to see what was happening in the blacks and shadow area, I was quite surprised – I had to use other tools to double check my exposure just to make sure I was looking at the image that false colour was telling me.

"We shot in 4K and HD. What's useful about 4K is the flexibility it gives you in post if you're going to deliver in an HD timeline. I've also found in colour grading that having more pixels to work with helps keep the integrity of the image when you start to push or pull things in different directions or sharpen the image – 4K is great for image fidelity."

A camerawoman stands behind a Canon XF605 camcorder, the back of her head to the camera. She is looking at a phone positioned above the camera, which is displaying the same image as the viewscreen. In the background we can see the presenter she is filming.

Nina never knows what's around the corner in her line of work, such as when shooting a piece to camera, so she needs flexible kit that's capable of nailing the shot first time.

A close-up of the buttons on the side of a Canon XF605 camcorder. A woman's finger is pressing a button marked 'ND FILTER'.

The Canon XF605 has in-built ND filters, as well as a range of easy to access buttons, including AF, focus and iris. "You've got to be across so many different things in video journalism. Having all the important functions at your fingertips really helps," says Nina.

An all-in-one journalistic partner

For Nina, who has previously used the Canon XF305 and Canon EOS C300, intuitive controls and the ability to get high-quality shots at the touch of a button are vital when working in broadcast journalism. "You can't get people to repeat things, so you need to be ready to go," she says. "I need to have really professional looking images while being able to juggle everything else."

Filming a presenter doing a piece to camera outside the University of Sussex, England, and a beekeeper in a field, she found the Canon XF605 met all these needs. "I was able to get a really nice depth of field and the image quality was fantastic. In going through the filters and opening up the iris, all of those things were really responsive and easy to access."

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As well as gain, white balance, focus and iris buttons, the Canon XF605 has 11 assignable buttons and settings can be adjusted through the LCD vari-angle touchscreen. "When you're looking through the screen and think, 'Oh, I should change the settings for this', you don't have to look somewhere else," says Nina. "It sounds really simple, but it's really nice to have that in one place."

A Canon XF605 camcorder positioned behind the goal during a football game, filming through the net.

Nina also filmed Brighton-based football team Whitehawk FC. "The Canon XF605 has a really nice, smooth zoom. When zooming in on something on the other side of a football pitch, I can do that in camera, while shooting, and still feel like I have a smooth shot." She also captured slow motion 120fps footage of the footballers coming out of the tunnel. "The guys going through the tunnel is a classic shot. It was really nice to have the slow-mo so easy and accessible."

When recording interviews, clear audio is vital, so Nina welcomed the camera's multiple XLR inputs. "Four-channel audio means I have multiple options for mics," she says. "Sometimes I'll be shooting a conversation and it's great to have the option to shoot more than just two people and still get good sound."

With a lightweight design, 600g lighter and 10% smaller than the Canon XF705, the XF605 is a compact yet durable camera for use in the field. "It's definitely a camera for journalistic work," says Nina. "It's really light and easy to take wherever you need to go, but you've still got all the functions of a larger format camera. It's often just me shooting, so I don't want a lot of kit to worry about, but I need kit that's going to get me the results I require. The convenience of the Canon XF605 was great."

A man films a band performing in an attic on a Canon XF605 camcorder. The three guitarists and a drummer are lit by studio lights and low-hanging bulbs.

Charles filmed a band performing in a windowless attic and was really impressed with the Canon XF605's performance when shooting in low light.

A female singer's face displayed on the vari-angle touchscreen of a Canon XF605 camcorder.

"The autofocus was beautiful to play with," says Charles. "The face tracking was great, and you can have it tracking two faces as well, which is a really nice feature."

Dual Pixel CMOS AF that keeps creativity flowing

Across their diverse shooting scenarios both filmmakers made use of the camera's powerful autofocus capabilities. The Canon XF605 combines Dual Pixel CMOS AF with head detection and tracking via EOS iTR AF X, 'deep learning' autofocus technology which keeps subjects in sharp focus even when they turn away from the camera. It's also the first XF series camera to feature Eye Detection AF, which via a firmware update is also available in the Slow & Fast Motion mode.

"The head tracking kept my subjects in focus as they were moving," says Nina, who used it when filming people, but also to lock onto bees from a metre away. "To be able to watch and make sure the AF stayed in focus, as opposed to actually following and finding focus, was really handy. Quite often I'll be filming but also having to think about what I have to do next, who is walking into the back of my shot or my next question. If you let those things consume you, you can miss the shot."

For Charles, an "avid manual focus person", using the advanced AF and 5-axis IS allowed him to focus on other elements of his filmmaking. "Having that element removed because the AF does its job very well, saves so much time. You can focus on things like composition. When shooting a band with multiple camera setups, I like to roam with the camera handheld. The flexibility to move and know that the camera is just going to nail focus is great."

Using the AF in combination with intuitive controls on the vari-angle touchscreen made for a particularly seamless experience. "The touchscreen is so responsive, and you can tap focus to the left or right of frame and the camera will change focus," says Charles. "You still have that level of flexibility and control – it's not locked in AF. The face tracking in combination with the tap focus made it feel like manual focus. You don't have to sacrifice the outcome of your creativity."

A close-up of a person carrying a Canon XF605 camcorder as they walk through a field.

Highlights of the firmware updates for the Canon XF605 include Canon XC Protocol support, higher-quality data rates and vertical shooting.

XF605 firmware updates: Canon XC Protocol and more

Since Nina and Charles first used the XF605, Canon has further invested in the camera with a range of firmware updates that improve productivity. Canon Europe’s Paul Atkinson takes us through the key improvements that they can now enjoy, with the headline feature being Canon XC Protocol support, first introduced in Canon's PTZ cameras, and now implemented in the XF605 in response to the growth in demand for livestreaming capabilities.

"There are various protocols within the industry that allow either control or IP streaming. Canon XC Protocol does both, using Canon's free software controller or the paid-for RC-100 hardware controller," says Paul. Previously, the XF605 could be remotely controlled as a solo camera, but now crucially it can be used as part of a multi-camera setup, for example with PTZ cameras as seen in Charles' roundtable discussions and live gig shoots, all controlled via a single point.

"The most likely scenario is that the XF605 would be a static central master camera – for example, filming a wide shot of the main speaker at an event – integrated into a multi-camera system of PTZ cameras doing their thing, panning, tilting and zooming." The core technology inside the XF605 and Canon's PTZ cameras is similar, too, so the image quality will be comparable, making for an ideal system of cameras for livestreaming and for easy grading in post.

The firmware update doesn't stop there. Further highlights include higher quality 4K ALL-I IntraFrame data rates. "Users were previously limited to a data rate of 410MB/s, but now with the latest firmware update, they can enjoy 4K ALL-I 50p at up to 500MB/s or 60p up to 600MB/s," says Paul.

The way consumers view media has changed, with smart phones being one of the main sources of viewing in what would be considered “Portrait” orientation. The same format is used extensively in digital signage, as found in advertising and other applications in the commercial world. This requires a different approach when filming. Vertical shooting mode has also been added to accommodate this change in viewing habits. This was first introduced on the EOS C70 and is now available on the XF605. When Vertical shooting mode is selected the display on the monitor changes orientation while retaining on-screen control functions.

For something like Nina's football shoots, Face and Eye Detection AF really comes into its own and it's now available in the Slow & Fast Motion modes up to 120p. "There are two modes of face detection; Face Priority and Face Only," says Paul. "Face Priority sticks on subjects that remain in the frame, while Face Only keeps the point of focus even if the subject leaves the frame, and then activates again when it detects a face re-entering the frame."

With a host of other improvements made in response to user feedback including from broadcasters, the XF605 continues to improve and accommodate for a range of shooting scenarios.

Lucy Fulford and Tim Coleman

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