Way back in 1997 (light years in the digital video world), Canon released a landmark camera, the XL-1. The three-CCD, standard-def camcorder was wildly popular with indie filmmakers who were drawn to professional features like interchangeable lenses, a high-quality viewfinder and XLR inputs—all in an affordable priced-to-own package. In the low-budget filmmaking world, it was the “industry-standard” camcorder to make movies with.
Flash-forward to 2008 with Canon releasing the XH A1 handheld HDV camcorder, which was used to great effect by filmmakers Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine on Crank: High Voltage (2009). Working with a mid-sized studio budget with cameras you could purchase at Best Buy, the filmmakers were able to deliver high-energy, high-quality HD that held up reasonably well on movie screens.
Unlike Sony (who seems to deliver multiple camcorders every year), Canon has moved a little slower in the professional camcorder space. At this year’s NAB, Canon presented its latest professional camcorder—the new XF300—a tapeless camcorder with a fixed lens that delivers full HD (1920×1080) resolution, contains an exciting new codec and captures data to CompactFlash cards. Like the XH A1/G1 before it, the XF300 has a brother, the XF305, which has HD-SDI output, genlock input and SMPTE time code input/output terminals that allow the camera to be used for live events and multi-cam shooting.
"In the past year or so, Canon has turned the camcorder industry on its head by leading the HD DSLR revolution."
So is it a blockbuster? I recently had the opportunity to shoot with a Canon XF300, and the camcorder didn’t disappoint. Still, a lot of Canon users were a bit disappointed to learn that Canon wasn’t employing a larger sensor inside the camera. One of the reasons it didn’t use a larger sensor—such as a 1?2-inch CMOS—was because Canon wanted to employ a longer 18x lens. Fixed lenses on larger-chip models tend to be shorter (typically, a 13x lens) and aren’t as fast.