Canon thinks different about 4K recording with XC10

The latecomer's first foray into prosumer 4K video looks like Frankenstein's megazoom, but it's got a relatively large 1-inch sensor and a clever new design.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
4 min read

Canon saunters in to the prosumer 4K recording party, late as usual.

Everybody stares at Canon's XC10. It looks like a megazoom with a fixed, 10X manual-zoom lens, but the big red record button in place of a shutter button declares "I'm made for video!" It's got a $2,500 price tag dangling off of it. (If your 4K party is in the UK or Australia, that tag directly converts to £1,688 and AU$3,280.)

Sony and Panasonic are standing in the middle; Sony's holding the $1,700 FDR-AX100 , a traditional camcorder with a 1-inch sensor, and the $2,500 (body) full-frame A7s camera. Panasonic's strap bears a $1,500 GH4 (body) with its larger-than-1-inch four-thirds-size sensor and a $1,000 HC-WX970 camcorder tucked into a bag, probably embarrassed by its 1/2.3-inch sensor. GoPro has a tiny, $500 fixed-focal-length Hero4 Black strapped to its chest.

(That's £1,509 or AU$2,500 for the AX100; £2,150 or AU$3,300 for the A7s; £1,300 or AU$2,000 for the GH4; £900 or AU$1,350 for the WX970; and £370 or AU$650 for the GoPro Hero4 Black.)

Canon's take on a mountable 4K camcorder (pictures)

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The crowd turns away. Canon stands there, indecisive. Should it join its Hollywood friends in the corner with their C-series Cinema models? The dudes jumping off the roof with their action cams? The indies with ILCs, swapping lenses and discussing tech and techniques? A clique of folks with elaborately rigged dSLRs that can't do 4K? The folks trying to keep their drones from crashing into each other as they attempt to get the birds-eye-view of the proceedings? Or should it chat up some of the random folks milling about who gulped nervously at the sight of the price?

Fade to black.

The nuts and bolts

On paper, the XC10 has little to be embarrassed about. It's roughly the same size as the PowerShot SX60 . The body has a rotating grip, which compensates for the LCD's modest tilt angles, smartly designed record and still/video switching controls and push AF for quick operation. (Note that Canon refers to the tilting LCD as "vari-angle," though that term generally refers to fully articulated displays.)

It looks like it's designed to be operated almost entirely by the touchscreen; there are few physical controls. Canon will offer a prism unit that attaches to the back, redirecting the LCD display to an eye-level viewfinder. When it's installed, you navigate via a joystick on the back of the handgrip.

The rotating grip is a nice feature. Canon

The 10X zoom, image-stabilized lens covers a range of 24.1-241mm for stills and 27.3-273mm for video, though its f2.8-f5.6 maximum aperture is one of the tradeoffs of going with a fixed lens. It's got a neutral-density filter built in, and has mic and jacks, a built-in stereo mic, dual-band Wi-Fi, plus a hot shoe for mounting a flash or video accessories.

On the inside, it incorporates a 1-inch, 12-megapixel sensor -- 4K requires at least 8MP. Canon claims 12 stops of dynamic range, which is a little disappointing compared to the GH4's measured 12.8 stops or the A7S' 13.2 stops; hopefully, Canon has been conservative in its claims, though Canon sensors do tend to fare worse than competitors in this respect. It has a sensitivity range of ISO 160 - ISO 20000.

Unlike the much higher-end C300 Mark II announced at the same time, the XC10 doesn't record DCI 4K (4,096x2,160), just UHD (3,840x2,160), but it incorporates the same new XF-AVC codec, H.264 wrapped in an MXF wrapper. One of the most notable aspects is that it can record 4:2:2 UHD/30p to a CFast 2.0 card at 305 megabits per second, as opposed to requiring external storage to do so -- unfortunately, only 8-bit -- and can output clean HDMI (1.4). It can also do up to 1080/60p All-I to an SD card at 50Mbps. Profiles include Canon Log Gamma, Wide DR and Canon's still-camera Picture Styles.

Canon considers the XC10 a video camera that does stills, and that includes a modest continuous-shooting rate of 3.8fps for its 12-megapixel stills. One important omission: it does not support raw.

My take

During our briefing, Canon said it sees the XC10 as "a GoPro on steroids" and the prospective buyer as an SLR user who wants to step up to 4K. In the press release, that evolved to videographers, pro and enthusiast, looking for "cost-effective 4K video production" and journalists "looking easily to expand into 4K."

I'm not quite sure who this camera is for either; it seems like it's 90 percent there for a lot of different things. I'm darn curious to give it a try, though. It's slated to ship this May.