Loren Simons
Loren Simons

Loren Simons started his adventures into the depths of the technical world while as a middle school student in Southern California. Today, he is a Canon Hollywood Professional Technology and Support Center Senior Product and Sales Trainer.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the XC10's fixed lens

June 23, 2015

When I got the brief on the XC10, I was confused. I wasn’t sure where this camera would find a home in the market. It surely wouldn’t be with myself and other cinema-shooters. I mean, a 1” sensor and a fixed lens? I’m used to working with sensors and stocks more than twice that size with all the interchangeable lenses I can imagine! No, surely I would never see this camera again after its launch.

I was wrong. So unequivocally wrong that I didn’t just make a complete 180˚ turn – I turned 540˚. I went from never wanting to see this camera again to believing it should be marked with the venerable “Cinema EOS” badge.

So what made me change my mind? Well, we’re going to talk about that all here today, but first a note:

The XC10 is an amazing new hybrid between stills and video capture, arguably the first true hybrid in both form and function. However, for this blog, I am going to be talking exclusively about the cameras cinematic capabilities because that’s just where I come from.

Sensor Technology

So when diving into any new camera, first and foremost, we look at the sensor. The XC10 is a 1” sensor; something I initially never really considered feasible for cinematic imaging because of the characteristics associated with a “small” sensor. Then, I saw the film Canon commissioned for the XC10 release, “Battle of the Ages” by Scott Winn. I liked it and, just then, my initial perceptions were shattered. The footage didn’t scream “handy-cam” as I expected – it screamed “cinematic.” How is this possible? Every inkling in my technically inclined body said, “no, it can’t be. Not with a 1” sensor…” But then, I sat down and took stock -- film stock, that is. I realized that Super 16mm film, a staple in both the cinema and documentarian world years ago, has a diagonal measurement of 13.7mm. What is the diagonal of the XC10’s 1” Sensor? 15.8mm. At that moment, things started to come together for me.

Now, the size of the sensor alone is not all that matters in making pretty pictures. Arguably more important is the sensors latitude. When shooting in Canon Log (Oh yeah, did I mention this camera has Canon Log? More on that later) we get a whopping 12 stops of dynamic range. That’s the same range we get on cinema cameras like the EOS C300 and EOS C100 Mark II.

Fixed Lens

In 4K video mode, the attached lens is the equivalent to 27.3-273mm f/2.8-5.6 on a 35mm sensor, like that found on an EOS 5D Mark III. Using just about the full extent of my math skills, that is a 10x optical zoom range. 

This also ties in with the sensor size. The smaller the sensor, the smaller the image circle a lens needs to project and, thus, the less glass you can use while building the lens. It is still a remarkable feat nonetheless, fitting all that range into a small package.

Image Stabilization (IS)

Now, let’s talk briefly about 273mm. 273mm is the most telephoto end of this lens, which again is pretty amazing. But what’s more amazing is how usable that focal length is handheld. The XC10 has what I would define as “witchcraft style” image stabilization technology inside. When shooting in 4K, you have a three axis in-lens image stabilization working away at any focal length. When you jump in to 273mm, you can enable Powered IS, which essentially adds even more stabilization to “lock” your subject in place. Even with my caffeine-addled hands, 273mm on this camera with Powered IS on looks like you’re on a tripod. It was literally mind blowing.

Cinema EOS Integration

Now, this camera is not badged “Cinema EOS,” but in my mind, it is now part of the Cinema EOS Ecosystem. The XC10 uses the same XF-AVC Codec as the new EOS C300 Mark II, although at a slightly lower bitrate of, wait for it, 305Mbps. That is a huge bitrate for any internal recording, regardless of size. The XF-AVC Codec is based off a standard that many cameras in the market are now using for 4K encoding. Most of these other cameras using the same base encoding are clocking in at around 100Mbps. In this case, because we are really talking about very similar encoding processes, the higher the bits per second, the less compression. So the XC10 has a very robust internal recording system, which writes to the new CFast Cards.

In addition to the high-end codec, this little camera shoots in Canon Log and has Wide DR. For those of you unfamiliar with Canon Log, it is essentially a Custom Picture designed to optimize the readout from the sensor to get the most detail in your image. It allows you to dig down into the blacks and recover details in the highlights. The fact that this camera has Canon Log in it alone makes it an incredibly valuable asset to Cinema EOS productions.

The Strangelove

So that brings me to my Strangelove of this camera, from the compendium of everything you’ve read here, something magical forms. All of these techs n’ specs, all feed into something that has led me to believing in this incredibly special camera and this Dr. Strangelove motif. The XC10 is a $2,500 camera (including 64GB CFast Card) that can be used in so many different ways that it’s applications are endless and nearly impossible to quantify. Here are just three applications I plan on using my XC10 in and a couple brief bullet points for why it’s really a great option.

Action or B-Camera to Cinema EOS

  • 12 Stops of Dynamic Range
    • Every shot in your film should be beautiful. Why compromise the look of your film just because you can’t fit an EOS C300 on the dashboard of your car? See example of just how much dynamic range affects your image’s perceived quality in the image below.
    Photo by Loren Simons
  • Small and fully functional
    • While other popular action cameras on the market may be smaller in their bare configuration, most of the time they will require rigging: a cage for multiple contact points, a power solution for easy access to batteries, and a filter kit. The XC10 has both top and bottom-mounting points, uses the same batteries as the EOS 5D/7D series, and has a three-stop ND filter built in.
      Photo by Loren Simons
  • Variable Zoom
    • Shoot in 4K at any focal length, from 27.3-273mm.
  • WiFi Remote Control
    • Control the XC10 using any device with a Web Browser. Receive a live video feed and control all of your primary camera functions with the tips of your finger.

Documentary

  • Fixed wide-range lens
    • Capture all the important moments, whether they are 3ft or 300ft away.
  • Image Stabilization
    • Keep your audience from getting motion sickness as you work your way through the crowd.
  • Viewing methods
    • Use the tilt screen to get a high vantage point or use the included loupe attachment to shoot under any lighting environment.
  • Fly on the wall
    • The small and unique form factor of the XC10 is designed to be both comfortable for long-form video capture, but small and inconspicuous as a stills camera.

Interviews

  • 4K Codec
    • Oftentimes during interviews, you want two camera angles so you can easily cut around a rambling interviewee. With 4K, you can simply use one camera to capture the wide shot and then zoom in 2x in post to hide any cuts in what looks like a new camera angle.
  • Robust internal bitrate
    • With the higher bitrate of the XC10, cropping in on the 4K images still maintains a detailed and beautiful shot. With lower bitrate codecs, the image can exhibit artifacts and macro-blocking.
  • Face Detection Autofocus
    • Human body language is often dynamic and intriguing. During interviews, we want to encourage organic and natural movements of our subjects, which often involves them moving in all directions even when seated. Face Detection Autofocus will find and track the subject’s face, keeping your image sharp even as they lean forwards or backwards.
  • Picture Profiles
    • In addition to the powerful Canon Log profile, the XC10 has both Wide DR and Cinema EOS Standard profiles designed to give you beautiful footage you can hand right off to the client without needing a color grade.

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