Recently, I asked Jeff, the Associate Producer of Rollin' On TV, for his recommendations. As Two Gals and a Dog hit the RV road preparing to meet and interview people across this great country, we needed a good video camera.
"Jeff, since we are going to be 'in the field' interviewing people soon, we are looking at purchasing a Canon XA30 Professional Camcorder or the XA35 - love to get your opinion. We know you use Canon and they have a great rep in the video market.We both have professional photography equipment, and, with your guidance, I know we can grasp the technology. I hate to underbuy when it comes to these prices."
Jeff's response was so thorough and helpful that we are sharing it with you!
The Video Camera
I own the Canon XA20, which has now been discontinued and replaced by the XA30/35. I love it. It's my "second camera" for shoots when I need more than just my C100, and it cuts together very well and looks good on a large TV screen.
I bought it for its flexibility and manual-capable features. Partly, so I can switch it on "full auto" mode and Pam, my wife, can comfortably shoot with it for casual family functions, for example, or when I need a second shooter for certain ROTV events. It also has full manual controls for when I'm shooting something more serious. The complete XLR microphone inputs are a must for me, with manual level controls and the like available. The AVCHD format is a popular compressed video format and is used by many affordable video cameras as well as pro cameras. The image looks great when converted to ProRes or your favorite format for editing and output, for example. AVCHD is compatible with many if not all editing systems by way of inputting and transcoding.
Those manual image and audio adjustment capabilities bump this considerably up past the average consumer camera.
This camera is also small enough that I can use it as a "stealth camera" when I want to shoot something in a place where it's possible I should technically have a permit. Even with the shotgun mike on board, waving this thing around like a tourist doesn't peg you as a pro, so you can get away with a lot.
I think the main difference between the XA30 and XA35 is the 35 has SDI output, with is the round fitting on the lower right side, forward, that uses a BNC connector. This is the standard "pro level" connector and would be handy if you planned to use the camera in a multi-camera live switching shoot when it's connected to a master switching board, for example, but the HDMI output would also do the job for what you want to do. You could go with the 30, save some cash and be happy as a clam and never know the SDI wasn't there. My XA20 doesn't have it and that's fine with me.
This shows the camera set up with a small Audio Technica AT897 (very nice sound for the modest cost) shotgun mike in an auxiliary vibration mount (Light Wave Systems MM-XL1, this is an older discontinued product, others are also available, see the Rycote product for example (link on the right of this blog post).
You can go with just the camera mike mount but the extra isolation helps avoid handling noise, zoom motor noise and the like. In a "pro setting" it also looks good, and it's a shame that clients are sometimes not sharp enough to recognize a pro-type camera being used without having it loaded with extra pro gear. But that's life.
To be truly "stealth mode" I remove the shotgun mike and go with the camera's internal mikes.
I prefer using the on-camera mike-mount adapter rather than hot shoe (for the shotgun) because that leaves the hot shoe available for holding a Lav receiver, for example. You can use something like this to effect more devices mounted to the hot shoe but if you have the camera mount available why mess with the hot shoe option.
This is the setup I use for show shooting, and the mike input on "auto" allows Pam to get great results with just the shotgun. As with the C100 I can also plug a wireless lav into the other XLR channel.
I should also add I purchased a spare oversized battery -- Canon BP-828, 2,550 mAh (link on the right) -- so I don't need to rely on just the smaller one that comes with the camera.
I've never regretted adding the XA20 to my roster.