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    My Canon XF400 review: Not good for my needs...
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    Senior Member Jaime Valles's Avatar
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    Well, today I tested a Canon XF400 that I rented over the weekend, because on paper it looked like the perfect camera for my needs.

    Except it's not. For me, at least.

    Some background: I shoot a lot of multi-camera theatrical events (concerts, musicals, cabarets, readings, etc.) sometimes in low light, always operating the camera as a one-man-band, dealing with visuals and audio simultaneously. When Canon announced a 4K all-in-one, 1" sensor camcorder with built-in servo zoom lens, XLR inputs, ND filters, 5-axis stabilization, dual SD card recording and Canon's Dual Pixel Auto Focus with face tracking for only $3000 it seemed like everything I wanted in a tool I'd use constantly for paying gigs. So I went to LensRental.com and ordered one to use during a jazz concert at a nightclub in New York City alongside my two C100 cameras. I also have a 1DX Mark II, which I love for the face tracking autofocus (among many other things) but the DSLR form factor always leaves me wishing it had better video ergonomics. Hence, my interest in the XF400.

    I wanted to see how the footage compared between my trusty C100 and the XF400 in a nightclub atmosphere, and how well the DPAF face tracking worked when recording an event on a stage.

    It did not go well.

    I'm not talking about the image quality here, mind you. I haven't even looked at the footage on my computer yet. But I can already tell you it won't look good, because focusing the thing was tricky at best. The face tracking was all over the place, sometimes locking onto the performers, sometimes not at all. When it didn't lock on, it would just go into a crazy focus hunting mode for several seconds at a time, making the footage unusable at those points.

    If I just tried to do object tracking using the touchscreen, that was also a compromised experience. On my 1DX II all I have to do is touch the screen wherever I want to focus and the camera will lock onto that spot instantly; no crazy hunting for focus. If I want to change what I'm focusing on, I just touch the screen on whatever new thing I want in focus and that's that. Simple. Perfect. But on the XF400, I have to first touch the "focus tracking" button on screen, then touch whatever I want to focus on. If I then want to change the focus to something else, I first have to cancel the tracking of the object I'm currently following, then press the "focus tracking" button again, and then the new object to track. Why would Canon complicate things so much, when they had it working perfectly on the 1DX II?! It's ridiculous.

    The entire point of me getting this camera was to improve upon the DPAF of my C100, which requires the desired subject to be dead-center in order to use the One-Touch AF. But the C100 is vastly easier to focus than the XF400. I center the subject, press the One-Touch AF button, and bingo. The C100 doesn't have face tracking, but at least I'm not sweating bullets wondering if the focus is going to simply go haywire a few minutes after I've set it to track a person that's just sitting there playing a piano. It's not like I was trying to follow a football player moving around erratically. This was a person sitting still. And it was hard to keep in focus.

    I know, I know, I can always use manual focusing. But that's not what I wanted this camera for. I wanted to remove the focusing worry from the equation, and be able to concentrate on framing the shot and getting the right exposure (which is tricky when recording live events with lights changing constantly). If I can touch the screen and know that the little box around the subject's face is going to stay there, then it's one less thing to worry about. That's how the 1DX II works, but that's simply not the case with the XF400. And it's not like I was working in low light. It was a nightclub, yes, and the audience was dark, but the performers were under bright stage lights. I was shooting on the C100s at f/4 and ISO 850 and had good exposure, so it was plenty bright. Yet the XF400 couldn't handle AF in those conditions. I can't even imagine trying to use it in a dimly-lit wedding reception, for instance.

    But here's the real kicker: Even if I could get the auto focus to work exactly as I hoped... Even if Canon issues a firmware upgrade that makes the touchscreen work like the 1DX II... I still cannot purchase this camera. Why? BECAUSE TO CHANGE THE BATTERY I HAVE TO REMOVE THE CAMERA FROM THE TRIPOD AND EVEN REMOVE THE TRIPOD PLATE! The button to eject the battery is below the battery compartment. I had a standard length Manfrotto tripod plate (not the extra long kind) and it's impossible to change the battery with the plate attached. What is supposed to be a 10 second process becomes a 2 minute ordeal that requires a screwdriver! The other day I was shooting a 9-hour conference, and swapping batteries quickly mid-shoot is critical.

    Other complaints:
    • The batteries are tiny. They last 2 hours at best. My C100 lasts 4 hours on one battery.
    • The camera doesn't display ISO, only GAIN. Why?!
    • The lens is not parfocal. I can't zoom in, focus, then zoom out and expect the image to still be in focus.

    About the only good things I can say about it are that the zoom rocker is awesome (super smooth, slow zoom action) and the lens hood has a built-in retractable lens cap.

    Maybe this camera works for you. I've seen some really nice footage online taken with the XF400. But for my purposes, it's a bust. The battery removal issue alone is a deal-breaker.

    I really wanted to like this camera. I was 95% sure I was going to buy two of them before the end of the year. But right now I'm just happy I rented one for the weekend to try it out. Tomorrow I have another gig for which I was planning on taking the XF400. Instead, I've already sealed the camera in the return packaging. What a disappointment.
    Jaime VallÚs
    AJV Media
    Video, Photography & Graphic Design: www.ajvmedia.com


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    Well done for hiring not buying - your review show the value of not picking a camera from a spreadsheet


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    Sorry to hear the camera did not fit your needs. This is the sad trend of late where the camera makers are leaning towards the 'sumer end of the prosumer spectrum. Too many non-pro cameras have been released in the 1" chip segment imho. I can not understand why other than they are waiting for the tech to allow them to make truly pro versions of their cameras. 1" is the perfect event camera sensor size. It leans towards deep DOF but not too much. My hope is that NAB has a P2 version of its 1" chip cameras. Maybe Canon and Sony will do the same. It is like they have given up on the professionals in this space and are shooting for the advanced amateurs.

    I say it all time on internet forums. I want the gear to cost more and be a little pricy. That's when the pro features show up. Camera makers have always priced on end image quality for the market of the day. They (especially Canon) never give things away for free. So give us some $5,000 1" chip cameras! Maybe a better DVX200 while your are at it. I am sure they will read this post and get right on it...


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    Nice review and convinced me too that it would not work for me. I had similar views on replacing my trusty NX5U for a 1" UHD 60P camera and too was hoping the XF400 may be the one. I had spotted the battery issue ( same as all my little Sony's ). Only one that is close at the moment is the Panasonic UX180 / HC-X1.


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    Senior Member puredrifting's Avatar
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    Thanks for your post and review Jaime. That is disappointing. I am in the midst of shooting two documentaries where we were thinking the XF400 was going to be a good B camera solution for being unobtrusive in situations where we normally wouldn't be shooting, but need to shoot, and for shooting small and low key out of racing boats where my C200, fully rigged, is just too large. The battery changing would be a nightmare for us too in many situations shooting from tripods and gimbals. And the DPAF sounds very disappointing. That's too bad, it seems Canon came 90% of the way and just blew it on the last 10% as far as operation. I may still rent one to try on some of our outdoor shoots, I am curious if the focus would have as hard a time in bright exteriors?
    Gear matters. But just a little. Story is everything.


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    Senior Member Jaime Valles's Avatar
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    The DPAF might work brilliantly in broad daylight. I only used it indoors. But I highly recommend renting it first to see if it works for you.

    And I fully admit that I haven't spent much time working with the camera to "get the hang of it" and learn to work around the issues. But I spent a lot of time before the event studying the instruction manual section about how the autofocus works, and a few hours testing all the different AF settings at home. It just doesn't do what I want it to do.
    Jaime VallÚs
    AJV Media
    Video, Photography & Graphic Design: www.ajvmedia.com


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    You're never going to get any better than the 1DX Mark II or 5D Mark IV for AF...and that includes the cinema cameras.

    The only ones that will be (or should be) better will be their replacements IMO.


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    That is a disappointing. DPAF is such an awesome feature, not sure why they bothered implementing it in such an inefficient manner. It sounds like it might be something they can fix with a firmware update. But even if they fix how to use DPAF on this camera it sounds like the XF400 doesn't focus very well. You would think that because it uses a smaller 1" sensor it would have an easier time focusing....guess not. Kind of sucks because the DPAF was, to me, a key selling feature for this camera.

    I own an XA30 which is a similar form factor to the XF400. I completely understand the base plate/battery problem but in my experience with the XA30 you can position the Manfrotto base plate just far enough ahead that you can get the battery out. Maybe they changed it with the XF400, in which case that is a really poor design decision.

    The XF400 also uses the same battery as the XA30 - do you know which battery shipped with the rental ? Reason I ask is because the battery that shipped with the XA30 was small. I ordered some knock off BP-828 knock off battery that were considerably larger and lasted a lot longer than the battery that shipped with the camera. I was concerned about XF400 using the same battery as the XA30 because I figured it would have higher power consumption than the XA30.

    Thanks for the review


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    Quote Originally Posted by True North View Post
    TI completely understand the base plate/battery problem but in my experience with the XA30 you can position the Manfrotto base plate just far enough ahead that you can get the battery out. Maybe they changed it with the XF400, in which case that is a really poor design decision.
    Hello,

    i have 2x XA25 and 1x HF G30 (VIXIA)

    I have made an Metall Bracket to "Lift up" the Cameras to can change the Battery without remove from the Tripod.
    The Camera Plate is the Standard Manfrotto

    See my picture

    XA25.jpg


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