Canon XF705 hands-on: Sébastien Devaud on filming action with the pro handheld video camera

Filmmaker Sébastien Devaud holds a Canon XF705 camcorder to film, and smiles.
Canon Ambassador Sébastien Devaud was one of the first filmmakers to work with the Canon XF705 4K UHD camcorder for his shoot about French sprinter and European 100m champion Jimmy Vicaut. © Fabien Douillard

When it comes to choosing a professional video camera, filmmakers have often had one set of demands for making cinematic-style documentaries and another set of requirements for broadcast delivery, which has meant two very different camera setups. However, the launch of the Canon XF705 4K UHD camcorder offers the best of both worlds, as pro filmmaker and Canon Ambassador Sébastien Devaud discovered on one of the first shoots with the XF705.

"When I first tested the Canon XF705, I had the exact same feeling as when I first used the Canon EOS 5D Mark II – it's a revolution!" says French filmmaker Sébastien, who shoots for broadcasters as well as adverts and music videos. He lived through the transition from SD to Full HD, then the transition to 4K, each of which transformed filmmaking. Now the XF705 makes 4K production so much easier, he says, it's revolutionary. Its new codec achieves the high quality required for cinema and the small file sizes demanded for fast-turnaround, efficient broadcast delivery.

Here, he tells us how the camera has helped him – particularly on one shoot, which profiled French sprinter and European 100m champion Jimmy Vicaut, where he used the versatile camera to capture Jimmy in action, in a static interview and even in slow motion.

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If you're a filmmaker who mainly works in the TV and broadcast industries, then it's vital to have a big zoom range, a servo-controlled lens for smooth zooms and pulls, plus top-notch audio and high-quality HD footage that can be used straight out of the camera. The boom in live streaming to social media adds to the demand for footage that's usable straight from the camera. At the same time, there's also an increasing requirement for UHD and HDR footage.

However, if you want to make cinematic-style documentaries, adverts or even music videos, then you'll want high bitrate 4K results, a cinematic shallow depth of field and Log footage with lots of highlight and shadow detail that can be graded for a specific look.

The Canon XF705 is designed to meet the needs of filmmakers working across both kinds of productions. This includes offering 4K recording in the small file sizes that busy documentary or news shooters need for fast working. Canon's efficient XF-HEVC codec has the latest H.265 compression, which means files are super-high-quality in 4K UHD 10-bit 4:2:2 at up to 50p. They are also a manageable size that can be recorded to a standard SD card in one of the camera's two storage slots, or in fact to both card slots at the same time.

"With the XF-HEVC codec it's an easy transition to UHD as now you don't have to constantly worry about managing storage," says Sébastien, a long-time Canon user who regularly shoots with a Cinema EOS C300 Mark II. "And you record onto inexpensive SD cards, which you can find anywhere. My advice is that if you are to record long sequences of 10-bit 4:2:2 4K in HDR, then it's better to use high-speed SD cards up to 300MB/s to avoid any buffering.

"Now I shoot almost everything in 4K. So if I am outputting in HD, I can crop in during editing. So for interviews it's like having two cameras in one."

Focusing on a fast-moving subject

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Sébastien also found that the Canon XF705's 1.0-Type CMOS sensor suffered so little image noise, he needed to do very little or no noise reduction work in post-processing after his shoot, "especially if you keep the gain to 12 or 18dB for the ultimate quality. It's so much better than a smaller chip camcorder."

Using any large-sensor camera means focusing is more critical, and the Canon XF705 is fitted with Canon's revolutionary Dual Pixel CMOS AF system. Although Sébastien admits he was initially reluctant to use autofocus after a career always using manual, the system has totally won him over. "I was shooting European 100m sprint champion Jimmy Vicaut running towards me, and the camera tracked him so much better than anyone could using manual focus," he says. "It took me a while to trust AF, but step by step, I got to trust it."

The system offers Face Detection AF as well as object tracking, and touch focus control via the touchscreen. "So many people don't know the real power of their camera as they don't take the time to test out all the functions," he continues. "I did a lot of experimenting and now I understand that the camera is capable of doing so many things that I've never seen before."

Even where Sébastien sticks to manual focus, he loves the Dual Pixel Focus Guide that shows you whether your focus is in front of, or behind, the subject. "Once you try this," he says, "you'll never want to go back to any other system."

Filmmaker Sébastien Devaud holds a Canon XF705 camcorder to film French sprinter Jimmy Vicaut.
Sébastien found that he was able to shoot handheld for this project, thanks to the Canon XF705's five-axis image stabilisation. © Fabien Douillard

Image stabilisation and slow motion

The shoot with the sprint champion was an eye-opener for Sébastien, who found the advanced five-axis image stabilisation gave him new freedom to break away from cumbersome rigs and shoot handheld.

"I have always loved to work with sliders, cranes or a rig. But since the stabilisation is so good, I don't need it," he says. "There are different stabilisation modes that work in different situations, too."

Shooting the runner was also an ideal opportunity to use the XF705's slow-motion capability, up to 120fps in NTSC or 100fps in PAL in Full HD. "That gives four or five times slow motion, and is so useful for shooting action as it adds a really different look to your films," says Sébastien. "But it's not just for obvious things like sport. For instance, in an interview you can slow down a smile and create emotion."

A versatile lens

Of course, capturing beautiful footage at any speed can only be improved by the addition of a top quality lens. Sébastien admits that he's obsessed with the look of high-quality lenses. "I started at 13 years old as a photographer, then I studied Super 35 and Super 16 and fell in love with the look of cinema lenses," he recalls. "I love storytelling with different lenses. It's the reason I love Canon – it's an optical company and I trust it. I do my best to capture the emotion of the project by managing depth of field – that's my real expertise.

"The professional L-series lens on the XF705 helps me achieve that as it's so sharp and can also produce a beautiful cinematic look with shallow depth of field. You have ND filters built into the camera to help you use the aperture you want for the right depth of field."

The XF705's lens is a 15x in 4K or 30x in HD. That's the equivalent of a 25.5-382mm lens, which can be made as wide as 20.4mm or as long as 1147.5mm using converters.

"The optical quality is excellent, and the optical converters are also made by Canon, so there is no degradation of image quality I could see," says Sébastien. "You can shoot everything with one lens! And for ENG use in a conflict zone, for example, a journalist can stay hidden. There is even infrared so you can see in the dark!"

Filmmaker Sébastien Devaud stands behind a Canon XF705 on a tripod, on an indoor athletics track.
"I was shooting European 100m sprint champion Jimmy Vicaut running towards me, and the camera tracked him so much better than anyone could using manual focus," Sébastien says. "It took me a while to trust AF, but step by step, I got to trust it." © Fabien Douillard

Wide DR, PQ, HLG and Canon Log 3

The two-cameras-in-one benefit of the XF705 is really highlighted in the choice of gamma profiles, including Wide DR, Canon Log 3 or the camera's HDR settings of PQ and HLG.

For premium live broadcast and streaming, HLG is ideal for HDR requirements. As HDR TV sets become more widespread, HLG is being used for fast-turnaround news use, too, while Wide DR is perfect for standard Rec.709 footage. "Wide DR is so useful for ENG and documentary use because you can avoid over-exposure on faces. And there is no grading needed – it's ideal for use straight out of the camera," says Sébastien.

For more creative workflows, where there is time for editing and post processing, the camera offers PQ for HDR footage and Canon Log 3, which is Sébastien's favourite – especially in low light. He says, "I prefer Log 3 to get rid of noise and because the detail of the image is so good.

"I also love to mix footage from Cinema EOS cameras with X-series professional camcorders such as the XF705 as I can run the same custom profile across them all for a consistent look. Canon has the right idea to use the same menus and same profiles – it makes editing so much easier and consistent."

Talking about audio

Interviews are an important part of every filmmaker's key shots, and of course audio quality is critical. The Canon XF705 uses broadcast-standard four-channel audio, which Sébastien made full use of on his sprinter shoot and has done on other productions since.

"I use a shotgun mic connected via the XLR or wireless lavalier mics, and my omnidirectional mic in the mini jack socket, while on channels three and four I use the built-in microphones for background atmosphere," he explains. "You choose the right mic for your production and the camera lets you use precisely what you want."

Sébastien sums up: "Canon really listens to its users, and the XF705 has lots of nice touches such as a pro-quality tripod mount and audio status on the screen. The distance between the three different rings on the lens – zoom, focus and aperture – is perfect for your hands and natural to use. Small things [like this] make a big difference when you're shooting a lot."

Scris de Adam Duckworth

Sébastien Devaud's kitbag

The key kit for filmmakers on the move

A close-up of the Canon XF705.

Video cameras

Canon XF705

A professional handheld 4K UHD camcorder with the latest HEVC codec enables high-quality internal UHD HDR recording or output for the broadcast and production industry. "The camera is capable of doing so many things that I've never seen before," says Sébastien.

Video cameras

Canon EOS C300 Mark II

Durable, powerful and easy-to-use, the EOS C300 Mark II captures stunning 4K/Full HD video with an incredible 15 stops of dynamic range, external RAW output and Canon Log2 to help realise your creative vision.

Video cameras

Canon ME200S-SH

Compact and lightweight, this highly adaptable video camera with Dual Pixel CMOS AF on a Super35mm sensor delivers stunning Full HD footage at up to 50p/59.94p with an incredible 12-stop dynamic range, up to a maximum equivalent ISO of 204,800.

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