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An in-depth look at the new Canon XA15 and XA11 camcorders

The Canon 20x optical zoom lens gives the 35mm equivalent zoom range of 26.8-576mm and features a circular aperture for smooth background blur.

Good things often come in small packages. Take the new Canon XA15 and XA11: versatile, pro-spec Full HD camcorders whose compact size belies their high-level performance.

Designed to meet the needs of video professionals in the fields of news gathering, documentary and corporate video production, the XA15 and XA11 fuse a precision Canon optical zoom lens with an advanced HD CMOS Pro image sensor and a DIGIC DV 4 processor to deliver exceptional footage.

The XA15 and XA11 are identical in specifications, with the XA15’s additional broadcast-friendly HD/SD-SDI terminal being the only feature that separates the two cameras.

20x wide-angle zoom

Despite the diminutive proportions – approximately 131 x 180 x 231mm with lens hood, mic holder unit and handle unit attached – the XA15 and XA11 house an impressive 20x wide-angle optical zoom that provides a 35mm equivalent range of 26.8mm-576mm.

The lens focuses as close as 60cm throughout the zoom range, with the intelligent 5-axis optical image stabilisation system helping to reduce the effects of camera shake – especially useful in news-gathering operations and other situations that demand filming on the move. A built-in graduated-style ND filter system provides adaptable control over depth of field in a variety of lighting conditions, while the lens’ 8-bladed circular aperture allows for smooth background bokeh.

A high view of the XA11, its handle unit, lens hood with lens barrier, mic holder, battery pack and compact power adaptor.
The XA15 and XA11 are supplied with a handle unit, lens hood with lens barrier, mic holder, battery pack and compact power adaptor.

High-quality video

At the heart of the camera is a 1/2.84 Type HD CMOS Pro imaging sensor, technology that the XA15 and XA11 share with the Canon XA35 and XA30. Tried and tested DIGIC DV 4 processing enables optimum picture quality as well as the ability to record Full HD footage to MP4 and AVCHD simultaneously via the dual SD memory card slots. For convenience, when the first card becomes full, you can use relay recording to instantly switch from one memory card to the second. For peace of mind, you can also stream to both cards simultaneously to create an instant backup.

The XA15 and XA11 groups a number of Picture Style Presets in the Cinema-Look Filter menu, including Vivid, Cool Sepia and Old Movie. Wide DR Gamma mode makes an excellent choice for creating natural-looking, detailed video in high-contrast lighting. Familiar to users of high-end Canon pro video and Cinema EOS cameras, Wide DR Gamma enables a wider dynamic range to be captured in-camera without having to grade the footage later. It effectively allows more details to be revealed in the shadows of a scene while preserving details in the highlights, and means that the XA15 and XA11 achieve an impressive dynamic range of 600%.

Also featured is Highlight Tone Priority mode, a feature introduced on recent XA-series camcorders. This gives a similar result to HDR (High Dynamic Range), boosting both contrast and saturation while suppressing overexposure in the highlights.

This is a XA15, which differs from the XA11 only in that it has a HD/SD-SDI terminal.
The only difference between the XA11 and the XA15 (pictured) is the latter’s HD/SD-SDI terminal that enables the camera to be easily integrated into a broadcasting workflow.

Smart touches

In addition to a tilting 0.24-inch TFT LCD electronic viewfinder, the XA15 and XA11 come armed with a multi-position 3.0-inch 460,000 dot display panel. Offering a wide viewing angle over 80 degrees, the monitor is touchscreen enabled. Not only does this allow menu and function settings to be selected quickly, it enables the focus point to be set and repositioned while recording. In Face Detection mode, the priority face can be selected with a single tap.

For filmmakers looking to capture creative effects, the XA15 and XA11 feature both Slow and Fast recording in MP4 mode. Depending on the bit rate and frame rate selected, the cameras are capable of recording slow-motion speeds down to 0.5x, and all the way up to 1200x speed for fast motion.

Professional audio features

The XA15 and XA11 provide twin XLR inputs on the handle – enabling the connection of external, professional-standard microphones – as well as a 3.5mm stereo jack. With support for 48V phantom power, full control is possible in both Auto and Manual modes.

Audio support for the XA15’s and XA11’s richly detailed images comes in the form of two-channel recording via the internal microphone. A variety of processing presets can be selected to optimise the signal according to the shooting environment, including Speech, Forest, and Birds and Music.

A side shot of the XA11 showing its two XLR inputs on the handle.
Two XLR inputs on the handle allow professional-grade microphones to be used to capture audio.

Portable power

The XA15 and XA11 offer full manual control and a professional specification that includes a variety of key technologies inherited from their advanced stablemates. But Canon’s engineers have managed to achieve all of this in a lightweight camera that handles intuitively and allows video journalists to react rapidly to unfolding events.

Thanks to its HD/SD-SDI output for the transmission of uncompressed video with embedded time code and audio, the XA15 can slot neatly into a professional news-gathering broadcast environment, while the XA11 offers the perfect introduction to the Canon professional video range.

Technical specifications

  • Full HD 1920 x 1080 AVCHD or MP4 at 50p/25p
  • Recording time of up to eight hours (50p/35Mbps MP4) and 10 hours 10 minutes (50p/28Mbps AVCHD) using a 128GB card
  • 1/2.84 Type HD CMOS Pro sensor (2.91 effective megapixels)
  • 20x optical zoom (35mm equivalent: 28.8-576mm)
  • 8-bladed circular aperture with a range of f/1.8 - f/16
  • 5-axis digital stabilisation
  • DIGIC DV 4 processor
  • Wide DR Gamma mode (600% dynamic range)
  • HD/SD-SDI output (XA15 only)
  • Two XLR audio inputs with phantom power
  • Dual SD card slots
  • Slow and Fast Motion modes, plus Interval Recording mode
  • 3.0-inch 460,000 dot LCD touchscreen
  • 0.24-inch tilting EVF


To find out more about the Canon XA15 and XA11, visit the product page.

Written by Marcus Hawkins


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