Tascam DR-40

Wait a minute. I thought this blog was supposed to discuss/review cinematography gear..?

Yes, well, there comes a time, in a young cameraperson’s life, where he or she might need to.. you know.. record audio.

To me, the DR-40 was a necessary evil. Running with a 7D rig, I had to find some way of overcoming the crippling audio inadequacies that come with DSLR shooting (on the 7D especially). Of course, I’m not a sound guy. I was looking for something cheap, with two XLR inputs, that I could attach to my rig and pretend that I was using some kind of “normal” video camera. Specs-wise, the Tascam looked perfect. You can record each XLR input twice at two different volumes simultaneously, you can record 24-bit, 48khz sound (or 96khz if you were so inclined). It was compact, and visually it appealed to me more than the Zoom H4N.. I wanted to keep my rig nice and dark and intimidating. Go figure.

So anyway. On paper, the DR-40 was exactly what I needed, and at a lower price than a Zoom. But there’s always a catch. I think you could sum up this entire blog with the phrase “there’s always a catch”.

In every sound file I recorded, I could hear faint but rapid ticking. It was like the noise a film camera makes as it pulls film through the gate. Perfectly rhythmic, high in frequency. At first I dismissed the problem. I’d been using radio mics, and assumed that the ticking was coming from some electronic device, or that the radio frequency I was using was sub-optimal, corrupted by some subtle interference. Or maybe it was something to do with the poor quality earphones I was using to monitor the audio.. Last night I decided to get to the bottom of this problem, and was shocked to find that even after unplugging all external microphones from the XLR inputs, the ticking still remained, as clear as ever. I unplugged earphones, recorded some blank audio and listened to it on the computer. Still there. I noticed that in addition to the rapid “film camera” ticking, there was also a slower, clock-like tick. Weirder still, if I pressed the “menu” button while recording, the film-camera ticking would stop, but the clock-like rhythm remained present.

Like I said, I’m not a sound person. But it seems fairly clear to me that the Tascam must be recording its own internal “heartbeat” so to speak. The rapid ticking sounds like a film camera, I believe, because I was recording at 48khz – the Tascam’s internal clock was running at a pace similar to a 24fps film camera. And again, the slower, clock-like tick perfectly coincided with each second on the Tascam’s timecode display. Fantastic.

I’ve contacted support on Tascam’s website, and received a generic email that did nothing to acknowledge the specific nature of my complaint, and basically said “if you want the item repaired, do X. Note that our LA Factory only repairs items sold and purchased in the USA. blah”. Since I bought the item through Electronic Bazaar (I think) who shipped it in from who knows where, it’s probably going to be an ordeal and a half to get it “repaired” — assuming this is an electronic problem that can be physically fixed.

Ultimately, I’m still using the Tascam DR-40 for a lot of work, and I now copy/paste an EQ filter on top of my audio tracks, cutting out the highest frequencies, eliminating 90% of the ticking, while leaving most human voices fairly unscathed (to my ears at least). I guess I just find this such an irritating flaw because otherwise, the DR-40 *would* be perfect, and it would have been an unquestionably great decision for me to buy one rather than a Zoom or whatever. But alas. I’ll most likely continue to use this flawed recorder, EQ it in post and achieve semi-reasonable sound quality.. all the while monitoring with an omnipotent and relentless ticking — reminding me that (at least for DSLR shooting) there’s always a catch.

Perfect GGS 3x DSLR Viewfinder/Loupe

Sometimes I think external monitors are more trouble than they’re worth for DSLR shooting. You’ve got to mess around with magic arms, the HDMI cable is always temperamental, and whenever the shutter flips down (not talking about EVIL cameras here) and you flip it back up again there’s that extra second of delay where the monitor figures out what image dimensions you’re sending it.

Don’t get me wrong — most of the time, I want an external monitor — for sure. When you need to share what you’re shooting with a director or focus puller, it’s a necessity on DSLR shoots — the LCD on the back won’t cut it. But there are other times, for me at least, where I’m shooting solo, there’s no need to share with anyone, and every shot is handheld. In these cases I find it lighter, faster, simpler, better to use a loupe.

And this is where the “Perfect” GGS 3x LCD viewfinder comes in. I went to my favourite site: http://www.cinegearpro.com (I’m only half-joking) and took a gamble on their 2nd most expensive (also 2nd cheapest) LCD loupe they stocked. As usual with a lot of these non-Zacuto, non-Redrock products, there’s very little unbiased information out there about them. Google them and you’ll find all manner of sites selling them, and maybe a glowing video “review” by someone affiliated with the product.. but nothing all that honest. Anyway. I figured it was only 55 pounds, the shipping was cheap, and I needed a quick fix. I’d read horror stories about various other viewfinders with terrible vignetting, or terrible optical quality.. But the “Perfect” viewfinder wasn’t mentioned anywhere, so I gave it a shot.

All I can say is that so far, after a couple of months of use, this viewfinder *has* worked perfectly. There’s no vignetting, the optics seem sufficiently clear to me, and the build quality is reasonably solid. I’ve been using it over the summer, so as temperatures drop I might find there’s more of a problem with the eyepiece fogging up (there’s no mention of anti-fog coating, which doesn’t surprise me at this price) due to body heat and condensation. Still, on frosty morning shoots, I’ve found that even a Zacuto Z-finder, which is theoretically coated with anti-fog, fogs like a bitch. Go figure.

So why is this viewfinder so cheap? Well, there is one catch to the “Perfect” viewfinder. You’ve got to stick a chunk of thick, clear plastic (included with the viewfinder) over your DSLR’s LCD screen so that the loupe will snap onto the back of your camera. It’s not the most elegant solution. Especially when you read the installation instructions: “Stick the screen protector on the frame of the LCD screen and make sure it is align correctly. Then stick it firmly by pressing the four sides of the LCD screen. … Put one plane object of 1kg on the screen protector about 24 hours so that the LCD window can stick with the screen protector completely.”

Wordsmiths of the highest quality down at the “Perfect” GGS factory. Oh yes.

Jokes aside, it felt a bit ghetto sticking my 7D underneath two large dictionaries overnight and waiting for the adhesive to fix in place. But it works. Maybe it’s a shocking thing to do to a DSLR, maybe I should’ve spent more money on a Z-finder with its own support bracket (a baseplate system, no sticky stuff required). Truth be told, it doesn’t bother me. It might, if I ever decide to remove the plastic from the back of my 7D, but I know I won’t. I’ll go so far as to say that although it’s messy, it’s *better* than Zacuto’s support bracket system because the viewfinder is 100% sealed. On shoots where I’ve rented a Zacuto rig, I’d often get light leaking through slim gaps between the support bracket and the camera body. Not an issue with the Perfect’s adhesive plastic block. Absolutely no extraneous light enters.

One thing I’ll flag: despite following the instructions and trapping my 7D under dictionaries for 24 hours, it’s still possible for the clear plastic block to come loose — you can’t leave the loupe permanently attached to the back of the DSLR, as the continual weight (not that it’s at all heavy) slowly wrenches the adhesive away from the camera body.. not great. After panicking slightly and applying pressure to the plastic block for a few minutes, I got it firmly attached again. And now that I detach the loupe from the back of the camera when it’s not in use, I haven’t had any problems with it coming loose again.

Can I recommend this viewfinder? Yes indeed. It’s cheap, messy and ghetto, but it does exactly what you need it to do.

Canon 5D Mark III

I know that 5Dmk3 reviews have been done to death, so I’ll try to skip over the really obvious stuff.

I have mixed feelings about the Mark 3. I used one on a music video the other day, and I do really like the design. It’s solidly built, the aperture wheel feels nicer than ever before, the LCD screen is huge, high-res and widescreen. It’s the little things that count here, that’s what I’m saying. The camera alerts you if you’re trying to scroll the aperture wheel while it’s locked. The menus have been redesigned, and while they initially seem more complex (there are fewer menu sections, but each section has 4 pages) I think it’s well thought out. Previously, functions such as Highlight Tone Priority needed to be added to the “favourites” menu to be accessed quickly. Now HTP and ALO reside in the same menu section as your picture style settings, which is a lot more logical. It’s also easy to find quite obscure cutomisation functions, such as assigning the shutter button to record video rather than take a still shot. That kind of thing.

Again, I’m not going to talk about image quality in detail here. All I’ll say is I think it’s a real pity about the codec “fizz” that is apparent even at low ISO settings. I really like the fact that you can record all I-frames, that’s a big thing for me. And despite the “fizz”, I’d much rather shoot with the Mark 3’s highest quality video codec than with the old codec on the 5D2 and 7D. The fizz seems most obvious in the mid-shadow tones, and if you’re looking for it, it’s easy to find. Still, I prefer it to the old long-GOP compression which might be cleaner on a static shot, but present much more damage and artefacting on shots with a lot of detail and movement. At least the Mark 3’s fizzing is consistent, like a texture or grain to the image (maybe that’s a stretch).

Is this a revolutionary camera for shooting video? Of course not. Showing other people the footage, you’d most likely have to *tell them* “I shot that on a 5D mark 3” in order for them to see any difference. At the end of the day, shooting on a Mark 3 feels much the same as DSLR shooting always has. But if you need that full-frame sensor look, this is still one of your best options (until “Red Dragon”— or whatever Mr. Jannard decides to call it — comes out). Personally, if the D800 didn’t have moire problems, I’d see it as a winner against the Mark 3. Uncompressed HDMI output (hopefully firmware updates will make it more compatible than it currently seems to be) and a potential extra bit of sharpness compared to the Mark 3 sounds pretty compelling. But you’ve got to weigh that up against better low light performance, greatly reduced moire problems, slightly shallower DOF (the D800 goes to a 1.1x crop for FX video shooting) and Canon lens compatibility on the Mark 3. So it gets a bit murky. For shooting music videos and the like, I don’t really need extreme ISO sensitivity, and moire problems are usually avoidable in most shots — and I just like recording straight to Prores. But for many purposes the Mark 3 beats the living daylights out of the D800.. so go figure.

To be honest, I’m just looking forward to see what the FS700 is like. Debating Mark 3 vs D800 is like arguing about whether to get McDonald’s or KFC for dinner, when there’s an incredible Japanese restaurant across the road. Let’s move on.

Sony PMW-F3

I’ll be up front. I like this camera. I find it strange that the F3 is overshadowed by the C300 in a lot of film reviews and blogs — at least that’s the impression I get from my RSS feed. To some extent, I’d attribute this to the fact that so many people are already invested in Canon EF glass, dictating what modern “DSLR-killer” seems most appealing.

After 2 days of shooting with the F3, I can safely say I prefer it to any other “DSLR killing” camera I’ve used (By this I mean any camera that’s not a DSLR, that was released after the rise of the 5D mark 2, that is not a RED/Alexa/F65, that was created to satiate our voracious need for relatively affordable large-sensor cameras that aren’t as freaking annoying as DSLRs).

The AF100 did not impress me. Its clumsy menu interface seemed to be borrowed from a Nintendo DS and strange colours would appear in parts of the image that were just about to clip. The C300 was a very likeable camera — extremely portable, comfortable to hold, with incredible low light sensitivity and pleasing grain. But something about the F3 feels more “serious” to me. The C300 feels like a rushed attempt at creating a mutant DSLR-camcorder hybrid, borrowing 8-bit architecture from the XF300 camcorders and failing to provide 1080/60p capability. To me it seems like a quick fix. Others love the broadcast-ready 4:2:2 50mbit internal codec, and criticise the F3’s internal 4:2:0 35mbit offering as inadequate. I can understand both arguments. For news, events and live coverage, the quality of the internal codec is paramount. For films, ads, music videos, and so on, you’re typically going to harness the increased quality and codec robustness of recording all I-frames to an external recorder of some sort — Well actually you’re probably shooting on RED.. But let’s pretend you’re not—  and the internal long GOP codec starts to lose importance. It’s here that the F3 shines, especially with the Dual link RGB 4:4:4 Log upgrade (which I did not have)

The F3 is a big “chunk” of a camera. Much wider than I’d expected based on deceptively slimming photos. Despite the excess girth, the plastic exterior keeps the F3 nice and light. I can’t complain about the button layout — very similar to an Ex3 — so far I think every camera review on this blog has involved me saying “this camera should be more like an Ex3”. One thing I’ll complain about are the ND filters. There are only 2 ND settings, and so the exposure change between them is extremely dramatic. It’s great for radical lighting changes but if you want to cut down on light by just a stop or two, don’t look at the ND filters for help. By contrast I think the C300 has 3 strengths of in-built ND.

My other complaint is that manually dialling in white balance settings on this camera is a frustrating process at best. Maybe there’s something I’m missing, a shortcut or something. But do I really need to delve into my picture profile menus to change the preset white balance? It would be great if I could specify colour temperatures for Preset, A and B separately, on both Blue/Orange and Green/Magenta spectrums. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to do this (or at least no easy way of doing this). I can specify the temperature of “Preset” and possibly “A” by going into the picture profile settings, but I never found a way of manually controlling the colour balance of “B”. I guess “A” and “B” are designed for you to actually get a white card, hit the “WB” button and let the camera do its thing. But I feel like there should be a way to override this so that you can quickly switch between three predetermined colour balances, for instance 3200K, 4300K and 5600K.

Now, I don’t want to get into a debate about resolution or colour rendering or noise patterns between the F3 and the C300 or any other camera, that’s too messy for me to handle here. Go to Pro Video Coalition for all that good stuff. But the Prores 422HQ files coming out of the Pix240 were brilliantly sharp and handled intensely saturated colour well. (much of the shoot took place in a club with powerful blue lights pumped into rotating disco balls). The camera was not S-log enabled, so I shot with Cine3 gamma, Matrix at -5, and everything else left at factory preset. Cine3 provided a boost to midtones, which will need to be pulled down slightly in post (making the colour much richer — the footage is so much more malleable than what I’m used to on a 7D).

I do think there’s a tendency for F3 footage to clip out suddenly rather than gradually roll into the highlights.. it probably doesn’t look as automatically “organic” as some other cameras can. But for a punchy club music video I don’t think that this harshness in the highlights was too detrimental. (I’ve read in a few places that Cinegamma 4 handles highlights in the smoothest fashion)

The background lighting conditions in the club were pretty extreme, and definitely pushed the camera somewhat. Some thick colour fringing was present in shots where the subjects were strongly silhouetted with clipped white light against a heavily saturated background. Here’s a screengrab:

And a 100% crop: 

Ouch. Not pretty. But these are tough conditions for any digital camera, I’m not too surprised at these results.

Ok, a couple of other quick notes. I used my own Redrock Micro baseplate, and the rest of my usual 7D rig (including Nikon primes and Redrock Blue FF) to kit up the camera, and there was only one small complication. Because the F3 is so wide, it was difficult to lock the slide plate onto the Redrock baseplate because the wingnut would hit against the bottom of the camera. You can pull the wingnut outwards to adjust its position, but it’s still tricky to lock. And secondly, I know this is common sense really, but don’t try and record out via the HDMI port unless you really, really can’t help it. It’s just too risky. We lost a few handheld takes because the HDMI cable was slightly loose, and we had no BNC alternative. It’s quite dangerous, as the Pix240 can display an image that looks perfectly fine, but upon closer inspection on a computer monitor you can see all sorts of weird visual glitches.. from dancing speckles that look like dead pixels, to colour phasing shifts, to thin dark lines of corrupt image flashing on and off.. awful stuff. So yes, I’m an idiot and left the rental house without insisting on getting a BNC cable, and lost some shots because of it. We even lost of a couple of locked off tripod shots as well because the strong breeze was enough to move the HDMI cable around. That’s what I get. To be honest, I’m now a lot less inclined to shoot with an FS100, (or D800 for that matter) since HDMI out is the only option.

Cinegearpro “Universal DSLR Baseplate”

You’d think it would be easy enough to find a decent DSLR baseplate. I mean, what can go wrong? Essentially you’re buying a chunk of metal that attaches your DSLR to a pair of rods. Well, in the case of my camera rig, I’ve had more trouble with baseplates than with any other rig component. I still don’t have one that I’m completely satisfied with.

The first baseplate I bought was a Redrock Micro “microSupport baseplate”. Really solid. Designed for much physically longer cameras than a DSLR, so I could adapt my rig for an FS100, C300, F3, whatever. It’s a great baseplate, and I’m still glad that I bought it. What, then, prompted me to subsequently buy a Cinegear pro baseplate, which I now use on the majority of my shoots?

Two main problems. First, the Redrock baseplate has a lot of weight to it. Much more than the tiny setups out there designed exclusively for DSLRs. Long days of shooting music videos handheld with a considerably front-heavy rig definitely made me question my choice of baseplate. Second, it takes up so much real estate on your rods that it can be hard to position other rig components where you’d otherwise want them to be. I was using 18″ rods, and I wanted to attach a Zacuto arm with a SmallHD DP4 monitor to my rig. Well, getting the magic arm into a postion where the DP4 eyecup could reach my eye was extremely difficult, given that so much space was taken up by the vast aluminium expanses of my Redrock plate. I don’t know if you’d even have enough space at all with shorter rod lengths either.

Anyway. You can see why I looked for a DSLR baseplate with a smaller and lighter presence on my rig. Hence the Cinegearpro “Universal DSLR Baseplate”. I couldn’t find any reviews of this baseplate… no info anywhere. I ended up making a judgement based on pictures alone, which is never a great idea. (this is why I’m going to write about it here)

So, you could argue that I deserved it when my Cinegearpro “Universal DSLR Baseplate” arrived and I discovered that it was the most poorly-machined piece of kit I’d ever seen. I tried to slide it onto a set of rods, and came up against heavy resistance. “Hmm, it’s a bit snug” I was thinking at first. I managed to get the baseplate onto the rods, but in the process of getting them back off, I ended up shredding the glossy coating off the end of each carbon fibre rod. To make matters worse, one of the wingnuts used to tighten the baseplate onto your rig didn’t actually tighten at all, and turning the wingnut made awful crunching noises.

This sounds like a horror story, and it sounds like I’m telling you to never, ever buy one of these baseplates. But it’s not as bad as that. After jamming a rusty pair of scissors into the snug rod-holes (is there a proper name for these holes?)and twisting repeatedly, I managed to scrape off the excess metal that was shredding my rods, and the baseplate slid onto the rig with comparative ease. I never got the left wingnut to tighten properly, but the wingnut on the right was enough to secure my baseplate in position without any danger of it sliding around. The baseplate still wasn’t what I’d imagined based on the pictures, but it worked, and it was much lighter and more flexible than my hulking Redrock plate.

And here’s the best part: the day after I “fixed” this baseplate enough to make it usable, Cinegearpro accidentally sent me another one — which worked perfectly straight out of the box. (Well it was still a bit snug, but I fixed this in under 5 minutes with some violent scissor-work). So now I have one perfectly functional baseplate for my 7D, and another slightly deformed baseplate that I use to mount my Tascam DR-40 sound recorder. Brilliant. (I’ve no qualms with keeping both baseplates, especially given the shocking quality of the first one).

I should quickly say that even my “perfectly functional baseplate” isn’t perfect — screwing the camera onto this baseplate can be a frustrating process as it’s very hard to line up the screw with the thread. It’s easier to do this if you take the baseplate off your rig and attach it to the camera in your lap, but this requires you to disassemble your rig since there’s no quick release plate. You can easily spend 5 minutes on set trying to align the thread, and it’s the most maddening process. Also, make sure you figure out which end is the “front” of your baseplate. There’s nothing obvious to distinguish “front” from “back”, but if you put your camera on backwards, the battery compartment won’t fully open and you’ll need to unscrew the camera to swing batteries.

So there. Now no one can complain that there was no information out there on Cinegearpro’s well-designed but horribly manufactured and dicey DSLR baseplate! It’s light, compact, fairly solid, and it’s the core of my current handheld 7D rig. I have no regrets about getting one.

But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Canon C300

I’m willing to put up with a lot for the sake of image quality. Surely this is the only reason why camera operators around the planet were willing to return to the dark ages — saying goodbye to their XLR inputs, timecode and inbuilt ND filters for the sake of a full-frame 35mm sensor in the Canon 5D2. The irony is that while I’ve damned Sony’s Z5 and Canon’s Xf305 for being impractical and frustrating to operate, the camera I work most frequently with is my own Canon 7D. Go figure. I put up with running dual system audio, living in constant fear of moire, restarting my camera every time it overheats, trying to ignore the horrible compression damage, all because the thought of simply shooting on a 1/3″ 3-chip camera makes me shudder.

So in that spirit, looking at the C300’s image quality alone, I must be willing to put up with quite a lot. Extreme low light sensitivity, 4:2:2 chroma without an external recorder, XLR audio, ND filters, clean HDMI output… it’s like Jesus returned to earth as a camera. (excuse my blasphemy)

But I have to say, operating the C300 is not the most intuitive process. Admittedly, I’ve only used the camera twice and I had no time to prepare or pre-set the camera. After half an hour of messing with some settings, I went straight into the field, shot in the dark of a club, and discovered a few quirks and problems as I went. To me they’re certainly not so damning that I’d hate to use the camera, but when you’re covering live events and you need to adapt your settings on the fly, it doesn’t seem as quick and immediate as operating an Ex3 for example. Now everyone who owns or is thinking about owning a C300 will flame me and say that I’m just a Sony fanboy and why don’t I just go and use an Ex3 if it’s so good, blah. But hear me out.

There is no dedicated ISO/gain switch on the C300. There is no dedicated white balance toggle, nor is there a dedicated shutter speed control. To me, this came as a big surprise. To access any of these settings, you need to find an ambiguously labelled “function” button on the rear of the camera, which cycles through each of these settings. So if I want to change the ISO, I hit “function” a few times until the ISO setting is highlighted on the LCD screen — then I can use a rotating wheel on the left side of the camera to increase or decrease ISO. Looking at a picture of the C300, you’ll see that there are two rotating wheels on the left side of the camera. The upper wheel is the one you want to change your ISO. If you accidentally scroll with the lower wheel, the camera will deselect your ISO toggle and instead adjust your aperture (on Canon EF lenses). Then you’ll need to go back and find the “Function” button and cycle through it until you reselect ISO. Does this not seem overly complicated? On an Ex3, you’d slide your hand down to the left side of camera, find the little silver nib and flick it from Low to Medium or High. The ISO values for L, M and H were configurable in a menu, so you could figure out appropriate gain presets before your shoot. Same deal for White Balance presets.

Here’s another problem. It’s hard to find the ND+ and ND – buttons in the dark. Of course, you’ll laugh at me here. ND filters in the dark?? Well I was shooting a burlesque show where the lighting changed all over the place. As a baseline, I had my ISO at 12,500 (fairly incredible), but at times my subject would move right into a spotlight and she’d be in danger of clipping. And as I’ve previously stated, lowering the ISO is not the fastest process. My gut reaction was to flip on an ND filter, but as it was so dark, and because the ND control buttons feel no different to any other buttons on the side of the camera, I had no hope of finding it without losing my shot for a moment.

This really feeds into a larger problem that I have with the camera: the controls are not easily distinguishable by touch. On an Ex3, or even an XF305, you can feel that your hand is touching the ISO toggle, or the ND slider, or the scrolling menu wheel. On the C300, all buttons are round and black and similarly sized — and on average, you need to find more buttons to execute any particular setting adjustment than you would on a traditional camcorder. Having two scroll wheels right next to each other, with one that cancelled the function of the other was also an annoyance — but of course after a day of solid work with a C300, I’m sure muscle memory would take over and it would become more natural.

In closing, I have to admit that for most purposes, none of what I’ve mentioned is a serious problem. For short films, music videos and advertisements, anything where you can do multiple takes and you can spare 5 seconds to change camera settings, you’ll be fine. In a controlled environment, the C300’s image quality far outweighs any quirks of its design and button layout. I just wish that for shooting in a completely uncontrolled environment where you’ve only got one take, that Canon had borrowed a little more from standard camcorders and made dedicated buttons for ISO and WB that could be identified by touch.

Canon XF305

Another 1/3″ camera? Seriously?

I realise, I’ve promised a blog about “digital cinematography” and so far I’ve only delivered reviews of two “camcorders” that “digital cinematographers” in 2012 wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. I’ve just been covering events recently — hence i’m briefly back to camcorders and fixed lenses and deep focus with noisier images and all that awful stuff. (And while I’m stuck shooting with an XF305, another guy is shooting on a C300, which I might write a post about if I can get to handle it a little more).

Anyway. The XF305 is quite a nice camera. There’s not an awful lot to complain about, and I much prefer it to Sony’s Z5 (not that this is saying much). It’s a larger, heftier camera than I imagined based on the pictures, at least as large as an Ex1 and I feel like it’s heavier as well. For the most part, if you’ve used an Ex1 or a Z7 or any equivalent camera, you’ll have 90% of this camera figured out before you start (which is to be expected on a “camcorder” really).

Now here’s the problem. Everything that I like about this camera is borrowed from other typical camcorders. The button layout, the design and build quality, etc. It’s all good, but it’s all exactly what you’d expect from any of these sorts of cameras. And while the XF305 borrows a lot, there are a few glaring omissions that I find quite problematic. In short, anything that can be considered “unique” to the design of this camera is something that I don’t like, and that I wish they’d just borrowed from an Ex3. For starters, there’s no nib attached to the zoom ring, so say goodbye to your crash zooms. The zoom ring is also (of course) fully electronic — there’s a significant lag to your zoom movements, and the camera constantly attempts to turn your “quick crash zoom to get focus” into a long, graceful zoom shot. Urge to kill. Rising.

Similarly, the aperture ring is electronic with no hard stops, and again this infuriating “smooth effect” creates a delay when changing exposure. There’s probably a way to configure the responsiveness of the electronic zoom and aperture rings, I’ll be using this damned camera for the next week so I’ll see what’s possible there. But even if I can configure these parameters, nothing compares to the responsiveness of fully mechanical lens controls.

My last lens-related complaint: the zoom ring is too stiff. What this means in practice is that when I want to crash zoom and focus, I’ve got to turn, turn, turn the zoom ring and it’s very easy to accidentally brush against the aperture ring and change your exposure inadvertently at the same time. (as you can see in the picture, the zoom and aperture rings are set closely together)

Ok. That might be enough lamenting about electronic lenses for now. My only other problem with this camera (for now at least) is the design of its menu buttons. After years of using Sony Z and Ex cameras, I’ve become very used to the little scroll wheel that you push in to select different items. I think it’s a great system, very intuitive, and once you’ve found the scroll wheel, there’s no reason to take your hand away from it to find other buttons. I have to confess, I’m fairly new to Canon camcorders, so perhaps the design of the XF305 is nothing new. But I don’t like it. You’ve got your scroll wheel, a separate “select” button to the left of it, and a “cancel” button to the left of that. So what you used to do with one button on a  Z1 now requires 3 separate buttons on the 305. I’m sure you get used to it, but it feels so clumsy. And in the dark, trying to keep track of where your hand is on a camera that’s coated in tiny buttons… it’s a pain.

Oh yea. One more problem. (of course there are more!)  You know the handgrip/zoom rocker thing on the right side of the camera? This one can’t rotate at all. It’s fused in position with its zoom controls facing up towards the ceiling. On an Ex1 or whatever, you could rotate the grip forwards, so that the zoom controls faced straight out in the direction of the lens. I found this really convenient for covering runway shows where you’re constantly panning and zooming backwards with each model. With the zoom rocker pointing up to the ceiling your wrist has to bend so that you can reach your fingers up to the controls. Sucks.

So. Remember what I said at the start? “The XF305 is quite a nice camera. There’s not an awful lot to complain about…” Yea. I take that back.