It’s half-way through August and together with Jacqui, I managed to sneak away for a few days to my favourite spot on the planet – Broome in Western Australia.
The trip was not short of a couple of issues though, as with the Western Australian borders shut tighter than a camel’s eyelids in a sandstorm, every Sandgroper man and his dog wanted a break, and with Bali off limits, Broome seemed to be the go to place.
Not a problem; myself and Jacqui had booked, but on arrival, found there had been a hotel cockup and there was not a single room in Broome available. Not a hotel, B & B, caravan park cabin, caravan or even a place to pitch a tent.
And of course, AIrBNB is currently off limits.
At The Last Minute
Thankfully, at the last minute, we managed to find a bed for the night at the Broome Time Lodge (thanks Dean) and that lead to a couple of days available at the Eco Beach resort, 140 odd Kms south on Roebuck Bay.
Long term readers may remember we stayed here a couple of years back and used the breathtaking scenery and environment to test some cameras and drones.
We loved Eco Beach then, and after this weekend we love it even more!
So, did I have any cameras to test on this trip. And the answers is yes of course I did, a Canon XA55 pro camcorder.
The XA55 is a mid-size camcorder that has a full complement of technical features including SDI out, twin XLR audio inputs (via a removable handle that also contains audio controls) built in ND filtering, a single ring that can switch between zoom and focus, twin SD card storage and of course the usual USB, HDMI, headphone, external power and 3.5 mm mic in port.
The handle also contains a supplementary tele / wide rocker switch, record on/off/lock button and a hot shoe, as well as provision for bolting a mic holder (supplied) to the right-hand side.
The viewfinder has pull out and tilt, and the flip out LCD screen is touch capable and has a couple of Fn buttons for manual / auto focus plus powered iS. A further programmable Fn button is on the left front of the camera.
One design factor I love about the XA55 is the location of the SD card slots. Traditionally these have been placed under the LCD screen or on the back of the camcorder. Some models from various manufacturers placed them on the underside which meant for tripod mounted work, it was a real pain to change cards.
In the XA55, Canon has seen fit to put the cards on what I would call the right central “shoulder” of the camera under a lift up hatch lid and in front of the main body mounted tele/wide rocker control.
Similarly, the on / off camera / playback control is on the left shoulder making it eminently accessible.
The lens is 15x optical zoom, 8.3~124.5mm, 1:2.8 ~4.5 with a 50mm thread. And as you’d suspect is a 4K lens. A 1” sensor complements the imagery gathering system in concert with Canon’s tried and tested Digic processing engine.
On the trip, I took extensive video and stills of turquoise ocean, the bush surrounds, brilliant sunsets and even the fantastic meal(s) in the Eco Beach restaurant, testing the XA55 in light from glaring midday tropic sun to bright orange sunsets, outdoor lit areas at night and even the night sky with no wash at all from external city / town light.
Sample handheld footage from ther deck at Eco Beach Broome
(Downsampled from 4K to 1080p)
And the XA55 handled it all with aplomb. It even supports and infra-red mode via an on / off switch.
I am sure that in the hands of a full on pro camera operator, they could make the XA55 almost sing as against my modest usage.
At around $3600 for the full package, for the run and gun operator or serious enthusiast, the XA55 is a brilliant little package that as I proved on this trip, snugs into a backpack quite happily and even with Eco Beach’s minimal 2amp power system (well it IS a self-sustaining glamping resort generating power via solar) was easily recharged as required – albeit taking a little longer than a “normal” power point would do.
If I had a personal choice between the Canon XA55 and something like a Sony A7, Panasonic GH5 or similar, the XA55 would be a no-brainer. As I have stated many times, I simply do not like the ergonomics of the dSLR / mirrorless style cameras for video – lens switchable options besides.
As a consequence, the XA55 ticks all of my boxes, plus a couple I had not thought of before.
Any downsides. Yes there is. The hatch at the front for the HDMI / USB / SDI is a bastard to get to as the handle strap partially obscures it and without reading the manual, I had no idea what the knurled knob on the front left was defaulting to (it is programmable as it turns out, but out-of-the-box didn’t seem to do anything at all).
But these are quite minor in the overall scheme of things.
For more details including full technical specifications, see https://www.canon.com.au/cameras/xa55
(And before anyone asks, no we are NOT on the payroll of Eco Beach in any way. Not even a freebie drink. We just think it deserves a huge plug).