Chuck Westfall is Technical Advisor for Canon U.S.A.'s Professional Engineering and Solutions Division.

DPReview attended the NAB 2015 show in Las Vegas recently, where we had an opportunity to sit down with Chuck Westfall, Technical Advisor for Canon U.S.A.'s Professional Engineering and Solutions Division. The main topic of conversation was Canon's new XC10 hybrid video/stills camera, which made its first public appearance at the show.

Hi Chuck, can you tell us a bit about the new XC10 camera? 

The XC10 isn’t quite like anything we’ve ever done before. It’s our first small format 4K camera, but at the same time it has full HD video and 12MP still photo capability. It’s a very interesting camera from the standpoint of what it can deliver. 

Would you describe the XC10 as a stills camera, a video camera, or an equal representation of both?

I think that it strikes the best balance of what I’ve seen so far in terms of providing a very high level of video functionality with a reasonably high level of still capabilities. To me, that’s one of the strengths of this camera. It can really do a credible job as either a video or a stills camera, depending on the needs of the user or the project.

Can you tell us a little bit about the physical design of the camera? It’s not quite a Cinema EOS camera, and it’s not quite a traditional camera like a DSLR. How did Canon arrive at this design?

We’ve had a number of other cameras that have been developed over the past several years where we’ve fine tuned the design to meet the needs of different types of users. For example, on the XF205 [a video camera], we introduced the moving or turning handgrip that made it much easier to find a comfortable position for using that camera, and we adopted that same idea on the XC10. 

One of the things that’s important about this camera is how easy it is to make adjustments while you’re shooting. For example, switching from AF to MF, or the ability to turn on and off features like peaking, or quickly switching back and forth between still and video modes, all of these things were very carefully considered when designing this camera. 

At the same time, we looked at the need to reduce the size and weight of the camera. That was one of the things that drove us to make the depth of the XC10 as small as we could while retaining as many features as possible. For example, the articulating screen on the back that matches up with the moving handle on the body, which makes it much easier to get the shot that you need.

According to Westfall, the XC10's design was influenced by a desire for good ergonomics, as well as being easy to adjust settings while shooting.

The XC10 uses the ‘X’ naming designation. What does this tell us about the position of the camera in Canon’s line-up?

The X indicates that the camera is part of our 'small chip' line. If you look at cameras like the XA10 or the XA25, for example, those cameras use roughly a 1/3” chip. So by those standards the XC10, with a 1” chip, actually has a much larger chip, but it’s not nearly the size of a chip that would go into a DSLR or Cinema EOS product.

Also, all ‘X’ cameras are fixed lens cameras, so the XC10 fits in with that designation as well.

Some of our readers were disappointed that the XC10 was a fixed lens camera. What drove that particular design choice?

It’s important to remember that part of the story of this camera is to reduce the size, weight, and cost. With those goals in mind, the idea of having a fixed lens is really quite complimentary to the goals of the camera, while at the same time providing the most versatile focal length range possible. A fixed lens solution really makes that possible. Also, other factors such as keeping the sensor clean in the field were important as well.

What would you say to our readers who have commented that the lens seems a bit slow at the long end?

Of course, everyone would always like a wider aperture lens! But the minute you commit to that you’re back to talking about size, cost, and weight. However you want to arrange those three, it’s definitely going to affect the design. We anticipated that for this camera to be successful it would have to have the right balance of price, features, and also size.

On the surface, the XC10 looks similar in some respects to other cameras on the market with 1” sensors, fixed lenses, and which also shoot 4K video. How does the XC10 differ from some of these other products, and why would someone choose the XC10?

A lot of the lesser priced cameras are missing some of the basic features present on the XC10. If you really think about the total package of what features are offered it’s tough to match at that price point from virtually any other manufacturer. If you really think about the cameras that have fixed lenses, they generally don’t have the pro level video features available on the XC10. 

On the other hand, if you look at cameras with interchangeable lenses, they may have pro video but they often don’t have some of the other features this camera does, including its small size. We’re really looking at this camera as a very good complement to bigger still or video cameras, but at the same time think it has enough versatility that it can be used [on its own] by any number of users.

Does the XC10 use a Canon designed and manufactured sensor?

Yes, it is a Canon designed and manufactured CMOS sensor. In fact, that’s one of the important pieces of the story on this camera. It’s has a Canon lens, a Canon sensor, and a Canon processor. This is the first camera this particular sensor has appeared in.

Why did Canon choose to use a 12MP sensor? Was there a specific reason for that choice?

Yes, absolutely. One of the things that we looked at when developing this camera was how to achieve the best balance between still and video image quality by reducing the resolution somewhat compared to a conventional still camera. What we’re able to do is increase the performance of this camera in low light. The noise levels are quite good right up to its limit, and with a 1” sensor that can become an issue. Also, for most of the users of this camera 12MP is a good range in terms of resolution. It can be used to make a large print, and is more than adequate for anything that will be shown online.

Was there a particular reason Canon chose to use a clip-on viewfinder instead of a built-in EVF?

On this camera we felt that the accessory viewfinder was a lot more practical. The idea of including a built in eye level finder would have added a whole extra layer in terms of having another device to build into the camera. This method allows us to provide users with a big, bright view of the image using the LCD that’s already there. It also allows the viewfinder to tilt with the screen as well.

The XC10 includes a detachable viewfinder which tilts along with the rear screen, providing flexibility when positioning the camera and framing shots.

The specs of the image stabilization system have been a little unclear to some people. What should our readers know about it?

The XC10 has a 5-axis stabilization system when recording HD video. That’s a combination of optical stabilization with digital stabilization. With digital stabilization you need a bit of extra real estate on your sensor to be able to move the area that’s being sampled around a bit. You don’t lose image stabilization when shooting still images or 4K video. However, since you’re using the entire sensor to capture an image or video, the camera reverts to normal optical stabilization.

One thing we noticed was that there’s no Raw mode on this camera.

That may be an example of how the camera strikes more of a balance on the video side in some areas. It’s easy enough to create a jpeg, but creating raw files would have required some different programming on the processor, which we decided was not a cost effective option. [Note: we will continue to push Canon on this point as we would like to see this feature added via firmware if possible.]

Can you tell us about the video codec on this camera and how it might be different than the codecs often found on other compact or still cameras?

The XC10 uses the same codec as the C300 Mark II. It’s called XF-AVC. It is a proprietary Canon codec in an MXF wrapper, but it is H.264 based, so it is standards based. The main reason we’re using it is that we’ve upgraded from the mpeg-2 formats and AVCHD formats used on other cameras to this new mp4 format that gives us the ability to efficiently manage the 4K data.

The press release announcing the XC10 highlighted its potential as a tool for ENG (electronic news gathering). How would you see it being used in that context?

ENG is a market we are always concerned about because we support it in many ways, including through broadcast lenses and through cameras like the XF305, XF205, XA25, which in the current market are doing a good job of supporting our ENG users. One of the things you look at when trying to support this market is ‘what’s missing?’ One thing we identified right away is the ability to have 4K recording, because going forward that will be a way to future-proof your results. At the same time the ability to shoot still photos with the same camera as the one you shoot video with cuts down on what you carry and makes the most out of a single tool.

Can you give us a couple examples of where Canon sees this camera being used where it may be better than other tools available today?

One that jumps to mind is being able to use it in a drone. We even have an XC10 mounted on the [NAB] show floor in a drone. To be able to produce 4K footage at a very high quality level from a small drone is a real advantage. Additionally, you have the potential of being able to put the camera in smaller places than a larger camera would permit, or where you need to set up a remote camera.

A Canon XC10 mounted in a stabilization system.

For someone who hasn’t seen it in person, how would you describe the build quality of the XC10?

It is a very well built and very robust camera. I wouldn’t quite put it in the category of an EOS-1D X, but I anticipate that once people are able to go out and shoot with it they’ll find out right away that it’s a very durable and reliable camera to use in the field.

Is there anything else about the XC10 we haven’t discussed that would be good for our readers to know?

Out of all the different cameras that Canon offers, the XC10 probably comes with the most comprehensive kit of any of them. In addition to the basic camera, cables, and things that you might expect, the camera ships with the additional viewfinder, a 64GB CFast card and card reader, and a wireless infrared remote.

These are all accessories that are typically sold as options for other cameras, but they are all included with the XC10. Users can be comfortable that they will find everything they need to use the camera out of the box. It also uses the same battery as the EOS 5D Mark III [and several other EOS DSLRs - ed.] making it easier to manage interchangeably with other Canon cameras.