Canon XA50 Review: A Day at Catalina Island

As a professional videographer, I recently had the opportunity to test the Canon XA50 during a day trip to Catalina Island, an idyllic gem just off the coast of Los Angeles. The Canon XA50, launched as part of Canon's 4K UHD video camcorder series, presented an opportunity to capture the breathtaking beauty of the island in remarkable detail.

Fast facts about the Canon XA50 include a 1.0-inch CMOS sensor, dual DIGIC DV 6 image processors, 15x optical zoom, 5-axis optical image stabilization, and 4K UHD recording. It also includes Dual Pixel CMOS AF, a feature that ensures your subject remains in sharp focus even in challenging conditions.

Getting to Catalina Island from LA

Catalina Island is conveniently accessible from Los Angeles by a one-hour ferry ride from Long Beach, San Pedro, Newport Beach, or Dana Point. You can also opt for a thrilling 15-minute helicopter ride from Long Beach or San Pedro. Once you set foot on the island, you are transported to a world of natural beauty featuring rugged cliffs, serene beaches, and abundant wildlife.

The Canon XA50 Experience

As I disembarked on Catalina Island, the Canon XA50 proved to be lightweight and portable, making it ideal for on-the-go shooting. The camera’s compact form factor was a boon as I navigated the island's picturesque town of Avalon and beyond.

The XA50's 15x optical zoom was superb, effortlessly capturing the distant sailboats dotting the azure Pacific Ocean. The 5-axis image stabilization worked flawlessly, even when I was filming during the bumpy island interior tour, eliminating camera shake and ensuring smooth, professional-grade footage.

The Dual Pixel CMOS AF was impressive, delivering speedy and accurate autofocus. It efficiently tracked and kept focus on the island’s native bison during our encounter, despite their constant movement.

The 4K UHD recording offered stunning video quality, with the vibrant colors of Catalina Island’s landscape rendered in lifelike detail. The footage I took of the sunset at the Descanso Beach Club was particularly breathtaking, with the XA50 capturing the array of colors with outstanding clarity and depth.

Pros and Cons

On the plus side, the Canon XA50 offers exceptional 4K UHD recording, powerful zoom capabilities, and effective image stabilization. Its compact design makes it ideal for travel videography or any on-the-go shooting. The Dual Pixel CMOS AF performs well, ensuring your subjects are in focus.

However, the XA50 does have its drawbacks. While the camera performs admirably in well-lit conditions, its low-light performance could be better. Additionally, the absence of a full HDMI port (it has a mini HDMI port instead) might be inconvenient for some users.

Catalina Island Fast Facts

Catalina Island, located 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, is home to the city of Avalon and the smaller town of Two Harbors. The island offers a variety of activities, including hiking, snorkeling, wildlife viewing, and exploring the historic Casino building. It’s also home to a unique species of bison, introduced to the island in the 1920s for a movie shoot.

Recommended Amazon Products for Canon XA50 Users

  1. SanDisk Extreme PRO 128GB SDXC Memory Card: To make the most of the XA50's 4K recording capabilities, you need a high-speed, high-capacity memory card. This one from SanDisk fits the bill perfectly. 

  2. Canon BP-828 Lithium-Ion Battery Pack: The XA50 has a decent battery life, but for a long day of shooting, it's wise to have a spare battery on hand.

Manfrotto Compact Action Aluminum 5-Section Tripod: This tripod is sturdy, lightweight, and compact - perfect for the travelling videographer using the XA50.
Rode VideoMic Pro+ Compact Directional On-Camera Shotgun Condenser Microphone: For videographers who require superior audio quality, this microphone from Rode is a fantastic addition to the XA50 setup. Case Logic SLRC-206 SLR Camera and 15.4-Inch Laptop Backpack: This backpack will safely store your XA50 along with a laptop, additional lenses, and other accessories. Its rugged design and padded interior offer great protection for your gear. PolarPro QuartzLine 58mm ND16/PL Camera Filter: The XA50 doesn't have built-in ND filters, so a good set of neutral density and polarizer filters can help when shooting in bright conditions. In conclusion, the Canon XA50 is a reliable, professional-grade camcorder that offers excellent 4K UHD recording, effective image stabilization, and a powerful zoom. Its compact size makes it perfect for travel or documentary work, and while it has a few shortcomings, they are far outweighed by its benefits. For a day trip to Catalina Island, or any other on-the-go filming, the XA50 comes highly recommended.

The Canon XA50: A Practical Tool for Storytelling

With the Canon XA50 in hand, documenting the highlights of your travels, whether on Catalina Island or elsewhere, becomes a more immersive experience. It allows you to narrate your story with crystal clear visuals and sound, making it a worthy companion for any budding filmmaker or seasoned professional.

During my day at Catalina Island, the XA50 proved to be a reliable workhorse. Its functionality was impressive, even in the most challenging scenarios. For instance, the camera's Wide DR Gamma support was instrumental in handling high contrast and harsh midday lighting conditions as I hiked up the Hermit Gulch Trail. This feature helped to maintain detail in highlights and shadows, thereby avoiding overexposed or underexposed parts of the image.

The XA50's high-quality built-in stereo microphone was capable of recording clear, rich sound. However, to capture the best audio of the gentle waves lapping the shore or the distant call of Catalina's Island Fox, an external microphone, like the Rode VideoMic Pro+, is a worthwhile investment.

The touchscreen functionality on the XA50 also deserves praise. The touch tracking enables the user to select and track their subject simply by touching the LCD panel. This feature came in handy when filming the bustling crowd at Avalon's annual JazzTrax Festival.

The only significant downside I encountered was the camera's low light performance. While the 1.0-inch sensor is larger than those found in many camcorders, it still struggles in dim lighting conditions. As the day transitioned into night, noise began to creep into my footage. Therefore, if you plan to shoot in low light, additional lighting equipment may be necessary.

A Day with the Canon XA50 on Catalina Island

To sum up, the Canon XA50 is more than just a 4K UHD camcorder. It's a powerful storytelling tool that can help bring your creative vision to life. Its versatility and performance, paired with its portable design, make it an excellent choice for on-location shooting, whether on the charming streets of Avalon, the rugged trails of Catalina's interior, or the sun-drenched beaches lining the island's coast.

Even though there are minor drawbacks, they are easily overshadowed by the camera's extensive capabilities. With the right accessories from Amazon, such as a quality SD card, additional battery pack, a sturdy tripod, a high-grade microphone, a protective backpack, and essential camera filters, the Canon XA50's performance can be significantly enhanced, ensuring you're well-equipped to capture every moment in stunning detail.

In the hands of a creative, the Canon XA50 becomes a bridge between the story's conception and its tangible, visual representation. So, whether you're a professional videographer or an amateur, the XA50 is undeniably worth considering. As I found on my day at Catalina Island, this camera not only captures the world around you but also the unique perspective you bring to it.

Using the Canon XA50 for Different Filming Scenarios

The Canon XA50 is not just for outdoor shooting. Its high-quality 4K UHD recording, combined with the user-friendly manual controls, makes it perfect for various filming scenarios. Here’s how I utilized it on Catalina Island:

Wildlife Videography: Catalina Island is home to a unique range of wildlife, including the Island Fox and the American Bison. The XA50's 15x optical zoom helped me capture these creatures in their natural habitat, without disturbing them. The Dual Pixel CMOS AF kept the animals in focus, even when they moved unpredictably.

Landscape Filming: The island's diverse landscape, from the tranquil harbor to the rugged interior, was beautifully captured in 4K UHD. The Wide DR Gamma feature ensured that the exposure was well balanced, even under the harsh afternoon sun.

Interviews and Documentaries: The compact size of the XA50 made it non-intimidating during impromptu interviews with locals, allowing for more natural interactions. The camera's reliable autofocusing system ensured that the subject stayed in sharp focus during these conversations.

Event Filming: The XA50's high-capacity battery came in handy during the extended JazzTrax Festival, capturing the festive atmosphere without running out of power. The Rode VideoMic Pro+ ensured that the audio quality was up to par with the stunning visual footage.

Low-light Filming: Although the camera’s low-light performance left something to be desired, with the right accessories, like an LED light panel, you can still get great results. This came in handy during a night tour of the famous Casino building.

Travel Vlogs and Personal Videos: The XA50’s compact size, combined with its ease of use and quick start-up time, made it perfect for capturing spontaneous moments throughout the day. Its intuitive touchscreen and smart features like touch tracking made vlogging a breeze.

In Conclusion

The Canon XA50 is an all-around workhorse, ideal for professionals and hobbyists alike. Its ability to adapt to various shooting scenarios, combined with its compact size, makes it a versatile tool for all kinds of videography.

Yes, there are limitations, but these can be mitigated with the right accessories and techniques. The XA50 offers features and performance that far outweigh its shortcomings, and at its price point, it delivers exceptional value.

My day at Catalina Island was an unforgettable experience, made even better by the Canon XA50. The camera allowed me to capture the island’s essence and relay my experiences in a visually appealing way. Whether you're capturing the rolling waves, the bustling crowd at a festival, or the candid laugh of a local sharing their story, the Canon XA50 is a capable partner that can help you tell your story in the best way possible.

Canon XA50 Review: A Day at Catalina Island Canon XA50 Review: A Day at Catalina Island Reviewed by Stormy Dof on May 14, 2023 Rating: 5

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