Guide to Canon XL2 Lens Options

Guide to Canon XL2 Lens Options
an article by Chris Hurd

Here is a brief summary of the various XL mount lenses available for the Canon XL2. Remember that all XL-series lenses will mount to any Canon XL2, XL1S or XL1, regardless of whether the camera head is an NTSC or PAL model. Personally I have not had the opportunity to check them all out for myself, but I have included links to user reviews where they exist (lens attachments such as wide-angle adapters, filters, matte boxes, etc. are not included; hopefully they will be the subject of a future article).

XL Lens equiv. 35mm focal length max ap filter remote
16:9 4:3
Canon 20x L IS 42.3 – 846mm 51.8 – 1036mm f/1.6 72mm LANC
Canon 16x Manual 43.1 – 689.6mm 52.8 – 844.8mm f/1.6 72mm yes
Canon 16x IS II 43.1 – 689.6mm 52.8 – 844.8mm f/1.6 72mm LANC
Canon 16x IS 43.1 – 689.6mm 52.8 – 844.8mm f/1.6 72mm LANC
Canon 3x Wide 26.6 – 79.8mm 32.6 – 97.8mm f/1.8 72mm LANC
Canon 14x Manual 45.3 – 634mm 55.5 – 777mm f/1.6 72mm no
Fujinon 14x conv. 44.1 – 618mm 54.1 – 758mm f/1.4 62mm yes
Fujinon 12x conv. 29.8 – 357.6mm 36.5 – 438mm f/1.4 82mm yes
Canon EOS Photo f.l. x 7.8 f.l. x 9.6 varies varies no

Canon 20x L IS appx $1900 included w/standard XL2 kit
The 20x L IS automatic lens is included in the basic XL2 kit. It is also available for separate purchase. Outwardly it looks similar to (but is a bit larger than) the previous 16x IS II lens. It is backward-compatible with the older XL1 and XL1S. This lens carries Canon’s professional-quality “L” series designation, as it uses flourite elements for superior resolution and color accuracy. This lens also features Canon’s Super Range optical image stabilization of the VAP (vari-angle prism) type. There are two built-in Neutral Density filters, a manual/auto focus switch, and a switch to select either a focus range pre-set or a zoom range pre-set. This switch also functions as a Push-AF button. The 20x L IS is an autofocus lens using free-spinning manual focus and zoom rings without stops on an un-marked barrel. This lens, like the 16x IS II before it, is primarily intended for “run and gun” handheld use, but its very long 20x zoom range makes it quite useful for tripod-mounted event videography as well.
Canon 16x Manual appx $1750 manual-only XL lens
The 16x manual lens is available separately. Outwardly this lens appears similar to the previous 14x manual lens (which it replaces) in that it has a black barrel marked with focus, zoom and aperature numbers. This lens has a rectangular hood instead of the round one found on the older 14x. However, the primary difference between that lens and this new manual lens (other than the longer focal length of 16x) is a motor for zoom control from the grip, plus automatic iris control and two built-in neutral density filter settings (2.7 and 5). This lens may be operated in full manual mode, or switched to motorized zooming from both the grip handle and the LANC jack with a remote zoom controller (you’ll need a separate remote focus control which connects directly to the lens). There is no automatic focus on this lens; it is manual focus only. It does not have image stabilization. This is not an “internal focus” lens; however, the front element does not rotate, which means clamp-on matte boxes may be used with ease. There’s no iris ring, either; exposure is controlled by the dial on the camera body. The 16x manual lens is of course backward-compatible with the older XL1 and XL1S.
Canon 16x IS II appx $1600 included w/standard XL1S kit
Included in the basic XL1S kit (and available for separate purchase) is the white IS II 16x automatic lens. Outwardly it looks identical to the previous XL1 16x lens, but inside is a new design which reportedly is a significant improvement over the earlier 16x automatic lens. The new IS II lens is backward-compatible with the older XL1, and like its predecessor, it includes a neutral density filter, a manual/auto focus switch, and Canon’s superb Optical Image Stabilization technology. Like the one it replaces, this newly re-engineered lens is servo-controlled even in manual mode, with free-spinning focus and zoom rings without stops on an un-marked barrel. You can tell this lens apart from the old one by the red lettering marked IS II around the front filter thread. Like the older 16x automatic lens before it, the IS II has the extremely slow low-speed crawling zoom which isn’t available on the 16x manual lens.
Canon 16x IS discontinued included w/standard XL1 kit
For a majority of XL1 shooters, the 16x lens which comes with the camera is the only one they’ll ever use. Some professionals were disappointed to find that it’s not marked in the traditional sense with focus, zoom and aperture settings. That’s because it’s a vari-focus lens which is primarily automatic in nature with provisions for manual operation. However, even the manual settings are controlled by internal motors. In my opinion, this lens is excellent for what it is intended… all-purpose outdoor shooting, with a built-in neutral density filter and perfect for hand-held use thanks to Canon’s excellent Optical Image Stabilization.
Canon 3x Wide appx $1350 wide-angle automatic XL lens
One significant disadvantage of the standard 16x lens is its inability to get a sufficiently wide angle. Wide angle shots are extremely important for a number of applications, from filmmaking to journalism. Canon’s 3x wide angle lens is an important tool for any serious videographer, allowing the XL cameras to shoot in tight spaces such as small rooms and vehicle interiors. The camera gets closer to the subject, improving the audio quality from the on-board microphone, and wide angle shots in general have a significant appeal which other lenses can’t obtain. A neutral density filter is included, but not image stabilization; it’s not really needed, anyway. Like the 16x lens, this is a vari-focus lens and operates automatically with manual overrides. A very short zoom range is the only disadvantage, perhaps requiring a frequent changing of lenses as shooting circumstances dictate.

Canon 14x Manual discontinued manual-only XL lens
Realizing the success that Optex had with their Fujinon lens conversion to an XL mount, Canon has followed suit and developed their own professional 14x manual lens. It does not include image stabilization, a neutral density filter or zoom and focus motors, but does provide complete and precise manual control of focus, focal length and aperture settings. Such controls are analog (instead of digital) in nature and are operated mechanically (instead of electronically) via traditional lens rings which will be familiar to professional videographers. Unlike the Optex-converted Fuji 14x, this lens communicates electronically with the camera head, allowing for certain digital effects such as the slow shutter speeds. However, in my opinion, it has a major drawback in that remote zoom and focus controls are not available, to the best of my knowledge.

Fujinon 14x appx $1250 manual-only XL conversion
About a year before Canon released their own manual lens, a company called Optex (based in the UK) modified a 1/3rd inch Fujinon 14x lens to accept the XL mount. The result was a professional quality lens which provides smooth, all-manual operation. This is the same lens that’s packaged with the Pansonic AJ-D215 and JVC GY-DV500U professional camcorders (it’s a 1/2 inch mount on the JVC). The lens hand grip which houses the zoom motor had to be removed, to allow the lens barrel to clear the XL1’s own hand grip. However, remote zoom and focus controls from third-party manufacturers can be mounted to the tripod pan handles, negating this drawback. One important disadvantage of this lens is that it cannot electronically communicate with the XL1 camera body; therefore, certain digital features such as the slow shutter speeds are unavailable. In my opinion, this is made up for by the quality of the Fujinon glass and the availability of remote lens controls.

Fujinon 12x appx. $2300 wide-angle manual-only
This is a 1/3rd inch wide-angle lens intended for the Panasonic AJ-D215. In my opinion, it could become a superb lens for the XL cameras if someone would be willing to convert it to an XL mount, as Optex did with the Fuji 14x. This lens has about half the focal length of the Canon 16x but four times the zoom range of the Canon 3x, making it suitable for both wide-angle and telephoto work. Not only would shot set-ups go faster, but the need for a wide-angle adapter would be eliminated as well. Like the Canon 14x and Fuji 14x, this lens would function as manual-only (the lens zoom motor would need to be removed for the lens barrel to clear the XL camcorder hand grip). However, a remote focus control is readily available, and presumably the Optex motorized remote zoom control for the Fuji 14x could be adapted to operate this lens. The price suggests that it might be prohibitively expensive for most folks; but I imagine that the cost might come down somewhat if Fujinon could be persuaded to sell the lens without the zoom motor/hand grip. I would like very much to hear from anyone who manages to procure, adapt and use this particular lens with their XL-series camera.
Canon EOS series photography lenses w/EF adapter
By using the optional EF adapter, you can match your XL2 to any one of the huge assortment of Canon EOS photography lenses. Since these lenses are designed for 35mm still photo cameras, and because the XL2’s image plane is a bit smaller than one-third inch in size, there is a magnification factor of at least 7.8 applied to the focal length of the EOS lens, depending on which aspect ratio you’re using. For instance, if you mounted a 200mm EOS lens on your XL2, the effective focal length works out to 1560mm, which is a much longer telephoto shot than the standard 20x video lens is capable of. When you use Canon’s really big EOS lenses, such as the 400mm, 500mm and 600mm lenses, the resulting magnification is like turning the XL2 into a telescope… perfect for some limited applications such as surveillance or wildlife videography. It’s also possible to mount a wide-angle prime lens, combined with a wide-angle adapter, to achieve a medium focal length video lens with the quality of Canon EOS glass.


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About The Author

Chris Hurd

After completing my degree in Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas, I managed a video production studio "back in the tape days" while waiting for the digital video revolution to arrive and for the internet to become mainstream. Things started to get interesting in November of 1997 when I launched The XL1 Watchdog, my first web site dedicated to digital video technology. In January of 2001, that site morphed into DV Info Net — the Digital Video Information Network. More than fifteen years later, the longevity of DV Info Net is exceeded now only by its popularity and reputation as one of the leading technology information resources in the broadcast and professional video market.

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