Some XL2 Predictions
an article by The Watchdog

The Watchdog notes: With the release of the Canon XL1S in mid-July 2001, this article becomes obsolete. The XL1S is the "new XL2" everyone has been predicting. As soon as I can gather some solid, reliable product info from the dealers who advertize on this site, I'll get it formatted and present it to you. Thanks!

December 2000: Perhaps the most common question I'm asked in person or by e-mail is, "when are you going to re-name your website." In other words, when is the XL2 coming out, and what do I know about it. Well, what I know about the XL2 is actually very little, but there are a few things I can tell you with certainty, and some other things that are nothing more than educated guesses, marginally substantiated rumors, and semi-informed predictions.

The most important thing to know is that there will indeed be an XL2, and you can bet that when it's released, I'll be all over it. Right now, however, I'm very much outside the information loop... and of what little I do know, there are some things I can't tell you. So let's get all that gory stuff out of the way first.

Here's what I know but can't tell you. I know exactly who will be the first lucky folks within the United States to get their hands on the new XL2 (and no, I'm not one of them). Canon USA has a network of reliable beta testers here in the U.S. Most of these people are professional shooters, but some are simply well-connected to Canon USA through sales and marketing relationships. They were the first in the U.S. to try out the GL1 camcorder, the XL1 manual lens and other innovative Canon products. Right now, they know a lot more about the coming XL2 than I do... but they ain't talking. I know most of these folks personally, but I can't tell you who they are. Nor can I tell you how to get into this exclusive club -- because I have no idea. You just have to be on the inside with Canon USA.

I'm not on the inside. I'm just very persistent at bugging people in a nice way.

Availability

Okay, the first most frequently asked question about the XL2 is WHEN. Well, the answer is going to be "sometime in 2001." My semi-informed prediction is: late in 2001, most likely in the third or fourth quarter. I'm betting that the first public appearance of the XL2 will not be at NAB (a huge television & video tradeshow in April), but later in the year, perhaps at DV Expo.

Features

The second most frequently asked XL2 question is, how will it be different from the XL1, what will change and what stays the same, what will it look like. Well, this is a wide open topic, but let's approach it logically.

The way we can do this is to begin with the first piece of solid information I have, and extrapolate the possibilities and probabilities from there. We also need to consider how the market has changed since late 1997 when the XL1 first hit, and the other, newer camcorders which will be competing against the XL2 for your hard-earned dollars.

What is that first piece of solid XL2 information? It's good news -- the XL2 lens mount will be compatible with all previous XL lenses. Your 3x wide-angle and 14x manual zoom lenses will fit on the new XL2, and so will the stock XL1 16x lens.

One rumor I've heard is that there will be two new XL lenses from Canon, introduced along with the XL2 body. One of these is the 3D Concept lens we've already heard about. As for the other lens...? I'm just dreaming out loud, but an optically stabilized 18x that goes very wide, with two or three ND settings and an iris ring built in to the barrel (as on the DSR250) would be just awesome.

The XL mount on the XL2 is a strong indicator of other aspects of the new camera body. Primarily, it means that most likely it will have 1/3" chips. This says a lot about the XL2's market position. The size of a camcorder's CCDs is an important part of how a camera is classified and described. For instance, most professional camcorders have 1/2" chips, such as the Sony DSR300, the JVC GY-DV500 and the new Panasonic AG-DVC200. These are full-size, shoulder-mount cameras which require expensive Canon or Fujinon broadcast video lenses. With 1/3" CCDs, the XL2 will fall into the "prosumer" (somewhat professional, somewhat consumer) category, along with the XL1 and the Sony DSR250, PD150, and VX2000. These three newer Sony camcorders have become very popular, and Canon will want to regain some of this market share with the XL2.

I'm really interested in Canon's choice of 1/3" CCDs for the XL2. Currently, the XL1 utilizes a CCD block made by Panasonic, each chip containing 270,000 pixels, with Frame Movie mode and Pixel Shift features. This is the same CCD block used in the Panasonic AJ-D200 series camcorders. At the time the XL1 was introduced, the superior low-light capability of these chips was unsurpassed. The XL1 was the best camcorder available for low light shooting, and Canon highly marketed this feature. However, times have changed, CCDs have evolved and the XL1 is no longer the best low-light performer. Most notably, these days the newer Sony VX2000, PD150 and DSR250 (each using the same lens and CCD block) are better than the XL1 in low light. So if Canon wants to re-gain superiority in the low-light field, then the XL2 will need CCDs at least as good, if not better than, the Sony chips in the DSR250. Since Canon uses Panasonic CCDs in the XL1 and GL1, expect a Panasonic CCD block in the XL2 as well.

I can practically guarantee you that the CCDs will be the standard 4:3 aspect ratio, and not 16:9 for true widescreen recording. The problem is that 16:9 CCDs seem to be very expensive to produce, and at this point in time, a "true widescreen" 16:9 CCD does not yet exist in the 1/3" size, and may never exist. Currently, the least expensive video cameras which offer true 16:9 recording are the Sony DSR500, the JVC GY-DV700 and the Panasonic AJ-D600, and all of them utilize large 2/3" CCDs. We are still quite far from having HD (high definition) capability in any camcorder in the high-end-consumer or low-end-professional range of the Canon XL2. Hopefully, if there's ever an XL3 (and I suspect it will be a tapeless, disc-based camera), then perhaps it might be HD-ready. For now, expect the XL2 to follow suit with all the other camcorders in its class, offering a lower-resolution 16:9 widescreen effect, interpolated from its 1/3" 4:3 aspect ratio CCDs.

Canon has incorporated Frame Movie mode into a couple of its one-chip camcorders with progressive scan CCDs. The XL1 did not have progessive scan chips, though (I wonder if the XL2 will have progessive scan). Frame Movie mode has been a winner for Canon, and I predict the XL2 will retain this feature. Hopefully they'll follow through with an external button (instead of a menu setting) to enable Frame Movie mode, as they did on the GL1.

Other GL1 features not found on the XL1 will carry over well to the XL2. Analog video input through the S-video and RCA video jacks is almost a given. Sharpness and color controls via menu settings are expected as well. And, with the huge popularity of flip-out LCD screens (included even on the large Sony DSR250), I imagine Canon will find a way to build one into the XL2. I just hope it's larger than the 2.5" screen on the GL1.

If Canon adds a flip-out LCD screen, then for economical reasons I'll be looking for the same standard EVF from the XL1. Of course the B&W CRT viewfinder should work with the XL2... Canon knows it would be a mistake to let such a new accessory go obsolete.

The XL1 provided innovative audio features with the ability to internally mix four separate channels with different input levels. The XL1 is still unmatched in terms of audio performance and I expect Canon will step this lead up a notch or two on the XL2. Look for built-in XLR jacks (no longer any need for external adapters) to accompany all the excellent audio capabilities carried over from the XL1. I would like to see backward compatibility with all three LightWave Systems audio accessories for the XL1. Also, I'd like to see the audio mixing function become less complicated, without having to dial through internal menus. A couple more external switches will be fine, as long as the XL2 is easier than the XL1 to wrangle audio.

It would be great if Canon incorporated a few of the new Sony DSR250 menu features into the XL2. For instance, you can easily check the number of hours on the recording heads and the number of eject cycles, kind of like having an odometer on the camera (this information is already in the XL1, but can be accessed only by service technicians). Another Sony feature is the ability to disengage the heads from the tape. This is a new flavor of "standby" which does not require automatic powering down every five minutes when in record-pause mode and would be most welcome in the XL2.

As far as what the XL2 will look like, I think it's a safe bet that the now-familiar pearl-white color over a magnesium alloy body will continue. Built-in XLR jacks and a flip-out LCD screen will require a larger chassis, probably with a built-in shoulder pad (a real one this time). I'll bet the body will have a most unique and stylish appearance, as did the XL1, but larger; perhaps not quite so large as the DSR250, though. It will be great if the XL2 has a large tape transport to accept the full-size DV cassettes for longer recording times, but I seriously doubt this very much.

Pricing

The third most frequently asked question about the XL2 is HOW MUCH. My answer is "I have no idea" and frankly, I don't care to guess. Canon will probably position this camera to compete directly with the Sony DSR250. I predict it will be marketed as a step up from the XL1 and as a viable alternative to the JVC GY-DV500 and the new Panasonic AG-DVC200. Therefore I imagine the price point will be above the current XL1 suggested retail price, perhaps somewhere around the MSRP of the DSR250. I think a big factor in the XL2 pricing structure will be the cost of the lens. If there is a new XL lens coming with this camcorder, then the features of that lens will affect the overall price significantly. In other words, the price of an XL2 bundled with the familiar 16x lens will be different (probably lower) than the price of an XL2 bundled with a lens of new design. I really don't know if the XL2 will be available for purchase with different lens combinations or as a body only, but it seems to me like it would be good marketing to do so. And as a side note to speculate about possible XL2 packages, if Canon bundles the black-and-white CRT viewfinder with the new body, that will raise the price as well.

So, to sum up, there might be several different ways which the XL2 may be configured and sold. How Canon chooses to approach these various possibilities is something we'll just have to wait for.

Decisions

Finally, and perhaps most important, comes the question of SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO. A lot of you have written in to say that you might be ready to buy into an XL1 now, but you're not sure if you should wait for the XL2... or that you already have an XL1 but are not sure if you should sell it for the XL2.

The answers to these two questions depend entirely on personal economics. What can you afford to do... and more importantly, how bad do you need a camera? If you're bursting with ideas and itching to shoot video, if you have projects lined up just waiting to be shot, if you're ready to make money or make that movie or both, if you just can't wait, then it is indeed a mistake to wait. Buy an XL1 now and be happy. These cameras don't quit working the instant a new model is introduced, you know. It's never been a matter of having the latest and greatest -- these aren't sports cars -- it's what you do with them that really counts. If you apply yourself, you can make great-looking images with last year's XL1, a surplus Bolex H-16 or your grandmother's InstaMatic.

It's also an error in judgement to think that if you make a purchase now, you'll be missing out on something better down the road. That just isn't true. Cameras will continue to evolve and improve, but you're not missing out on anything. This is a great time to be working in digital video, and since 1995 when Sony introduced the VX1000, all of these camcorders have given us video that looks very, very good. To sit around not shooting anything because you're "waiting for the next great camera" is a serious mistake... because it means you're not out taking pictures. You can always trade up later, you can always find a way to make the money you need for that next piece of gear.

So do yourself a favor and don't get too hung up on the forthcoming XL2. It will be interesting, sure, and I'll be covering about it; but in the long run what really counts is what are you doing with the tools you have right now, and are you in any position to just wait around for hardware. New hardware has never, ever guaranteed success for anybody, and waiting for it will accomplish nothing except to render you inert and unproductive.

That's it! Remember, this is all mostly supposition with very little practical value. I'm just wondering how wrong or how right a lot of these predictions will turn out. Keep your eyes open...


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Thrown together by Chris Hurd

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