After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new user at DVinfo.net

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Canon XF Series HD Camcorders
Canon XF305, XF205 and XF105 (with SDI), Canon XF300, XF200 and XF100 (without SDI).


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Old March 9th, 2011, 08:41 PM   #1
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After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new user

It was with much trepidation that I headed out with a new camera on a paid shoot without much chance to test it out before my trip. When shooting for a client, I like to know my camera so well that I can find all of the controls blindfolded, and developed my muscle memory to switch my settings without much thought… I should have listened to my instincts and left my new XF300 at home and did my shoot with my trusty XHA1! If you have just picked up your new XF300, or are renting one for the weekend… here are some things to watch out for ….

The LCD monitor
NaÔve and trusting as I am, I somehow had faith that for the extra $3500 that I was laying out for this model, over my XHA1’s, that Canon would surely put some of that money towards a monitor that works better for shooting in sunlight. It surely does look better indoors, and I love the way that it can be positioned on either side of the camera, but alas, this monitor is no more useful for determining correct exposure outdoors, then the XHA1. If anything, I find it much worse! Many of the shots of my first couple of days of shooting are badly over exposed… I, know some of you are saying… why didn’t you use the vector scope… I am sure that it is a nice new feature, but not coming from a technical background, it’s just a bunch of squiggly lines to me. I’ll be putting that on my list of things to learn before I head out on the next shoot… But if you are like me and you don’t know how to read the vector scope, and you are headed out on a shoot, just be aware that, under the sun, the monitor is VERY deceiving… The only way that I could get good exposure was to carry a black T-shirt around my neck and use that to drape over the camera to check exposure before every shot.

The On/Off Switch

Much has been written here about the clumsy ON/OFF/Media switch, so I probably don’t need to add much. As it doesn’t affect the quality of the shots, it is an annoyance that I can live with. After about a week of using it, I was able to build up the needed dexterity to successfully turn it to the off position without going to the media mode, almost every time! One thing that I have noticed is that there does not seem to be a battery-saving, auto shut-off after five minutes of non-use, if you leave the camera in the On position. There were several occasions where I pulled the camera out for a quick shot, only to find that I had a dead battery… (He doesn’t like missing shots like that!)

Accidental Button and Switch Changes
In the 20 years that I have been shooting, I don’t think that I have ever come across a camera where the buttons and switches can inadvertently get bumped or switched, simply by walking along the road with the camera around your neck, or by simple handling of the camera.. I was often having to reset the buttons to where I wanted them, before taking a shot. The absolute worst offender of this is the AGC switch on the side of the camera. Who in their right mind would ever design a switch like this on the side of the camera is beyond me. This thing should be buried several layers deep in a menu setting, if EVER put on a camera at all!

I am not sure how it happened…. I am guessing that one of those times that I was groping around for the switches on the side of the camera, madly trying to switch the Zoom/Ring Rocker switch, I must have accidently switched this wretched thing on. If this has never happened to you, you need to know that the Automatic Gain Control, when switched on, will kick in to gear, even when there is plenty of light, adding so much noise to your shots that they become absolutely useless! As you add ND, it compensates by adding more gain! I had it happen to me a couple of times with the XHA1 on a shoot in Burma, and lost some very valuable footage.

On this shoot in Nepal, I entered into a dimly lit kitchen to shoot a woman cooking the meal. I look at my monitor and I say to myself, “my, my, but that is a lot of noise for +6 DB!” (I have my gain settings set to -6, -3 and +6 for absolute emergency situations in dimly lit rooms like this.) I looked more carefully at the readouts. To my absolute horror I saw the monitor say that it was pushing +22 DB Gain! I was in complete shock, dis-belief and denial. How was it even possible? And then I remembered my experience in Burma. I looked down, and sure enough the AGC switch had somehow been turned on! “How long has that XXXX@@&&!!!!!! thing been on?”, I asked myself. I still haven’t answered that question. I am almost afraid to look at my footage … for fear that it may have been on for a whole day, where shooting outside, it would be very difficult to see the noise on the monitor.

I did check the shots that I had taken just before the dark country kitchen, of the sunrise hitting the Himalayas. It was the one clear day of my whole week in Pokhara. I had managed to get myself to one of the best viewpoints on the right day! I was very pleased with the shots I got….until I checked them out on my computer. They are all full of noise and grain, even though there was plenty of light…. All because of this switch! Beautifully composed shots on a clear, blue sky morning… totally unusable in a project or for stock. This damn switch has cost me hundreds if not thousands of dollars! You can be sure that I will be jamming some black tape into that switch hole, so it can never happen again! Note to Canon, if you are listening…. In the next firmware release for this camera, please put in an option to disable this dastardly switch. And in the next hardware release, just leave it off the camera altogether! Under what scenario would anyone ever want a switch on a camera that makes the footage unusable???

Taking Canon’s Name in Vain
One last thing that I need to warn the new or rental user about, and that is the bizarre switch on this camera that changes whether you are able to zoom with the ring or the rocker. For some inexplicable reason, both modes cannot be active at the same time! You must choose what mode you want to be in and manually flip a switch to move from one to the other! I almost lost my Christian experience as I would time after time miss a shot, because of being in the wrong mode! If not taking God’s name in vain, you can be sure that I was taking Canon’s name in vain a lot, this last couple of weeks. Who came up with this idea? What is it all about? Who, sitting in their engineering room, gathered their committee together to brainstorm improvments to this camera, and said, “I know! Let’s make a switch that deactivates the ring zoom … Yeah! That will be a great new feature!” Have they ever been out on a shoot? Did some weekend enthusiast send Canon an email complaining that every time they go to adjust the focus or aperture, they get the zoom ring instead, and wouldn’t it be nice if that could be disabled with a switch so that you wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore???

Who knows what the story could possibly be behind this switch, but I wish that I could start a petition to get Canon to address this issue with the first Firmware upgrade. Can this post start a petition? We need a menu option to disable this disabler! Sooner than later would be great! Do you really want thousands of guys out there cursing the name of Canon, every time they miss a shot, because they can’t frame it quick enough, because of some crazy switch? As my wife often says to me …. “Do you want to know that?”

The Good News

Well, enough ranting… As I am usually a very positive person, I would like to add what I do like about the camera, so far…. I haven’t yet had a chance to review much of the footage, but for what I have looked at in the field, it does look great, (when you get your exposure right and are not in some High gain mode!)

I am glad I got the camera, and I am sure that I will get the kinks worked out after I spend some more time with it. The things that I like the most about it so far is that it is tapeless, instant review of shots (Albeit with no audio --- What is up with that?), Left and Right monitor, Even slower settings for the rocker zoom then on the XHA1. Now you can creep in so slow on an interview that you hardly notice the pull in. Very nice! Auto focus seems to be very accurate (white balance on my unit does not work as well as the XHA1) The one-touch display info, on or off, along with the record light indicator at the back of the on-board mic, is very helpful, over the XHA1 design. The ability to write to CF cards.

Not enough changes and improvements to justify the $6500++ I know… but hopefully, the image quality, once I get a chance to view it critically on a good monitor, will make up the difference. If it is anything like the footage that they were showing as samples of this camera at NAB last year, then I will be pleased. Viewing that sample footage is what sold me on this camera. I hope my footage comes close to the quality that I saw there…
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Old March 10th, 2011, 07:06 AM   #2
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

Great post Frank. This is what DVInfo really excels at. Real world experience to counter the advertising hype.
The AGC switch sounds like a nightmare waiting to happen to anyone using this camera, but now we know, there is less likelihood of that occurring.

Cheers.
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Old March 11th, 2011, 12:49 AM   #3
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

Hi Frank,

I agree with you about the rocker/ring - that's really annoying. On the go you have to remember which one you've previously set it too.

And the LCD resolution could be better for critical focussing (I'm considering the little DP 5.6" monitor as a focussing aid), but... in fairness to the camera/Canon (and for future reference) there are a couple of things worth pointing out.

The first is that the Waveform monitor is incredibly useful; if you spend a few minutes reading online how to read the scopes it's well worth it. Coupled with excellent Zebra implementation (set Zebra one for clipping of highlights and Zebra two for a skin tone band), your exposure issues will be over. Having these tools on board is a massive step up from the XHA1. Also, the VF is great outdoors.

Second, I agree high gain on the camera is awful (and sorry you lost those shots, sounds painful); I'm not sure if you were aware of it, but you can control the maximum level of autogain - this prevents nasty accidents.

Hope you enjoy the camera from now on,

Josh
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Old March 11th, 2011, 09:57 AM   #4
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

If I can chime in here, I must agree the power-switch has much to be desired. Who would even "OK" the release of a switch like this for adult fingers.

I set my gain in the menu to +12db as the highest in case I must use the auto-gain. This limits the possibility of ruining the material with excessive noise.


I also fine the interline twitter is present in fine details and lower my sharpness setting to -7.

All and all, this camera produces clips that are so superior (in it's price class of course) than any camera I have owned in the past. It is a truly professional camera and not for an entry level user not familiar with intense menus and profiles.
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Old March 11th, 2011, 03:03 PM   #5
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

Hi Frank,

I agree many of your points: rocker / zoom ring, off/on switch and the Waveform monitor is so, so wonderful. I too would pay for firmware to allow both zoom controls.

If you have not had a chance to view the clips on a big monitor, you will not have had chance to appreciate the beauty the camera - it is worth every bit of the upgrade price, I promise. Last week I had to shoot again with my old XHG-1s and it was so painful to look at the files afterwards.

In terms of an external LCD, take a look at the new 5.6" TVLogic (also available with WFM / Vectorscope). I was so impressed by the precision colour (in comparison with a Marshall) that I ordered one on the spot for critical focus check (1:1 pixel view is possible).
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Old March 11th, 2011, 04:58 PM   #6
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

I've stepped up from the A1 as well. And that AGC switch was in the same place. I can understand frustration, but for some it is handy. I'm just happy they did away with the wheel selector.

If you haven't yet I would dive into to the peaking and zebra options. They're insanely customizable. I currently have my peaking setup to outline thing in focus in Yellow.

I must agree with the rocker/ring. The Sony EX1 is set up the same way. Something to do with having a semi-manual lens is my understanding.
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Old March 12th, 2011, 07:42 AM   #7
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

An easy solution to viewing the LCD monitor in bright light is to get a Hoodman Loupe with the Cinema Strap and Rizer. The Rizer fits on the bottom of the Hoodman, enabling it to cover 98% of the LCD. The Cinema Strap enables you to quickly mount the loupe and remove it.

The other advantage is that this set-up allow you to balance the camera on your shoulder, using the LCD as your primary viewfinder.
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Old March 12th, 2011, 01:18 PM   #8
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

It's called The Hoodman EX Pro Package. I have one for my 60D. Works awesome. I also use it with my iPhone as a stabiliser. I made a short tutorial about it.

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Old March 13th, 2011, 04:48 PM   #9
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

Very, very impressive Norman.
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Old March 16th, 2011, 10:18 PM   #10
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

Thanks Nick! It is fun to explore new concepts and experiment. When you discover something cool, half the fun is sharing it.
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Old October 1st, 2011, 01:25 PM   #11
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

Thought I'd give this important post a bump, especially for new users like me.

Frank & Lou, your comments about AGC are critical, and we should all be aware of the potential problem and simple solution. Thanks so much for sharing.

Regards,
Doug.
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Old October 2nd, 2011, 02:49 PM   #12
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lou Bruno View Post
If I can chime in here, I must agree the power-switch has much to be desired. Who would even "OK" the release of a switch like this for adult fingers.

I set my gain in the menu to +12db as the highest in case I must use the auto-gain. This limits the possibility of ruining the material with excessive noise.


I also fine the interline twitter is present in fine details and lower my sharpness setting to -7.

All and all, this camera produces clips that are so superior (in it's price class of course) than any camera I have owned in the past. It is a truly professional camera and not for an entry level user not familiar with intense menus and profiles.
I think I've mastered the power switch. Though it took a year :)
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Old October 2nd, 2011, 03:08 PM   #13
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

As far as getting critical manual focus, I have found that changing the peaking color to red has been the most helpful. I find that those areas in focus really stand out.
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Old October 5th, 2011, 05:31 PM   #14
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

Bob,
Great suggestion on using red. I was trying white and not being able to see it clearly enough. Bumped the gain up 2 notches and now it's very visible.

Tip: got this from a video book. Zoom right in to the part of the subject that needs to be sharp. Focus. Now pull back and compose. Experienced pros will know this already but this newbie is learning the ropes, so I thought I'd share.

What are others using for the IS setting? Standard, Dynamic or Powered?

Regards,
Doug.
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Old October 6th, 2011, 05:47 AM   #15
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Re: After Two Weeks of Shooting with the XF 300 ... Warnings and Cautions to the new

Just how accurate are Zebras? I have set my Zebra 1 to 95% and I see the lines in the brighter mid-tones. Yet on my Sony EX3 using the same 95% setting the lines only appear in much brighter areas (hear white areas). i find the Canon does underexpose the footage although it shouldn't be the case by using the Zebra at 95%
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