3 month trip with XL2 at DVinfo.net

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Canon XL and GL Series DV Camcorders
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Old June 12th, 2005, 10:12 PM   #1
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3 month trip with XL2

Hello all,

I recently completed a three month trip to three different countries and used my NTSC XL2 to shoot about 19 hours of footage in total. I am working on a surfing documentary. I shoot with the standard 20x lens in 16:9, at 24p, and I almost always use manual mode for everything. This is my first time shooting digital. I just wanted to share with you my impressions of the XL2 so far.

In all I have been very happy with it. It proved to be durable and everything still works properly. I was in the South Pacific the whole time, always near the ocean or in the ocean, and in very humid climates a lot of the time. The XL2 got banged around a lot, on small very bumpy boats, carrying it with me on trails, etc. I have noticed the viewfinder is starting to sag on its own a little, but not too bad. The only thing that broke on the whole camera is the screw on the lens hood, and that no longer will tighten properly.

I had given much time to deciding on getting the Panasonic DVX100 or the XL2 and eventually decided upon the XL2 because of the 20x zooming capabilities with the stock lens, as well as the interchangeable lens sytem. It was a very wise choice for me because I would not have been able to get some of the shots I got with anything less than the 20x zoom. And I think the image quality is still really good when zoomed in all the way. There were times when I was shooting from shore with a tripod where the surfers were so far out, that I just couldn't have gotten useable shots with anything less than the 20x.

I have been happy with the image quality for the most part. It makes waves look really beautiful if shot well. Its great for shooting surfing I think. And its great for shooting wildlife as well. Most who I've shown my good footage to say, "Wow!, that looks like a movie!"

The camera does not do a good job of handling brick patterns, certain fabric patterns, railings, window blinds, corrugated steel, grasses and palm tree leaves, and other such complex patterns. At certain distances these visuals can look pretty crappy and if the camera is not perfectly still or the pattern is moving around, very odd things happen with those patterns if they are in focus. So I'm pretty glad my project is focusing on organic constantly shape shifting visuals, and not buildings, for example. This problem can be worked around by adjusting how far you are from these objects, or by zooming in or out until the pattern looks good.

There are two problems that have really surprised me, though:

1. You definitely do not see the whole frame through the viewfinder in 16:9 mode that is captured to the tape...with my camera at least. I have noticed this repeatedly when viewing directly onto a TV and when viewing my captured footage on my computer(I use Vegas to capture). Viewing through the viewfinder which I did not adjust to my knowledge, its like I am seeing a slightly cut-off version of the entire shot. It is minimal, but if you have worked really hard to get the exact framing you want, and lets say, your mic is just bairly out of frame, there is a good chance you will see it in your final footage. In going through my footage from my trip I have noticed this repeatedly. Now that I know my camera does this I will be able to work around it, but this is not something I expected. If anyone can give me advice on adjusting my viewfinder to see the whole captured image, I would really appreciate it.

2. In my captured footage, on the very left side of ALL my footage are a few vertical lines of pixels from top to bottom of frame which are slightly reddish in color. I have noticed this in one other person's XL2 footage as well. This is something I think I will be able to fix using Photoshop, and I don't think it will be much of a problem in the long run. But it is definitely going to be a bit of a headache to deal with. Has anyone else noticed this with their footage? It is most noticeable if you are shooting, say, blue sky an example. In some shots I don't notice it much at all, but it is there in all my 16:9 footage. And this, in relation to my first problem I cannot see through the viewfinder as it is cut-off. I only see it in my final footage.

These things aside, I have been really happy with the camera and feel it is an excellent tool to make a great film with on an independent self financed project.

Some other things I might add: once I got used to the little odd aperture lever, I found it to work just fine, and I actually like it. I can quickly cycle through aperture settings without shaking the camera a bit.

I know the manual says to keep the image stabilizer off when on the tripod, but I found that it seems to help a little with camera shake due to wind when on the tripod, especially when zoomed in all the way. I might be technically wrong here, but this is something I noticed, just ever so slightly, after staring through the camera for many hours.

I used the Kata raincover designed for the XL1, but advertised to work for the XL2 also. This is a stretch, literally. It works, yes, but it is obviously not designed for the XL2, and is a bit small for the camera with the 20x lens. I was able to get it to work, though, and it saved my camera for sure.

After many hours of use, I got pretty good at being able to get the right exposure, both aperture and shutter speed, without using the the zebra stripes as an aid. After a while of stressing over using the zebra stripes, all I ended up doing was using my judgement looking at the image through the viewfinder. Does it look good? Am I getting the correct exposure on the most important objects of my composition? It did take me a while to get accustomed to the viewfinder, but now that I am, I'm happy with it. It is awesome to be able to see what your final image looks like right through the viewfinder as you are shooting, and to be able to have control over that in the field.

Oh, and the absolute best feature for me is the fact that the XL2 can be taken apart. I use a very small padded camcorder bag which bairly fits all the seperated pieces. They fit in like a jigsaw puzzle and nothing moves around. Its a bit scary using such a small bag for it, but I have a lot of other gear to carry in my back pack, so as a traveling filmmaker, this feature was a must. If the camera did not come apart, it would have been really difficult to lug around.

I hope this helps some out, and I would also appreciate some feedback on some of the issues I mentioned. All in all, I am happy with the XL2 and excited to try some more lenses with it in the future.
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Old June 12th, 2005, 10:28 PM   #2
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I am about to take my first trip with my brand new XL2 to Brazil in August. I bought a kata backpack type camera bag that I hope fits in the overhead compartment. What type of things did you encounter while going through airport security?

Thanks
Dwayne
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Old June 12th, 2005, 10:41 PM   #3
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Hi Jeremy.

The weird patterns you're seeing are moire and aliasing effects. Very common with video, from broadcast to consumer level cameras, and there was a lot of discussing, should I say debating, around this issue on this board when the XL2 came out. The problem is not exclusive to the XL2. It's one of the limitations of video. You might want to search for this topic.

Usually, the sharper the image, the most likely you are to have those sort of problems when shooting fine regular details. It's best to try to throw the problematic background out of focus a little if you can or bring down the sharpness in-camera a bit. But most of all, you need to recognize those potential visual problems when shooting and learn to get around, like it appears you've been doing. If there's something extremely bad looking that you've noticed only during editing that ruined your shot, you can try a bit of gaussian blur on the vertical axis. That will usually help, but soften the image a bit.

As for not seeing the whole frame in the stock EVF, you're right, you actually see the TV frame, not the whole frame. People that critically need to see all the frame must buy or rent the FU-1000 B&W viewfinder, which has underscan as well as being of a much higher resolution, which facilitates manual focusing. Here's an article that will give you a bit more info on it.

I own a FU-1000, and my color viewfinder is just collecting dust in the closet right now. But like everything else, you can probably work around it by guestimating what is missing from the frame and compensating for it. Not the most practical solution though I'll admit.
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Old June 12th, 2005, 10:44 PM   #4
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Dwayne,

When entering Samoa, they noticed on my declaration card I wrote down I was carrying with me an item worth $5000.00. This got their attention, they asked to look at the camera, asked if I was planning on selling it, and they let me in no problem when I explained what I was doing with the camera. Other than that, no issues. I kept the camera with me as a carry-on item on every flight and would not even think of checking it on as luggage.

-Jeremy
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Old June 12th, 2005, 10:54 PM   #5
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David

Thanks for the feedback and the answer to the viewfinder issue. I can't see myself being able to find money for that viewfinder in the near future, but it sure would be great to have knowing what you're telling me about being able to see the entire image. Like I said, I have noticed, even on a TV, that you see more on a TV than you do in the viewfinder. And if you are watching letterboxed footage on a 4:3 TV, you are bound to see the whole image from top to bottom it would seem. So yeah, it will have to be guesstimation for now. Thanks for the tips on dealing with the moire and aliasing.

-Jeremy
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Old June 12th, 2005, 11:45 PM   #6
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Quote: "...After many hours of use, I got pretty good at being able to get the right exposure, both aperture and shutter speed, without using the the zebra stripes as an aid."...

Jeremy,

I would only add that zebra bars are there to help you manage the contrast within your scene. Video has a limited contrast latitude and it's easy to blow out highlight areas when trying to bring out objects in shadow. These bars are there to show you where you would be exceeding the upper limit. The way to correct this is to pick a different framing for your shot which will elimate the high contrast, or use lighting to bring out the shadow areas, again reducing conrtrast by doing so. You cannot recover blown out highlights in post, but you can bring up shadow areas. That's the importance of using zebras. Exposure metering is more for the whole scene as on average.
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Old June 13th, 2005, 12:38 AM   #7
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Greg,

Well put, and that's interesting what you say about the limited contrast latitude. I found that to be the case for sure, and sometimes even when I thought I had nailed the correct exposure for a shot, it was not right and some areas were overexposed when viewing later. The zebra stripes can help for sure. And they have helped me alot. But as I my eye grew more accustomed to the viewfinder, I actually found that I got better exposures by just deciding what looked best to my eye without any zebra stripes. At times the stripes can be a little distracting to my eye, so once I learned how to fairly accurately judge exposure without them, I worked that way most of the time. But still I would use them some.

Filming breaking waves gave me the biggest challenge with regard to proper exposures due to the white water created when the wave pitches over and actually breaks. And in video, I mean WHITE water, especially if the sun is out. So I really had a challenge of finding the proper balance of being able to read some details of the frothing exploding white water, and still properly expose the details of the beautiful deep dark blues of the waves.

This kind of brings me to another related point. Even with a lot of BRIGHT sunlight sometimes I would shoot with the gain on so that I could still see the details of the blues of the waves. So my aperture would be closed all the way almost, so as to be able to see some details of the bright white water, and the gain would be on to help bring out the blues. This tends to produce noisy, grainy images. But without the gain on, it seemed I would not see much in the dark areas of the waves if I still made sure to close down my aperture enough so as to not overexpose the white water.

So my question to any with a lot of experience would be do you get a grainier image by using some gain, or by leaving vast areas of the image a little bit underexposed, in this case, the deep blues of the waves? I have not done any tests on this yet, but would be curious what is thought to be best in this case.

thanks,

-Jeremy,
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Old June 13th, 2005, 12:48 AM   #8
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That would be a classic case of where to use a contrast reducing filter. Tiffen, and others manufacture these filters. Other useful filters in your example above would be a polarizing filter to minimize reflections off the water(could also help to reduce the contrast from bright reflections), and a graduated ND so you could darken parts of the image(ie the sky) and keep the water at a higher level.

Good luck,

-gb-
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Old June 13th, 2005, 12:59 AM   #9
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Greg,

Thanks a lot for the advice on the filters. If you only could use one of the options mentioned, which do you think would be most effective for helping reduce the bright glare of the white water? I ask because I am both trying to keep as simple a setup as possible and keep any costs down as well.

I used the ND on the 20x a lot. Is a "graduated ND" different from the one on the 20x lens?

-Jeremy
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