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Canon XL H Series HDV Camcorders
Canon XL H1S (with SDI), Canon XL H1A (without SDI). Also XL H1.


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Old December 22nd, 2011, 04:05 PM   #1
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what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

I have had my XLh1 for 5 1/2 years....you'd think I would be able to consistently nail focus at live events but no! This lousy viewfinder "always" gets me. I was shooting a performance at our local church, was using the 6x wide and I knew the exposure and color temp from rehearsals, so I opted to run with my b/w viewfinder, which I rarely use. I had filmed one previous evening with the 20x lens and found that while the image was sharp, the edges were soft with some CA . I noticed that test footage I shot with the 6x was much sharper all the way across.

So....armed with the FU-1000, I set out to shoot. I set the peaking on the fu-1000 to maximum and even turned on the peaking of the camera too. So, objects in the scene that were in focus had a very defined line around them....I mean very. I trusted the peaking to guide me. Have faith I said.

Well, in one particular scene I pan over to a recreation of the nativity, and in the viewfinder, all of the architecture, beams, straw, animals and mary and joseph had sharp defined white lines around them. It looked as if everything was in focus. Nice!

I suddenly enjoyed the deeper DOF that this 1/3 sensor was affording me, having shot with the 7d almost exclusively for the last 18 months.

Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to predict what comes next. The footage in that sections was awful! The entire shot was out of focus....i mean really out of focus! Nothing was sharp except a podium and candle sitting 10-12 feet in front of the scene. Argh!!!

So how is it with all of these peaking tools turned on that this shot could have been so out of focus? What did I do wrong? I have had a love hate relationship with my XLh1 for years, especially over the viewfinder. I thought I was going above and beyond to ensure focus....but no! This was a travesty! :)

Seriously though, I am trying to get as much life out of this camera as possible, and while the footage is good when in focus (especially with the Samurai and ProRes 422) I am constantly struggling with the focusing mechanisms. Mainly the EVF.

I am aware that using an external monitor is ideal, but was not an option here. I had the whole camera on my shoulder and pressed to my eyes while tucked into a small cubby shooting this. I am very disappointed in this one aspect.

Okay. Rant over. Someone out there has to still be using this camera and have some pointers.....right?

Thanks.
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Old December 22nd, 2011, 06:36 PM   #2
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

Marty,
I have no answers either, but I am struck by how closely your experience mirrors mine. I use mine almost exclusively for wildlife and got the fu-1000 soon after I got the H1 in 2007. I soon quit using it as I liked to see the color while working outdoors and found I got get decent focus by flipping up the finder and using the LCD, except of course the usual problems with strobing in cold weather, and extreme difficulty in getting perfect focus with the big telephotos and the Ef adapter, but if I had time to use the magnify button, I could usually get a decent percentage of acceptable footage.

To get to the point, I grew tired of dealing with the smear and strobing in the finder while shooting in cold temperatures over Thanksgiving week and pressed the fu-1000 into service again. Just like you, I was astounded how much easier the camera appeared to be to focus and I expected great results when I downloaded the footage, but was sickened to see that a lot of it was hopelessly out of focus--this in spite of the image looking great in the finder. As a result it is back to the color finder and also using dslrs when I can to shoot video.

Like you, I want to get a lot more use out of this camera. I am using it with the nano-flash and love the picture quality when I get perfect focus, so I hope someone out there can come up with a good solution-especially in my case one that does not make the camera a lot more bulky to carry.
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Old December 22nd, 2011, 06:51 PM   #3
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

A question (or two):

1. Does the XL H1 offer the same focus distance readout in the viewfinder that's found on the XH A1 and it's siblings (I assume only with the stock Canon 20X lens)?

2. Whatever the answer to 1. is the distance readout (if it has one) on the lens barrel of whatever is mounted on the camera accurate?


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Old December 22nd, 2011, 06:56 PM   #4
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

Just do some tests with the FU-1000 and the Stock VF on my XL-H1 and 16x Manual lens. The secret with FU-1000 ist to use the peaking function very descent. Just a bit, so that the lines apear. I use a Full HD display hooked at the YUV port over a YUV- HDMI adaptor to check the results after focusing.
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Old December 22nd, 2011, 07:00 PM   #5
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Soucy View Post
A question (or two):

1. Does the XL H1 offer the same focus distance readout in the viewfinder that's found on the XH A1 and it's siblings (I assume only with the stock Canon 20X lens)?

2. Whatever the answer to 1. is the distance readout (if it has one) on the lens barrel of whatever is mounted on the camera accurate?


CS
1. Yes.

2. Have only the 6x Wide. Using this lens you have to add 10 percent more on the dial than the real distance.
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Old December 22nd, 2011, 07:32 PM   #6
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

OK, well here's how I nailed this problem for good, and I do mean FOR EVER AND EVER, AMEN!

I too was in the situation that subjects that should have been nailed were continuing to be out of focus on review, and decided to do a bit of lateral thinking.

A sodding great monitor was simply not going to happen. so whatever I used had to be small, light, easy and totally idiot proof (I was alrady carrying waay too much when shooting wildlife as it was)

So, I plumped for one of these:

Nikon Rangefinder Reviews

My Nikon 1200 is a few years old now but appears very similar to the Monarch Gold 1200

Nail the target with the rangefinder, dial it into the lens using the EVF distance display and bingo, on the nail, every time.

Parks on the cold shoe with a CS to 1/4" adapter.

Bugger all good if there's a lot of movement, but seals don't tend to shift very quick on land, so pretty easy to keep pace.

Won't work below 10 metres, but if you can't get to 10 metres by eye you may as well take up knitting.

Works out to 1000 metres, which is pretty well where the EVF focus distance readout on the A1 drops off it's perch anyway.

For indoor use or where a lot of movement is involved (within reason) one of these may be more appropriate:

Bosch Laser Rangefinder DLE 70 Professional

It has the advantage of being able to give a continuous readout for up to 5 minutes whilst it tracks movement distance, though as you can't see what it's actually hitting with any great accuracy, it may not really be up for the job.

It'd be worth checking them out to see if they fit the bill for your particular type of shooting.


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Old December 22nd, 2011, 07:43 PM   #7
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

This wan't work with the EF-adaptor and the 16x manual zoom lens, because there is no distance readout in the display.
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Old December 22nd, 2011, 07:59 PM   #8
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

That's why I asked about the focus distance indicators on whatever lens barrels you are using.

It shouldn't be impossible to calibrate new figures if using the adapter renders the given figures inacurate, though if that can't be done, guess this is not your answer.


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Old December 22nd, 2011, 10:58 PM   #9
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

I know this may not help too much in this case, but I have the XL H1S and on this updated camera, the variable peaking makes a huge difference. On the original XL H1, there is only one peaking option. But on the 'S' version, you can modify the gain and frequency of the peaking to create a very fine peaking line that works much much better than the chunky one on the original XL H1. The "S" version also addd component monitor out on the 2nd EVF port.

I think an external monitor for the original XL H1 is the only confident way to go. I like that Canon fixed mostly every operational issue with the XL H1S, but the only sticking point to this otherwise fantastic camcorder is its EVF.
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Old December 23rd, 2011, 10:25 AM   #10
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

Thanks everyone for your input. I have a question though.

Why do you need to add 10% on the 6x lens to get an accurate focus? This lens was made for this camera so why would the focus readout be off?

And since we are talking about the 6x lens, why is that focus ring so sensitive. I am focused at 12ft and I barely nudge it and it jumps to 68ft! What's up with that?
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Old December 23rd, 2011, 01:00 PM   #11
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

On a lens with a manual focus ring (not the fly by wire ones these camera ship with), measure relevant distances on the floor before hand with a tape measure... then mark the barrel with some toothpick ends to give a tactile indicator as you're turning focus.

Test firings is how ye olde archers and balista operators used to get their accuracy ranges... with flags or poles in the field of battle in front of a castle marking distance arcs, they could just set to the appropriate distance and only need to worry about the left/right adjustments.
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Old December 23rd, 2011, 02:25 PM   #12
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

The problem with peaking is it will not give you what is in focus versus what is not.

Peaking is made by analyzing drawing the luma curve across the picture.
a gentle slope usually indicate out of focus (sinus wave), while a hard front is (again usually) indicates a good focus.

So it gives you the part of picture to shows the better focus, even if this part is not really in focus, but simply is the best found in the picture. So do not trust peaking , especially if it is done in an external monitor.

Peaking showing thin details is usually good, but peaking seen as thick lines on the picture is usually bad.

Also, high contrast can create false peaking, a dark suit over a clear background.

A great tool for focusing would be an infrared laser throwing two small
parallel bars and linked to the lens. The focus plane would be when the two lines perfectly superimpose. Since the line would be in the IR range, it would not be visible in the picture but a filter could make it visible in the viewfinder.

All others systems using the picture content can be defeated by low light or vertical or horizontal pattern. Autofocus uses the same technique as peaking, so it suffers from the same limitations.
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Old December 24th, 2011, 03:30 AM   #13
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

A bit of light reading on the subject:

Focus puller - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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Old December 26th, 2011, 05:28 PM   #14
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

Marty -

I see that you have an original XL H1. So do I. And I see that you are an early adopter of the Samurai. Please tell me if you have experienced any problems with the Samurai to FCP workflow.

Questions:

Are you using the XLH1 in 24f?

Does the Samurai detect the cadence correctly?

Are there any other issues you might be able to mention to a potential buyer like myself?

By the way, I am finding it almost impossible to get any meaningful answers out of these people at Atomos/Samurai. They will tell me the name of a dealer, then I call the dealer and the dealer has no idea what I'm talking about and tries to sell me the AJA recorder. Nor do there appear to be any Samurai demo units. Now they are now apparently selling the Samurai exclusively through some website.

I'm a little concerned at this level of semi-competence. Your experience would be valuable.

Thank you,

Harry.
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Old December 29th, 2011, 04:50 PM   #15
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Re: what can a guy do to get consistent focus??

I also would love to hear some more about using either ninja or saumeri with the xlh1.

the focus issue is mostly resolved with the fu 1000. However, you must get used to seeing black and white, trusting in your presets to do the color as you have programmed it to do!! The biggest issue with a black and white view finder is if you intend to set exposure with it!! It is to easy to have nudged a brightness dial or such and then you will expose incorrectly. I always use manual, prress the exposure lock for confirmation if I am not sure or do not have time to use my light meter, then I stop it dowen a stop.

doing the aforementioned I can then keep the fu 1000 set to give me best peaking effect for hitting focus and not worry about the exposure.

If I am setting in a blind or shooting birds off a tripod (such as geese) I have a Small hd (DP1) Monitor that i can virtually always get my focus dead on.

Of course Magnify is an asset but shooting wildlife you often do not have time for tinkering around so I seldom use it.

some times just using auto focus can get you a pretty good shot in a hurry and then adjust on the fly.

Chris sold me on a range finder a year or two back. I use it at weddings and various static shoots, but if I have the time for that i have time for the hd monitor so I generally do not use it a lot.

Shooting with Telephotos, most L series lenses will give you distance and you can then use it to compare to your range finder!!

To be honest, I love my xlh1A (wish i had spent for the S version now!) The quality of images one can get is spectacular.

Also, in wildlife/outdoor action videography if you think that 75% of what you shoot will be perfect, well you will see a lot of dissappointment over time!!!

It takes tons of practice out in the field!!!


I purchased a sony fx1000 for non telephoto oriented shooting because the focus is better, the peaking is better, the infinity focus has a huge spectrum, plus the view finder is over a million pixels!!! I still prefer the images out of my xlh, mostly because of the cmos sensor issues!!! I get more useful run and gun footage out of the Sony, but not that much more.

I thin HD focus will always be an issue!!!! Rregardless of the camera!!!

Still would like to hear from those using recording devices.

An xlh1 at over 100 mega bytes a second in 4:2:2: color space has years of use left!!! Plus no dam cmos sensor!!!!
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