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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 May 23rd, 2006, 03:49 PM   #1
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Thoughts and advice on using the XLH1

I don't presume to know everything about this camera but I thought the following might be interesting to newbies and whoever else is interested.

IT'S TIME TO REALLY FOCUS ON WHAT'S IMPORTANT
First on the agenda and one of the most critical things in shooting HD is to pay special attention to focusing. While most prosumer HD cameras have a wide depth of field when shooting at the short end of the lens, care must still be taken to ensure the subject you are focusing on is sharp. Otherwise you will have a shot that looks less than the resolution the camera is capable of.

An example of a challenging shot I have encountered goes like this. The main subject (a person) is standing about 10 feet away from a fence. I am quite far away and have zoomed in about half of the lens focal length. In my viewfinder, it looks like both the fence and the subject are in focus but the aperture is wide open and I know the depth of field is shallower than the viewfinder would have me believe. When I first shot this kind of scene, I blindly ran tape trusting because it's HD, everything would be in focus. Wrong! The fence looked great but my subject was soft. Since then I have instinctively made a slight adjustment in the focus to compensate for this situation and my subject has popped against the background.

Now granted, all of this could have been averted had I used an HD monitor in the field but the truth of the matter is that it's only practical for me to do that about 20% of the times I shoot. The other times are much more spontaneous so I have to remain mobile. Running around with the XLH1, a tripod and a monitor is completely impractical for me particularly as I usually shoot solo.

There are many ways to achieve focus and I use most of them but the above is just an example of one method to utilize in a pinch, albeit not scientific and completely reliable.

FEELING A LITTLE SHAKY
Don't, I repeat, do not use the optical image stablizer (OIS) when the camera is mounted on something steady (bag or tripod). OIS introduces undesireable motion stuttering. Only use this when you have to.

IT LOOKED GREAT IN THE VIEWFINDER
The brightness in the EVF is very misleading. Canon has made it overly bright and, if one relies solely on what is seen in the EVF without assessing the actual exposure numbers, then the results will be underexposed by approximately 2 stops. Yes, it's that dramatic. I lowered the brightness level as much as it would go but it is still too bright and gives a distorted sense of what is being recorded. The way to deal with this, aside from using an exposure meter is to use the zebra stripes. Zebra stripes appear as diagonal lines in areas that are overexposed or have exceeded the limit of where detail can be captured. For instance, if you are shooting a landscape on a grey day, the contrast between sky and land is going to be extreme. If you properly expose for the land and foreground, your sky will be completely white and all cloud detail will be gone. In this situation, the zebra stripes will be bouncing all over your sky telling you it's overexposed. I use this as a guide for correct exposure but mostly I just adjust the exposure to highlight a particular thing in the frame. Sometimes I have to blow out areas in order to capture my subject correctly but this is deliberate. If you are shooting a very bright source and shut down the aperture to where it is as small as it can get, you can compensate by choosing a faster shutter speed. This will virtually stop down the lens even more.

I DON'T REMEMBER CHANGING THAT

Man, are the shutter adjustment buttons easy to knock when shooting. I've had several instances where I inadvertently changed the shutter speed and it gave me unexpected results. Always check the info in your viewfinder before you shoot your magic moment. Make sure your shutter speed is where you want it to be otherwise, if it's too slow, you will get motion trails and if it's too fast, you will get a stuttering effect. These motion idiosyncrasies are not an issue if your subject is static.

WOW, CHECK OUT THESE COOL MOTION EFFECTS!
There is maybe a 1/4 or 1/2 second delay in what you see in the EVF versus the live event. This is not a huge deal but if you are critically timing something it can be an issue. If you hook up a monitor to the camera, this delay is not present. There is also significant motion trailing in the EVF display that is not going to tape so don't be alarmed if you see this.

WHAT'S THAT RUMBLING?
Do yourself a favor and purchase a windscreen. The one that ships with the camera is inadequate and, although there is electronic dampening available in the camera, I don't trust this. I purchased the EQ-XL1 Equalizer Windscreen and I am completely happy with it. It preserves the sound and really helps to reduce wind rumbling.

NOT THE WHOLE STORY
I cannot believe that Canon did not include overscan on such an expensive camera but c'est la vie. Underscan is usually what you see on a regular TV. It works out to be about 90% of the recorded image but now, with the advent of HDTVs, some display more than 90%. Also, if you are posting your work on the Web, the full 100% image will appear. Why am I rambling on about this? Because what you see in the EVF is only about 90% of the image (maybe even less) so you need to be aware of not getting mic booms or little Johnny picking his nose in the areas that you cannot see. Again, you can hook up a monitor with underscan capabilities and this problem goes away but if you cannot use a monitor always check by moving the camera up and down and left to right. That will give you a sense of any possible obstacles to your great framing.

MY FAST PANS LOOK LIKE CRAP. THIS CAMERA SUCKS
If you are going to be recording in 24F mode, be very careful to avoid fast pans and tilts. You will get a stuttering motion that is very undesirable. This is a product of using 24 fps recording. The same problem is encountered by motion picture cameras. There are formulas on the Web about how fast you can go but I just know instinctively at this stage not to whip the camera around from north to south.

Also, I don't care what anyone else says because I have seen this for myself, 24p video stutters more than telecined film. I have watched hundreds of films and I can see the motion is a little smoother than on a 24p video camera. The point is that it is all the more critical to avoid fast movement unless it is de-emphasized with a relatively slow moving object or person in the foreground to take the audience�s focus off the fast, stuttering part of your scene.

I SAID "CUT!!" DAMMIT
Okay, this has screwed me a lot. With the DVX, I had aural cues to tell me when I was recording and when I was on pause. One beep for recording, two beeps to stop. I don't have that cue with the Canon and I find that one must be very deliberate in pressing the ON/OFF record button. I don't know how many shots I have of my feet when I thought I had paused recording and it continued to record. Even with tally lights on, you can�t always see them on a bright day. Always check that the camera is indeed paused when done with your shot.

15 SECONDS OF FAME
For those of you who are shooting non-narrative stuff and want to capture some pretty images of places you visit, keep the following in mind. Always try to have a basic edit in your head and roll enough tape for each scene to give you enough footage to work with. If you notice that you got a great shot when everything is captured and you only got 8 seconds of it, it may not be long enough for you to include in your final edit. I usually roll for about 15 to 20 seconds if I'm shooting nature vistas, for instance. I find this gives me plenty of time to play with. It's better to go long than short when recording, in my experience anyway.

BREATHING SPACE
Don't stick a tape in and begin recording your footage right away. It's not adviseable to do this without giving the tape a little slack. Also, most NLEs need a few seconds to back up before they begin capturing footage so get in the habit of flicking on the color bars and record about 20 seconds first.

NOT SO TIGHT
The tightening ring for the EVF is not very effective. I find it keeps coming loose and I am loathe to tighten it too much. Anyone with a solution?

TAKE CARE OF YOUR BABY
If you are going to be shooting outside a lot, invest in a good rain slicker for the camera. Also, it goes without saying, you should also have a robust carrying case, preferably with room for accessories. The latter is incredibly important so don't go buying Glidecams and cranes and leave nothing in your budget for the absolute essentials.

Other things to invest in before the big stuff are batteries (as many as you can afford), a lens cleaning cloth, a head cleaning tape (use only when you have to) and lots of tapes (good choice would be Panasonic's MQ series). Next you will need a good tripod. There are many options for tripods that are beyond the scope of this post.

Keep in mind that all of these things help to protect your investment. It's not so cool when your cam craps out on top of the coolest crane in the world because it got wet or your only battery ran out.

Always keep a flashlight, gaffer tape and screwdriver set in your bag. You never know when you need this stuff.

THE JUICE
Try to figure out a system that lets you differentiate between used batteries and freshly charged ones. Use some masking tape to write the date of charge so that you know they are ready to go. Take the tape off before you put it on the camera. That way, you'll know that the batteries without tape in your bag are dead and you won't loose critical seconds trying to figure out the good from the bad.

Use the supplied AC adapter when capturing. That way, you will be assured of a relatively trouble-free transfer.

Last edited by Steven Dempsey; May 24th, 2006 at 10:54 AM.
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 04:15 PM   #2
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Wow. Excellent summation, and an instant "sticky" if there ever was one. Much appreciated!

Folks, after reading this, be sure to check out our Tips and Tricks for the XL H1 thread as well.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 12:02 AM   #3
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Thanks Steven,

Some great stuff there. I've only had mine a week or so and there is a LOT to know about this cam. Other than miniDV, my last cam was Canon's L1 (Hi8) B&W viewfinder, nearly impossible to hold, but I loved it and knew it intimately. I skipped a couple of generations of the XL, so I find the H1 to be (so far) a dream.

At first I found the zebras annoying, but I bumped the limit up a bit so they're not so sensitive. I too have paused while recording and vice versa. Soft servo focus and zoom takes a bit of getting used to. I tend to brush one while tuning the other. I like the focus EVF range finder display to use as a guide (though that is subject to some footage review to see how it fared on a leaning tree shot as well as others I was shooting). I found the lens Wide angle and (shallow)DoF to be far better than I expected from pre-purchase posts.

I appreciate your posts and clips, still waiting for my NLE. In the meantime, I'm just getting to know the cam better. I mentioned in the battery thread, I have the two 970's mounted on the back onto the 910 charger, and this weight makes shoulder shooting possible (subject to footage review).

Ken
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Old May 24th, 2006, 12:41 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Dempsey
THE JUICE
Try to figure out a system that lets you differentiate between used batteries and freshly charged ones. Use some masking tape to write the date of charge so that you know they are ready to go. Take the tape off before you put it on the camera. That way, you'll know that the batteries without tape in your bag are dead and you won't loose critical seconds trying to figure out the good from the bad.
Good stuff, Steven. I use the gray plastic battery caps for just this purpose. Cap on -charged. Cap off - less than full charge.

-gb-
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Old May 24th, 2006, 12:43 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Diewert
Soft servo focus and zoom takes a bit of getting used to. I tend to brush one while tuning the other.
It's not so bad since the lenses use a single motor for both functions. If you're zooming, you're not focusing and vice versa.

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Old May 24th, 2006, 09:51 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Boston
It's not so bad since the lenses use a single motor for both functions. If you're zooming, you're not focusing and vice versa.
Thanks Greg,

That's good to know.

Ken.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 02:34 PM   #7
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Here are some more random thoughts:

Say this over and over in your mind before you shoot:

Focus, aperture, shutter, frame rate (more important if you are shooting different rates), sound level, battery level.

Check every one of these for every shot. Remember, you've got a lot going on trying to frame your subject, deal with failing or variable light, deal with failing or variable actors :).

And the one most important thing...is the camera recording? There are many stories out there where the DP thought he was recording and the camera was still on pause. This gets back to keeping an eye on the chaos around you while shooting. If you take a few seconds to roll and then let the action begin after you've taken that necessary breath, it's one less thing to worry about when watching your actors/subject.

If you are in an environment where there is a lot of dust or other particles flying about, check your lens for specks. This is a killer and sometimes not even visible on a field monitor but can usually be seen when looking at the lens directly. This is especially important when shooting HD.

Always protect your lens with a UV filter or similar. It's no problem to replace a cracked filter but it's going to cost a whole lot more to replace a cracked or scratched lens.

Be sure your tripod is locked in position. Weigh it down with sandbags if you feel like you are on unsteady ground. A slight shift while shooting is going to ruin the shot. Also, make sure your camera is completely locked down on the tripod...obvious but carelessness can happen.

If you are running out of tape, load a new one the first opportunity you get. Sometimes you will need more tape than you think and if you run out, you could lose a great performance.

Be sure to take the time to record ambient sound without dialog. No matter what you are shooting, this sound will come in very handy when you are trying to mix or when a loud bang or obnoxious bird came screeching by during a somber moment. Sure, you can reshoot but this might be the best take of the day. Even with a good set of headphones, you can never be definitive about the sound you have recorded in your actual scene until you are sitting down reviewing your footage in a quiet environment.

Last edited by Steven Dempsey; May 24th, 2006 at 03:25 PM.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 02:56 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Dempsey
Say this over and over in your mind before you shoot:
Focus, aperture, shutter, frame rate, battery level.
Great post Steven, but battery? The battery last for hours, much longer than any tape. I would say "sound setting" is more important and easy to forget to check when you are busy framing a nice shot. And frame rate - why not use the gaffer tape to fix it at 25F? (Sorry 24F for you).
Best regards /Johan
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Old May 24th, 2006, 02:59 PM   #9
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Johan, I would like to believe that everyone puts a fresh battery on but it's not always the case. It's one of the simple and obvious things that you can forget about so that's why it's there. The very fact that you take for granted that the battery will last is more reason to check it... :)

Anyway, I amended my post to include sound.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 04:20 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Dempsey
And the one most important thing...is the camera recording? There are many stories out there where the DP thought he was recording and the camera was still on pause. This gets back to keeping an eye on the chaos around you while shooting. If you take a few seconds to roll and then let the action begin after you've taken that necessary breath, it's one less thing to worry about when watching your actors/subject.
Great stuff, Steven! A very useful sticky! About recording: I noticed on my first (and so far only) H1-shoot that it takes a very long time for the camera to actually roll when starting recording from tape drive standby mode (I'd guess around 7 seconds, give or take). Watching the tally lights on front/rear of the cam or below the EVF is critical here: while the lights blink, the tape drive is gathering momentum, and only when the lights are solid are you actually recording.

While the above is important to observe by itself, it's particularly important if you're doing a free run time code (e.g. multi-cam) shoot in HDV and you're editing native HDV in FCP. At every time code break, FCP will create a new clip and cut off at least 2s12f off the beginning during native HDV-capture, even if pre-roll is set to 1s. But I digress...

HTH anyone...

Ron
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Old May 24th, 2006, 04:30 PM   #11
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While writing about multi-cam shoots with the XL H1, another important tidbit came to mind:

If you sync time code (e.g. from one cam to the other via the TC-out and TC-in ports), the slave camera loses time code sync when you're powering it down or put it in standby mode. If you do have a permanent tc-connection between master and slave cam, the slave will automatically re-sync on power-up. If you don't, it's very important to be aware of the need to re-sync!

Despite new TC-sync possibilities in the XL H1, it might actually be more convenient to use the following technique when untethered (got to love the Watchdog!):

http://www.dvinfo.net/canonxl2/articles/article11.php

I'm not certain that this still works with the XL H1 (I was renting cams, and have no means to test now), but it surely does with the XL 2. Anyone in the know?
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Old May 24th, 2006, 04:35 PM   #12
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And another tip: Don't be tempted to use the EVF to judge withe balance. In addition to showing a much brighter image than what's recorded (as mentioned previously), it also shows much 'cooler' colors than what you'll end up with on tape. While on a factory preset or in auto WB-mode, this isn't all that important. But refrain from using the EVF to manually dial-in WB on the kelvin-scale. That's definitely a no-no!
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Old December 8th, 2007, 06:26 AM   #13
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Pans stuttering

Hi Steven
Thanks for the great article. I have printed it off and I keep with the cam now. I am brand new to video and having bought the XL-H1 I am having nighmares while trying to get used to it and use it.
Having taken on board your comments regarding panning I do any pans I have to very slowly.
Evn so, when I compress these for internet presentation (using Sorenson Squeeze) they are still very jerky. Sorenson have been exceptionally helpful in giving me some tips visa vis improvements in my compression settings but I am still experiencing unwanted jerkiness.
Is this a problem ass ociated with all HD cameras or should I sell this one and buy a SONY or something that does not bring into effect this artefact?
Thanks
Dave
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Old December 9th, 2007, 09:09 PM   #14
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Dave,
Any camera that is shooting in 24f or 24p mode will introduce the stuttering. So this cannot be attributed to the Canon. Set the Canon to 60i and I bet you will not see this juttering.

A Sony that shoots 24p/F will exhibit this also. However the early sony HDV cameras didn't have a 24p option so be leary of anyone stating that the Sony cams don't do this. It is likely because they are 60i cameras.

Good Luck.

Marty

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Gosley View Post
Sorenson have been exceptionally helpful in giving me some tips visa vis improvements in my compression settings but I am still experiencing unwanted jerkiness.
Is this a problem ass ociated with all HD cameras or should I sell this one and buy a SONY or something that does not bring into effect this artefact?
Thanks
Dave
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Old December 10th, 2007, 07:16 AM   #15
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60i - setting...?

Hi Marty,

Thank so much for the tip. I am trying to do exactly as you suggest and I have gone through the manual and through the menu on the camera.

I am not finding anything that offers me the chance to select 60i - can you guide me to this please?

Thanks
Dave
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