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Canon XL1S / XL1 Watchdog
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Old December 22nd, 2001, 12:59 AM   #1
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Looking for opinions on the best wide angle lenses for the XL1 - Canon or otherwise.

I'm about to shoot a dramatic production that will run about 180 minutes. Most of the shooting will be in crowded interiors - offices, restaurants, a locker room. Much of the shooting will be medium to tight shots with a good amount of master shots carrying the action (a stylistic approach to economize time and post).

Here are the needs and specs:

-use of the regular zoom that came with the XL-1 is out of the question - it has proven to be very difficult to shoot with - focus and zoom problems. The only use I can see for it is for second unit establishing shots where critical focusing and zooms are not important

-because of the crowded quarters I'll be shooting in I'm ready to purchase a wide angle lens for the XL-1. I know there are several besides the Canon lens but I have no experience with any of them.

- I'm looking for a wide angle that's sharp, and has a minimum amount of spheric distortion since I'll be shooting faces in close ups. It needs to the be fast since many scenes call for dim lighting (e.g. a restaurant scene with "candlelight") and a good number of night for night street scenes. Here I see the need for a lens that will keep internal reflections to a minimum.

I could also use some input on what kind of matte boxes, if any, are available for wide angle lenses.

The question:

Can anyone with experience with any of the available lenses give me a few tips on which one to look for? Is the Canon lens the best for my purposes? I don't need a fully automatic lens, in fact, I prefer manual for more control. There are seveal third party models available. Can you recommend one over another?

I'm used to working with expensive glass when shooting film or with studio cameras and perhaps I'm asking for too much. Although I've looked around at what's available for the XL1, I need some first-hand opinions from DPs who have tried them under actual conditions.

Thank you all in advance for any advice you can offer.
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Last edited by Ozzie Alfonso; December 22nd, 2001 at 01:59 PM.
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Old December 22nd, 2001, 04:14 PM   #2
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Wide Angle lens for XL1

I have the 3x wide angle lens for the XL1. I have used it on and off for the last couple of years (since it came out) and have gotten good results. The lens has minimal distortion and a nice, wide field of view, perfect for shooting in confined areas. It focuses the same way as the standard 16x lens. However, I haven't noticed any real problems focusing this lens. At times I'll think the lens could be sharper, and then at other times, shooting under certain conditions, it appears to be quite sharp. In fact, I've gotten some beautiful, sharp stills shooting in the frame movie mode with this lens. Canon may have an updated version of this same lens to go with the XL1S. If you go with this lens definately get the most recent version. They may have made some improvements. You could go with the new manual focus servo zoom 16x lens just out, and use a wide angle adapter, but that might introduce more distortion than you'd want. I do believe a skilled user can get very good results with the Canon 3x lens.
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Old December 22nd, 2001, 10:08 PM   #3
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Howdy from Texas,

<< use of the regular zoom that came with the XL-1 is out of the question - it has proven to be very difficult to shoot with - focus and zoom problems. >>

For the XL1 or *any* other DV camcorder in its class, it is *absolutely essential* that you use a tripod pan handle-mounted remote zoom and focus controller. The best of these is the VariZoom at www.varizoom.com -- they are one of my Sponsors and I have numerous articles about their controllers on the XL1 Watchdog -- see www.dvinfo.net/xl1.htm -- choose Articles Menu > Lens & Optics. Hope this helps,
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Old December 22nd, 2001, 11:19 PM   #4
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I agree with how big of a help a VariZoom controller can be. I'm adding one to my package. But although a handle mounted zoom/focus controller is "essensial" it does little to improve the inability of the 16X lens to track and hold a zoom. As I said earlier, I sent my lens back to Canon for a "fix" they supposedly had. It came back (this was over a year ago) and I never noticed any difference.

A good zoom lens should allow the operator to zoom in, focus, zoom out, roll, zoom in to the pre-focused point and expect the lens to still be focused. That's what tracking means. The 16X is very poor in this respect. A handle mounted controller makes it a little more comfortable but when you're doing a slow zoom into a closeup of a face even VariZoom can't hide the fact that you have to make adjustments as you zoom.

When I first bagan using this lens I soon learned not to zoom if I didn't want to ruin the shot. I'm expecting the 3X, with the inherent greater depth of field of any wide angle optic, will minimize this problem. Ordinarily I would chalk this up to comparing a $1200 lens to a $20,000 lens but I haven't experienced any focus tracking problems with the Sony TRV900 - a camera costing half the price of the XL-1. Maybe Canon has corrected this flaw since I bought the camera (I'm guessing it was about two years ago shortly after it came out).
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Old December 22nd, 2001, 11:46 PM   #5
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Howdy from Texas,

<< But although a handle mounted zoom/focus controller is "essensial" it does little to improve the inability of the 16X lens to track and hold a zoom. >>

I must disagree. In my experience, a zoom controller makes all the difference in the world to the standard 16x lens. I consistently use the very slow crawling zoom on the XL1 using a remote zoom controller and have never had problems maintaining focus throughout the shot (always being sure to set critical focus beforehand). This is the best thing about the VariZoom in my opinion.

<< Maybe Canon has corrected this flaw since I bought the camera >>

It's my understanding that the new IS II automatic 16x lens has been re-engineered to solve these problems. However I don't own one, so this is not from experience in my case.
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Old December 23rd, 2001, 12:14 AM   #6
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>>I consistently use the very slow crawling zoom on the XL1 using a remote zoom controller and have never had problems maintaining focus throughout the shot (always being sure to set critical focus beforehand). This is the best thing about the VariZoom in my opinion. <<

I'll have to take your word for it but I can't understand how a remote controller can makeup for an inherent weakness in the lens. Maybe I'll have my lens checked out by Canon if and when I send it out for its annual.
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Old December 23rd, 2001, 01:05 AM   #7
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The controller, which talks to the camera via the LANC protocol, completely by-passes the two user inputs (the zoom rocker and manual zoom ring). It provides a much more precise and consistent zoom (and focus) due to its direct input to the lens servos.

Regarding the questions you asked me via e-mail, everything I know about the Canon service process is on the Watchdog page called "The XL1 Skinny" including copies of associated documents, etc.

If you find out more details yourself, please let me know. I strongly urge you to go ahead and send the camera in for service, as there may have been software updates since the last time you sent it in. Plus they'll clean and tweak it for you. Hope this helps,

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Old December 23rd, 2001, 09:58 AM   #8
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>>completely by-passes the two user inputs (the zoom rocker and manual zoom ring). It provides a much more precise and consistent zoom (and focus) due to its direct input to the lens servos.<<

VariZoom is becoming more and more indispensable. The particular point you make (direct input to the servos) is alluded to but not sufficiently emphasized in the description. My suggestion would be for the manufacturer to give the significance of this design a little more real estate in the many articles and ads. After all, placing the zoom and focus controls on the handle of ANY camera makes ANY control system an advantage. But there's more here than meets the eye.
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Old December 23rd, 2001, 12:04 PM   #9
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Chris, et al--

Do you find the VariZoom to be superior to the Canon remote zoom control? I have been using one of those for some time, but the focusing isn't as convenient -- rather than use the remote for that, I typically momentarily press the auto override button while zooming-in.

Cheers, Vic
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Old December 23rd, 2001, 03:56 PM   #10
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Vic,

I find the VariZoom superior to the Canon for two reasons. First, being made of aluminum instead of plastic, it's more robust and better built. Second, you can ramp the zoom speed on the VariZoom... slowing down a bit at the beginning and end of the zoom, by tweaking the speed control dial with your index finger. The VariZoom is more expensive but remember you get what you pay for. Hope this helps,
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Old December 24th, 2001, 02:54 PM   #11
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Varizoom -love this thing

I second all that's been said in favor of this gadget. I've rented the orig XL1 a few times but never seriously considered buying one till I got a Varizoom- Remote focus in totally unlike using the useless lens ring- with the varizoom, focus control is absolutely dead on and slop free- Wonderful gadget- specially when using a monitor to see critical focus. Used it mounted to the Birns & Sawyer shoulder rest and the XL1 feels and works like a 16mm cam.
Now if Canon would give us an affordable hi rez viewfinder....
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Old December 24th, 2001, 03:48 PM   #12
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Oh yes, the "affordable" high rez view finder. I'm not holding my breath since any price drop wil be minimal. In the meantime I've found two workarounds. One is a 4X5" (approx) LCD that can be mounted on the XL1 assessory shoe. I believe the LCD is made by Beachtech but I'm not sure (I can check if needed). The LCD has individual RGB adjustments, brightness, hue and contrast controls, BNC connectors and accepts external DC power. The resolution is subjectively at least 10 times higher than the view finder's. At least high enough to allow for critical focusing. The LCD comes with a plastic pouch with a visor that comes in handy as a built-in glare shield.

Another, less portable workaround is using a true high resolution monitor. I use one whenever I'm shooting on sticks and there's not much movement called for. Of course the hires monitor is a s expensive as the viewfinder but it's in color and provides good reference. Clients also always want to see what's being shot. I always keep them as far away as possible looking at any monitor I can find, not necessarily high rez.
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Old December 24th, 2001, 04:51 PM   #13
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I've been using a 5" LCD (cheapo) monitor on the shoe, as well, but it sounds like the one just described might have better res.
The Varizoom sounds pretty good, but.....the Canon unit I'm using has the ability to turn the display on the external monitor off/on. Does the Varizoom, or would I need to use the remote for that?

BTW, after only a few days, I LOVE THIS BOARD! (Thanks, Chris)

Thanks, Vic
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Old December 24th, 2001, 04:58 PM   #14
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A follow-up for Ozzie -- I just checked the Beachtek web site, and couldn't find a monitor listed. Can you verify who made the little puppy?

Thanks, Vic
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Old December 24th, 2001, 05:10 PM   #15
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See the VariZoom line of LCD monitors. That's what I'm using. www.varizoom.com
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