Some thoughts after 12 hours with my eye in the XL-1 EVF at DVinfo.net

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Canon XL1S / XL1 Watchdog
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Old February 16th, 2002, 07:52 PM   #1
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Some thoughts after 12 hours with my eye in the XL-1 EVF

This is a follow-up from an initial message I posted in the Announcements section.

The setup: Friday, 2-15-02 - the day for call-backs. We're doing two feature-length dramas, initially for CD-ROM but eventually for broadband and broadcast distribution. The two dramatic "features" are different versions of the same script - one in American English and the other in British English. Each one has 12 actors and approximately 11 different locations. Although fully developed dramas, the purpose of these is to teach English as a foreign language to adults in Europe (for the UK English), Asia and Latin America (for the US version.) Principal photography - 17 days. Budget - imagine what “low” would be and cut it by half. (I'd be curious to hear what your general guesstimates might be.) Remember - professional actors, location fees, transportation, catering, and 4 days of blue screen work outside of the principal photography days, plus two editors working on our Avids.

The gear – one XL-1 with 16x lens; one XL-1s with 3x lens; Stealth Varizoom controllers; 3 hi-res monitors; sound – 3 RF lavs; one boom.

I was originally planning to direct and DP the shoot. I was talked out of it much to my initial disappointment, but now I’m glad I’m not operating the camera. Out of nearly 200 actors auditioned, myself and our client chose about 50 for the callback. During the callback session I direct the actors trying to see how well they take specific direction, if they fit the part. For this particular callback session I also operated the XL-1s and lit a few scenes to give the actors as “real” a look as possible. Between directing and shooting I spent 12 hours mainly looking through the EVF.

I made a simultaneous clone of what I was taping on a Sony DV Watchman. The “FireWire” connection out of the XL-1s is great since it starts and stops another VCR without me having to pay any attention. This feature has potential uses beyond just making a copy. Although I was feeding a hi-res monitor, I used it for the clients to see what I was shooting. All I had to go by was what I saw in the EVF. This proved to be the weakest part of the XL-1s (and, of course, of every LCD color EVF regardless of camera.) I operate the camera in full manual mode. Even with the auto focus button, it is nearly impossible to judge when you have sharp focus. To make matters worse, the eyecup is too flexible. This doesn’t allow the eye to be at a constant distance from the diopter. I found myself doing a bit of eye shifting back and forth trying to find the right distance. The nature of the LCD is another problem – very hard to “eyeball” exposure. If the eye is shifted slightly the image becomes darker or lighter. The on-screen readouts are a must. The result of all this eye movement is, well, an exhausted eye.

What I’ve picked up after this first extended shooting session with the XL-1s – the LCD view finder is good for casual and sporadic shooting but not for any serious videography. A high resolution monitor is a definite must but it still doesn’t minimize the eye strain the combination of a soft rubber eyecup, a low resolution color view finder, and the nature of the LCD screen. To be fair – these problems are not confined to the XL-1. I have not seen the high resolution EVF that’s made for the XL-1. My guess is the improvements are minimal as long as the screen is an LCD and the eyecup is made of soft rubber.

If no one minds lengthy posts, I’ll keep you up to date on what I learn as we go into actual production. I'm sure the young but experienced DP I've hired will have a lot to say. He's from Israel and has done most of his work in Europe. He has shot two documentaries with the XL-1.




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Old February 16th, 2002, 11:01 PM   #2
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Ozzie,

Just wanted to tell you that awhile back I had looked at your web page and checked out the samples of some of your productions. They're very impressive. Wish I could see some examples of "S.N.O.O.P.S."

Equally impressive is your primary goal...education for kids.

Concerning the monitor on the XL-1, I'm working on a simple bracket right now that will allow me to mount a TFT Monitor to the left of the camera body, just under the present viewfinder. Once it's complete, I'll post "do-it-yourself" instructions...unless I can convince Varizoom to pick up the design.
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Old February 16th, 2002, 11:14 PM   #3
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John,

Thank you for the kind words. We're trying to upgrade and update our website and put up some of our work as QT movies. What we have right now is 1998 technology. "S,N.O.O.P.S." is still airing in North America. We originally developed and produced it for Hughes Aircraft but it has been sold since.

Looking forward to your TFT monitor. Something like that is badly needed.
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Old February 17th, 2002, 11:27 AM   #4
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Lengthy posts! Yes! Yes! The stuff Watchdog articles are made of.

P.S. for John -- if it's a good design, we can probably get VariZoom to make it.
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Old February 17th, 2002, 11:57 AM   #5
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Ozzie,

Thanks very much for taking time to share your experience.

I have the b&w head for the XL1 / XL1s and can shed some light on it. It's pretty much a professional b&w CRT vf with it's own peak/brightness/contrast adjustments. It does have a semi-rigid eye cup but it's more cup-shaped than that the color lcd vf. Also, the eyepiece is more adjustable than that of the lcd and better enables you to see the CRT -without- having to actually stick your eye in the cup.

I know that others have complained about the color vf making fine-focus difficult. Yes, I agree but it really is not as whine-worthy to me as it seems to be to others. The biggest problem I have with the color lcd is its underscan (or is it overscan?). That is, the picture I see in the color lcd is generally a markedly clipped version of the recorded image. The b&w vf shows me a wall-to-wall image.

Thanks again, Ozzie. I look forward to reading your DP's thoughts as well.
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Old February 17th, 2002, 01:53 PM   #6
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John:

This may be a bit esotoric, but since as you say you are currently designing a bracket for an LCD monitor:

Something to consider may be a bracket that allows the LCD to mount on the tripod head, below the tilting portion but above the pan pivot. It would have to be fairly long to position the monitor in the desired spot (near or above the viewfinder). The advantages is that as you tilt the camera, the monitor stays oriented correctly to the eye, but still rotates with the camera body as you pan. This would help with the limited viewing angle that all LCD's suffer from which is markedly worse in the tilt axis. Imagine how easy it would be to make a fast tilt from someone's feet to their face this way, or following an airplane as it flies above camera.

It's essentially similar to the eyeypiece lever used with cine cameras. I am planning to make a similar bracket for my B&W viewfinder so that it functions this way.
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Old February 17th, 2002, 02:10 PM   #7
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Ken,

Thank you for the info on the CRT vf. I wasn't aware it was a CRT. I wonder how much more juice it draws than the LCD. Still, it's quite pricey (a relative thing since you're mixing prosumer with pro.) I'll try to get a good hands-on look at one of them at one of our local shops.
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Old February 17th, 2002, 04:36 PM   #8
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Here are the specs on the FU-1000 b&w viewfinder:

Resolution: Over 500 lines in center
Size: 1.5"
Power: 12w when recording w/ 16x auto lens, 10.3w when recording with 14x full-manual lens
Weight: 1 lb 15.75 oz (900g)

In general it seem to draw down battery life (-vs- lcd) by approx 15-20%. The only real gotcha about it is that, because it connects in series between the battery and the camera body (the battery actually connects to the vf which then connects to the body) it confounds the battery level sensor in the viewinder. You'll get a relatively short notice of a dying battery so you'll have to keep track of approximating your power levels.
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Old February 17th, 2002, 08:53 PM   #9
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Ken,

>>The biggest problem I have with the color lcd is its underscan (or is it overscan?). That is, the picture I see in the color lcd is generally a markedly clipped version of the recorded image. The b&w vf shows me a wall-to-wall image.<<

It's underscan. That part doesn't, or hasn't, bothered me, yet. I just imagine what I'm seeing is the "action safety" area. Of course, when I begin to see creeping booms, then I'm sure it'll be a big bother.

I don't know why a high res vf is necessary. Focusing was never a problem with the lowres b&w vf of the old portapack cameras. I still have one and the image gets very crisp once you're in focus. I don't know if the power hit and the expense is worth it. Hum... I was thinking - my old portapack Sony has a detachable b&w CRT vf similar in design to the XL-1... maybe....if...
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Old February 17th, 2002, 09:22 PM   #10
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For anyone concerned about the price of the Canon FU-1000 B&W CRT viewfinder, you need to be aware that it's an Ikegami viewfinder and it's priced about the same as any other Ikegami viewfinder. In the realm of all B&W CRT viewfinders, it's *not* that expensive. It's about right. Remember, everything is relative...
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Old February 18th, 2002, 12:25 AM   #11
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<<<-- Originally posted by Chris Hurd :...In the realm of all B&W CRT viewfinders, it's *not* that expensive. It's about right. Remember, everything is relative... -->>>

Quite correct Chris. It's all how you look at it. A $1200 EVF on a $45,000 Ikegami is one thing. A $1200 EVF on a $4,000 XL-1 strikes a very different balance. I believe Canon can do a better job integrating a viewfinder that's more in keeping with the solid component system they have developed for the XL-1 line without resorting to what amounts to putting a jet engine on a Piper Cub.

The FU-1000 seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to the whines of a few customers like me who need more. My point is that they probably need to think this through. They don't need to go all the way to an Ikegami vf. All they need to do is develop a better vf that achieves better parity with the rest of the system.

[For those who just came into this thread I feel compelled to add that there's nothing wrong with the EVF on the XL-1. For 98% of the market it's perfect.]
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Old February 18th, 2002, 01:41 AM   #12
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<<< Ozzie Alfonso: I believe Canon can do a better job integrating a viewfinder that's more in keeping with the solid component system they have developed for the XL-1 line ... >>

I'll second that motion. When I bought my original XL-1 I viewed the body+b&w vf+16x lens+14x manual lens+3x wide lens as a single kit and balanced that against a $27,000/17lb Sony DSR-500W. Weight, relative performance and features seemed like a very reasonable trade-off when measured against my general objectives.

Later learrning that Sony manages to incorporate both a (reportedly) good b&w vf with a color lcd into its PD-150 I began, and continue, to simmer with some resentment that Canon can't/won't offer a more economically-balanced alternative to the FU-1000 vf for the XL-1. A high-res viewfinder costing 40% the price of the basic camera -is- out of proportion. I was particularly miffed that they had not addressed the situation with the XL-1s (although I was certainly relieved to learn that my b&w vf was upwardly compatible).

OK, now I feel better getting that rant out of my craw. I really love my Canons, particularly my relatively new XL-1s. I also like to have the option of a color or b&w vf, something that broadcast cams can't offer. Considering that I am currently more of an enthusiast rather than a professional I doubt tha Canon gives a rat's patooty about my rants or wants. But doggone it I really would like to see Canon address this vf issue once and for all in the next XL camera, if only to end all of the relatively unproductive vf discussions. I mean, jeez, people (I think on another forum) were recently buying Olympus video glasses and plugging them into the video-out port as alternate viewfinders. Someone's gonna get hurt if this persists! <g>
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Old February 18th, 2002, 01:45 AM   #13
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Charles,

The bracket I've sketched out will attach in a way that will cause it to move with the tripod head both when panning and tilting. Like I said, it's a very simple design really...thus cheap to get someone to mold it for me (I hope).

I considered what you recommended earlier, trying to come up with a way to make it pan but not tilt. It looks like it would be possible by attaching to the lower half of the tripod head...but I can't see a simple way to do it. It would take too much time and expense for me to do it.

Of course, the viewfinder can be swung upward in such a way that if I ever do have to tilt upward sharply, I can just change my view from the mounted monitor to the viewfinder...provided there's no bright sun to burn the viewfinder.

No easy catch-all solution.

(Ken, I can just picture someone shooting on the sidelines at a football game while wearing the Olympus glasses and getting plastered from the side!)
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Old February 18th, 2002, 02:38 AM   #14
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<<< zchildress: I can just picture someone shooting on the sidelines at a football game while wearing the Olympus glasses and getting plastered from the side! >>>

LOL! Somehow a vision of Stevie Wonder with an XL-1 comes to mind.

Charles, fwiw I've been using a kind of "adapted" bracket with my lcd monitor for a while. It's a 12" gooseneck clamp that has a (cold) camera shoe at one end and a rubber-grip pressure clamp at the other. I bought it years ago for 35mm photography (but can't recall just why). The monitor attaches to the shoe and the whole assembly than clamps to the tripod leg. The flexible gooseneck makes it very...errr...flexible. The only shortcoming is that the clamp doesn't grab the leg as firmly as it should. If the clamp had a circular/tube friction grip with a wing-nut tightener it would be perfect. Pehaps you can put this info into your design stew!
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Old February 18th, 2002, 03:15 AM   #15
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Ozzie,

I was thinking of why you put your 3x lens on the XL1S
and used the standard 16x lens of the XL1? As I understand
it the new 16x lens that comes with the XL1S is a easier
to use lens then the XL1's old one. Or did you swap these?

Just curious! Oh, did you had any chance to talk to your
friend, who showed you the most beautiful DV footage
you had ever seen, about how he did it? Thanks.

Regards,
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