Standby Mode Explained
an article by The Watchdog with Stuart Chudy

A very common question that is frequently asked about the XL1 regards the camera's power-down feature known as Standby Mode. This feature is activated automatically when the XL1 is left in Record-Pause for more than a few minutes. The most aggravating aspect of the automatic power-down is that all of your shooting settings, such as iris, focus, etc. are lost and you have to reset them. A lot of folks want to know how to disable this feature.

In short, standby mode cannot be disabled. And that's good, because the feature prevents excessive head wear which can damage your XL1's recording system. New camcorders such as the Sony VX-2000 have the ability to stay in record pause for a long time because there is a mechanism in place which disengages the recording heads without unthreading the tape. But the XL1, which is three years older, does not have this ability (hopefully, the forthcoming XL2 will have it).

We'll talk about a few work-arounds for dealing with the XL1's standby mode, but first, I want to suggest a good shooting habit to get into. Basically, it involves beating the power-down feature at its own game: before the XL1 automatically goes into standby mode, put it into standby yourself (you can do this by pressing the "Standby" button on the lower left side of the camcorder). The difference between you putting the XL1 into standby, and the XL1 putting itself into standby, is that when you do it yourself, you don't lose your camera settings. After pressing the standby button, just press it again to restore camera power and individual settings. This method is especially handy when you're shooting on battery power... you can really stretch the battery's endurance this way.

The standby feature is bypassed when you leave the tape transport open. One trick that a lot of people are doing is to load a tape and close the outer door without pushing the tape transport in. This will close up the camera, but won't load the tape. You'll get a red blinking tape signal in the viewfinder... but the camera won't power down. Open the tape door and push the transport closed, and you're ready to shoot.

Now let's say you want your XL1 to stay on for a very long time, but you don't necessarily want to record a whole lot of video in the camera. There is a simple work-around for this: do not put a tape in the XL1. That way it will stay on indefinitely. Run a FireWire cable from the XL1 to the area where you're recording. Plug the FireWire cable into a DV deck and control the recording yourself by hand, using the pause button on the deck. The DV deck can simply be a small, inexpensive 1-chip DV camcorder in VCR mode.

Philip Sandiford adds: can follow Chris's suggestion when you go to your shoot with a back-up, Firewire equipped camcorder. It's always smart (but not always practical) to have a back-up camera. I have a hide-away camera, a personal Canon ZR, that I use for monitoring and protection footage which works very well as a deck. Just put the ZR on VCR mode, and leave the XL1 empty.

Here is another variation on a theme. If you have a long single camera shoot, load both the XL1 and your back-up camcorder, and do the Firewire/VCR technique above. Stagger the start times of each by five minutes or so. The cameras don't share the same time code, but you can alway find a match frame opportunity, such as photo flash in the audience.

As long as you are using AC power, and both cameras are 16 bit audio, the footage is identical. So at 33 minutes in, you can swap tapes one camera (zoom the lens back to wide angle to avoid shake) and then you'll be sure to have one camera rolling while you're changing tapes in the other.

Stuart Chudy offers: ...Standby mode can be looked upon as a feature, not a drawback. If you've ever needed to spend extended periods of time setting up shots, particularly when working on lighting a scene, you may have noticed that the XL1 will automagically slip into standby mode. This can be irritating to both the crew and the client. The reason this happens is actually to protect your XL1's video heads because you have a tape loaded and threaded onto them. This means the video heads are spinning against your tape and your camera is ready to respond immediately upon hitting the record button (well, within one second).

However, you really don't want your video heads spinning against the tape for extended periods of time because the friction of the spinning heads (known as the "helical scan system") can wear down the magnetic particles on that part of the tape, and eventually lead to digital 'dropouts' on your recorded video, head clogging, and general wear and tear on the heads. This is a bad thing, and it's why the XL1 won't let you leave it in record-pause for too long. The solution to prevent the inevitable 'standby mode' with most cameras (not the XL1) is to do one of two things:

  • Eject and remove the tape. Downside: This is a hassle, takes time, and you have to find a safe place to keep your videocassette (as well as remember where you put it).

  • Hit eject and leave the tape sticking out of the camera. Downside: This leaves the camera's open tape compartment vulnerable to dust, sand or precipitation... again, a bad thing.

Fortunately for us, the XL1 gives us a third option:

Hit eject while simultaneously holding the cassette door shut. This makes your DV tape come off the video head and eject... internally. Now the tape is NOT considered loaded, but it's still safely stored inside your camera. This prevents the dreaded standby mode from interrupting you and your crew from setting up the shot. You can now leave your camera on as long as you want (until you run out of batteries), and it causes no wear and tear on your tape or video head. When you're ready to shoot, simply hit eject again, let the outer door pop open, and push the inner tape transport shut as you normally would. One extra note, this technique gives you the ability to leave the camera on indefinitely... as long as you've remembered to bring along your AC power supply.

Stu Chudy
Cox Interactive Media
Providence, Rhode Island

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