The Watchdog notes: As of mid-July 1998, Canon USA has addressed this issue by installing a protective mask in the EVF of all new XL1's. This prevents your viewfinder from being fried immediately, but you still need to be very careful about exposing the LCD screen to the sun for any substantial length of time. If your XL1 suffers from "Immediate Sunburn," send your camera in for an EVF refit (return information for USA owners included below). Don Palomaki's highly informative contributions follow, but first, however, are some important notes about EVF sunburn that I used to have over on The Skinny page. Again, this issue for the most part has been resolved by Canon, since new XL1 EVF's are currently manufactured with a filter which prevents the problem. For the benefit of those with older cameras, however, this information will remain in place.
Througout the spring and summer of '98, many XL1 owners complained about the electronic viewfinder, the LCD screen of which was easily damaged by exposure to the sun. Canon USA has addressed the issue by offering to replace affected EVF's with new ones which are substantially more robust in open sunlight. Currently I do not have a serial number range which covers susceptible units (if anyone can assist with this, I'd very much appreciate it). The fix for this problem has been implemented in the production line since mid-1998.
If you have a burned viewfinder, contact Canon's Consumer Information Center at 1-800-828-4040 for detailed instructions. Here is the contact information for the two Canon Factory Service Centers:
Canon Factory Service
Attn: XL1 Service
100 Jamesburg Road
Jamesburg, NJ 08831
Attn: Video Service
15955 Alton Parkway
Irvine, CA 92618-3616
Please enclose a letter detailing the problem. Canon will replace the LCD screen, and install a protective mask, at no charge. As far as I know, they are offering to do this as a warranty issue one time only per camera. Turnaround time for the fix is reportedly quite fast; taking only about one week to ten days.
Don Palomaki's observations: Well, here is my theory on the reason that a number of folks have reported burning the XL1 viewfinder, why it is not being reported on the Sony VX1000 or the Panasonic AG-EZ1, and perhaps a ten cent fix. By the way, the problem can get worse as summer and a higher, hotter sun arrives! WARNING: I have not tested this with a live XL1 with a real summer sun. Proceed at your own risk!
The EVF LCD panel is a large number of transistor circuits. Heat (high temperature) can kill transistors. (That is why they put fans and heat sinks on pentium chips.) As long as the heat entering a transistor device is greater than the heat leaving the device, the temperature will rise. Generally speaking, the heat leaving a thing is proportional to the temperature difference between the thing and the place where the heat is going. Thus if you double the heat pumped into a thing, its temperature will increase until the temperature difference between the thing and the rest of the world is doubled (or it boils as in the case of the blood of bugs under a magnifying glass). Also, electronic things like transisitors tend to have a sudden failure mode, a bit like stretching a string. Everything appears okay until that last straw, and they snap.
There are two main sources of heat in the EVF transistors: i.e., the energy from the circuit currents, and heat gain from light entering the EVF lens. The amount of heat gained from the light is proportional to the area of the opening though which the light enters. The diopter lens can focus hot point sources, like the sun, on a small spot on the LCD where it may effect a small number of transistors very greatly (recall that the kid with the bigger magnifying glass could cook bugs faster).
So why is this a problem for the XL1? Look at the effective size of the diopter lens openings. The following figures are approximate, but you get the idea:
Camcorder EVF (sq cm) XL1 9.6 AG-EZ1 5.9 VX1000 3.8 L1/L2 3.1 ES6000 2.2
Note that while the Panasonic EZ1 has a similar size diopter lens as the XL1, it is masked to a smaller rectangle opening.
Note also, the XL1 EVF allows 2.5 times more light in than the Sony, and about 60% more than the Panasonic. A sun exposure that may be safe for a Panasonic could produce a 60% higher EVF LCD panel surface temperature in an XL1, which may cause the transistors at that LCD location to fail.
In any case, I suspect that one could burn in physical damage, even with the camcorder off, if you get a hot sun in the viewfinder. It might take more heat and time if the circuits aren't powered. Even when the camera is turned off, direct sunlight on the EVF LCD could melt electical connections and other components, or possibly scorch plastic parts.
As some points of reference (that may not apply to the Canon EVF) typical consumer integrated circuits are rated for operation at temperatures up to about 185 F, storage to maybe 300 F. Paper ignites at "Fahrenheit 451" or there abouts, and 60/40 solder melts at about 400 F. The diopter lens probably can produce this sort of hot spot.
Someone want to try an experiment. Remove the XL1 viewfinder lens and see how long it takes to light a piece of gray paper (white paper might reflect 80% of the light/heat hitting it). Use a hot sund and adjust for the sharpest pinpoint. Try the same with the VX1000 and EZ1 viewfinder lens if you can using the same paper and sun angle (the Watchdog notes: one of my readers tried this and rather quickly set a scrap of paper on fire).
The 10 cent interim solution: use some black construction paper and cut a mask that can be placed in the EVF against the diopter lens. If cut to provide a 2 cm x 2.5 cm rectangle, the heat generated from sunlight will be cut about in half. Is this the right size? I don't know. And this will probably render the far viewing position of little use, but it might also make eye alignment in the near position more precise. More important, it could save the EVF from a burn until a better fix is developed by Canon.
DVL member Paul Flint contributes: "Here's a quick and dirty protective method. Tear off a two-inch piece of gaffer's tape. If you don't have a single-hole paper punch lying around in a drawer, you can get one just like it in any place stationery or school supplies are sold for about a buck or two. Punch a 1/4" hole in the center of the tape. Stick the tape to the edges of your rubber eyecup, not to the eyepiece lens, with the hole carefully centered. Check the position by pressing your eye against it, adjust as necessary. When you can see perfectly well, wrap the edges around the eyecup.
"I tested this on my Panasonic, my Minolta 35mm and a pair of binoculars. There is very little loss of brightness if the hole is centered on your pupil. The reason is that your pupil is much smaller than 1/4" and if it is close enough to the tape, then the hole does not reduce the effective aperature of your eye. The binoculars were a good test. Both eyes saw about the same amount of light, even though one was taped and the other wasn't.
"The only caveats I can think of are: use the kind of gaffer's tape that you can get off again, not black duct tape that hardens like a rock; do NOT stick the tape to the lens so you don't damage it; and this may not work if you have long eyelashes!"
Geoff Amthor adds: "This might work, but it limits the functionality of the XL1. I own one, and I do a lot of shooting in which my eye is not actually touching the eyepiece. Two particular instances leap to mind.
"First, when I'm moving while shooting, particularly on tricky/rough ground or stairs, I hold the XL1 away from my body in steadicam style in order to damp the shock and movement transmitted by my walking. I have found this technique both easy and effective, thanks to the huge viewfinder of the XL1, which I can still see full-screen from several inches away.
"And second, when I'm doing low-angle shots with the viewfinder flipped up (and sometimes while moving), I'm often a couple of feet away from the viewfinder. Again, this is easy and effective, thanks to the big XL1 viewfinder.
"I would guess that the proposed tape masking solution would render these important shooting situations far more difficult, by masking out part of the visible screen area."
Don Palomaki continues: A long term fix maybe for Canon to provide some form of iris or mask in the EVF to ensure the entering sunlight intensity remains in a safe range, or a redesign to provide increased heat dissipation capability. (Where is the b&w EVF many of us would like to have?)
Since I do not yet have an XL1 (still saving my nickels and dimes), it remains for others to determine whether or not this works, and is so, to determine an optimum size/shape for the mask. (Canon - can you do this?) But maybe this will be of interest to others who must put their XL1 EVF at risk.
The Watchdog notes: The EVF Sunburn was the most serious issue facing the XL1. Canon USA is aware of it and Joe Bogacz, Director of Video Technology for Canon USA, assured me that the manufacturer's solution is more than adequate. If you own an older XL1 and your EVF gets "zapped" by our brilliant, life-giving nearby star, you should contact Canon immediately and get the unit replaced while it's still under warranty. In the meantime, Canon offers a simple suggestion to help avoid the problem:
"The XL1 has a color LCD viewfinder. Like any LCD viewfinder, it should not be exposed to direct sunlight. If the viewfinder is set to the "near" position, the magnifier is engaged. At this point, it becomes more susceptible to sun damage. Therefore, the eyepoint switch should be set to "far", when the camera is taken away from one's eye."