Five Essential Items for Your XL1 / XL1S an article by The Watchdog

Perhaps the single most amazing aspect of the Canon XL1 and XL1S camera systems is the very broad range of available accessories. Not only can you choose from different lenses, viewfinders, shoulder supports etc. from Canon, but there are a large number of third-party manufacturer accessories as well. A common question that gets asked about the XL1 is, "what are the best things to get to go with it." The correct answer really depends on what you're doing with the camera. You can configure the XL1 or XL1S to precisely match your shooting requirements from a variety of additional pieces. But what are the ones you really need to have? That's the approach I took with this article.

If we can assume that a tripod, DV tapes and camera batteries aren't accessories so much as neccessities, then what we're narrowing the playing field down to are some additional items that are going to make your XL1 / XL1S experience so much nicer than it is right out of the box. In fact, I think that the following pieces listed below are absolutely essential, not because anybody's paying me to say that, but because they fix a few of the problems that are built in to just about every DV camcorder out there. And not only are these things mission-critical for just about everybody, but they're affordable too. The most expensive accessory here will run only just over $400, and others are far less costly. So let's get started...

First on the list is the Hoodfinder XL from Hoodman USA. This thing is great because it will increase your shooting comfort and therefore your overall endurance, especially on long shoots. Just like on all other cameras, the rubber eyecup that comes with the XL1 will induce sweat upon your eyebrow, and that's not a good thing at all. Hoodman USA's Hoodfinder solves this problem with a replaceable comfort cushion which absorbs moisture and keeps you cool so you can keep your cool.

The best thing about Hoodfinder is its price... it's about $40 USD, and it's the least expensive item on this list. That's a very high bang-for-buck value, and I'll go so far as to say that for $40 there's no reason not to get one of these for your XL1 or XL1S. All you have to do to install it is slip it over the EVF eyecup and secure the velcro strap. That's it! Not only does it look cool, it looks comfortable and it is. The more relaxed you are behind the camera, the more you can concentrate on doing a good job with it. Get one now.

Another alternative for EVF comfort are these little chamois slip-ons. These can be hard to find (I got this one from Transvideo), but sometimes you can find them for sale at NAB and other trade shows. They're a little harder to fit onto the eyecup and won't last as long but they're far better than the rubber on the EVF. Whether you go with one of these of the Hoodman USA Hoodfinder, you can't go wrong because these products are so inexpensive and go such a long way to making your shooting experience much more pleasant.

If you don't already have 72mm UV filter (from Tiffen, Canon, Hoya and others), then you're missing out on the most affordable glass insurance you'll ever find. UV filters are made for shooting on hazy days, but wise videographers will screw them on to the front of every lens they have and just leave 'em there all the time. The idea is that when they get scratched, they're cheap to replace. Otherwise, with the delicate front element of your lens just hanging out there, it's like leaving a big, unprotected eyeball open to potential damage all the time. Plus, these filters are easier to clean than the lens is, and you'll have a much better time removing schmutz and smudge from them. Get a good quality filter; for well under $100 you can afford the best. Beware of some lens artifacting from shooting bright lights at night, but otherwise get a 72mm UV filter as soon as possible, put it on your lens and leave it there.

All DV camcorders suffer from various mechanical noises making their way onto the audio track from any onboard microphone, and the XL1 and XL1S are no exceptions. Fortunately, Leslie Drever of LightWave Systems successfully broached this problem with his superb product line. The three accessories he invented addressed several audio and ergonomic issues. The System Isolator moves the EVF assembly forward, improving camera balance on the shoulder. The Mini-Mount insulates the XL1 microphone from zoom motor and tape transport noise, and allows different types of microphones to be used on the camera. Finally, the Equalizer is a superior microphone wind screen, of the same design and manufacture as LightWave's extensive line of Equalizer wind screens for professional microphones. Canon USA was so impressed with Leslie's products that they're now listed as authorized Canon accessories available through most Canon XL1 and GL1 dealers. If you're serious about getting audio, you'll want all three of these items. Together they should total no more than about $400.

One singularly annoying aspect of the standard color LCD viewfinder on the XL1 and XL1S is its somewhat low resolution. Many shooters, especially those from an established pro background, find it difficult to focus a lens through this EVF. Canon does offer a professional black and white Ikegami CRT viewfinder, but its hefty $1800 pricetag isn't justifiable for many budget-minded XL1 owners. Also of some concern is the color EVF's distinct propensity for underscan (not showing the entire field of view that the lens actually sees). To get around these limitations, consider using an external 5.6" color LCD monitor. There are several varieties of these on the market; VariZoom Lens Controls has what I consider to be the best package available: it's called the Ultimate kit and includes a 5.6" monitor with color, image and audio controls; cables, three-hour battery, charger, AC adapter, swivel shoe mount, sunshade and soft case.

Also check out the NEB50XL 5.6" LCD monitor from Nebtek Inc. It runs off any standard Canon BP900-series battery pack, mounted on the back of the monitor, as seen in this image. Nebtek also offers a series of monitor mounting brackets for your camera. I don't have battery endurance times calculated yet but it looks pretty good... if you have a smaller, lightweight BP915 (included with the GL1 camcorder but next to useless), this monitor would be a good application for that battery. ALL LCD monitors will need a hood out in bright sunlight; the Nebtek monitors do better than others in this regard. If you're shooting in 16x9 widescreen mode, then consider a 7" widescreen monitor from VariZoom, Nebtek or Panasonic. These LCD monitors are much more affordable and more portable than lugging around a professional CRT monitor.

Anybody who has read this website for any length of time knows how much of a proponent I am about remote zoom and focus controllers for prosumer DV camcorders. The single worst ergonomic aspect of any consumer or prosumer video camera, including the XL1 and XL1S, is its zoom rocker. They're touchy, they're twitchy, it's difficult to hold just the right amount of pressure to get a slow, even zoom. Using the standard 16x or 16x IS II lens with the XL1 or XL1S, the camera is capable of a very appealing super-slow crawling zoom. However it's not easy to hold the zoom rocker just right to get this speed. On the XL1S, you can lock in the slow speed from the internal menu but this isn't very versatile. With a remote zoom controller, however, you can quickly set a slow crawl or a fast zoom or any speed you want, mash down the rocker and go only as fast as you've regulated.And on some controllers, you can also change speed on the fly.

There are a number of controllers available for prosumer camcorders. In my opinion, the best of these are the VZ series controllers from VariZoom Lens Controls. My favorite VariZoom controller is the VZ-PG-L (pictured left). It's a newer version than what's on their website, with a rocker switch instead of push buttons. This rocker isn't pressure sensitive. Instead, there's a speed control dial below the grip handle which you can leave at a desired speed, or change speeds with your index finger as you're zooming. The record start/pause button is an easy reach but still out of the way on the upper left of the controller body. A red light next to it indicates recording, plus end-of-tape and low battery warnings. Focus controls are also on top within easy reach as well. On the bottom right side of the controller body is a wake-up from standby button. There's also a heavy-duty quick-release tripod mounting clamp. The all-aluminum VZ-PG-L is a bit more compact than other VariZoom VZ-series controllers, but if that isn't small enough for you, there's the tiny SteathZoom.

These controllers work by connecting them to the camera at the special Control-L (or LANC) jack on the right side of the XL1 or XL1S, just below the DV jack. These jacks are found on all Sony and all Canon camcorders and any controller will work with any Sony or Canon DV camcorder. The controllers don't need batteries as they get their power from the camera through the connection cable. I've always believed that the best way to run any camera is without touching it. These controllers let you do that. And for anyone who has ever complained about how difficult it is to zoom and focus with the automatic servo lenses so common on prosumer DV camcorders these days, especially on the XL1 and XL1S, a lens controller makes all the difference in the world in making smooth, precise lens adjustments. And since you're doing it remotely, you won't have your audio track marred by the sounds of fingers bumping the camera body and lens. If you're using the new Canon 16x manual lens, you'll notice that although you can do remote zooms, focus is still completely manual. That's fine because VariZoom has a special remote focus controller that will work with that lens as well. No matter what brand of remote lens controller you choose, it will be worth its weight in gold and will definitely change the way you shoot.

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Thrown together by Chris Hurd

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