Frequently Asked Questions
about the Canon XL1

You would believe it if I told you I get a lot of e-mail? I mean a lot. If you've ever sent in a question about the camera and it didn't get answered, chances are the information you were looking for is already here on the Watchdog (somewhere). I'd like nothing better than to run this website for a living (and somehow get paid for it) but the sad reality is that it's just a hobby. Consequently the e-mail queries have to suffer unanswered sometimes due to my schedule. So, here, have a very extensive F.A.Q. to browse through and I hope you find what you're looking for. My apologies in advance for this very long page, but what follows is a summation of some of the most common questions... with answers, of course... that keep pouring in about the XL1 (special thanks to Don Palomaki for his continuous assistance). Want to know more? The Watchdog's Articles section has over sixty XL1 entries. Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set ye free...

Q   What can you tell me about a newer version called the XL1S?

A   Announced on July 12, 2001, the Canon XL1S is the successor to the XL1. On the outside, it looks just like the XL1 but on the inside, it's a brand new camera. A new lens is also available, along with a new combination shouldermount/XLR audio adapter. I don't know a lot about the XL1S yet, but I do have a preliminary overview in The XL1S Skinny.

Q   What can you tell me about a newer version called the XL2?

A   Canon's introduction of the XL1S in July 2001 is the "new XL2" everyone's been talking about for awhile now. However, since camcorder design is constantly evolving, there may very well be an actual "XL2" in the works for release a few years from now. By that time, DV tape may not even be the recording format of choice anymore; perhaps an XL2 of the future might record on disk-based media? It's fun to speculate. If you're interested in that sort of conjecture, here are some former XL2 predictions.

Q   Compared to other camcorders, what makes the XL1 so special?

A   Two things, primarily. First is that unlike other DV camcorders in its class, the XL1 is based on a modular design. Several XL1 components offer multiple interchangeable options, such as the lens, viewfinder, and microphone. This means that the camera can easily be configured to your precise shooting requirements. Consequently the XL1 is the most heavily supported of all the DV camcorders on the market, with optional accessories from Canon and from third-party vendors. The second thing which sets the XL1 off from other DV camcorders is the famous Canon image. Video shot on the XL1 (and GL1) has a particularly beautiful look that many professional shooters really love. It doesn't have that typical harsh, contrasty video feel. Instead it's softer, richer, and more "unlike video." You just have to see it to understand.

Q   Where can I buy an XL1 and how much should I expect to pay?

A   The MSRP is $4600, so anything less than that amount is a good price to pay. Beware "low ball" outfits who claim ridiculously low prices and then overcharge for shipping or needless cheap accessories; they'll sucker you in with the price and rip you off with the final total amount. I strongly urge you to shop only from the advertisers you see on the Watchdog. I've gone out of my way to find the best dealers in the business and have turned down many others who just aren't up to scratch. Click on the banner ads here; that's what they're for. These advertisers carry the "Watchdog endorsement" and I promise they will take good care of you.

Q   I'm thinking about buying a used XL1. Can you help?

A   Just observe the Number One Watchdog Rule of used camera purchases: as soon as you acquire a used XL1, send it in to Canon Service immediately. They will check out the camera for you, clean it, tweak it and update the internal software. There are plenty of used XL1s to be found on Ebay, but don't take that as an endorsement of auction sites. Insist on a phone call with the previous owner, find out the camera's history and make fair shipping and payment arrangements. Your best bet is to always buy new from an authorized Canon dealer if you can.

Q   Has the XL1 changed much since it was first released?

A   Only slightly. In the Spring of 1998, the viewfinder eyecup was modified to prevent damage from direct sunlight. The camera is controlled entirely by internal software, which is updated from time to time (to get these updates for your XL1, be sure to send it in to Canon Service about every twelve months for a yearly check-up). Canon and a few third-party vendors have addressed some other concerns primarily through the release of certain accessories; see An Updated XL2 Wishlist for details.

Q   I've heard somewhere that the lens can't hold focus. Is this true?

A   Not in my experience, no; and if this were true, Canon wouldn't be able to sell any camcorders... but the truth is that the XL1 continues to sell very well. There are four things you need to know about XL1 focus. First, Canon has changed the software which controls focus and if you're having focus problems then send your XL1 in for service. Second, pro shooters who are used to professional external-focus broadcast lenses should realize that like all other prosumer DV camcorders, the standard XL1 16x lens is an internal-focus, servo-controlled device which does not operate like a traditional zoom lens. Third, many folks who are new to the XL1 make the mistake of trying to focus manually in Green Box (easy recording) mode. This is not possible as auto-focus is always on in this mode. And finally, exposure affects focus. Read more about XL1 focus in the Lens & Optics Articles.

Q   I've heard somewhere that the XL1 isn't good in low light. True?

A   Not true. This camera is actually is very good in low light. In fact, it was designed specifically for use in low light and in 1998 it was the best low light camcorder in its class. The primary reason for its great low light performance are its CDDs. Each CCD contains 270,000 pixels. This is a relatively low pixel count, which means the pixels are physically larger and thus gather more light... making the XL1 an excellent low light camera (the Pixel Shift process makes up for the resolution loss due to fewer pixels). Currently there are other DV camcorders available with low light performance superior to the XL1. However this doesn't change the fact that the XL1 is still a great camera for low light shooting.

Q   Will this camera shoot broadcast quality video?

A   Sure it will. Of course, "broadcast quality" is best defined as "video which can be or has been broadcasted by major television networks." Chris Ward's documentary "Outwitting Hitler" was shot with DV camcorders (including an XL1), and has been picked up for nationwide broadcast by Showtime. XL1s are used in various capacities by CBS 60 Minutes, CNN, National Geographic Explorer, and numerous network television affiliates all over the world.

Q   Where can I attend a class to learn more about the XL1? (USA only)

A   My friends Josh and Michelle Mellicker of DVCreators.Net have become famous for their DV Revolution Workshops, touring major cities across the United States. They offer a one-day XL1 seminar called "The Secrets of Shooting Great DV." It's sponsored by Canon USA, so that should give you an idea of just how awesome it really is. You can sign up now through Canon's link here.

Q   I think my XL1 has a problem. What should I do? (USA only)

A   Send it to one of these two Canon USA Service Centers. Provide a detailed description of the problem, and if possible, include a DV tape recording which exhibits the problem. You may request a special XL1 shipping container from Canon USA if you no longer have the original box.

Q   What is Frame Movie mode?

A   Sometimes confused with "progressive scan" (the XL1 does not have progressive scan CCD's), Frame Movie mode records thirty full-frame full-resolution images per second, instead of sixty interlaced fields per second as in normal video.

Q   What is Pixel Shift?

A   Pixel Shift is a technology invented by Panasonic which, among other things, increases the effective resolution of the CCD's. Listen to a RealAudio description of the Pixel Shift process by Joe Bogacz, then Technical Director of Canon USA's Video Division, and read more on Canon's official XL1 website.

Q   What is Optical Image Stabilization?

A   Optical Image Stabilization is a technology invented by Canon which improves handheld shooting by using mechanical elements, such as a vari-angle prism, instead of electronics (which can degrade image quality). Listen to a RealAudio description of Optical Image Stabilization by Joe Bogacz, then Technical Director of Canon USA's Video Division, and read more on Canon's official XL1 website.

Q   Shouldn't I always have the Image Stabilization switched on?

A   No, not always! When shooting from a tripod, it's very important to turn OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) off, otherwise you'll encounter a serious problem: OIS wants to dampen movement (that's what it's designed to do). If your camera is mounted on a tripod, the only movement you have is that movement which you intend to do, such as a pan. Lacking any other extraneous movement, OIS will try to fight your panning, resulting in an undesirable stuttering pan. Likewise, when you do a zoom, OIS wants to counteract that change and you'll see a jump in the image at the end of your zoom. Therefore, be sure to switch OIS to the off position whenever your camera is mounted on a tripod. And don't operate the camera in Green Box (easy recording) mode from a tripod, as OIS is always on in this mode (even when the OIS switch on the lens is set to the off position).

Q   What is the IRE level of this camera?

A   The black level is 0 IRE and the zebra setting is 95 IRE. These are not user-adjustable settings.

Q   What is the Exposure Index or ASA of this camera?

A   It's debated in XL1 ASA Rating, Part One and concluded in XL1 ASA Rating, Part Two.

Q   How many f-stops does the Neutral Density filter subtract?

A   Canon says it's about two stops, but Academy Award winning cinematographer Ross Lowell estimates it closer to six stops. Be sure to read his article about the XL1 Neutral Density filter.

Q   How can I shoot time-lapse video with an XL1?

A   It is not possible to shoot time-lapse video with the XL1.

Q   How can I do an in-camera dissolve?

A   It is not possible to do an in-camera dissolve with the XL1.

Q   How can I record slow-motion video with an XL1?

A   It is not possible to record slow-motion video with the XL1.

Q   How can I record analog video sources with an XL1?

A   It is not possible to record analog video sources with the XL1. The two analog video (RCA and S-Video) jacks on this camera are for output only.

Q   The standby mode powers my camera down. How can I disable it?

A   You cannot disable it but you can work around it. Be sure to read all of Standby Mode Explained.

Q   The EVF display appears on my monitor. How do I get rid of it?

A   You must press the "on screen" button on the wireless remote control to toggle off this display info. There is no way to do this on the camera itself (a good reason to keep your wireless remote with the camera at all times). The various wired remote lens controllers which plug into the LANC jack on the XL1 have this feature as well. See the VariZoom VZ Pro-LX Lens Controller and the Canon ZR1000 Lens Controller for more details.

Q   Is there a trick to get my XL1 to display color bars?

A   Turn the camera on in Green Box mode; press and hold the two shutter bottons for a few seconds. Do not use these color bars to calibrate a monitor! For more information, be sure to read all of Not in Your XL1 Manual: Color Bars & Time Code.

Q   Does the XL1 offer a "true" 16x9 widescreen image?

A   No, and neither does any other DV camcorder in its class, for that matter. Be sure to read all of The Myth of Mini-DV Widescreen.

Q   The 16x9 image looks "squished" in the viewfinder. What's wrong?

A   Technically, nothing is wrong; it's just that Canon didn't include a feature which would allow you to see the viewfinder image properly stretched out in "letterbox" fashion. Most Sony camcorders will do this, and why Canon chose not to offer this is a mystery (the technology is not rocket science, after all). If you want to see a properly stretched 16x9 image while you're shooting, then you'll need to run cables to a 16x9 field monitor.

Q   Where can I get a 16x9 anamorphic adapter for my XL1?

A   No such thing exists... yet. From what I understand, to make an anamorphic adapter in a 72mm size with sufficient optical quality is currently cost-prohibitive. If this situation ever changes, I'll report it right here.

Q   How many different lenses are available?

A   Here is a Guide to XL1 Lens Options. Buy them from my sponsor ZGC.

Q   What should I know about using Canon 35mm EOS lenses?

A   The effective focal length of any 35mm still photography lens is multiplied by a factor of 7.2 when mounted on the XL1. Read more details here.

Q   How many different zoom speeds are in this camera?

A   There are eight zoom speeds in each direction (wide & telephoto). It takes a very delicate touch on the zoom rocker (or the zoom ring on the lens barrel) to zoom at a slow speed. An external zoom controller will greatly assist with this: the VariZoom VZ Pro-LX gives you all eight speeds; the Canon ZR1000 offers only five.

Q   What are the fastest and slowest zoom speeds?

A   The fastest zoom speed from full wide to extreme telephoto (or reverse) is about two seconds. The slowest zoom speed is about a minute from one end to the other. Slow, subtle zooms are a very effective and popular shooting style, usually limited to expensive broadcast video lenses. The slow zoom speed on the XL1 with the standard 16x lens is the slowest of any DV camcorder in its class... another capability which seperates the XL1 from the rest of the prosumer pack.

Q   I don't like the zoom rocker. How can I make better zooms?

A   Use a remote zoom controller. This makes a huge difference in lens performance as it provides precise control over zoom and focus. Personally, I prefer the VariZoom VZ Pro-LX.

Q   What basic things should I know about XL1 audio?

A   Check out Don Palomaki and John Burkhart's Introduction to XL1 Audio.

Q   What can I do to make my audio sound better?

A   You can significantly improve your audio quality with the LightWave accessories, authorized by Canon USA. The EQ-XL1 Equalizer is a professional microphone windscreen that is leaps and bounds better than the one that came with your XL1 microphone. The MM-XL1 Universal Mini-Mount is a microphone suspension cradle that dampens camera and lens motor noise and offers a way to attach other types of microphones. The SI-XL1 System Isolator helps curb camera noise and moves the entire viewfinder/mic assembly forward (while providing a flexible shock mount), which in turn better balances the camera for handheld shooting from the shoulder.

Q   How exactly do the different audio modes work?

A   Check out this four-part guide called XL1 Audio Step by Step, here on the Watchdog courtesy of Canon USA.

Q   What do I need to know about using the viewfinder out in the field?

A   Always point the EVF down to avoid direct exposure to the sun when you take your eye away from the viewfinder. Read EVF Sunburn for details.

Q   A little rubber gasket thing came off near the viewfinder. What is it?

A   It provides friction to the EVF clamping screw on the camera body. If you lose it, you might have to screw the clamp down a little tighter than usual; otherwise the whole assembly will work loose and slide around. You can substitute a rubber grommet or washer of the appropriate size, if you wish.

Q   Can you recommend a good hardshell storage and shipping case?

A   The Cadillac of XL1 hard cases is the CasesPlus TC2000. You can drop your XL1 right in, with microphone and LightWave accessories attached; no camera disassembly required. The custom-fit foam insert holds your camera with the MA-100 shoulder pad mounted, and includes space for an extra lens, batteries, tapes and accessories. Storage cases don't get any better than this.

Q   Can you recommend a good soft storage bag?

A   PortaBrace is widely recognized in the professional video world and they have a superb soft case for the XL1. It's the PortaBrace CTC-2, check it out here on the Watchdog.

Q   Can you recommend a good DV editing package for my PC?

A   You simply can't go wrong with any of the great PC digital video editing solutions from Canopus. Their cards are a snap to install, they work right out of the box and if you ever need support, they have great customer service... not to mention a happy online message board of satisfied customers. Check out the DVStorm for true real-time DV editing!

Q   Can you recommend a good DV editing package for my Mac?

A   Some folks really like iMovie, which is free from Apple, but if you're serious about editing then you'll want to pick up Final Cut Pro. On the Mac side of the editing world, FCP has dominated the editing scene. It's awesome.

Q   Where can I learn more about the DV format?

A   My friend Adam Wilt has what is widely regarded to be "the place" to start learning about Digital Video. Check it out at

Q   What kind of video do you shoot?

A   Mostly corporate stuff; and a lot of raves. I also shoot some local plays and recitals on the side, since I really love dance and theater and the community I live in. Plus there's a narrative story or two that will get made eventually... someday.

Q   Do you work for Canon?

A   No, I am not a Canon employee, nor does Canon compensate me for this website. In recent months, Canon USA has invited me to wear their shirts and work behind their booth every so often at various tradeshows. That was a smart thing to do on their part, because I can talk about their cameras all day long. I suppose that might qualify as "working for Canon," but it's only for a few days out of the year and they're getting the better end of that deal, believe me.

Q   Do you make money from this website?

A   I derive a small amount of income from the banner ads on the website. It's just enough financial compensation that I can do the site without losing money any more (the site takes time and time is money). The decision to run banner ads was difficult, but I had been inundated with so many "where do I buy" requests that it seemed logical to do the ads. I've contracted with some of the best outfits in this business and have accepted only the most reputable dealers as advertisers. I have turned away many others that just weren't right for the Watchdog. More importantly, I vouch for the ones you see here and heartily encourage you to do business with them.

Q   Why are you doing this website?

A   Still trying to figure that one out.

Q   Where do you get all this information?

A   The majority of it comes in the form of articles, images and reviews submitted by contributors. These folks mostly are professional XL1 shooters who've taken the time to send interesting stuff my way. I turn around and give it to you. I've written only a handful of this material myself, and a small amount is reprinted with the kind permission of Canon USA. The bulk of the website, though, is the result of generous submissions from other XL1 shooters... and their contributions over the past three years represents the real power behind the Watchdog.

Q   How often do you update this website?

A   As often as I can! But it's a secondary pursuit which takes a back seat to my having to work for a living (I wish the Watchdog could be my main gig, but that just isn't the case). When I receive submissions worthy of the Rottweiler paw of approval, then I make time for them and spend a few evenings putting them online. The dry periods in between are usually due to pressing deadlines with my other work. So when you haven't seen a Watchdog update in awhile, it means I'm hard at work putting food on the table!

Q   Can I call you sometime and ask a few questions over the phone?

A   As much as I enjoy talking with people about cameras, unfortunately I'm just not set up to do this and I'm not very good on the telephone anyway. If you think my e-mail ettiquette is bad, you should hear me on the blower. I like to hang up as quickly as possible. I think I inherited these poor manners from my dad; he hates phones more than I do. Oh my gosh, I'm becoming my father! They always said this would happen...

Thrown together by Chris Hurd

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