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Old February 15th, 2007, 08:09 PM   #1
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Brand New XL2 Huuuge Disappointment

Hello everyone,

I’ve been reading a lot of the posts here and found much of your insight and experiences very interesting. My account has just been activated to post and I’m in dire need of all of your expertise.

I’ve been shooting pro-level productions for corporate clients since about 2002 with a Sony PD-150. I must tell you, although this camera looks like a toy compared to the XL2 it has given me impressive results over the years, with zero reportable problems. This camera flourishes in relatively low-light situations, and really comes alive when proper lighting is used.
I was on a shoot for a Pilates studio several months ago, and one of the models happened to clumsily knock the PD-150 off of a small two step ladder upon which it was sitting. The camera has a sturdy metal housing, and although it had hit a hardwood floor, I couldn’t detect a scratch on it, nor did I notice any performance issues immediately thereafter.
I did a shoot for a clothing boutique a couple of weeks ago, and when I uploaded the footage to my PC via Firewire, I noticed that many of the scenes which contained full pans exhibited what appeared to be a signal problem (the image seems to break up or distort amid the pan during NLE playback). I contacted a few reputable repair facilities, and I was told that “sight unseen” the problem could be anything from a tracking problem to a bad drum, bent transport, heads, circuitry etc. – a potentially expensive repair. I also faced being without my camera for at least a month with shipping to the West coast. I thought perhaps it was time to bite the bullet and step up to the XL2. I’m not in need of an HD unit yet so I thought this camera would offer very high image quality for the money, certainly on par with the PD-150. In addition to the video, I also do a fair amount of professional still work using my ridiculously expensive Canon EOS 1Ds MKII, hence my familiarity and appreciation of Canon optics. All things considered, my expectations for this camera were quite high.
I received the XL2 last week, and I was straight away impressed with the slick appearance, semi-adequate shoulder-mount ergonomics, and overall feel. I do however dislike and question the use of so much plastic on the body of a camera that lists for 5K. Anyway, I fiddled around with this camera’s then unfamiliar settings and menus a few minutes at a time over several days, just itching to get that baby out in the field. Over the past weekend, I had some time to actually put a tape in the unit and shoot some test footage here at home. The first thing I noticed was that when I went from either “S” Video or composite video out, the image on my 21” external LCD screen appeared unusually noisy (quite craptacular in fact). I am primarily a manual shooter, especially in controlled situations. In this test instance with available incandescent light, I had to open the iris to 1.6, and keep the shutter at 1/60 to get what appeared to be decent exposure in the viewfinder and external monitor. I shot a few minutes of footage with the above settings at 60I and 30P at 4:3, and then upped the gain to +3 and shot some more. Upon playback, my jaw almost hit the floor in utter disappointment. The image appeared grainy flat, dark and quite frankly looked as if it had been shot with a consumer Handicam!
I assumed that the monitor was in part responsible – it’s not a pro field monitor after all. Well, it happened that some PD-150 footage from a recent “available light” restaurant gig occupied the initial 25 minutes of the same tape upon which I was test shooting. I rewound to a portion of said PD-150 footage and played it back. Much to my chagrin, the PD-150 footage looked superior in every way! How on earth could this be? The Sony footage was crisp and clean – no graininess, no dull flat amateur appearance. I next thought I should upload the footage to my PC and view it in my NLE program. Although it was hard to detect the graininess during NLE playback, the footage looked considerably darker than it appeared on both the viewfinder and external monitor. I also noticed that pans with the XL2 appeared jerky. Just to save the resident experts the trouble of suggesting it – yes the stabilization was indeed in the “OFF” position while tripod mounted.
I contacted Canon service and asked them if they felt the issues I’d experienced were indicative of a defect, to which they replied was probable. I managed to get an expedited replacement copy shipped to me from the seller for which I anxiously awaited and received this afternoon. I had truly hoped that the issues I’d experienced with “copy 1” were in fact due to a manufacturing defect; regrettably that was not the case. The second copy exhibited the identical issues as the first. In addition to the image quality problems, I am as well experiencing auto focus “hunting” to the degree where it would be unacceptable to ever use professionally. I understand that true professionals rarely or never use “auto-focus”, however with the less than crisp color viewfinder, it is not going to be practical or quite frankly accurate to manually focus every time. Further, what’s up with the lagging viewfinder? When I shoot in anything less than 60I @60fps, the viewfinder alters reality to the point where I feel seasick. As an example, I shot at 60I @30 fps, and I was getting a case of vertigo – 30P is even more laggy and disorienting!
Forgive my seemingly harsh tone with the XL2 thus far; I am a definite fan of Canon digital cameras and “L” glass; however I am so incredibly disappointed with this XL2 that I could just blubber like a schoolgirl!
I now defer to all the seasoned XL2 gurus to please offer me some advice as to what’s going on with this camera. I sincerely hope this isn’t the level of performance I should expect from the second generation Canon XL series.
Please help…I’d be much obliged!

Thanks to all for reading and in advance for your assistance!


Steve Movick
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Old February 15th, 2007, 08:35 PM   #2
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I've never owned an XL2, I went from an XL1s to an XL H1.

However, based on posts by others on this forum, the "out of the box" experience of an XL2 is not optimum.

The XL2 has custom presets, like the XL H1. These are the key to a great XL2 experience.

Also, be sure to calibrate your viewfinder, it may be too bright, causing you to misjudge exposure.

I believe that you will be happier as you get more experience with your new camera.

I hope true XL2 experts will offer their assistance.
Dan Keaton
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Old February 15th, 2007, 08:37 PM   #3
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Paragraphs man, paragraphs.

Sounds like nothing is wrong with the camera.

The Sony Pd150 can see in the dark, it has always been known for this. By comparison, a lot of other cameras are going to seem very dark under the same conditions.

Video cameras eat light like nobodies business. If you aren't lighting your footage, your results aren't going to be great.

The jerkiness of 30p is just that. It is a big deference from 60i, just wait until you switch to 24p. It takes some getting used to and there is a certain way you must learn to shoot with progressive footage.

5k for a video camera is cheep in the grand scheme of things, so don't worry about the "plastic body."

Your shooting styles will have to adapt to the new camera.
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Old February 15th, 2007, 09:54 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Steve Movick
please offer me some advice as to whatís going on with this camera.
Whatís going on with this camera is that it's not meeting your expectations. Unless you're willing to adapt to it, my firm advice to you is to get rid out of it immediately and move on to something else.

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Old February 15th, 2007, 10:17 PM   #5
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Read the manual. Please.
Then discover some of the less than technical pixie dust found only here at DVINFO dot net like the custom preset downloads among the other incredible resources... like any new experience, (and you're in the middle of your holy cow move from one manufacturer to another) research is everything....

Your watershed moment will come. You'll love it!

Yikes ... I sort of sounded like Jim Jannard there for a minute...
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Old February 16th, 2007, 12:06 AM   #6
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I have had a play with the XL2 and I own a PD150. True, the PD150 digs deeper into the dark. The XL2 image has a sweeter colour to it. Each has its own positive attribute. Hand held, the XL2 will not cripple you from awkward posture over the course of doing a music gig.

As for your PD150. Things to try - no particular logic.

1. Remove the tape. Leave the loading door and cassette holder open.

2. Roll camera gently to the right, lightly tapping the body of the camera with the fingers until the camera is upside-down. Blow into the cassette enclosure to shift any more stubborn bits of debris. Return to normal position.

3. Loosen one turn - do not remove, all case screws you can find. Gently tap with fingers, the casework, then re-tighten the screws.

4. Select an expendable tape cassette. Put it in the camcorder.

Roll the camera to the right side facing down. Fast forward the tape to the far end while camera is in this position.

Roll camera to the left side facing down. Rewind the tape all the way while the camera is in this position.

5. Put a cleaning tape in the camera and cycle it.

6. Point camcorder towards ceiling. Select optical steadyshot "on" and do a few energetic pans and tilts in this position. Exercise the focus and zoom with the camera in this position. Select steadyshot "off".

7. Check that the battery and its enclosure have not been damaged.

A 950 battery packs a lot of weight and may have damaged the contacts or the plastic hooks in the camera body allowing the battery to move.

The Sony genuine batteries have complete socket holes for the conductive pins.

Some alternative batteries have incomplete socket holes which look like "U" channels and could go open circuit or resistive during camera moves if damage has occurred and the battery is no longer sitting tight.

8. Put another tape cassette in the camera and run a test.

Hopefully, your problem will have gone away.

Object of these exercises is to remove loose light debris from the cassette enclosure which may have been dislodged by the jolt and getting sucked up into the drum and heads,

Dislodge any bits of debris or grit which might be getting into the windings of the direct drive take-up motors, baulking them occasionally enough to effect tape tension.

If the case has been sprung and locked into a new position relative to internal structures, there may be enough distortion to cause tracking errors.

Releasing the case screws then retightening them may allow the case and internal structure to spring back to normal position.

If the fluid prism has been disrupted by the fall, switching it on in the vertical position and agitating the camera, may help restore it to its normal at-rest position.

Beyond this bit of witchcraft, intervention by a tradesman is likely needed.
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Old February 16th, 2007, 01:16 AM   #7
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I've been desperately checking back on this thread. I'd like to address a few of the comments I’ve received thus far in hopes that a solution will arise before I end up using the XL2 for batting practice:

<<Also, be sure to calibrate your viewfinder, it may be too bright, causing you to misjudge exposure.>>

What is your recommendation for calibration? I know one should use the color bars, but I never seem to have any luck with that technique - it might have to do with my male color challenged eyes. Thanks in advance.

<<Video cameras eat light like nobodies business. If you aren't lighting your footage, your results aren't going to be great.>>

This I know quite well. I properly light whenever possible.

However, what do I do about available light shots and “B" Roll? Are you saying I need to accept the fact that all but tightly controlled, perfectly lit shots will look sub-par using the XL2? Wasn’t the predecessor to this camera (XL1) the weapon of choice for many documentary videographers? What’d they do?

<<What’s going on with this camera is that it's not meeting your expectations. Unless you're willing to adapt to it, my firm advice to you is to get rid out of it immediately and move on to something else.>>

Forgive me for being so bold, but are you a Canon rep or something? It seems as if you're offended by my statements about this camera – please don’t be.

I'm confused however. Are my “expectations" of a renowned, purportedly advanced DV camcorder, manufactured nearly 6 years after my PD-150 somehow unreasonable? Is expecting a clean, sharp video image (at the very least on par with my older Sony) of the second generation Canon “X” series asking for the impossible these days?

My solitary goal in posting this thread is to seek the practical advice of those vastly more familiar with this camera than I.
I am still genuinely hoping there are some answers to these problems. Had I simply wished to dump the XL2, I would have already done so by way of the business end of my boot. My objective (for the moment) is to keep the damned thing provided someone can PLEASE help me see the light (no photographic pun intended).

I am (by the way) more than willing to “adapt” to the XL2, provided the net results will be worth the effort. I just want a decent image man!

<<Read the manual. Please.>>

Not only have I read the manual, but I also purchased and viewed the “Ultimate Guide” DVD. This stuff ain’t brain surgery; I solidly understand how to use the camera, but the results of my efforts are not yielding nearly the results I’m seeking in simple circumstances. I’m not piloting a Boeing 777 here…how off can I actually be with any setting, technique or combination thereof? I mean really…what do we gots here… lets see… iris, shutter, gain, white balance, aspect, frame rate, focus, maybe a couple of FX presets…c’mon!

As an example of my XL2 angst, I’m going FREAKING NUTS with the focus on this thing; the auto focus hunts every time I zoom in or out – literally every FREAKIN time I hit the rocker. Does that not make auto focus for our purposes virtually useless? When I manually focus on a subject in tight, I lose my back focus as soon as I pull wide.

Something’s going on with this camera, and I’d love to know what. Did one of the DV camera gods slap a hex on me or something?

I’m experienced and adept enough as a shooter where this essentially high-grade “prosumer” camcorder should in my hands produce RESPECTABLE (not planetary pole shifting) results even in “green box mode!” I’ve now got two of the darn things sitting here behaving similarly. If my kids acted like these two, they’d be grounded for a year…minimum!

I suspect a few of you are by now wondering why I don't simply give up on the XL2 and perhaps go with a Sony PD-170. Although I currently question the ostensible "kick-ass” footage which the XL2 should produce; the ergo-benefit(s) is/are a big consideration for me. I’ve grown tired of the awkward, rotator-cuff-taxing hand-held shots with the 150; it’s too small to support on your shoulder, yet it’s too big, heavy and clumsy to hold by hand for long periods of time. Moreover, I’ve also tired of clients questioning their projects image quality when I break out the physically unimpressive PD-150. The Xl2 looks sexy, has the “wow factor” going and I’d really like this to work out…if only it could!

I’ll be quite frank; I’d be more than happy having the capability to acquire footage no better than that of the PD-150 at this point.

I hope to hear some more ideas as to what’s going on here – the graininess, the focus…help me DV Lord! I beggeth thee!!!

Last edited by Steve Movick; February 16th, 2007 at 02:08 AM.
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Old February 16th, 2007, 02:49 AM   #8
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Indeed XL2 low light performance can disappoint at a first look. But everything depends from what type of product you have to do. From what i learned (reading articles and opinions) the PD150/170 is the way to go if you do more documentaries thing; the XL2 is more for fiction/filmic things.

Just this night i have shooted outdoors scenes from a short, and we used only aviable light (streetlamps...) I used a custom preset that cut all the dark noise zones; this dramatically reduce the global brightness (gain was at +6; don't go over or you get too much noise) and eventually the shutter speed (i was at 1/25 PAL). Sure without additional light will be better...
As a operator and wannabee DP i was'nt too much happy with the footage.
On the other side, if you look at a regular movie backstage, you see that they use a lot of light, and they darken it in post.

The PD170 is well know for his low light performance, wich is better than any (from what i read around) other prosumer camera.

As for the auto focus thing.... i simply don't use the auto focus.
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Old February 16th, 2007, 02:59 AM   #9
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I had the same impression regarding rugedness "plastic" feel when I bought my VX2000 over the Xl1s a few years back. I've shot my camera in situation against my bothers XL1, and he was impressed with sharpness, and crisper focusing capabities. My brother complained of the hunt problem with auto focus too.

I had seen a lot of great stuff come out of XL1 and 2's, but it occured to me at the time I was buying that the camera tended to be more tempermental. Utlimately, I think it comes down to comfort with the systems and form factor. I don't think its an accident that the A1 and G1 are in more traditional form factor.
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Old February 16th, 2007, 08:01 AM   #10
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It sounds like you are very unhappy with your purchase, and are needing reassurance that your money was well spent.

You might have noticed that there are an awfull lot of people on this forum who are extremely pleased with their XL2. As you have pointed out, they are more experienced than you, and you are hoping they can shed some light on what, if any, mistakes you are making.

They have pointed out that the XL2 is not as responsive in low light. You have responded that it's NOT the low light imaging that bothers you, but the overall image.

Without actually SEEING what you are SEEING, it is, quite frankly, impossible to give you any sort of advice beyond conjecture.

For instance, here's a wild guess. - Do you have an early version of the camera with the 'film grain' button? Is it ON???? The film grain button was a lousy idea, that Canon discontinued fairly early on in the run. Again, not knowing who you bought from, it's possible you have a very early version and the film 'button' is engaged. In which case, the image is quite 'noisy' in that it adds this awfull looking film 'grain'.

But I doubt that's the case.

Is the AUTO GAIN on? It's possible that you have set it to auto, in which case, without ADDING any grain intentially, the camera will add it without you noticing. THis happened to me on a shoot while I was using the FU-1000 and I didn't notice it until later.

You would do much better to post a couple of clips, so that we can analyse what you are seeing and offer more constructive advice.

There is a little voice inside you saying "I can't be making any mistakes, it MUST BE THE CAMERA. How HARD can it be????"

It can be VERY difficult to match the look of two cameras, which are not designed to be matched. Most of your comments are a 'comparison' to the 150 and the xl2. And since you can't actually USE your 150 to shoot a side by side comparison under the same conditions, you are relying on your memory of how much better the 150 MIGHT perform.

Please help us to help you. Shoot some footage, and post it. It's entirely possible that you have a faulty camera, that needs to be returned.

NOTE TO CHRIS: Funny you should say the A1 and G1 are the 'traditional' form factors. I always refer to these as "Coffee Cams" because they are shaped like coffee cans... and not like the "Traditional" shoulder bricks I've used all my life in broadcasting. To me, the XL2 is the more 'traditional'. Guess that's one of the drawbacks to being fifty.
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Old February 16th, 2007, 10:21 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Steve Movick
Forgive me for being so bold, but are you a Canon rep or something?
I wouldn't call that bold. I'd call that "account suicide by Admin."

I've never been offended by anyone's statements about their gear, but I'm definitely not spending my time and money running this site just to garner this sort of insinuation.

Every once in awhile I'll run into an unfortunate person who finds himself driven "freaking nuts" by his choice of equipment. For these folks, there are two courses of available action: adapt to the gear and live with it, because it's not going to change; or get out from under it and choose something else. Being rather resistant to change myself (for better or for worse), my own sincere recommendation is always the latter option: get rid of it, quickly. A video camera is a tool that you're going to use well only when *you* feel good using it (and it doesn't matter how many other people are using it). It's an entirely subjective choice, and one which I believe should be made primarily upon the considerations of form factor, intuitiveness and pleasing results.

Fortunately in this particular market, there are a variety of available options within any given price range. Rather than settling for a less than fulfilling experience with a certain piece of equipment -- whether it's Canon, Sony, JVC or Panasonic -- the much wiser decision would be to change to some other tool that's better suited for one's particular expectations.

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Old February 16th, 2007, 10:29 AM   #12
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"account suicide by Admin"

That's a keeper.

I concur with Chris. If you can't/won't provide us with footage in order to give you a more accurate assesment of what you say are the camera's faults, than by all means, get out from under your poor choice as quickly as possible.

"Plenty O' fish in the sea."
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Old February 16th, 2007, 11:01 AM   #13
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I have a correction to make.

All times I shot with the XL2, I was using a Letus35 with Nikon primes on front, so I can't vouch for Canon's own lens.

You mention focal shift from sharp on zoom to soft on wide. That does suggest a backfocus issue with the lens/camera combination.

I don't know enough about the camera to know if it or its standard lens has a backfocus adjustment like the Fujinon or TV Nikon B4 Mount ENG lenses. If there is such an adjustment, then that needs taking care of. On the ENG cams it is an owner/operator adjustment.

Another more sinister possibility is that the camera or lens mount has been damaged. Any disruption of such a degree to cause a noticeable backfocus issue on a non-adjustable system should be readily visible with a lens that looks like it is not square-on when mounted up to the camera.

Check that the red mark on the lens barrel near the mount is at about the two o'clock position which indicates locked home in the mount.

If it is not and the lens can be moved in the mount without the release being touched, then be careful because it might be hanging crooked and just jammed in the mount ready to fall at the first opportunity. It is not so hard to overlook as it seems - I did it.

On Youtube, there is a clip which was shot with four cams, Sony Z1P, Sony FX1 with Agus35 adaptor, Canon XL1 and Canon XL2 with Letus35 adaptor.

I only declared three on the clip info as the FX1 with Agus35 was only the very beginning shot with a blue mike in picture and a clumsy attempt at a matching transition. The clip title is "the b-movie heroes" posted by "agus35monk".

That XL2 was operating in a very hostile circumstance, about 1.5 f stops of light loss via the Letus35 adaptor, low lighting conditions, lighting by pin spots from overhead and shooting upwards from about three feet above floor level most times. The clip has not been graded.

This will give you a very invalid comparison across several cameras, but a hint of how well the XL2 does in unfavourable conditions.

The two "Kill Devil Hills" clips also posted under "agus35monk" were shot with Sony HDV and a PD150 with Agus35 on front with the same Nikon lens as was used on "b-movie".

My own suggestion is to give yourself and the camera a chance. Otherwise, Chris' suggestion of quitting it for something you feel comfortable with before it devalues too much is definitely the go.

My own personal preferences on the XL2 for the brief period I had my greasy hands on it were :-

Shutter - 1/50th. (PAL Version).
Gain - 0db.
Manual control of exposure with lens iris.

When loading or unloading the tape cassette, apparently you should push the cassette holder in first and wait until the camera lowers the holder inside completely before you shut the outer door. This is not the same as the PD150.
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Old February 16th, 2007, 11:15 AM   #14
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Sorry to hear you are so disappointed with your XL2. It is probably no consolation to you that the problems you are having are likely do to your lack of knowledge of this camera and how to use it.

My first XL series experience was with an XL1's. Lots of fun but I did not venture far from the auto setting, and when I didn't use auto, I could really screw things up good! I took me a long time to figure more of the things out.

Next I got the XL2 and I was walking on air, as the camera is so neat! But, I was still no better at shooting than I was before. Again, more studying and playing with it and more progress in my shooting skills.

Recently I had an opportunity to get a great deal on an XLH1, and I jumped on it. I'm still learning and can still screw up at times, but not that often now. I am shooting manual all the time now and really getting into the cameras setting and enjoying its great flexibility.

You never did mention the settings that you are using, you just said you were shooting in manual mode. When people tell us they are in manual mode, they often think we will assume they know what they are doing using the mode, but they are just like I was and really don't know what they are doing much of the time.

If you can give us the exact settings you are using, that would help us to help you. Please remember that just going to the manual mode and adjusting the shutter and the iris and watching what you get in the viewfinder will simply not do. Any graininess will not show up in the viewfinder until the video is totally worthless.

The first thing to do when shooting manual mode is to go to the bottom left side of the camera and push the gain button, which makes it pop out, then turn it to 0 (zero), some use -3. If you do not do this, you might as well shoot full auto! You can't shoot manual in "Auto Gain!" The camera will be adjusting the gain when you adjust the shutter and iris. Pretty much whatever adjustment you make to the shutter and iris, the picture will look good in the viewfinder. But what really happens is that the camera is changing the gain to compensate for any bad settings you make because of lack of light. This is not a camera error, it is exactly what it is supposed to do.

Second, the XL2 colors will appear flatter or won't pop like some other cameras. This is just the way Canon's generally are, and the XL2 is even more so that way than the XL1s was. If you want to punch them up, go into the menu and make a preset that does what you want and then just use that preset as your normal shooting mode. People tend to like warm, more saturated colors, myself included, but these are not natural. If you want them that way, set them that way.

You also mentioned shooting 60i footage at 30fps, why? 60i should normally be shot at 60fps. The only good reason I can figure to drop the frame rate would be to compensate for low light. So I'm guessing that you were just not adjusting the camera correctly. Low light, low frame rate, and you will get jerky pans. It is not the fault of the camera. Especially using 30f and 24f, you have to know what you are doing and compensate by being very aware of motion in the shot and control movement. If you want that "film look" you have to know how to get it.

When you can give us all of your settings and your exact results, we will be able to help you more. Please try to just stick with facts and not emotional responses. Your camera has been replaced so I very much doubt there is any camera issue at this point, so how about we concentrate on the human factor?

Also, as mentioned, please try to divide your thoughts into paragraphs. It makes it much easier to read. I had to read your first post many times to try and pull some useful information out of it.

Specific questions will result in more specific answers!

Thanks and good luck---Mike
Chapter one, line one. The BH.
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Old February 16th, 2007, 11:32 AM   #15
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Well, I was writing and doing other things when all of the above posts took place, so don't know what to think now. Perhaps I wrote it for nothing?

I do love Chris's new phrase, "account suicide by Admin." Maybe if Chris gives him one more chance Steve will see the light of day.

Steve, this is Chris's forum and he runs it fair and square. He tollerates a lot, but there is a limit. We can all get a fact wrong from time to time, but Chris is never bias and always fair. That's why this forum is probably the best anywhere on this planet. When people find it, it is like a breath of fresh air. Real people with real information that can help us all learn.

If you still can, give us better info and we can try to help you. But, the errors you are getting are yours not the XL2's.

Best of luck, you might need it----Mike
Chapter one, line one. The BH.
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