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Tips and Information on the Canon XL1 Video Camera

Please Note: This article was provide for your information.
Studio 1 does not sell, nor do we offer tech support on the Canon XL-1.

Generating Color Bars on the Canon XL-1

The Canon XL-1 can generate full-field color bars. Just follow these steps:
A. Turn on the camera in the full auto mode (Green Box mode).
B. Press and hold the two shutter buttons for about 5 to 7 seconds.

You now have color bars in your viewfinder. To turn off the color bars, simply press and hold the two shutter buttons until the color bars disappear from the viewfinder.

To turn off the color bars, press the two shutter buttons again.

(The Canon XL1s has built-in SMPTE color bars with a button to turn them on or off.)

Remote Control For The Canon XL1

The XL1 and XL1s cameras have a LANC port which allows you to plug in a remote control device, such as the ProZoom from Studio 1. This controller allows you to control the zoom, focus, rec/pause and among other functions with out having to touch the camera. Both XL1 models allow you to have approximately 8 zoom speeds in both directions (zoom in and zoom out).

Note: Even though the LANC commands protocols support a wide variety of camera functions, not all camera models will support these functions being controlled through the LANC port.

Whether the camera is mounted on a tripod or on a camera shoulder brace, the ProZoom zoom lanc controller keeps you from having to reach around the camera when zooming, focusing, etc., by putting the camera controls at your finger tips. In fact, you can control the camera while it’s up on a jib arm. With the proper LANC cables, you can operate your camera from 100ft or more away.

Using the Neutral Density filter on the XL1

The Neutral Density (ND) filter on the XL-1 is activated by pressing a button the camera’s lens. The ND filter reduces the amount of light passing through the lens.

Do not use the camera in the auto iris mode when using the ND filter, as you will not see a dramatic difference in the picture. You will end up with about the same luminance values, but at a different f-stop setting. What you will see is a decrease in the depth of field resulting from the iris being opened up more, thus throwing the background out of focus.

It is considered that the best optical performance of most lenses is in the f/4 to f/8 range. When the f-stop exceeds f/16, optical diffraction may occur, which may result in a slight loss of sharpness. You can use the ND filter when ever you need to bring down the f-stop so you are shooting in this range. Also, when you are shooting in bright light and you manually set the iris setting in this range, you’ll find the shutter speed will be will be higher, which can affect the look of moving objects in the scene. By using the ND filter, you can maintain a more normal shutter speed while still having the lens in the f/4 to f/8 range for the best optical performance.

Another use for the ND filter is when you want to create a shallow depth of field. Since the ND filter can reduce the f-stop, you to control the field of focus so your subject will stay in focus, while the foreground and background will be out of focus. The smaller the f-stop number, like f/2, the smaller the depth of field or smaller area that will be in focus. While a higher f-stop number, like f/11 will result in a larger depth of field or a larger area that will be in focus.

Disabling The Time Code Display

Can you prevent the time code display from recording on a remote recording deck when doing a multi-camera shoot? Yes. You will need to take the XL-1’s remote control and point it at the back of the camera and press the “On Screen” button. This will turn on and off the display information going to the video output jacks.

Using the Frame Movie Mode

The Canon XL-1 has a feature called Frame Movie mode. This allows you to adjust the way the CCD chip captures an image.

Normally you XL-1’s CCD would capture the odd field at 1/60 of second and then capture the even field at 1/60 of a second. You get 60 fields or half frames per second. However, with the XL1’s Frame Movie Mode the CCD’s capture 30 full frames instead of 60 half frames per second. This results in a “film look”.

If you were to transfer video to film that was shot in the Frame Movie Mode, the video would be a higher vertical resolution since you’re transferring a full frame, not just one field to film. Since film runs at 24 frames per second, during the video to film transfer, you will need to drop every 5th frame in order to match the 24 fps film speed.

We have talked with several independent film producers that have shot films using the Canon XL-1 in the Frame Movie Mode with excellent results.

Information about the XL1’s viewfinder:

1. If you are shooting in the 16:9 mode the scene will appear elongated or squished.

2 The XL1 has a LCD large viewfinder and this can be a problem when you are shooting in bright sunlight. Brief exposure of the LCD viewfinder to direct sunlight can result in burned out pixels in the viewfinder. The length of exposure, the angle and intensity of the sunlight hitting the LCD viewfinder, will be the determining factor of the amount of damage done on the LCD screen. Canon is aware of this problem and has switching over to a better viewfinder, but care still must be taken. Note: one filmmaker reported having this same problem when shooting under very bright lights on a sound stage.

3. Always keep the XL1’s “Eyepoint Selection Switch” in the “Far” position whenever the viewfinder is away from your eye. You see, the viewfinder has a magnifier built in to it. This magnifier will make the viewfinder even more susceptible to burn.

4. The viewfinder’s swivel connection is a weak point on the XL1. It is advised to use a hard shell case. If you are going to use a soft case, then remove the viewfinder/mike assembly from the camera when transporting the camera. It will easily unscrew from the body of the camera. A technician at a Canon repair facility confirmed this problem (off the record) and also suggested using ONLY a hard shell case to transport the camera.

The Black Level Setting On the XL-1

The black level on the XL1 is set at 0 IRE. This is the correct setting for Japan, however, here in the United States are black level is set at 7.5 IRE.

Note: the white in the zebra setting is set for 95 IRE. By NTSC standards, the maximum brightness your video should be it 100 IRE.

XL1 Audio Modes

The XL1 gives you the choice of three audio recording modes, including 16bit stereo, 12bit stereo or 12bit stereo 1, 2 mode. The 12bit stereo 1, 2 mode allows you to mix two stereo sources or up to four monaural sources at once. The audio level can be set for automatic or manual control. Each stereo track can be set for microphone level (mic level is attenuated - 20 dB) or line level. If you are using an XLR adapter that has mic/line level switches, make sure the camera’s audio input is set to microphone level or you will see a major audio level drop. There is a audio monitor selector switch so you can monitoring the audio input signal for each track, as well as the mix of tracks one and two. It is advised that you use a headset to monitor the audio.

Let’s take a look at the four-channel mode first.
When in the four-channel mode, the audio sampling rate for the XL-1 is 32kHz, 12 bit sampling. The on-board Stereo mic is plugged into the Stereo 1 inputs (channel 1 and 2) on the XL1. Stereo 2 inputs (channels 3 and 4) are fed by the RCA audio connectors located on the back of the XL1.

Tip: If on-board mic plugged into Stereo 1, you can use the on-board mic to pick up ambient sound, while you feed audio into the RCA connectors.

You can feed four mics or four line level inputs or any combination of mics and line level inputs. Here is how you can do it.

Unplug the on-board mic from the Stereo 1 input. Then using two XLR audio adapters, such as the Studio 1 XLR-BP Pro, connect one XLR-BP Pro to the Stereo 1 input. Then using the other XLR-BP Pro and Studio 1’s XL1 adapter cable, plug the second XLR-BP Pro into the Stereo 2 RCA input jacks.

The XLR-BP Pro will allow you to select the type of input, either mic or line level and each XLR adapter will allow you to have two inputs, for a total of four audio inputs. One note before using the four channel mode. Make sure your non-linear editors can simultaneously capture the video, Stereo1 (Channel 1 and 2) and Stereo 2 (Channel 3 and 4).

Now the two-channel mode.

In the two-channel mode, the audio sampling rate for the XL-1 is 48kHz, 16 bit sampling. In this mode you can only record Stereo 1 in 16-bit, 48kHz. In this mode, Stereo 2 is not available.

The Stereo 1 mode (channels 1 and 2) allow you to use either the 3.5mm mini-phone jack that the on-board Canon mic is pluged into or a pair of RCA audio jacks located on the back of the camera.

The camera can be set in the Automatic Gain Control (AGC) more or manual gain control mode for the Stereo 1 inputs. You can also choose the input levels, which are MIC level, MIC ATT level, and line level. Note the line level is a consumer line leve of -10 dBV. The manual controls are balance and input audio level. You can connect the XLR-BP Pro to the Stereo 1 input for line balancing and control your audio levels.

The Stereo 2 RCA jacks offer you a choice of MIC level, MIC ATT leve, or line level. The audio level controls can be either AGC or manual. In the manual mode you can use the built-in audio level controls to adjust your input levels. For those of you who want more audio level controls, you can attach the XLR-BP Pro to the RCA jacks. You will need the XL-1 adapter cable in order to do this.

Note: There are a few wireless mic systems that have a stereo output cable that can be plugged into the 1/8” mic jack. However, this may not be wired for a stereo input jack, but for a balanced mono input. If you plug this type of cable into the mic jack, you will cause the right and left channels to be out of phase, which can result in no audio or very, very low audio. Make sure you check your wireless mic system’s manual.

Monitoring the Audio

The XL1 has built-in VU meters and you can select which audio inputs are displayed on the VU meters. However, VU meters alone don’t cut it. It’s always advisable to monitor your audio with headphones, so you can listen for any audio noise problems. The XL1 will allow you to monitor Stereo 1, Stereo 2, or all four channels together with headphones.

Shooting Tips

When shooting from those low, on the ground camera angles, use an inexpensive bean bag to support the camera. This not only keeps the dirt off the camera, but it will give you some limited tilting and leveling ability

This tip was email to us and we have seen it posted around on different web boards, but is is such a cool tip I wanted to mention it here.

Before you start recording your video, press the "photo" button to record a still image for a few seconds. When you are ready to create a shot log, put the video tape back into the XL1 or XL1s and put the camera in the VCR mode. Then use the "photo search" buttons on the camera’s wireless remote control to automatically advance to the next still photo which marks the beginning of the next scene. This allows you to quickly create a shot log.

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