Canon XL H1
Viewfinder of Canon XL H1, view 1. The operator's view through the
viewfinder. The upper left scale shows actual exposure value; to the
right, the camera setting of 60iHDV, and below that, an indicator
that it is in manual mode. To the right, Time Code, below that, the
shutter speed. To the right, the gain indicator and battery level.
Below that on left is the aperture; below that, the manual focus
indicator. And in the lower right, audio levels on either channels
1& 2, or 3&4.
Once you power up the camera from the control dial on the side of
the body, and look through the viewfinder your eyes will pop.
Because pop is what the screen does. It is roughly three times as
bright as the XL2. I placed the XL H1 and XL2 side-by-side and
focused on an interior scene in subdued lighting. The difference in
brightness and quality was amazing. Actually, the XL2, which I
always thought looked just great, now seemed murky and too warm. The
XL H1 image by contrast had the vivid cool colors, with true whites
Comparison of the viewfinder brightness of Canon's XL 1H (right) and
XL 2 (left), shot in subdued lighting. Both cameras are set to shoot
at 60i, f4 at 16:9.
Canon has designed a new lens for the XL H1, a 20X fluorite L-series
lens. When shooting in the 16:9 mode, it actually duplicates the
wide 20mm angle of their former wide-angle 3x lens. By adding a
Century wide-angle adaptor, you can really open up a room.
On the side of the camera, next to the control dial, is the mode
select in which you can select either HD (when you do, a blue light
goes on around the selector switch), or standard HD, in either 16:9
or 4:3 aspect ratios. Below that, is the frame rate selector that
allows you to choose 60i, 30p or 24p.
Control Panel, Canon XL H1. The control panel area on the side of
the Canon XL H1 in operation. The control dial indicates audio
levels on two channels. The selector switch on top, with the blue
light on indicating it is ready to shoot in HD, can be switched to
either HD or SD. The lower switch is used to select frame rate.
Most of the other control buttons are similar to the XL2; however,
if you look right under the viewfinder, you will find a small
selector switch that says "peaking" or "magnifying."
This is a feature that was previously available only on professional
When focusing manually, my old eyes have always had a problem seeing
precise focus, so I did what most cameramen do, I zoom in to the
subject's eyes, get the speculars sharp, then pull out for the shot.
With peaking engaged, when you hit the point of precise focus, the
screen almost looks like it is solarized. You can't miss it. Then to
make it even easier, rather than the zoom in, pull out system of
focus, you can hit the magnifying switch, which essentially zooms in
about 3x to make it even easier to find that sharp point.
Viewfinder of Canon XL H1, view 2. With the zoom set at the same
range (wide), the viewfinder now shows what it looks like with the
peaking engaged (note pixelization) and the magnifying on to bring
the image 3x bigger in the viewfinder for focus. [Note: these images
would not be seen on the tape; only in the viewfinder.]
Under the audio panel door, you have dials for the four separate
stereo channel gain controls.
Like the XL2, the XLR inputs are built into the body at the rear of
If you turn the camera around, you will notice that underneath the
XLR inputs is what they call a "jack box." Again, this feature was
only previously available on broadcast ENG cameras. Here you will
find access for Time Code In, Time Code Out, Gen Lock and HD/SD SDI.
Up until now this wasn't something most prosumers or VJs cared
about, but in the broadcast environment they are vital features,
which allows cameras to talk to each other, and to engineers in the
truck or studio.
Canon XL H1's Jack Pack. The built-in Jack Pack on the bottom of the
camera allows for connections for Time Code In, Time Code Out, Gen.
Lock and HD/SD SDI.
One other thing to mention. In the
XL2, Canon sneakily did away with the "photo" button. This allows
the user to grab still frames, which is useful when shooting
inanimate object such as buildings or signs. In previous XLs this
was achieved by capturing a frame, and replaying it over 10 seconds
of rolling tape. The photo button has reappeared on the XL H1, but
instead of being captured on tape, the image is captured on a memory
card. It takes standard SD or MMC cards.
One problem, as of the time this
review was written, is that at present there is no plug-in solution
that will allow HD editing from the tape. Canon has been working
with Apple for the past few weeks, and my guess is that by the NAB
convention later this month, that problem will be solved. In the
meantime you can shoot on HD, then bring it into your editing
program as standard DV, and later take the final edit backup to HD
There is no doubt that Canon has raised the bar much higher in the
camcorder business with the XL H1, it has closed the gap between
high-end prosumer cameras and broadcast cameras. This is a camera
that a broadcast cameraperson can be comfortable with. It is heavy
enough to give you back problems, which is what these people want.
("You're not really a professional broadcast shooter till you have
your first herniated disc.")
However, this is not a camera for a backpack VJ or an ordinary
videophile. It is just too heavy. This is meant for heavy-duty,
hard-core (sic) professional use. If you are a filmmaker you can put
those "prime" Panavision lenses on it, and the camera will do
whatever you ask of it. However, if you are a Platypus, don't worry,
Canon has some nice surprises coming to a store near you in the next
DISCLAIMER: Canon Video is a sponsor of the Platypus workshops and
the Platypus Theatre on The Digital Journalist. They have no
influence on editorial content.
Dirck Halstead is the editor of The Digital Journalist at