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Canon XL1 Field Report

A filmmaker reports on this
Digital Video camera

by Kent C. Williamson <>

I just finished 26 days of shooting a dramatic feature motion picture....

The Title: When Love Walks In

The Camera: The Canon XL1.

The "look" of the images in a feature is crucial and overall I'm VERY pleased with the results. The XL1 did it's job and when combined with the talents of our DP (David Oulashian from LA <>) we got great results.

The key to the great footage was the lighting. You wouldn't believe the number of times I'd ask David "How much longer?" and he'd give his standard response, "5 more minutes!" But let me tell you, those "five" more minutes made all the difference in the world.

By the way, when a DP says "five more minutes" the Director interprets it as "fifteen more minutes, if your lucky, Bud".... when the Director says "five more minutes" the Actors interpret that as "Go to Starbucks, be back in thirty."

Anyhow - XL1 performance....

FOLLOW FOCUS was ruled out from the get go. Without lens markings we knew not to even attempt it. We had to block all of our scenes around this. Or use a large enough depth of field that it didn't matter. This obviously effected our approaches to dolly shots and hand-held stuff. Speaking of FOCUS... we did notice some softness on occasion. A shot looked soft (on our 1985 field monitor), but we'd just double check the focus and press on.

DOLLY SHOTS, TRIPODS, HIGH-HATS, HAND-HELD, Etc. The XL1 worked well with each of these set-ups. We ran into some snags with a Bogen 3166 Head, but that's not the XL1's fault. We also managed to drive the Moho over our Bogen sticks (IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: Don't try this at home!). But once again, this was not the XL1's fault... even though we desperately needed someone or something to blame.

AUDIO - We ran a Sennheiser MKH 416 shotgun into a Shure FP33 Field Mixer which fed the XL1 (16bit via the XLR adapter). Overall I'm very pleased with the sound. There are some rough spots, but rough spots and some dialogue replacement are to be expected when editing a feature. I'm disappointed with the XLR adapter... not in performance, but in design. A few days into shooting we snapped off the little plastic nub thingy that slides into the tail of the XL1 ($250 plus overnight Fed-Ex later we had a new one -- Thanks to Promax!)

INTERIOR - DAY, EXTERIOR - DAY, INTERIOR - NIGHT, EXTERIOR - NIGHT. All types of shooting conditions and the XL1 performed well. Dolly shots at night in the rain? No problem. Hot, humid, Virginia summer days? No problem.

POWER SUPPLY - The cheesy standard XL1 power supply had to go. After 10 days of abuse it developed a short and so we put it on the disabled list as "Charger only". I found a great power solution from NRG. A much more rugged, four-pin power supply with XL1 adapter for somewhere around $300. (Boy did this make our DP's day).

WIDE ANGLE ADAPTER - Prior to shooting I knew we would need a wide angle option for our tight interiors, so I sunk $400 into a Century Optics .6X beauty. It worked great, but I discovered that we used it FAR LESS than I originally thought we would. The standard 16X XL1 glass lensed probably 98% of this film.

FILTERS - Along with great lighting, filters made our images look fabulous. We used a 1/2 Promist, a Promist 1, a Polarizer, and a .6 Neutral Density. If I would have had more money I would have bought the 1/8 and 1/4 Promist as well as the .3 & .9 ND. The standard built-in Neutral Density Filter on the lens of the XL1 was WAY TO MUCH for the most part.

As I mentioned before, I've been very pleased with the XL1. The images rival that of the $50,000 Beta SP cameras I've worked with in my day jobs over the last 9 years.

Now we enter post production... hopefully we'll be done by the end of September 1998.


Copyright 1998, Paladin Pictures.
Reprinted with permission





You can find out more about the XL1 at Canons DV website


The XL1 Watchdog has reviews, as well as covers problems with the XL1
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