The XL1 Watchdog's Tips & Tricks

This section offers some operating tips gleaned from savvy XL1 users for the benefit of others. The idea here is to have a place to point everyone who asks, "how do I do that again?" without having to keep reposting the same information on usenet. I got the idea from watching how many times people have asked how to generate color bars on the Sony VX1000. The only way this page will be worth anything is through owner's contributions... so send 'em in and I'll post them here.



...and speaking of Color Bars!

The Watchdog is the Soul of Discretion when it comes to handling information which was passed along confidentially, so please forgive my inability to name the source for this little gem: there are Color Bars inside your XL1 which your manual isn't telling you about.

turn camera on in green box mode, press and hold the two shutter buttons for appx. 5 secondsNow, for you pro shooters out there, be forewarned that these are NOT "true" SMPTE color bars. Instead they're full-field style which are found on the Sony VX1000 and other prosumer camcorders. You may or may not find them useful, but for what it's worth, they're in there, and here's how to get 'em in your viewfinder...

Turn the camera on in Green Box mode (or "full auto," in other words). Press and hold the two shutter buttons for about five or six seconds. That's all there is to it, and it doesn't take three hands, like some other camera I've already mentioned. Depressing the two shutter buttons again turns the bars off. Not sure how useful these non-standard bars are, but hey, it's a great Easter Egg! Thanks to "Mr. E" for this neat trick.

The Watchdog notes:

Of course, if you have the new XL1S, then you've got standard SMPTE color bars built right in, with their own dedicated button to turn 'em on and off.



Don't Even Think About It

Under no circumstances should you ever mount an XL1 / XL1S to a tripod head at the accessory mounting socket located along the underside of the slanted rear of the camcorder. This mounting point is ONLY intended for the included SP-100 shoulder mount (what, you haven't thrown that thing away yet?) or the MA100 or MA200 shoulder support / XLR adapters. This is a plastic, un-reinforced mounting socket that can easily break under the weight of the camcorder assembly if you were to hang the XL1 on a tripod with it, as seen to the left. I got this picture off of an online auction site; I'm not crazy enough to do it just to show you people what not to do. There's no faster way to risk breaking an XL1 than by mounting it on a tripod this way; it's an accident waiting to happen! Use the *real* tripod mounting socket on the bottom of the camera; that's it, the one that's made of metal.



Better Slate Than Never

I've forgotten who originally told me about this great tip, but if you need to find recorded scenes quickly, and you don't have the new XL1S with index marking capability, here's a good habit to get into.

At the beginning of each set-up, before you start recording video, press the "photo" button which records a still image for a few seconds. When you go back to log your tape in VCR mode, use the "photo search" buttons on your wireless remote control to automatically advance to the next still photo which marks the beginning of the next scene. Press five times, go to the fifth scene into the tape, and so on. It's like having a "slate" function built right in. Now I just wish I could remember who first told me about this neat idea...



No Strings Attached

Little one-chip camcorders usually have their lens caps tethered to the hand grip so they don't get lost. Canon assumes that with XL lenses, you're grown up enough to keep track of the lens caps, so there's no strings tied to them. I usually shove the cap in my back pocket (and subsequently forget about it), but my friend Douglas Spotted Eagle has a better idea.

Douglas grabbed some inch-long adhesive-backed velcro strips. One side (hook or loop, doesn't matter which) goes horizontally across the front of the lens cap; the other side is affixed along the top of the lens hood. Now you've got a secure place to stick that lens cap, and since it's not out of sight, it won't be out of mind.



Cheap Trick

From Andy Clark:

"I had a problem with the EVF coming loose all the time, even with the U-shaped rubber washer that came with the camera. So, I picked up a neoprene washer from Home Depot -- I think it cost me about fifty cents. I removed the EVF and pulled the washer around the bolt, between the thumbwheel and the square piece of metal that holds the EVF on. Now, when I tighten down that thumb wheel, it stays tight. This also worked well on the camera light that I put on the accessory shoe."



Careful with that EVF, Eugene

The Watchdog notes:

I've heard from two owners so far about a potentially weak area on the XL1... the electronic viewfinder's swivel joint. Be careful with it! One owner had his camera tucked in a soft bag, slung over his shoulder while rock climbing (should promise to be great footage from that trip). The bouncing of the bag against his back managed to break the viewfinder at the swivel. If you're transporting your XL1 in a soft bag, it would be a good idea to completely REMOVE the EVF/mike assembly from the camera (it unscrews easily). The XL1 is constructed with a tough magnesium alloy body, but the EVF assembly, like all camcorders, is fragile; that's to be expected.

So treat your XL1 with a little TLC, and if you're bandying about like a Jackeroo in the Outback of Oz, fly with a Pelican! (In other words, if you're going to be roughing it out in the brush country, use a hardshell case.)



It's Remotely Possible

The Watchdog notes:

If you're recording time code during your shoot, you'll always see the time code numbers running in the viewfinder, they can't be switched off. However, you may not want the number display to go out over your cables (to a remote recording deck during a multiple-camera shoot, for instance), which they will unless you've remembered to bring along your XL1's wireless remote control. Aim it at the back of the camera and press the "on screen" button. This will toggle off (or on) the display information going through the video outputs.



Even More Remotely Possible

Submitted by Frederick Campbell:

"I tried plugging in the Canon ZR-100 Remote Control (from the old L1/L2 Hi-8 cameras) into the Control-L jack on my XL1. Much to my surprise, it was fully functional giving me full wide angle to telephoto zoom range (single speed only), pause to record, edit search both + and -, and instant playback of the last three seconds shot! All from my hand position on the tripod arm. What a functional treasure! Anyone who has one and an XL1 will not be able to live without it once they have tried it."



More and More Remotely Possible

From Don Palomaki:

"It appears that if you have a LANC controller with the capability to send the commands, the XL1 will support something like 16 to 20 zoom speed/direction combinations (8-10 zooming in and 8-10 zooming out).  Also, you can apparantly select manual or auto focus mode (and three manual focus speeds in each direction) via LANC.  Again, you have to have a LANC controller that supports these commands.

"By the way, XL1 commands and functions apparently not supported by the LANC implementation include: photo record, self-timer, audio output selection, electronic shutter, and white balance."



Just Charge It

From Earle Greenberg:

"It appears that there is a current shortage of batteries for these cameras, but if anyone can find the BP924, which has been discontinued, they should buy it. It's a few milliamps smaller that the BP927 (the supplied battery for the XL1), but it works fine."



Display's the Thing

From William Capolongo:

"...I couldn't get the shutter speed info in Aperture Priority mode and aperture info in Shutter Priority mode, until I found out that I could push the AE lock button and this info would be displayed."



Two Doors to Close

The very first tip I found came from digital photojournalist Dirck Halstead, and was originally reported on DV & FireWire Central:

"Regarding Peter McLennan's review of the XL1, I think the reason that he couldn't roll tape, and he saw the flashing red icon in the viewfinder, is that when you close the tape door on this camera, you must be careful to first PUSH IN the tape transport, not just the door. I had this same problem, and couldn't figure out what was wrong, until I noticed that on the transport itself it said PUSH. Once I did that, then closed the door it worked fine. It's not very intuitive, since normally we are used to just closing the door."



Cinematographer Ross Lowell
offers some XL1 wisdom

Author of the excellent Matters of Light and Depth (a must read for any videographer) and Academy Award reciever for inventing the Lowel-Light system of location lighting, Cinematographer Ross Lowell is one of the first XL1 shooters. You can read more about what he has to say about the XL1 and get a glimpse of his impressive career at XL1: First Impressions on the DV & FireWire Central Website. Here are some of his helpful hints.

"In the limited time I've used the XL1, I loved it and began to realize that its many modes of operation included several intended (entirely or mainly?) for stills: "Shutter" and "Aperature Priority" for example.

Tip 1: "My favorite, so far, for video shooting is "manual mode" with zebra stripes displayed; this also includes a meter display in the viewfinder. The zebra stripes are useful not just for shooting on the African plains (where one might also need leopard spots) but to control detail in large, overly bright or glaring areas. This allows for judgements to be based on either the amount of stripes deemed acceptable or the appropriate amount above or below "normal" exposure as indicated by the internal meter representation. Naturally, such judgements should be based upon subject, mood and desired effect. An extreme example: a proper silhouette can be acheived only with a meter that seems to be warning: "Idiot! Do something immediately or the shot'll be hopeless!" And, unless you like grey snow, you need to open up a stop and a half or two stops from what the meter would have you believe is correct exposure.

Tip 2: "Photo Mode can be triggered accidentally causing shooters to loose valuable seconds of action that may not be repeatable. I have not found a disabling mechanism other than for the top controls which also lock out zoom and video start/stop. My temporary fix: any 1/8" bits of "stickum" (such as felt pads) that partially surround the buttons making accidental triggering less likely.

Tip 3: "A cheap, useful accessory: a bean bag that will support the camera and allow for limited tilting and leveling for those on-the-ground low angles. It will also keep your XL1 clean.

Tip 4: "The built-in neutral density filter subtracts about six stops. One might hope that Canon supplies two filters eventually: perhaps a three stop and a five stop. Or one at a more useful four stops.

Tip 5: "Canon has a low-battery-drain mode within its five-minute standby mode which will extend battery life without losing presets and mode selections. So far I mostly forget to use it but intend to make it part of my operating pattern. The XL1 does not skimp on options.

Tip 6: "The slow shutter speed mode takes a while to select and enable and may be more useful for dramatic, dream-like blur effects than for typical low-light (exposure boost) operation where its blur pattern is likely to be distracting and unmotivated. Gain boost is normally a better choice, I believe."

The Watchdog adds an unsolicited plug: use a Lowel-Light Kit on your next shoot!



What Other DV Decks Do This?

Chris Kraft has great news for Sony DSR-30 owners:

"I just took some XL1 16:9 (Frame Movie mode) footage and played it back on my DSR-30. As I suspected, the playback was anamorphic looking. I then pulled out my DSR-30 manual (I never look at manuals, so this was unusual) and found something truly amazing. The DSR-30 has WIDE-ID signal detection. Don't know what that really means but heck, I gave it a shot. I went into the setup menu and changed a few things around. HOLY COW, BATMAN!! I have sweet looking letterbox playback on normal 4:3 NTSC monitors. Now I can digitize letterboxed footage into my "old" NLE system. Cool stuff!"



Cannibalize Your Canon L1 or L2

Bob Anderson notes:

"If you have a Canon L1 or L2 hanging around you can use that mic on the XL1. I like the L1 mic's flexibility...you can have it in a stereo mode from (90 to 180 degrees) or in zoom mode. The L1 mic will attach to the "shoe" on the XL1. It won't fit into some hardshell cases this way, but you can just slip the support bracket from mic into the XL1 mic holder."

Don Palomaki offers:

"Need RF output from the XL1 for some reason? Maybe to connect to your brother-in-law's "El Cheapo" TV receiver? While not a documented accessory for the XL1, the Canon RF Unit (model RU-E3A) works to provide a mono audio RF output on Channel 3 or 4. The unit connects to and draws DC power from the AV jacks on the back of the XL1. The RU-E3A was provided as an accessory for some of the Canon 8mm and Hi8 camcorders, including the A1 Digital. I suspect that the RU-100 that came with the L1/L2 will work also."



If You Build It, People Will Give You Money

Robert Knecht Schmidt asks:

"It's should be obvious by now that you really need to have your XL1 remote control with you at all times... why doesn't somebody make a replacement battery cover for the XL1's remote control that has an accessory foot on it? This would allow the remote control to attach to the camera's accessory shoe for easy transport."



Another Way to Get Stills

Robert also suggests...

"If you plan on doing stills with the XL1, instead of using the photo mode, just switch the camera into frame movie mode (you must not be in Green Box mode). Each frame will have full-field resolution but you'll have the additional option of picking which frame you like best out of hundreds. I printed up some great wallet shots of my girlfriend this way. One of them was snagged from a zoom-in, and the forest trail scenery framed around her blurs outward, leaving a sense of being drawn right into the center of the picture."



Feed Your Dog

Got any tips, tricks or cautionary warnings about this camera? Do your civic duty and share them with the world... give the Watchdog a bone.

Thrown together by Chris Hurd

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