videography just keeps getting better.
many of you already know -- including those of you who have been
shooting with DV and those of you who have been following Videography's
coverage of DV products and productions (including my own "Doing
a Pro Job with 'Consumers' DV Camcorders," May, 1997)
-- DV tape formats (including the more universal mini-DV format,
and the proprietary formats, Sony's DV-CAM and Panasonic's DVC-Pro)
deliver image quality on a par with BetacamSP with cameras that
are a fraction of the cost.
the new category that I am defining as "DV cameras under
$5,000," to date, the most popular and perhaps the most powerful
performer has been Sony's VX-1000. In fact, until I got my hands
on Canon's new offering in this category, the XL1, I thought the
VX-1000 was destined to become the standard in this category.
But, in a digital age, things change quickly.
due to its remarkably innovative design complemented by Canon's
optics and accessible yet powerful implementation, the XL1 is
not only giving Sony and the other manufacturers competition;
but, in my opinion, it has clearly taken the lead. I make this
statement because the XL1 not only offers an exclusive set of
features including an interchangeable 16x optical zoom lens, 4
channels of audio, and a Frame Movie Mode (an option that combines
video fields into higher resolution frames); but Canon has assembled
these features (and more) into a powerful, fully-professional
camera package that pleases the eye not only with high-quality
images, but also with a hot, sleek (even sexy) design. For this
videographer, this means that the XL1 is now the one to beat.
unique DV designs now include three levels of originality. (See
Canon's DV web site at http://www.canondv.com/
for more details.) They have just announced a flat, pocket-sized
DV camcorder called the "ZR" that looks more like a
small digital still camera (due in April), but which shoots DV
videotape and (like all of Canon's DV cameras) includes a "firewire"
port. For this review, in addition to the XL1, Canon also gave
me the opportunity to check out their Optura DV camcorder which
is a one-chip unit that lists for $2,699 and looks more like an
conventional 35mm SLR film camera. Like virtually all DV cameras,
the Optura also shoots digital stills, but using Canon's expertise
in the film market, the Optura is the only DV camcorder that I
know of that includes a build-in mount for a flash attachment.
In fact, the top of the line, XL1, the three-chip professional
model (list price $4,699) that I will describe in detail below
also includes an flash mount option.
Optura offers two view-finder options. A relatively conventional
but tiltable 0.55-inch view-finder and a 2-inch color LCD. Like
the XL1, the Optura also offers variable "movie modes."
By combining the two video-fields into one frame in "Frame
Movie Mode" both cameras provide higher quality freeze frames
and image quality, albeit with slightly less fluid motion (i.e.
if you are panning, zooming quickly or shooting a fast moving
object the video motion is more like film than video). I liked
the Optura, but like most video professionals, I was immediately
more enamored by its "big brother," the XL1.
Sony took an early lead in this market, Canon has apparently used
the past year or two to design a more innovative product. An evolution
of Canon's popular high-end, Hi-8, L1 and L2 designs, the XL1
features the option to use interchangeable lens and is one of
the most attractive cameras I've ever seen. It's not only sleek
and good looking, but I especially like the accessibility of the
controls and the thoughtfulness of its details.
all, when it comes to usability in a camcorder, frequently its
the little things that count most. For example, I like the way
the batteries are mounted outside the camera (on the right side),
so that there's no door to open when you need to make a quick
battery change in the field. The tape housing is also straight
forward and seemingly self-contained, however you have to be careful
to close the tape transport first before closing the exterior
door. Otherwise, the tape transport will not engage.
of the controls and switches on the camera are unusually accessible
and clearly labeled. Another nice detail is the way that when
you have to resort to the in-viewfinder menu options, the controls
are conveniently arranged behind a curved, sliding panel that
surrounds the hand-sized, round power-exposure mode selector wheel.
I especially like useful extras like the viewfinder "Eye
Point" switch which lets you select "Near" or "Far"
depending on whether you have your eye on the viewfinder or want
to hold the camera away from your eye (for example, to hold the
camera over your head or at floor level.)
only is the 16X optical zoom the longest zoom lens in this category,
but I also found the zoom controls to be exceptionally smooth
including the flexibility to "creep" slowly or zoom
very quickly. I was also pleased to see the headphone output jack
mounted for easy accessibility right on the back of the handle,
and it comes complete with a playback level control (which is
also not available on the other camcorders in this category).
unusual power-exposure mode selector wheel (or dial) includes
a full selection of presets as well as a manual option. Custom
exposure controls include both a handy side-mounted dial for custom
Iris settings, and a separate round knob under the handle for
"AE Shift" which will add or subtract light from the
settings that are provided by the automatic exposure system.
only serious design limitation I found is that this is clearly
a right-handed camera. Unfortunately, lefties are not likely to
be comfortable with the XL1. On the other hand (pun intended),
even though I'm right-handed, I prefer to put my left eye on the
viewfinder; and this exception is easily accommodated with a simple
twist of the XL1's large professional style viewfinder.
me, as a video pro, another issue which has been raised by the
smaller, yet high-quality DV camcorders is their seemingly amateur
appearance. While this is strictly a subjective (and even irrational)
appearance or image issue, some clients might wonder about my
professionalism if I show up with a small consumer-sized camcorder.
I like the fact that, despite the extra size and weight, the XL1
has a very professional (even serious) look.
fact, this DV camcorder is sized more like a 16mm film camera
than a consumer camcorder. Bottom line, it looks radically different
than any camcorder I've ever seen. (Because of its large handle,
Videography editor Brian McKernan likes to call the XL1, "the
weed wacker." When I first saw it, I thought of it looked
like a small chain saw.)
also points out that the white, black and red color scheme also
makes it distinct from conventional camcorder designs while they
also use the XL1's large white surfaces to provide reflective
heat reduction under hot conditions.
any case, for so'me videographers, there will certainly be psychological
perks to the XL1s unusual style. Few video pros will mind showing
up with such a hot-looking piece of gear; however some may prefer
a less conspicuous appearance and the ease of portability that's
provided by smaller cameras.
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