Magazine article American Cinematographer

Canon XL H1

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Canon XL H1

Article excerpt

The XL H1 is Canon's first entry into the world of low-cost HD cameras. With an enormous amount of flexibility built into it, the XL H1 has already inspired other companies to step up with their own modifications and improvements, including some very intricate workflow refinements, as we discovered when we tested the camera and talked with others who had done similar experiments.

Like its standard-def predecessors, the XL1 and XL2, the XL H1 can be used with interchangeable XL-mount lenses, and it also accommodates most of the accessories that fit on previous XL cameras. However, the only Canon HD lens available at the moment is the one that comes with the camera, and there is not yet a cost-effective HD wide-angle adapter. Any third-party lens adapters that make it possible to use cine-style primes on the XL2 will also work on the XL H1.

The XL H1 can record to an internal HDV tape, and it can also output a raw uncompressed signal over an HD-SDI connection, meaning that the cameras signal can be recorded to any deck with an HD-SDI input, including an HDCam deck or a hard drive, thereby bypassing the HDV compression. The camera's [fraction one-third]" chip is 1440x1080 pixels, but when those are converted from HDVs rectangular pixels to HDs square pixels, that size expands to 1920x1080. Finally, the camera can shoot in something called 24F mode, in which the fields are extracted from an interlaced image and used to create a progressive frame - effectively a 24-fps format.

Tim Smith, technical marketing and sales training manager at Canon U.S.A., says that when the company introduced its standard-def XL cameras, it expected them to appeal chiefly to consumers and never imagined independent filmmakers would embrace them. Similarly, Smith thought the HD-SDI output on the XL H1 was a feature that would be most valuable in the broadcastTV market, especially for news programming. Once again, he was surprised by the indie community, which has already shown intense interest in the XL H1, largely because of the HD-SDI output.

Although the idea of sending out an uncompressed signal over HD-SDI is appealing, storing and editing that kind of footage can quickly become a logistical nightmare. We wanted to look at a way of working that would suit a production with limited resources, so we invited David Taylor of CineForm and Jeff Youel of Wafian to join us for the tests. Taylor and Youel have designed a workflow based on outputting digital video over the XL HVs HD-SDI connection so filmmakers can record, edit, do effects work, and output the final version of the project without ever having to work with proxies or do an online to recapture the source media at a higher resolution.

We began our XL H1 tests indoors, shooting our subject, Lee Perkins, under a skylight, then in tungsten light. We went outside to shoot in harsh sunlight, then shot exteriors at magic hour and after dark. We finished with a candlelight test. Throughout our tests, we tried to keep everything about the camera as simple and basic as possible. Our lens was the Canon HD Video 5.4-108mm L IS II zoom lens, and our settings were all factory defaults; at Youel's suggestion, we set our gain to -3dB, which he said was the equivalent to zero for the Canon. We recorded both to HDV tape and direct to disk. Later, we captured the HDV tape into Final Cut Pro in the Apple Intermediate codec, and Taylor also ingested the HDV material into his computer, converting it to the CineForm codec.

Even when the camera is running in 24F mode, the HD-SDI output is a 60i signal, with extra pulldown frames added to make the footage play properly on 60i monitors. But the CineForm/Wafian system removes the extra frames and interlacing on the fly, converting the footage to 24p. On capture, CineForm's software converts the camera's image from 1440x1080 to 1920x1080, its color sampling from 4:2:0 to 4:2:2, and its bit depth to 10-bit, creating an image that has greater resolution and better representation of color. …

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