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TOOLBOX: Canon’s XL H1 raises the HDV bar

To hdv or not to hdv? That is the question for many indie producers keen to break into hd without re-mortgaging their homes. Canon recently raised the hdv bar with the XL H1 - the first with 4:2:2 color sampling, interchangeable lenses and uncompressed hd sdi output from the camera head.
April 1, 2006

To HDV or not to HDV? That is the question for many indie producers keen to break into HD without re-mortgaging their homes. Canon recently raised the HDV bar with the XL H1 – the first with 4:2:2 color sampling, interchangeable lenses and uncompressed hd sdi output from the camera head.

The XL H1 uses three 16:9 CCDs, with a resolution of 1440 x 1080 pixels. It records 1080i natively, and 24p and 30p (segmented frame). With optional software, it can also record 50i and 25p (PAL), in HD and SD. It can also output uncompressed (8gb) HD direct from the camera head via HD SDI for recording to any HD format, or as 2K, or 4K data. Its ‘jackpack’ includes genlock, plus time code in/out for multi-camera shoots, and multiple ‘looks’ can be stored in memory. For the elusive ‘film look,’ Canon provides preset options in the color matrix and gamma curves.

The XL H1 comes with a versatile 20X HD lens, with Canon’s Super Range Optical Image Stabilization System, vital at full telephoto when it’s equivalent to a 770mm lens on a 35mm SLR.

Hands on
Anyone familiar with Canon’s XL2 DV camera will experience the XL H1 as déjà vu, but even novices can transition quickly. Many thoughtfully placed external controls make it fast and easy to adjust audio, change white balance, frame rates, and even switch from 4:3 to 16:9 SD to HD. This makes it convenient to grab both 4:3 SD and 16:9 HD imagery of wildlife, weather and other subjects for stock footage.

Using the assignable keys, I ‘externalized’ the Cine 1 and Cine 2 gamma and color matrix settings. I preferred Cine 2 for a richer, convincing film look, especially at 24p, but I only scratched the surface in my limited trials.

I also tried Canon’s non-HD 1.6 XL extender. Despite the non-HD compatible lens warnings displayed, I encountered no blatant chromatic nor other aberrations when using the 1.6X. In fact, the decreased depth of field and slight image softening enhanced the film look while delivering telephoto-equivalent to a 1,200mm SLR lens. My biggest beef was keeping the adjustable viewfinder locked down when moving about.

Bottom line: the XL H1 delivers plenty of bang for US$10,000. The big question is: which of the broadcast gatekeepers will greenlight it for HD acquisition?

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