From the depths of Indonesia‘s Manokwari Bay to a blast furnace in a Pennsylvania steel mill, from the strife-torn Middle East to the soundstages of Hollywood, Canon‘s affordable digital high definition camcorders are earning high praise from a wide variety of professional users for their superb picture quality, ease of use, and versatile feature set.
“No one owner/operator can afford to have every format and piece of equipment that might be requested, but the Canon XL H1 goes a long way in helping you meet your needs with just one camera,” declared James Mathers, a Los Angeles-based director of photography experienced in using both film and digital video cameras. “You can record HD-SDI, 1080i, 24 frame, 30 frame, and 60i. You can shoot in 16:9 or 4:3. You can also record in HDV and down-convert it right out of the camera as standard DV. This is helpful when you want the extra archival value of shooting in HD, even though you may not need HD at the moment.”
Tasked with an underwater videography assignment at a remote part of Indonesia, Mathers chose the Canon XL H1 for its superb HD image performance and compact size, which was essential for shooting at a location accessible only by small aircraft. The one-hour length of the HDV tape cassette inside the XL H1 was another advantage for shooting underwater, Mathers noted, stating: “It‘s better if you don‘t have to open up an underwater camera housing any more than necessary. This is because each time you open a housing--no matter what brand or camera may be inside--there‘s always a risk that it will not be properly re-sealed. The XL H1‘s one-hour HDV cassette gives you double the time between reloads compared to other digital formats, and about 12 times the duration you would get from a 400 foot roll of 35mm film.”
Very satisfied with the underwater footage captured with his XL H1, Mathers concluded, “Every job has a toolset that is right for it, but with so much versatility, the XL H1 is right for many of the jobs that I encounter.”
Far from the tropical waters of Indonesia, Kevin Martorana, President of Take One Productions in Lancaster PA, faced a different kind of production challenge. It required shooting inside a steel mill, rife with intense heat, grit and grime, and difficult--if not potentially spectacular--high chroma imagery of 2900-degree (F) molten steel contrasted with equally challenging black-blacks. Not only were these conditions enough to test the imaging capabilities of the most advanced digital video cameras on the market, the footage had to be shot in HD as well.
Reviewing available camcorders that could capture HD images amid such challenging conditions, Martorana saw Canon‘s XL H1 at an industry trade show and was greatly impressed. “Looking at an HDV camcorder was something we never imagined,” he recalled, but adds that he “saw things that you‘d expect from a camera three times the cost. We‘ve shot with the highest quality cameras on the market, but when playing back the footage we got from the XL H1 [output from its HD SDI connector to a 100 Mbps broadcast record deck], I have to tell you: We stuck our noses to the monitor and said ‘What is this?‘ As far as we could tell, the XL H1 must be a $100,000 camcorder!”
Enjoying the peace of mind to be had in using an under-$10,000 camcorder in the hazardous environment of a steel mill, Martorana found that his XL H1 met the challenge of shooting intensely bright images of molten metal against dark, black backgrounds. “The reduced size and weight of the XL H1 allows us to get shots we couldn‘t get before with larger cameras, yet we‘re not compromising resolution,” he said. “We paid for the XL H1 on that one job. For its price point, the Canon XL H1 is truly amazing.”
Risk was also a factor for Jeffrey Kramer, Director of Video Production for Kramer Communications, in Bowie MD, when he traveled to Amman, Jordan to document the training of recruits for the Iraqi Police Force at the International Police Training Center. Kramer chose the Canon XH A1 HD camcorder to document the six-week program.
“I didn‘t want an expensive camera,” Kramer explained, “and I also needed something that is less intrusive, something I could shoot with that would not draw a lot of attention.” Kramer found what he needed in the Canon XH A1 HD camcorder, which measures only 13.8 inches long by 7.4 inches high, and can shoot true 1080 HD video at 60i, 30F, or 24F frame rates. “You don‘t find that in a lot of other cameras in this price range,” he explains. “This camera has great versatility.”
Among the features of the XH A1 Kramer liked best were its autofocus capabilities, and he explained how his work as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician back home provided him with valuable practice in advance of his trip, as he often shoots video before and during fire and emergency calls. “When we‘re rolling into the scene, I want to do some initial shots, and then go into my assignment. I don‘t have time to deal with focusing, and many times we‘re hitting bumps and curves at high speeds. The XH A1 HD Camcorder‘s image stabilizer feature is great.”
“Everyone needs to have a better understanding of one another,” Kramer says of the documentary he shot with his XH A1, titled The Price of Freedom. “We need to understand the hopes and aspirations of these people, as opposed to being distracted by political elements. I want to use my XH A1 HD camcorder to let the people tell their stories, so we can learn from them and get a personal look at their lives today.”
Storytelling is, of course, the central task of Hollywood movie studios, and even there Canon‘s HD camcorders have found favor. Director of photography Scott Billups, a proponent of using the latest technology for moviemaking, recently tested how well the image quality of the XL H1 held up when transferred to the movie industry‘s trusted imaging format, 35mm film. Would it be possible to use such a low-cost camera to shoot footage for eventual display on movie screens? According to Billups, the answer is yes. “I recently did a film-out test of images captured using Canon‘s XL H1 HDV camcorder,” Billups revealed, “and what it can do is absolutely mind-boggling.”
“In the first test we shot using the Canon XL H1 with its supplied HD lens attached,” Billups explained. “Then we shot the same test using a couple of other lenses and then printed it to film. The supplied Canon HD lens on the XL H1 blew the other lenses away. We than shot a second test with the Canon XL H1 side-by-side against a much more expensive digital cinematography camera. With its densely packed, true 1080 16:9 chip set, real genlock input, and timecode, it‘s now the camera everyone in town wants to see. The test was screened for a packed house that included people from major motion-picture industry standards groups. It was just amazing.” Billups has since used the Canon XL H1 as the second-unit camera on a major theatrical feature, its footage intercut with that of a much more expensive digital cinematography camera. The end result is superb image quality that entertains audiences by conveying an engaging, well-directed cinema story enhanced by the talents of leading actors.
Whether for digital cinematography, challenging documentary assignments, or other motion-imaging applications, a wide variety of professionals are continuing to choose Canon‘s digital HD camcorders as an affordable, high-performance, and versatile means of getting the job done.