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ADM Productions‘ John Dunn Shoots The Watchmaker with the Canon XL H1

As an experienced DP (director of photography), John Dunn has used practically every film and video format available to shoot everything from TV commercials to high-end corporate productions during the past 20 years. Recently, however, Dunn had the opportunity to use Canon‘s new XL H1 HDV camcorder, which he describes as “phenomenal.” For Dunn, who works for ADM Productions, a full-service corporate communications facility in Port Washington NY, the XL H1 is nothing less than the camera of the future.

“We were hired to produce a marketing video for Canon, so we basically wanted to shoot the piece with the XL H1 to show what it can do,” Dunn explained. “We created a 24-frame HD piece called The Watchmaker, which was a behind-the-scenes look at an imaginary documentary. We used two XL H1 cameras, one to shoot the watchmaker himself and one to document the film crew shooting him. If I hadn‘t been involved in the project I never would have believed that this film was shot digitally with a camera that cost less than $10,000. The quality of the image is phenomenal and the price point of the camera is ridiculously low for the features it provides.”

Shooting Styles

Filmed on location in rural Narrowsburg NY and at ADM‘s sound stages near New York City, The Watchmaker serves as a visual showcase for the XL H1‘s advanced image-making capabilities. Starting off with early-morning scenes of the watchmaker bicycling to work along country roads, the piece progresses to show detailed macro photography of disassembled timepieces being repaired.

“We pretty much put the two XL H1‘s through the wringer,” Dunn confided. “We did everything with them--from hand-held outdoor beauty shots of the watchmaker riding down hills and across bridges to macro table-top photography--and the XL H1 cameras handled it all perfectly. The image quality held together beautifully. There were no artifacts in anything that we shot and everything looked very clean.

“While the director was shooting his portion of The Watchmaker in cinematic style, I shot behind-the-scenes in documentary style. And the XL H1 worked perfectly for that because it‘s so lightweight. I shot hand-held in the back of camera trucks, I hung out of car sun-roofs; you just pick up the camera and go. Getting great outdoor beauty shots of the watchmaker riding his bike was as simple as taking the XL H1 out and shooting. In those morning road shots there were dramatic lighting patches with shafts of sunlight alternating with shaded areas as the bike and camera car drove past trees. We were able to just hang the camera out the window and go from extremely blown-out areas to perfectly exposed areas, which made a nice transition.

“We used the stock lens right out of the box, and it worked fine,” Dunn added. “We had the XL H1 on dollies, and on a camera car with a jib arm in different configurations and it worked perfectly. The great thing about using the XL H1 on the jib arm was that it held focus in a very large range. We even used the auto focus on it for some of the jib moves and that worked perfectly too. The XL H1 is also great on power consumption. One big battery lasted half the day. We carried a high def monitor with us, but it wasn‘t really necessary with the XL H1‘s great color viewfinder.”

Features and Versatility

Achieving a cinematic look was essential to the visual esthetic of The Watchmaker, and Dunn reported that the feature set of the XL H1 made it all possible. “Every single aspect of the film was shot completely clean, without filtration, with the two identical cameras,” he said. “The XL H1 has many features that were perfect for all the conditions we shot in.

“One of features I liked the best was the ability in white balance to dial-in the Kelvin color temperature,” Dunn noted. “This enabled us to match both cameras--color-wise--perfectly. We had shot outdoors in a range of white, from early morning to about one o‘clock in the afternoon, but the time frame that we wanted to capture was all early morning. So we were able to change the color temperature in the camera to actually ‘warm-up‘ the light as the day progressed. That way, it looked like that same golden morning-light, all shot within a half-hour time frame, as far as continuity.

“Adjusting the Kelvin dial also enabled us to get some very rich colors,” Dunn stated. “We made the interiors look really warm, with sunlight coming through the window. We were able to make scenes that looked like an Edward Hopper painting.

“SMPTE time code is another great feature of the XL H1. It worked out perfectly between the two cameras for the editors as far as taking notes and logging shots. We had a script boy on the set, so we were able to break down each shot and it made the editor‘s life a lot easier.

“Yet another important feature was the HD/SDI (High Definition/Serial Digital Interface) output, which means that one cable can handle everything. You can use that one cable to go into a monitor to see the XL H1‘s true 1080i images, or you can go out to a deck and record in any format you want for whatever your editor needs.

“The key point about the Canon XL H1 is that it‘s very versatile,” Dunn emphasized. “A lot of DP‘s do different jobs for different clients that involve different formats, but with the XL H1 you only need one camera. I recently went from shooting a corporate assignment in standard-definition video in Detroit to an HD video project on the following day in California. I used the XL H1 for both; it‘s seamless and has all the features needed to shoot in SD or HD. When you can skip from format to format and still use the same camera seamlessly, that‘s a big advantage. That‘s why I think the XL H1 has a great future.”