Indiana Public Broadcaster Shoots With Canon’s XL H1 HD Camcorder

“We keep a pretty busy production schedule,” states Clayton Taylor, Vice President of Production at Indianapolis Public Television station WFYI. “We’re rolling out a major documentary just about every month this year. These things have been a long time in the making.

“We’re shooting a lot of programs involving arts and cultural organizations in the city,” Taylor elaborates. “We finished up a really nice one-hour documentary about the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, which is the largest of its kind in the country. We have a documentary coming up this year about Indiana’s role in the Civil War, and another about Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize-winning World War II journalist, who was from Indiana. We shot a piece about the humanitarian mission to Morocco by an organization in town called Ambassadors for Children. And we did a nature/social documentary about Indiana’s Wabash River, which is the largest undammed river in the country. We also have projects underway that involve partnerships with the Indiana Humanities Council that examine the future of our state and how it’s adapting to the new global economy.”

This robust production pipeline, Taylor affirms, is essential to WFYI’s role in serving its viewers as a Public Television station. “We have defined our mission,” he notes. “As we have done our strategic planning, part of it is to do a substantial increase in locally produced programs. Part of that is the recognition that to distinguish ourselves from a cable network or a national program service, we need to maintain our local relevance. Of course, being a public television station, we have to be mindful of budgets, but we’ve been able to accommodate most of these different productions with our existing complement of cameras.”

The cameras Taylor refers to include the new generation of affordable digital models such as the Canon XL2 camcorder. When Sam Orr, who Taylor describes as “a singularly gifted nature documentary producer and videographer we have established a relationship with,” proposed a new documentary based on the acclaimed book The Natural Heritage of Indiana, Taylor felt that it was a project that could only be shot in HDTV.

“We’re doing most of our major production now in widescreen, in the 16:9 format, which is a natural style of presentation,” Taylor states. “I became very intrigued with the concept of some of the new breed of HDV cameras that are out there. Such a camera could allow us to perhaps build into the production budget the ability to acquire a new piece of gear, dedicate it to a single project for the duration of time that is needed, and come back with what we hope will be the requisite level of picture quality for the subject matter.

“As I was shopping around, I saw that the Canon XL H1 HD Camcorder was just being introduced,” Taylor continues. “My thought was I wanted to do justice to the project with a camera that delivered a level of quality beyond the capability of Mini-DV. I also didn’t want to strain our resources. We’ve had a positive experience with the XL2, and so we wanted to at least take the XL H1 out for a ‘test drive,’ which we did. We had a loaner camera, and XL H1 HD Camcorder met the different specifications for all of the different videographers who got their hands on it. So we picked it up, and it’s in the field with Sam right now.

“I just had a chance to see some of his rushes from some of the things he’s been shooting, and the picture quality he’s getting with the XL H1 is pretty extraordinary. Sam is traveling all over the state to capture the wildlife—the flora, the fauna—at its various stages, and sometimes in fairly challenging conditions. The XL H1 video that I’ve seen thus far is very crystal-clear, with a lot of depth of color and texture.”

“I have been using the Canon XL H1 HD Camcorder for a few months and overall I am very pleased with it,” Orr notes. “A primary reason that I recommended its acquisition was the 20x built-in zoom, as well as the Canon EF 1.6 extender available for the XL H1, creating the equivalent of a +30x zoom, which is significantly higher than the comparable HDV cameras, and necessary for wildlife work. The lens is robust and, for the price, an excellent value as well.

“In addition, the other HDV and smaller HD alternatives each had their own issues,” Orr says of the 8.3 lb. XL H1. “I am a nature documentary filmmaker and often times have to make do with little or no crew. Larger-format cameras are too bulky to carry and set up easily. Some of the storage options for other HDV cameras are too expensive and impractical for non-scripted programs that can easily generate hundreds of hours of footage. The Canon XL H1 was really the only current option for my needs: a high-quality lens with good zoom capability on a lightweight camera body, with inexpensive, high-def media acquisition.”

“Right now we’re still just exploring all of its potential,” Taylor says of WFYI’s XL H1 experience. “Ours was the type of situation in which we had to hit the ground running, and get the camera out of the box and start capturing images of Spring. The explosion of life that takes place in Indiana during that time of the year wasn’t something that would wait for us to capture it. Out of the box, we’re getting really good imagery with the XL H1, and I think we’re still exploring the additional layers of depth that the camera has.”

Among those additional layers is the Canon XL H1’s Professional Jack Pack, which includes a genlock input, a SMPTE time code input and output, and an HD SDI and SD SDI output for uncompressed digital HD production.

“Having that uncompressed output could be very important to how these cameras may factor into a number of production strategies, both in the field and in the studio, as we get into additional degrees of HD production down the road,” Taylor observes. “We’re going to be very curious to see how we can make the most of that. In fact, I’m very intrigued at the possibilities of seeing how this XL H1 HD Camcorder may fit into a broader strategy. The XL H1 helped us with a very time-specific project, but also it’s hopefully opening our eyes to the possibilities of other acquisitions that would allow us to continue an accelerated pace of production while also accommodating our equipment and technical needs along the line and keeping the bar quite high in terms of the quality. The more that we can extract high quality out of this price-range camera, the more feasible the continuing expansion and pace of local production becomes.

“So yeah, who wouldn’t be happy to have a high-quality camera that they can get for less than $10,000?” Taylor concludes. “We’ve bought one so far, and right now it gives us the capability to do what we need. As we assess how this is working, it may not be our last XL H1 camera.”