Randall Dark has been a pioneering high-definition video producer for more than 20 years. During that time Dark and his companies have been involved in more than 2,000 HD productions, including theatrical features, documentaries, commercials, concerts, Broadway plays, corporate presentations, and live digital cinema events. As someone who has used practically every high-end HD camera system made during the past two decades, Dark reports that he recently became a user of the XL H1S HD Camcorder from Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging.
“In the early years, a complete HD camera system cost almost $1 million,” Dark recalled. “Prices have declined greatly since then, but when I heard what people were saying about the HD capabilities of the low-cost Canon XL H1S, I assumed that the camera must be for people who didn’t need high-end image quality. I decided to test one and see for myself. I had three questions about the Canon XL H1S: Is the image quality any good? Can the video be intercut with footage from the other HD cameras I’m working with? Is there a market for such a camera? To be honest I was surprised that my answers were Yes, Yes, and Yes. I was blown away by the price-point, quality, and ease-of-use of the XL H1S.”
“I have a history with Canon,” Dark continued regarding the XL H1S. “I love Canon lenses, which I still use in the high-end HD world. Half the reason why images look good is because of the glass that’s in front of the sensors. Lenses are unbelievably important, and Canon makes incredible lenses. ”
Leveraging Canon’s expertise as a worldwide leader in optics, the XL H1S features a Genuine Canon 20x HD Video Zoom Lens equipped with Canon’s SuperRange Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) system, three independent manual adjustment rings (focus, zoom and iris), and Canon’s XL lens mount. This mount lets users interchange lenses (such as Canon’s optional 6x wide-angle lens, Canon EF photographic lenses, and many other lenses for specialized production needs). The XL H1S captures brilliant HD image quality via its three 1/3-inch 1.67 Megapixel CCD image sensors, and Canon’s proprietary DIGIC DVII HD Image Processor. The XL H1S shoots true 1080p 16:9 HD video at 60i, 30F, 24F, or 30i 4:3 SD video. An optional upgrade adds 50i and 25F. The XL H1S also provides Total Image Control, enabling users to choose a wide array of customized image and color settings. Another special feature of the XL H1S are four BNC connectors for: HD-SDI (SMPTE 299M)/SD-SDI (SMPTE272M) output with embedded audio and time code; SMPTE Time Code input and output; and Genlock output for multi-camera shoots. The suggested retail price of the Canon XL H1S is $8,999.
A User’s Perspective
“The Canon XL H1S is very well-designed,” Dark stated. “When you’re ‘running and gunning,’ shooting a movie or documentary, you need the confidence to know that even with all the camera’s default settings, when you press that little red button you’re going to be able to capture HD imagery the way you’re used to doing it – and not worry.”
“The manipulation of light is the difference between a lot of good and bad images,” Dark elaborates. “You’ve got to know what your light levels are, you’ve got to know your focal lengths; that’s what separates good video from great video. The XL H1S helps someone like myself who understands the physics of imaging, but it also enables less-experienced shooters to go out and create great content. The design of the XL H1S works for me because it’s all there. You buy the camera, you’ve got the lens, you’ve got XLR’s for recording very good audio, you’ve got outputs for whatever editing system you’re using, and a lot of other nice features.”
“The ease with which you can access all of the custom functionalities of the camera is excellent,” Dark added regarding the Power Dial on the XL H1S that enables users to access the camera’s Total Image Control.
XL H1S Production Assignments
Impressed by the HD image quality and ease-of-use of the Canon XL H1S HD camcorder, Dark put it to use on a range of projects. His first was a national public service commercial featuring a major country music star.
“We were going to shoot her next to her statue outside a local city hall,” Dark explained. “I was confident the XL H1S could handle the job in terms of the light and resolution required. Then the weather got bad and we had to shoot it inside a studio as a three-level green-screen composite to get the shot we originally planned on. We did a quick test and I was pleased with the result. That gave us the full confidence that the Canon XL H1S could handle the layering. We shot the video and the client was very happy.”
Dark’s next project was to shoot a behind-the-scenes video on the making of a new CD by another famous musician. “I chose the Canon XL H1S because we were in a studio full of top country musicians and we needed to work in very tight quarters and be as invisible as possible,” he revealed. “I didn’t want to distract these musicians with lights, cameras, and a crew. We had to be unobtrusive. The XL H1S has very good low-light capabilities. I didn’t have to bring extra lights into the studio. The XL H1S is so small and easy to hand-hold that I could get into corners, and basically be at the feet of these musicians, shooting them without getting in the way. For that particular use, the XL H1S was the perfect choice.”
“Another thing I’m doing with my XL H1S is creating stock footage,” Dark said of the third project he’s undertaken. “Stock footage is a worldwide industry. Over the past 20 years, I’ve been shooting stock exclusively in HD as a way to amortize my investment in high-end cameras. The company I’m working with recently started a new division to market HDV-originated footage. I wasn’t sure there would be a market for that, but I was wrong. There’s a huge market for it. Shooting stock footage with your HDV camera is a good way to create an additional revenue stream.”
“A fourth assignment I’ll be using my Canon XL H1S on is for a documentary called China’s Wild Wild West. We are getting unprecedented access to travel throughout China to shoot this project. I’m so confident that the Canon XL H1S can go anywhere in the world in extreme temperatures, that we are going to use it to shoot the behind-the-scenes ‘Making Of’ documentary on the project. The ease of use, flexibility, and – most important – affordability of the XL H1S means it won’t cost us much to do this. This camera is ideal for it.”
The Advantages of Tape
As a veteran of 20-plus years of HD technology evolution, Dark has a special perspective on recording media. The Canon XL H1S records to the industry’s most affordable digital video recording media: HDV tape. The camera can also capture still images in full HD to a memory card. In this age of expanding media options, Dark believes that tape and tapeless media should complement one another.
“We are in a transitional period with regard to recording media,” Dark said. “I’ve spent 23 years shooting high definition and recording it to tape, and I can honestly say I have never had a problem with losing content on tape. I have, on occasion, risked my life to get images, and I’m not afraid to do that. What I am afraid of is losing content due to media failure. I love the fact that the Canon XL H1S enables me to record to tape, which I can then transfer to my preferred brand of hard drives. I’m confident in those hard drives, and I also like having tape as a back-up. It’s prudent to always protect your assets. There’s a great opportunity today to do things cost-effectively by using both tape and hard drives if you understand how to use them efficiently together. I shoot with my XL H1S, transfer that tape footage to hard drives, and it makes my workflow unbelievably easy.”
“I love that the Canon XL H1S enables an HD veteran to make beautiful pictures, and yet it also does the same for novice users as well,” Dark concluded. “I think of the cameras I use as being the tools in my tool belt; you add the ones you need. The XL H1S is one I have added.”
About Canon U.S.A., Inc.
Canon U.S.A., Inc., is a leading provider of consumer, business-to-business, and industrial digital imaging solutions. Its parent company, Canon Inc. (NYSE:CAJ), a top patent holder of technology, ranked fourth overall in the U.S. in 2009†, with global revenues of US $35 billion, is listed as number four in the computer industry on Fortune Magazine’s World’s Most Admired Companies 2009 list, and is on the 2009 BusinessWeek list of “100 Best Global Brands.” Canon U.S.A. is committed to the highest levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty, providing 100 percent U.S.-based consumer service and support for all of the products it distributes. At Canon, we care because caring is essential to living together in harmony. Founded upon a corporate philosophy of Kyosei – “all people, regardless of race, religion or culture, harmoniously living and working together into the future” – Canon U.S.A. supports a number of social, youth, educational and other programs, including environmental and recycling initiatives. Additional information about these programs can be found at
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