It was over a year ago that Mike Curtis, Chris Hurd, and Adam Wilt organized the Texas HD Shootout that pitted the JVC GY-HD100, Panasonic AG-HVX200, Sony HVR-Z1 and Canon HL X1 against each other in a battle for ultimate supremacy. Of course each camera had its own strengths and weaknesses, so there was no clear winner, but from all the data collected on the Big Four I decided that Canon’s XL H1 was the most powerful and flexible option for the widest number of uses. Well, for my uses anyway, which are pretty wide.
And now that I’ve been using XL H1 cameras for several months on several different types of projects, I thought I’d put together a review on its many features and what I feel are its strengths and weaknesses in production. I’ve been using Canon’s XL cameras for years, and from the XL1 to the XL1s, I never liked them much. Sony’s DSR-300 and 500 were DV cameras that offered much better control and imaging. The XL2, however, was much closer to being a usable camera, and adopted a number of pro features.
Now, with the XL H1, Canon has created something that feels and performs like a real professional camera. Also, it’s black, so it even looks professional.
The Camera Body
The chainsaw shape of the XL cameras has taken some getting used to. The XL1 was a bit too small to be comfortably used as a shoulder camera, but the XL2 worked much better. With a professional v-lock battery and two wireless receivers on the back, it balanced like a proper ENG camera should. The XL H1 is nearly identical in size and shape to the XL2, so all the cases and accessories are usable, but it is considerably heavier. Also some of the controls for newer functions have been moved around a bit, and it might be my imagination, but everything seems more ergonomic and more accessible than on the XL2.
Camera wobbles are much more noticeable in HD than on SD, so it is more vital the camera be held steady. This is another area where JVC and Canon cameras beat their handheld counterparts from Panasonic and Sony. To get the same motion control and stability that you have with a larger, longer, shoulder-mountable camera, handhelds need accessories and attachments. After years of also using very bulky broadcast cameras and looking down on anything less, I never thought I’d be defending a Canon camcorder’s size and stability as superior to other cameras, but in its price range, the XL H1 is one of the most solid and controllable form factors available.