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XL-2 - I'm must not be understanding it fully

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Jake Abramson
XL-2 - I'm must not be understanding it fully
on Jul 9, 2009 at 3:59:26 pm

A little background. I've been shooting video for the past 10 years mostly on full-size, professional level cameras (D-35, 5/637, DSR-400, etc). I have grown to love and appreciate what those cameras can produce and have been very successful with them.

Last year I switched TV channels to a place that shoots only on XL-2s. I've worked with the camera for a year and there's a few things I'm still not quite getting or using correctly. I'm turning here for maybe some help.

Most of the issues I think are a limitation of the camera, but when I look at reviews of the camera at various places, they all have glowing reviews, including people at the professional level. So I think I'm missing something. I might just be fighting how "automated" the camera is.

Normally I shoot everything in Tv mode, 4x3, full manual where possible.

Image Quality - I've always been disappointed here, especially for a 3 chip camera. Everything always looks a bit washed out (exposed correctly). I've played with the color settings, but it still lacks a bit. Suggestions here are appreciated

Viewfinder (standard color) - I have a heck of focusing on this thing with the view finder. I think it's the pixels in the viewfinder, but I'm not sure.

Viewfinder - TV safe line? What is the correct boundary to use since there's no marker. Is it top of picture, just below, other?

Audio Inputs - Is there anyway to have the front mic on one channel and the rear input on another? I'm used to this on all the professional cameras, nat sound channel 1, wireless mic channel 2, etc.

Audio Inputs - Line Level - Is this an option? Every time I've hooked in a line level input, it over modulates.

Audio Inputs - Independent automatic gain? Seems like if channel 1 input is very hot, it drops both channels together. Option?

Tv Mode - Camera Turn on. Why does it default to a shutter rate of somewhere in the 500 to 1000 range. How can i get it to stick to 60?

Zebra Mode - Sony cameras, which I'm used to, are set at about 70ire. This doesn't go that low?

Iris - Oh what I wouldn't do for an Iris ring...Clicking up and down is such a joy to do on the fly!

ND Filters - I feel like a 1/64 ND in full sun-light, at a 5.6, the camera loses lens clarity.

And lens...more of a rant, coming from a 5.6x12 with doubler, how I miss thee!

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Craig Alan
Re: XL-2 - I'm must not be understanding it fully
on Jul 18, 2009 at 5:57:42 am

My guess is you are not missing anything. You are used to cameras costing much more. The XL2 was ground breaking at its price point a while back. It competed primarily with the Sony pd170.

“The XL2 shoots 16:9, but it uses a trimmed-down portion of a 4:3 CCD to do it. … It does loose 25% of its CCD to make a 4:3 image.” (

That could be your problem right there. I could be wrong. I never shot with it 4x3.

It has a relatively soft look but a powerful stock lens at its price point.

The supplied mike is stereo. Thus if you record at 16 bit then it is not possible to record from it and the XLRs.

It does not have the ability to switch to line level on the XLR inputs.

I would just plug two different mikes into the XLRs. Or better still; use a mixer like the sound devices 302. The 302 can take a line level signal and then send you a mic level. Or get some XLR pads and go that route.

What made the XL2 desirable, in its day, was being able to shoot flattering 16:9 images and a powerful zoom for under $5000. Also for indie folk they could rent other lenses for a given shoot which few cameras at that price allowed for in its day. But once you added other lenses, the cost started getting high enough that it was now competing with much more expensive and better cameras.

You need to light it well in order to not get a washed out image. Once you do, the picture is very pleasing. To monitor it well, use an external monitor. If the focus drifts or is off even a little, the already soft image becomes unacceptable. As far as I know, the zebras start at 80 ire.

The key to using the XL2 is good lighting. Although that is true of all cameras, the XL2 is not an available light champ. I’d also experiment with 16:9 and see if you are happier with the image.

OSX 10.5.7; MAC Book PRO (EARLY 2008); Camcorders: Sony Z7U, Canon HV30, Sony vx2000/PD170, Canon xl2; Pana, Sony, and Canon consumer cams; FCP certified; write professionally for a variety of media; teach video production in L.A.

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