Equipment: Canon XL-H1 arrives

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On Friday, UPS had a large box for me - the Canon XL-H1 that I have had on back-order from B&H for the past month finally arrived! It's arriving just on the nick of time, I'm leaving Tuesday for a 3-week field trip to Japan. I was just about to cancel with B&H when they told me that they had shipped. I don't usually like taking untested equipment to the field, so I'm bringing along my Sony HDR-HC1 as a backup and second camera.

Judging from the serial number, I think I have one of the first 100 units in the United States. Here are some of my notes after using the camera for the last 24 hours. Feel free to post questions and I'll try to respond as best that I can (it may be delayed since I'll be in the field starting from Tuesday).

Read for further comments on the camera and its use.

B&H had double-boxed the camera, so it arrived in pristine condition. It's a rather plain box, but very large. You could fit about 20 Sony HDR-HC1 boxes in the same space as the XL-H1. The box has three layers. The first layer is the camera and EVF finder; the second layer is the lens and hood. accessories.

The third layer is the remote control, microphone, battery, battery charger, and other misc. Every component of the camera appears to have been updated from the XL-2.

The EVF has been redesigned from the XL2. It's larger - 2.5" compared to 2". I still think it is inadequate for critical focusing, however there are two focusing aids: Peaking (increased contrast when focus is achieved) and a 2x magnification mode.

The standard 20X lens has also been substantially redesigned. Unfortunately, focus and zoom are still electronic servos rather than directly controlled. And the sensor of the XL-H1 is still a tiny 1/3" CCD rather than a larger 1/2". I wish Canon had taken the opportunity in redesigning the camera to go up to a larger sensor size. This would give us more flexibility in depth-of-field as well as improving sensor performance in low-light.

Autofocus is slow in low-light.

All of the controls are largely the same as the XL-2.

One thing that annoys me is that you still can't configure the Front Mic as the Left Channel and one of the rear XLR jacks as the Right Channel (for example, for a wireless mike). This would be great for quick and easy interviews -- using the shotgun for general sound and the wireless lav for the main subject.

Two and four channel sound is available in HDV mode, however the bit rate is 384 kbps regardless of the number of channels. So for stereo, you have 192 kbps for each channels and for four channel sound you have 96 kbps for each channel. If you've heard 192 kbps MP3s, you know that it's not quite the pure PCM sound that the DV standard gave us. I haven't played with the XL-H1 enough to tell if this will be a problem.

There's a new selector for HDV, DV 16:9, and DV 4:3.

Frame rates are indicated as: I, F1, and F2. I'm not sure why Canon didn't label them properly as 60i, 30F, and 24F. You apparently can upgrade to have 50i, I'm not sure whether this will mean you have to lose one of the options since there are no unmarked detents on the selector.

The right hand side of the camera is also largely like the XL-2 except for some extra jacks.

The battery port is the same size as the XL series but the battery they give you is slightly more capacious.

The camera is a bit heavier than the XL-2. It feels like it's made of solid magnesium. Actually, looking at the specs, the camera body itself is only 20 grams heavier than the older model, but the new lens is considerably heftier -- 200 grams more.

This is the rear end of the new 20X lens.

OK, I'm very upset. Well, slightly. Apple's iMovie HD 5.02 doesn't support either 24F or 30F (1080). I was goofing around today and tried to import the data into iMovie (which is what I have loaded on my PowerBook since Final Cut is too heavy for it), but iMovie would only import the sound and no video in 30F and unsynchronized sound and stuttering video in 24F. Importing 60i video worked beautifully.

Until I realized that iMovie was incompatible, my heart was fluttering, thinking the XL-H1 was broken.

I have Final Cut Express HD in my office, I'll load that in on Monday and give it a run, but I don't have high hopes if it's using the same intermediate codec as iMovie. I checked Apple's website and none of the three applications (iMovie HD, Final Cut Express HD, Final Cut Pro HD) list the Canon XL-H1 yet.

If it's true that I have one of the first 100 units in the USA, then it may be a few weeks until Apple gets its act together and supports 24F/30F. It's a shame since I wanted to mix and burn some DVDs while in the field.

Technical Details

Camera Name
Canon, Inc.
Place of Manufacture
Date of Manufacture
2004.8 2005.12
Video Recording System

Two rotating heads, helical scan azimuth recording

DV System: (consumer digital VCR SD standard) digital component recording

HDV System: HDV 1080i
Audio Recording System

DV: PCM digital recording, 16 bit (48kHz/2 channel synchronous)
or 12 bit (32khz/4channel synchronoous)

HDV System: MPEG-1 Layer Audio Layer II
Sampling Freq: 48kHz
Bit rate: 384kbps/2 channels synchronous
Bit rate: 384kbps/4 channels synchronous

Sensor Type

Three 1/3" CCDs
680,000 pixels per CCD
4:3 native format

Progressive scan

Three 1/3" CCDs
1.67 megapixels per CCD
16:9 native format
Progressive scan

Sensor Sensitivity

60i (1/60 shutter): 5.5 lux
30P (1/30 shutter): 6.5 lux
24P (1/48 shutter): 10 lux

60i (1/60 shutter): 7 lux
30P (1/30 shutter): 4 lux
24P (1/48 shutter): 6 lux


2.0" TFT Color LCD
200,000 pixels

2.4" TFT Color LCD
215,000 pixels

Lens Mount

Canon XL mount

Standard Lens
20x XL 5.4-108mm L IS
20x XL 5.4-108mm L IS II

Stereo Electric Condenser Microphone

High-performance MS Stereo Electric Condenser Microphone
Accessory Shoe

Intelligent hot shoe

Tape Format
MiniDV cassettes
DV SP Mode: 0.74 ips (18.81mm/sec)
DV LP Mode: 0.49 ips (12.56mm/sec)
HDV Mode: 0.74 ips (18.81mm/sec)
Memory Card
SD Memory
Battery type

XL Battery Pack

7.2v DC XL Battery Pack
7.1 watt power consumption (w/ 20x lens)
7.4v DC XL Battery Pack
Dimensions and weight

225 x 220 x 496mm
2410g (w/o battery or lens)
3545g (fully loaded)

226 x 220 x 496mm
2435 (w/o battery or lens)
3750g (fully loaded)
Note: Using the text or images on this site in an ebay auction without permission is a violation of your ebay Terms of Service. I will report you to ebay if I discover such a violation taking place.



The XL2 is native 16x9.

I am very interested in information about the image quality of XL-H1 and differences between XL-H1 and Sony HDV cameras eg. HDR-HC1 which you have.
I think to change my old VX-2000 to XL-H1 (as the prime camcorder) but I need also the smaller one unit for motorcycle trips video. So as the second one camcorder I think about the HDR-HC1 or A1.
So the first idea is Canon HL-H1 + Sony HDR-HC1 (A1) or the second idea is Sony HVR-Z1E + HDR-HC1 (A1).
To chose I need to know how good is Canon XL-H1...
Best regards from Poland,

The Sony HDR-HC1 has very good image quality when it has plenty of light and not a lot of motion (panning, etc.). It's the smallest HDV camcorder on the market and makes a fine second unit. Where it fails is its lack of XLR inputs, very poor low-light performance, and slow focusing. But it's designed as a consumer camcorder, so we should give it a break.

One thing to think about if you buy two Sony units is to make sure they use the same battery size (Infolithium Ls), that way you can share the same charger. It's a pain to have two different sizes!


I was wondering. Since the H1 is the first of the 24fps cameras that also shoots High-Def 1080i and records it onto a mini-DV cassette, is there a need (when recording in HD) to downconvert the data before importing the footage and audio with a Mac? I have heard that some Mac's can do it if they are powerful enough. Any and all help on the subject would be greatly appreciated.

The bitrate of 1080i HDV is the same as DV (25 Mbits/sec) so any computer that can handle DV over Firewire without losing frames can handle HDV. With iMovie and Final Cut Pro Express, the computer first saves the raw data to a buffer, then converts it using the Apple Intermediate Codec. With Final Cut Pro, it can handle the raw data directly.

Note that only FCP is compatible with 1080i 30F/24F modes....

So I got the Canon XL-2 when it first came out and before the hype of HDV. I almost feel as if I made a mistake, what are your thoughts on the future of this camera and if I should try to sell it for an H1? My primary use is documentary and short films. Any thoughts?

Thomas -

Well, Canon's going to continue selling the XL-2 as its flagship DV camera. There's always somethign new on the horizon -- I'd be surprised if an XL-H2 didn't show up in a few years.

You can still produce high quality documentary films in DV and most broadcasters are still in SD. If you want to "future proof" and get ready for when TLC, Discovery, and National Geographic all go HD, then perhaps it might be worth it -- but do you have $9000 to spend?



I'd like to know how true is the 24F (24p) part of the XL H1. Most of the time they are not really 24p but actually 23.97 much like normal NTSC only slower. Please let me know how that works on the XL.

Thank you


Thank you for your response. Great site!

I had the same problem with JVC HD cams, Frederick at LumiereHD has the codec interface perhaps, he sent me the software for JVC Mped HD for Final Cut Pro HD which I use to demux. Im digging deep this week as im looking to purchase three of these Canon's. I shot with XL1, XL1s and XL2, I prefer Canon over all others Sony and JVC...lower prive cameras that is..

Have fun in Nippon..Been there, Nagasaki, Tokyo..


Just a note, I think the reason why the frame rate indicator are labeled F1, F2, etc instead of 30F, 24F is because you have the option of enabling PAL mode on the camera. Thus the F1, F2 would become the PAL frame rates.

Hi there,

You mentioned a poor low light performance.
How poor, in terms of street shooting for example.

Thanks in advance.


Johan -

After shooting over the winter, I can say the Canon XL-H1 has *EXCELLENT* low-light performance. I shot indoors and at night with very little ambient light, and even with gain at maximum, there was very little noise in the image. The auto-focus does struggle in these conditions, so flip over to manual focus if you can (it's very hard to manually focus, though, because the finder stinks).

The Sony HC1 has poor low-light performance. The auto-focus is almost useless in low-light and the grain is very visible -- made even worse by the HDV compression. It's still usable but not my first choice.

Please note my recent blog entry concerning 30f/24f with the Canon and FCE/iMovie HD:

Hi, I am a devout XL2 fan and haven't got my hands on the H1. I did not like the 24f look on the sony HDV (Z1?) cam. Thought it didn't look smooth like 24p on the XL2. How does the 24f on the H1 compare to it's progressive counterpart the XL2? Thanks, Robb - Midwest USA


The times I've set the XL-H1 to 24fps, it looked great. Shutter speed will default to 1/48 sec which helps with the sense of blurring. Of course, you have to change your shooting style when you shoot 24P as it is sensitive to motion judder (so you have to do slower pans, etc).

There should be some 24P examples on the web you can download to get a sense of what it's like.


Any recommendations on where to buy the camera for the best price. Will the price drop with new HD GL2 line.

Steve -

I think prices at the authorized Canon dealers are pretty much all the same -- and I wouldn't risk buying it at a non-authorized place because of warrantee issues.

I buy everything through B&H personally.

I read that some HDV cameras can down-convert from HDV to DV. Can the Canon XL H1 do so? and if not which software could be recomended?


Gabriel -

Yes, you can either record in DV mode to Mini-DV tape -- this will play back in any MiniDV/DV playback machine and on the XL-H1.

Or, you can record in HDV and tell the machine to downconvert to DV out the Firewire port. This is what I've done with my Hokkaido footage -- I shot all in HDV and I'm outputting to DV and ediitng in standard definition on my PowerBook as it's not powerful enough to easily edit HDV.

I did the rough cut in standard def that way and now that I got an Mac Pro Quad, I'm redoing it in high-definition.

Great website -I've been reading on other sites that there's some confusion regarding FCP 5.1's ability to edit 24-fps -have you been able to do it? Does it work? Apple doesn't mention it in their specs but is it supported?
Thanks so much for making a path for the rest of us to follow!

i there i got a canon xl h1 kit hdv 1080i new in box well i used it 4 times not got on with it . were the best place to sell i want around £3000

cheers dean

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This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on December 10, 2005 7:50 PM.

Equipment: Review of the M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96 was the previous entry in this blog.

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