Veteran HD Producer Randall Dark Utilizes Canon’s XL H1S HD Camcorder

Randall Dark has been a pioneering HD 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. Dark recently became a user of the XL H1S HD Camcorder from Canon U.S.A.

“In the early years, a complete HD camera system cost almost $1 million,” says Dark. “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.”

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 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.

“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,” says Dark. “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.”

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 says. “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 has also employed the Canon LX H1S for a behind-the-scenes video on the making of a new CD by another famous musician and a documentary set in China called China’s Wild Wild West, as well as in the creation of stock footage.

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 says. “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.”

“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 concludes. “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.”