Pulling Focus

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Hi Everybody.

I am looking into buying an XL-1 after hearing and reading so much about it. When I went to see it at a local store, I saw what the major flaw was for a film-turning-to-video-person like myself (and others out there, I'm sure). You can't pull focus! I know that one of the great advantages that the XL-1 has is precisely that you can buy an adapter to fit professional lenses with focus gears on it. But this adds a few more thousand to my budget. I would like to know or read stories about peoples experience with this issue. I'm sure the VX-1000 has the same limitation. How have some of you overcome or worked with this issue?


-- Mariana Hellmund (Bitaco@aol.com), December 10, 1998


Promax (www.promax.com) sells a modified lens for the XL1 that has focusing marks. I haven't use it, but they say it's high quality. I saw the XL1 in the local video shop the other day and I was NOT impressed with it's looks or sturdiness. It looks like a toy. The lens was mostly plastic as well.

-- tony sehgal (film.video@cwix.com), December 11, 1998.

Tony, With regard to your comments about the XL-1. Ive got one so I feel qualified to speak on Canons behalf. The case is magnesium. The black coating which appears to be plastic is in fact some kind of rubberized substance. Sort of like the non- slip coating applied to the handgrip of Canons high end lens. The 16x lens is all glass  no plastic. The lens casing is cast aluminum. The feel of the entire unit is rock solid. The filter size is 72mm. This lens while not good for pulling focus has a great quick focus button and does not hunt except in low light. The optical stabilizer imitates very much the actions of my Steadicam. The two together kick butt.

Other features: 4 channel audio with built in mixer, Audio in and out , 27 f-stop increments (f1.6 to f16), 1/8 sec to 15,000 sec shutter, full auto or manual, aperture priority or shutter priority, AE shift (add or subtract up to 2 stops via thumbwheel),and the "usual" other features. Turn the gain up on ANY camera under $15,000  see the grain? Do it with the XL1. No grain visible - just a better pix. How does it work? My 1st Music video on this camera got the band 4 jobs in 2 weeks. The last gig is being the house band at a State Fair Conference in Laughlin, NV, where they will be seen and heard by at least 500 state fair entertainment managers. How they get the gig?

Two reasons. First, they were picked because of their talent. Second, the Judges said to them this was the BEST quality video entered. It sat on a BOGEN 3046 for 3 minutesI DID nothing but turn it on in Green Mode  full auto and pan a little. Most cxomparison equate the XL1 with the Betacam SP. The pix quality looks very much the same.

This is an awesome camera. But it does have shortcomings. The viewfinder and the lens. Both are replaceable. OPTEX of England sells a FUJI 14X ready to go for $1700 US funds. A lot of money. Yeah, I guess. Try changing the lens on a VX1000. Or ANY other DV cam. Canon also sells a 3x wide angle. And yeah it does look weird!!! Ive taken advantage of this as my new letterhead/cards now has the XL1 outline as logo.

And there is a lot more. Look in all the film mags. XL-1s are everywhere. Betacam SP owners are switching, citing the low weight  6 lbs and high quality picture. This camera is a compromise as are all cameras.

If your thinking of a new camera check ALL the DV cams and compare them. Shoot an XL1 for a day. Youll never go back, I didnt.


PS Not using your camera? XL1s rent for $225 a day here in Arizona...

-- ted jameson (webmaster@technibooks.com), December 16, 1998.


Rent one for a day. You'll be blown away. I "test drove" one at a Film Tradeshow in LA earlier this year. I bought one October 10th, 1998 after scraping up $4,700 (eh, a few accessories, too). I've been making money ever since. Picked up $1250.00 over the last weekend shooting a promo video for a local dance company. They needed Betacam SP quality and the Xl1 delivers.

If pulling focus is needed, there areat least 3 fixes I know of right now. All involved modified video camera or 35 MM lenses. I suspect more are right around the corner.

Support is something you'll need also. Canon recently mailed me a letter enrolling me in the "Canon XL1 owners club". Camera break? They'll fix AND return it within 5 days. Need replacement while yours is being repaired? They supply FREE shipping case and replacement camera while yours is down! Know anybody else who will do that?

This is a great camera - check it out!

teddy J.

-- ted jameson (webmaster@technibooks.com), December 16, 1998.

Without repeating the technical specs, I just thought I'd quickly echo what other folks have said... the XL1 is a terrific camera. It has an unmatched image and very nice access to controls (I love fidgeting with the image, so I almost never shoot in the full auto mode).

For the record, I also own a Sony VX1000 and TRV900. They're both great cameras and terrific for point and shoot, inconspicuous shooting. Neither camera, however, produces as good an image as the XL1 (at least to my eye).

Incidently, while the servo zoom doesn't allow for accurate rack focusing, after you get used to it you'll find that it can be very useful for subtle focusing while shooting. There's always the ability to go over to EOS lenses if need be.

Just 2 more cents from another happy XL1 user.

-- John Windmueller (jwind@cais.com), December 18, 1998.

Beware, the XL-1 is as good as everyone says, but it's also very weakly put together. In my first day owning it I found a flaw in the "3d prism array". I had to ship it back for repairs after my first week. Then a month later the ring that holds the lens fell off, seriously. It's only held on by 5 little screws going into plastic, if I hadn't noticed it the lens could have fell off during use. It cost me about $900 to fix this. The Xl-1 is a nice camera, but if you can't afford to spend all you're money on a camera that could easily break on you then don't get it. It seems like I'm the only person with these problems, but it has been a major set back for me.

-- Aaron Gum (nutra@novia.net), February 03, 1999.

Hi Mariana!

Just a quick echo of what Ted Jameson said about Optex. He didn't give their website address, though, so here it is:


They do all kinds of enhancements for the XL-1 and they're also manufacturers of equipment for the movie industry in general, so the quality is good. They also sell complete shoot and edit packages based on the XL-1 and the FAST DV Master video board. Worth checking out.

Follow the "DV Products" link from their home page. They have agents in the US, who are listed on the site.

If the purchase price is too high for you, you may be able to rent the kit rather than buying it.

Hope this helps.


-- Peter Wardley-Repen (pwr@builth-hs.powys.sch.uk), February 04, 1999.

I just thought I'd mention that since posting my initial reply I've purchased the Optex (Fujinon) lens for the XL1. It's a terrific piece of equipment, and you can pull, mark, and rack focus to your heart's content.

- John

-- John Windmueller (jwind@cais.com), February 16, 1999.

I've had the xl-1 for about three months so I can say a little about it. We have used it on a few jobs and it is one of those camera's you have to get your hands on for a little while. As for the pulling focus, this is one way it can work. Start the shot in manual focus. As your subject moves you can use the Push AF button. As long as the lighting is fair and the subject is some what in the center of the shot, you should be able to keep up with it. I was doing a two shot the other day with poor indoor lighting. I had a girl that was walking across the room from about 10 feet to 3 feet to kiss the other actor. I had the talent hold for just a split second before she bent over to kiss the guy and at that time hit the auto focus For a close up you could not get it any sharper. Will not work every time but be creative. We plan to do a short in a couple of months and have started working with Canon. I have already started doing some testing and hope to have a lot of the problems solved by the time we start to shoot. GenesisDV Rusty

-- Rusty Nelson (rustyn@ns.net), February 16, 1999.

Canon will be coming out with three new items for the XL-1 this December. 1. A manual lens, 2. A B&W eyepiece for focusing, 3. A zoom control handle for mounting on a tripod handle. Get more info at their www site. It seems to me that they actually are listening to the people who use this great camera and are addressing its major shortcomings.

-- Chris Cunningham (chris@christophercunningham.com), November 15, 1999.

Hi Mariana! I cannot believe what some of the contributers have been saying about the Canon XL1! Maybe the camera they sell in the US is different from the one I bought here in Ireland. It's a PAL system model, but as far as I know it looks and functions the same. I bought it because of it's truly great optics, it's great audio capabilities (for the money) and for it's build quality. It's body is cast aluminium coated in rubber for Gods sake! I use it every day for TV shoots and more and more for TV drama and for transfer to 35mm film and have yet to be disappointed in it. It has never malfunctioned no matter what I throw at it, and believe me in Ireland it's out in some really terrible weather! The continuous focus is a bit difficult to begin with but believe me you'll get used to it very quickly and when you go and view your rushes you'll be amazed! It still never ceases to astonish me how much this camera can see in the most difficult circumstances and Frame Record mode is something that no other format can offer. Ignore what everyone else says! The XL1 gets 2 thumbs up from me and my imaginary camera assistant! markwaldron@eircom.net

-- Mark Waldron (markwaldron@eircom.net), December 15, 1999.

The Canon XL1 - In one word - Astonishing! I am a television news photographer for the Fox news Channel. I have been shooting on a Beta Sp 400 a for the last three years. Two weeks ago I purchased the XL1 and have been blown away ever since. Yesterday day I shot some video with the XL1 while on a news story. I brought the footage back, transfered it to Beta SP, and showed it to some co-workers. No one could tell the difference, I'm not kidding. It rivals the picture quality of my fifty thousand dollar camera. It has great manual control, (which is all I ever use - old habits die hard) and a takes a quick and easy color balance. But my favorite effect has to be the slow S-30 digi effect. It's the best in camera effect I've come across to mimicking film. For years I have used a method of speeding up my video, then slowing it down to create a film look. The XL1 does it in the camera. OK, OK, I know - it doesn't look (exactly) like film, but it has unique, gritty look that I happen to think is very cool. However, if planning to transfer to film at some point I would not suggest using this effect. It's just something fun to play around with. The built in stabilizer is great as well. One of the many rules you learn as a news photographer for shooting off the shoulder is to zoom with your feet, not with your fingers. In other words, stay wide and walk into your subject. With the XL1 stabilizer you can zoom and stay solid as a rock -- no earthquake video. This camera may look like a toy, but I'm here to tell you it's not!

-- Brian Boyd (BGBoyd@sprynet.com), May 18, 2000.

I've found I can roll focus quite easily with the XL1 by paying attention to the speed of whatever else is going on (pan, figure movement, etc.)... what I have a major problem with is shooting fast, unpredictable action. I simply could not manage to follow focus properly at a cattle roping practise... The speed of the event is different enough each time, combined with the fact that they could end up any where from a meter away to seven or eight, that there were just too many variables. I suspect I'll get it eventually, but it seems to be a very steep learning curve, you have to internalize _so_ many different chunks of information.

-- VMRoberts (dy565@ncf.ca), March 21, 2001.

I've been using the XL1 for about eighteen months now mainly on non- broadcast corporate promos and short films. Last year we picked up a project at short notice requiring 5 five minute mudules to be delivered in four weeks. Due to the resource hungry nature of the script, the project devoured material. So we bought the XL1 to enable a second unit, compliment Beta SP and hopefully try nd get ahead of the gruelling schedule. I was able to literally fly from location to location on a motorcycle picking up material to fit the script. Due to the cameras size, those in your face and p.o.v. shots were a breeze and the result was heaps of natural looking pix. The XL1 is great in low light, pin sharp and no glaring artifacts bar a few highlight problems here and there. By the time the whole lot was colour corrected, tweaked and mastered onto Digi-Beta, you couldn't tell the difference between DV & SP. In fact in places the DV looked technically better than SP. Without the XL1 we simply could have not complied with the clients wishes. It enabled us to source valuable additional material quickly and efficiently. As a second unit this product paid for itself in the first three weeks of use and in our situation, I can't recommend it enough. Sure it has limitations, but in my opinion the benefits far outweigh the idiosyncracies. With all the third party accessories that are now available, the XL1 is a tidy piece of kit.

-- Adam Haylett (adam@haylett.freeserve.co.uk), June 18, 2001.

This thread was supposed to be about pull focus, not the overly repeated specs and accolades in regards to the XL1. I have a low budget DV cam, and I too worried about trying to do a pull focus. The fact of the matter is that you simply can't do it like you can with an expensive camera setup.

For me, it's all about planning the shot. It's not like there's going to be a pull focus every minute of your footage, otherwise it's going to be boring and over used. One ugly feature of a typical consumer model is the depth of field of the standard lens. Zoom up on the object in the distance, make sure it's focused correctly on the object. Turn the auto zoom off and pull back. Record your scene. Do the opposite now, not moving the camera, and focus on the near object...record. When editing, create the necessary transition between the two. You can increase the effect by using a blur mask on each one.

Now, this way sounds WAY TOO much to have to deal with, but hey, when you're working on a budget, you have to do what you gotta do. Also, this method won't work very well if you have motion in the scene since you won't be able to exactly duplicate the motion in the scene. My opinion is to start off with the last method...zoom up on your subject, focus, turn auto focus off, then zoom out. Record the scene and remember that that paricular take was meant to be a pull focus. Duplicate the clip in your editor and apply a mask blur to both of them and create a transition while both clips are exactly aligned.

-- Mister Freeze (nospam_dentsinger@yahoo.com), August 05, 2003.

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