Low light lens for XLH1S?


New member
This enquiry for a friend who is a novice and shoots only in automatic, but bought an XLH1S (because it was so cheap!) and is finding it difficult to get good concert shots in low light, even using the gain. I thought maybe a different lens would help. I know v. little about Canon. Any suggestions on the best lens he could buy to shoot orchestral concerts? Would need about 10X zoom minimium and wider wld be nice too, but excellent low light the priority.

Thanks for any input.
The XLH1 is a great camera, but it was never very good in low light situations. I used to use one for ENG style work and documentaries, and I always had a PAG light mounted on top for situations where I had no control over the lighting (the PAG light is great for doing interviews or filling a small room). For bigger events where there was inadequate lighting I would have to bring my own and set them up in advance, or speak to the event managers and try to get as many existing lights on as possible. If that is not possible then you need to work with the camera settings and make some compromises.

Lenses: Canon only ever released the 6x wide angle lens for this camera (other than the stock 20x) - the 6x is a bit faster and lets in a bit more light, but it is quite expensive. There are a number of other lenses that fit the camera from the older XL1 and XL2 series of cameras, although those lenses are not optimized for HD shooting.
Otherwise Canon made an EF adapter so that you could use Canon photographic lenses, however this was only ever really used by wildlife film makers with large telephoto lenses in daylight (there is a big crop factor involved).

So lenses are not really going to help you out, instead you need to focus on using light effectively with the camera.

That camera is not a camcorder, and as such it is not optimized for 'auto' use. To get the best results you need to shoot on full manual and dial in the settings for your specific circumstances. It only takes a little practice, and after 1 or 2 days playing with the settings and reading the manual he will be up to speed.

In manual you only have a few things to worry about:

Focus - you can still select autofocus on the lens itself if you are not confident - the lens takes a while to hunt for the focus but gets there in the end. If the camera is locked off on a tripod you can select autofocus until the camera finds the focus, then slide the switch to manual (so now the focus is locked so the camera wont automatically hunt around anymore - though be careful not to bump the focus ring).

Shutter speed - select the shutter speed you need. Lower shutter speeds will let in more light (which is what you want for low light scenes), but it will also cause motion blurring, or trailing, if there is too much camera movement or movement of people. If you are filming concerts you can probably go quite low - but you need to eyeball this to see what is acceptable, the camera cant make that decision for you. I shoot in PAL so I would go down to a shutter speed of 25 for fairly static shots without any worries.

Gain - this is a noisy camera, so I always try to shoot at -3db or 0db. Putting the gain up seriously diminishes the quality of the footage, so gain should always be an option of last resort. The problem is that you dont see the effects of the gain in the viewfinder, it only becomes evident when you look at it on a computer or TV and see the horrible noise. However if you have to put up the gain you can reduce the effects by selecting ND2 in the Custom presets - ND1 and ND2 are Noise Reduction filters that can be turned on; I find that ND2 works better than ND1 under certain circumstances. *Note I'm not talking about the ND filters on the lens here (they should be off). Coring will also help, and turning down the sharpness.

Framerate: Shooting in interlaced (60i / 50i) will give you a bit more light to play with, although most people prefer to progressive framerates (24p / 25p).

Custom presets: Learn how to work with the settings and make custom presets. Some presets will help in low light situations. There are a list of user made presets that can be downloaded from dvinfo.net - but the only way to understand them is to fiddle with the settings.

Remember to white balance the camera (although the preset white balance settings actually work quite well, and the settings can be adjusted incrementally to different temperatures with the select dial.

Once he starts using the manual features he will unlock the full potential, the camera cant make these decisions for him in auto.
Thank you Simon for the comprehensive and useful response. I have copied all the info to my friend, and learned a couple of things myself.
No problem be sure to have a look at the presets at dvinfo.net - there are a great number of posts regarding that camera there that will also be valid to his work. Best of luck!
the 16x SD lens can hold a constant F 1.6, and it looks pretty damn good in HD, with the exception of full tele, which has a bit of portholing. (but still useable in my book)

Not all that wide though. 40 mm full-frame-ish equivalent