Adjusting the Levels
The first thing I would suggest is to use a UV filter when shooting outdoors. The Canon XL1 is notorious for washing out images if there is too much light and the sun is a killer in outdoor situations. Also, if shooting outdoors, the camcorder comes with a built-in ND filter, which can be turned on to decrease the amount of light passing through the lens. This button is found right next to the lens itself. Make sure this is not on when shooting indoors, though. It might be a good idea to set up a checklist so you can double-check all settings before every shot.
The next step you need to do is adjust the f-stop and shutter speed for the shot. The camera offers an EASY shoot level but this will not provide you with a quality image. Using this level is something only amateurs should use and those are not the people who should dish out the money for this camera. The level you should almost always use if shooting for the optimum quality is MANUAL.
Once on the MANUAL level, you can adjust many things to make the images look as good as possible. On the left side of the camera there is a wheel for the Iris/Select and two buttons for the Shutter. There is also a Gain dBi sensitivity level you can adjust, also on the left side of the camera.
IRIS: This controls the amount of light coming through the lens. The Canon XL1 also comes with a “ZEBRA STRIPES" feature so you can see what areas of the screen are washed out. Adjust the IRIS until all Zebra Stripes are gone.
SHUTTER: The Shutter relates to the speed of the camcorder. The Shutter Speed needs to be adjusted based on the lighting of the scene. The Canon XL1 offers anywhere from 1/8th of a second all the way up to 1/15,000th of a second. This setting determines how long the light is allowed into the camera. A faster shutter speed allows less light to enter, and makes the image darker.
GAIN dB: This level increases low light capabilities. The levels on the camcorder range from -3 to +30 dB.
What is best is to simply play with the levels until the image looks as good as you want it to. Do not use the viewfinder as an accurate depiction of what the image will look like, though, because that is not the look you will end up with. One cheap alternative is to buy a small color television and hook the camera up to the TV to use as a monitor. Other videographers believe that the better indication of the quality will come with a black and white set but I prefer to see how vivid the colors will look.
Finally, set the White Balance. It is also on the left-hand side, right next to the GAIN dB. To set the levels, make sure you have something completely white, such as poster board, and aim the camera at it. Press the White Balance level button to make it pop out and choose whether it is indoor, outdoor or one of the specialty levels. Press the White Balance adjust button and it will set the balance for you. Then push the pop-out button back in.
Finally, all the lighting levels are set, the colors are what you are hoping and the white balance is ready. This means, you are ready to shoot your movie.