The Canon L Series Camcorders
In this segment of our series we take a close look at the Canon L2 camcorder. It may be dry reading for many, but it does explain why this model became so important to me, not to mention that it and Billie Cromwell were largely responsible for making the PGC Elk Video something more than just another wildlife agency video release.
Canon is known to most of us as a manufacturer of great still cameras, but it has also been a leader in the Prosumer camcorder field. With the introduction of the L series camcorders in the 1990s they put a powerful tool into the hands of the wildlife cameraman.
I have not been able to find the exact dates of production for these models, but the following is true.
The introduction of the L1 marked the first time an interchangeable lens camcorder was available at a price that was affordable for the serious videographer. After a time the L1 was replaced with the L2, which was cosmetically identical, but had an expanded array of digital effects and featured embedded time code.
Billie Cromwell purchased his in March 1995 and shot the elk rut that year with it, using the combination of the normal lens and a 2x extender that was especially made for this camera lens combination. The street price for this camera was in the $2,500.oo range so I didn’t consider it when I bought the Panasonic, which was about $1,000.00 cheaper.The Panasonic compared favorably to the L2 with its’ normal lens although it wasn’t quite as powerful, but I was soon to learn that the Canon was well worth the price difference.
The Canon featured a normal lens with a range of 8mm-120mm. That doesn’t sound like much, but in comparison to a 35mm camera that was 43mm-648mm, which is quite impressive. With the 2x multiplier it was 86mm-1296mm equivalent and that is not to be sneezed at. The only drawback was that it was slightly soft with the extender but it worked well under good light conditions.
Things really got interesting when one attached a 35mm telephoto lens to it. This was done by means of an EOS adapter, which went between the camera body and the lens. The camera had a ½ “ sensor and one multiplied the stated focal length of a lens by a factor of 5.4 which made a 35-350 lens a 189mm-1,890mm equivalent.
Billie and I discussed this option quite a bit but the cost was intimidating. The EOS adapter was about $300.00 and a Canon L 35-250 was near $2,000. (This was still cheap compared to a professional rig, which could easily run $60,000 for a camera and lens. The Canon L1 and L2 did not match the performance of these cameras, but it did give one the same ability to shoot at long distance and the picture was good enough for broadcast and documentary purposes if one shot it right and transferred it to a professional format tape for distribution.)
We belonged to a video club at Sunrise Electronics in Chambersburg, Pa. One evening in the spring of 1996, a fellow club member, Kim Morris, showed up with a used L1, an EOS adapter and a 200-400mm Tamron Lens. He gave a demonstration of the equipment and showed footage that he had taken. I was stunned! This setup gave one the ability to record wildlife footage at extreme range!Billie did not attend the meeting so I called him and said something to the effect of,” Billie you just have to buy that adapter and a telephoto lens”. In time he did just that! I well recall the first footage he showed me. It was of deer feeding in the woods between 150-200 yards away and one could see the flies on them!
L2 with 300mmF4 IS and EOS adapter
Billie used this outfit to tape wildlife for the rest of the year and the footage I saw was enlightening. It was unbelievable what one could do with this camera.
After this, I was very dissatisfied with the Panasonic and tried to purchase an L2 early the following spring, but to my dismay found they were discontinued. I wrote to Canon to see if they planned to introduce an upgraded version, but they refused to comment other than thanking me for my interest in Canon Products.
This led me to purchase a used L2, and the experience turned into a nightmare as it quickly developed a problem with the viewfinder and then with the tape transport. In time these difficulties were ironed out and it turned in respectable service until I replaced it with a mini-dv Canon XL-1s in 2002.
In the meantime Billie and I were about to have a lot of exciting encounters with wildlife which we would not have otherwise had!
To be continued: