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Old April 23rd, 2009, 01:14 PM   #1
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nothing new from NAB, so it's down to Canon HF S-100 or Sony HDR-XR520. Advice?

O.K., so it looks like no new cameras are going to be announced at NAB (maybe there's still time, I don't know). While waiting for NAB, I've tried out the Sony HDXR520, and I loved the crystal-clear (and large) display; couldn't really complain about anything, except the manual controls aren't as well-developed as I'd like.
Had a look at the Canon HF-S100 in a shop: the display isn't as large, or as nice (to my eye), but of course, the image the camera is recording isn't what you see in the display. From what I've read on this site, people are very impressed with the quality of video the Canon records. So maybe it has an edge over Sony here; particularly when it comes to 24p?
The manual controls seem better thought out on the Canon... stop me if I'm wrong... I only had a few minutes with the thing... but it seems you can adjust focus and iris, without having to go back into the menu? (with the Sony, I think you can manually adjust only one at a time). I like the fact that the Canon has the 'extended focus' feature (I frankly think it needs it because, again, I don't think the Canon display is as sharp as the Sony's). Does the Canon also have 'peaking'? If so, does it work well? (I don't mind admitting that I depend on this peaking feature with my Sony EX-1). I mention the EX-1 because it's the camera I want a little brother for... a small camera to use as a second camera on some shoots (yes I will be intercutting footage). All things considered, would those of you who might have tried both cameras be able to advise? I'm leaning towards the Canon, but I haven't made the purchase yet.
Thanks for any advice,
Malcolm
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Old April 23rd, 2009, 07:32 PM   #2
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Well, I faced the same questions...and ruled out the Sony because for me, in the end, picture quality rules the day. I then went to a comparison with the FH1/HD2000 due to the insanely low price and still stayed with the HF-S100.

What I liked about the Sony was the 5.1 sound (home theater) and the LCD.

Have you looked at vimeo comparison footages? If you can get the raw video obviously that works best. I was able to download some and stream it to my PPH so watching it on the tv is great.

You should also check out the avsforum site as that is more active with this topic.

BTW, my S100 will be delivered tomorrow...

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Old April 23rd, 2009, 09:06 PM   #3
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Just got the XR500V today, have only looked at the Canon, along with all the reviews and footage I could run across...

Bottom line with the Sony is it is a VERY automated camera - you get the control button and knob, and a general "exposure" adjutment, AE shift ( this camera seems to do far better at not over exposing "auto", so this isn't as needed as earlier cams) and WB - no shutter, aperature, or gain, sigh... the camera knows better than you...

BUT, the camera in the casual shots I've taken so far IS very VERY smart and seems to nail the shot with whatever AI the little body contains. Definitely seems to be able to adjust the shot faster than I ever could... Auto Backlight worked amazingly well when I tried to get a blown out profile shot (that seems the bane of many cameras) - the camera compensated and nicely exposed/WB the face without blowing out the background! SR11 choked on the same shot, with blow out and not quite right WB.

I'll try to post more comments later, but I will say this thing is absolutely amazing in low light/low noise - it's good with the normal setting, low light adds a bit of noise, but is still FAR quieter than any Sony cam I've used previously. Colors seem to be retained VERY well as the light drops.

And the active stabilizer... truly astounding. I walked through my house (couple long halls), almost no bounce from a normal gait, and even running seemed quite smooth, I thought I was seeing things, but comparing it to the SR and back and forth, it truly does wonders. There is a bit of "overshoot/bounceback" when panning, but I don't think that's a big issue, I'd rather have a smooth shot, and the new super OIS delivers. If you can keep the camera level, the OIS smooths most of the rest out - very close to a steadicam, and I think with work, you could get by without a steady rig. First time since I started shooting HD I felt like handheld MIGHT be a viable option. I'll still probably use my rigs, but the OIS delivers.

I know the Canon delivers some great PQ as well, so without having them side by side it's hard to say, but don't rule the XR5xxV out - I want to shoot a bit more with it, but the big LCD is sure nice, and the way I'd describe the results I'm seeing is the camera behaves more like my eyes - it seems to capture the scene more naturally with all the "smarts" built in. That may not be the best if you're used to controlling the camera, and I want to see how it handles overall, but I'm sold so far.

I've lived with Sony's "limited user control" for a while already, so it's not that big a deal, though they'd have a really good product if they hooked up the sensor block in this thing with some buttons that allowed user control!!

Oh, and stills are improved quite a lot as well.

I guess that's a sort of "mini-review"...
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Old April 23rd, 2009, 10:06 PM   #4
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For me, it comes down to how you plan to use the camera. The Canon has more manual controls. If I was looking for a primary camera I'd get that. But I'm using the Sony mostly as a secondary camera where I put it down and can't spend time messing with it. I've been really impressed with the quality of the video in low light both for color accuracy and low noise (at least compared to the camera I have been using, which is a HF-100.)

I also like the big screen.

I was still thinking of getting an HFS100 to replace the HF-100 just to see how it compared, but having spent some time with one at a show, and having read the few reviews, I guess I'd say that I'm not as excited by it as I was when I first heard about it. I really thought it was going to be a bit bigger and a bit better.

I'm not saying it's a bad camera, or even that it's worse than the HDR-XR520, it just didn't live up to what I had been expecting (though already having the Sony probably was part of the reason!)

Before I sound like an ad for the XR520, I do wish that it had more manual controls and a mic input, even though the times I will need that are so small that I can use another camera for those situations.
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Old April 24th, 2009, 02:34 AM   #5
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The XR does have a 1/8" mic input, and headphone output, though the door design leaves a bit to be desired... I like that they were moved to the back (SR Mic/HP was at the front...), but the door opens OUT, meaning it sticks out and makes the awkward grip even more awkward.

I'm finding the one odd thing about this camera is it is not easy to get it comfortable in the hand... unlike other Sony's I've owned it seems awkward, with the strap not being as well padded and the hand side of the cam is very flat, which doesn't make for a comfortable grip. Must be made for a different size/shape hand...

Still getting used to the on/off switch being on the LCD and the VF... got to remember to pull the VF if I want to switch between the two, but I'm sure the first time I accidently shut the thing off when switching it'll sink in... and I do tend to switch back and forth between VF and LCD!

I'm beginning to suspect that because of all the intelligent "auto" functions (auto backlight, Dynamic Range optimizer, low light/noise reduction, etc) they had to limit the access to manual functions. The camera is doing a lot of adjustment on the fly - reminds me of those airplanes that need a computer to keep 'em from falling out of the sky, but can do incredible maneuvers! For instance, I suspect zebras became superfluous because the DRO automatically "fixes" the image on the fly to prevent blow-out... have to test a bit more, but that's my working theory at the moment.

Definitely a shift in thinking, and you've still got "some" manual control with either the AE shift or the exposure function, but it's not going to satisfy you if you want to tweak your cam. That said, it certainly appears so far that the "brains" in this thing are pretty smart, and adjust faster to nail the shot than a human operator could. How that applies in "the real world" is going to be an interesting question - I'm sure for the average user, it will get superior results (more good usable "on the fly" footage), but what does it do to the creative shooter? Probably makes them a Canon buyer I suppose!
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Old April 24th, 2009, 09:08 AM   #6
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thank you everyone for your very thorough replies. All very useful. As someone who started off thinking I really needed manual controls, I'm now re-thinking. I often shoot a subject with a window in the background, for example, and I figured that in a situation like this I'd absolutely have to set the exposure manually (and, yes, I realize I still can with the Sony, although not as easily as with the Canon), but maybe the Sony automatically adjusts for situations like this, and exposes for the face instead of the window? That's the sense I got reading the posts.
Can any of you tell me how the two cameras compare regarding auto-focus, or instant auto-focus... let's say I'm following a moving subject along a busy sidewalk, and panning to the right or left to see passing cars or other pedestrians, and then back to the subject.

Some excellent points from Sony XR-520 owners... any Canon HF-S100 owners care to weigh in? Should the fact that my main camera (Sony EX-1) can shoot 24p affect my decision?
Thanks, Malcolm
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Old April 24th, 2009, 09:37 AM   #7
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I'm learning things too (and I have one!) I didn't realize it had a mic input; for some reason I just thought it didn't....but I stand corrected! As I said, this wasn't important to me, so hadn't even checked it.

I'm fascinated by the face recognition features in the newer cameras (note, the camera came with the smile shutter mode turned on; it took still photos whenever it thought the subject was smiling!)

Now that cameras are recognizing faces and focusing on them, I wonder if they are also using these faces to try and adjust white balance or exposure? Maybe not, but it's certainly a possability, and I wouldn't be surprised if cameras start doing that.

Of course, it doesn't always work (if people are in profile it doesn't help) but so far I've been happy with the way the face recognition/focus feature works i.e. I think it improves the performance of the camera in the situations I am using it in.
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Old April 24th, 2009, 01:33 PM   #8
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That's exactly how face detection in the camera works, this started with the SR series, and seems to work as well or better in the XR - as soon as the camera detects a face, it alters the WB/exposure to optimize the image for that face (often improves the whole image, you can sometimes catch that the camera starts off thinking "cool", then it jumps in and will warm up the image appropriately, far faster than a human operator could adapt, let alone find and adjust the appropriate settings. Very nice for "on the fly" shooting, though you may get some brief footage before/while the camera adapts that is a bit less than desirable, making for a tough "fix" in post if you need those first few seconds... BUT, I'd rather have MOST of my footage look good than have the whole lot look like "films from Smurfville".

You could always set WB manually if that's desired anyway, not sure if that disables other auto functions though, will have to fiddle with that a bit (hard to know everything after less than a day with it, but it definitely is a nice camera!). I know the low light switch disables the scene modes, so I'd presume there is some interactivity between various functions.

There's an auto backlight correction feature buried in the camera menus - and I thought I'd give it the worst case scenario - filming an active subject, slowly rotating from a neutral wall background until the subject was backlit by a bright window, and the camera smoothly adapted, I was pretty impressed, have to try this feature further, didn't seem to do quite as well with a big room where half was blown out windows, but once the camera had more of the foreground in the frame, it zapped right into a better image. I think if you have a subject obviously the primary focus of the frame, it'll take care of the adjustments for you to avoid typical backlight problems.

Focus so far seems fairly good - it can have a bit of a time locking on darker areas with little contrast (no surprise there), but it's pretty good even in lower light - it can definitely see better than my eyes and once there's sufficient detail, it locks in pretty quick. The spot focus and exposure once again provide a way to tell the camera which portion of the frame you want it to "focus" on to set focus/exposure, it works quite well, would be good for doing rack focus type shots once you zoom in a bit to make DoF more shallow.

Having owned an HV20 briefly, I can say that the Canon IAF (instant AF) is fast and accurate and will often beat a Sony which has to rely on resolvable contrast/detail from the actual image rather than Canon's "radar-range" or ultrasonic distance detector or whatever exactly they use (which goes out of play if you mount an external lens I believe, as the transmitter/sensor is covered). IAF is pretty sweet from the little experience I had with it, but I'm happy with the Sony, especially the spot focus capability when desired. I like being able to point at a part of the image and watch the cam smoothly swap focus.

This little monster really does shine in low light - it's easily equal to what my eyes can resolve when in "normal" mode, and very clean/low noise. When switched "low lux" mode, it can "see" far better than I can, with minimal noise and amazingly good color resolution. I have to wonder whether this would unseat the legendary older Sony SD cams for low light - it's pretty good, and seems to be able to maintain "HD" quality even in low light (I've noticed some cams degrade in ugly ways in low light, this one is graceful and remains sharp and retains color).

Not sure about the 24P issue, that's another of those "things" that Sony really ought to add in to stay competitive - but I read somewhere that they felt the "strobing" issues were not appropriate in a "consumer" camera. I've always rendered out to 24P in Vegas without a problem from the stock 60i AVCHD from earlier Sony cams, so I'd expect to continue that practice, seems to get decent results for me, though I don't know that they're "film-like", whatever that ultimately means... just look GOOD, and to me that's what counts.
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Old April 24th, 2009, 08:17 PM   #9
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second camera to our EX1

We have the 100 and love it!. Works great...fantastic match up for the EX1. Got the 3 year all inclusive warranty...under $100. Highly reccommend the camera.
Best, Craig
BTW we shoot mostly in 30p on both.
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Old April 25th, 2009, 03:51 AM   #10
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No two people agree about camcorders a guy on another forum who has a SR-11 and 520 says the improvements on the new one are low light, better ois and a few other things but outdoor any minute difference needs a frame grab to spot so i wont be changing at this stage.As to the questioner 2 sonys always work together better in my opinion than 2 different manufactuars cams.
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Old April 25th, 2009, 07:47 AM   #11
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Malcolm

Have the HFS10.Came from a Sony background owning an SR11.Much more manual control - 30p,24p sealed the deal and in my opinion a superior picture in good light.
I have done some Cineform captures in my vimeo videos if you are interested.best wishes.Henry
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Old April 25th, 2009, 10:12 AM   #12
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Not sure how much colour correction you do Henry but for me the SR-11s colour looks every bit as good as the S10S.Some lovely scenes.
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Old April 25th, 2009, 11:47 AM   #13
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Good point about two Sonys, Martin, but it's good to know that Craig has found that the two cameras work well together. Maybe it helps that they can both shoot 30p, or 24p (maybe not quite the same 24p albeit).
Anyway, thanks again, everyone, for your contributions. I'm going to see if I can buy a card, and try out the Canon at the store this weekend.
Cheers, Malcolm
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Old April 25th, 2009, 07:36 PM   #14
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Most HD cameras intercut pretty well in good light - it takes a keen eye to spot the subtle differences between cameras anymore. I can "usually" see a bit of overzealous red in Canon, and there are probably subtle differences in dynamic range, but I think with tweaking most users can match footage between brands, and frankly you usually need to do a bit of matching even between MODELS of camera from the same manufacturer!

Martyn - most HD cams seem to do well in "good light"... it's when the lights go down, things get dicey... Having both the SR11 and the XR520 side by side, I'l say the improvements in noise reduction/low light are significant. The OIS is worth the price of admission if you are handheld much, so overall the upgrade makes sense to me. Might not if you're on tripod in daylight most of the time. The SR11 is still a mighty fine camera, but I feel like the improvements are more significant between the "R" sensor and the sensor used in the SR than between the SR and the 7 series sensor block.

FWIW, that "other" review site has their review of the 520 posted. I think they missed the low lux switch entirely... the cam is really good without using it, but they should have switched it on to properly compare to the other cameras in 24/30 modes. I believe that the low lux setting is the equivalent of the old "auto slow shutter" mode that in previous cams was a buried menu item and switched shutter to 30 when the lights were low enough. This time around they put it more visible, and it's FAR less noisy than the earlier implementation.

I found their color tests interesting in that the greens and pinks were skewed and the image seemed dark by comparison - I'm fairly sure this is the result of the internal optimization trying to balance the shot, and maybe just a little "pop" for faces and foliage. I do notice that the XR tends to expose more conservatively than practically every camera I can recall using - usually I use the AE shift 2-3 notches to the minus side, doesn't seem to be needed with this camera - it's a bit more "natural" exposure to what my eyes see.

I think the choice does become one of how much manual control you feel like you need vs. how much you trust the camera to adjust/optimize the shot on it's own initiative. The cam is still too new to me to know for sure, but so far I'm liking how the camera adapts on the fly.
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Old April 26th, 2009, 03:36 PM   #15
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Picked up my XR500 on Friday and have done some comparisons to my SR11 over the weekend. ( I also had a SR7 so have seen the progression almost from the beginning of the Sony AVCHD line). Outside there is very little difference between the SR11 and the XR500. On data code they show exactly the same camera data. Comparing shots I think there is a very slight improvement in the shadows for the XR500 but one has to look really close. The new OIS is much better very useful addition. I deliberately found backlight situation and the auto backlight does work very well as long as the composition clearly positions the subject .Corrected immediately if a face is in the shadow. The GPS took about 6 mins to find satellites the first time but since then seem to work even in its bag in the car!!! IT was set in Kingston Ontario and having brought it home to Ottawa and only taken out of the bag in a room far from a window it correctly told me where I was. I'm impressed and not quite sure how it did that!!!! Like Dave I think it is set a little darker than the other Sony's I have but still had the Sony tendency to over expose as the light gets lower. Like Dave has mentioned, even at its normal setting it almost sees in the dark with no noticeable noise a real improvement over the SR11 and much better than the SR7. I will be recording again tomorrow evening and will have the opportunity to compare SR11 and XR500 again. Impressions so far are that it will be a great family camera and a useful improvement over the SR11 though I do miss the zebras.

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