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Canon XH Series HDV Camcorders
Canon XH G1S / G1 (with SDI), Canon XH A1S / A1 (without SDI).


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Old August 13th, 2007, 05:10 AM   #1
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Advice to return XH-A1 or not?

Morning All

I need the DVI communities help... I spent ages reading various articles and reviews with regards to picking the right semi-pro camcorder. I plumped for the CANON XH-A1 after several great reviews and the salesman's sccchpeeeeel (typical consumer eh?!).

I am in the birth stage of my business venture which is capturing & editing Asian wedding's events (here's the plug - www.visians.co.uk. These events are colourful and usually held internally in old(ish) type locations. Rarely are these events outdoors (I wish they were, as this is where the XH kick's a$$!).

The problem is this... I am finding that the XH-A1 is very light hungry. I have a slightly modified VIVIDRGB as my default setting (thank you DVI community for this!). It improves vastly on the standard ones shipped with the XH-A1.

The GAIN is left to a +3 setting at it's lowest, and then is increased according to what I am shooting. As there is very little light natural light a lot of artificial light is used. These wedding events are colourful and indoors and I don't want to go around 'blasting' everyone with a 800w plus light at every given oppurtunity. When I try and increase the gain say to +12 I am seeing there is a lot of noise being captured. I end up spending quite some time editing this type of footage in post or binning it entirely.

I am finding that a lot of other Asian wedding videpgraghers use Sony camcorders. I have played with the FX 1 and VX2100 and their colours are richer and the units work better at low light without the need of artifical light.

The plus points of the XHA1 over the two Sony's is that it returns a crisper picture (IMO - when the light is there!).

So I have a few questions:
Am I doing anything wrong?
Do I 'blast' the customers with light?
Are there any tips you can give me?

Do I put up with the need for light or do I return the unit and go for a Sony?

Any advice from the community would help so I can make a decision...

Cheers
Moony

Last edited by Munaf Tufail; August 13th, 2007 at 11:32 AM.
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Old August 13th, 2007, 06:09 AM   #2
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if its really that bad you could lease a lower end dv cam like a pd170 and use it as a b-cam for when its getting too dark..

as far as i know its still considered to be one of the best for low light situations..
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Old August 13th, 2007, 08:04 AM   #3
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Are you shooting SD or HD? The PD170 is arguably the low light king if SD is what you want.

It takes a lot of light to light a large areas/wide stage. But about 10-20 watts does nicely for shots within 10 feet or so of the camcorder, and will not overly blind the subjects.

Weddings and reception tend to be in darkish venues, and usually are not lit for optimum video. (Unlike weddings that are media events and thus lit for media.) All camcorders need light. They can compensate for poor light with various noise reduction tricks, some of which introduce other image artifacts or reduce resolution. Check the low light presets for some ideas for the A1, and consider using slower (1/25 or 1/30) shutter speed where motion artifacts will not present an issue. And make sure clients understand that a low light level has an effects on the quality of the final image.
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Old August 13th, 2007, 08:10 AM   #4
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Many XH A1 owners go through the same thing. I'm very pleased with the low light on the XH A1, but you do have to be willing to tweak the settings. With the proper settings, I find +6 and +12 gain very usable. Once you get comfortable changing the basic image parameters, it's like you bought a whole new camcorder. With a 10-20 watt light you should be able to easily tackle the majority of low light situations.

Have you read this low light thread yet?
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Old August 13th, 2007, 08:41 AM   #5
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I do tweak the GAIN as I deem is necessary so as to make sure I get the right picture. I have invested in a PAG Light (genius little thing - but it comes with a 10W, I may just have to go a little higher with the wattage!).

As you may/may not know Asian weddings are colourful and I sometime capture footage with some noise when the camera is set to +12 gain. I predominately shoot in SD as the market place over here is slowly moving to HD. When the hardware drops in price then I will invest more time shooting in HD. I'm estatic with the footage the XH-A1 capture outside and I am only preturbed with this noise issue when comparing the pictures to a Sony FX1/VX2100.

Maybe I am being too picky!
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Old August 13th, 2007, 09:24 AM   #6
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By tweaking I meant Noise Reduction, Coring, Black Stretch/Press, Gamma, Knee etc. Adjusting the Gain using the default in-camera settings didn't give me very good results in low light. But I was able to get good low light results by adjusting those settings.
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Old August 13th, 2007, 09:31 AM   #7
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Hi,

Often times opening up the shutter abit (to 1/30 or so) can help dramatically. Avoid long zooms, as it stops down the iris (try and stay wide open to 1.6). Gain in SD is much worse than gain in HD, so maybe shoot HD and downconvert later.

I find the XHA1 to be a great low-light cam, so I think you need to play around a bit before you return it.

Then again, it's all subjective.
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Old August 13th, 2007, 10:06 AM   #8
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When I first got my XH A1 I checked it out for low light situations and was surprised that it was as good as it was. Around that time I was also shooting some available light (usually pretty low) footage with a friend's Sony Z1. I found that the Canon was about a stop better in low light than the Sony. If I used a high gain I could go to about +6db and the image still looked good. The Sony could go to a +12 and have the same quality, so even though the Canon required a little less light, the Sony could operate effectively at a higher gain, so the end result was pretty much the same. In other words, a situation requiring +6 db on the Canon would require +12 db on the Sony, but the Sony would look as good because it does high gain better. In effect, then, for very low light situations, I consider the two cameras the same.

I'd suggest you make sure you're not shooting with any of the automatic functions on. Make sure you're on manual iris, gain, shutter, white balance, etc. Make sure you're ND filter is off. If you are doing 24fps, shooting in the 24F mode at a 1/48 shutter speed, you'll require less light than shooting 30 fps at a 1/60 shutter. However you may not want the 24p look.

Also, if you're zooming in a lot, the lens, being electronic, stops down automatically. If you want to get your full open aperture, you have a very limited range from wide angle to a tighter zoom in shot before the lens starts stopping down and requiring more light. The solution to this is to shoot wider and move in closer to the subject. All the electronic lens 1/3" chip camera lenses do this.

I don't normally shoot weddings but have done a very few as favors for friends. One time the second camera was an XL1, and it needed more light than the 2/3" chip camera I was using. We shot the XL1 at a 1/30 shutter speed and were able to get the necessary exposure. If you're shooting 24fps, that would be a 1/24 shutter speed, vs. the normal 1/48. When you use a lower shutter speed, you will get some motion blurring...however, in a wedding ceremony nobody moves very fast, and the motion looked fine the time I did that.

If you want to not shoot in HD, the Sony PD170 is the best camera in the 1/3" chip camera field for low light shooting, so that may be a possibility for you, and the camera is still on the market. It does not have 16:9 chips and quality will suffer a little bit when shooting the electronic 16:9 mode, but not much under most conditions. I personally would stay with the Canon and, in summary, be sure of the following things: that you're not shooting with any auto stuff turned on, that you don't have an ND filter on, that your shutter speed matches your frame rate, and that you are not zoomed in so far the lens is not allowing you to shoot at fully open aperture.
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Old August 13th, 2007, 10:38 AM   #9
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Try, try, try... Until you've got it!

OK, I've had the camera for 2 months now and I have learnt to use the camera with the following camera settings set to ND - Off, White Balance - Manual and AGC - Manual.

I will have to experiment and learn to use the manual iris and shutter controls to get the best results. I will have to read up and experiment on Shutter controls and using the Iris.

I do do quite a bit of zooming, however I am getting more and more closer to the subjects I am filming nowadays (say approx 5ft away). Maybe a Jib arm to add to the Manfrotto 525 tripod legs I have will ease that a bit...

Just have to watch out for those backlight issues that crop up every now and again... Like I said the picture quality is sublime and therefore, I am guessing I am not using the camera properly and I have a lot to learn about it.
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Old August 13th, 2007, 11:25 AM   #10
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Munaf,

Wonderful to see someone who is humble and not stubborn. A lot of people can't accept that it's a lack of familiarity they have, and immediately blame it on the camera...

You cannot pick up a guitar and expect to play it like Eric Clapton without some practice ;) I have been shooting for 5 years and I still learn something new every week.
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Old August 13th, 2007, 11:48 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Matthew Nayman View Post
Munaf,

Wonderful to see someone who is humble and not stubborn. A lot of people can't accept that it's a lack of familiarity they have, and immediately blame it on the camera...

You cannot pick up a guitar and expect to play it like Eric Clapton without some practice ;) I have been shooting for 5 years and I still learn something new every week.
As a newbie to filming and pretty naive to the art of filming (as I have only done a basic course in Media Studies so many years ago). I wanted to re-learn those skills with the mixture of editing/animation which I really do like. I'm in the process of learning Adobe After Effects so as to add creativity to the production to make it unique in look and style.

Additionally, it doesn't help that when you are shooting on a gig where other cameramen are filming and commenting on kit. I believe in my skills and I take on advice as I see fit (or understand). Over time I will be another cameraman in a similiar position but I will always have a reserved judgement on stuff until I know what I am truly on about.

Great advice, great people and great forum!
Munaf

Now where's that manual... :o)
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Old August 13th, 2007, 06:42 PM   #12
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Munaf,

Any gain above 6Db with this camera means noise. What you need is latitude and black strech. Please try my settings at Presets for PAL users on this forum.
Regards.
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Old August 13th, 2007, 07:45 PM   #13
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Hi Munaf..........

Might as well throw in my twopence worth.

I've no doubt you're going to be able to wring a stop or more of useable "non noise gain" by tweaking the camera (some pretty heavy duty "gold standard" advice having been forthcoming, to which I can add, erm, nothing).

May I suggest going back to REAL basics on the other side of the equation as well. I've got a vague idea of the type of venue these events are held in, tho' obviously each one is probably different.

Would it be worthwhile investing in a shed load of those el cheapo 500 Watt external grade light units (usually jet black) and some equally el cheapo stands to suit, and range as many as the power circuits can take around the walls, aimed either up at the wall or if close enough, the ceiling.

From memory the lights can be picked up brand new for a fiver (yes, each!) and stands and sand bags to keep 'em stable won't break the bank. Six of those is 3,000 watts of additional non flouro/non gas discharge lighting (no bad thing) and if that doesn't give you 3 db or more of light you must be in Wembley Stadium!

Only down side is they get REAL hot so they have to be kept well clear of flammable stuff and it really makes sense if it can be done to invest in some sort of metal bracket to screw/ bolt/ strap the tops to the nearest solid object so that you don't inadvertantly brain the bride/groom if one gets knocked.

CS
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Old August 14th, 2007, 06:42 AM   #14
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i should also mention that i use a 250w DIMMABLE camera mounted light (battery pack goes around shoulder/waist).. with di-chromatic filter.. it CAN blind people a bit but if you turn it way down or change the bulb its not too bad..
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Old August 14th, 2007, 09:32 AM   #15
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You shouldn't need blinding lights to make your footage better, but about 25-50 watts (halogen) with a frosted diffuser should be adequate for most typical wedding situations. Also experiment with boosting footage further in post, but of course you have to be careful about that to avoid enhancing the noise. Those two techniques have worked well for me using Sony HDV cameras, and should be applicable to the Canons as well.
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