Couple questions about XH A1 at DVinfo.net

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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 November 3rd, 2010, 04:50 PM   #1
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Couple questions about XH A1

Hello,

I would like to upgrade from sony hdv handycam to something more pro. I would like to make interviews for a document movie, event videos, nothing usual.

As the used XH A1 prices are now acceptable (around 2000 usd), and this is the only 3 chip pro camera in this timerange, I am thinking about buying one next year.

My questions:

- is it a bad idea to buy a 2-3 year old used modell ?

- is the 25f mode is true progressive mode ?

- if you own a panasonic tm700: which has sharper and more detailed image, tm700 or xh a1 ?

- how good the image stabilisation, is it better than the sony camcorder modells (like cx550) ?

- i checked lots of vimeo and youtube videos. I would say that 95% of the videos are not very sharp, and only 5% has very good sharpness. What is the reason of this ? Are the 5% of the videos are sharpened in post, or is it an user (camera operator) problem ?

- can you tell me any good idea about why NOT buy this modell ?

Thank you.
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Old November 3rd, 2010, 05:10 PM   #2
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Frame mode (25F) is indeed true progressive scan.

Image stabilization on the XH series is better than any consumer camcorder.

Web-delivery video such as YouTube, etc. is not the best way
to check image sharpness... too many variables are at stake.
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Old November 3rd, 2010, 06:32 PM   #3
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I'll respond to some of your questions as I have both an XHA1 and a CX550.

1. The XHA1 is a tape based camera. It also works very well with tapeless recording units such as the Datavideo DN and the Sony MRC. Actually, my XHA1 works better with the MRC than my Sony FX1000.

2. I think the price is coming down. I think I've seen ones for sale recently for under $1800 US. The lower price may help you go to a tapeless unit.

3. The "f" modes are true progressive. See this thread:
xh a1 any canon do 1080p

4. The image stabilzation is fine but the active steady shot mode with the CX550 is pretty amazing. Some folks have reported that they see some pixel crawl with a stationary CX550 when the active steady shot stablization is enabled. I haven't seen it on mine.

5. The lack of sharpness in videos on Vimeo usually has more to do with viewing conditions and encoding for posting than with what the camera actually shot.

6. For documentaries and events, the XHA1 is a very nice camera. It has some limitations for shooting in natural low-light. The CX550 does a much better job with that.

7. The CX550 and TM700 are very different kinds of cameras than the XHA1.

I have no first hand experience with the TM700 but I can comment on the CX. The CX is tiny and basically is set-up for operation in automatic modes. It can record 6 hours on internal memory (on the highest quality setting) and records to AVCHD. For editing AVCHD, you will either need a newer computer and AVCHD editing software (all of which can be expensive) or you need "intermediate" software like Cineform NeoScene (which is much less expensive) but which requires significant amounts of disk storage space. The CX550 shoots only 1080i and does not shoot any progressive modes. The CX550 has a very wide-wide angle but only does a 10x with optical zoom. It has only a 3.5 mm mini-stereo microphone jack so you need to add a JuicedLink or Beachtek or similar XLR adapter box in order to work with external microphones. It will not provide "phantom power" to run an external XLR microphone. None of the ports allow recording from other sources. You can only make file copies of the video unless you have a tape camera to record to archival tape (if that matters to you.)

The XHA1 is professional tape based camera. It fairly begs to be manually controlled and adjusted, and those options can make a large difference in picture quality. It records HDV which is easily handled by any current NLE and is a much lighter load on a computer than AVCHD. The XHA1 is a sizeable beast compared to the little CX550. It struggles in really dim light. It shoots true progressive modes (and does somewhat better in low light with progressive modes). It has a very large array of adjustments and there is a huge library of presets that help you learn how to improve your pictures to image you want. The zoom has about twice the reach. It has two XLR-ports and can provide phantom power to external microphones. Etc. Etc. The external ports (firewire & analog i/o) are bi-directional so an XHA1 can copy from other sources.

With decent lighting, I would say that my CX550 often makes images as good or better than the XHA1. The CX550 has a 1/3 inch sensor which makes for less video noise with low light images. In peculiar lighting conditions, the Canon (being far more adjustable) does a better job of giving balanced color when you understand how to make the adjustments.

8. Is it a bad idea to buy a 2-3 year old XHA1? Not in principle. But, if you are seriously considering the TM700 and CX550, the much more complicated XHA1 may not be the kind of camera you want.

You want to be careful about things like condition and how reputable the sellers are. The downside to buying an older HDV cam for what you want to do is basically that it is a tape based camera. Tape seems to be harder to find in some areas (though not in others). Tape mechanisms also suffer wear and tear and a high time camera may have problems with the recording or playback heads. If you have a bit more money in your budget, you can add fire-wire based tapeless recording units which avoid the problem of tape wear and speed up your editing workflow. Without HDMI or SDI, you can't work with units like the Nano, but those kinds of things are so expensive that the lack of HDMI is probably not a concern.

Here is the other concern with tape based HDV: dropouts. I never had a dropout when shooting SD with my XHA1. When I switched to shooting HD, I always had to check every tape captured because I would often find one or two dropouts and sometimes a lot more. I do a lot of multi-cam shooting, so a drop out can put one track of video seriously out of synch with the others. This is not a problem specific to the XHA1. It happens with almost every HDV tape camera I've used. There are no such problems when recording to tapeless units.

8. For what say you want to do, it sounds as though you might find the new Sony NEX10 interesting. Have you looked at that camera?
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Old November 3rd, 2010, 07:06 PM   #4
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Now that's what I call a detailed answer! Jay wins "Post Of The Day" with this one. Well done!
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Old November 3rd, 2010, 07:26 PM   #5
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Tans,

I don't have a CX550, but have used my XH-A1 for about 1 years now. I've also used Canon HV20/HV40's extensively and a Sony HDR-HC1.

I don't think there is any comparison between the XH-A1 and the other HD cameras that I have used. I'm quite comfortable with the tape workflow. It isn't so bad for me, but I'm usually not on a tight timeline like many professionals.Spending an extra 30-45 minutes to transfer footage from tape to my computer is not really a problem.

I was very much a consumer oriented video guy who did photography before, but I read and read and read everything I could find before making my purchase. For me, it was a wonderful learning experience in many ways and a habit that I continue even now. Since you're here, you probably are aware of the tremendous community that exists in this forum. I've found everyone is incredibly helpful and rarely impatient even with questions from those less experienced. The massive wealth of knowledge that can be gleaned from the thousands and thousands of posts is indescribable.

I say all that because Jay is correct -- the learning curve with an XH-A1 is certainly steeper than a consumer camera. Still, you'll be able to get up and running with it almost immediately and then you can experiement and tweak settings to improve the quality of your work. It's not as overwhelming as I thought when I first got mine thanks to all that you can learn here.

I also agree with Jay about buying a used camera. Be careful. Ebay is a good way to buy because you have some security to be certain you get what you pay for. I've bought quite a few things from folks here on DVInfo and never been disappointed. Even without the added securities of eBay, so far I've found everyone to be extremely friendly and helpful with purchases. I paid about $2250 for mine, but got a great tripod and fluid head with it. It turned out that it a lot of fine sand inside and needed about $600 of work from the Canon Service Center within a month, but I still consider buy an XH-A1 a great purchase.

I don't find the lowlight capabilities all that bad -- especially when software help is used in post when used with a higher-than-normal gain setting. But my requirements are not as high as a others, too. It's all relative and based on your expectations and needs.

It is much larger than consumers cameras, but the extra weight helps with the already outstanding image stabilization system. Also, the XLR audio inputs give you a HUGE advantage in terms of capturing sound. Your options for acquiring quality audio -- something you must have if you're even a little serious about your work -- are increased exponentially. If money is a problem, you can begin with good, but relatively inexpensive mics and progress to better ones. I started with a $100 mic and now have about $2000 in quality mics that I added one by one.

I agree that YouTube and Vimeo are not good examples of a camera's sharpness. I've seen 480p video look better than 720p because of other factors involved. (I'm no expert on those factors.) I know that my XH-A! consistently gives outstanding picture quality and allows me to adjust an awful lot of variables to get what I want, but, to be honest, a lot of times I just putting it on Auto for just about everything except white balance (which is easily set correctly).

Interestingly, one thing that everyone who moves from a consumer camera to a pro camera notices is that you receive a heck of a lot more respect from folks just because you have a "big" camera. I shoot a lot of track and cross country meets. When I've taken a small camera, I'm just the same as dozens of moms and dads with camcorders fighting for good spots to film. When I put my XH-A1 on a tripod and attach a big shotgun mic, people are very careful to not step in front and are much more respectful in terms of allowing me access. It has nothing to do with my ability or even what I am doing. It's all because of the camera.

Interestingly, unlike Jay, I don't remember ever having a dropout and I constantly reuse tapes for non-essential work shooting HD. I am always experiementing and learning how to use my camera better. I may use a the first half of a tape 10 times (which would be far too much if I wasn't just practicing) without any dropouts so far. I only used brand new tapes for critical work.

I certainly don't regret my XH-A1 purchase one bit. My only regret is that I don't have more time to work on all the projects that I'd like to do.
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Old November 3rd, 2010, 11:53 PM   #6
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Phil & Chris: thanks for the compliments.

The drops-out thing has been insidious and unpredictable for me but I am sure it is not anything specific to the XHA1. It may be related to specific production runs of particular tapes or it may be endemic to HDV tapes. I could go four or five shoots without seeing a single drop-out on any of my HDV cams and then I would get a project where I get one, or two, or three or many on some or most of my HDV cams. I forget whether it is Stelios or Noa who has posted about a once-in-a-while problem of a wedding video shoot with numerous drop-outs on one tape, but that is the kind of issue I'm talking about.

Today, I was talking with another wedding videographer who bought his XHA1 from the same local store where I bought mine. He bought his within the same same week that I did so his cam was in the same production run as mine. Like me, he has always used Sony and TDK tapes he bought at our local Costco. He has never ever had a drop-out with tape from his XHA1. One of out local audio guys bought a used FX1 and has never had a drop out with the TDK and Sony tapes from Costco. He constantly re-usues tapes. I also own an FX1000 with which I've never had a drop out even when re-using tapes on which I had drop-outs with my XHA1. I can re-use a tape in my XHA1 where I had a drop out the first time and either not have a drop out. Or have so many drop-outs that tape is almost unsuable.

Hence. my recommendation for anyone who is now looking at cameras like the XHA1 or XHA1s is that they leave enough money in their budget to cover a tapeless unit in addition to the tripod and external mic and whatever else they need.

There is an very long thread here about using the MRC with the XHA1 and that is something I recommend to anyone considering an XHA1. I've found that my MRC units work better with my XHA1 than with my Sony Cams such as the FX1000. There are less expensive tapeless units now, too, such as the Datavideo DN60. I forget whether it was Noa Put or Stelios who started a thread on successfully using the less expensive Datavideo DN60 with his XHA1 in shooting wedding videos. That is recommended reading, as well..

Now, back to the original posting: the XHA1 certainly is a much more professional looking camera than the CX550 and TM700 cams, so you may gain gain some status in using one. If that matters. It tmay or may not matter to the documentaries that the OP wants to shoot. On the one hand, the people you interview (or actors for your indie movie) may take you more seriously if you show up with a big tripod and an XHA1. On the other hand, that "pro" looking camera can turn people off and also can make you an all-too-conspicuous target for thieves, thugs and folks who do not want to be documented.

Apart from that issue, the XHA1 has a lot of capabilities than the smaller cams do not have. Learning to use those capabilities requires a lot more time. Tans can't go wrong with any of the cameras he listed, but the XHA1 will definitely take him in a different direction. The CX550 and TM700 are cams he will master pretty quickly. But, as Phil put it: "I certainly don't regret my XH-A1 purchase one bit. My only regret is that I don't have more time to work on all the projects that I'd like to do."
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Old November 4th, 2010, 04:42 AM   #7
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I was going to chip in as well, but Chris' Diploma of the Day' award has already gone, so I'll just clap instead.
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Old November 4th, 2010, 04:44 AM   #8
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Can we expect someone to start doing mods to XH-A1 cameras. Remove the tape mechanism once it begins to fail and insert a digital card recorder specially designed for that space. I'm sure it would be a prosperous business venture as the basic camera body and electronics should last for many years.
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Old November 4th, 2010, 04:51 AM   #9
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Funny you should say that as Sony did it with the Z5 - changing it to the NX5.
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Old November 4th, 2010, 12:16 PM   #10
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If you want pretty robust manual control, yet are considering a TM700, I'd suggest taking a hard look at the HMC40 (or HMC41).
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Old November 4th, 2010, 12:26 PM   #11
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Surely both those cameras you list are twice the price of the 700?
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Old November 5th, 2010, 05:45 AM   #12
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Tom, Robert, Don, Jay, Phil, Chris:

Thank you for all the answers. Jay, Phil: very very thank you.


I will try to reply for these questions / informations.

In the past these pro / semi-pro cameras has much better real resolution, but couple of consumer cameras also reached the 1000 px or more horizontal resolution. Like the TM700, where the 50p or 60p mode resolution is very impressive.

When I am talking about sharpness, these are the 'etalon' videos for me:

Tm700:
Sony Ex1:

Do you think that a xh a1 in native or with some help in post can give such a high real resolution ?

I had a Canon 7D photogear too, I love and very often use manual settings, so I have no problem if I need to learn all the settings of the XH A1.

I would like to buy xh a1 next year, the tm700 was an example of the minimum resolution I expect from a camera, also I am really impressed in the stabilisation of the cx550. On the other hand, the stabilisation of sony ex1 is very dissapointing (from my point of view), even it is a pro/semi-pro cam. (this is a hesitation if a pro cam is always better than a cheaper consumer cam, but nevermind, I want the xh a1).

The price limit is 2000 usd / 1500 uk fonts, so I think hmc40 is not in that range.

I don't afraid of using tapes, although I know the advantages of file based recording. AVCHD also not a problem, my computer can handle it. I had worked with tape m2t files, too.

Jay, thank you for the comparsion between xh a1 and the 2 consumer camera. Xh a1 is a clear winner here. I am not afraid of xh a1 being to complicated, I love manual settings, this is one of the reason I want to upgrade from a full auto cam to a manual cam. XLR audio, pro look, manual setting is also an extra I really like.

I had looked NEX10. To be honest, I am not impressed about the whole image quality, color, and real resolution (and bookeh, but that is another story). It is missing a dedicated zoom button (I know how hard to zoom and hold steady a camcorder or a photo camera). Also I don't like the idea of swapping lenses, because the good quality lens are very expensive, or the cheaper ones with good zoom (like 18-200) has very low quality.

I am not thinking about ebay for buy an used xh-a1, I look at ads here to find a camera for sale.

So once again, thank you for the answers and suggestions.
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Old November 5th, 2010, 07:05 AM   #13
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I have the best luck with Sony Digital Master tapes with regard to dropouts in my XH-A1s. I am considering the Canon branded CF Pro unit for tapeless (or dual recording).
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Old November 5th, 2010, 07:53 PM   #14
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Tans:

Canon XHA1 cams have a lot of adjustments including adjustments for sharpness. That can make a difference in how sharp the image appears even on Vimeo.

You certainly can get great pictures with little cams like the CX550 and TM700. As I said, there are times when I like the pictures from my CX550 cams better than those from my pro cams.

Sometimes auto settings work better than I do. It is just a fact of life. Sometimes, the auto settings just result in an overly bright picture, though. Much as a louder sound system may seem subjectively "better" than the quieter ones next to it in the store, you can get the same kind of subjective push when you compare vimeo or you-tube clips on a computer.

If you want to compare images, you really want to do it with much larger screens and preferrably with camera footage and not stuff edited, compressed and shipped to work with little windows on computer screens. Gte larger pictures and you may very well reach different conclusions about which footage you find better.
.
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Old November 5th, 2010, 09:55 PM   #15
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The A1 is a fine choice and as long lasting as any in it's class. As for sharpness on Vimeo, the first video below was shot with a two year old A1 in FLorida that then found a new home in Alaska (courtesy of DVInfo Private Classifieds) and was used to make the second video.


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