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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 January 24th, 2007, 10:39 AM   #1
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More XH-A1 New-User Experiences

Well, I've shot about 40 minutes with the camera so far, mostly on the Watercress Line in bright winter sunshine, and like any new relationship it's been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster ride. Happily, I've overcome the early misunderstandings, and the romance is blossoming!

The camera is way ahead of the rest of my technology (for the moment), so it has been quite difficult to appreciate what it can do, and what effect the various controls actually have. My computer and NLE are strictly DV-only, my TV is PAL 4:3 SD and though my DVD-recorder has a Firewire input, nothing has component, DVI or HDMI capabilities. Even my Internet connection is 56k dial-up, so I'll not be able to post any clips from my experiments - sorry. Maybe some DV-resolution frame grabs, when I get a few moments...

It's a real shame that the camera does not have an S-video output (feature request for the Mk2 version?). The composite picture is actually rather naff - at first I thought I needed new glasses! Happily, I can connect the Firewire lead to my DVD recorder, which has an S-video connection to the TV. This set-up shows that the XH-A1 produces really great DV images - better than my old XM1, and I still think that's pretty good. The broad black letterbox bars really complement the vibrant image. One hint - although my DVD recorder (or perhaps my TV) can detect that the signal is widescreen, and adds its own letterbox, the edges (especially the top edge) flicker - presumably with each field of the interlaced picture. This does not happen if you tell the camera to add the letterbox (in VCR Play, choose Letterbox from the Signal Setup menu). Also note that you can't change some of the settings in the Signal Setup menu, such as down-convert Y/N, when connected to a live Firewire device, but the manual doesn't tell you this, though it has been mentioned around here. Here's my drill:
-- connect Firewire cable with both devices off;
-- turn on XH-A1 in VCR mode;
-- select Signal Setup options;
-- switch on receiving device.

To see what the HDV output looks like, I took the camera to Oxford's branch of Curry's and plugged the component leads into a number of different "HD-Ready" LCD TVs. At first, I was rather under-whelmed. Part of the problem was that it was hard to get a suitable distance away from the screens, but even so, the picture was a bit blurred and not at all "special". I tried 26" and 32" Panasonic, Sony and Samsung models, priced between about 800 and 1000, but none impressed. The salesman (who was actually remarkably knowledgeable and helpful) agreed with me, but suggested we try the more expensive LG (just under 1200). This made a big difference - now the pictures really did look the way I'd hoped they would: bright, clear, realistic. I played through almost everything I'd taken on this TV, and even some views of a friend's vegetable allotment looked good, and I'm no fan of leeks and Brussels sprouts!

BTW, none of the HD-Ready TVs I saw there had anything like acceptable SD pictures, which is very sad, since we will still want to watch SD pictures as well as HD. The majority of broadcasting for the foreseeable future will be SD (here in the UK, at least), and many of us have archives of DVDs, mini-DV and even VHS. I really cannot see why anyone would buy an HD TV for normal use just at the moment.

To return to the camera; the pictures on the TV screen (whether SD or HD, CRT or LCD) are noticeably warmer than through the viewfinder or on the fold-out LCD. It seems to me that there is a very slight glow, which makes things like brickwork look very warm. I've been shooting in bright, low winter sunshine, so there is a bit of a yellow/orange cast to the light anyway, but shall we say that the camera is making the most of this effect? Don't get me wrong - I love it, and if I'd thought of it and dialled it into the camera myself, I'd be exceptionally proud of my efforts!

I'm also impressed with the auto exposure's abilities. I've shot several scenes back-to-back using first the auto setting, then switching to manual and bracketing slightly different iris settings, etc. In all "normal" situations, the auto was right on the button. When things get a little harder, the AE Shift gives good, predictable results, though I haven't had a situation yet where more than +/- 0.5 was needed. I was also pleased with how close the viewfinder and the image on screen match, at least in terms of exposure, though there is a little more shadow detail in the (PAL SD CRT) TV picture than in the viewfinder. Maybe I can change the viewfinder brightness or contrast... By the way, does anyone else think it's a shame that AE Shift is only available from the menu? Could it go on a thumb-wheel or even the custom keys (AE Shift + and AE Shift -)? Something else to add to the XH-A2 wish-list!

I've tried a couple of custom present settings. When the sun went in just before a train was due, I tried black-stretch and soft knee to counter the bright sky and rather dull foreground. I didn't manage to do back-to-back shots, and switching part way through the shot would have spoilt the shot, so I can't be sure, but it seemed to make a useful difference. After dark, I was shooting under station lights so added +6db gain and to counteract this tried +3 coring and low NR2 noise-reduction, as recommended in a previous DVi thread. Again, I didn't go through lots of experiments to test these settings, but there's almost no speckly noise in the dark areas - at least in the view finder and on my SD CRT TV.

A couple of things that I miss from the XM1 - neither very significant :
1) ND on/off reminder - especially since the viewfinder does not show the auto-selected shutter or iris settings;
2) 10 second count-down - I hadn't realised how much I use this for static cut-away shots and the like;
I'm sure they will be added to the XH-A2, along with everything else.

The more I use my XH-A1, the more I like it. Long may it continue!
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Old January 24th, 2007, 06:51 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Fry

BTW, none of the HD-Ready TVs I saw there had anything like acceptable SD pictures, which is very sad, since we will still want to watch SD pictures as well as HD. The majority of broadcasting for the foreseeable future will be SD (here in the UK, at least), and many of us have archives of DVDs, mini-DV and even VHS. I really cannot see why anyone would buy an HD TV for normal use just at the moment.
Hi Mark. A couple of years ago I would have agreed with you wholeheartedly, but I think the situation has inmproved a lot since then. It could be the way the TVs are adjusted (or not adjusted) by the salesmen in the shop. A lot of these TVs have default settings that produce really garbage pictures. You usually need to deselect "features" like Dynamic Contrast and play around with the contrast, brightness, colour saturation and sharpness controls in the menu before you get good results.

Richard
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Old January 25th, 2007, 10:12 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Fry
...the viewfinder does not show the auto-selected shutter or iris settings...
When in "A" Auto mode, press the Exp. Lock button once and the auto-selected shutter and iris settings will show on the display. Press the Exp. Lock button again to return to the "A" Auto mode. Thanks for sharing such a detailed report -- much appreciated,
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Old January 25th, 2007, 12:11 PM   #4
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Is the XH-A1 suitable for this chap?

I don't want to turn this into a personal blog, but... I received the following message from a DVi member today soliciting my opinion on the suitability of the Canon XH-A1. I'm no expert, and in particular, I've never used 24P, since I much prefer the more fluid motion of 50i. Therefore, I thought I'd reply here so that those with more experience can contribute.

Quote:
I'm basically a newcomer to this video world and I'm having a hard time trying to decide what camera to go with for videography and
small shows I plan on making for YouTube. It seems to me that the A1 is a very complicated camera and I have heard horror stories about connection problems with Final Cut Pro. But it also seems like it would be a fabulous camera to own once I familiarise myself with its controls. Would you recommend this camera to a person just starting out ?? I really want a camera that shoots 24p. Thank you for taking time out to read this. I really appreciate it a lot.
If your normal delivery method is YouTube and similar web video sites, then any HDV camera is overkill, IMO, particularly since HDV cameras are all widescreen and YouTube, AFAIK, is 4:3 only. If I were you, I'd look at the Canon XM2/GL2 and XL2, Sony VX2100/PD170 or Panasonic DVX100A. I gather that the PD170, in particular, is selling in large numbers for exactly this kind of application. However, I don't know how well it does 24P, if at all...

Maybe you should ask yourself why 24P is important to you, and also whether it might be better to convert to 24P whilst you are compressing your final movie to WMV, DivX or whatever you use for YouTube. BTW, I'd be really interested to know what format you are using, what compression software you use, and why you have chosen them... but maybe that's a discussion for a different forum. :-)

Have a think about your total budget, and don't blow it all on the camera. To start with you'll want a tripod with a fluid head (e.g. Manfroto 501/503 are decent VFM), headphones, microphones and boom/stand (for use "on set") or camera shock mount (when out and about on your own). Pretty soon you'll probably want lights, a sound mixer and so on. There's lots of advice about these things in other DVi forums (or should that be fora?)

If you want to make shows for higher resolution outputs, then HDV cameras are worth considering. Even if you are working in standard definition, their "proper" widescreen abilities could be very attractive. HDV down-converted to DV is at least as good as from a native DV camera, and personally I think my XH-A1 looks better than either an XM1 or a VX2100. To my mind, the XH-A1 is the pick of the bunch at the moment, which is why I bought one, but you should also consider the Sony V1. Since you want to use 24P, the FX1/Z1 and FX7 are no use to you. The Panasonic HVX200 will be much more expensive and inconvenient, IMO, because of its solid-state P2 recording, but I'm told it has other virtues. ;-) There are other, cheaper options, such as the Sony HVR-A1, a couple of new Sony consumer HDV cams, and a JVC hard-disc camera due in a month or two, all of which are discussed at length elsewhere, but I don't know which, if any, do 24P.

Using the XH-A1 can be as complex as you want to make it, but that's true of the others as well. The auto exposure makes sensible choices in most lighting conditions, and the audio auto-level control will keep you out of trouble when you don't have control over the noises around you. As you realise the limitations of auto modes, you have all the control you'll ever want (and then some!)

As for the capture problems with FCP - I'm a PC user, so I don't know much about the MAC world, but I think the "horror stories" are an exaggeration. Yes, some folks have problems with batch capture, but they've been reported to Canon & Apple so there should be a fix before too long. In the mean time, live capture works, or there are other NLEs that should work in Windows emulation. It's bit of a pain, but not dire.
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Old January 25th, 2007, 12:28 PM   #5
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This is a variation on the age old question of "which cam should I buy?"

The question's been asked to death, but if he's just looking to get started, no professional use, then the answer is in his wallet. For youtube and learning, a simple one chip cam will do. 24 F is a luxury he has to decide if he wants to pay for, he sure doesn't need it. If he's just uploading to youtube, he might as well use his cell phone camera, 'cause that's what most of that stuff looks like it was shot on anyway, once youtube gets their hands on it.
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