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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 February 15th, 2007, 08:03 PM   #1
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my new A1: observations and problems

I bought myself an A1 reluctantly - I really liked the Sony V1, but I just couldn't bring myself to spend the extra money on a camera that can't deal with low-light situations, goes crazy in flourescent light situations (see my recent post on the V1 forum - maybe the unit I tried out was faulty - or maybe I just wasnt using the camera right!), and doesn't even have the much-promoted 25p setting (I'm in China, and the V1 I checked out just didn't have this function - perhaps they just took it off for the China market after having problems in the European market?).

So... I took my new A1 out for its first test ride yesterday. I was shooting with a friend who has a Z1. Naturally, we spent most of the time comparing the two cameras. Here are my observations:

Good 1. The A1 has a wider lens - good for someone like me who doesn't like attaching extra lenses.

Good 2. Without setting white balance, the A1 is more colour-accurate in low light situations - Sony's cameras always go a bit orange.

Bad 1. The A1 is badly balanced (in handling terms).

Bad 2. The A1 has lots of nasty little buttons that feel like they're going to fall off.

Bad 3. The A1's LCD screen is tiny and not very accurate compared to the image as reviewed on an HD television.

Bad 4. I always record audio with an external mic (on a Lightwave minimount - I've already taken the attached mic mount off. By the way - the hotshoe on my minimount just broke - I wrote to Lightwave (ie Rycote) and they sent me a better replacement hotshoe right away, even though I live in China - I was very impressed). On the A1, you can record the sound you get from one mic onto two tracks - BUT you can't adjust these two tracks separately so that one is lower than the other. This is something that can be done on the Z1, and it's really useful for someone like me who shoots documentary and hasn't got time to fiddle around with audio settings all the time - the high track is safe most of the time, and the low track can be used when the high track is too hot. Perhaps I'm wrong about the A1 being able to so this - PLEASE someone tell me that I'm wrong!

Bad 5. We shot some brightly-colored clothes hanging up to dry against a bright, late afternoon sky. In the background against the sky were winter trees and power lines. The first thing I noticed was that the Z1 picked up the color of the clothes much better than the A1 - I played around with shutter speed and iris, but just couldn't get the same color range and detail as the Z1. ALSO - reviewing my footage at home on an HD TV, something weird happened to the area or sky criss-crossed with branches and wires - some of the wires that appeared as single lines on the camera's LCD screen were doubled on the TV screen. Also, a large section in the middle of the picture looked blurred and surreal - it wasn't that blown out look you get when something is over-exposed - it was like looking through the bottom of a beer glass.

Bad 6. The A1 is VERY noisy in low-light situations. Much noisier than the Z1. I thought the A1 was supposed to have quite a fast lens. Seems not.

Bad 7. Maybe I just haven't got used to Canon's zoom, but I found all three ways of controlling zoom clunky and inaccurate. In comparison, Sony is smoother and easier to control.

So - two goods and seven bads. So far.

Having said all this, I still haven't given up on the camera - I haven't got a choice anyway - we don't have a nice returns policy here in China like you guys do in the US.

What I'm thinking is that I haven't learnt how to use the camera properly yet (understandably, as I've only had it for a few days and haven't yet read the manual).

So - I'd be really grateful for some advice from all of you more-experienced users out there. What am I doing wrong? What I want to know most is: How can I widen the camera's colour range, how can I reduce noise in low-light situations, and how can I adjust the two audio tracks seperately.

Thank you for wading through this post!
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Old February 15th, 2007, 09:16 PM   #2
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I don't find any flimsy buttons--it all seems pretty well built to me, compared to the other 1/3" chip cameras.

You can't just take it out of the box and use it without some setups to get richer color, etc.

I find the screen, while smaller than the Sony, incredibly sharp.

I agree that the balance is not quite as nice as the Z1.

You can adjust the sound independently with external mics. I don't use the built-in one. I have a short shotgun mounted in the mount on the camera going to channel 1 and another shotgun or wireless on the talent. I can record both channels totally independently. The build in mic is stereo and you really can't use it for that.

I've shot more with the Z1 than the XH A1, and the nicer color of the A1 is one reason I got it. But again, just like the Z1 you have to adjust the camera to your liking.


The zoom has speed and ramp adjustments.

In comparing with the Z1 the XH A1 needs less light but if you use high gain over +6db, the Z1 is better. At a very low light situation where you might shoot at a +6db on the A1, you would be shooting at +12 db with the Z1, but the +12db on the Z1 will be as good as the +6 db on the A1.

For me it would be completly impossible to have used the Canon without first spending a lot of time with the manual.

As for the weirdness you describe in your No. 5...I can't explain that unless something is horribly wrong with the camera or there was a big smudge on the lens. The doubling of the image is not normal either. You might should send it back and get another one.
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Old February 15th, 2007, 09:21 PM   #3
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"What I'm thinking is that I haven't learnt how to use the camera properly yet (understandably, as I've only had it for a few days and haven't yet read the manual)."

A1 is not an easy camera to shoot, and definetly not a good point and shoot camera, you have to have a good understanding of manual control in order to get a good picture, you can help yourself by getting on the internet and search for knowledge like, what is core settings do, what will gain do, once you understand what every settings on the camera do, then hook it up to your hd monitor and start playing with all the control and settings and see what they do, this is the only way for you to learn and get better with it, I don't think anybody can really teach you how to get a good picture on a forum like this, if you don't feel like learning, I recommend the Z1, it is a better camera as far as point and shoot goes, I had one so I know.
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Old February 15th, 2007, 10:20 PM   #4
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lizi, this may all be redundant for you, but here goes anyway. if you have automatic gain control on, my first suggestion would be to turn it off and never turn it on again. i find that's the thing most people neglect to do when they report how noisy the camera is. for cleanest results, lock your gain at -3 or 0. if you like auto modes, try to shoot in Tv (shutter priority) mode, and lock your shutter speed at 1/48 (or 1/24 in really low light, if you can get away with it). you have the ability to lock exposure and manually adjust the aperture by pressing the exposure lock button. i find autofocus likes to hunt sometimes in low light, which is on par with other cameras i've used, so go to manual focus, and push and hold the AF button when you want to momentarily go to auto focus. and, finally, take advantage of the dialable white balance. i like to shoot this way when i go handheld.
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Old February 16th, 2007, 01:21 AM   #5
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The canon XH-A1 is mainly an indie film maker camcorder. 24f and the most custom-able menu system ever ! Its like having CC capabilities built on board.

Now, if you strictly do documentary, a lot of the above will not apply to you. For run n gun documentary you will need good balance for prolong hand held shots, good low light capabilities in uncontrolled environment ....etc. Plus you hardly would use 24f for the "real life" look of a documentary.

The canon zoom is a servo electronic zoom control it is not a true manual zoom like on the dvx or hvx. As for sound, regardless of what camcorder you use, I would recommend an external portable mixer anyways.

Also, canon is notorious for leaving their camcorder on default setting to look as "FLAT" as possible. Once you learned how to 'tweak' the look, it is possibly the most capable and flexible hdv camcorder on the market right now.

I have shot with the Z1u before, and i agreed that it is a better built unit vs the Canon A1. However the A1 is much much more flexible, capable and customable cam. But if you strictly shoot only documentary, the 50i/60i Z1u might served you just fine.

p/s: we might want to add another canon A1 to our arsenal ! let me know if you want to sell it :)
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Old February 16th, 2007, 03:35 AM   #6
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Just a few comments:


Quote:
Originally Posted by Lizi Hesling
Good 1. The A1 has a wider lens - good for someone like me who doesn't like attaching extra lenses.

Good 2. Without setting white balance, the A1 is more colour-accurate in low light situations - Sony's cameras always go a bit orange.

Bad 1. The A1 is badly balanced (in handling terms).

Bad 2. The A1 has lots of nasty little buttons that feel like they're going to fall off.

Bad 3. The A1's LCD screen is tiny and not very accurate compared to the image as reviewed on an HD television.
Indeed, these are what everybody notes when comparing the two cameras.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Lizi Hesling
Bad 4. I always record audio with an external mic (on a Lightwave minimount - I've already taken the attached mic mount off. By the way - the hotshoe on my minimount just broke - I wrote to Lightwave (ie Rycote) and they sent me a better replacement hotshoe right away, even though I live in China - I was very impressed). On the A1, you can record the sound you get from one mic onto two tracks - BUT you can't adjust these two tracks separately so that one is lower than the other. This is something that can be done on the Z1, and it's really useful for someone like me who shoots documentary and hasn't got time to fiddle around with audio settings all the time - the high track is safe most of the time, and the low track can be used when the high track is too hot. Perhaps I'm wrong about the A1 being able to so this - PLEASE someone tell me that I'm wrong!
Unfortunately, you are right. The only solutions would be to use 2 mics, or to use a splitter to connect your mic to the two inputs.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lizi Hesling
Bad 5. We shot some brightly-colored clothes hanging up to dry against a bright, late afternoon sky. In the background against the sky were winter trees and power lines. The first thing I noticed was that the Z1 picked up the color of the clothes much better than the A1 - I played around with shutter speed and iris, but just couldn't get the same color range and detail as the Z1. ALSO - reviewing my footage at home on an HD TV, something weird happened to the area or sky criss-crossed with branches and wires - some of the wires that appeared as single lines on the camera's LCD screen were doubled on the TV screen. Also, a large section in the middle of the picture looked blurred and surreal - it wasn't that blown out look you get when something is over-exposed - it was like looking through the bottom of a beer glass.
Could you please post a picture? It is difficult to know what the problem really is from the text alone.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Lizi Hesling
Bad 6. The A1 is VERY noisy in low-light situations. Much noisier than the Z1. I thought the A1 was supposed to have quite a fast lens. Seems not.
The A1 is noisy in its default mode, but it is quite sensitive. You will find out that using the A1 Noise reduction features and limiting the gain a bit will give you much better low light pictures than the V1 can achieve in low light, and reportedly just as good as the Z1.

Personally, I suggest:
-reducing coring a bit
-pressing the blacks a bit
-using NR1=1 unless you have fast moving subjects
-using NR2=2 or 3 (depending on the gain below)
-limiting the gain to 6 or 12 dB

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lizi Hesling
Bad 7. Maybe I just haven't got used to Canon's zoom, but I found all three ways of controlling zoom clunky and inaccurate. In comparison, Sony is smoother and easier to control.
Under custom functions, you can adjust how fast the zoom and focus rings operate. I personally also like to put the zoom button on the handle on minimal zoom speed and to use this button when I need a very slow zoom.
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Old February 16th, 2007, 07:48 AM   #7
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Thanks for all your replies, guys.

It's true I haven't yet gone into the custom presets on the camera - and true also that I don't know what half of them mean - I have a lot of learning ahead of me - luckily, I now (at last) have an English manual to work with. I went to the Canon repair shop today to ask them if they thought any of the things I was seeing were weird - they didn't know much, but they agreed that it didn't look good - they're going to take the camera in to do some checks, especially on the noise - at the same time, they printed an English manual out for me.

Although I haven't yet tweeked all the things you can tweek under "customise" I have played with everything else (I think)... I like to shoot in full manual mode - the only thing I don't like to set is white balance (I was glad to read here a while ago that someone else agrees with me about setting white balance - at least I think it was here - the writer said that these big camera companies spend huge amounts developing excellent automatic white balance functions, so it's best not to fiddle - my admittedly limited experience has backed this up). During my test shoot yesterday, I fiddled with iris, shutter speed, gain, white balance, focus, zoom - everything I could find that was button-connected...

So - when I went to the Canon repair shop, they put my test images up onto a normal SD television screen. They agreed that the noise was a bit too much, even at 0db (I haven't yet tried setting the gain to -3db). They also picked out noise where I hadn't noticed it, on a red wall shot in perfectly reasonable light (well, alright, the sun was setting) with the gain on automatic. As for the shot of clothes against a bright sky, it looked very different on the SD TV screen - the doubling wasn't there any more - instead, the wires were buzzing, and the colors breaking up along them - also, there was a distinct lack of detail. The Canon people seemed to think this was all quite normal - they said one reason the wires were buzzing could have been because focus was on automatic (which it had been at that point). Apart from these things, the SD screen started showing up some strange color distortions - the most obvious one was a white dog with blueish patches (maybe because I hadn't set the white balance??).

One other problem I didn't mention in my first post - I got five drop-outs on my test tape! Five drop-outs in only half an hour of footage! I am using Panasonic professional-quality mini DV tapes - as far as I know, no other tapes have been used in the camera. I have now cleaned the heads - is there anything else I can do to prevent drop-outs?

Jerome - could you tell me how to find the noise reduction feature you mention? Thank you for your other tips - I will try them out asap.

Khoi Pham - I don't have an HD monitor - would monitoring on my HD television be OK to check customisations? I do have access to an SD monitor - would this work?

Bill - I have found and used the speed adjustment for the zoom - but what is ramp?

It's the Spring Festival here in China at the moment, so I still have a week to play around with the camera before I give it back to Canon for its check-up. If I still don't like it by then, and Canon don't find anything wrong with it, Jason, perhaps we can make a deal? ;-)
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Old February 17th, 2007, 08:01 PM   #8
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I think you are probably having buyers remorse and maybe you could try another camera more for the home enthusiast. Best of luck!!
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Old February 17th, 2007, 08:15 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lizi Hesling
I was shooting with a friend who has a Z1. Naturally, we spent most of the time comparing the two cameras. Here are my observations:

Good 1. The A1 has a wider lens - good for someone like me who doesn't like attaching extra lenses.
Sorry if I'm not understanding what you mean here. But the A1 doesn't have a wider lens than the Z1 according to the specs. Both cameras have a 35mm equivalent of 32.5mm at the wide end of the zoom (actual focal length is 4.5mm on both). Maybe you were thinking of the V1 which doesn't go as wide?
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Old February 18th, 2007, 01:21 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lizi Hesling
Jerome - could you tell me how to find the noise reduction feature you mention?
Read pages 72 and 73 of the user manual.
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Old February 18th, 2007, 01:35 PM   #11
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I used both of my cameras (SONY FX-1) side by side and the CANON is wider to my eye.
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Old February 18th, 2007, 04:12 PM   #12
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The Z1 and XH A1 both are 4.5mm at the wide end. The Canon goes to 90mm on the other end and the Sony to 54mm. So, at least according to the specs, they are exactly the same at wide angle. Could it be the FX1 has a less-wide lens than the Z1?
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