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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 26th, 2007, 08:25 PM   #1
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Should I buy an A1 for my indie movie?

I want to shoot low-budget movies that look like film, so do I need 24p with progressive scan and native 16:9? What about a 35mm adaptor?

I was recommended the Canon XHA1 over the Panasonic DVX100b in another thread here and even by some on the DVXUser forum, because it is HD for only an extra $600 and thus "future-proofed" for roughly 4 years. I've got a tight $6k budget for the camera and all accessories.

The A1 looks great in the hi-res test films I saw on zudeo.com. My primary concerns with the A1 are the reportedly weak LCD and the ergonomics (heavy and badly weighted in center).

Any help would be appreciated!
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Old February 27th, 2007, 01:13 AM   #2
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By all means look into getting an HDV cam over an SD DV one. The DVX100b is indeed the pinnacle of SD cams for a filmmaker... but has about 1/4 of the resolution of a 1080i HDV camera. Now... that's not to say you can't buy one of those and shoot great films with it. But the future is certainly headed toward high(er) def.

Whether the A1 is right for you depends on a lot of variables. At its price point, there definitely trade offs... like the LCD resolution you mention and a lack of some higher end XLR controls/ options, among others. Sony makes a few contenders in the same ballpark pricewise that are worthy of your consideration (and have different trade offs). The JVC cams are likely out of your budget, as is the "P2" Panny.

Delve into the forums here and you'll find hours... OK, days of reading to immerse yourself in your purchase options.

BUt unless you've already got a decent mic, lights, tripod, and misc. gear, $6k is not enough to budget the A1 plus all of that stuff (and more) that you'll need to shoot "filmic" experiences.

Brian Brown
A Happy (and somewhat informed) new A1 owner
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Old February 27th, 2007, 03:55 AM   #3
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Sounds like it's time to get some hands on at a local store to see if the ergonomics are okay with you. I bet you'll know right away once you get one in your hands.
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Old February 27th, 2007, 04:24 AM   #4
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I don't have any reservations in recommending the XH-A1 for an indie film project. The image is stunning and while it has buckets of resolution it also lacks the ugly over sharpening that other cameras in its class employ.

The flexibility the presets give you in creating a look in camera may also be useful to you and coupled with the excellent latitude the camera produces a super picture without the video-ey look of other cameras in its class.

The LCD is the weakest link but set it up properly by using the colour bars and you'll find the accurate peaking makes up for the lack of size. If in doubt use the one push Instant AF for super fast tack sharp focus.

Balance of the camera is fine with the largest battery installed. It is weighty but no more so than the Z1.

TT
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Old February 27th, 2007, 04:53 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Duggins
I've got an imac 2ghz duo core, 1 gig ram, 160 gig HD with a 17" monitor. I'm new to editing and want to build an edit suite...

I plan to get Final Cut Pro. What else do I need? Do I need a second monitor for dual screen? Special keyboard? External hard drive? Converters?

I will have about $1,000 left in my budget after purchasing final cut. This is my edit budget, not my $6,000 camera equipment budget.
Okay, thanks for the advice. I'm going with the A1! After the external HD (I'm getting a mini-stack 2), what else do I need for my edit set-up? Magic Bullet--is that cool or unnecessary?

How would I hook up a standard television monitor to my iMac so I can view my project?

I'm only trying to buy the bare minimum amount of stuff I need. I'll get all the important stuff from B&H, except for a few cheap misc. minor thingies off of eBay.

Please look over my list and tell me if it's good or not, anything I may be missing... I live in a state with very little sunshine/hot weather so do I really need a circular polarizer except during the height of summer?


Canon A1 = $3500

Bogen 351MVB2 Tripod (503 fluid head) = $500

Audio-Technica AT897 Shotgun Mic (+ Rode SM-3 shockmount, K-Tek KE89CC boompole, Rycote 14cm Medium Hole Softie, XLR cables) = $600

Tiffen UV filter = $31

Hoodman H-300 Camcorder Hood with H-3C Magnifier = $30

Kata CC-193 Shoulder Case = $120
Smith-Victor K33B Attache Tungsten Light Kit - consists of: 3 700-SG Quartz Lights 600W, 3 Lamps, 3 4-Leaf Barndoors, 3 Stands and 650 Attache Case - 1800 Total Watts = $440

SpiderBrace 2 Shoulder Mount = $70

Misc. Vivid and Diffusion Filters ($44), 3x Filter Holders ($120), Lens Cleaner Pen ($10), Head Cleaner ($12) = approx. $200

((end B&H cart))

Sony HD ($8.60 per) and SD Excellence ($4.90 per) blank tapes

Elite Video A1 Training DVD = $35

Rush Hamden's Digital Filmmaking Training Course DVDs = $357

Misc. Books: Rebel's Guide to Making Killer Action Movies, 5 C's of Cinematography, etc. = approx. $100 @ Amazon

I've gone about a grand over my original $6k estimate, but within reason. My B&H shopping cart is $5,500 after S&H.

Last edited by Jim Duggins; February 27th, 2007 at 06:22 AM.
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Old February 27th, 2007, 08:03 AM   #6
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You might want to rethink the tripod and head choice. If the reference to the rebel's guide to making killer action movies is any hint about the kind of movies you want to make you might be frustrated by the Bogen head. I'd suggest getting the camera and then trying to borrow a few tripods to test out.

In my view the obvious omission is an audio production mixer. It is is very difficult to get good audio without one and good audio is very important. You might consider taking a look at http://www.locationaudiosimplified.com and buying the book which is full of great advice even if some of the info on prosmumer cameras is a little dated (even though it was published in 2006).

Field mixers are expensive, but they hold their value better than cameras. Take a look at http://www.sounddevices.com or http://www.wendtinc.net/ they both make products widely used and praised.

Last edited by Peter Wiley; February 27th, 2007 at 10:15 AM.
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Old February 27th, 2007, 10:08 AM   #7
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Re: the comment about the LCD being "weak." It is smaller than the one on the Sony, but it is incredibly sharp and is even useable in bright daylight outside. The camera is a little nose heavy and for long periods of hand holding can get heavy. If you plan on shooting, say, a lot of hand held interviews for a documentary, then some sort of a brace would be good. A friend of mine who just ordered the camera also ordered one of those braces that hooks into a belt. I think it's the Tiffren Steadystick, or one like it. He shoots a lot of hand held stuff for music video, so it's appropriate for him.

With your budget limitations, I think I'd forgo the $357 for the DVD training course. You can get books for free at the library. Nothing against that training course, but that's a big chunk of change out of a $6K budget. You could save about another 100 bucks if you went for the Libec 22 tripod and head. I got one from Zotz Digital, and it's amazingly good for the price.

You have $120 for filter holders. What are those? With proper tweaking of the camera, you really don't need those filters. What I would do is get a simple UV protective filter for the lens and not buy anything else until you have the camera and figure out what you might need.

A field mixer is probably out of your price range at this point, so you'll need a long extension cable so your soundman can monitor audio.

As far as tapes, I'd stay away from those cheaper ones. I've been using Panasonic AMQ tapes, which are between $8 and $9. No problems so far, and I've heard good things about them from others.

If the mic comes with a foam windscreen, you could live without the Rycote and save a little there.

The books are good. I might also recommend "Film and the Director," by Livingston. It's a paperback and probably you can find used ones from amazon.com. It's very basic but tells you what you need to know if you don't know anything about filmmaking.

I think you're going to need more RAM for your computer to make things work as well as they should. Also, at least one external firewire drive. It's not a good idea to load up that single drive with too much video footage.
I personally would have trouble editing with a single monitor, but some people do it. As far as an NTSC monitor, when editing HDV in FCP, you can set your video output from 1080p24 HDV to NTSC 720X480, and you can see a still image on a regular NTSC monitor, but you can't play it. However, it's good enough for basic color correction in most cases, and you can export small chunks periodically and render them in an NTSC timeline to check your color adjustments.

Overall you're looking at a pretty decent package. I probably would try to put more money into lights, but you go with what you can afford. At any rate, you really can't get everything you'll need in advance. There's always something. I used to own a large sailboat, and sailors have a saying: A boat is a hole in the water surrounded by fiberglass into which you throw money for the rest of your life. It would be accurate to say the same thing about film production urges.
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Old February 27th, 2007, 10:31 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pryor
A boat is a hole in the water... into which you throw money for the rest of your life. It would be accurate to say the same thing about film production urges.
Not to mention airplanes, horses and classic sports cars too.

Just to follow up on Bill's excellent reply, I'll also strongly suggest staying away from cheap tape. Tape is the single least expensive component of the production chain, so why not buy the best you can get. The money you're spending on tape is basically the value that you're placing on your work. To me it doesn't make sense to compromise that for the sake of a few dollars.
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Old February 27th, 2007, 10:41 AM   #9
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I had a 34' sailboat; my wife had a horse--double whammy in our family. For the cost of the boat and the horse, I could have bought an F900 HDCAM, and had enough left over for a bunch of HMIs. Instead I make monthly payments on an HDV camera....ah, the follies of youth.
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Old February 27th, 2007, 04:13 PM   #10
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To clarify, B&H lists them as "filters" but they are gels. The "filter holders" are gel holders to clamp on my lights. I need at least the vivid colors pack ($22) to do comic book style dramatic lighting. Maybe I can forgo the diffusion gel pack ($22).
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Old February 27th, 2007, 04:23 PM   #11
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Oh, lighting gels. I thought they were camera filters.
I use sheets of gels and C-47s (wooden clothespins). Your lights have barn doors, right? Why do you need holders? That's what C-47s are for.
You'll also need some diffusion gel for those open face lights. You can get all the gels you want at any theatrical supply house if you have one of those where you live. The big sheets are usually about 6 bucks.
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Old February 27th, 2007, 04:46 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pryor
With your budget limitations, I think I'd forgo the $357 for the DVD training course. You can get books for free at the library. Nothing against that training course, but that's a big chunk of change out of a $6K budget. You could save about another 100 bucks if you went for the Libec 22 tripod and head. I got one from Zotz Digital, and it's amazingly good for the price.
Thanks, I'll look into that. I also saw on YouTube some guy created a $0 steadicam simply by finding the counterweight point on a tripod, gripping it there, and moving the camera around like a steadicam... Obviously, I couldn't do that with a 12.5 pound tripod with a 5 pound A1 attached! I'd need something much lighter but that would still support the camera... Any ideas?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pryor
You have $120 for filter holders. What are those? With proper tweaking of the camera, you really don't need those filters. What I would do is get a simple UV protective filter for the lens and not buy anything else until you have the camera and figure out what you might need.
They're gels and gel holders. I'm only getting a clear UV filter for the lens.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pryor
A field mixer is probably out of your price range at this point, so you'll need a long extension cable so your soundman can monitor audio.
Yes, that is out of my budget. I've been on tons of indy productions over the years (and some TV network ones) and never seen one of these on set in my life. Audio has never been a problem.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pryor
As far as tapes, I'd stay away from those cheaper ones. I've been using Panasonic AMQ tapes, which are between $8 and $9. No problems so far, and I've heard good things about them from others.
I read that you're not supposed to mix tape stock (wet Sony and dry Panny combine to clog heads). These are discounted bulk prices I'm referencing from eBay. I can't find Panny making HD tape anywhere (?) so I was going to use Sony for both HD and SD; that way, I'm not mixing and matching brands.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pryor
If the mic comes with a foam windscreen, you could live without the Rycote and save a little there.
Good, the AT897 comes with one, so I'll ditch the $110 dead cat.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pryor
The books are good. I might also recommend "Film and the Director," by Livingston. It's a paperback and probably you can find used ones from amazon.com. It's very basic but tells you what you need to know if you don't know anything about filmmaking.
Cool, I have them on order.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pryor
I think you're going to need more RAM for your computer to make things work as well as they should. Also, at least one external firewire drive. It's not a good idea to load up that single drive with too much video footage.
Yup. Forgot to mention that I'm doing all that. Getting a Ministack 16MB cache/7200rpm/500GB/1911 Oxford chipset ext. HD and a total of 2 Gigs of Ram.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pryor
Overall you're looking at a pretty decent package. I probably would try to put more money into lights, but you go with what you can afford.
Most of the productions I've been on only use 3 lights: a couple Arris and a Chimera soft box, but these would more than double my lighting budget. Will the Smith-Victor kit do the job as is? Lighting is what I understand the least but I know how important it is.
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Old February 27th, 2007, 04:49 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Bill Pryor
Oh, lighting gels. I thought they were camera filters.
I use sheets of gels and C-47s (wooden clothespins). Your lights have barn doors, right? Why do you need holders? That's what C-47s are for.
You'll also need some diffusion gel for those open face lights. You can get all the gels you want at any theatrical supply house if you have one of those where you live. The big sheets are usually about 6 bucks.
Yeah, they have barn doors. So I just clip 'em on to the barn doors, then? That saves me $120 in lighting gel filter holders right there! I can pick up a pack of C-47s for $3 or less. The diffusion gel pack (12"x12") is $22 @ B&H. I don't know which exact gels I need...
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Old February 27th, 2007, 04:53 PM   #14
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That's all good advice from Mr. Pryor...
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Old February 27th, 2007, 04:56 PM   #15
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The Panasonic AMQ tapes are their top quality DV tapes. You shouldn't mix tape stock, but if you do, use a head cleaning tape when you switch. That's something else to get, a head cleaning tape.

You can do a lot with 3 lights, and you can do a lot with pieces of cardboard and gaffertape for gobos and flags. Also, as long as there are blinds or curtains in front of the windows, you can buy those big black trash bags, slit them open, and tape them over the windows. They act about the same as heavy ND gel, letting a little bit of light but not much. If you want a little more, get a roll of brown wrapping paper and tape over the window. The light that gets through will look surprisingly close to tungsten in color temperature. Rolls of ND and CTO gels are abotu 150 bucks apiece, and only really necessary if you have to have the window in the shot. There are lots of ways to get the shot cheaper if you think about it.

If you need a low angle dolly shot, mount a beanbag to a skateboard with bungee cords, and mount the camera to the beanbag with bungee cords. Lay down a sheet of plywood, or 1 X 12, and you've got a dog's eye view dolly.

Everybody always wants $50,000 worth of gaffer gear and dollies and cranes and stuff on a shoot, but with a little ingenuity, you can get shots you need for a small amount of money. Another good book which has more humor than tips is Bruce Campbells "If Chins Could Kill." It's in paperback, and he talks about the early improvisations Sam Rami did before he got rich and famous. My favorite was the Vasocam. They wrapped a 2 X 4 with gaffer tape, then greased it with Vasoline. They mounted the camera to another board, built into an upside down U, and slid it along the greased board for a perfectly smooth dolly shot.
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