My thoughts on the XHA1 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 March 13th, 2007, 11:37 AM   #1
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My thoughts on the XHA1

After shooting with an XLH1 for about nine months, I decided to sell it and buy an XHA1 instead. I canít say I loved the attention I got when I went out with the XLH1. I spent a lot of time smiling and waving at people as they exclaimed ďWow, thatís a serious camera youíve got thereÖĒ Also, the less ďofficialĒ I look, the easier it is to shoot in a much broader variety of places. On top of all of that, the weight of the camera and the necessity of disassembling it when flying was all just a little too much. Selling it allowed me to get a camera much more akin to my beloved DVX100 and put some money back in the bank to boot.

When my camera arrived, the first thing I noticed was that it was small. Itís much smaller than I expected, in fact. I think it was partly due to my familiarity with the XLH1. In my mind, I was still expecting it to be in that size range. Now what I was looking at as I took it out of the box was more like a toy by comparison.

The next thing that surprised me was the weight of the camera. It was a little heavier than I expected and it also felt very solid. This pleased me greatly because it is pretty robust and thatís critical for me given I am out in the field quite a bit.

It felt well balanced although maybe a tad front heavy. I was able to quickly get up and running with all the controls because they were similarly placed to the XLH1. I was disappointed that I could not enable or disable the OIS from a button but had to go into a menu to change it. I switch the OIS on and off quite a bit so that was a significant loss. Also, I was not completely happy about having to search through the menu again to change the gain from 0 to -3 (which I do frequently). On the XLH1, that was also easy to change independent of the menu.

The instant focusing ability of the A1 is nothing short of spectacular. I never much used auto focus on the XLH1 but I am using it quite a bit on the A1. Mostly I set focus to manual and press the focus button for quick checks.

Having color bars so easily available is really nice. Itís one of those things that is very subtle but ends up being a great convenience.

The LCD, like the XLH1 is much brighter than what is being recorded to tape and can be deceiving. I always use zebra stripes as an exposure aid but sometimes can still be fooled by the LCD display, leaving me with underexposed and noisy footage. This is just something I need to watch out for. I havenít tried playing with the brightness of the LCD although the brightness is an advantage on sunny days.

One thing that I find really annoying is when I have the camera slung over my shoulder using the strap. The white balance switch keeps getting moved and 75% of the time I have to switch it back to where it was.

The battery compartment, although a little odd compared to what Iím used to, doesnít bother me at all. My 970ís fit in there and slip out without a problem.

Having an iris ring is such a thrill after the little thumbwheel of the XLH1 and it is surprisingly responsive and totally useable even when recording if I want to make a subtle adjustment. I got used to the position and feel of the focus, zoom and iris ring straight away so the whole design feels very intuitive to me.

The position preset focus/zoom switches occupy a huge amount of prime real estate on the camera and it seems such a novelty function to me. Iím a little confused as to why Canon didnít use this space for at least an OIS button instead, something I would use a hundred times more.

Without going into every physical attribute of the camera let me just say that I find the entire design very logical. Even hunting around for something I hadnít yet used on the camera while recording, I was able to put my finger right on what I needed.

Even though Canon basically said that the XHA1 and the XLH1 would record the same quality picture, I was a little nervous that there would be something different. I spent some time working on getting the picture from the H1 just perfect to where I loved the colors, etc. I was relieved and thrilled to see that the picture quality matched and I was still able to produce quality footage in a smaller and lighter package. The noise level is significantly lower than what I experienced on my DVX. In fact, the noise the XHA1 produces is much more like fine film grain than the dancing digital dots Iíve seen on some HVX and DVX footage in low light.

All in all I would say that this is the best camera I have ever used. It is absolutely ideal for my shooting style which is usually out in the elements shooting nature footage. The form factor is right as is the weight and positioning of all of the controls. As mentioned earlier, I would like an OIS switch and the sensitivity of the white balance switch is a minor annoyance.

Canon has done a spectacular job squeezing such a great HD image onto a miniDV tape. I have noticed some occasional macroblocking in high motion scenes but itís really very minor and not something I am worried about at all. Itís the kind of thing that is only visible through close inspection of still frames, not while watching the footage, even on a 50Ē plasma.

Do I miss my XLH1? Hell no.
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Old March 13th, 2007, 11:39 AM   #2
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Thanks for the detailed report, Steven! Much appreciated,
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Old March 13th, 2007, 01:06 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Dempsey View Post
Do I miss my XLH1? Hell no.
Ha!Ha!Ha!

Well, It's good to see you're still a Canon shooter anyways Steven.
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Old March 13th, 2007, 01:11 PM   #4
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Seriously Steven,

We'll miss your great work on the H1 forum. You were always pushing the camera for for more and generously sharing your insights.

I suppose a testament to that is my H1 is locked on your 'Panalook' setting.

The A1 team is fortunate to have you on board.
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Old March 13th, 2007, 01:51 PM   #5
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Hey Steven:

I recall looking at your Yellowstone video at one point, and in particular I remember a Bald eagle shot that was spectacular, but that I figured was also taken quite a distance away using extreme telephoto. Maybe I"m wrong about that, but do you feel you can get as much out of the fixed lens set up ?
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Old March 13th, 2007, 01:56 PM   #6
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Thanks Ken :)

Chris, I had Century Optics (now Schneider) modify my DVX 1.6x teleconverter and that's what I was using on the XLH1. Fortunately, it also works on the A1. There is some loss in focal length from the H1 but not enough for me to worry about.
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Old March 13th, 2007, 02:00 PM   #7
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Thank you for the review, Steven.

We're looking forward to even more stunning footage than previously shot with H1. With smaller, lighter cam you can boldly go where no one has gone before. Just be safe :)

Personally I'm very impressed with OIS performance in such small package. How do you feel about that?
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Old March 13th, 2007, 02:04 PM   #8
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Bogdan, that's a tall order!

Most of what I've done with the camera (I've had it all of one week) has been tripod-based so I really haven't had a chance to use the OIS yet. I'll let you know when I do.
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Old March 13th, 2007, 02:20 PM   #9
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Well, I did not mean cliff climbing with A1 in one hand, but our expectations are not much less than that ;-) You have raised the bar and now you are epected by our community to push it even higher :)

OIS performance is very similar to XL2/H1 imo. The only thing that keeps me from achieving the same results is form factor. Internally, despite different IS technology, OIS in A1 seems to be as effective as the system used in big Canon cams.

I especially agree with you on the noise subject. It has more filmic, organic feel (esp. in motion) and does not hurt as much as what we see in some other cams.
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Old March 13th, 2007, 06:31 PM   #10
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Steven: I also just purchased an A1, although I kept the H1 and it is still my "A" camera... You mentioned the Gain issue - that bothered me too, but I set L at -3, M at 0 and H at +12 and find that covers about 90% of my shooting...

My biggest gripe is the WB Preset switch being under the LCD - I don't use the LCD much, so I always have to flip it out to change from Daylite to Tungsten - luckily the adjustable K option is on this camera as well, so I use that instead... I like the placement of Exposure Lock button very much - in fact most of the controls are in natural places... OIS switch would be nice, I admit, but I don't use it that much (it is pretty good when you need it).

I actually bought this camera to use (occasionally) with the RedRock M-2, so the focus and zoom presets being instantly available is good for me.. if that's why Canon did it, they forgot to make the finder flippable though...

I find I use the A1 more often that I thought I would, and although I wouldn't say it is my favorite camera ever (my 16mm Aaton takes that slot in film and the old Sony DSR200 in video, both for ergonomic reasons) it is a nice little camera that delivers an amazing picture...

I would have bought your H1 by the way...
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Old March 14th, 2007, 08:18 AM   #11
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Great Cam...
I wish it would balance when hung from handle.

Low shots where cam is hanging from hand, XH-A1 tilts left hand down.

Maybe it was balanced for the XH-G1, the extra attachment on the RHS??
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Old March 14th, 2007, 08:39 AM   #12
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Glad you like the A1 so much. I hated it!

Well not really. It was a good camera but I am a control freak and I need access to everything that the H1 has at my fingertips. I am changing gain and white balance frequently, I switch from XLR to onboard mic a lot, OIS on/off frequently. Most of these are in menus or not as readily available as on the H1. I also found the feel of the zoom lever to be way different than the H1. It was too touchy for me. I couldn't maintain a constant "creep" zoom without it jerking or jumping. These things are probably not important to you but they go a long way in my style of shooting.

Also, this is a situation where "what you are shooting" really dictates what you like. I am doing a lot of corporate, commercials and industrial shooting where clients are paying me a significant chunk of change. As sad as it is, they expect to see more "pro" looking gear. I also do a few weddings here and there and that requires a lot more changing settings on the fly and the A1 stumbles a bit here as too much is left in the menus. Add to that the H1 (wether you love it or hate it) is a bigger, bulkier shoulder style camera that will generally deliver more stable shoulder mount shots. If shooting from a tripod the A1 and H1 are about even. But long handheld shoots are easier with the H1. IMHO.

Having said all of that, I still would love to have an A1 as a second camera. However, the budget is not there for that at this moment.

So I live with the hassles of travelling with this camera for now.

Oh....and have I ever mentioned my little love affair with the 16x manual lens?

:)

I don't think I could live without her!

Last edited by Marty Hudzik; March 14th, 2007 at 09:22 AM. Reason: correcting a few typos!
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Old March 14th, 2007, 08:58 AM   #13
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thanks for the write-up, steven. i love this camera. it's like they bred an XL2 with an FX-1, and this is their love-child. it's got a best-of-both-worlds feature set, plus a few goodies thrown in, like the push focus button and a manual line/mic level button. at an unbeatablel price point. my only complaint is that the component cable with the RCA-to-BNC adapters required to plug into the Marshall monitor are a loose connection, and the Marshall flickers, which is driving me batty. i think i read somewhere that you had the Marshall for your H1. are you using a Marshall monitor with your A1, Steven, and are you experiencing this issue? got a solution?
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Old March 14th, 2007, 09:18 AM   #14
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Mention was made about the XH-A1 drawing less attention to itself but I find it still draws too much attention, albeit from a lower tier of inquisitives than the XL-H1.

I have the HV10 and it's beautiful for candids. People pay no attention. At times I'm blown away by the out of the box HV10 footage, but when I put it side by side with the A1 I come away with the conclusion the tweaked A1 image is subtly superior even in daylight where the HV10 is at its best. You wouldn't expect anything less from the A1 or anything more from the HV10.
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Old March 14th, 2007, 09:25 AM   #15
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Mention was made about the XH-A1 drawing less attention to itself but I find it still draws too much attention, albeit from a lower tier of inquisitives than the XL-H1.
Hopefully an HV20 is in my near future for exactly these reasons. Come on tax return!

Seriously, my H1 will be more for corporate and paying gigs and the Hv20 may become my personal favorite. I'll take it with me everywhere! It does fit in your pocket doesn't it? :)
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