My first day with XH-A1 at

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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 April 7th, 2007, 04:00 PM   #1
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Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Madrid, Spain
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My first day with XH-A1


Everything is praise for the Canon XH-A1, it got excellent reviews from just about everywhere. I have finally got my hands on the XH-A1 and had a chance to play with it, these are my observations after the first day.

Balancing and handling.

The XH-A1 is reasonably well balanced, that is, it is difficult to do any better and other similar cameras are likely not better balanced - so I guess, I haven't had another similar cam in my hands. For better stability and balancing, you should use both hands when holding the camera.

The following regards the camera with the standard BP-950 battery loaded. Changing to the larger 970 battery or using the external power support will obviously change this.

Balancing, the grip:

The grip on the side is placed as close as possible to the balance point on the long axis, but the physical dimensions of the camera does not permit your hand to be under the balance point on the short axis. The weight of the camera will put a strain on the outer of your wrist without additional support, and with a weight of 2 kg, single hand recording cannot be sustained for a longer period of time.

Balancing, the handle:

The handle is well balanced, the balance point on the long axis is a little behind the grip for the index finger. The handle is located straight over the center of the lens barrel axis, which means it is slightly off to the left of the balance point as the tape compartment and external mic connection shifts the balance. It is very difficult to maintain the camera correctly leveled with just one hand on the handle.

Button placement.

Grip and handle:

Both the grip and the handle are equipped with buttons for rec/pause and zoom and a photo button. The zoom on the grip is variable speed depending how you push it and really nice to use. The zoom on the handle is fixed speed.

You can disable the handle buttons with the "lock" switch. On the grip, there is a "standby/lock" switch, but lock does not lock as the other lock. It sets the camera in power save mode. Not overly intuitive, it would be better to label that "sleep" or something similar. I found that the switch is very sensitive, it could be switched to "lock" position even though it appeared to be on "standby".

The photo button is an obvious blunder: Stills are stored on the memory card and video on tape, and you have to choose whether to shoot in card or tape mode with a switch.

Although it is possible to shoot stills while recording video, I doubt it is very used or useful. If one wants a still while shooting video, it is much easier to export a single frame in post production.

Instead, Canon should have made just one button: rec/pause/photo, which is activated should depend on whether you're shooting in tape or card mode. This leaves one button free for some other function that I find missing: Instant AF.

Instant AF:

Whether shooting in manual mode, with auto focus off or on, you can push the instant AF button to fast focus on your subject. The instant AF button (labelled PUSH AF) is inconveniently located on the side of the camera where you can't see it while recording. Further, pushing it, in particular in freehand recording, will easily cause a slight jig of the camera body distorting the image.

Canon should have placed this button among the main recording control buttons, the photo button mentioned above would be an ideal location.


Gain can be either automatic or fixed to one of three configurable presets: Low, medium and high. Gain is controlled by two buttons, one switch to turn on/off automatic gain control the other a lever to select the fixed preset when AGC is off. The lever has "low" in the higher position, and "high" in the lower, no nice use of mnemonics there.

There are two problems: First, why two buttons? I would prefer just one with four (or five) possible settings: AVG, low, medium and high. A fifth setting would be nice too: Off, or 0dB. Of course, you can just configure one of the presets to be 0dB, but 0dB is such a fundamental setting that it should be a permanent preset.

A dial with the five settings, AVG, 0dB/off, low, medium and high, would be the best solution for controlling gain.

White balance:

White balance control is worse than gain, no less than five buttons are used to control white balance and they are not at all conveniently located.

As for gain, a switch turns on/off automatic white balance. When AWB is off, a lever chooses between the three settings A/B/Pre where Pre is to use built in presets.

You can choose between three presets with a switch inconveniently located under the LCD display: Outdoor, indoor and K. The location of this switch is a huge blunder, and further the switch is difficult to set. Starting out, you will probably rely much more on these presets than the custom A and B settings.

The outdoor and indoor presets corresponds to 5600K and 3200K respectively. Choosing K, you can set the temperature as you like. This requires you to push a button with a strange symbol that doesn't indicate anything with white balance. Then you turn the K wheel - this was not indicated in the manual, but it is the same you use to change shutter speed.

How the A/B programmable settings are configured remains a mystery, but you can store two settings to have handy.

The correct solution would be, as for the gain control, to create a dial switch where you select, AWB, A, B, outdoor, indoor, K. Still two buttons are required to configure A, B and K, it may be OK to configure these through the menu rather than buttons on the camera body.


A lever between the gain and white balance levers selects one of two outputs: cam and bars. The latter will record color bars and 1kHz sound for reference. This might be useful, but a waste of space to place it on the side of the camera. Just when do you need to really quick get a reference while you're shooting?

Rather, if a button at all, it should be under the LCD where the white balance preset switch is, leaving room for more important functions on the exterior, such as grouping white balance buttons more logically together.


On the side of the camera body a switch lets you set ND to off, 1/6 and 1/32 The values indicated are not the common values for ND, but rather the fractional transmittance, FT = 2^(-ND). So these corresponds to ND of 2.58 and 5 respectively.

Custom buttons:

There are four buttons for customizing: Two buttons for quickly activating a function otherwise hidden in the menu. And two buttons to select among up to 23 custom preset configurations.

For the latter, selecting is done by sequentially going through all the custom presets until you find the one you want. A dial would be better, as it allows you to go back. There is no reason to have an on/off button, no preset is also a preset, namely the default preset. Everything could fit nicely on a dial that would scroll through the stored settings.

I haven't tried working with the custom presets or the custom buttons.

There are more buttons, but I believe the buttons described are likely those you will operate most while shooting.
Erik Norgaard is offline   Reply

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