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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 June 12th, 2007, 06:03 AM   #1
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Advice for a novice - please help!

Hi,
I have been trolling video camera forums for a while now but never got the straight answers I have been looking for.
I am an experienced digital stills photographer, using Canon equipment. I work all over the world and would like to try and get a semi-professional video set up to record documentary type videos of visits I make to live volcano sites. These videos would not be for commercial production, but I do want quality! I have used low end video cameras in the past but I've never been happy with the quality I get. I want to buy the Canon XH A1 (mainly because I am comfortable with Canon and see this as a good entry level HDV camera), and I would like advice on making sure I get the right 'extras' I need. My questions are below ...please forgive me if any of them seem stupid to you ...this is all down to my lack of knowledge of video systems and their operation.
1. Would the readers agree with my choice of camera based on my knowledge and what I want to do?
2. I am amazed that HD Video systems still generally rely on tape! I would like to get a Firestore set-up that allows me to record directly to a hard drive. First stupid question ...can I use this without the need for tape at all? Most of the reports I see suggest that the Firestore allows recording to hard drive AT THE SAME TIME AS TAPE, but can I leave out the tape altogether?
3. Will I need a better microphone? My only previous visit to a volcano with a video camera produced loads of wind noise which spoiled the programme a lot. The other alternative is to edit out the wind noise ...is this easy to do?
4. Most of my visits will be away from power outlets for around 2 days at a time, so what sort of battery back-up power will I need?
5. I am thinking of using Sony Vegas editing software (currently only got PowerDVDProducer) ...some feedback on how easy this would be for a novice to use would be appreciated. I use a very high spec PC, so no worries about power, memory or graphics.
6. Stupid question number 2 ...I have a Sony Playstation 3 and would like to edit then record my HD Video to Blu Ray Disc ...then play it through the Playstation via HDMI on a Sony Bravia TV. Is this all feasible using Sony Vegas if I get a good burner?
7. Any thoughts on a decent Blu Ray Burner (external) to buy?
8. Finally, based on my requirements above, can anybody take a stab at what the overall cash outlay would be to get me up and running with a set-up such as this? Bear in mind that I am UK based (although not living there just now), so I will be buying a PAL system, probably in Singapore.

Thanks for your attention, Colin.
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Old June 12th, 2007, 06:46 AM   #2
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Colin,

I think I can address a couple of these...

1. I've hiked the Appalachian Trail with my A1 and have had no problem with its 4lbs.

2. Yes, I have recorded to my Firestore 4 HD without a tape in the camera using the DV control feature. But tapes are cheap and make a good backup.

3. I always recommend using an external mic and I put up with the extra weight, balance and cabling to use one. The integrated mic on the Canon will most likely work well for you but I would find a windscreen to pop over it.
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Old June 12th, 2007, 08:11 AM   #3
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Re:

Thanks Glen ...I appreciate your input.
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Old June 12th, 2007, 08:17 AM   #4
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The A1 can do what you have in mind.

Tape is cheap and reliable. I have VHS tapes from nearly 30 years ago that play with no apparent loss in quality, and audio tapes from 45 years ago that play. I can no longer play data from a 15 year old hard drive I have. If you want to have your original captured data reliably available in the future, do not rule out tape.

The A1 mic is good for ambient sound and for speakers within a few feet of the camcorder. But capturing good sound is very much an art, and a good selection of external microphones can make the sound sing. But mic selection depends on what and how you plan to shoot. In any case, if wind is likely, get a "dead cat" or similar wind noise suppression cover for you microphones. The foam units are not very effective. You need the fake fur types for better performance.

How many hours of video do you plan to shoot before you can recharge? As a rough rule of thumb, plan to have a battery for each hour of tape. That may be overkill for the BP950 and equivalents these days with the A1, but better to have too much than to little.

Can't speak to Vegas or Playstations.

Is Blu Ray going to survive or go the way of Betamax? The local Costco is now selling a Toshiba HD-DVD player for $249, and has some HD-DVD movies in stock. I don't recall ever seeing Blu Ray for sale there. Time will tell I guess.

Can't speak to costs in the UK, or far East, or tax implications when you go back to the UK.
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Old June 12th, 2007, 08:39 AM   #5
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Don,
OK maybe I was a bit harsh about the tapes.
As for Blu Ray, I too worried about the Betamax type issues (as I did about Memory Sticks as well ...I note that Sony have now succumbed and allowed other cards to be used in their cameras). Sony always seem to want to take on the the rest of the world! However, I bought the Playstation because of the Blu Ray abilities, and I think that this time the Sony system will survive, if only because of Playstation (PS3). Blu Ray players were about 800 UK pounds when I looked at them, but I could get a PS3 for 425 pounds and it included the Blu Ray player ...made sense to me!
For the batteries, I will probably go for the largest battery available, and carry three spares to keep me going.
Thanks for the response,
Colin.
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Old June 12th, 2007, 11:36 AM   #6
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On batteries, if considering third party batteries, be sure they will fit in the compartment before you invest. Some, like the Lenmar LIC941, do not fit reliably (many samples are too tight for easy insertion and removal). I can confirm that the new Lenmar LIC950s I have fit.
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Old June 12th, 2007, 04:04 PM   #7
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I wouldn't want to entrust my original footage to any hard drive, especially for hiking around volcanoes. Tape is the most robust and secure recording medium available at present, except maybe for Sony's XDCAM and XDCAM HD discs, which are reputed to be as reliable and as long-lasting as tape. You record to hard drives you eventually have to go back to tape or to something if you want to store your footage permanently. There's a lot more time involved in shooting tapeless, plus the greater potential for errors.

The quality of your microphone has nothing to do with wind noise. That comes from the positioning of the microphone. You might want to consider a wireless lav system. The Sennheiser G2 is a good, inexpensive system, about $500 (USD) and runs on AA batteries. It's light weight, and you can mount the receiver on your hotshoe and barely know it's there.

The battery that comes with the XH A1 lasts about 5 hours. The larger 970 is good for about 7 hours. I would get at least 3 or 4 of the 970's if I were you, I think. Maybe more, depending on how much you shoot and how long you're away from power. I think the 970's are around $140 (USD). I would go only with the Canon batteries. Batteries and filters are two things you should not scrimp on. You can check prices at B&H for everything. My understanding is that you can get the PAL upgrade for an XH A1 for about $500 from Canon, is that still true?

As far as going to BluRay...as long as you have a DVD authoring program that lets you do HD (FCP's DVD Studio Pro does HD), and a Blu-ray burner in your computer, you're in great shape. Or, you could buy a Blu-ray DVD burner, as you suggested. However, you'll probably find yourself preferring to author the DVDs, with menus, chapters, etc., so you might be better off upgrading your computer if necessary.

I'm not sure I'd want to put any money into either HD format for DVD yet until we see who wins that silly war.
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Old June 12th, 2007, 04:42 PM   #8
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Some comments:

Tapes are small and you can take as many as you want. Banging them about won't destroy them. With a hard drive you are limited to the capacity of the hard drive, you will have to offload to something else at some point, which is more equipment to keep somewhere. If you use a hard drive, and have to get back to another country, a tape backup would be highly recommended.

I second the idea of a wireless system. The new ones are very small and lightweight. Also the wind shielding gadgets are small and lightweight for a wireless mic compared to what you need for a full size mic, with cable, wind screen, blimp, etc. With a wireless, you could put it on someone, and they could walk right up to the edge of the volcano, and if they decided to jump, you would have the sound all the way down.

Consider the wide-angle adapter. Not only does it let you get closer, but it makes hand held shots a lot more stable at the wide end. There are a lot of times it would be useful, not just in a small room. For one thing, if you are using the camera mic, the wide angle would let you get closer to someone talking, getting you better sound.

I am also strongly considering the XH-A1 for a similar type project. At this point it seems the best choice for portability, quality and options for shooting and ease of shooting.

I also suggest a good quality Polarizing filter. And possibly an ND filter, but since others who have shot in your planned situations should comment.

I also highly recommend a beanbag type camera mount, such as the Cinekinetic Cinesaddle. Extremely lightweight and versatile. I own the small cinesaddle and have used it as much as a tripod with the PD150 when shooting in documentary type situations. Not for everyone, but I have found it extremely useful and worth the seemingly expensive price. It is extremely lightweight:
Here is a link to the original at the forums sponsor, AbelCine. Type Cinesaddle in the search box on the page and you will get several versions and sizes:
http://www.abelcine.com/store/produc...4&cat=0&page=1
Here is a brief review of the Cinesaddle:
http://www.eventdv.net/Articles/Read...rticleID=11476

If you are shooting with a Canon still camera, the XH-A1 makes sense because the settings and modes use similar terminology I believe.

You also might consider a flag such as the ones on this link if you are in open spaces with bright sun:
http://barbertvp.com/products/ezp-flag.html

All my suggestions are keeping in mind traveling light and carrying everything.

If you want a tripod, and looking for quality plus very light weight, look at the Gitzo 2180 head and 1540T legs.
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produc...s_1_Fluid.html
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produc...6X_Carbon.html
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Old June 12th, 2007, 05:14 PM   #9
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Yes tapes are good I like it also
But what about capture the files is it not bad for the camera to use this like a vcr recorder/playback?
And then I would say get the firestore HD and save your camera for longer living.
Or is this a scary thought's to think that the camera is using on vcr mode give less live ??
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Old June 12th, 2007, 07:27 PM   #10
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Hi Colin..........

Think I'm going to be the lone dissenting voice here. Taking into account your stated basic requirements, the "travel all over the world" comment and your current state of familiarity with video in general and HDV in particular, I would have to say that the answer to your question No. 1 is - no!

At least, not at this point in time.

I'm taking a gamble here by assuming that wherever you go, so does all your still equipment? OK, so you're already hauling gawd knows how many kilo's of stuff round. A fully configured XH A1 with all the bells and whistles is quite a handfull all on it's own. Add that to your already, no doubt, bulging kit bag and you have breached the flight limit on just about any carrier on the planet. Of course, the excess baggage can be paid, but then it's still got to be manhandled to wherever you're going. Then it has to be set up, used properly etc etc, all the while your still stuff is still in the bag.

My recomendation? Go small, go light and keep it REAL simple. Go for an HV20 and the bare minimum of extra gear to get you going. Huge weight, space and agro savings and the picture quality is still gob smackingly georgeous. There are a few trade - offs, but for a newbie I think walking before attempting the marathon may be the way to go.

If you decide down the track that something more versatile is warranted (and carriable) then trade up to whatever is available up the food chain at the time. Most of the gadgets used on the HV20, if purchased wisely, will scale up seamlessly, as will the workflow, as will your biceps.

I presume you use a tripod for your stills? Ensure that it is capable of taking the other camera (whatever it is) so you don't have to lug around two (make sure that is has a quick release and plates for all the cameras). With a couple of trips under your belt you'll soon figure out what you NEED as opposed to what you WANT - the two are likely to be quite different in the light of some experience.

Don't know how many are going to agree but from my perspective I do think it's the way to go.

Cheers,


Chris
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Old June 12th, 2007, 08:31 PM   #11
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Don't know how many are going to agree but from my perspective I do think it's the way to go.
Cheers,
Chris
Actually, I agree with you.

In my case, my upcoming excursion is first video, then stills, and the video is for a commercial project. I am using the XH-A1 and a limited amount of accessories. For stills I am taking a Canon 30D and one lens. The stills I need are limited and of a very specific type. I don't know a bunch of stuff for both.

The fluid head and legs I am taking are for both the video and the stills.

If my primary concern were stills, my first choice in video camera would probably be the HV20, or something very similar.

I now have a one-chip Sony camera in a samll camera bag with everything ready to go. Included are the camera, tapes, a pro88 wireless system (very lightweight and good quality), a wide-angle adapter, a couple of filters, a couple of memory sticks, two batteries, a small lowel clamp and camera mount (in a side pocket), an XLR adapter (for using a pro mic), windscreens for the wireless, cleaning tissue, remote control, some tape, some odds and end, a mounting plate, a gorilla mount. The little bag contains everything for good video in one package.

With a camera the size of an XH-A1 you've got more equipment and more weight.

My concern when traveling is keeping everything within my grasp, hopefull attached to me or something stationery with a cable when not actually hanging on to it.

A few years ago I spent several months traveling through Russia and taking slides. I had two cameras, lenses, film, tripods, filters, etc. so I could carry everyting in two small bags, putting one of them in a larger bag when I was going from place to place.

When thinking about adding video to this, I would want a small, compact, lightweight kit as I describe above. However, if the video was not topnotch carrying anything for the video would not be worth it.

The top cameras in this class right now seem to be the Canon HV20 and the Sony HC7. (I don't know what kind of external mics either of these cameras can use.)
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Old June 12th, 2007, 09:08 PM   #12
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The HV20 does have a mini jack for an external mic. So you could use the Sennheiser G2 (just don't use the included XLR adapter cable).

It makes sense to travel light for that kind of thing, but whether to go from a reasonably professional camera down to a single chip consumer camera sort of depends on the end use of the footage. I spent most of a day at an event recently, just wandering around getting hand held shots of people doing things. I knew I'd be carrying the XH A1 all day, even when hanging around waiting. So I dug out the camera strap that came with it and attached it. Being able to carry it over your shoulder like a still camera is very nice especially when you need both hands for something. Maybe the strap would help in the hiking situation too.
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Old June 12th, 2007, 09:14 PM   #13
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Great comments!
The thoughts around tripods and beanbags were also on my mind so good to hear about that also.
I have decided that I will take tapes as well, given the strong opinions expressed in here.
The weight issues had also been bothering me ...as you have suggested, I will be taking my stills gear, which I currently have to re-configure every trip in order to make it 'portable'. I am fortunate that most of my adventures to date have been in SE Asia, where there are always plenty of willing porters to help you lug all the gear up the mountains, but there are still the flight weights to consider. To date I have always carried my equipment as cabin baggage, but I see the day fast approaching when this will not be an option (actually it hasn't been an option for a long time, but I've got away with it!). The only time I have had a checked-in bag gone missing is when there was a laptop in it, so this means I travel with a plethora of electronic gadgetry at my side! Would be nice if there was a form of 'Registered check-in baggage' which tracked your stuff for a fee ...similar to the UK's Registered Post service. How do you guys deal with this?
Again, thanks for the inputs.

Jack, interesting to hear about your Russian travels. I am currently located in Western Siberia (Nizhnevartovsk) for a couple of years. Where did you travel while here?
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Old June 12th, 2007, 09:52 PM   #14
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Jack, interesting to hear about your Russian travels. I am currently located in Western Siberia (Nizhnevartovsk) for a couple of years. Where did you travel while here?
More traditional locations: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Rostov Na Donnu, Nizhny Novgorod (Gorky), and places around and between. Most travel on the train.

Also made the trip by local train from Berlin to St. Petersburg, with the goal to spend as little as possible. The transportation a piece cost us about $50. Not a recommended trip to the unenlightened. There was another route from Moscow to Berlin that was even cheaper. I don't know about now, but at the time Russians used these routes into the West and back when they didn't have money. After the wall came down, it was possible to stay very inexexpensively in the Eastern part of Berlin.

Have also traveled throughout the main islands of Indonesia (train and bus) and throughout Malaysia (rented car).

Also throughout East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia within a couple of months of the wall opening.

One memorable moment was when the car slid off the road in Czechoslovakia into a ditch. The whole town marched up the road in a huge group toward us. The situation wasn't clear at first. But when they got there, they greeted us. Then the men surrounded our car, lifted it up and carried it up the bank to the road. It was sunset and we said thank you, then off we went.
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Old June 13th, 2007, 01:39 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Colin McCaffery View Post
6. Stupid question number 2 ...I have a Sony Playstation 3 and would like to edit then record my HD Video to Blu Ray Disc ...then play it through the Playstation via HDMI on a Sony Bravia TV. Is this all feasible using Sony Vegas if I get a good burner?
7. Any thoughts on a decent Blu Ray Burner (external) to buy?
I have had great luck with Sony Vegas... Really exemplifies ease of use (much more than other NLE's) and fetures some really advanced capabilities... As far as burning HD media you can get a Blu Ray burner from Best Buy for about $700 and I am sure you could find better deals on the internet...

Something that I do is use Sony Vegas on my workstation, render the video to my hard drive via WMV, and then play the HD project through my Xbox 360 which is linked through the network to my workstation... Might give you a good excuse to buy an Xbox 360... I have clients that preview projects to a plasma through the 360.... Really sweet set up...
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