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Old December 7th, 2006, 04:12 PM   #1
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1st HD Camera Purchase

I need some advice from people with more experience than myself. I am looking to purchase an HD camera and am trying to decide which one. I have about $3-4k I can spend initially (it's right next to Christmas, what more do you want from me??). Otherwise I would hawk my left arm for a RED One.

Here's my situation: I have mostly been doing outside footage to date but that is quickly changing. I now find myself indoors quite often wondering what happened to all my light? If I were going to go SD, I would pick the VX2100. But if I am going to purchase a camera, I have enough reasons that I have lined out to myself to make HD a worthwhile investment.

Also, I have been shooting on a Canon XL2 in 16x9 (another reason why not to go with the vx2100/pd170). I know there are many articles (esp. from DSE, whom I am pretty sure I saw once walk on water), saying that the XL2 can get pretty good footage in very low light settings. I can attest to that, however there has been little (provable) argument that the VX2100 (and to a lesser degree, the PD170) outperform the XL2 in that arena.

So I need a camera that is sensitive in low light, HD capable, shoots 16x9 at least as well as the XL2, and in the $3-4k range. Also, I am mostly in 30p and sometimes in 60i mode. I have not shot much (other than self-interest) in 24p.

Am I on the right track trying to decide between the HDR-FX1 and the HVR-Z1U? I really like the XL-H1 and the GY-HD110U, but for now, it's just a little too much for my Visa :)

Any comments would be appreciated.
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Old December 7th, 2006, 04:22 PM   #2
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QUOTE "I can attest to that, however there has been little (provable) argument that the VX2100 (and to a lesser degree, the PD170) outperform the XL2 in that arena."

Actually those 2 cameras use the same chips, block, optics and electronics so in reality they perform the same.

As for an HD camera I don't think any of them are quite as capable in low light as the above mentioned Sony cameras. Having said that now, if you're budgeting 3-4k to equip youself and want HD, 16:9 format and a fairly easy camera to use why not go with the Z1. XLR audio inputs alone give it the edge (at least IMO). I have used the camera and although I was diappointed in the low light capability compared to my other Sonys,PD150s/DSR250 and even my JVC5000U it was fairly easy to get used to and operate.
If I ws looking for an HD camera right now I would strongly consider the Z1-maybe because I have all the batteries I'd need for it (stupid reason I know but none the less) it would be right at the top of my list.

Just my $.03 worth (adjusted for cost of living)
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Old December 7th, 2006, 04:35 PM   #3
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Thanks for the info, Don. I completely agree with the batteries argument. Everything I have is XL2-centric so if I could afford an XL-H1, that would already be on my doorstep.

I really am not too concerned with the complexity of another camera, what is getting me in the shorts right now is my available cash flow and the fact that I have to have another camera by the end of the month. I find myself in that 'what is the best bang for my buck in my situation' that everyone at some point in time has come to.

I have been reading many of the Z1/F1 posts and it seems that people are pretty happy with their cameras. I guess my question then comes to, will the 16x9 resolution down-converted at least match that of the XL2? The answer for the VX/PD was no.

And for some reason (maybe not enough coffee) I was thinking that the VX was slightly more sensitive, but you are absolutely correct. They are the same.
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Old December 7th, 2006, 04:44 PM   #4
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Why not the XH A1? It's under $4K. Well, OK, only a dollar under, but still under.
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Old December 7th, 2006, 05:00 PM   #5
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Yeah Bill has another choice there for you. By the same token, no, the VX/PD series and actually not even any of the old DSR300 series had true 16:9-the 500 series did (no longer in production) and now the new DSR450 do but they are not HD and are full size cameras that the amount you have to work with would be a nice downpayment for ;-)

Anyway, the Z1 is 16:9 so that should end that challenge but if you are already equipped with batteries I'd take a look at the A1 as Bill suggested. I don't mean to make a big deal out of batteries but they can certainly add to the pile of money going out. Figure a hundred a piece, you want probably 3 plus a charger so that's some cash. Of course thats assuming the A1 uses the same batteries you already have.

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Old December 7th, 2006, 05:36 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Ard
I need some advice from people with more experience than myself. I am looking to purchase an HD camera and am trying to decide which one. I have about $3-4k I can spend initially [...]
Given your price range, I'd suggest considering the likes of the new HVR-V1U from Sony, just soon starting to trickle out to the marketplace, if you're willing to wait.

And I suggest including the purchase of a good microphone (of course the actual type and number and accessories based on your specific needs) along with the camera if you don't have them already. I think 1/2 of any camera purchase should go to sound gear, but some people think I'm nuts.

The new HVR-V1U camera features 3-1/4″CMOS chips and a pair of XLR inputs and other prosumer features. The camera can record 1080/24P, 1080/60i, and 480/60i. This camera offers 24P, no more CineFrame crap masquerading as 24P, if you care about that. For web video and DVD, progressive is a nice way to go.

There's also the Z1U (a fine camera i've used for lots of interviews), the venerable FX1, and the new FX7, etc. and some serious contenders from Canon too in this new low-end of the HDV market. Your on the right track, I'd say. On the low-end, the Sony seems to offer the best price/performance value. On the higher end, it's a horse race between Canon H1, Panasonic HVX200 and JVC H100, each with different design priorities but in the end, they all make good pictures, but the cameras down at the $2K to $3K range offer excellent value.
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Old December 7th, 2006, 05:57 PM   #7
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Bill: This is how new I am into the HD acquisition world. I didn't even know that Canon had released the A1.

So I guess my next move is to do some research on the design differences between the A1 and the Z1 which are about the same in price. The Z1 is about as high as I can go on this round of purchases otherwise I would be looking at the H1 et. al.

Off the cuff, does anyone know which camera is better in low-light? My knee-jerk reaction would say Sony, but maybe Canon has made improvements.

Don: Believe me, I drool over the DSR series, but at that price, it would be hard not to justify taking a second out on my home and get the RED.

David: I have though of the V1, but I prefer to stay in the 1/3" and above arena. If I could afford 1/2" or 2/3", I would be all over it (see DSR above :). I do not do much 24p, but I do spend almost all my time in 30p.

So now I guess the ultimate question is: Sony HVR-Z1U or Canon XL-A1?
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Old December 7th, 2006, 08:42 PM   #8
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I was all set to buy the Z1 until the XH A1 was announced, and the reasons I went for it over the Sony were the lens and the 24F capability. List price is about a thousand cheaper than the Z1, but B&H has dropped the Z1 price so it's only about $500 more at this time.

I've used the Z1 and like them both. Each one has its own plusses and minuses in relation to the other. I find the Canon to be able to shoot at a lower gain in low light, but if you have to use a higher gain on the Sony, it holds up better. I shot a test outside at night with only one of those 60 watt yellow bug lights on the deck, and got a proper exposure at +6db. I guessed, from past experience with the Z1 that it would have wanted a +12db for the same shot. Another person on this board who has both confirmed that my educated guess was correct. So, basically the Canon is just a little bit better under low light, but if you get in really low light and need a +18db gain, the Sony would be better at +18 than the Canon would.

I think the Z1 is maybe just a bit better balanced for hand holding, probably because it's bigger. The Canon gives the impression of being heavier, but I think it's actually about half a pound lighter. Because it's more compact, it has a heavier, more solid feel. I like the position of the LCD monitor on the Sony better (up on the handle), and it's bigger. However, the smaller one on the Canon has good resolution and seem brighter to me, though I don't know if it really is.

As I said, what sold me on the Canon was the wider angle and longer zoom lens and the 24F. I was very pleasantly surprised that the image looked better to me than the Z1. I'm not knocking the Z1--I could be happy with either camera. Also, I've been shooting the Canon with the cine 1 preset, tweaked just a bit to press the blacks and soften the image, and at 24F, whereas the only stuff I shot with the Sony was 60i with basic factory settings. Going for the Canon over the Sony was a difficult decision for me because I've been using Sony professional cameras since the late '80s (a BVW300 was my first, and am currently shooting with a DSR500WS at work). I'm still in a state of awe that an interview I shot with the XH A1 last week looks better than the same type of interviews I shoot all the time with the DSR500. I can say the same for the Z1. Some stuff shot with the Z1, side by side, looked better than the DSR500. That's HDV over DVCAM forya. It holds up when downconverted too. I intercut some DSR500 stuff with Z1 stuff, and the Z1 had been shot HDV, edited with the Black Magic codec, output to HDCAM, and a DVCAM tape made for me from that master. I loaded the DVCAM tape into FCP and intercut my DSR500 footage, and I liked the Z1 better. Same for the Canon. I'm not ready to say 1/3" chip cameras are better than 2/3" chip ones...but I can say that $4K for an XH A1 is better for most of what I do than $16K for a DSR500 plus another $15K for the lens and $2500K for enough batteries and charger to shoot for a day (the A1 goes 5 hours on a $130 battery).

You might want to check out the XH A1 watchdog on here. Canon has three 1/3" chip HD cameras: the XL H1, the XH A1 and the XH G1. The G1 is the same as the A1 but has genlock and SDI output and costs $3K more. The XL H1 has the same chips and signal processing but with interchangeable lens capability. The biggest downside to the Canon cameras is that there is no deck made that plays their 24F modes. For personal use, that's OK, and you can buy the little $1200 single chip camera and use as a deck if you don't want to use your real camera, and it plays 24F OK, but that wouldn't work in a business situation in an edit suite. If you shoot 60i, then that's a non-issue.
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Old December 8th, 2006, 12:48 AM   #9
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Thank you for the reply, Bill. I have been digging around on both the A1 forums and the Z1 forums for the past few hours and that is the best breakdown that I have read so far. Every post that I read keeps trying to compare the FX1 with the A1 or the A1 with the V1. I just do not think that those are fair comparisons. I do think that the Z1 and the A1 are pretty good comparisons.

About the 24F and 30F captures, I am coming from a geek perspective (systems admin turned software engineer), so correct me if I am wrong. i was under the impression that a miniDV tape was simply a modified DAT tape. The camera does not actually write images to the tape, it writes (modified) binary code to the tape. Code-wise, there is no 'new' code that defines HD, it is simply the same code written in a different manner. In that respect, wouldn't any miniDV camera be able to read the data, even if it does not understand the code, and be able to transfer it across firewire to your computer where a capturing program re-assembles the code?

To date, I have been shooting with my XL2 and capturing with a Canon ZR500 (perfect $200 capture deck). As long as the tape brands stay the same, couldn't I just use the ZR500 to relay the HD footage to my computer?
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Old December 8th, 2006, 09:36 AM   #10
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Geekstuff doesn't always translate to the video world. I had the same problem when I got into video from the film world--filmstuff doesn't always translate either. A regular DV deck will not play HDV, even though it's the same tape. A regular DV deck will play the XL2's 24p tapes, and presumably it would also play the XH A1's 24F IF it was shot in the SD mode, since the same deck will play the old XL1's frame mode--but I'm not 100 percent sure of that. It bears checking out.

Sony's HDV decks will play all of Sony's HDV modes and will play JVC's 30p but not its 24p. They will play JVC and Canon's 60i HDV footage, I understand.

I agree that the Z1 is the only camera to logically compare to the XH A1. The upcoming Sony V1 is a 1/4" chip camera and not in the same category, even though it's in the same price range. When it gets down to a decision of the XH A1 and the Z1, you're down to very small differences. The biggest one is the useable 24F mode. the Z1 has a version of that but everybody says it sucks. The second biggest difference is the lens. Beyond that, there are minor things within each camera that will be important to some people and not to others.
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Old December 8th, 2006, 11:10 AM   #11
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There seems to be a pretty decent comparative breakdown here. I know that (once again) the XL A1 is going against the FX1, not the Z1U, but the biggest item of interest to me is the 6lux rating for the Canon and the 2lux for the Z1 (3lux for FX1). I am wondering if there is any comparative footage from the two cameras that I could see. Unfortunately, around where I live there is no one that carries these units that I could actually go touch.

Some users have posted that there is little difference between the two, but all things being equal, that is a pretty big difference. Am I missing the point here?

Again, I appreciate the input, Bill.
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Old December 8th, 2006, 12:48 PM   #12
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As of right now, a lot of people agreed that the A1 is the best HDV prosumer camera out there. But if i were you, i will wait until the Sony V1 materialized.

Dont forget, unless you want to wear that camcorder head off and use the camera as a deck, plan to spend another $1000 for the canon HV10 or a firestore solution.
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Old December 8th, 2006, 01:02 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Ard
[...] So now I guess the ultimate question is: Sony HVR-Z1U or Canon XL-A1? [...]
If you're ok with 60i video, the Sony Z1U is a very robust and reliable performer. I used it for my latest documentary and I have a friend who went to Nigeria with two of them to shoot his documentary. the Z1U offers a very impressive price/performance ratio. I personally own it's little brother the A1U since I prefer to a smaller camera as my personal camera, however, I shoot with a range of larger cameras professionally.

A friend just bought the Canon A1, so I'll be taking that out for a spin to see how it compares with the Sony flock. I'm very curious to see how it stacks up. On paper it looks like a serious contender.

I think that real progressive makes for much better image quality for video distributed on the web or DVD, and you will find lots of discussion on this board on the virtues of progressive scan video, you will also find many fans of interlace. so I'll not get into this topic here.
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Old December 8th, 2006, 01:14 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Jason Strongfield
[...] Dont forget, unless you want to wear that camcorder head off and use the camera as a deck, plan to spend another $1000 for the canon HV10 or a firestore solution.
I think this conventional wisdom is changing, since cameras are evolving so quickly, you're going to want to replace most any HDV camera in the next few years with the next generation. HDV is the last gasp for consumer tape formats. It's a very clever way to get a little more life out of those tape assembly plants ;->
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Old December 8th, 2006, 01:49 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pryor
As I said, what sold me on the Canon was the wider angle and longer zoom lens and the 24F.
The specs I have seen for the Canon indicate a 32.5mm to 650mm (35mm equiv) focal length range. The Z1 zoom range is 32.5mm to 390mm. So obviously the Canon has a longer end of the zoom, but I don't understand your "wider angle" comment.
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