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Sony HVR-A1 and HDR-HC Series
Sony's latest single-CMOS additions to their HDV camcorder line.

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Old July 25th, 2010, 05:30 AM   #1
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Hi everyone,

I was wondering what the general opinion of the Sony HVRA1U is? I'm looking into buying a camcorder for $2,500 or less. I used to own the Canon XH-A1, and it was ok.

If this is not a recommended buy, what would you suggest? It seems to be an old camera, is their something that is an equivalent, but maybe a bit newer?

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Old July 25th, 2010, 10:13 AM   #2
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The Sony HVR-A1 is a great little camera, but it isn't as adaptable as some of the newer models. Changing any setting manually means going through the menu. It doesn't zoom quickly, and if it is on manual focus, has to be refocussed after zooming.

I use it primarily for its near infra-red capability, and because it will work with movement detectors such as the trailmaster. It's also handy if I want something that fits into a small space. Otherwise I use my Canon A1.
Canon XH A1; Canon XF100; Nikon D800
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Old July 25th, 2010, 01:24 PM   #3
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I've had an HVR-HC1 for five years (this is the "consumer" version which came without the XLR/Mike set-up, had fewer image adjustments, and came with a smaller lesser shade).

The A1u/HC1 have some annoyances/inconveniences including everything Annie said plus the following. The tape loads from the bottom so you have to dismount the cam from a tripod to reload. The top shoe is narrow and not general purpose so you are pretty much limited to using the XLR rig. (If you are thinking about an HC1, please be aware that the A1u mike rig does not work with the HC1), You can get brackets that attach to the tripod mounting on the bottom of the camera, and use that to mount other things (say, a tapeless recording unit like the MRC1) but, if you also use tape, you have to unmount your attachments to add or remove the tape.

If you go tapeless, the bottom opening tape carrier is not a problem. Also, somebody (Canovision??) makes an offset tripod mount adapter that avoids the tape loading problem. People have put together kits from dressing up the A1u/HC1 with rails, matte boxes, etc.

It is only rated down to 7 lux and the footage gets pretty grainy as you hit the sensitivity floor.

Quirks: many controls are menu operated and the menu has a touch screen. You either like this or you don't.

Positives: they are pretty rugged. (Mine has been knocked over several times while being used as a b-roll cam in multi-cam event shoots. The last time, it hit hard enough to shatter the lens shade. My camera still works without a problem.) They have firewire ports so you can use them for capturing older miniDV and HDV tapes if you need to do that, and can make HDV archives.

As for recommendations about what is newer for less than $2500, it depends a lot on what kind of video you want to use the camera for. Your comment about the Canon XH-A1 --- " it was ok" --- is not clear enough for us to help you choose a camera. Does "ok" refer to image quality or to things like camera size and control layout? Or does it mean that the XHA1 had limited low-light abilities, etc.?

Also, do you need to get a camera for feeding DV and HDV tapes via firewire into the computer? Do you have a bunch of old tapes from when you had your Canon and do you still need to feed them to a computer?

Here are a couple of suggestions for things to look at assuming you aren't in need of a camera with Firewire ports:

Sony CX550v. It costs about half your budgeted amount, is about 40% smaller than the A1U, is mostly menu driven, is totally tapeless, shoots 24Mbps AVCHD, has much better low light capabilities (for shooting wedings and events), and has excellent wide angle (but only goes to about 10x for optical zoom). Has the new Sony "Active" Steadyshot mode which is pretty interesting and really helps with hand-held shooting with this tiny cam.

If you want something with more controls, interchangeable lenses, and a good onboard mic have a look at the new Sony NEX-VG10 which will be shipping in about a month and a half. (See the thread under the DV news Forum.)

These are just random suggestions. Folks could give you more and better recommendations if you can be more specific about what you plan or want to do with your new camera.
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Old July 25th, 2010, 10:38 PM   #4
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Paul -
I would've made the same two suggestions Jay did -

The A1U is now getting a bit long in the tooth - effectively the first affordable consumer HD camera with some pro tweaks/add-ons. Good when it came out, terribly out of date when compared to the newer cameras, sensor technology and other advancements... not that I wouldn't buy one if it had all the "upgrades", always like my HC1!

Sony is supposedly releasing the CX550 in a "pro" version, MC50U, although no one seems to have any detailed specs, and if they didn't add any features, buy a CX550 and an external mic and hood... The CX550 is a very competent camera, very compact, and excellent image quality for the price, it holds it's own against much more expensive cameras image wise.

The newly announced VG10 may be even better depending on your shooting style... If you are leaning towards teh DSLR/Depth of Field style. Until it's actually available, it's hard to know all the pluses and minuses, but so far looks pretty darn good for the $$. Definitley represents a new breed of camcorder.

Either cam, be sure to budget for a computer capable of editing the AVCHD footage.

And to be fair, you're going to be upgrading most of the accessories anyway, so may be worth it to look at Panasonic 700 series and the Canon HF-S offerings. Personally I've got Sony batteries and whatnot, so I tend to lean in that direction, although I've owned other brands, and have been tempted by the latest Panasonics!
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Old July 26th, 2010, 02:13 AM   #5
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And, like an old broken record, I have to come along and say: try something else!

JVC's HM100 and Panasonic's HMC40 (HMC41 in EU) are much more modern "tiny" cams than the Sony A1U. Sony do not currently have a "tiny pro cam" like these that can still support XLR mics when required.

I have always loved Sony cameras, but until they have an A1 replacement, I had to jump ship to another brand. $2500 should get the the JVC HM100. $1800 or so for the HMC40 (around $2000 with XLR unit).

The JVC looks slightly "cooler" when stripped down to be a basic camera. My HMC41 looks like something from the 1980s when you remove the extras!

One thing, neither of the two cams I mention have the night shot that the A1U has.

Also, you want to ask if you still want to be capturing tape in 2010... It's not the be-all and end-all, but SDHC cards are just slightly more efficient.

My recommendations are based on you wanting a small camera which is still reasonably pro and also affordable (the $2000 range). If size isn't an issue, consider the Sony FX1000 and similar models. Again, ask yourself if tape is the media you want to use in, say, 3 - 5 years' time!
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Old October 7th, 2010, 09:08 AM   #6
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The A1U works nicely for static cam shoots. Since it is very hard to make changes to settings on the fly it works nicely for these static shoots. You make the settings once, start the camera rolling, and walk away.

An earlier poster said the camera was durable. Mine is NOT durable. It took a fall of about less than two feet onto a carpeted floor. I didn't think anything of it until I downloaded wedding footage from it where all of the bridesmaids baby blue dresses were lime green. All the other colors were okay. Sending the camera to Armato's they ended up sending it to Sony. The fall had caused somethign to break in the sensor and I paid $900 for the fix.

Given enough light, the camera takes great footage and I get a lot of use from it as a static camera.
Wesley Cardone, Detroit and Lansing, Michigan
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