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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 October 20th, 2005, 01:48 PM   #1
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HC1 Field Experience

I recently returned from a cruise in the Baltic where I visited various countries and took over 3 hours of video in all sorts of situations indoors and out, very dark to very bright and some night shots. I took a lot of video inside the Peterhof and Hermitage museums in St Petersburg. Some rooms were very brightly lit, others were quite dim. I video'd leaving the Wernemunde port in the dark. I caught shots of the pilot transferring to his tender after guiding us out of Helsinki at dusk in half a gale! The weather was perfect for much of the time so lots of contrasty sunny shots. I gave it a good workout!

Here are some of my observations:

1. I am extremely happy - and quite surprised - with the quality of the video under all the various conditions. This is one hell of a camera! It outperforms my previous camera - a GL1 - by an enormous margin. By outperforms I mean not only the definition (which is fabulous even for HD) but the ability to work with very contrasty subjects retaining shadow detail, the stabilizer (see below), low light capability and ease of use (particularly the light weight and the hand grip) .

2. Most of the video was hand-held as the circumstances of touring with a group precluded using my tripod except while on the ship. The stabilizer is very effective. Even my rather unsteady (I'm not young anymore!) handholding produced extremely watchable video.

3. I purchased a Kenko 0.5X wide angle adapter (SGW-05 PRO) because I knew I would be taking a lot of shots inside and outside of large buildings. My verdict? Don't do it! At small apertures it worked OK with acceptable distortion and color aberration, but as soon as the aperture opened up for dimmer light conditions the picture was badly unfocused on each side and there was noticeable blue fringing. I am now going to buy the genuine Sony article unless anyone has a better idea!

4. The battery life using the QM71D mid-size battery never gave me a problem. On a day's trip when I would take about 30 mins of video (i.e. the camera would probably have been on for at least 1.5 hours) I was never even close to empty on the battery. I did have a spare in my pack but never had to use it!

5. I have never before used touch screen menus and was very pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to navigate and use. Given that, I found that I avoided using any adjustment in the field except occasionally the manual exposure control when I was doing a pan.

I have now rough-edited my video using FCP-HD in HDV mode (not using the Apple intermediate codec) down to about 1h 20m. It was just as easy as DV. I fed it back to the camera in HDV format and then viewed it on my 50" plasma screen. The picture is stunning. I do not see any sign of significant MPEG or motion artifacts (which surprised me). Bravo to Sony!

Gerald
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Old October 20th, 2005, 03:09 PM   #2
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The picture quality really is amazing isn't it. To my eyes at least, the picture is orders of magnitude better than anything SD, including DVX100s and XL2s. To get this kind of picture quality for so little investment is just wonderful!
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Old October 20th, 2005, 03:33 PM   #3
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Gerald - do we assume your 50" plasma is SD rather than HD, and you were feeding it an HD signal?
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Old October 21st, 2005, 08:23 AM   #4
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Tom,

Oh, no! It's 1280X768 which gives a great HD picture. It's a 2-year old Panasonic and although it's not 1080 it has a superb 1080 to 768 scaler and at 8 ft viewing I would challenge anyone to see the difference!

Gerald
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Old October 21st, 2005, 05:15 PM   #5
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Gerald,

I'm curious as to which Mac you used to cut on?

Thanks for the info. I'm leaning closer towards this camera every day now.
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Old October 22nd, 2005, 07:34 PM   #6
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Dave,

I have a Dual 1.2GHz MDD Power Mac with 1.75G RAM and lots of HDD!
The slowest part of the process is the conforming of the edited video back to HDV. Seems to take about 4-5 hours per hour of video (I edit in HDV not using the AIC).

Gerald
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Old October 22nd, 2005, 09:24 PM   #7
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I'm using Vegas on the PC, but I'm sure that the situation is the same regardless: using the intermediary codec will save both time and quality because it smartrenders. You really would be better off using the AIC. Not only will your render speed increase, but the end quality will be a generation better overall.
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Old October 23rd, 2005, 08:11 AM   #8
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Question for Larry

Larry I see that you use Vegas as do I.
I am looking into picking up another camera in the next couple months, and for budgetary reasons I am looking to go with the A1 (for HDV and small stealthy frame).

I currently use VX2100's, but am looking to step into HD video.

My system specs are:
P4 3.4 GHZ
ASUS P4P800E Motherboard
2GB PC3200 RAM (Will upgrade to 4 GB)
Vegas 6.0 with DVD3
600 GB hard drive space

WHat is your workflow for editing HD in Vegas?
Do you convert to Cineform codec after capturing MT2 files?
What do you use to convet video, GearShift or Coneforms software?
Is it better and faster workflow to convert video to Cineform (very large files), or work with proxy video (does the MT2 file have to be converted to proxy)?

Thanks,
Michael Liebergot
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Old October 23rd, 2005, 10:10 AM   #9
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Thanks Gerald for the setup info.

Laurence, I think one of us is confused about the AIC codec.

1. I thought it was an Apple only codec.
2. AIC is compressed more the HDV so if one converts their HDV timeline to AIC upon final render, then you lose data (which is what compressing does)

Help me clear this up if I'm missing something because I'm in the process of adding an HDV workflow to our services.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Laurence Kingston
I'm using Vegas on the PC, but I'm sure that the situation is the same regardless: using the intermediary codec will save both time and quality because it smartrenders. You really would be better off using the AIC. Not only will your render speed increase, but the end quality will be a generation better overall.
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Old October 23rd, 2005, 08:14 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Perry
Thanks Gerald for the setup info.

Laurence, I think one of us is confused about the AIC codec.

1. I thought it was an Apple only codec.
2. AIC is compressed more the HDV so if one converts their HDV timeline to AIC upon final render, then you lose data (which is what compressing does)

Help me clear this up if I'm missing something because I'm in the process of adding an HDV workflow to our services.
I believe whether you use the Apple Intermediary Codec or a PC Intermediary Codec, the situation is the same: that using an intermediary codec you get smart renders, not using the intermediary codec means that you end up rerendering everything. Yeah, we use different platforms, but there is more in common than you might think.
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Old October 23rd, 2005, 08:32 PM   #11
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I haven't used a PC in years and have never done video production on one so I'm not as knowlegeable about the PC side of things anymore. I tend to use codecs that are platform independant rather than proprietary ones because sometime we have to give our footage to pc based post producers.

That's why I need to know if .aic files are a standard or proprietary format. I know that HDV is platform independant, so in my world, that's how I would do my final output. I first heard of .aic in relation to Apple iMovie HD and Final Cut Express HD.
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Old October 26th, 2005, 09:43 AM   #12
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Use of AIC - or not!

I think it depends on how much twiddling you want to do to the clips. I am very simplistic with my editing - mainly fades, dissolves, simple titles and some color correction/level tweaking using the Apple Color Corrector 3-Way. I find that going to the AIC is unnecessary for this. If you are doing a lot of motion work, complex overlays etc than the AIC would probably be a benefit in rendering time and because the computer has less work to do to display video in AIC format there would be much more that could be viewed directly without going through a rendering process.

In my case with my (now "ancient") dual 1.2GHz G4 Mac I can view almost everything I do without separate rendering. The main time consumed is in the "conforming" process which revamps the edited mpeg signal to give it the appropriate "long-GOP" structure for HDV - i.e. it has to re-do all the key frames which have been shifted around by editing. I believe that if you use the AIC you still need to go through essentially this same process after reconverting the signal back to mpeg2 format.

I really would like to see a quality comparison of the two techniques with both simple and complex editing procedures. Maybe I'll find time to try that myself!

Gerald
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Old October 27th, 2005, 10:10 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Perry
Thanks Gerald for the setup info.

Laurence, I think one of us is confused about the AIC codec.

1. I thought it was an Apple only codec.
2. AIC is compressed more the HDV so if one converts their HDV timeline to AIC upon final render, then you lose data (which is what compressing does)

Help me clear this up if I'm missing something because I'm in the process of adding an HDV workflow to our services.
Dave, I haven't tried it yet myself, but i believe another approach would be to downconvert in the camera and play all your footage into FCP in dv quality. You wont use anywhere near as much drive space as you would using the AIC. After you've done all your editing delete all the dv footage so that all the media in the timeline is offline. Then redigitise all of the clips in the timeline, this time capturing using the 1080i codec. All the effects will need to render again, but when you play out to tape your HDV footage wont have been transcoded into the AIC and then re-encoded back into HDV on final render.

This involves digitising twice, but short of doing the entire edit in native HDV this strikes me as the best way of ensuring your footage suffers no trans/re-encoding induced degradation. I guess the big question is: how good is the AIC and is there any noticeable loss in quality?

Cheers

Sean
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Old November 1st, 2005, 05:46 AM   #14
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Hello Gerald, great to hear the HC1 worked so well for you on your trip away. I only got mine yesterday and have just been booked for an all paid interstate job on the weekend shooting some drag cars and interviews with a few of the people involved. It's a bit scary not being too familiar with the camera yet, and also the fact that I've never had a job like this before. But should be a great way to get to know the camera.

I previously had a Canon XM2 (PAL version of the GL2). It was some footage from the HC1 I downloaded that convinced me to sell the XM2 and buy the HC1. Great thing is, I sold the XM2 for $3000 (Australian) and bought the HC1 for $2000 via my friend's brother who works for Sony. It's amazing going from the inferior DV quality filming + the inferior 1.7mp still photos of the XM2, to the superior HD resolution and 2.8mp still photo quality of the HC1. The thing even has a built in flash! There are so many other advantages aswell including the spot focusing, being able to charge the battery on the camera itself rather than having to use a separate charger, the Transition feature, smaller size, 16:9 ratio, etc, etc.

Having $1000 left over from selling the XM2 will enable me to buy quite a few accessories aswell. Firstly I've already bought a 1gb MS PRO Duo card. I've also ordered an NP-QM91D battery and will eventually be getting the ND and Polarising filters, the x2.0 and x0.7 HG covertors and Cineform's Connect HD for capturing the clips. Once I've claimed back the tax on all these items as business expenses I'll have even more money left over! So I'm more than happy about having purchased this camera and not having to save a cent to do so.

It's funny, the 20x zoom on the XM2 gave a 35mm equivalent range of roughly 600mm. The 10x zoom on the HC1 has a 35mm range of 580mm. So it's almost the same. This will be doubled with the x2.0 tele convertor. That should be loads of fun.

Glenn
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Old November 1st, 2005, 06:02 AM   #15
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You've got your figures a bit mixed up, so here goes:

The XM2 has a 20x zoom going from 4.2 mm to 84 mm. This equates to a 35 mm still camera range of 39.5 mm to 790 mm. The HC1 has a slower (f/1.8) 10x zoom going from 5.1 mm to 51 mm (equivalent 48 mm to 480 mm), so you're sure going to need that 0.7x wide-angle converter Glenn.

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