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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 January 27th, 2006, 01:16 AM   #1
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A1 over FX-1 (or HC1)?

Well, first of all, hi to everybody. I'm new to this forum and this is my first thread (and post). I'm also new to the HDV world, and that's exactly how I came upon this site. And I must tell you, it was of great help to make me get into HDV. All the footage, the info (and the discussions too) helped me see a lot of things, and also made me dive and investigate (and read a damn lot). You could say too that I'm new to the filmmaking world, and the video world for that matter, having started cinema school last year. But I've had my share of experience and have a couple of shorts under my arm (although only one of them is "serious". Maybe someday you'll see them, but, camera and technology wise, you'll probably wanna kill me, since they were shot on a JVC with the VHS-C format (economy isn't our friend down here, but the latter ones were shot on a Sony DCR-TRV250 Digital8 camcorder; some improvement from the other JVC at least).

So, didn't want to bother you guys and gals with that, but just thought it would be proper to introduce myself a bit since this is my first thread/post. This is an awesome community, and I really hope I can be of some use, now and in the future (as long as free time is on my side).

Now let's go head to the business (and excuse my language if I don't express myself too well, I don't natively speak English, but I'll do my best).

So, I HAVE been looking for info on the things I'll address, but haven't found real answers to them in particular, and I chose this section for this thread because this issue is mainly about the A1 (which is my final choice right now) and I wanted to get info and opinions of people who actually own the camera, to get first hand info rather than a 3-hour-made review of a guy who got the camera just enough to advertise for Sony. Maybe this will point up some things that will be useful for other newbies like me.

I want to buy the camera, and I am in the saving-money process, but the awful amount of money I'll have to spend means I have to carefully get the best and most precise info on it. I don't really know how it must be for you to raise the money needed to get a camera in this price range, but let me give you an example of how hard it is for me: first, the prices are a bit higher than in the USA ($2,300 for the HC1, $3,400 for the A1E -we use PAL here- and $3,900 for the FX-1 -not to mention the $5,500 for the Z1); second, our currency is under a 3 to 1 devaluation, meaning that for every dollar I have to pay 3 pesos (3.07 actually). Imagine you had to pay $16,500 to get a Z1! That's how hard it is for us (and add to that all the salaries have stayed pretty much the same as when we were 1 to 1, of course). On top of all this, there is no place for me to go and check the camera myself and see if it fits my needs (the prices are from a website that's similar to eBay). So you can picture what a perfect buy I have to make. And I'l probably be stuck with this camera for 5 years (being lucky)!

Hell, I didn't want to make this so long, so now I'll really cut to the chase. I'll be drawing some points and comparisons, and also ask some questions. Here I go:

- The A1 has a CMOS chip that has theoretically more resolution than CCDs (and practically so, as is my opinion from the footage I've seen, but I'll adress this later), it consumes less power and makes the cameras smaller and lighter thanks to the ability to have other circuitry built in it to process that which CCD cameras have to do through separate chips. It also reduces (or does it actually eliminate?) smearing. Now, this CMOS has the same size as the CCDs on the FX-1 and Z1 cameras (1/3 inch sensors, although it's only one CMOS vs. 3 CCDs; still that helps for color and resolution, right?) but it has lower sensitivity to light than CCDs (mostly because of the same extra circuitry built in, including the noise reduction processes -CMOS tend to be grainy). For what I've seen (some opinions, a couple of comparison tests and mostly footage) there isn't that much of a difference (if not 1 stop, 2 stops max), even though it's a bit more noisy caused also by the higher gain. Mind you, I should be shooting in controlled conditions for short (budget) films. But still, when shooting, let's say, in the street, with street lights, are the results that bad in comparison to the FX1 and the Z1? (by the way, I saw Kaku's street biking footage and thought it was great; keep up the good work bro, you're awesome!) Are they???

- The zoom on the FX-1 must be great, with that lever and all. And with the A1 I don't think I'll find myself changing from focus ring to zoom ring, so, how good is the rocker? Does the friction against the plastic of the camera make it less smooth? Does it make you do fast zoom starts and stuff like that? (By the way, how would the LANC socket work to have a better zoom controller, 'cause I have no idea on that one)

- Here I'll quote an article from Showreel (http://www.showreel.org/memberarea/article.php?11), which is the last thing I read about the A1 and sums up some stuff I had in mind. Here it is: "As we hunted through the menus we turned on CineFrame. I knew Alan had been pretty nonplussed with the progressive mode on the Z1, and expected the same disappointment from the A1, but here the single CMOS sensor comes into its own, and in 25p mode we got a significant increase in vertical resolution – this seems a true progressive mode to rival the JVC HD100 and 101."
Is this really so? For what I've read, all that CineFrame does is using a single field, delting the other and filling the rest. But according to this, the CMOS sensor's resolution makes up for that, actually making the image look the same (or almost the same) as if it had the full vertical resolution, but without the interlacing (aw, hell, the quote was self explanatory, but I just want my idea to be clear). So, from your experience, is this an actual fact (always considering CineFrame in native camera resolution, either 25 or 30 fps, not faked 24)? I haven't gotten a hold of any CF25 footage on the A1 so I can't tell. Do the images look THAT good?

- Another Showreel quote: "We also liked the way you can adjust the aperture or vary the autoexposure with the lever on the left side of the camera (after a setting in the menu), but criticized Sony for not giving a total manual control of shutter and exposure or any F-stop numbers."
What's with this? Basically, from the manual and photos I've seen, you should be able to set the shutter at a locked speed (let's say 1/60) and then be able to push the EXPOSURE button and use the lever to change it at any given moment. Also, it shouldn't vary the "autoexposure". It's fully manual, right? so if I suddenly want to set the aperture at F1.8 it will stay there FOREVER, right? This supposed issue kind of creeped me out, 'cause if the A1 isn't absolutely manual I'm gonna have to think of it 13 times now instead of 12. Honestly. Oh, and in this field, how different is the HC1 really (I know the A1 has BlackStretch, zebra... but it's only about special features or what?)

- This probably goes for all the HDV cameras out there without PCM sound, but is the MPEG compressed sound bad? I mean, is there any perceptible difference from PCM sound when it comes to a regular or minimally trained human being? (I read it's 384khz, so it should be the equivalent to PCM, or not?)

- Do the the microphone and the XLR module really make a difference (compared to the FX-1 and HC1's built in mics)? I'm pretty sure the sound is a lot better, but how big is the difference (enough to stop and think about the price?)

- Can any of the cameras record video on Hard Drives like the 160HD4 SYMBIO HD HARD DRIVE RECORDER through their firewire connector (you know, the price)? A firestore unit isn't an option for the high cost (I'd rather get a laptop for that price). Also, can it be recorded uncompressed if directly to HDs?

- Does the FX-1 have that more (not better) options than the A1. The A1 has less buttons and more menus, but does it lack configuration options the FX-1 has? Heard that gain cannot be set up manually, nor limited. Also heard it's not...

-This is an EDIT, and it's a very important thing I forgot, since it will limit (or directly prohibit) the use of any camera: it's about the tapes. For what I've read, the Sony cameras have a sort of problem that makes it easy for the footage you shoot to suffer drop-outs (which implicate the loss of many frames with MPEG2 compression). Now that's with regular MiniDV tapes (even if high quality) that are not Sony's special ones. So I don't know if this is a real problem or just marketing, so maybe you could tell me, have you shot on tapes other than Sony's 63 ones? If so, have you had any trouble? I bring this up too because these tapes are worth $32 (you know, approximately 96 pesos) so the filming of ANYTHING without the risk of getting drop-outs would be just prohibitely (means that it prohibites...). I could never afford that. Specially if I wanna keep RAW footage on the DV tapes. Oh, and I can't even buy that in my town, I have to get it from Buenos Aires and pay an extra 15 pesos for shipment. Some nice 111 pesos...

Well, I think that's all, at least for now. I hadn't written any of this before, so I don't know if that covers all of my doubts. I'll ask later in any case. If any o you can or feels in the mood for answering, I would really appreciate if you could answer to each query individually so every aspect is covered.

Thanks in advance, and I hope I'll be contributing to the site soon!
(By the way, I'm terribly sorry for the length of the post, I'll try to be as sinthetic as possible next time)

Ernesto
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Old January 27th, 2006, 02:15 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ernesto Mantaras
From the manual and photos I've seen, you should be able to set the shutter at a locked speed (let's say 1/60) and then be able to push the EXPOSURE button and use the lever to change it at any given moment. Also, it shouldn't vary the "autoexposure". It's fully manual, right? so if I suddenly want to set the aperture at F1.8 it will stay there FOREVER, right? Ernesto
Correct. You can lock at 1/60, set your exposure manually, and the camera will then stay like that. (With the HC1 you dont get an actual read-out that it's at F1.8 ... not sure about the A1 on that point).
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Old January 27th, 2006, 02:37 AM   #3
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Yeah, well, when I said "FOREVER" I meant "FOR HOW LONG I WANT IT TO". So, if I want to, after the procedure you named, change the exposure again I just have to touch the lever, no menus involved whatsoever? I ask this much 'cause I know some cameras that can be very bitchy about that (especially the "not very good cameras"; not that this is one of them). I set a fixed speed, the exposure is on manual (or I set it on manual) and I can change it as many times as I want, just like focus or zoom, right?
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Old January 27th, 2006, 03:18 AM   #4
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Ernesto,
I worke for a hire company, 4 x Z1, 2 x C1 and 2 x A1 in the way of HDV cameras. I'd say 98% of all HDV footage shot on our cameras is recorded to vanilla Sony MiniDV tapes, the rest goes onto the expensive HDV tapes. To date not one complaint of dropouts. Sure they're less likely on the expensive tapes but HDV has less risk of dropouts than DV and what's the reference point for "less likely". From my gestimates it's got to be less than 1 per 20 tapes.
If you're shooting something that's worth serious money and cannot be reshot then maybe, just maybe the extra cost is justified but if you're hard nosed about it there's very few things that are that critical. In short, I'd simply ignore the dropout issue.
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Old January 27th, 2006, 03:35 AM   #5
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Ernesto,

Dropout issue: This is not specific to Sony, but relates to the MPEG structure. If there was a bad spot on the tape a dropout would be more noticable than with DV. Agree if you use quality DV tapes you will probably be fine.... especially if you only use the once. If you use the same DV tape over and over the dropouts would be more likely.

Zoom: The zoom rocker isn't very good, hard to get a smooth slow zoom. (I'm pretty sure the rocker is the same on HC1 as A1). A good lanc controller helps here, as it would have it's own zoom controls. People have reported much slower, smoother zooms with a lanc than using the rocker.

HC1 vs A1: The main hardware differences are: A1 has a proper accessory shoe (HC1 only silly Sony shoe). A1 has XLR inputs and an external mic. HC1 has a flash for stills, A1 does not. Then there are a number of firmware differences, features the A1 has that the HC1 doesn't, like blackstretch. A1 will record and play DVCAM, HC1 will not. HC1 will record and play DV LP, A1 will not.

I went for the HC1 due to budget, and also I already had a non-XLR external mic I was happy with.

Mark
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Old January 27th, 2006, 03:49 AM   #6
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''- Another Showreel quote: "We also liked the way you can adjust the aperture or vary the autoexposure with the lever on the left side of the camera (after a setting in the menu), but criticized Sony for not giving a total manual control of shutter and exposure or any F-stop numbers."
What's with this? Basically, from the manual and photos I've seen, you should be able to set the shutter at a locked speed ...''

This is indeed one of the compromises you must accept when you buy a camera that's so good yet so amall. The A1 and HC1 look to be the same camera body-wise, and I've only used the HC1, but here goes:

So an HC1 would give you 16:9 in amazing hi-def quality, or in standard
definition should you want it. It shoots on standard Mini DV tapes. It also has a pop up flash and takes 16:9 stills to Memory stick.

The downsides from a photographer's point of view are as follows.

The exposure can be locked in manual, sure. But the bummer for me is in the fine tuning adjustments that need to be made once you're off and shooting. Making minor exposure adjustments is stupidly difficult and ineffective. Everyone will see your changes on screen.

touch screen menu - it takes about 8 menu prods simply to turn the
Steadyshot on and off.

No readout of aperture or shutter speed you're shooting at, or how much gain up is being applied. For anyone who came from the TRV900, this is unacceptable. OK on the HC1, but the professional A1?

Bottom loading. What can I say? The PDX10 got it right, but compactness was the design intent here, and something's gotta give.

Spectacular pictures though!

tom.
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Old January 27th, 2006, 07:40 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ernesto Mantaras
I set a fixed speed, the exposure is on manual (or I set it on manual) and I can change it as many times as I want, just like focus or zoom, right?
Right! You just tweak the lever up or down until you are happy with the result....
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Old January 27th, 2006, 10:54 AM   #8
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I'm glad that tapes won't be a problem. If the drop-out risk is less than when recording DV I'm all set. Never heard of anyone complaining about it, really.
Of course, I'll be spending on the expensive tapes if the situation requires so, but won't give into it that much.

"The exposure can be locked in manual, sure. But the bummer for me is in the fine tuning adjustments that need to be made once you're off and shooting. Making minor exposure adjustments is stupidly difficult and ineffective. Everyone will see your changes on screen."
So this is like on my TRV250: if done when recording, the changes in exposure can be seen as steps, a sudden change in light can be seen (unlike, at least from what I've seen, the FX-1 and the Z1 that have a dial that gradually changes exposure, am I right?). And are you saying, Tom, that it's uncomfortable to use the lever? You still can get used to it I guess.
And about the Steadyshot feature, that'll be quite bothersome, but I'll probably be either using it or not in full takes, no need to be turning it off in the middle of a shot. So I guess I'm OK with that. But what I'm not OK with is the lack of readouts. That CAN make a difference when working. Can anyone tell me whether the A1 does have it or not?
Oh, and I'm quite used to the bottom loading of the tape from below, being I have a TRV250, so I've come to peace with it. A really thin one, that at any given second could break along with the camera, violently tossed to the hard ground blowing in thousands of little pieces causing the little footage we've shot so fat to be unrecoverable... But I can cope with it.

And I think that, for the use I'll give to the camera, the extra features of the A1 firmware are another thing leaning me towards its side, but I'll have to think it over, because it's a $1100 difference. The time will come.

Finally, the zoom will have to be tested, 'cause a lanc controller is worth at least $100. In any case, I'd be getting the camera and then I'd think about buying it. Would be cool though.

Oh, and the size and weight will really make a difference, since I have found myself (and most probably will too) shooting guerrilla style, and this is the perfect camera on that aspect. Damn, I can't wait...
By the way, with Steadyshot the camera is supposed to make a slight digital zoom and then use the remaining unseen area for the adjustments, but, again from Showreel, this is said to have no loss in image quality. If this is so, why does Sony recommend not to use it when using a tripod (aside from the fact that it's pretty much useless then)?

Well, this has been long again. Thanks for answering guys! Keep 'em coming!
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Old January 27th, 2006, 11:02 AM   #9
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Graham, I just saw your latests posts on the Cineframe rocks thread (in case anybody in the future sees this: http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthrea...t=56590&page=2)

I guess that answers my question on whether Cineframe preserves the resolution (a 4:3 sensor could have done the magic with its extra area, as opposed to a 16:9 one). Bummer, it's one-field stretched images...
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Old January 27th, 2006, 11:09 AM   #10
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You're right, the FX1 and Z1 have that beautifully turned aluminium aperture control knob that smoothly and invisibly alters the aperture - exactly what every moviemaker wants. The A1's adjustment isn't uncomfortable, it's just seeing those 'bumps' on screen later make me feel very uncomfortable.

The A1's Steadyshot is purely digital. It's never as good as optical, but then it's cheaper, uses less battery power, is lighter and in the case of VAP (as used on the PD170) is a lot more compact. It's not as powerful as the VAP, that's for sure. But hey, the camera's cheap and the pictures are superb. Just don't try and get clever with it - leave it to auto and you'll be fine.

tom.
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Old January 27th, 2006, 11:38 AM   #11
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> it's a $1100 difference

B&H have a $500 rebate on the A1 at present that brings their "email me for a better price" down close to the $2000 mark ... at least so I am told.

Typically, I bought an HC1 about a week before that rebate was announced :(
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Old January 27th, 2006, 11:53 AM   #12
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Yes, Graham, I believe that the email price at BH is $1999, including rebate.
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Old January 27th, 2006, 11:54 AM   #13
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Ugh, must be terrible to experience that. It happened to me many times with computer stuff, but never among that amount of dollars...

Yeah, I considered that rebate thing. The A1 goes from $2700 to $2200, and then that's a $1200 difference for me. With that money, I could just travel to the US, see both the HC1 and A1 up in new york, do some sightseeing and even get some extra stuff like batteries or tapes, or a better mic (or even the zoom controller). BUT, I just can't afford to be stuck with a 60i camera. Here in Argentina we have the PAL system, and although on DVDs this is easier, I can't just go around shooting stuff in NTSC, specially if it's for some requested job. Besides, I really want the near film like fps (yeah, I know, it's not all there is to it, but it's a start, right?)
Unfortunately there's no rebate on the A1E (wonder if they'd be as kind to give me one...?). So, there aren't that many options. Maybe when I finally raise the money it will cost much less, or it will get a rebate?
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Old January 27th, 2006, 12:03 PM   #14
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Oh, Tom, just for the record, yes, the images captured by the A1 ar great. On that note, when looking for footage (from any HDV camera at the time) I found this site: http://videosketch.myhome.cx/
When I downloaded the first video available when you scroll down (17-11amarube01.wmv) I was astonished by the quality and the colors (and the film look, with that high dynamic range and, damn it, everything). I only found it was from an A1 after comparing footage but specially when I found in this an A1J test by Smaeda, the site's owner. Download if you like, it's great pictures all the way. (by the, how cool is Japan, ah? Nice bridge that red one)
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Old February 1st, 2006, 12:16 PM   #15
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Hello out there. Feel kinda dull by doing this since it's my 3rd consecutive post, one after the other in the same thread, but it's not worth asking this on a new one, so please take these doubts out of me.

I still need to know about two things.

First, can I record on any hard disk (like a 160gb Seagate) with the A1 via firewire connection (which I might find sort of hard without any program in the middle, but maybe the camera can do it itself)?

And second, has anyone had any trouble in low light conditions with this camera (or the HC1, which should be the same)? How well does the Blackstretch function improve the image in these conditions?

I'd really appreciate if you could answer these two things.

I'm really looking forward to buying this camera, but I just have to be sure.
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