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Sony HVR-A1 and HDR-HC Series
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Old April 9th, 2006, 09:05 PM   #1
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Using HC1 on a trip, lessons learned.

I just took an HC1 on a 3 week trip to Russia and Turkey, for shooting video of and around the recent total eclipse. Results were generally quite good, and I am pleased. However, reviewing the tapes highlighted a few areas where things could have been better. Here are some brief notes of what I've learned - there will not be any surprises for anyone with experience!

1. Buy A1 if possible. The differences in image quality between the HC1 and its pro cousin, the A1, are negligible. However, there are a bunch of small things that make life easier on the A1, that are worth the price difference - even for an amateur. First is the sound - much better, and more capable. Second is a whole slew of tiny conveniences, eg. the shot transition mode on the A1 has a variable transition time, and 4 different curves vs. a fixed 4 seconds and straight line on the HC1; or another, the optional center point marker on the LCD/viewfinder on the A1. A lot of these features are things that an advanced amateur will find convenient, not just a pro.

2. Use a tripod. HD is much less forgiving of camera shake - it's all noticeable. Use a tripod whenever possible. I used a lightweight Hakuba tripod with pan/tilt head, made a huge difference. Can also use the the tripod as a stick to lift the camera above crowds.

3. Use a GOOD tripod. The Hakuba was OK, but upon review I realized that a heavyweight fluid head would have made a noticeable difference to smoothness of pans. Also would have reduced camera shake when operating controls.

4. Use the remote. The IR remote is a handy tool for controlling zoom, and recording start/stop, without moving the camera. I wish you could trigger shot trans mode from it as well.

5. Use auto, then manual focus. It takes a while for focus to lock in low-light, also camera will refocus when things change ie someone walks in front of the camera, then take time to regain focus. So use autofocus at first, then switch to manual to lock in the focus. I found manual focus directly to be inaccurate - when manually focused to infinity, landscapes appeared to be blurred. I needed to rotate the focus ring back 20 to 30 degrees for distant landscapes to pop into focus. When I did this, manual focus indication ranged anywhere from 1.0 to 20.0 meters. Maybe defect?

6. Invest in wide-angle lens. I almost always had the wide convertor lens on. It is extremely useful for shooting video of people: you can get close enough to interact and engage, while still getting whole body shots, or framing the person and whatever they are doing. Much trickier with standard lens.

7. Use manual exposure control. Automatic exposure varied a lot, leading to distracting and unnatural changes while shooting. For almost all shots I would auto expose, then switch to manual and make a slight correction, and stay at that level for the duration of several shots.

8. Keep sound levels lower. When using auto sound levels, I still experienced clipping on the sound recording. Use the manual mic level control, and use a slightly lower level than would seem reasonable. Clipping ocurred even when the meters seemed to show acceptable levels.

9. HDV doesn't handle complex motion well - may need to switch to DV for some things. For the most part, the HC1 performed well and the footage looks very good. However, I found a few circumstances where the MPEG2 encoder would fail badly and the footage would look very blocky. These circumstances were a) flickering lights eg. neon or strobes, that made big changes to full frame, or b) highly detailed random motion eg. snowfall, flowing water. In these cases, switching to DV mode led to more usable (though lower res) footage.

10. Get 2 batteries and a separate charger. I felt much more comfortable leaving an inconspicuous battery & charger alone while charging, than a much flashier camera. Also, this way you can shoot while charging. I used the mid-size battery, with 3 hours or so of shooting time.

Like I said before, no surprises for any pros here. However, the lessons were really brought home by using the camera in the field to shoot 16 hours of tape!

Last edited by Gian Pablo Villamil; April 10th, 2006 at 01:19 AM.
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Old April 10th, 2006, 12:40 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gian Pablo Villamil
7. Use manual exposure control. Automatic exposure varied a lot, leading to distracting and unnatural changes while shooting. For almost all shots I would auto expose, then switch to manual and make a slight correction, and stay at that level for the duration of several shots.
First, thanks for all of the tips. I know I always appreciate them.

As far a manual exposure goes, the other day I was testing out the HC1 in my house (at night). I was planning on shooting an oil-painting using only the in-ceiling 100-watt canister light.

To make a long story short, I turned on the camera and all was black. I thought I had forgot to take off the lens cap, but no, it was off. A problem with the WA lens? Take it off, no difference. Finally I noticed that I had been using the manual mode earlier in the day, and switched it to auto -- poof, perfect picture. Then I tried playing around with the night-time setting, etc. and still could not get a picture that basically was not black.

So I guess, at least for me, there are times when auto exposure is my best friend....
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Old April 12th, 2006, 08:03 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gian Pablo Villamil
Use the remote. The IR remote is a handy tool for controlling zoom, and recording start/stop, without moving the camera. I wish you could trigger shot trans mode from it as well.
Hi Gian,

How smooth is the zoom on the remote?

Dorothy
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Old April 12th, 2006, 10:06 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gian Pablo Villamil
9. HDV doesn't handle complex motion well - may need to switch to DV for some things.
Unfortunately, even the DV CoDec leaves something to be desired with rapid motion. With my VX2100, when birds start flapping their wings, they suddenly seem to sprout about 6 pairs of them, in different positions. Setting a faster shutter doesn't eliminate it. I've shot lots of birds with my ED-Beta, Hi-8 and S-VHS camcorders and with 1/500th to 1/750th shutter speed, the wing motion stays mostly clear and distinct. I'm going to try re-recording some of my older wing-shots from Hi-8 onto DV and see what happens to the rapid action in that conversion. It would be nice to have a very "smart" digital CoDec, that would devote more bits to these small, but important moving parts of a video picture.
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Old April 12th, 2006, 10:27 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gian Pablo Villamil
2. Use a tripod. HD is much less forgiving of camera shake - it's all noticeable. Use a tripod whenever possible. I used a lightweight Hakuba tripod with pan/tilt head, made a huge difference. Can also use the the tripod as a stick to lift the camera above crowds.

3. Use a GOOD tripod. The Hakuba was OK, but upon review I realized that a heavyweight fluid head would have made a noticeable difference to smoothness of pans. Also would have reduced camera shake when operating controls.
I prefer a Spiderbrace. It's faster, a whole lot more convenient, and lets you get wonderfully stable footage.
Quote:
4. Use the remote. The IR remote is a handy tool for controlling zoom, and recording start/stop, without moving the camera. I wish you could trigger shot trans mode from it as well.

5. Use auto, then manual focus. It takes a while for focus to lock in low-light, also camera will refocus when things change ie someone walks in front of the camera, then take time to regain focus. So use autofocus at first, then switch to manual to lock in the focus. I found manual focus directly to be inaccurate - when manually focused to infinity, landscapes appeared to be blurred. I needed to rotate the focus ring back 20 to 30 degrees for distant landscapes to pop into focus. When I did this, manual focus indication ranged anywhere from 1.0 to 20.0 meters. Maybe defect?
Get a Manfrotto 521 Pro lanc controller which (unlike my Varizoom) has a "push auto-focus" that actually works.

Great observations!
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Old April 12th, 2006, 10:29 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Dorothy Engleman
Hi Gian,

How smooth is the zoom on the remote?

Dorothy
Pressing and holding the zoom buttons on the remote goes from full wide to full tele in 10 seconds at a constant rate. It is the same as using the zoom buttons on the edge of the LCD, except that you don't shake the camera.

By comparison, the shot transition mode on the HC1 takes 4 seconds. The A1 has a configurable shot trans mode.
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Old April 12th, 2006, 10:34 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by J. Stephen McDonald
Unfortunately, even the DV CoDec leaves something to be desired with rapid motion. With my VX2100, when birds start flapping their wings, they suddenly seem to sprout about 6 pairs of them, in different positions. Setting a faster shutter doesn't eliminate it. I've shot lots of birds with my ED-Beta, Hi-8 and S-VHS camcorders and with 1/500th to 1/750th shutter speed, the wing motion stays mostly clear and distinct. I'm going to try re-recording some of my older wing-shots from Hi-8 onto DV and see what happens to the rapid action in that conversion. It would be nice to have a very "smart" digital CoDec, that would devote more bits to these small, but important moving parts of a video picture.
Yeah, birds give me trouble too. Look at the sample images in this post:

http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showpost....47&postcount=4

A lot of the problem seems to be due to interlacing (and then the method used to deinterlace). I have had very good results using interpolation-based deinterlacing. In Vegas Video, there is an interpolation based deinterlace option, or you can get the Mike Crash Smart Deinterlace filter.
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Old April 13th, 2006, 12:38 PM   #8
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Gian, you wrote:

"...the shot transition mode on the A1 has a variable transition time, and 4 different curves vs. a fixed 4 seconds and straight line on the HC1; or another, the optional center point marker on the LCD/viewfinder on the A1."

By shot transition, are you referring to wipes and superimposition? And what are "curves"?

Also, what is the function of, and how much of a benefit is the center point marker on the LCD/viewfinder?

Thanks for your help :)

Dorothy
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Old April 13th, 2006, 11:30 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dorothy Engleman
Gian, you wrote:

"...the shot transition mode on the A1 has a variable transition time, and 4 different curves vs. a fixed 4 seconds and straight line on the HC1; or another, the optional center point marker on the LCD/viewfinder on the A1."

By shot transition, are you referring to wipes and superimposition? And what are "curves"?

Also, what is the function of, and how much of a benefit is the center point marker on the LCD/viewfinder?
...
The shot transition mode stores two sets of settings for zoom, focus, white balance etc. and then smoothly transitions between the two. It's a good way of achieving smooth zooms, or varying focus and zoom together. So the timing is how long it will take to do the transition.

The curves describes how these settings change: on the HC1, it just changes eveything at a constant rate. On the HA1, you can start slowly, speed up, then slow down at the end + a couple of other variations.

The center point on the viewfinder is useful because it marks the point that you will zoom into.
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Old April 16th, 2006, 02:43 PM   #10
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Is the centerpoint, just that, the center of the LCD? If so, couldn't an HC-1 owner just put a small mark, or piece of tape to reference that? I never thought about it before, but that would be great when zooming- I usually end up panning or tilting slightly as i zoom to get to the intended point of interest.
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