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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 April 12th, 2006, 09:29 AM   #1
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A1 on mountain expedition

I'm going on an expedition to a mountain in China in August and want to make a documentary about it. I have an XL2, but I consider it too big and heavy to take, and it has an awkward shape which makes it difficult to fit in a bag.

I was thinking of taking a Z1 or an A1, and am leaning in favour of the A1 because its a lot lighter. I do have quite a few questions though:

1 What is the picture quality like compared to a Z1? I know its not as good in low light, but what about in bright conditions?

2 What is the audio quality like? As a reference, I use an AT4073 mike with my XL2 and it produces great sound. Will the sound be good enough with the A1 and the same mike? I'm just worried because pd150s had such rubbish sound.

3 How long do the batteries (QM91) typically last?

4 Anyone had experience of using it at low temps (below 0C) and how well did it work?

5 Does the A1 have any built in ND filters? It will be very bright and they will definitely be needed. How good is its exposure control - can it be controlled completely manually (pretty essential)?

6 Can the XLR mount on the camera be removed for easier storage?
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Old April 12th, 2006, 07:14 PM   #2
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1. My Z1 has better picture than the A1, but I think the A1 would be comparable to the XL2 (!). A1 excels in bright light.
2. I don't have a problem.
3. Manual says typical record time will be about 160 minutes in HDV with XLR and using LCD screen.
4. It won't work below freezing as most batteries will not function. In Paris one January my camcorder stuffed up because of cold. You would need to keep the battery warm.
5. Doesn't need ND as uses CMOS which has wider exposure latitude than CCD. It does fine with bright sun here in Australia. The camera has "manual control", but you can only specify the shutter speed, while the gain and aperture are determined by the camera. In other words you can select the exposure, just not the individual components.
6. Definitely. You could even use a Sony ECM-HGZ1 gun mic directly into the AIS shoe without the XLR unit, depending on your needs.

Last edited by Colin Pearce; April 13th, 2006 at 01:44 AM.
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Old April 12th, 2006, 07:37 PM   #3
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This thread touches on some of the same issues: http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=64337
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Old April 13th, 2006, 07:34 AM   #4
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Thanks for the replies. Could you just explain the exposure to me again? Is there no way I can tell the camera to not use gain?
I can 'fix' the exposure right? Will it keep getting brighter/darker depending on where its pointing?

(eg on my xl2 i just put it on f2 or whatever and it stays like that, but if I use my tiny JVC handycam, it constantly changes its exposure depending on what its pointing at)
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Old April 15th, 2006, 04:37 PM   #5
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Topper,

I will ditto most of what Colin has said above as I also own both a Z1 and an A1. The Z1 has the edge in picture quality, although the A1 is good in bright light as well. I would slightly disagree on the need for a neutral density filter however if you are going near ice or snow. Have just been using my cameras in Antarctica (both of them), generally in temperatures of 0 to -30 degrees.
With lots of ice I used my polarising filters all of the time, but still had trouble controlling overexposure with the A1. Whilst the CMOS chip does have greater light latitude, the A1 will try to control very bright light using shutter speed (if you lock your exposure) as it has very lttle F stop range (but yes it does lock the amount of light coming in and does not change the exposure). As I don't like the strobing this might cause, I much prefer to control light using ND's. Unfortunately I did get some slightly overexposed footage from my A1 in Antarctica which was very disappointing. The Z1 on the other hand produced incredible footage ALL of the time - here I was using both the built in 2 stage ND's and a circular polariser.

Surprisingly had few problems with the batteries (despite what everyone told me) - used genunine Sony NPF 970 and NPQM71D and got very good working life out of both (typically 40-45 minutes of real (recorded) tape time out of the A1 and much more out of the NPF970 with the Z1). I just kept my cameras in raincoats to lower wind chill and used a little polar fleece as insulation. I also had several in reserve just in case.

A few other points. HDV gives incredibly detailed footage - keep your lenses very clean or on wide angle you will see the spots on the lens. This spoilt some of my work in Antarctica.

Also the LCD on the A1 is small - and it is not great for monitoring your work (Z1 is very good).

The XLR sound on both cameras is very good.

Get a high quality WA lens (Century or Sony Y series HG) for the A1 - its native lens is not so wide.

The image stabiliser on the Z1 is much better, but I always try to use a tripod.

Having said all of this the A1 is a great little camera - and will give images a lot better than an XL2 in good light even though the XL2 has a much better lens and better exposure control because HDV produces so much more detail. Even if you downconvert to SD it will still be similar to the XL2.

The A1 is a real lightweight - a dream to take on a trip, and it is brilliant to be able to carry around a small camera that produces such great quality footage. If you choose to take the A1 you can carry extra batteries and a lightweight tripod as well!



Hope this helps.

All the best.
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Old April 16th, 2006, 01:39 AM   #6
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I've shot several climbing docs in the Himalayas and U.S. with small Sony cameras. Graeme is dead on with his advice.
1) Filters/lenses get filthy quickly-- gotta clean them often
2) High altitude snow/ice in bright sunlight, people, etc. in foreground--It's a very difficult exposure problem. Polarizing will help, ND filters may help, but the latitude is just huge for video. May be worthwhile to shoot some scenes twice: once at AE setting, again with manual adjustment a stop or two more exposure to lighten up your foreground figures if necessary. I've had scenes where the background snow is blown out AND the foreground figures are dark blobs. You may get one or the other, but not both.
3) Batteries: Take a generous supply and top them off at your last stop. I always kept the spares in zip lock baggies. If ambient temp is low, carry the battery you are using in your pocket. Leave the camera at ambient temp so you don't get condensation/freezing problems.
I've spent a lot of time at high altitude and sub zero temps and never (knock, knock) had a problem with Sony cams or batteries.
Have a great adventure!!

Last edited by Robert Young; April 16th, 2006 at 03:01 AM.
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Old April 16th, 2006, 03:54 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Pearce
5. Doesn't need ND as uses CMOS which has wider exposure latitude than CCD. It does fine with bright sun here in Australia. The camera has "manual control", but you can only specify the shutter speed, while the gain and aperture are determined by the camera. In other words you can select the exposure, just not the individual components.
Six stops from the left and gain is zero and aperture is 1.8. Every stop to the right increases gain by +3db up to 18 (fully right). Every stop to the left closes the aperture by one stop. It's pretty easy when you get the hang of it.
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Old April 16th, 2006, 09:37 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Graeme Fullick
Get a high quality WA lens (Century or Sony Y series HG) for the A1 - its native lens is not so wide.
You would think that the Century Optics wide angle lens would be as good or better than the Sony "Y" model since it is more expensive. This is not the case however. The Century Optics model absolutely SUCKS on this camera. I know, I bought one when I couldn't find the Sony lens in stock anywhere. When you go wide with the Century Optics lens the image distorts badly and looks terrible. The Sony lens on the other hand produces a wonderful image.
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Old April 16th, 2006, 10:38 AM   #9
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There are other lenses with superior coatings and performance out there. You can look for lenses that were designed for higher end cameras, with better glass, that may not fit the 37mm filter threads of the A1U/HC1 out of the box. All you have to do is attach an adaptor (step up) ring to use a better lens. The disadvantage of using bigger high-end lenses is that the filter threads are much larger which means you have to pay more for the filters.

I've read discussions here speaking positively about the Sony VCL-HG0737Y, but this lens has a few shortcomings too. For one, the lens doesn't have threads on the lens barrel to allow you to attach filters, etc., so if you purchase this lens, you would have to purchase a lens hood which allows you to attach filters to the hood itself. The Cavision LH77 Lens hood is made for the Sony VCL-HG0737Y lens, and allows you to attach 82mm filters to the inside of the lens hood.

I use a Raynox HD-7000PRO High Definition 0.7X Wide Angle Conversion Lens instead of the Sony VCL-HG0737Y 37mm 0.7x Wide Angle Conversion Lens for a number of reasons. First of all, the Raynox lens has superior glass and was designed for high-end cameras. The Sony lens is also a good lens, but has more aberration at the edges when zoomed to it's widest angle, and more red and green color shift than the Raynox lens.

The Raynox HD-7000PRO High Definition 0.7X Wideangle Conversion Lens requires the use of an 37 to 58 mm adaptor ring because it was made for 58mm lenses and designed for use with 1/3 inch ccds such as the VX2000/2100, PD-170/150, etc. It uses 82mm filters which cost more, but if you want to play, you've got to pay.

You can get a lens hood for this lens too. The Cavision LH100WP 3x3 Rubber Lens Hood for Wide Angle Lenses can be used with the Ranox HD-7000Pro Lens. You will also have to buy a step down ring, 100mm to 85mm (Cavision ARP485) to use this hood with the Ranox lens. Cavision also makes a French Flag MBF-3 for this lens hood which helps in outdoor shoots and also acts as a lens cover... Good Stuff!

In my humble opinion, the Raynox HD-7000PRO is a superior lens and costs the same as the Sony but requires a step up ring which costs another 5 bucks, and it supports a French Flag to boot!

I don't have the same filtering problems you do though, since I use a wide angle Cavision 4x5.65" hard matt box system on 15mm rails with both my Z1U and A1U. This is an expensive solution ($800.00 plus with accessories and side flaps) for attaching filters but is the only way to get the most out of both of cameras (especially outdoors in bright sun) since matt boxes provide lots of light control and you can choose filters from the pro world of 4x4" and 4x5.65" filters. However, since both camcorders use the same matt box system, I get more bang for my buck.

I will use the A1U mainly for second unit work and will frequently shoot outdoors where matt boxes and filtering systems are a must (the A1U/HC1 has more problems in low light situations than the Z1U). Also, in available light situations indoors, the A1U/HC1 has more problems with filters since filters cut light levels down a bit and the A1U can use all the help it can get in available light. Indoors, the A1U definitely needs more light. More light, less video noise.

When I use the matt box with my Z1U, I insert the AR85-72 Conical Adapter Ring into the ARR1385 Rubber Adapter Ring in the matt box so it will fit on the Z1U lens. When I use the matt box with the A1U, I remove the AR85-72 Conical Adapter Ring and slip the A1U with the Raynox High Definition 0.7X Wideangle Conversion Lens (85mm lens o.d.) installed, directly into the matt box.

I also use the Cavision dual hand grips and shoulder pads with this system so I don't need the Spiderbrace that so many here rave about. However I do use a Spiderbrace with whichever camera isn't fitted with the matt box system, at the time. That would be the Z1U, in most cases, since I use the Z1U as the first unit camera (mainly indoors, but outdoors too if the second unit isn't using the matt box).

I don't like the Spiderbrace nearly as much as the Cavision shoulder mount system because the Spiderbrace is a little flimsy and is too thick, and hard to attach accessories to, unless you go to the auto store and buy radiator hose clamps (YUK!) to attach accessories, or drill holes in it as I did. The Spiderbrace front handles are also a little on the short side and angled too far out and away from you so it is difficult to attach a Lanc remote to the handle and still grip it. The Spiderbrace also has a substandard attachment system with thumb nuts from Home Depot, to mount the camera. The camera loosens up on the Spiderbrace and can swivel on its mount because it doesn't have a guide pin.

I still use it, though, because it was cheap. The Spiderbrace and HC1/A1U will probably be the number one combination for Hi-Def Porn Shooters, because it is very light, easy to handle, and cheap. But since I don't shoot porn, and mostly use tripods and dollies, I plan to buy another Cavision shoulder mount system to replace my Spiderbrace. The Cavision system attaches to a tripod with the handles attached so you can go from shoulder to tripod in a snap.

As a matter of fact, I also use the Cavision RPSHC - SPACER FOR SONY A1U / HC1 instead of the DeMaagd Accessories HC1-SHIM because the DeMaagd shim shifts the camera too far off center, too the right, in an attempt to accomodate bigger tripods. The Cavision shim is better for me because it works with high-end tripods, and also positions the A1U/HC1 tripod mount closer to the centerline to mount on pro rail systems for matt boxes etc. The DeMaagd HC1-SHIM is great and is priced right (actually the Cavision RPSHC shim is the same price as the HC1-SHIM, $25.00) but the HC1-SHIM can not be used with rails.

I did buy the DeMaagd Accessories HC1-SHIM and it works great on the Spiderbrace and my tripod but I don't need two shims to use with only one A1U. When I got the A1U, I didn't think it would work with the Cavision 4x5.65 matt box system, and like you, was thinking about how to solve my the filtering problems with a wide angle lens.

I discovered that the A1U would work with my matt box, quite by accident. When I got the Raynox lens and discovered that the lens o.d. was 85mm, I knew it would work on the Cavision matt box if I could find a shim that would allow the A1U to work with my matt box rails, and let me remove the tapes without taking the matt box system apart. After digging around a little on the web, I discovered that Cavision also makes a shim that allows the A1U/HC1 to be used with their rail systems (who'd a thought). Since I already had the matt box system for my Z1U, I ordered the Cavision RPSHC shim and tried using my matt box with my A1U. It worked great!

On another note: I'm planning to sell my Sony Z1U so I can buy a Canon XL-H1. My Cavision matt box system works on the Canon XL-H1 too so the matt box turns out to be a great investment and will be around long after all the first generation HDV camcorders have bit the dust.

You can obtain more information about the Raynox lens I use at this link:
http://raynox.co.jp/english/video/hdrhc1/index.htm

For samples of video shot on the HC1, with this and other Raynox lenses, visit this link: http://raynox.co.jp/comparison/video/comp_hdrhc1.htm

You can buy the Raynox lens at B&H Photo. Visit this link: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...ughType=search

For more info on the Cavision LH100WP 3x3" LENS HOOD FOR WIDE ANGLE LENSES, visit this link: http://www.cavision.com/lenshoods/LH100W.htm

You can buy the Cavision LH100WP 3x3" LENS HOOD at B&H Photo. Visit this link:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...ughType=search

For more info on the Cavision MBF-3 3x3" FRENCH FLAP for the 3x3 Lens Hood, visit this link: http://www.cavision.com/matteboxes/more/MBF3.htm

You can buy the Cavision MBF-3 3x3" FRENCH FLAP for the 3x3 Lens Hood at B&H Photo. Visit this link:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...ughType=search

If you want to use the Cavision LH77 Lens hood so you can use filters with the Sony VCLHG0737Y 0.7x Wide Angle Converter Lens, visit this link for more info: http://www.cavision.com/lenshoods/LH77.htm

You can get information on glass filters at the following links:
http://www.cavision.com/filters/cavision.htm
http://www.centuryoptics.com/products/filters/index.htm.

For more info on the Cavision RPSHC SPACER FOR SONY A1U / HC1 camcorders, visit this link:
http://www.cavision.com/rods/A1Uspacer.htm

For more info on the DeMaagd Accessories HC1-SHIM FOR SONY A1U / HC1 camcorders, visit this link: http://dm-accessories.com/HC1-SHIM.php

This is a link to a system much like the one I use with my Z1U and A1U. The difference is that my system does not use a follow focus and does not use 4x4 bellows but uses the 4x5.65 wide angle hard shade instead. Visit this link to see a system configured similarly to mine: http://www.cavision.com/pictures/SonyHDV/RS1580_1.htm

This is the link to the Cavision Shoulder Mount system: http://www.cavision.com/rods/RS1580.htm

I will upload some photos that of my system and provide links to it soon.

Also, the best way to deal with Cavision is to call them. They accept orders over the phone and are very helpful.

--Dave
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Old September 29th, 2006, 11:35 AM   #10
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get a polar bear camera insulator from portabrace

these have primaloft insulation, ballistic nylon exterior, clear plastic at controls and pockets near battery etc for hand warmers. not only keeps your camera warm, but your hand too. also protects it and has a shoulder strap

well worth the money
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Old January 21st, 2007, 10:18 PM   #11
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Colin: your conclusions seem very odd. First the A1 usually gets a a little bit BETTER picture than the Z1 (except in low light), largely due to the A1 having better glass than the Z1. And the resolution of the A1 is VASTLY superior to the XL2 as has been shown over and over. In addition, as people have used the A1 in shoots in Antartica, I really must to question your statements here. Just what are you basing these suppositions on?
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Old January 21st, 2007, 10:26 PM   #12
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Frank:

Check the date out on posts. This thread is in reference to Sony A1, not new Canon.... I think,,, Are you saying Sony A1 has better pick than Z1 ?

Edit: I guess I might be confused myself.
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Old January 21st, 2007, 10:39 PM   #13
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In the way of 'raw' pic... a little bit yes, due to slightly better glass... within limitations (of course). But not by much. On the other hand, the Z1 has a LOT more manual control than the Sony A1 in a number of areas and is MUCH better in low light than the A1. So the A1 has more limitations than the Z1.

As always, there are trade offs and if you can adequately light for the A1 and avoid whip pans (rolling shutter) you can get an incredible pic, particularly for the price point.
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Old January 23rd, 2007, 06:21 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Laurence Kingston
You would think that the Century Optics wide angle lens would be as good or better than the Sony "Y" model since it is more expensive. This is not the case however. The Century Optics model absolutely SUCKS on this camera. I know, I bought one when I couldn't find the Sony lens in stock anywhere. When you go wide with the Century Optics lens the image distorts badly and looks terrible. The Sony lens on the other hand produces a wonderful image.
My first experience with a Century Optics telephoto on the A1 was terrible, too. The edges were really soft. I assumed that the lens didn't have enough covering power but based on the size of the optics I couldn't figure out why. As an experiment I jerry-rigged a little extension tube to give the image some more room to spread out before it reached the camera and that did the trick. The edge definition now nearly matches the center. I wonder if the wide lens has the same problem?

Best wishes,
Peter
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