Thinking of buying the HVR-A1U at DVinfo.net

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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 June 27th, 2006, 05:46 PM   #1
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Thinking of buying the HVR-A1U

I'm a "prosumer" with a VX2000 that I've had for almost five years now - shoot mostly home/family stuff, but will be doing an occasional stage/dance show too (though rare). I've got the HD bug, and with the current $500 rebate allowing me to pick up an A1U for $2k, I'm pretty interested :)

I finally ventured into external mics for my VX2000 while recording a school show, got the Beachtek DXA-4. I ran into some hiss problems (fairly minor for the most part) even though I had the manual gain at 50% or lower; so I'm returning the DXA-4 (IOW, the XLR inputs of the A1U are a nice plus).

I plan to initially downconvert to SD in camera for editing in my NLE (Matrox RT.X100 and Premiere Pro 2), will there be a significant difference in the results compared with the VX2000? It'll be good to have the original HD footage for not too far down the road ...

My main concern is the low light performance, as expected. At what point does the A1U really start falling apart compared to the PD/VX series? Would typical household lighting be ok (is that around 50-100 lux?) I don't shoot weddings and other really dark places, but image quality under the lighting of several 75-90W bulbs is important.

How is the included external mic (is it a shotgun)? What about using the built-in stereo mike - would that be comparable to the VX2000's built-in mike?

I'd appreciate any thoughts at all on this stuff; additional things, like general usability, manual control, handling etc. are also welcome. Thanks very much!

Last edited by Mohit Chadha; June 27th, 2006 at 09:37 PM.
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Old June 28th, 2006, 10:37 AM   #2
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While the A1 isn't anywhere near the low light champ the pd/vx's are, I think you will find the A1s will perform acceptably with 75-95Watt bulbs with the Black Stretch on and the picture will be much better than the VX if you down convert to SD correctly in Premiere, especially if you get a hold of Cineform Connect HD to aid in dealing with the HD stuff.

In fact, it's safe to say you will be amazed with the output of this little camera.

You will have to get used to the Exposure settings, if you're used to f-stops though.
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Old June 28th, 2006, 10:45 AM   #3
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Mohit,

the low light performance of these units is not good -I have a HDV HC1 which I understand is evn worse. You will be amazed with the results in good lighting.

Best recommendation would be to borrow one and test it if you can. Also, you can limit the gain (less noise) on the HC1 using the manual exposure control -expect there is something that the A1 can also do...


Regards, Nick.
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Old June 28th, 2006, 10:46 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank Howard
While the A1 isn't anywhere near the low light champ the pd/vx's are, I think you will find the A1s will perform acceptably with 75-95Watt bulbs with the Black Stretch on
Now that's good to hear; I don't need to shoot in near-darkness, and the A1's performance being acceptable in normal household lighting is good to hear! From some reading, it looks like using the Sunset&Moon mode to limit gain to 9dB, and using Black Stretch should make the difference.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank Howard
and the picture will be much better than the VX if you down convert to SD correctly in Premiere, especially if you get a hold of Cineform Connect HD to aid in dealing with the HD stuff.
I think it'll be easier just to let the A1 do the downconvert to SD, so I can stick with my current NLE process and hardware. How would you use Premiere for the downconversion, without any additional plugins or software? And will the picture still be "much better than the VX" if I use the A1 to downconvert?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank Howard
In fact, it's safe to say you will be amazed with the output of this little camera.
You will have to get used to the Exposure settings, if you're used to f-stops though.
No big deal on the f-stops, I can deal with the graph/line display on exposure. I can still manually expose (lock both aperture/iris and shutter speed) just like on the VX right?

Nice to hear your positive feedback, this appears to be a heck of a camera for the price!
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Old June 28th, 2006, 10:48 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Nick Outram
the low light performance of these units is not good -I have a HDV HC1 which I understand is evn worse. You will be amazed with the results in good lighting.

Best recommendation would be to borrow one and test it if you can. Also, you can limit the gain (less noise) on the HC1 using the manual exposure control -expect there is something that the A1 can also do...
Thanks for the reply, Nick. I do need to quantify that "low light performance of these units is not good"; from Frank's reply, it seems I will be fine under typical household lighting.

I'll have to see if I can rent one locally ...
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Old June 28th, 2006, 12:37 PM   #6
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To be honest, I've never tried to 'downvert' in camera. I heard it didn't work as well from so many folks here I just never even tried it.
Yes, you can manually expose and lock down the shutter speed.

The external mic is so-so, but still a LOT better than those internal mics ever are. But the XLR inputs will allow you to plug in higher quality mics for serious business.

Since EVERY camera will have its limitations and strengths, renting one is always a great idea. That way you can see if it works for your needs by setting up 'normal' scenarios and seeing how well they work for you.
It would also help you get over just how small they are. It can take you a little back at first (until you see the output).

:)
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Old June 28th, 2006, 01:19 PM   #7
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Done deal

There's no easy/quick way for me to rent this camera locally, and it would cost a good bit to do it via mail. So I decided to just jump into it - from everything I've read, it's a heck of a camera for the price! B&H should have it to me tomorrow, and I leave on vacation with the kids on Friday - nothing like putting a new piece of equipment right to work, eh? :)

I'm going to have to scan the board really quickly to try and figure out recommended/typical shooting modes, etc. I'm familiar with basic SD usage, so the main stuff will be Cineform modes, Black Stretch and the like - the stuff that will make a difference during HD capture.

Does anyone have pointers for me along these lines? Links to existing threads with a decent overview of things to look out for would be super helpful!

Thanks again ... much appreciated!
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Old June 28th, 2006, 02:25 PM   #8
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The best breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of the A1 I know of is in Alan Roberts' (R & D man for the BBC) article. There's a great rundown on settings in a table that's in the article.

http://img.hexus.net/v2/lifestyle/al...n_res_sets.pdf

If you want to try and get shallow depth of field, set the AE (auto exposure) to Portrait and use the telephoto lens to zoom in.

I am certain you will love the camera. Especially after you see what comes out of it.
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Old June 28th, 2006, 05:00 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mohit Chadha
I can still manually expose (lock both aperture/iris and shutter speed) just like on the VX right?
umm no.
You can lock the shutter speed and then obviously the camera will just play with the iris and gain. If its outdoors then usually gain will be at 0dB, so it will just use iris to vary exposure.

There no wa, to my knolwedge, to fix iris OR to fix gain.

Sunset&Moon Program AE mode will hard-limit the gain to a maximum of +9dB however dim the light level gets.

Iris control needs a bit of creativity. I *think* that you can lock shutter at one speed, then go to manual exposure, and change the manual exposure and this will therefore only be changing iris (and gain if its low light).

You can tell what gain is employed as in manual exposure, the little bar position corresponds on the right'hand side to max. aperture of f1.8, with gain varying from 0db to max. of +18dB.

theres a few threads about this stuff. Try a search.

So i think you will find that the manual controls arent necessarily as flexible as your current cam, but you can develop workarounds more or less.
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Old June 29th, 2006, 12:21 AM   #10
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Iris control needs a bit of creativity. I *think* that you can lock shutter at one speed, then go to manual exposure, and change the manual exposure and this will therefore only be changing iris (and gain if its low light).
Indeed you can. That's almost exclusively how I shoot. Again, I think Alan Robert's article explains it well.
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Old June 29th, 2006, 05:13 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Stu Holmes
There no wa, to my knolwedge, to fix iris OR to fix gain.
If you press the exposure button then iris and gain are fixed...
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Old June 29th, 2006, 10:46 AM   #12
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Essentially, as I mentioned there are no direct f-stop settings. You can lock down the shutter speed, so that's one variable taken care of.

Then you have 24 exposure settings. Everything above 18 add gain which of course will likely add noise to your picture. There is a chart with the approximate f-stops of each setting. Some of these settings, particularly around 7-13 start employing internal ND filters, so you get a lot of settings that look identical:
http://hdvforever.com/hdv/exposure/

But you can always make it a lot simpler by using the auto exposure to get in the ballpark and then pop it down to manual and fine tune from there (I often end up one or two settings down). Remember, your eyes are the final arbiters of what looks good.

And turn on the zebra so you won't get over exposure problems.

Yep. It's a little 'different', but it works for must stuff. And ultimately gets better pictures than a lot of much more expensive cameras with a little practice.

Hope this makes things a little clearer.
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Old June 29th, 2006, 10:59 AM   #13
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Great info Frank and everyone else; Alan's PDF was very helpful too - what I gained from that as an initial starting point to setup my A1 for this trip is to record in HDV1080i (of course), set Sharpness to 7, Camera Color to 8, Cinematone to 1, Cineframe Off, and Black Stretch On. Anyone disagree or recommend differently?

Sounds like the exposure controls are similar to what I'm used to with my VX - choose Program AES mode and set the shutter to 1/60, then press the exposure button and move the lever to get the appropriate iris/gain combination while watching the zebras to avoid overexposure. The histogram is going to be very useful too (I'm comfortable with that, coming from digital still photography) - I think I'll set the Assign button to Histogram for quick recall.

Thanks!
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Old June 29th, 2006, 11:27 AM   #14
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That's a great place to start Mohit. You will be getting great output and you can fine tune from there.
Another thing, you can also bring menu items that you find you use a lot up to the top in your personal menu. And the A1 has shot transition if you find you have two settings you constantly go back and forth to. You know, those settings so many of us fall back on but never admit we do. ;-)

Oh... and one other thing. HD is verrrrrry sensitive to focus. Most times I use the auto-focus to get the subject right, then lock it by just dropping down to manual. Then I can frame the subject where I need without worrying about the auto-focus 'fishing'.
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Old June 29th, 2006, 11:32 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Frank Howard
Oh... and one other thing. HD is verrrrrry sensitive to focus. Most times I use the auto-focus to get the subject right, then lock it by just dropping down to manual. Then I can frame the subject where I need without worrying about the auto-focus 'fishing'.
I didn't see a "Push Auto" button in my scan of the manual - looks like I can only get that with the use of certain LANC controllers. It would've been really helpful to have one on the camera, that way I could just leave it on manual and push the button to auto focus as needed. In any case, I will follow your suggestion and use manual focus when possible. The Enlarge Focus option looks useful too :)
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