Testing the HC1 in pro-shoot 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 July 11th, 2006, 11:11 PM   #1
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Testing the HC1 in pro-shoot

I mentioned this before as a reply in an earlier post, but thought it worthy of it's own thread.

I had the opportunity to review a new postop procedure, and before I continue, I will not discuss details such as location, persons and the procedure itself. The point of this post is on using the HDR-HC1 on a paying job and what I've discovered along the way. (Hopefully it will be of some use to other forum members).

The actual event was more or less a walk-through and learning experience of the procedure, and to note changes in the final script. Even so, I recognized the opportunity to bring my kit along and the HC1.

I had planned on renting a couple of Sony Z1U's, but was instructed to wait. However, upon reading that some posters mentioned photage from the HC1 intercuts well with that of the FX1/Z1U, it wouldn't hurt to bring in the HC1.

This forum is loaded with image comparisons and technical details on the differences between the HC1 and FX1 ad nauseum. For the most part, I believe that the general consensus is that when in a well lit environment without much action, the HC1/A1U should do well.

I can tell you that the image quality is there, and when compared to what I've captured in SD on an XL1s, it's a very warming and welcome experience. Couple that with a final output and render that is less than HD quality, it's a no-brainer, any HDV camera will do. Again, plenty of examples riddle this site to justify.

Image quality aside, what is left is how well the camera "performs" in a given situation. When your shooting family events, it's a very forgiving environment, where you as the director are willing to accept any short commings and errors. Messing up juniors radically awesome homerun slam out of the park can be a letdown, but "stuff" happens.

That whole dynamic changes when it's filming a room full of professionals and time is money, and the director is only interested in results. Paying results.
People can lose jobs, and earn bad reputations.

To be blunt, all that matters is getting the "shot". In any operating or live event, there's no second chances. Not everyone has fully read the script and anything can happen. In many cases, getting the shot in a live situation is like shooting goffers. Those little furry critters whom pop up in full view without warning, and then duck out of site at the very last second.
If your not quick on the sites and pulling the trigger, then you just made a loud bang and wasted a round into the dirt.

Here is where all the arguments of why an HC1/A1U can match an FX1/Z1U fall apart. Yes you can get close in matching images, but you'll never hit as many goffers with an HC1 as you could with a Z1U.

Up until now, I've shot many a calming scenes, interviews, and blue sky. All carefully framed and focused, and with wonderful results. But when I pressed the record button and said "Ok, rolling." It was a trial of frustration.

Many times I just keep the camera rolling and frame, focus, and wait, then on to the next step. With my XL1s and it's focus and zoom rings and push button instant focus, it was a snap.

Focus on the HC1 was incredibly slow, using an external monitor or larger LCD is a must. Having the benefit of external lanc controller did help, but was not natural. I often had to frame the shot, then look away to the monitor and check focus. Many times I barely made or missed the "shot". Even with this setup, where I thought I had focus, after capture, I realized that I was mistaken.

In much of my b-roll shots, I had to spend an extra amount of time making sure I had the "shot", but at the exspense of the extra's patience. These folks were employees, and not getting compensation, and much rather be doing their jobs.

The HC1 is simply not impressive. Sorry, even on a good rig (I had all three, a monopole, a tripod, and a shoulder brace), it still looked like a toy camera on an expensive piece of hardware. When I broke out the XL1s, everyone's eyes lit up and their whole attitude and expression changed. "Whoa, look at that camera."

It mattered not, as I explained to some, that the HC1 could get 3 times the resolution at 1/4 the price of an XL1s. Most folks thought I should have gotten a better Canon. Funny that. On this forum, we are all too understanding about these small form cameras and what they can do. However, a good first impression with the uninformed folks whom sign your checks is very important.

The HC1 is just too small and light. Well, sure. But I wasn't happy with the run and gun results until I left this puppy on the oversized bogen tripod and simply carried it that way. Making it very heavy, created a calming movement with steady, sweeping undulations that matched my just as heavy XL1s. So, light and small just didn't help in getting the "shot" either.

In the final analysis, when I had focus and framing, the image was stunning. But that's all.

In the end, one can conclude that paying 3 times the money for getting the same image is not a true argument. That is, in my case, the HC1 doesn't "get" the same image as a true professional camera.

----

Well, there you have it. My experience. I plan on uploading some images, but it's late, and will have to do that tommorrow. Please note, I do like this camera. However, I'm feeling a little more comfort in understanding why I'll have to spend $5000 or more to get the shot.
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Old July 11th, 2006, 11:48 PM   #2
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Interesting, I've had almost the complete opposite experience as you have.
While there has certainly been a learning curve to adjust to the peculiarities of the A1, I have found to be a hell of a bargain for the price. If you REALLY want to go professional, get a F900.
You will get truly professional results. The glass is a gazillionn times better, the HDCam output is superior, it has true 24p, much better latitude and DOF and the picture quality is wayyyy better than the A1 OR the Z1. Wait, you didn't bother getting the more professional A1, you got the consumer HC1 with half the features turned off or in 'lite' mode. The camera that was never advertised as a professional piece of equipment. But you expected professional results.
Do you try to win drag races in a Honda civic too?

Oh. It also runs somewhere around $85,000. But it's what the real pros use. Ask Rodriguez or Lucas. Wait, Lucas but a whole bunch of A1s himself... never mind.

I apologize if I seem a bit blunt here, but the bottom line is, you bought a CONSUMER camera. You didn't even get the more professional A1 version which works better in low light, has much more control and features available. And now you are complaining that it's not acting like a much more expensive professional camera?
I strongly suggest you sell your HC1 and buy a XL1. It sounds like what you want and you'll be much happier. Actually, I'm guessing that will end when you actually use the XL1...
Personally, I would never think of trading my A1 for a XL1 because I need better picture quality. Imagine that.
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Old July 12th, 2006, 07:49 AM   #3
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You missed the point. First, I know it's a prosumer camera. I bought it for my family. I've been shooting corporate video for six years. I'd never use an F900, it's overkill for what I do. I don't pretend to shoot movies. Some folks brag on and on about this camera having similiar image quality to procams (myself included, this I agree with). So, I gave it a go in MY from of working environment and shared my experiences here. Which may not apply to your style of shooting.

The point that I'm making is that it's not image resolution alone that gets the shot. It's fit, form and function as well. All those quick access buttons, focus/zoom rings, etc. Duh. I've seen the A1U's, there are close enough to the HC1 in the form and function for run and gun. Yes they have more "menu" fuctions, yes they have XLR audio. These things don't matter in a live shoot. Based on my opinion and usage, I'd never get an A1U, (even if Lucas owns a truckload, I don't shoot locked off movies).

Either I'm getting two Z1U's, or a canon H1. Until I get the budget for that, and while I'm still publishing SD movies on DVD and CD, I'll be using the XL1s because it'll get the shot. No it won't be HDV, but it's job security.

How's that for blunt?
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Old July 12th, 2006, 09:07 AM   #4
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My soon to be replaced JVC DV300 is probably as similar form factor...but with the matte box and filters, on a $1500 tripod, with remote, boomed, on even camera mounted Sennheiser and Tram mics, and especially with additional lights and grip gear and the frequent DV Rack PC, looking professional has not been the issue. Getting setup and knocked down in a reasonable time is.

Doesn't the expanded focus and peaking work? I don't have one of these cameras (yet?), however the HVX200 uses an expanded focus and the HD100 uses peaking. Does HC1/A1 peaking get stronger as focus achieved and dimish as it is lost? One problem is that you need to turn off the zebra to get the peaking, and turning on/off zebra and peaking require poking at the LCD display. However, the zebra with a choice of way too high OR way too low doesn't seem really useful.
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Old July 12th, 2006, 10:06 AM   #5
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The HC1 has expanded focus, but it doesn't work while shooting (recording), and it's a distraction that long enough to miss a lot of good shots. Frankly I'm paying more attention to the camera and not to what's going in front of the lens.

I was a bit surprised that my XL1s earned higher marks in regards to the look department -even though I an external LCD monitor, shotgun mic, lanc and bogen tripod. The camera just looked out of place. Then again, if I had the time to explain to everyone the technology and why they should drool over the HC1...

The Zebra and settings are not an issue by themselves, it's how fast you can make changes and adapt at the moment. This is a great camera, that I agree. Just that I when put to the test in a live environment, it failed in getting the shot because of the lack of controls that you'd find on even the XL1s. That's where the price difference matters when going from $1400 to $5000 in selecting the right camera for the job.

My point is that you should not consider image quality alone. But what it takes to achieve that image. Granted, if locked off or situations that can be more controlling, and you have the time to adjust, it's a no-brainer. The HC1/A1U will do it.
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Old July 12th, 2006, 10:22 AM   #6
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However focus and exposure are key to a good picture (I'd also through white balance in). The camera has limited exposure control, lumping aperature and gain together with fairly useless zebras (IMHO). However, if you can't get a focus you don't have a picture.

In HVX200 vs HD100 tests, the HD100's focus assist peaking was considered better than the HVX200 expanded focus. However, doesn't the A1 have both? Can't you quickly get focus with the peaking?
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Old July 12th, 2006, 10:35 AM   #7
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"...get focus with peaking?"

That would be a question for someone else with an A1U, (such as Frank Howard whom replied earlier), as I can only answer to the HC1. However, I don't think the A1U is worth the risk of spending another $2500 just to find out. I'd rather just get a Z1U and move on, (well, I'll rent one a few times to make sure).
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Old July 12th, 2006, 11:15 AM   #8
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Quote:
I don't think the A1U is worth the risk of spending another $2500 just to find out.
Make that $2000 after rebate. :)
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Old July 12th, 2006, 11:24 AM   #9
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Peter

I found your post about HC1 and XL1 comparison on a shoot interesting and informative. Thanks for taking the time and trouble to post it up.
I think your point about, essentially, The Right Tool For The Right Job is very valid and worthy.

regards
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Old July 12th, 2006, 11:30 AM   #10
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David, the A1 has peaking but I usually let the auto-focus get me there and then click it down to manual so it won't hunt for focus when I move.
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Old July 12th, 2006, 11:39 AM   #11
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I am regularly confounded when people buy a consumer camera and then complain it is not as good as a camera that is professional and costs 4-8 times more money. And when people start complaining about the looks.. then... well...

The HC1 doesn't have the low light capacity of the A1, and there is much more manual control on an A1. But the HC1 is aimed at consumers and was not intended for professional work.

Does the A1 have peculiarities you have to adapt to? No question.
But with a little learning and work you can get one hell of a picture for $2000.

Of course, not everyone will like it. And if you can afford it, move on up. Heck, *I* would have a F900 if I could afford one... Or three... Mr. Lucas, now you know what I want for Christmas... And if you could see clear to throw in an Avid...
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Old July 12th, 2006, 11:51 AM   #12
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Thanks for the kind words Stu. It's one thing to assume or say a camera can or cannot do a task. Quite another to actually try it. I'm for the latter and that's what I did.


Frank, I understand your point. I'm not complaining about using a consumer camera for pro purposes. I took a wild shot at putting the camera through it's paces. The HC1 and A1U are very similiar, and much closer than the HC3.

I'm sorry if this touched a nerve. It's not worth getting all emotional over it, it was just a test, nothing more. If the A1U is meeting your needs, then don't take me seriously : )
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Old July 12th, 2006, 12:02 PM   #13
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It's definitely shouldn't become an emotional issue. After all, the camera is a tool. And I sincerely hope you find the camera that works best for YOU. But all will have their trade offs (translation: major frustrations).

And I know dealing with the downsides of cameras can be frustrating. Right now the whole DOF thing with DV in general is turning out to be a big headache... The whole open the aperture as wide as possible without causing video noise, zoom in from half a block away thing severely limits what you can do. Ugh.

Of course, there are the 35mm adaptors... and I'm wading through the thousands of posts in that area now... Ohhhhh... what have I gotten myself into?

Robert Rodriguez. I blame YOU (I can't very well blame myself).

;-)
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Old July 12th, 2006, 04:00 PM   #14
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Personally, I'd rather compare different kinds of beers. No matter what you drink, the end result is always the same... : )
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Old July 12th, 2006, 04:47 PM   #15
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A man after my own heart. Beers cause much less frustration and being in focus becomes so much less important after a while... Not to mention beer tastes so much better... heh.
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