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Should I buy a Canon XL H1A?

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stephen hoyal
Should I buy a Canon XL H1A?
on Nov 18, 2009 at 5:34:04 pm

Hi all,

I am looking at getting a new camera. I had a hvx 200 but my camera was stolen. I was happy with the hvx 200 except with low light. I have shot with the sony camera and like it too except the hvx 200 shoots better in high action situations such as filming sports. So I have never used the Canon XL H1a so can you tell me how good the camera is? I am interested in two things, filming in low light and having a camera that can handle movement well. What can this camera do?

Thanks,

wildmangoose


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Todd Terry
Re: Should I buy a Canon XL H1A?
on Nov 18, 2009 at 6:15:10 pm

[stephen hoyal] "What can this camera do?"

Just about anything.

The H1 is my favorite camera. Ever. Period.

I've always been a little surprised that the H1 didn't catch on quite like the wildfire that I expected it would. I think a lot of that has to do with price, as it is definitely one of the more expensive HDV cams out there and there are cheaper options that are easier on the budget.

We started using the XLH1 right when they first came out. I love everything about this camera, from the ergonomics, the almost infinitely paintable images (with almost two dozen different tweakable parameters to control the image), and the fact that it is set up like a real "pro" camera... that is, with real knobs, buttons, and switches right on the camera body to control all of the important functions. Lots of cameras are very "menu heavy" and you have to wade through pages of on-screen menus to adjust camera settings. The H1 has lots of menus, too... but if you want to do something like, say, change the shutter speed... you don't have to dig into a menu, there are buttons for that right on the body. That's just one example. There are lots of little extras, too, like the fact that the audio XLR outputs do provide 48v phantom power if you need to use a higher-end pro mic that requires phantom.

All that, and the picture is just really stunning. Even the lens... stock lenses are not always something to write home about, but this one is. To confess, I still never use the stock lens (I almost always shoot with primes), but as far as factory video zooms go this one is very very good.

I only have two negatives about the camera, and one is easily overcome. The factory defaults for all the image parameters really stink... therefore, right out of the box the camera doesn't look that great...images are quite bland and washed out. I always tell people that step one should be going in and adjusting everything to your visual liking, then saving that as one of the presets (it's easy). A few tweaks and the picture looks like a million bucks.

The second negative concerns the HD-SDI output. Often times (usually) an HD-SDI signal contains the audio. For some reason Canon chooses not to embed audio in the HD-SDI signal. If you wish to use the camera as a source deck and capture output via HD-SDI, you don't get audio, just video. So, to capture via HD-SDI you need the separate path for audio. It's not a big deal, just usually a couple of mouse clicks in whatever NLE you are using to define the audio path, but it would be easier if audio was already embedded.

Other than that, I can't say enough good things about the camera.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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James Fortier
Re: Should I buy a Canon XL H1A?
on Dec 6, 2009 at 8:26:29 pm

I'm the DP for a reality show pilot that will use up to 5 Canon XLH1 cameras. I've used the Canon in the past but my main cameras have not been Canon, in fact I was not really all that thrilled with the Canon because of the lack of true progressive recording and I purchased JVC HD-200 and the Panasonic HPX300 most recently. So, now with this big shoot coming up and being locked into using the Canon XLH1, because they were already purchased by the production company some time ago, I am playing catch up with this camera. I have suggested we use Prime lenses to up the look and to investigate what our options are in terms of recording to Firestore Drives in order to avoid the heavy compression of MPEG2 at 35 Mbps that is required to record to tape. I've seen sporadic mention of a NanoFlash drive on some of these forums, so I'd like to know what that is exactly and what out options are in general to improve the performance of these cameras in the HD world.


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Todd Terry
Re: Should I buy a Canon XL H1A?
on Dec 6, 2009 at 9:09:51 pm

Actually, I think you'll like the H1... as I said earlier it is among my favorite cameras ever.

The stock lens on the H1 is pretty darn good. I'm not sure what you would gain by going with primes, unless you wish to use a DoF converter to get more of a 35mm look. If so, I'd heartly recommend the P+S Technik Mini35 converter, or its less-expensive compact version (which does not do picture inversion). Those will attach right to the H1 body and not just stick on the front of the stock zoom which all other brands of lens adapters do.

I will say though, I think it would be pretty darn challenging to shoot a reality show with primes. That's one instance that I would stick with the stock zoom... which surprises even me to say, since I'm a hard-core primes guy.

The Nano is one of the flash drive recorders from Convergent Design, which would record the full HD signal out of the H1's HD-SDI port on the right rear of the camera. You can get details about the Nano as Flash XDR at http://convergent-design.com. I haven't used them, but they do have cheerleaders that say they work well. They are expensive though.

If you don't need full HD recording but HDV recording is fine, then you are probably familiar with the FireStore recorders. Another less-known option though is the Sony HVR-MRC1 (which is actually a fair bit less expensive than the FireStore)... and although I haven't used that yet either, it does get stunningly good reviews from users whereas FireStores have somewhat of a reputation for being finnicky.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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James Fortier
Re: Should I buy a Canon XL H1A?
on Dec 14, 2009 at 4:44:50 pm

Thanks for the response, yeah I've looked at some clips on line of footage from the camera with primes and some without, and also some recording to XDR and NanoFlash and the images are impressive. Since the location footage will not be intermixed with "real" 24p footage the 24F factor should not be a problem...we'll probably use prines for the location interviews but as you said, run and gun verité doc shooting will be difficult with primes and adapters etc. I still do have one big concern using the Canon though, the very subpar viewfinder, I'll check with the Producer/Director and see if he is budgeting for additional on-camera lightweight HD monitoring, although the camera is already gonna be loaded down if we go with the NanoFlash and the Anton Bauer Brick to power both the camera and the NanoFlash (I believe I saw that set up on one of the various sites with the Canon XLH1 outfitted with the NanoFlash).


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Todd Terry
Re: Should I buy a Canon XL H1A?
on Dec 14, 2009 at 5:28:33 pm

[James Fortier] "I still do have one big concern using the Canon though, the very subpar viewfinder"

Well... yes and no. The viewfinder is bad. But it's not sub-par. In fact, it is "par for the course." That is, every single HDV camera has a low-resolution viewfinder (and pretty much every full-size HD camera, too). In fact, the Canon's is about as good as most, better than some.

The sad bottom line is, if you are shooting HD a camera's viewfinder can't really be relied on for focus, no matter what the camera. The resolution line count for most any viewfinder (or flip-out screen) is pitifully pitifully low. Consider the finder great for framing and for composition, but for focus... not so much.

Some, like the Canon, have focusing aids that help quite a bit (the Canon's finder has center magnification and edge-finding features), but still, they aren't great especially for critical focus, and most especially if you use a DoF converter (that's why we focus by distance when using primes, either with a tape measure or a Stanley FatMax laser tape).

Unless you want to spring for the AccuScene viewfinder (the one that's on the Panavision Genesis, and a cheaper version that's on the RED ONE), there's hardly such a thing as a really great viewfinder. And the AccuScene would be quite a bit more expensive than the camera itself. Quite a bit.

A real external HD monitor is really a must-have. Here's another problem though... many times the monitor that people use isn't much better than the viewfinder. Especially a lot of the little (7"-ish) TTF LCD monitors you see in the lower price range (some Marshalls, Varizooms, etc.), say they are HD... but that really only means they can accept an HD signal. They aren't displaying anywhere near HD. Sometimes they aren't even displaying standard def in full resolution. Always be sure to look at the specs and check the resolution. Some of these so-called HD monitors are only displaying 300-400 lines or so. What can look like razor-sharp focus in the monitor may turn out to be quite soft indeed when you get it back in the edit suite.

Unfortunately most of the real HD monitors that are small enough for on-camera usage aren't cheap. You're looking at $6K for the little industry-standard Astro. For about half that or so you can get a good Panasonic. The least expensive "real" HD monitor that I know of is the new 9" one from SmallHD which comes in at about $800... but it is a 720 monitor, not a 1080. I haven't talked with anyone who has used it yet.

So... if you don't use the Canon, that's fine.... but don't chose another camera because of the H1's "bad" viewfinder. They're all bad.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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