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Opinions? Best Hi-Def camera for three grand


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#1 Mark A. Rapp

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Posted 17 April 2009 - 02:29 AM

Hello! I would like to solicit a few opinions as to what is the best camera out there for about three thousand dollars. I used the XH-A1 for a short a couple of years ago, and I liked it a lot. I have the Letus for that camera (is it a 72mm ring mount? I can't remember...) so I'd like any new camera I get to be compatible.

I'm also wondering: what is the difference between the XH-A1 and the XH-G1? And please: I'm not a cinematographer, I'm a director who has just made the transition to digital, so use layman's terms for me... Thanks guys! B)

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#2 Chris Bowman

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Posted 23 April 2009 - 10:25 AM

Well Mark, the short answer is that it depends on what you want to do with it. Since you haven't said, I can't even begin to tell you what camera is the best for your budget.

I can tell you a little about the Canon cameras, though. As you already know, the XH-A1 is a 3CCD 1080i HDV camera. It can also shoot in 30F and 24F modes. The most probable explanation of how the F modes works that I have found is that the green chip is run with inverse phase, so that when the red and blue chips are reading the A field, the green chip is reading the B field. This essentially means that the camera is shooting a Bayer pattern in F modes and 3CCD in 60i mode. Bayer patterning does reduce resolution and perceived sharpness slightly, so if maximum sharpness progressive scans are desired you may want to look elsewhere. Another downside is that XH-A1 cannot shoot progressive at rates above 30 FPS, which limits you greatly if you are planning to shoot slow motion. The HDV codec is a further limitation, it introduces compression artifacts and limits the color space to 4:2:0.

Canon's 24F mode uses a proprietary version of the HDV codec that uses 20% lower compression, but requires you to capture to your editing system using a compatible Canon deck (usually the camera you shot it on). Unless I am mistaken, Avid still hasn't gotten around to fully supporting Canon 24F HDV, although there are workarounds and they say full support is coming. Other editor platforms seem to handle it just fine though.

All that said, the XH-A1 is a very impressive camera, especially since it can be acquired for ~ $3,000. Since you already have the Letus adapter for the XH-A1 (yes it's a 72mm), you should definitely consider it carefully.

The first difference between the XH-A1 and the XH-G1 is that the G1 has a "professional jack pack" which includes uncompressed SDI out (interlace only), and Genlock in/out. The other difference is that the G1 costs about twice as much. Both cameras are also very similar to the XL-H1, except that they are fixed lens and have slightly more customizable settings. If you absolutely need the SDI and Genlock the XL-H1 is probably a better buy than the XH-G1.

Hope this helps
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#3 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 23 April 2009 - 04:05 PM

The film Crank 2 was shot on Canon XH-A1's and HF10's, without any 35mm adapters, and apparently directly to tape and card in the case of the HF10. The look of the movie benefits from this treatment. I don't know if other (less frantic, non off-the-seat-of-your-pants) narrative projects would be made justice to using a similar approach. There is some annoying lateral motion artifacts to some of the shots that I find really annoying, but overal I will pass judgement until I see the film on film at a movie theater:

http://www.apple.com...gate/crank2/hd/

http://www.moviemake...atham_20090417/

http://www.freshdv.c...canon-xha1.html

Also, FYI, Canon's so called 1920i HDV codec is not really 1920x1280 but technically 1440x1080:

http://www.usa.canon...fications.shtml
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#4 Chris Bowman

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Posted 23 April 2009 - 04:50 PM

The film Crank 2 was shot on Canon XH-A1's and HF10's, without any 35mm adapters, and apparently directly to tape and card in the case of the HF10. The look of the movie benefits from this treatment. I don't know if other (less frantic, non off-the-seat-of-your-pants) narrative projects would be made justice to using a similar approach. There is some annoying lateral motion artifacts to some of the shots that I find really annoying, but overal I will pass judgement until I see the film on film at a movie theater:

http://www.apple.com...gate/crank2/hd/

http://www.moviemake...atham_20090417/

http://www.freshdv.c...canon-xha1.html

Also, FYI, Canon's so called 1920i HDV codec is not really 1920x1280 but technically 1440x1080:

http://www.usa.canon...fications.shtml


Saul, I've never even heard of a Canon 1920i HDV codec. Canon advertises their XL and XH series cameras as 1080i, with an actual chip resolution of 1440x1080 on each chip. This is the maximum resolution of the HDV codec, and anything higher would not be considered HDV, as it would be 100% incompatible with the HDV codec standard.

This is also the maximum resolution of the DVCPro HD format, which has been used to shoot ultra-wide release feature films, so it's not a terribly limiting factor. The limited color space and relatively high compression ratios of HDV are far more important concerns.

In the $3000 market range, however, HDV is tough to beat. Most of the AVC variants in this price range use too much compression to really match HDV, and have their own slew of compatibility issues, as well as requiring much more power (or time) for editing and post. Most of the other options are simply two expensive to consider at this price point.
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#5 Mark A. Rapp

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Posted 23 April 2009 - 07:17 PM

Wow! Chris, Saul, thank you for the information. I'm seriously considering the XH-A1, more so than before your post. Umm... what are "SDI" and "Gen-lock?" How are they benefits, and how bad is the handicap of not having them? Forgive me: I'm quite the layman in this arena.
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#6 Chris Bowman

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Posted 23 April 2009 - 09:06 PM

Wow! Chris, Saul, thank you for the information. I'm seriously considering the XH-A1, more so than before your post. Umm... what are "SDI" and "Gen-lock?" How are they benefits, and how bad is the handicap of not having them? Forgive me: I'm quite the layman in this arena.


SDI is Serial Digital Interface. It's major advantage is that it carries a signal generated before in camera compression. This can be very advantageous because compression is one of the major limiting factors on image quality and what you can do to the image in post. You can use SDI to record to a stand alone recording deck with much lower compression and better color space, or even capture uncompressed video directly to a properly equipped computer, rather than recording a compressed signal to DV tape in HDV format.

Gen-Lock is used to synchronize multiple cameras for live switching and mixing.

Both of SDI and Gen-Lock use standard coaxial cable with BNC connectors.

I did make a mistake in my previous reply to Saul. The format that has been used in wide release films is HDCAM SR, not DVCPro (which is used extensively in TV production). HDCAM SR has a maximum resolution of 1920x1080.

Let us know about the kind of filming you are thinking about doing with your camera, your needs should determine the tools you buy. Are you shooting high action? Dark scenes? Do you need long record times? The more we know, the better advice we can give you.
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#7 Peter Mosiman

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Posted 23 April 2009 - 09:33 PM

you could also go the 5dmII route for the 35mm dof look.
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#8 Mark A. Rapp

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Posted 23 April 2009 - 09:44 PM

Ok - so SDI is uncompressed. And you CAN NOT run uncompressed out of the XH-A1, correct? I'm shooting locked down shots, dolly and jibbed, but not too fast. I do want the latitude to shoot steadicam shots in the woods in daylight - these shots will be chase scenes, but I'm not averse to cutting my way through them. I take it quick pans and such are not going to come out well with the XH-A1?

you could also go the 5dmII route for the 35mm dof look.


Huh? :blink:

Edited by Mark Rapp, 23 April 2009 - 09:46 PM.

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#9 Chris Bowman

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Posted 23 April 2009 - 11:16 PM

Ok - so SDI is uncompressed. And you CAN NOT run uncompressed out of the XH-A1, correct? I'm shooting locked down shots, dolly and jibbed, but not too fast. I do want the latitude to shoot steadicam shots in the woods in daylight - these shots will be chase scenes, but I'm not averse to cutting my way through them. I take it quick pans and such are not going to come out well with the XH-A1?



Huh? :blink:


Correct, you cannot run uncompressed from the XH-A1, since all of the output signals are generated after compression. Is getting an uncompressed signal worth the extra $3,000 for the G1, plus the extra equipment you need to capture and edit it, plus the hassle of carrying that equipment with you as you shoot? I don't know. If you intend to finish this to 35mm, than probably yes. But if you can afford a film-out, you probably wouldn't be buying a $3,000 video camera.

To be honest, I've never had much problem with panning my A1. In 1080i it's smooth as silk, in 30F and 24F the limitation is more the frame rate than compression artifacting, and you would have that same limitation on any camera shooting at 30 or 24 frame progressive. The thing that is most difficult for the codec is lots and lots of fine detail in a shot, especially if it's not all moving in the same direction. An example might be a shot of a tree with the leaves all shaking in a strong wind.
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#10 Chris Bowman

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Posted 23 April 2009 - 11:24 PM

Oh, and the Canon D5 Mark II, which Peter mentioned, is a digital still camera that is also capable of 1080p @ 24FPS. Since it uses a sensor that is the same size as a full frame 35mm and uses full frame 35mm lenses, it has a depth of field very similar (identical?) to working with a 35mm still camera, and slightly shallower than a 35mm motion picture camera.
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#11 Mark A. Rapp

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Posted 29 April 2009 - 06:18 PM

Thanks again, Chris.
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#12 Mark A. Rapp

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Posted 03 May 2009 - 10:16 AM

Hey Chris: I bought it! :D
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