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Product Review: CANON XH G1 and XH A1 CAMCORDERS

Canon’s XL family of camcorders has long been known for delivering broadcast quality video to the church market at an affordable price for over 10 years. Now with the recent addition of the XH A1 ($3999) and the XH G1 ($6999), Canon has two new 1080i HD camcorders worth taking a look at. At first glance you will notice that the XH G1 and A1 is the same camera with one exception. The XH G1 has the JackPack which contains the HD-SDI or SD-SDI, genlock, and time code terminals; the A1 does not (more about the JackPack later). Also you will notice that XH G1 and A1 have the same optics, CCDs and image processor that the highly acclaimed XL H1 has. But there is more to the XH G1 and A1 than High Definition that will make these cameras attractive to the local church.

Highlights of the XH G1 and XH A1
Both camcorders come with a non-removable Canon 20x HD L series lens specifically designed for the 1440×1080 image sensors. The lens incorporates 16 different lenses with both Fluorite and UD glass. The combinations of lenses minimize color fringing even at high magnifications. The “L” series lens has a focal range of 32.5mm – 650mm (35mm photography equivalent). An optional 0.8x HD Wide Angle Adapter is available. In addition to the manual focus and zoom rings, the lens includes a manual iris ring right behind the zoom ring allowing for smooth incremental adjustments like you find on traditional broadcast lens. There are two Neutral Density (ND) filters (1/6 and 1/32) that reduces exposure by either two or five stops. You can operate the zoom from the side grip, the carrying handle or the zoom ring on the lens. When you use the side grip, zoom speed can be either variable or constant with your choice of 16 different speeds (2 additional speeds can be activated in the custom function menu); the carrying handle offers your choice of 16 preset speed levels

High Definition resolution has made focus issues more critical than ever. Both camcorders have incorporated Instant AF, Canon’s next generation auto focus technology. Focus time and accuracy has been greatly reduced from previous generations, even in low light situations. An external sensor next to the front of the lens works in conjunction with the internal AF system. The sensor uses edge detection technology to instantly find the subject and narrow the focus range, the internal AF system finely adjust the focus.

Canon’s Super-Range Optical Image Stabilization uses two detection methods (gyro and vector) to sense the widest range of vibrations from un-steady hands to moving vehicles. By using optical image stabilization, the lens shift allows for superb image correction without any image degradation.

Both cameras have three 1/3 inch native 16:9 1440 x 1080 CCDs, one for each of the primary colors. The CCDs capture images at 1080i resolution with an effective pixel count of 1.67 million pixels in HD, 1.56 million pixels in HDV and 16:9 SD or 1.17 million pixels in 4:3 SD. Selectable frame rates of 60i, 30F or 24F, for PAL users an optional upgrade by Canon Service will allow for 50i and 25F.

Canon specifically designed the DIGIC DV II digital signal processing chip for HD acquisition and photos. This processor provides highly accurate color reproduction with 4:2:2 color sampling. A new noise reduction system uses dual processes to reduce noise in monotone and shadow areas. Also with this new processor the camcorders are capable of capturing photos on the SD card while simultaneously recording video to tape.

There are 23 image adjustments, 22 viewfinder display options, and 21 custom functions that are independently adjustable and programmable. You can finely adjust image settings like master pedestal, color gain, RGB gains independently, gamma curve, and six different color matrixes each independently adjustable. There are also advanced features for skin detail, sky detail, and eliminating the flicker that results from shooting a CRT screen. The viewfinder display can be personalized by hiding or displaying up to 22 different items ranging from time code, recording mode, and battery life to more unique functions like focus distance display and the zoom speed indicator. To further add to the customization, there are 21 functions that can be altered such as the sensitivity of the focus ring, button sensitivity, AE response and color bar preference. Users can store a total of nine image adjustments in the internal memory, or to a SD memory card for use in multiple camera shoots. Two custom keys can be programmed to provide instant access to shooting functions.

The XH G1 camcorder sets itself apart from the XH A1 by incorporating Canon’s Professional JackPack. The JackPack contains HD or SD-SDI output, genlock input and time code in/out connectors. The HD-SDI connection outputs an uncompressed 1.485 Gbps 60i signal at 1920 x 1080 resolution with 4:2:2 color sampling and with embedded audio and time code. The signal can also be set to SD-SDI. Standard on both camcorders is a four pin firewire (IEEE 1394) port and a component out terminal capable of an uncompressed HD video signal. Both camcorders also have a 3.5 mm mini-jack A/V terminal and a BNC jack capable of a SD signal.

Both Camcorders come with a built in stereo microphone, an external microphone holder and a 3.5 mm mini-jack stereo audio input. Two XLR inputs are located on the side of the camcorder with phantom power available. You have complete control over your audio with individual audio controls, 20 dB mic attenuation and 12 dB mic gain boost.

Conclusions
For the last two weeks I have been thoroughly pleased with the results of every test we put the XH A1 through. The only knock I have had was that it took a little while to get accustomed to holding a camera that you can’t put on your shoulder. I did find that the new and improved Super-Range Optical Image Stabilization worked incredible well. I videotaped a soccer game and with chasing the players down the sidelines I had remarkable success at keeping a steady picture.

The new and improved Instant AF did work extremely fast, only when I was trying to focus in across the top of our audio board was I able to visibly see the focus searching for a lock. One of the many features I found helpful was that the camcorder can memorize a focus setting and with the push of a button the focus can return to that setting instantly, or with a predetermined delay, perfect for pulling off a rack focus shot between the lead guitar player and the choir.

The fact that you can customize everything about the camcorders is impressive. The XL H1 was the first to allow so many variables in a camera priced under $10,000. I’m grateful Canon did not leave these features off when they developed the G1 and A1. It is possible to tweak the cameras for shooting the stage, audience, alter, solos and specials before hand. Then during the service when needed, at the push of the preset buttons, recall all the settings instantly. Since many churches use volunteers to man the cameras this will help take away much the learning curve and let the volunteers concentrate on framing. Yes it does take someone to set up the camera. But after it’s done once, you can save the settings to a SD card and reinstall the settings whenever needed. There is also one more very important feature to both the XH G1 and XH A1, the reset button. More than once it has come to my rescue after I made everyone look green and could not find my way back.

You may have noticed that Canon uses “F” frame rate technology instead of “P”. Progressive frame rates are great for web video; the slower frame rate actually gives you smaller files to compress. Although you may never tell the difference between 24F and 24P there actually is one. The difference is due to the interlaced technology used in the CCDs; to be “P” you must use progressive CCDs. However, Apple has not distinguished any difference between 24P and Canon’s 24F. In fact the latest version of Final Cut Pro (5.1.2) will capture and edit 24F in the 24P setting.

The XH G1 and XH A1 are at home in a multi camera studio configuration regardless if you are shooting in HD or SD. You are given the option of firewire, component, or the SDI outputs. Virtually every image detail in the video can be adjusted from inside the camera menus. Better yet, with the addition of the Canon Console Software ($500) you can have a virtual CCU on your computer to make all the adjustments via firewire from inside the control room. Talk about director friendly, the software even comes with its own vectorscope and waveform monitors. Think about it, you can have a 1080i resolution camera, output uncompressed HD or SD-SDI and have a CCU with a vectorscope and waveform monitor for under $7,500. What a deal! If you do not need SDI then it’s an incredible deal for the under $4,500.

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