Initial Thoughts of the Canon XH-A1 and XH-G1

(Note. The photo here is of the back of the Canon XH-A1. This was one of my favorite little suprises. To access the battery you flip out the "back door" and viola. Notice the space above the battery. Good place to stash something… like a lens cleaning cloth. Also, there's a tab in the "back door" that will allow you to pass a cord through the door, probably for purpose of a professional battery adapter). Overall, the Canon A1/G1 have features and technology that meet the demands of professional shooting requirements with very few compromises. Their vision for this camcorder line is perfectly blend its size, price and control to set them apart from competition. Using an Italian themed event (although, we believe the theme might have been unintentional, more on this later), Canon has illustrated their intent to pull "ingredients" of unique technology, unique features and a signature look to create a truly one-of-a-kind, inexpensive HD/HDV workflow. Out first impression… "Wow!" The event started last night at a welcoming Italian dinner, where we heard the usual formalities from Canon's top reps. Everyone was very eager to actually get a chance to play with the camcorders. But we'll get there in a bit. First, let's talk about the specs at a glance. The A1 and G1 are nearly identical camcorders. Their only difference is the G1 has a Pro Jack Pack, which includes uncompressed HD SDI, Gen-Lock and Timecode In/Out jacks individually. The A1 doesn't have a HD SDI jack, but it does feature a component jack for both Gen-Lock and TC I/O. At the time of the A1/G1 announcement, we mistakenly called them the kid brother/kid sister of the XL-H1. We've come to realize as we got our feet wet with the family, that the A1/G1 are truly unique. Although, all three share very similiar components, including 3 1/3" CCDs, frame rates (1080/60i, 1080/30F, 1080/24 F), similiar 20x Flourite lens, and Super-Range Optical Image Stabilization just to name a few. If you're familiar with the XL-H1 then you should know just how much power these camcorders poses. We quickly figured it out for ourselves throughout the demostration. Unique Ingredients Besides the Italian dinner last night, Canon also used the theme to demonstrate the A1/G1 capabilities with a professionally produced spaghetti sauce commercial. We can't recall the product name, so maybe it was not a great commercial for the products sake, but the production value, detail in the image and color reproduction was remarkable. Which is to say, if you're looking to incorporate this camcorder in the professional setting, it looks like it will hold up well. To continue the Italian theme, Joe Bogacz (Assistant Technical Director, Canon) used an Italian casarole as a metaphor for how the development process was a process of finding the best "ingredients" for an HD workflow. Let's get into those ingredients now. One of the many things that has been discussed since the XL-H1 came to life is Canon's "F" frame rate technology, as opposed to a "P" frame rate technology (common in 24P). Recording into progressive frame rates is ideal for filmmaking and web video, so Canon wanted to include a progressive flavor to their camcorders as well. However, that becomes a challenge when the CCDs are interlace scanning and not progressive in nature. So, Canon created "F" frame rates to denote a progressive frame rate that is capture using interlaced CCD technology, or at least that's what they're telling us. And, until we do our full review, we won't comment on just how this science is done. The good news is that Canon has made 30F and 24F a new HDV standard. Although, it's only been just updated with Apple's Final Cut Pro and according to Canon, Adobe Premiere Pro is supporting it too. The real benefit of the "F" frame rate technology is two-fold. First, the CCDs clock at the same frame rate, perserving the temporal motion of that particular frame. In other words, you'll be able to get the movie flicker look with 24F. Second, coming off the FireWire, there is no 3:2 pulldown necessary. It's just truly 24 frames or 30 frames. For those of you in the independent sector, this should save you some time. Tools for the Pro Several times during the event, Canon refered to the phrase "total control." While we tend to stay away from marketing terms, what we saw today was amazing in terms of the amount of control they've given the user with the A1/G1. One of those control items is the addition of an iris ring (servo controlled) on the lens. The iris is a 6 blade, circular design that helps make objects that are out of focus naturally circular, which helps with HDV compression and is asthetically pleasing. However, for many of you that's a matter of taste. A great tool for DPs (director of photography) is the aspect ratio guides that come in many different aspects (e.g., 2.35:1, 4:3, 14:9, etc). But, the real heart of the control conversation is withing the custom presets, image customization and functinal customization. The A1/G1 will allow you to control 23 different variables (e.g., Setup, Knee, RGB gain, etc.). We have yet to have seen a camcorder with this many variables. In fact, these savable to SD memory card presets, are incompatible with the XL-H1, because the A1/G1 has more variables than the H1 can handle. So, yeah, we were very impressed with the image controls. You can even change the color temperature by 100 degree Kelvin increments starting from 2800 Kelvin. Furthermore, if you want all the same control in an easier user interface, say a laptop, Canon has updated their Console software so you can control just about everything and monitor (waveform and vector) the results. There's so much more under the hood of Console that we'd love to go into more detail about, but we've got to move on. And there's a flight back to California waiting for us. All this is to say, achieving a signature look is completely possible with the many possibilities and tweaks the user can employ, not only with image, but camcorder functions. Another great feature is that your HDV tapes recorded in the A1/G1 are playback compatible with the consumer HDV camcorder, the HV10. This means that you can use the HV10 as a deck for playback while you're out and about shooting with the A1/G1. For professionals this is another productivity enhancement, and for you smart folks, you'll save you camcorders heads if you choose to deploy this technique. Well, we'll be back in a mere few more minutes with some finishing thoughts.