Monday, December 11, 2017

Canon XH A1s 3CCD: Why I Bought An HDV Camera That Uses Tape

May 5, 2010 by  
Filed under All Posts, Equipment, Video Production

So why did I finally buy the Canon XH A1s 3CCD, an HDV camera that uses tape?

I have to admit that I have trouble making large purchase decisions. Do you suffer from that too?

You find you have to weigh the pros and cons and sometimes decide to do nothing at all – for the moment.

That’s what I did last November when I was wrestling with the choice of a new camcorder. You see, I have never had a real reason to move into high definition video production. My trusty Canon GL2 DV camcorders have served me long and well, and my computers happily edit DV material.

However, I can see the writing on the wall and it says “time to move on.”

At the pace of change with this technology, I wanted to spend as little as possible to get into high definition until the “Next Big Thing” comes along, which I expect soon. I spent considerable time debating whether to buy the JVC GY-HM100 or the Panasonic AG-HMC40. I even wrote a comparison between the JVC GY-HM100 and Panasonic AG-HMC40, two cameras I was deciding between. I consider both great values. Neither one uses tape and the Panasonic uses the AVCHD codec, and I had read so many stories about long transcoding times with AVCHD on a Mac that I was wary of going that way. And since both recorded to flash memory, I am uneasy about archiving my media, so… I just put it off.

Fast forward to two weeks ago…

Suddenly, two large projects plopped on my plate and I decided the time had arrived for me to make a mov. So here’s what I did.

I found a Canon XH-A1s 3CCD HDV Camcorder on Craigslist at a great price, offered 10% less than the asking price, and got it, along with a Pelican case. Watch my video for a quick glance at it and a little explanation of why I bought it.

Yes, that’s right. I didn’t buy either of the two cameras I was looking at previously.

Some people will say that the Canon XH-A1s is on its last legs, technologically. It records to tape, for heaven’s sake, and it is HDV. Here are my reasons for choosing it:

As much as I don’t like capturing from tape, it is the best and cheapest way to archive our videos. If I shot on flash media I either have to have a bunch of much more expensive cards which I store, or I move the video to hard drives or DVDs to store. If the hard drive crashes, and I’ve had 3 crash on me before so I know that is a very real and costly possibility. There is no going back. Storing on DVD could become an organizing nightmare if I shoot a lot of material, which I do. So, I’m still using tape for the time being.

Regarding the HDV format, I chose that because I priced out a new dream Mac and it cost upwards of $7,000. My current computer equipment will handle HDV. Some people say that HDV is an inferior HD format, but to my eyes it is a huge leap beyond DV and looks mighty good on an HD monitor. Besides, virtually all of the work I’m doing right now is going to the web, so HDV should be fine.

Finally, the Canon XH-A1s 3CCD HDV Camcorder has more switches and buttons and menu controls than any camera I’ve ever worked with. You can fine tune your image to a gnat’s behind, even selecting color temperatures by 100 degree increments, loading all kinds of scene presets, and recording both external and on-camera mics at the same time. I love having separate iris, zoom and focus rings, along with component outs. It offers total manual control of every nuance of the video I’m recording.

So now I’m learning to use this beautiful camera. It’s a tad heavy, but well balanced and oh so professional looking, and that counts for something, too. I considered just getting a Canon HV40, which shoots marvelous images and fits in my pocket. However, I wonder what a client would think when I show up to tape his $10,000 shoot with a camera that looks and feels like a toy.

Now you HV20, HV30 and HV40 owners don’t get upset with me; I said these are marvelous cameras, they just don’t look or feel like it. You can still produce professional looking videos with these cameras. I work with a local producer who is using them for a Vietnam documentary. It is incredible what quality most of the palm-corders are capable of today. In fact I shot this video post using only my Flip UltraHD camera. Although Flip is out of business, you can still snag one of these cameras at Amazon.

Be sure you subscribe to our RSS feed so you can stay tuned as I journal my experiences with the Canon XH-A1s camera and my foray into the world of HDV.

[UPDATE] I have since sold my Canon XH-1 and now own a Canon VIXIA HV30Canon Rebel T2i digital SLR, and a Canon Vixia HF R300.


4 Responses to “Canon XH A1s 3CCD: Why I Bought An HDV Camera That Uses Tape”
  1. Lisa says:

    I just ordered a Canon HV40 to shoot a documentary on a subject that is very dear to me. I have not shot anything since I used a Arriflex and a Nagra (!!!)

    My question is, what is the difference between the HV40 and the HD Flip? Have I bought too much camera?

    I rejected the DSLR situation because I didn’t want to be worried about focus while interviewing subjects, and didn’t want to spend on an external sound unit. (I plan on using a lav for sit-down interviews)

    Let me know what you think.

    • Rick Smith says:

      Lisa, you made an excellent choice. I have that camera and really love it. I also had the Flip HD Ultra and recently sold it. With the HV 40 you have microphone input and control of everything: shutter speed, aperture, frame rate, audio levels, color balance, everything! The Flip HD is meant to be used by anyone who wants to point and shoot, but it has no control over anything. It can get an amazing picture, but the big deal breaker for me is that it has no microphone input, so you can only record sound with the build-in mic.

      The Flip also records internally. It can hold two hours of HD video but when it gets full you have to dump it. The HV 40 records to tape, so you can keep going for as long as you have tapes. Some people say tape is dead but I still like it as a storage medium; it’s cheap and long lasting.

      The DSLR route can produce fantastic video but as you say, you have to record sound separately. I have the Canon T2i DSLR and the Zoom H2n recorder for that purpose. Focus is more critical and this is a much more demanding way to shoot, but does yield excellent results.

      Relax about your purchase… you made a very good choice.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rick Smith. Rick Smith said: New Blog Post: Why I Bought A Canon XH-A1s HDV Camera – I have to admit that I have trouble making large purchase d… […]

  2. […] get to my point, I ended up buying a Canon XH A1s in a Pelican case from a hungry student in Santa Barbara for 1/2 the new price. I love the handling […]


What do you think of this post? We'd love your comment! Let's get a discussion going.
Oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!


Get Adobe Flash player