In the competitive world of independent cinema and television pilot production, achieving the high-quality look of film while staying within budget is an ever-present challenge. For one talented filmmaker, however, Canon‘s XH G1 and XH A1 HD camcorders provided an affordable, yet creatively versatile means of capturing first-rate images.
“I got tired of waiting for the phone to ring and took the bull by the horns,” explained accomplished actor Jimmy Hanks, who these days prefers to spend time behind the camera as a producer/director with a number of projects hitting the festival circuit and a pilot “that seems to be generating a fair amount of interest,” he noted.
Hanks‘ pilot, titled The Floor, was shot using Canon‘s XH G1 and XH A1 HD camcorders. Depicting what Hanks called “the seamy underbelly of telemarketers,” he added, “I thought it was pretty funny when I read it for the first time. It was funnier at the table reading, and even funnier when we shot it.”
Shooting on a tight budget and schedule, Hanks says the Canon XH G1 and XH A1 HD camcorders allowed them to shoot 16 pages in just two days. The pilot made extensive use of Steadicam rigs to capture running shots, and at only 5.2 lbs. (including lens and battery) the Canon XH G1 and XH A1 HD camcorders were well-suited for this demanding application.
“These cameras are so light that being able to ‘run-and-gun‘ with them on Steadicams was great,” Hanks enthused. “We had absolutely no problems. I could be shooting on a Steadicam and pass from one person, turn a corner and frame somebody who was 20 feet away, all very instantaneously. You would have a hard time having a focus-puller on a film camera do it as well as that. Canon‘s Instant AF [autofocus] is so fast. It‘s rock solid.”
Instant AF is Canon‘s next-generation autofocus technology, which combines an external AF sensor with Canon‘s high-performance internal AF system to achieve fast and accurate focus even in low-light, low-contrast, or high-brightness situations. Precise focus is especially critical in HD video because its increased picture quality makes inaccurate focus more evident to the viewer especially when viewed on larger television screens.
A Filmic Look
As a world leader in optics, Canon equipped its XH G1 and XH A1 HD camcorders with a Genuine Canon 20X HD video zoom L-series lens (incorporating Fluorite and Ultra-Low-Dispersion elements) as a standard feature. This 20x zoom lens covers an exceptionally wide range of focal lengths, from 32.5 to 650mm, and an optional 0.8x HD Wide Angle Adapter is available as well. Capturing imagery with three 1/3-inch native 16:9 CCD image sensors (one for each primary color), both HD camcorders provide 1.67 million pixels (1440 x 1080) per sensor, which is significantly higher than comparable HD camcorders. At the heart of Canon‘s XH G1 and XH A1 (as well as the acclaimed Canon XL H1 HD camcorder, which features interchangeable lenses) is the exclusive Canon DIGIC DV II Image Processor. The DIGIC DSP uses proprietary algorithms to deliver the highest image quality at the highest operating speeds and also enables high-quality still-image recording in either video or digital camera color spaces.
Going for a filmic look, Hanks shot The Floor in the 24F frame rate, one of three offered by the XH G1 and XH A1 HD camcorders (the others are 60i and 30F; 50i/25F is also available through an optional Canon modification). “We were on Steadicams and moving pretty quick,” Hanks reiterated. “I tried to limit how quick my pans were, but they look great to me. Also, when you are shooting (at 24F) your shutter speed is either 24 or 48, and you tend to get better light-gathering. Dark rooms look a little brighter. I found it works great.”
The low-light capabilities of the XH G1 and XH A1 HD camcorders impressed Hanks so much he even used one to shoot his niece‘s wedding. “It was a dark church, a dark reception,” he recalled. “I just pumped up the gain. Everyone talks about the graininess of pumping up gain, and I think I was going up +12. But unless you are looking at your video on a huge monitor or blowing it up and projecting it, the grain is minimal. The colors came out great.”
Both the Canon XH G1 and XH A1 HD camcorders also feature Total Image Control of more than 23 independently adjustable picture-creation variables for further creative flexibility. Advanced Image Enhancement and Auto Exposure modes, as well as Canon Console software package further broaden the array of creative image-creation choices possible on both the Canon XH G1 and XH A1 HD camcorders.
Given a choice of automatic and manual settings, Hanks admitted he prefers to “do everything manually,” and finds the operations on the XH G1 and XH A1 HD camcorders to be easy and user-friendly.
“The zebra is a great thing,” he said, referring to the zebra-pattern feature, a setting that superimposes black & white diagonal stripes over the picture to guide in the adjustment of the aperture and shutter speed. “I usually turn it down to about 80 or 85 to check if I‘m blowing something out, especially if I‘m not plugged into a good monitor.
Hanks also says the audio capabilities of Canon‘s XH G1, XH A1 and XL H1 HD camcorders are exceptional. All feature two built-in XLR terminals that supply phantom power. “I used the Canon XL H1 HD camcorder for Wish, a short film currently entered in several festivals,” he explained. “For that film we fed audio directly into the XL H1 and did really well with it. We ran off a boom mic and I was really pleased by how good the sound was.”
Should Hanks‘ pilot for The Floor find a buyer, he plans to continue shooting with the Canon XH G1 HD camcorder. “I would probably use the camera as a capture device and record its video via its industry-standard HD-SDI output,” he explained. “When you are going to tape, you are limited by the 25 Megabit-per-second data rate. But the HD-SDI output provides uncompressed 1.485 Gigabits per second with 4:2:2 color sampling, embedded audio, and time code. I would use the camera because I think the color rendition is great, and it‘s small and lightweight. Being tethered to a recording device wouldn‘t be a big deal.”
As for the picture quality of his current Canon HD camcorder work, Hanks recently screened a number of his short films using digital projection and received very encouraging comments.
“I was surprised at how good they really looked,” he said. “I had people in the industry come up to me and ask what I shot my films on. They couldn‘t believe it when I told them it was on HDV camcorders. They typically told me that they thought it was at least 16mm because the color and everything else looks so good.”
Overall, Hanks is excited about the performance, quality, and creative latitude provided by the Canon XH G1, XH A1, and XL H1 HD camcorders he has used. “As I‘ve been using them more and more, I‘ve become very impressed with the quality of the pictures we are capturing,” he concluded. “I can see myself shooting what I think are high-concept dramatic narratives this way. Depending on the project, I don‘t know that I would ever need to shoot film.”
About Canon U.S.A., Inc.
Canon U.S.A., Inc. delivers consumer, business-to-business, and industrial imaging solutions. Its parent company, Canon Inc. (NYSE:CAJ), a top patent holder of technology, ranking third overall in the U.S. in 2007’, with global revenues of $39.3 billion, is listed as one of Fortune's Most Admired Companies in America and is on the 2007 BusinessWeek list of "Top 100 Brands." To keep apprised of the latest news from Canon U.S.A., sign up for the Company's RSS news feed by visiting www.usa.canon.com/pressroom.
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’IFI Patent Intelligence Press Release, January 2008
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