As the demand for high-quality motion images on everything from cell phones to movie screens continues to increase, the need for affordable digital camcorders versatile enough to create content for a wide variety of display purposes becomes ever greater. Canon U.S.A. is answering this need with a range of professional HD camcorders that offer television producers, filmmakers, and other content creators a means of capturing their unique visions.
Accomplished producer/director/actor Jimmy Hanks used Canon’s XH G1 and XH A1 HD camcorders as an affordable, yet creatively versatile, means of shooting his independent cinema and television pilot productions. These include The Floor, which he describes as depicting “the seamy underbelly of telemarketers.” Hanks reports that the Canon XH G1 and XH A1 HD camcorders allowed his team 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) both 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, XH A1, and XL H1 HD camcorders (the other frame rates 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.”
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 the Canon Console software package further broadens the array of creative image-creation choices possible on the XH G1, XH A1, and XL H1 HD camcorders.
Overall, Hanks is enthusiastic 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.”
In the Studio
Although it features a much different look than a “run-and-gun” television pilot shot on location, a leading studio-produced cable series featuring a world-famous author and lecturer is also being shot using Canon’s XH G1 and XL H1 HD camcorders. When the series’ producer requested high-def close-ups of the show’s star interacting with audience members – close-ups that had to be shot inconspicuously with a telephoto lens from the back of a 5,000-seat studio – the production company involved knew they had to find an alternative to the traditional studio cameras they had been using to shoot this live-to-tape series.
That company is Thaler Films, an Emmy Award-winning New York-based company that provides production services for top-rated cable series and many other types of programs as well. Veterans of the television production business for more than 20 years, brothers David and Christopher Thaler have captured motion images on everything from 35mm film and nearly every video format.
“They said, ‘We want you to DP the studio version of the show; it’s an eight-camera shoot, and we’re going to need long lenses,’” David Thaler recalled. “Close-ups of the host are essential; it’s important we get the right eye-line. The audience is also a big part of the show and the cameras can’t be visible. We had to shoot from way in the back, behind the audience, but still capture nice, tight shots of the host that show the emotion and the reaction in his face. We also had to shoot in high-def.
“I started researching the best available cameras, and discovered that the XH G1 and XL H1 HD camcorders from Canon U.S.A. gave us everything we needed,” Thaler affirmed. “The XL H1 gave us the great option of interchangeable lenses, although it turned out that the 20x HD zoom lens provided with the camera gave us all the framing we wanted.
“The biggest selling points for both the Canon XL H1 and the Canon XH G1, however, were their industry-standard connections (HD-SDI output, time code in/out, and genlock input), which enables us to slave all these cameras together. Once we started doing our homework on these cameras we discovered all the hidden treasures that they have.”
Time Code Advantage
“We shoot in-the-round and need multiple cameras to capture video of both the audience and the host,” Thaler continued. “There are eight Canon cameras in the studio. Three are the XL H1’s locked-down in the back of the studio. Three are XH G1’s toward the front of the studio on big professional pedestals. We mounted a teleprompter on one of the XH G1’s, have another on a jib, and another hand-held on a monopod. It’s a serious, mainstream kind of production. It was great to be able to integrate these cameras into that world, and to have the studio camera operators and engineers react in such a positive way.”
The professional standards built into the Canon’s XH G1 and XL H1 HD camcorders further confirmed their acceptance into this high-end broadcast environment, Thaler related.
“Last year, when we used a different brand of camera, we needed to mount concert slates all over the room so that all the eight cameras could grab time code, which we needed for editing,” Thaler said. “We needed to match them all up for post, and it presented challenges and put more responsibility on the camera operators to have to remember to grab time code again every time we switched tape. Now, however, having time code in and out on the Canon XH G1 and XL H1 camcorders is just wonderful.”
Thaler added that the HD-SDI outputs on the XH G1 and XL H1 HD camcorders also provide the option of connecting to a digital video control room and switching the show live. The added benefit of an HDV tape rolling in each camera in “iso” means that every moment of the production is saved, should a shot be missed or an insert-edit desired later on by the director or editor.
A Consistent Look
The portability of the Canon XH G1 and XL H1 HD camcorders, along with their image-enhancement features and selectable frame rates, provides added production advantages, Thaler noted, both inside and outside the studio.
“We can quickly break-off the cameras from their tripods in the back of the room and run outside to get reaction shots from the audience as they’re coming in or out of the studio,” he explained. “That saves money because we don’t need a separate ENG crew to do that. We use the same cameras and everything about the look of the video is consistent. My brother Christopher used the customization capabilities of the XH G1 and XL H1 HD camcorders to paint a nice, warm film look and then matched them all up using their SD memory cards. Everything is consistent. The client has us shoot 60i in the studio to keep everything looking as clean as possible. Field work, however, is done in 24F.”
The field work Thaler refers to are location shoots of follow-up visits the host makes to select audience members in their homes.
“We shoot the sit-downs in people’s homes in 24F with a different look from the studio portions of the show,” Thaler said. “The video looks amazing. The clients are extremely impressed and definitely see the difference between the Canons and the camera brand we had been using. The set-ups, the way the XH G1’s and XL H1’s are all painted and matched looked really good, and the lighting was beautiful.”
Changing the Industry
According to Thaler, the compact size of the Canon XH G1 HD camcorder is changing perceptions throughout the industry about what a “professional” video camera should look like.
“A bigger camera is no longer a thing of pride with us,” he stated. “A lot of the DPs and shooters coming out of film school were trained on DV cameras – as opposed to ‘traditional’ full-size ENG models – and they know how to use them. Size is not as important as being creative in the production process, and putting the emphasis on the final product. If the finished product looks as good or better, and the workflow is improved so it’s easier and more cost-efficient to get the product out to your client, what else matters?
“Another big factor in favor of Canon camcorders are the optics on them. There’s typically a fixed lenses on HDV cameras. If you’re going to have to live with a lens, you should go with a company – Canon – that has a great history in optics.”
Thaler Films currently has a total of eight Canon HD camcorders. “We’re using them all the time,” David Thaler explained. “We are integrating Canon XH G1 HD camcorders into our client base and our workflow both for live HD production – using a truck sometimes – and also for Internet streaming. We do a lot of reality TV and the XH G1 lets us archive in high def and post in standard def, or any other workflow we choose. Plus, the cameras are smaller. If you’re doing a fashion- or home-makeover show and you’re in someone’s house, these smaller cameras enable you to use more of them, which can really increase production quality and keep costs way down.
“We had been using full-size cameras to do Internet television for corporate clients, but XH G1 not only gives you affordable HD, it also has the embedded audio and time code in its HD-SDI output. This lets us go to any compression format we want to – and there’s a lot of new ones coming out – which is an amazing feature on these cameras. There are no limitations now.
“The picture quality is also amazing,” Thaler concluded. “It’s more bang for the buck. The industry is definitely being shaped and changed, especially by these cameras. It’s really bridging the gap between industrial and broadcast, where the limitations aren’t as clear anymore. We’re very happy with our XH G1 and XL H1 HD camcorders from Canon U.S.A.”