Archive for January, 2009

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

A video from our yesterday’s visit to Santa Cruz’s Beach Boardwalk. Unfortunately, no tripods were allowed, so all shots are either handheld or with the camera sitting on top of a trash can. HD version and download here.

Regarding the new Canon cameras

I know I said that this blog is closed, but I got messages from people asking me about my opinion on the new Canon camcorders, announced yesterday. Instead of emailing each and every one of you separately about them, here’s a quick post instead. Also, thank you to everyone who emailed me in the past 2+ weeks to wish well for my health and express their surprise, sadness (and in one case, …happiness) for the closing of this blog.

So, the (quite possibly) last of the HV-series, the HV40, adds just a customizable button and “true” 24p, without the need of pulldown removal. If you already have an HV20 or HV30 and a utility to remove pulldown out of PF24, or you just never shoot in PF24, then there is zero reason to buy this camera. It doesn’t worth the upgrade from a previous HV camera. It’s only a good solution if you are using a different, cheaper/older, camera. And it’s even less of interest if you live in a PAL country, as the only new thing you are going to get is the customizable button (PAL cameras don’t have 24p support). LAME.

The real interest is not in the HV series anymore. In my book, the HV series are dead in the “DV Rebel” amateur artistic videography. Long live the HV series. The interest is now in the AVCHD-based HF-S series. These two new models (HF-S10 and HF-S100) have some really good features, and only “lose out” to the HV40 in five departments. First, the good things about them:

Pros of the HF-S10/S100 compared to the HV20/30/40

– 8 MP sensor (in RED terms, that’s a 3K resolution, similar to the upcoming RED Scarlet). The picture captured is 8 MP and then it’s resized down to 1080p. Depending on the algorithm used to resize down the image, it should produce some very good quality picture, not only compared to the previous king in the consumer market, the HV series, but also compared to some prosumer cameras!
– It uses the brand new DigicDV III sensor. This sensor, in addition to the features mentioned above, is also faster. This means that Canon CAN optimized their h.264 AVC encoder to cram more quality while encoding at 24mbps. So, even if its 24mbps bitrate is the same as the HF11/HF100/HG20/etc cameras, the new faster sensor allows for more optimization of the encoder used during recording. More encoder optimization, better final quality.
– The new sensor is 1/2.6″ size, which is bigger than the HV-series’ 1/2.7″ size. Bigger sensor means shallower DoF, and better quality. Overall, that’s a 5% difference though, and quite honestly, not a huge difference. You will still need to zoom in at around 75% to get some nice-looking background blur.
– More dynamic range. Canon in fact specifically advertises this.
– Full 1920×1080 recording, instead of the HV’s 1440×1080.
– Zebra support. The HV series have that too, but this is a first for Canon’s AVCHD cameras, so it’s worth mentioning.
– Gain support. This is the first consumer Canon cameras ever to offer Gain/ISO control! With their Tv/Av modes, exposure compensation & locking, and now gain support, you can get a lot out of these cameras, only losing very little compared to having full manual control. Only extreme cases would require you to have a light meter and full manual control.
– Better focus roller. Unfortunately, this camera doesn’t have a full focus ring either, but its focus roller is bigger and more accessible than the HV series’.
– CineMode has *most probably* moved to the Colors Settings, rather than the ‘Programmed AE’ menu found in the HV series. If this is indeed true, it is a very good thing, as it will allow you to use a cinema gamma/look, while you can use your camera in Tv or Av mode at the same time, to properly control it. [Update: Unfortunately, no, it’s still in the Program AE menu]
– Focusing has been improved, by including color peaking and targeting, and face targeting. Overall, the camera has 3-4 ways of focusing. Still, the LCD screen is the same 2.7″ as in the HV series, I would have personally preferred an upgrade to 3.0″.
– Advanced auto-exposure, with the help of the DigicDV III.
– Much better still picture support and software controls for it.
– No LCD overscan. What you see on the screen is what it’s been recorded. On my HV20 I had ruined quite a few shots because its LCD has overscan.
– Color bars with Test Tone. To be used to calibrate third party hardware that work with your camera.
– No tapes. For some, this is a downside, for me, it’s not. I had enough of the tapes.

Cons of the HF-S10/S100 compared to the HV20/30/40
– No true, native 24p support. This is NTSC HV40’s new feature. NTSC HV20/30 cameras don’t have that either, they can only shoot in PF24. Removing pulldown for AVCHD using the freeware method is not fool proof: A/V sync issues appear overtime. And Cineform’s NeoHD utility costs $500. So yeah, I am kind of pissed at Canon for including true 24p in their dying HV40, and not to the HF-S series. For us, Sony Vegas users, this is a blow. Update: Cineform now sells a new product, called NeoSCENE, that removes pulldown of HDV and AVCHD. Costs just $129. Good to hear that at least someone can make money out of Canon’s screw ups.
– No Video input. This means that you can’t record (telecine) your old VCR tapes via your camera anymore. Or record your gameplay from a gaming device.
– Mini Advanced Shoe, instead of Full Advanced Shoe. This is a deal breaker if you already have Full Advanced shoe add-ons, like in my case, the VL-3 light & the DM-50 microphone. Even worse, there is no converter from Mini to Full in the market as of this writing (there’s only a $30 Mini-to-Cold shoe converter which is not useful in my case). I hate it when companies try to break existing standards on a whim to diversify their market while it doesn’t need diversifying.
– No viewfinder. Not a big deal for me, I never used it on my HV20. I always use a stabilizing gadget anyway. I never shoot handheld. And when I do, I hate that footage and I throw it away.
– The Canon site says that the HF-S series require 3 LUX as minimum illumination, while the HV series can deal with 2 LUX. However, measuring LUX capability is not very standard, so while the pixels are smaller in the HF-S series (more crammed pixels in the almost same-sized sensor), it should be up to par with the HV series in terms of low-light support. Possibly not better though. Camcorderinfo’s review in a few weeks will clear this up for us.

What I personally find annoying with the HF-S series
– No 24p native support. It’s stupid of Canon to give true 24p support to a much inferior quality-wise camera like the HV40 is, and not to the HF-S series. I am EXPECTING that the traditional refresh that Canon does every August to their camcorders will have this feature added to the HF-S series. So I might wait for that August refresh before I buy the HF-S100.
– The Mini advanced shoe is not compatible with my Full advanced shoe microphone and VL-3 light. That is $200 down the drain for me.
– The 58mm filter thread used is too huge, and all my 52mm filters might show vignetting if I use a step-down ring. The lens itself, quality and speed-wise, seems to be the same as in the HV series btw.
– No full focus ring. Thankfully, the new focus roller seems to be better than my HV20’s.
– Still, no full manual support.
– No ability to rotate the screen’s contents without rotating the screen (useful for 35mm adapter usage).

I would have gladly paid an extra $500 to the cameras’ price (estimated between $1200 and $1500) for these annoyances to go away. Still, if Canon updates the firmware with true 24p in August, I will go for the HF-S100 regardless.

Update: Some screenshots from an HF-S series stream.