This model was reviewed as part of our group test of HD camcorders.
Last year, Canon’s XH-A1 bowled us over with its keen price and exceptional capabilities in low light. But the market has moved forward – particularly Sony’s offerings. The HVR-V1E can now be purchased for a similar price, and two new Sony models have become available (both are reviewed here).
Still, the XH-A1 is a very capable HDV camcorder. It’s based around a trio of CCDs with 1.67 megapixels apiece – enough for the full 1,440-x-1,080 resolution of HDV2. Its fixed Canon lens has a very healthy 20x optical zoom and three rings for focus, zoom and aperture. If you want this removable, you’ll have to buy the XL-H1 (roughly £4,500 plus VAT) instead.
The Canon shoots DV or HDV 1080/50i, and records exclusively to MiniDV tape unless you add your own third-party device. You can also select a 25f mode, which creates a full progressive frame recorded as regular HDV, eliminating interlacing artefacts. Either way, HDV is now almost universally supported by editing applications. So while you’ll still have
to capture footage from tape via FireWire, there should be no workflow issues with this camcorder.
In natural sunlight, the Canon produces colour somewhere in between Sony’s HVR-Z7E and PWM-EX1 – warmer than the former, cooler than the latter. The image is not as sharp as the EX1, but detail is as strong as the Z7E. In low light, the Canon holds its own very well, but it’s no longer the leader in this area, with Sony’s new models both offering a brighter image, more detail, and less grain.
The Canon XH-A1’s award-winning status has been usurped by Sony this year, but it’s still a great performer. If your budget doesn’t stretch to the Sony HVR-Z7E, and you don’t need a removable lens or solid-state recording system, the Canon continues to make sound economic sense as a general video production workhorse.