Canon XH A1S / G1S – Review

I have been the proud owner of both the Canon XH A1S and G1S camcorders for more than 2 years now.  I thought it was high time I wrote up a short review of these camcorders.

First, you might be asking yourself, what is the difference between the two camcorders?  Well, not a whole lot, especially for an extra $1,000.  As far as image quality, they are the same.  The only difference is the G1S has a few extra bells and whistles the A1S does not.  The biggest difference in my life, is that the G1S can capture straight to my editor via firewire, while the A1S cannot.

Now, as for the pros and cons of these cameras.  Let me say that they have very good image quality and just about every additional camera feature I desire in my video shooting.  ND Filters, White Balance, XLR Inputs, Peaking, Zebra, shutter control, etc.  On the downside, it is already getting quite out of date.

The two things that will jump out at you first are the mini DV tapes they record to and the fact that they shoot in 1080i, as opposed to the 1080p most everyone else is shooting nowadays. Give it another year or two and everyone will be away from 1080p and shooting 4k or some other new resolution, although unless you’re making feature films, it seems silly to be too concerned with shooting anything above 1080p. Honestly, the difference between interlaced and progressive frames will be hard to notice for most people, so that is a minor concern to me, but it does stand to mention, as it is an indication of the camcorders age.

Originally, I did not mind the tape format, however the more I use them, the more I wish I had camcorders that captured to memory cards. Having to rewind the tapes and capture in real time really does add time to the editing process that is more tedious and annoying than anything else. Also, carrying a bunch of tapes in my pockets and camera case is not always fun. A few little SD cards would be much nicer.

While on the topic of the mini DV tapes, the biggest ‘con’ I can think of in regards to these camcorders is due to dropped frames. I realize memory cards are not perfect and can also lose data, but the tapes have been borderline terrible at times for me. I have bought over 30 tapes and clean the head regularly, but I still get a few seconds of dropped frames every once in a while.  I definitely suggest regular cleanings of the head and changing tapes out after several hours of shooting.  At one point, the dropped frames were happening to me almost every hour of shooting.  This was very disconcerting given that I shoot a lot of weddings and the last thing you want to happen is lose an important moment (FYI – they’re all important moments).  On the upside, however, after becoming more meticulous about cleaning the camcorder head, the occurrence of dropped frames was greatly reduced.

A have seen a lot of people online complain about image quality. I have also seen some extraordinary video and floods of comments asking how they got their video to look so clear and ‘noiseless.’ The thing a lot of people don’t realize, is that to get the best quality you have to dive into the camera’s custom presets and customize the look of the scene you’re shooting. There are many resources online to get you started, however I recommend playing around with these and seeing what works best for you and your style of shooting.

The good news is, there are many. The size and weight are about perfect. Not so small you need a rig to get good camera moves, but not so big it feels like you’re shooting with a heavy broadcast ENG camera. It has an eye piece and an LCD screen, XLR, Component out, Gen-lock, and much more. A zoom rocker, zoom and record controls on the handle for low angle shots, and magnification and peaking for extra focus accuracy. Oh, and a 20X lens and Optical Stabilization Feature are also solid features on these camcorders.

The Canon XH A1S/G1S is a good camcorder for both the novice and the expert. It has the beginner auto settings easily dialed in on the side of the camcorder, but also full manual control, position presets, and custom image presets that the experienced shooter will enjoy with just a little exploring (or reading the manual). Because the camcorder is a few years old (which is equal to a few decades in the technology world) it only has 3 1/3″ Native 16:9 CCD sensors at 1440 x 1080 (Interlaced). Because of this, it does not handle low light as well as many newer, larger sensor cameras, and it also is much harder to get that highly desired shallow depth of field everyone seeks. It IS possible to get a shallow DOF, but it can be a little trickier.

Overall, the camcorders are very good in quality and functionality, but will add some time to your workload with real time capture and I would recommend shooting anything live with multiple cameras in case it drops a few frames.  Take care of the camcorder and clean it regularly, and it will treat you well.

Grade: B

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