Size doesn’t matter

As content producers we are always on the outlook of devices that improves our production value, either by time, processes or handling. For our video productions we use a Canon XL 1s, one of the most used professional cameras around. We are pretty happy with this camera, and it always amazes us how many people ask us info about the camera when we walk around on congresses.

Although our Canon certainly looks impressive, sometimes you want to go a bit more ‘guerilla’ shooting (not to confuse with secretely recording of people without their knowledge, which is a big NoNo). Hence I started looking around for a small and handy device that could suit these needs.

Since we want to expirement with High Definition too, the camera should meet the following requirements:

  • Small (so no tape)
  • High Def, at least 720p
  • External mike
  • Mac-compatible, plug and play
  • Cool looking (hey, we’re gadget freaks…)

We found the solution of most of the above requirements in the Sanyo Xacti HD1000. With the ability to record in 1080i we thought it would be a bargain for €600.

There are many reviews found on the internet, so I’m not going to repeat these. I will only describe a few of our own findings:

First of all, it certainly looks cool, especially if you attach a wireless mike receiver on top (check two requirements). It records on a Flash and with 8 GB you can record about 1 hours and 20 minutes HD material. Be sure to buy a high performance SD card.

Secondly, the quality is relatively good. I read on the blogosphere that some users experienced bad quality, but with good lighting it’s OK. Having said that, I do realize that the small size and low price is a trade-off to the more expensive cameras which no doubt have a better quality. And AVCHD is not the best quality codec.

Working with the Mac is another topic. In the first instance I thought everything would be fine, since one of their demo movies could be found in a .Mac gallery (check here). Not so.

When I attached the camera to my Mac nothing happened in iMovie or Final Cut. When I dragged the files from the SD card (recorded 1080i) on the desktop, all I saw was a green picture. Turned out that first I had to  install an extra Quicktime plug-in (mp4vEncoder). OK, now at least I could see something. Unfortunately however, my Mac (not the cheapest MacBook Pro, 1 year old) couldn’t handle the 1080i. When I switched to 720, all seems fine.

Now, there are two settings in the 720 mode: 30 fps and 60 fps. When you use 60 fps and import via de import fucntion in iMovie, you get only half the time of the clip. Funny, if you copy the files from the SD card to the desktop and then import it in iMovie, it seems fine. The combination 30 fps and 720 seems to work. Strange.
In FCP you need to import manually, since the Log and Transfer does not recognize the camera.

To have the best result I recommend to use a ProRes setting in FCP and export in with at least 30 fps. You then avoid the ‘shivering’ image when doing a pan, something AVCHD is notorious for. That leaves all iMovie and Final Cut Express users in the cold, since they can not set the timeline in ProRes.

Overall I can say that, once we know what to do we are pretty happy with our new toy. It’s light, handy and you can even extend the lenses with fish-eye or tele (there’s even a scubadive case). We have done a fast and dirty comparison of the image quality with our Canon, and the first results are definitely in favor of the Sanyo. We will do some barebone testing later.

Now we are in dubio for our next camera: HD or SD (keeping in mind that most of our work is for the web, 640×360 max). Any ideas?

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