Review: My New Canon XH A1 Camcorder

John P. and the Canon XH A1This review of the Canon XH A1 Camcorder is going to be a little different from any other you might read for one primary reason, this is the first camcorder I’ve ever owned. That’s right folks, my first camcorder was a high-dollar Prosumer model because if I can’t do it right I don’t want to do it at all.

I had some difficulty with actually purchasing this camcorder. First, I couldn’t find a local retailer anywhere in Dallas. So, I had to turn to the Web.

I tried Abes of Maine with disastrous results, then I ordered it from Amazon and got free next day shipping (yeah!), but it turns out I got a defective one with a documented Iris ring problem (boo!), but a 5 minute discussion with an Amazon rep resulted in them shipping me a new one along with an RMA to send the defective one back (yeah!).

In addition to the camcorder ($3,250 after rebate) I had to get a few accessories to make the system complete.

  • A training DVD – $50. I bought the Canon XH A1 Made Easy video from Elite Video. Being a complete newbie, it really helped jump start me. You can get it on eBay a little cheaper than from their web site.
  • Extended life battery – $65. Although the standard one it comes with is good for several hours (3-4) I bought this 8000mAh Lithium Ion Battery for Canon BP-970 So that I could basically go all day without having to recharge.
  • External microphone – $220. Because I want the best audio possible, and don’t want to have to have wireless microphones all the time, I bought the Audio-Technica AT897. It has performed stunningly well as you can tell from the WordCamp videos I posted where the only sound is coming from this mic.
  • 72mm Lens filter to protect the glass – $15. I got it at Best Buy for $15. I stressed and stressed about this because it’s such a damn expensive camcorder and some people were claiming that you need $100 lens protectors. But this one has worked just fine for me.
  • SpiderBrace -$55. I’ve got mixed feelings about this poor-man’s Steadicam. On one hand, at $50 it’s a fantastic tool. Your shots will be dramatically improved over handheld. But on the other hand, it feels like a $50 tool. And it has limitations, not the least of which is the inability to fold for easy travel. I would recommend either a DVMultiRig or a Steadicam Merlin if you can afford it. And I figure you can if you are buying this camera.
  • Travel Backpack – $79. My brother actually gave me a Quantaray – Urban Gear U100 Pro Backpack because it was too big for him to use for his camera setup. But it turns out that the XH A1 fits in it like a glove. Now, the backpack isn’t very comfortable, but it is cheap, safe, and available. I have yet to find a backpack I really like for this camcorder, so if any manufacturers out there want to send me some to review please feel free…
  • A quality compact tripod – $120. I opted for the Induro A114 and I absolutely love it! Best tripod I’ve ever owned and works perfectly for this big camcorder or my digital camera. It’s also small enough to pack into a 22″ carry-on suitcase, and it comes with it’s own carry case if you want to keep it with you.
  • A compact head for the tripod $79. I ended up with a Slik AF2100 Pistol Grip Head, though I cannot recommend it for this camcorder. I’ve found it works fantastically for shots that require no movement. For example set the camcorder up and leave it. But poorly if you need to follow the action. You really need a floating head like the Bogen / Manfrotto 501.

I’m also very seriously considering:

Now, you may be wondering, why would I drop all that coin on this camcorder setup? For you my pretty readers!

I’m going to be making video tutorials and documenting travel to all the places I roam around to so that you will get to see the good, bad and ugly of wherever I go. Plus, I did record all of those WordCamp videos for you now didn’t I?

Things I Like About This Camcorder

  • In fully automatic mode (which is about all I’ve used so far) it takes movies that look way, Way, WAY better than any of the little cameras you could get a Best Buy. I’m not kidding, this thing kicks ass. And you should see what it looks like in HD! Unbelievable that people can own this kind of gear nowdays.
  • The XRL jacks on the side for external microphones are awesome! I had the opportunity to record a private event where they had a professional audio system and I just plugged in the XLR cable to the camera, and I’m not kidding you could hear much better on the tape than you could sitting in the room.
  • I like the shape of the camera. It fits well when you are using it handheld, and it well balanced. But I also like the handle on top for carrying it around and /or getting low shots.

Things I Don’t Like

  • If I ever come up with any I’ll let you know!

Other Research and References

Here are a few of the articles I read when researching which camcorder to buy. It took me about 3 months to decide and I was very, very nervous about this purchase.

I also read several Videography magazines and the XH A1 won several camcorder shoot-outs so, after all of that I bought the damn thing.

If you’d like to see samples of what this camera is capable of in the hands of a professional, well… don’t look at me. But you can definitely check these out, and don’t miss this incredible wedding clip!

YouTube XH A1 Sample Videos

Editing

All of the videos that I’m shooting and uploading to the Web are being edited in Sony Vegas. It was a little difficult for me to learn, but I’m getting the hang of it. The main thing is getting the export settings correct. Currently I’m starting to appreciate Vidder for ease of use and quality when it comes to hosting the video content.

So, if you’ve got the coinage and want a really bad ass camcorder I highly recommend picking one of these up. You will NOT be disappointed.






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  1. Corey

    I am picking up a used XH A1 tomorrow morning. I have seen this camera in person before and it is mint and still under warrenty so I am not worried. I would like to know exactly how many hours are on this camera if possible. I know most high dollar equipment has a log which tells you exactly how many hours are on this unit, does the xh a1 have this???

    Also, since you are now experienced with this camera, are there any main things I should look for when looking it over the final time before handing cash over? I know it has a lens cover and has only been used in studio for roughly 20hrs so lens is fine. But this is my first camera and am DEF a novice and would appreciate any advice…

    Thank you in advance

  2. diane

    Thank you so much!

    Just assembling my first rag-tag set of gear for a trip that will require a lot of moving and portability.
    Lots to learn, but that’s what makes it so exciting as well!

    Best
    Diane

  3. diane

    This was really really helpful.

    But I have a question for you — do you know if the Indura tripod can be fit together with the manfrotto tripod heads? The 501 now has an update that seems to work well with the A1 … but I can’t seem to find info anywhere about whether or not these are compatible….

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks again!
    Diane

    • John P.

      Diane,

      As far as I’m aware, all tripods and all heads are compatible regardless of brand or model. They all use the same size thread for screwing together, so they should work. Unless anyone knows something that I don’t…

      John


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