Man, I’m so cool with the titles.
Anyways, we’ve procured a few Sony HVR-A1U cameras, to replace our dying PDX-10s. We’ve got three out of four at this point, after a protracted battle with Sony. Sony apparently forgot to keep making them or something, so everywhere on the planet ran out of them. Bummer.
In any case, three of the cameras are here. And what do I think? Follow the jump!
In short, if you’re looking for an HD capable camcorder with XLR inputs for less than $2000, the HVR-A1U is your best choice. It’s also your worst choice. Because it is, of course, your only choice. In reality, moving up from here puts you into HVR-V1U / Canon XH-A1 range, which means you’re looking at $4000 – $5000. A pretty serious jump.
Anyways, the cameras themselves are surprisingly small. I didn’t realize just how much smaller (and lighter!) than the PDX-10 the camera would be. This [extra] miniaturization has introduced a few issues which, if there were other choices in this price range, I would consider show stoppers.
PDX-10 on the left, HVR-A1U on the right
First off, it’s a bottom load camera. At a minimum, being a bottom loader means that you have to take it off the tripod in order to swap tapes. In this case, it’s even worse. The screw-mount for the tripod plate is so close to the tape release, there isn’t a way to swap tapes without removing your tripod plate entirely. That’s a serious bummer.
It gets worse though. The battery release is on the bottom as well. So, you’re going to be pulling the tripod plate off an awful lot. I guess they figure that the XLR-Mic-Sporting soccer moms won’t be using tripods, eh? Or perhaps we can just call it a design flaw.
Moving into the “annoying but not design flaws” space, everything is done via a touch screen. I know Sony is hot on these nowadays, but man is it ever annoying. Frankly, I don’t find tapping the screen through 4 different rolly-polly menus to be quicker than pressing a physical white balance button. Oh well, it’s the FUTURE, right?
The camera has also taken some flack for sporting a single CMOS sensor, instead of three separate chips. In most situations, at least so far, I haven’t seen that cause dramatic issues. However, there is a bit more noise in the shadows than I might otherwise like, and you do see some of the aliasing (not the right term perhaps) of the bayer mask in the noise. But hey, if it’s good enough for RED, it’s good enough for us, right?
The image itself looks quite nice, in HDV or DV mode. Comparing it against a PDX-10 when shooting a bars chart, the two are more or less equal (in DV mode). They both tend towards the reds a bit more than I might otherwise like, but besides that they have nice contrast and an overall nice look.
So, as I said, if you’re in the market for a $2000 HDV camera with XLR inputs, you can’t do better. Or worse.
(By the way, the stills were shot with an A1U in photo mode)