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NickJ

Sony A1 Field Test Results

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Back from 8 dives in two days around Tioman, Malaysia, and more A1 field tests.

 

Diving was great, viz was excellent (25m+ some days), weather was fine, camera was/is still a challenge, though I'm learning how to treat her better now. I bought a 26" Samsung LCD HD TV yesterday to watch all the footage 'as technology intended', and am now running the TV as a second monitor on my quad - really nice set up for editing and viewing picture quality, transitions, colour filters etc B)

 

So the camera:

 

This time I did not use a CC filter at all, but rather WB'd off a 'warm' slate. This was excellent whenever I could get a good WB - usually in shallow water below 7 metres. The quality of the HDV material when light is abundant and the manual white balance completes its cycle is excellent. I used both WA converter and also no converter. Again, in bright shallow water - no issues.

 

I also used lamps -both a halogen and an HID (used separately, different colour temps etc), and both during the day and at night I got good manual WB, and good colours. (I was using the HID on loan prior to possible purchase, and I'm so glad I did - the hot spot in the middle of a WA FOV even with diffusers was unusable - won't be buying that one !)

 

The lack of a CC Filter made a huge difference to the light getting to the camera, and my footage from this trip is leaps and bounds ahead of my Bali trip a few weeks ago where I used a 'magic' filter all the time.

 

The main challenge came with trying to WB an any real depth, and I don't mean deep! Below about 7m (23 feet) I had hardly any luck performing a WB. The WB icon just kept flashing. I tried this time and time again on both sunny days and overcast days so this was not a 'one time failure' - consistently I could not get the damn thing to WB! On the bright days with viz over 20m the water seemed crystal clear and STILL I couldn't WB below about 8m even pointing to the surface! I was really amazed - this without filter OR WA converter on a couple of dives.

 

I'm not sure what the camera does for WB when the icon is flashing. Whether it then continues in auto mode, or at the WB setting it was last able to get a 'fix'. Nevertheless I got my worst grain/artifacting in the dark areas of a shot when the icon was flashing and the light was less than brilliant. The artifacting was again a psychedelic red flecking, and with no CC Filter on I can only wonder where the red came from :blink:

 

Here is another observation: when I knew I was going into 'dark' water and wouldn't be able to WB at depth, I WB'd at 6m and then did not touch the WB control at all. This gave me pretty good results, EVEN when the light was quite poor. We did two wreck dives on an old steamer at 27m (89') and although the colour saturation left something to be desired, I shot a bunch of stuff under plates, on the dark side of the wreck etc, and got no real grain, and no artifacting at all - in fact under these circumstances the 'low light' capability seemed to be pretty much what I'd expect with the TRV950.

 

One test I didn't get round to doing on this short trip was to forget the manual WB, and let the camera role with auto WB the whole time. It seems that I got my worst grain and artifacts when the cam couldn't get a WB fix.

 

I'm off to video whale sharks at Donsol in the Philippines in a couple of weeks and will try manual and auto WB and a couple of other tricks, but I think I have the measure of the A1 now - not an FX1 by a very long shot, but a very convenient HDV camera that can produce excellent results when it is nurtured....

 

I’d be very interested in others’ field experiences with the A1, especially relating to WB and low light. I have not heard of anyone else having these challenges – maybe my camera was built on a Friday? :P It would be reassuring to know that my observations are reproducible on other A1 cams!

Edited by scubadru
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Hi Nick,

 

I’m glad the no filter trick worked for you.

 

I went ahead and took the plunge (bought an A1U). I will be trying it out in Bali next week, and will post back my experiences when I return. I have been trying out the camera around the house in different light situations. Manual white balance hasn’t been a problem for me *yet*. I’ll let you know when I get below 8 meters :P . I did a little checking around, and you can expect the red filter to remove 2 full stops from the lens, so leaving it off is a very good call.

 

I’ve been experimenting with the moon-n-star setting on the auto exposure. Supposedly it limits the gain up to +9 db. In this mode, I’m having trouble getting it to auto focus. I may have to go with manual exposure on this camera to keep it out of the high gain region.

 

--Mark

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Hi Nick,

 

I’m glad the no filter trick worked for you.

 

I went ahead and took the plunge (bought an A1U).  I will be trying it out in Bali next week, and will post back my experiences when I return.  I have been trying out the camera around the house in different light situations.  Manual white balance hasn’t been a problem for me *yet*.  I’ll let you know when I get below 8 meters  :P .  I did a little checking around, and you can expect the red filter to remove 2 full stops from the lens, so leaving it off is a very good call.

 

I’ve been experimenting with the moon-n-star setting on the auto exposure.  Supposedly it limits the gain up to +9 db.  In this mode, I’m having trouble getting it to auto focus.  I may have to go with manual exposure on this camera to keep it out of the high gain region.

 

--Mark

 

What housing do you have ?

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That's great to hear Chris.

Hey you are doing more diving than me over here :P

 

Well our A1 has stopped working..

Last night was fast-forwarding a tape and when ever it got to around the

35-40 min mark the camera gave a error code and flashed the reinsert tape. I

tried this a number of times and with other tapes only to have the same

error appear and at one time it would not let the tape out. If I tried to

play a tape around that area the picture would jump or even not appear, like

turning the pause on and off. The first half of the tapes would play okay

though and rewinding was fine. I put a head cleaner in but still no good.

Fast forward cue and rewind cue gives a picture but using fast forward cue

the picutre gets broken up lots.

 

Seems like a tape alignment problem...arh don't they make things properly anymore now days.......maybe a monday morning assembled camera after a long weekend...

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Good luck in Bali Mark, I'm very interested to hear your feedback, and yes the no CC filter trick seems to be a good move.

 

Wagsy - bummer on the tape drive. I do feel that the A1 is a rather 'fragile' beast that is showing some shortcomings once put through its paces in the field. Maybe Sony were a little ambitious rushing out a 'pro' model in such a small package.

 

On the otherhand I guess u/w video is not the market they are particularly aiming for with this cam ... I'm looking forward to my trip to Tuscany in May, I'm sure this camera will be a different beast entirely in sunny wine drenched Italy! ( wife has insisted on no diving for that trip <_< )

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Sorry Nick...I called you Chris...

 

Was editing a video clip at the time and the guy on the screen was called Chris so had that name in my head when typing on the net computer.... :P

 

Had only put through about 5 tapes through it. My other sony single DV camera only lasted about 1.5 years before it broke. (Bottom loading) O well as long as they fix it. My PD100 is still going from 1999.

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That's perfectly OK Nigel, tho I was wondering who this Chris guy was :P

 

I'm sure they'll fix it - it's more the hassle of shipment....waiting.... etc. My experience with Sony support in Sydney anyhow has been v good.

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Hi Gerald,

 

Good report. I've only been using my A1 in about 4-6M of green shit water, so no deep reports yet. W/B isn't a problem at the moment as I only tried it :P (note to Dean: remember the fricking w/b card) on the sun. Performance wise its been fine. I have been shooting through a green water filter / no filter and the 'with' filter seems to be best so far. Nice repro of colour. Last time I used the w/b shift on +2 and that helped.

 

Any other probs I've sorted with editing. Although most of my stuffs been in the DVCAM mode.

 

Anyway I'll keep ya posted.

 

Dive safe

 

DeanB aka tallulah!!!

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What housing do you have ?

 

I have the Ikelite housing. It looks nice, and there are controls for everything. This housing certainly wins in the knobs-per-dollar category :P

 

--Mark

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Well our A1 has stopped working..

Last night was fast-forwarding a tape and when ever it got to around the

35-40 min mark the camera gave a error code and flashed the reinsert tape. I

tried this a number of times and with other tapes only to have the same

error appear and at one time it would not let the tape out. If I tried to

play a tape around that area the picture would jump or even not appear, like

turning the pause on and off. The first half of the tapes would play okay

though and rewinding was fine. I put a head cleaner in but still no good.

Fast forward cue and rewind cue gives a picture but using fast forward cue

the picutre gets broken up lots.

 

Seems like a tape alignment problem...arh don't they make things properly anymore now days.......maybe a monday morning assembled camera after a long weekend...

 

Wagsy,

 

There is a thread on this problem here: http://www.sonyhdvinfo.com/showthread.php?t=4417

 

--Mark

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SMACK the naughty camera??? That is just too funny. As an ex geologist who hit most work projects with a hammer at some stage, I've often said that computers could use the same treatment at times. Now we are recommending hitting our cameras .....

 

Mechanical misalignments do often recover from a short sharp shock. I've had to use this technique twice already on a misbehaving Olympus digital still camera which was jammed due to a misaligned mechanical lens protector. In that case I could see the physical misalignment and hit the camera in the opposite direction with success.

 

With the A1 it would be good to try and see inside if there is any noticeable physical misalignment. I'm guessing if you hit the camera in the wrong direction it could make things worse.

 

Now - does whacking your camera void any warranty? I guess it may depend if it shows any bruises ... ;)

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Cheers for that Mark... I'll forward that info to the ABC people and in the meantime will get the camera out and give it a Whack.....infact I will do it now...hang five.... ;)

 

and...whack....nope.... B)

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Dove Scapa Flow many years ago but never the UK. Always wanted to film your Basking sharks.

Used to own a dive shop here in San Diego; we were the 1st BSAC dive shop in the country.

I would hardily recommend the Gates Housing for the A1U; it has a one touch button for the A1U's assignable button which I use for manual white balance and there is no other housing as solidly built or dependable.

Steve B)

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Fantastic customer service..

 

Come on the Brits.. We could do with that sort of offer.

 

Dive safe

 

DeanB

Methinks you isle dwellers have a bit of issue with location. Londoners, dive the XXX housing for free in the thames? You can get black watervideo to test WA. ;)

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Update...well it looks like Sony are going to send us a brand new A1 replacement...

 

Tried the head cleaners, tried different tapes, tried wacking the camera Tapes play in other cameras no probs.

 

I was getting no picture and C31.23 / C31.22 error codes when fast forward past 30 min mark and somethimes even getting the error codes when I closed the tape door with no tape in it.

 

Anyhow cannot complain about a replacment unit and by reading around the net, stick with one brand of tape with your HDV cameras and if you swap, run the head cleaner first before running the different brand of tape. I'm sticking with Panasonics, but you know my old PD100 runs any brand no problems. Early Sony tapes did have a problem with mixing with other brands but they were suppose to fix that up.

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Wagsy,

Slightly off topic but do you have any further developments on your planned doco ideas etc?

 

Mark

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Subliminal message:

 

Think DeanB...Think DeanB.....He's Grrrreaaat....Think DeanB.

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Mark

No word yet, will send the producer another email to see if he has looked at the topics I sent him.

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Nick, I'm still in SD land but my experiences may help a tiny bit.

 

I routinely white balance my VX2000 off white gaffer tape stuck to the top of my fins. Sometimes I get a problem with this if I leave it too long before I white balance. The VX2000 does not like to make huge leaps in white balance.

 

So if the A1 shares the same characteristic I suggest you keep white balancing very frequently on the way down, like every metre, and then you might get a WB a bit deeper.

 

By the way when my camera refuses to WB off my fins, say if I've got to 30m and not done a WB, then the symbol flashes the same as yours does. So then I point at the sun or near it and this always gives me a successful white balance. A halfway house if you like. Then I go back to white balancing off my fin.

 

Another point is that the CC filter should actually assist the WB by shifting the colour towards neutral, making the camera's WB do less "work", so I would expect you to get a WB deeper by having the filter on.

 

If none of this works, I must admit I would be very miffed if I bought an A1 and it wouldn't WB below 7m.

 

Nick

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My 950 won't WB past about 60 ft... or 18m... even when pointed at sun.

 

No problem shallower than that. And i agree with Nick, having the filter on helped the 950 WB, it would have trouble getting a proper WB shallower than that without the filter....

 

The Z is WB no problem so far at any depth...with and without

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I haven't had a chance to do a full review of the camera from my trip, but I'll give some quick information related to issues that have already been raised.

 

All my shooting was done without lights in a Bluefin housing.

 

 

White Balance

 

Camera seemed to white balance just fine. I felt I got the best results using the filter early. I started using it at about 20-25 feet.

 

Deepest shots were at 80 feet in a swim through. I did not have any WB problems at that depth.

 

Only issue I really had was that WB was VERY sensitive. I found even minor differences in depth or shot distance made a noticeable difference. I white balanced before most shots.

 

Low Light

 

As others have reported, low light performance left a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, I shot everything with black stretch on. Definitely got a lot of noise in low light, although I did not see the problems with badly off color pixels that I saw on the frogfish shot.

 

Field of View

 

With the narrow field of view on the A1, even with a .55x lens the field of view was not very wide. Did not get any of the good panoramic feel that is being seen with the 90 degree lenses on the FX1.

 

The biggest problem this caused was that the color and contrast on reefscape type shots were not as good as they could be. Just shooting through too much water. A wide angle lens is top of my list to buy next.

 

Exposure

 

The camera on auto exposure does overexpose. I found I used –2 as my starting point most of the time.

 

Overall

 

In spite of the FOV and low light issues, for shots of medium distance to close-up subjects in moderate to good light, I thought the results were great! A wider lens and some type of fill lights would fix the only issues I had.

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Here's another clip just to show a better example of performance with better light. Taken at about 40 feet.

 

Please excuse the camera movement. This was my first dive shooting video

 

Wrasse

 

WB was done just using the sand.

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The wrasse link also point to the swimthrough link. Here's the correct link:

 

http://www.hdvunderwater.com/uploads/wrasseshort.wmv

 

Colour balance on the swimthrough clip looks great, but I'm seeing noise about 3/4 of the way through on the red rocks bottom left. Is that on the original footage or has it happened in the encoding?

 

Wrasse clip looks a bit dark to me. Were you on manual or auto exposure? Colour balance is pretty good too but perhaps a bit on the warm side. Mind you I don't have the benefit of a proper broadcast monitor to judge properly and different software players are rendering the same clip differently.

 

Nick

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Great input guys! The swimthrough shot looks like there was a lot of light in the foreground. My A1 would take a similar shot if I had WB'd earlier. My take is that I would not have been able to WB under those conditions but there is enough light there for there not to be too much grain. Inside the tunnel would have been different tho. Did you keep shooting and was there any grain then?

 

The idea of WB being assisted by the CC filter is intriguing. Catch 22 is that a filter cuts down the light, and deeper is where I'm having issues. I wonder if diving in Asia is affected with all the inherent plankton absorbing more light? <_< Hmmm

 

Nick - I do try and WB before any shot where I have changed depth or position relative to the light, but that fact that I could not WB off the sun in several circumstances in Tioman really puzzles me. Interestingly I did not have that issue (apparently) in Bali. Scubadru's comments about testing like with like (implying impossible to actually measure the lumens and other factors etc) are very relevant. It's hard to determine what the ACTUAL relative conditions are/were, as the human eye allows us to see 'everything' as clear (well my eyes are probably a bit different vs. you youngsters! :) )

 

Need to do more testing. Off to Donsol this w/e and 30-40 whalesharks hopefully :( - but that is mostly snorkeling and nothing deep. May try with/without the CC filter though and compare again ...

 

This little A1 bugger is a pain in many respects, much more to learn than the simple and reliable old 950 - which i am still using as a tape deck for SD projects.

 

Waiting for a mini-FX1 in 12 months :lol:

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