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Sony HDR-HC1/HVR-A1 and housings

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Thought I'd add a few comments about the Sea & Sea VX-HC1 which I tried for a few dives.

Functions pretty similar to the other housings on offer with a few GLARINGLY missing, telemacro button(which is advertised on the website, an obvious error) and a flip filter. The curious thing is that the housing is very much like the VX950 which was a good housing. With the HC-1, it feels like it went backwards on features. Instead the controls are for the expanded focus and backlight buttons. The expanded focus button is very useful for macro focusing, but since you can't access the telemacro, the purpose is almost moot. The backlight button is an even rarer used button. I am actually surprised Sea & Sea chose to feature the lesser used buttons and wants the user to use macro lenses, which can't really be used without another accessory. I'd custom designed a piece that would skip expanded focus and give me telemacro (which essentially cuts the focus distance by 45% at full zoom). So it becomes an either or situation, and those 2 functions usually work in together.

That said, the housing is very well built. Build quality is higher than theVX950 (but obviously not the features). The housing is pretty well balanced with the standard lens and camera, but if you add the optional monitor, it pushes the front down and custom flotation is necessary to make it neutral again. The reliability of the Sony control grip is better than the other competitors. In 5 years and 1200+ dives, it's never failed once. My other housings (amphibico and LMI) can't boast that. Optically, the optional flat port and step ring, allows you to use achromatic diopters, which are probably going to make a difference with the resolution of HDV. It'll also throw your housing balance into wacky mode, but nothing a 1.5 lbs weight strapped to the front of the housing won't cure.

In short, the Sea & Sea makes for a decent housing for the price,but lacks features wanted by many users. It's well crafted but somehow I feel it was a regressive release from Sea & Sea. I hope to be using the Amphibico Evo soon on my next trip. We'll see how it compares and also the LMI bluefin.

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Hi Scubadru, thank you for your impressions. How is the footage? You speak about housing but how is A1 underwater? Do you like it? Any comments? Some video to see?

 

Thank you very much! :-)

 

ERIK

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Hi guys

 

Just recieved our A1 and stuff from the AUS ABC for our Video Lives shoot over the next 40 weeks.

Over the next few days I will do some side by side test with the A1 and FX1 and post some video and pics.

 

Maybe get a housing for it down the track, but boy it's tiny compared the the FX1.

 

 

Wags

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Great! Do you have also an housing for the A1? testsa underwater? Yes A1 is very tiny compared to Fx1.....if quality of footage will be almost the same....A1 will be a good choice for trvelling...but i'm not sure about results....

Thank you :-)

 

ERIK

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We were finally able to get our Gates HC1 demo system in and it will be off to Hawaii this week for some thorough testing (hopefully get some shark abuse on Kona)  A full review and some clips will be available when we get back.

Mike, how did the Gates go?

 

Nick

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Well, after months of going back and forth on the different cameras/housings, :P I finally settled on the A1 with the L&M Bluefin.

 

Initial impressions above water are good. The housing seems well balanced and very streamlined. I can reach all the controls except the power/mode button and the flip filter without moving my hand from the handles,

 

The A1 does seem to be able to manual white balance through the filter above water without any odd results. That’s encouraging for the ability to handle the amount of correction required.

 

I'll be spending all next week diving with the camera. The trip is intended primarily as a checkout/learning trip for the new setup. I’ll be able to dive the same site multiple times, so I should be able to do comparisons with different settings. I plan to really look at:

 

White balance techniques

Low light performance

Lens performance (FOV and vignetting)

Processing settings:

Black stretch

Cinegamma

Sharpness

Color

 

I’ll do a write-up when I get back. Are there any other areas people are particularly interested in having me look at?

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The HC1 can't. The A1 can. The housing has a mechanical contol to access the assign button.

 

The housing is really a hybrid. The normal electonic contols, plus mechanical contols for exposure, telemacro, expand focus, and MWB.

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Are there any other areas people are particularly interested in having me look at?

It's L&M so I'd be interested in

 

whether the housing actually fits the camera (i.e. not 2 mm too short)

whether the red filter holder cracks and falls off

whether the camera tray latch falls to bits

whether the light battery pods flood repeatedly

whether the wet connectors actually agree to conduct any electricity

whether the monitor back works at all

 

or maybe that was just mine :P

 

In fairness, L&M stuff is great when it works. If it works.

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I’m well aware that some people have had serious problems with L&M. That was at the top of my list of negatives for L&M when I was evaluating the housings.

 

My impression is that there were some lemons. Many people have them and are very happy, but the people who have problems seem to have lots of problems. I’m hoping that with access to a good dealer, any problems that might occur can be worked out. If I was not in the US, I don’t think I would have made the same decision.

 

For my usage, I really wanted the ease of use of electronic controls. To get the features I wanted, that meant L&M or Amphibico. Amphibico has not been without their problems either. The delay in availability for the EVO (originally announced for November, then delayed month to month, and finally shipped in February) did not give me a warm fuzzy feeling either.

 

If I was using the housing professionally, I would have given up the electronic controls and gone for the reliability of the Gates.

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The Sony A1U, which has many more features than the HC1, and the Gates housing will enable a one touch manual white balance. It is an excellent, easy to use system.-Steve

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SomeAssembly - Congratulations, I hope you enjoy your new housing. I am among the many who are very happy with their L&M purchases. I've owned two Bluefin housings, and between them have over 500 dives between them, with no major problems that were due to the manufacturer.

 

bubblevision - which camera and L&M housing did you have, and did you buy it used? Almost all of your complaints could be due to improper maintenance and abuse. This is not a personal attack on you, but you often criticize L&M, who are a very high quality housing manufacturer, and people only remember the bad things they read. I build machines for a living, and am very impressed by the quality and ingenuity of L&M, especially the new Bluefin HD. It's as good as or better than anything else on the market.

 

whether the red filter holder cracks and falls off
whether the camera tray latch falls to bits
I have never heard of a problem with these, but missuse of solvents can ruin any plastic parts.

 

whether the wet connectors actually agree to conduct any electricity
whether the monitor back works at all
This is a maintenance issue, due to corrosion and bad conductivity on the wet connectors. Keep them clean and use a light coat of dielectric grease (silicone o-ring grease is great) for good conductivity and to prevent future corrosion.

 

whether the light battery pods flood repeatedly
This is a maintenance/missuse issue. If there had been a problem, L&M would have replaced them.

 

whether the housing actually fits the camera (i.e. not 2 mm too short)
There has to be more to this story. L&M housings will fit all listed cameras and batteries. Either you didn't have the right camera or battery, or L&M would have fixed it if there was an issue.

 

I'm not attacking anyone, just trying to get the facts straight.

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Hey Video Dan, I have sometimes been the receiver of critizisms as you put to BubbleVision because of my aversion to Light and Motion housings while I enthusiastically endorse Gates Housings. But all the critizisms I make are grounded in fact. I lead roughly 2 to 4 trips a year, have roughly 3000 + dives, owned a dive shop and have filmed most of my diving life. I can't tell you how many times I have seen L & M housings flood and, have electronic problems leaving their unhappy owners stranded on a liveaboard with no chance of repair. My own partner loves his L & M housing for his 2000 but that thing is in the shop a few times a year for this or that. ITS ALWAYS SOMETHING with L & M. There is a valid reason that I can see for their nickname of Still & Dark. Yes, they are beautiful housings, work fantastically WHEN THEY WORK. But that is the problem. You never know if and when they'll work it seems. Even when clients swear they checked out the system before leaving, it seems like they have a mind of their own. I really think this is because as wonderfully engineered as they may be, they are not made with ruggedness, durability and dependability in mind. The one time I have ever had a flood with my Gates housing was in Tahiti a few years ago and the flood was completely my own, embarrassing fault. Stupid me. However, I got the housing to Gates, had it back in a week and all was well. Meanwhile, my partner is still waiting now for over a month to get his L & M housing back from a simple maintanence.

My 2 cents-Steve B)

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Guys

Every manufacturer will have problematic housings. But some have more problems than others simply because they have sold more. I've had the StingRay and Bluefin and have had my disagreements with LMI staff. It was when they said "I used it too much" was when I struck them off the list. Everytime I see LMI housings, most people from the US have spare PCBs and grips for the "possible?" failures, which I have witnessed numerous times as well.

Other manufacturers like Amphibico also have their issues (like the electronic white balance issue) and other things. My own VH1000 had 2 grips fail mid trip. How many people fried their EVFs because Amphibico(Gates and even LMI) didn't put a cover for the viewfinder eyepiece?

My S&S VX2k housing has been bulletproof for the last 4+ years, never once failing electronically and only had one issue which was fixed when I sent it back. But ask anyone in the US about S&S parts and you'll hear a few nightmare stories about long delays for parts.

I believe the more reliable (in general) mechanical housings also put extra wear on the camera controls. And there is a lack of smoothness in zoom operation (except perhaps with knob/dial style controls) and record.

For electronics, LMI coat their PCB but leave them exposed in the housing. S&S coats them and seals them behind covers for added protection. Amphibico doesn't have coatings and are exposed. I'm not even going to go into the mechanical vs electronic debate. That is a personal thing.

Basically, the more electronically complicated the housing, the higher likelihood of failure with constant use (due to exposure to humidity and salty sea air). They also require a lot more maintenance and "babying." Overengineering is a problem commonplace even in cars.

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I've had my share of flood incidents with cameras. I flooded a Nikonos lens and conseqently the Nikonos II housing. Fortunately the II is manual and work after a rinsing. I've also flooded a flash and had battery compartments revolt from the pressure.

 

It happens on any setup. Add hair, sand, salt and presurized seawater and you've got a recipe for trouble. :P

 

I've been really lucky with digital camera housings. They have gone beyond their rated depths as well. A manual housing is the main reason I elected for the Ikelite. I believe much of the technology is very proven and I like the manual controls for touch and feel. Electronic ones are usually positioned better though.

 

Oh, BTW the screen wands on the Ikelite are tough to use at 100ft. The pressure wants to push them into the housing something fierce. In other words, if you have the choice, buy the A1 with the programmable button to make WB easier. Not that you have a choice for long since the HC1 is now discontinued. There wasn't even a rumor of the A1 when I preordered my HC1. I had to talk to Ikelite first to make sure they were going to produce a housing. That's how committed I was to that design.

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Hi everybody

 

USVH and Gates Housings.

 

I recently used the USVH housng with the Sony A1. Basically out of the box with the instructions left safely at home. The housing is very snug with the camera! The result is that it is quite sleek and manuverable. I am not used to such a long housing (the screen sits in the housing behind the camera), so I had some trouble getting the image in the right part of the frame. Some weight at the front is required to balance it. The handles are two skinny for my hands - I will make them the size of tennis racket handles. Plenty of buttons. No real problems. I thought this was the best balue for money housing when I suggested the boss buy it. Has anyone else used it and have any comments?

 

I am about to buy a housing for myself. I have priced up the Gates housing for the Sony A1. Before I buy--- Is anyone using it, maybe they can ease my anxiety about spending 2 to 3 times more. Also there are options as lens ports etc. Are the expensve options that much better.

 

Cheers - Mack

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OK, time for some specifics to back up my gripes.

 

bubblevision - which camera and L&M housing did you have, and did you buy it used?

It was the Sunray II housing with the Sony TRV40 which is a TRV50 without Bluetooth. L&M told me the Sunray II would fit it. I bought the housing new from Armatos, shipped to Singapore.

 

RED FILTER

I have never heard of a problem with these, but missuse of solvents can ruin any plastic parts.

I've never had any solvents near it. It's just a totally crap moulding. In my view it should be stronger and moulded better, or aluminium like the Gates one. In normal use mine cracked along the knit lines in the moulding:

 

filter1.jpg

filter3.jpg

 

WET CONNECTORS

This is a maintenance issue, due to corrosion and bad conductivity on the wet connectors. Keep them  clean and use a light coat of dielectric grease (silicone o-ring grease is great) for good conductivity and to prevent future corrosion.

I always wash my gear thoroughly and I tried greasing them, cleaning them etc. etc.. But it still always seemed to be a case of 50/50 whether they worked or not. I could never rely on them at all. Also the cables fatigue through really quickly where the "strain relief" section thins down. In contrast the EO connectors used on Amphibico lights and Gates external monitor just work and carry on working. I have suggested to L&M that they switch over.

 

LIGHT BATTERY FLOODS

This is a maintenance/missuse issue. If there had been a problem, L&M would have replaced them.

I have had no fewer than 3 floods on my Sunray 2 battery pods. In each case there was no clear reason why the pods flooded. I always keep the surfaces clean, grease the o-rings and so on. I don't know what else I'm supposed to do! In my view the asymmetrical "kidney" shaped cross section of the sealing surface is just silly.. It's asking for trouble. At least on the old Sunray 1 pods the design was symmetrical. Flooding an L&M battery pod is no laughing matter. You're looking at something like $150 for the battery, $150 for the PCB, plus shipping, tax etc.. All 3 times I was without the lights for months and my season was badly affected. I sometimes feel these lights have taken years off my life :(

 

CAMERA DIDN'T FIT

There has to be more to this story. L&M housings will fit all listed cameras and batteries. Either you didn't have the right camera or battery, or L&M would have fixed it if there was an issue.

The camera fitted fine in my bedroom. But as soon as I got a few metres underwater it was no longer possible to operate the blue water filter. It just hit the outside of the camera lens instead of going in front of it. They hadn't allowed any space in the design for compression. In the middle of a busy season I had no option but to modify the housing myself to make it fit by fettling material off the electrical connectors at the front and back of the camera tray, and off the filter arm.

 

MONITOR BACK

When the monitor back arrived the PAL/NTSC switch was just completely missing:

 

monitor-back.jpg

Probably just a shipping problem but the exposed design is inviting trouble. I've since had the switch replaced by L&M and after a few dives the switch itself fell to bits. I've had to solder the contacts closed in the PAL position.

 

As for the monitor itself, after a couple of years it just died totally for no apparent reason. I don't know why. L&M fixed it (can't remember if they charged but I was without it for months) and now it works but there are diagonal lines across it that weren't there originally.

 

CAMERA TRAY LATCH

The screw in that thing is tiny and too short. Mine has come to bits numerous times. Again it's a fiddly little detail that would be so much better if it was more ruggedly designed.

 

Here's some more...

 

BATTERY PODS FALL APART

I've seen this happen on 4 different L&M battery pods (3 of them mine). Why they can't glue them properly or at least tape them is beyond me.

 

battery-pack2.jpg

 

On top of all this the service times do seem to be getting slower and slower. I guess they're just busy. Plus one time I asked them to discuss shipping options with me before they shipped, but when the time came they just charged my card and shipped. Recently again I asked them to wait before actually shipping because I wanted to order a couple of minor parts at the same time, but when the time came they just shipped. It's like they don't talk to each other or they don't have a way to attach notes on screen to their service jobs. Seems a bit ironic when their recent "meet the team" newsletter talked so much about committment to great service.

 

To end on a positive note, L&M stuff is great when it works. They are brilliant at aluminium extruding/casting/machining, the housings handle very nicely, their lamp heads are superb, and their optics are excellent. I like their lights so much (when they work) that I even bought a 2nd set so that I had plenty of backup, and Conor from the their sales department took pity on me and very kindly let me have them at trade price. So it's not all bad. Plus the housing itself is currently stable and actually making us some money on daytrip vids :)

 

Anyway SomeAssembly, I'm sure mine is an extreme case and I wish you the best of luck with your housing. At least you are in the USA if things do go wrong.

 

Nick

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I feel like a troll :) I didn't expect quite this much response!

 

Nick, I can see why you would feel strongly about L&M! I can't imagine trying to deal with that many problems, much less from a remote location. I'm glad to hear that the rig seems to finally be stable.

 

The housing decision was very hard. Based on the length of this thread, plus other threads, other people are struggling with it also. All the housings involve some type of trade-off.

 

The good news is that we are starting to see posts from at least one person with each of the major housings. Hopefully reviews will get posted that will help those who have not made a decision yet.

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Nick/Bubblevision

That's precisely the point. Without good service backup, no product is good. You being in thailand must suck for LMI service since all products have to go back to CA. You have S&S in BKK and Singapore, Gates and Amphibico in Singapore (although that shop manager doesn't know all his products well, but at least he is a rep). I can understand it must be hair wrenching to deal with. The mysterious failures are usually attributed to the exposed PCBs getting corroded. That's why they recommend the $350 annual service.

 

SomeA

Reviews are great if they are balanced like Nick's. He has gripes and he posted about them without vindictiveness. And what Dan said is also quite true, you hear more about the negative than the positive, which I think should be the case. The less you hear about a product, the better it's working. LOL

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MY TURN...

 

My L&M monitor is a serious pain in the :(

 

I've had it about 2 or so years. It flooded in 2004 which, thank god, got repaired on my insurance down to my brilliant power brained girlfriends negotiating techniques or that would have been £550. After 18 dives its packed in again. I sent it back to my service centre and they said it was probably the circuit board and it would be about £400. I e-mailed L&M in the U.S and they said:

 

"It might be that after the flooding repair some residue water was left in the housing and worked its way to the circuit boards"

 

I replied, well if so this is not my fault. Anyway if you went to a T.V shop and spent £1000 on a T.V and after 2-3 weeks it packed in because of circuit board trouble you'd expect it to be..A, fixed..B, swapped for a new bugger :) I asked for a answer to my frustrations and..... Nothing.

 

The downside is that it was sat in my pelicase for 10 months doing nothing while I worked on my film... As soon as someone wants to buy it ;)

 

Good service L&M.... My U.K contact are very helpful though, but at £40 an hour so would I <_< :D

 

Bring on the Amphibico 16:9 monitor...

 

Dive safe

 

DeanB

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Bubblevision - Thanks for the detailed reply. You have legitimate gripes, and my hat's off to you for enduring more than anyone should have to. Very glad to hear it's working well now. It seems that I have been pretty fortunate with my two Bluefins.

 

Steve - Who could ever accuse you of enthusiastically endorsing Gates, or even Apple? :) BTW, I'm getting ready to capture those clips you requested, you should have them next week.

 

Note to all - I have had L&M monitor problems in the past, but it was all due to poor electrical contact on the wet connectors, which I fixed with cleaning and silicone grease. Been fortunate with no flooding or corroded/broken circuit boards or other components. I will admit that I maintain the housing myself, as L&M can take forever to get it done.

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I can't tell you how much I appreciate you sending me those clips. Several people have emailed me to volunteer their footage. When I have what I need and can really produce the film I just know you'll think it went to a good concept. If I could afford to give you all free spots on our Bali trip, I would. But since I'm now broke you'll just have to take my sincere appreciation. Much thanks.

 

By the way, I just came home with my new Gates Housing for the A1U in hand. Now to get it in the water. :)

 

Steve

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The question is very simple:

A1 could compete with Fx1 for underwater shoots or not?

If you compare PDX10 and PD170 shoots you will find big differences, Pd170 make more beautifull videos than the little one.

And finally: more weight and big dimensions (FX1) for really better video or with an A1 we can arrive to have similar results?

I think that we must consider this before to buy a new Sony Hd :-)

For the moment i just saw clips maked with FX1 (Wagsy) and are great...with A1? A lot of people starting to use it but no demo :-)

Thank you all

 

ERIK

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Erick,

 

Visually, you can't easily tell the difference. [iF YOU HAVE PLENTY OF LIGHT] The single CMOS chip in the A1 is very good compared to the 3 CCD chips in the FX1/Z1U.

 

However, if you put images from both cameras on a scope you will see slight chroma differences, but color balancing will put the images almost exact. In fact you could have a multi-camera shoot and mix shots from both cameras and not be able to tell.

 

The biggest differences are the controls available on the A1 (ie. exposure -gain, iris, etc.). The A1 just allows for overall luminance. If you can't get good images without these controls than the A1 is not for you.

 

At the end of the day, you are going to color balance all shots anyways, so regardless, you are going to get good shots and the REAL limiting factor is the HDV standard anyways:

 

Remember that HDV uses 4:2:0 chroma sampling vs. 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 for 'real' HD. So already HDV has lost some color (Cr space). Also HDV uses Mpeg2 compression for video and Mpeg1 for audio and uses interframe recording, so some image loss occurs.

 

For me the size factor of the A1 would offer more opportunities for use and the cost vs. image quality just doesn't give a good ROI, especially with all the other limiting factors. Just my 2 cents.

 

Venson

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Venson

The differences are more pronounced once light levels drop. The A1 does get grainy quickly compared to the Z1. Otherwise your assessment is right on the money in the comparison.

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