Canon has launched two new professional high-definition camcorders, the XH G1 (AU$11,499) and the XH A1 (AU$6,499), slotting in beneath the top-of-the-range Canon XL H1 (AU$13,999). Despite their price advantage, the new cameras want for little in comparison with their bigger brother.

Upside
The XH-family cameras share the 3 x 1/3-inch 1.67-megapixel CCD imaging system and Digic DV II processor of the more expensive XL H1. Both cameras are fitted with a Canon 20x L-series lens with "Super Range Optical Image Stabiliser" which reduces the amount of shaking when, say, in telephoto mode or during hand-held operation.

Video is recorded in HDV format, on miniDV tapes, in either 25F or 50i frame modes. Users can choose to upgrade their cameras for 24F, 30F and 60i frame modes, if they are required to also capture video for NTSC environments.

A new feature, which makes its debut on the XH-family, is the "Instant AF" autofocus system which allows for super-fast auto-focusing via a new contrast and distance IR sensor.

For the launch Toby Oliver, an Australian cinematographer whose credits include Looking for Alibrandi, Love is a Four Letter Word, as well as numerous commercials and music videos, produced a film using the XH G1 which demonstrated the XH-family's capabilities. The film included action and still-life pieces shot in a variety of lighting conditions. The camera impressed with its effective noise-reduction under low-light condition which required high levels of gain (18dB). Equally impressive was its ability to pick out detail in areas of high contrast.

The film also demonstrated the use of different factory preset and custom preset modes. Up to three sets of custom preset modes can be stored on an SD card and shared with other Canon XH cameras. The SD card is also used to store still images captured by the camera.

Commenting on his experiences with the camera, Oliver enthused about the manual iris ring control, which allows for smooth manual control of depth of field. He also noted that the top-mounted, flush-fitting, swing-out 2.8-inch LCD display allowed for more convenient positioning of both major and minor controls.

Downside
The XH-family misses out on the option of interchangeable lenses, which are available on the standard-definition Canon XL2 (AU$6,999) and the high-definition Canon XL H1 (AU$13,999).

Its virtually identical bigger brother XH A1 boasts three extra jacks. One for the Serial Digital Interface (SDI) which allows for outputting uncompressed HD video, Genlock syncing and Time Code input and output. If you can't live without these features, check out our preview of the Canon XH G1.

Outlook
Though an impressive HD camera, its price (AU$6,499) and weight (2.33kg) means that this is not a camera for the average consumer, however its intended audience (independent film-makers, wedding videographers or serious and well-heeled amateurs) should be well served.