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Canon's XH A1 "On Pointe" for the Reston Conservatory Ballet
When parents of the young students of the Reston Conservatory Ballet received DVD copies of a December 2006 performance of The Nutcracker Suite they saw video unlike any they had seen before. Although this suburban Washington DC ballet company has been videotaping its annual performances of The Nutcracker and other works for more than 25 years, this latest production was captured in stunning high-definition clarity using the Canon XH A1 HD Camcorder.

The Reston Conservatory Ballet was founded by Julia Cziller Redick in 1971, who originally trained in her native Hungary under her mother, Mme. Alicia Reisz, former Prima Ballerina of the Hungarian Opera. Today the Reston Conservatory Ballet serves more than 1,200 students ranging from three years of age to adulthood.

The Conservatory had used a succession of videotape formats over the years, explains director Julia Cziller Redick's husband, Charles. "We had two major uses for the tapes," he says. "One was as a training exercise for the next year's group of children. The other was as a DVD that documents student performances.

The move to HD was, according to Redick, an easy decision. "Each year, we looked at what was 'state of the art' in video camcorders and asked ourselves if it's worth it for us to upgrade," he recalls. "It was clear, however, when we saw the Canon XH A1 HD Camcorder that -- for the money -- we had to upgrade. And we decided that the XH A1 HD Camcorder had a lot of features that were preferable over other HD cameras in the same price range."

Higher Levels of Detail
One major reason why upgrading to the XH A1 HD Camcorder was essential, Redick explains, was its ability to shoot in the 16:9 HDTV aspect ratio, which is ideal for capturing stage performances. "We used to have large areas of black above and below the screen," he says regarding shooting with the 4:3 aspect ratio of standard definition (SD) video. Now the stage fills the entire screen, which is important for training students."

The Canon XH A1 HD Camcorder captures light though a Genuine Canon 20x HD video zoom lens and directs it to three 1/3-inch native 1440x1080 16:9 CCDs. This is the same image-sensor technology used in Canon's celebrated XL H1 HD Camcorder. These sensors deliver outstanding picture quality, highly accurate color reproduction and wide dynamic range with virtually no color noise. Knowing that the CCDs in the Canon were true 16:9 -- not 4:3 chips that process a 16:9 image -- was a key benefit in Redick's opinion.

"That, coupled with high definition, is awesome," Redick asserts, adding that he also takes advantage of the camcorder's optional WDH-72 wide-angle lens attachment. The XH A1 HD Camcorder features Canon's exclusive, next-generation DIGIC DV II digital signal processing chip, which processes the camcorder's HD signal at 1440 x 1080 with 4:2:2 color sampling, providing exceptional tonal and color reproduction.

"When we're in a dark studio, looking at a brightly lit stage, the eye perceives the difference quite clearly," Redick says regarding the XH A1 HD Camcorder's low-light capabilities. "Our old SD camera really didn't capture detail [in that environment]. When we filmed the stage from the back of the auditorium it was sometimes hard to clearly identify individual dancers on the final video. With the XH A1 HD Camcorder we're able to get a much higher level of detail on the stage."

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Having a variety of dancers moving about the stage used to present a challenge for maintaining focus with the Conservatory's SD cameras. The XH A1 HD Camcorder's Instant AF, however, a next-generation auto focus technology designed to maintain sharp focus even while capturing video with the increased picture information of HD, makes maintaining accurate focus easier. Canon's Instant AF combines an external AF sensor with Canon's advanced auto-focus system and together the two sensors reduce focusing time -- even in low-light, low contrast, or high-brightness situations -- and improve focusing performance on difficult subjects (including black leotards moving against a dark background).

Three AF modes are included on the XH A1 HD Camcorder for different shooting applications, including Natural AF, which changes focus at a speed that appears natural; Super Quick AF, which changes focus as rapidly as possible for news or documentary shooting; and Stable AF, which ensures smooth, stable focusing when speed isn't the highest priority. The XH A1 HD Camcorder's Instant AF enables the camera operator to follow performers and automatically change focus at a speed that does not distract from the viewing experience.

Redick himself shoots many of the events during the year, including demonstrations of scenes from such classic ballets as Swan Lake, Coppelia, and Giselle and performances by hip-hop, jazz and Irish step dance students. Not being a professional camera operator, Redick nevertheless finds the XH A1 HD Camcorder easy to operate.

"Even though we shoot the performances using a tripod, we use the XH A1 HD Camcorder's image stabilization all the time," Redick explains. The XH A1 HD Camcorder's Super-Range Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS) combines gyro and image-sensors to stabilize the picture through a wide range of camera motions. Since the method of image stabilization is not electronic, image quality is not compromised. "The battery life on the XH A1 HD Camcorder is absolutely, totally awesome," Redick adds. "We have the ability to film three performances of The Nutcracker on a single battery."

Multiple Uses
Documenting performances is not the only use for the Canon XH A1 HD Camcorder at the Conservatory. Many students are required to submit short videotapes when applying to colleges or for scholarships. According to Redick, the Conservatory's students have consistently been honored with awards from competitions, as well as roles with major national ballet companies. Initial auditions and submissions for awards and roles are often submitted on videotape and the XH A1 HD Camcorder is a great way to vividly "showcase our students' abilities," Redick says.

"Our school has put dancers into most of the major companies in the United States," Redick confirms. The company has garnered a reputation for excellence in training in classical ballet styles, a point of pride for both Charles and Julia Cziller Redick. In addition, thanks to their affordable, high-performance Canon XH A1 HD Camcorder, students, parents, educators, and ballet directors across the country and around the world can see the Conservatory's ballet excellence beautifully documented in HDTV.

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