GL2 Review- Comparison with XL1s, PD150 at DVinfo.net

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Canon GL Series DV Camcorders
Canon GL2, GL1 and PAL versions XM2, XM1.


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Old August 5th, 2002, 08:58 AM   #1
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GL2 Review- Incl. Comparison with XL1s, PD150

I've had about 3 weeks to play with the new Canon Gl2, and I thought this was a good time to offer my impressions about the camera, and also to give you the details of a comparison test I made utilizing the Gl2, the XL1s and the Sony PD150. I will be providing Chris with still images from the comparison for inclusion in a future article on the Son of Watchdog Page.

I'm an owner of a Gl1 and Xl1s, so I know these cameras intimately. The PD150 was borrowed from a friend of a friend, and I have to say that in the few hours I spent working with it, it is a formidable camera indeed, so I'm glad that somebody here at dvinfo suggested that I include it in the trials. Because of the limited time I had with the PD150, it is only being used here in direct image quality comparisons. Occasionally, I will include a comment about the GL1 as referenced to an improved feature on the Gl2, but otherwise I will limit my comments to the gl2, xl1s and the PD150. Except where noted, all cameras were set to factory default, and exposures were made in manual mode. In most cases the white balance used was the default Daylight setting on each camera.

Three image quality comparisons were made.

High Contrast line resolution.
While photographing test charts can provide some useful comparative information, my experience with Dv is that the compression and 720x480 file size quite often become a limiting factor that makes any conclusion based on a LOT of subjective evaluation. Utilizing a 1956 EIA resolution chart, the gl2 "maybe" showed a slight improvement in horizontal resolution over the xl1s, but maybe is the important word. Using, another chart of my construction utilizing line groupings varying in 5% increments, the xl1s, GL2 and PD150 all resolved the exact same set of lines. Other information on the chart showed that the xl1s was less sharp overall, with the gl2 and PD150 running neck and neck--higher contrast things look sharper on the PD150, lower contrast areas were sharper on the gl2. The gl2 image also suggests a slightly lower overall contrast than the other cameras. The pd150 and gl2 exhibited slightly more noise than the xl1s in the neutral areas of the test chart. Overall, the color balance of the gl2 was slightly more neutral than the pd150. The xl1s was marked by a strong red shift, especially in the highlights. One interesting thing of note is that the PD150 rendered the chart slightly taller than the Canon cameras. (I'll check to see which camera is more accurate, but my hunch is that it is the Sony).

Still life
For the reasons stated above, I am suspect of any information generated from a typical line resolution regime, at least as it is relevant to the DV format. In my opinion, the proof is in the puddin'.....unless you photograph black and white lines for a living. In this test I photographed a small still life that contained items of a relatively neutral color range, and moderate amounts detail. In this test again, the xl1s stood apart from the other camera's with it's softer "almost out of focus" look and reddish color shift. The Gl2 appeared slightly sharper than the PD150, although this appeared to be as a result of higher electronic "sharpening". Actual resolution of the two cameras appears to be about the same.

The Gl2 excelled above the other two cameras in its ability to render highlight detail. In the still life test, the cameras were matched by monitoring the zebra stripes in a particular area of the scene, the gl2 showed significantly more range in that highlight even when its exposure was increased by nearly a full stop. I believe this is the most significant improvement in the camera, when compared to the gl1 and xl1s, and is responsible for giving the gl2 more film like look than it's predecessors. The PD150 rates a close second in this respect. Still images for the above comparisons can be found at
http://homepage.mac.com/barrygoyette/PhotoAlbum5.html

Skintones
I photographed my friend Brian Lawler doing a mock Apple "Switch" testimonial using the three cameras simultaneously. The PD150 produced what I thought was the most pleasing skintone, with the gl2 slightly less warm. Again, the gl2 image looked somewhat "sharpened", but otherwise was a very close match for the PD150. The xl1s picture again showed excess red and softness. The cameras were matched with a zebra pattern on brian's silver hair. Here the xl1s showed a glaring difference in the highlight area, one that is so great that I plan to redo the test to make sure. You can see the film at
http://homepage.mac.com/barrygoyette...eTheater3.html

About 1/3 of the way through you will see a clip that is glaringly different...that is the xl1s....(the sorenson 3 codec has magnified the differences and problems significantly, so take what you see and divide by three) My apologies for the sound..

(Continued in Next post)
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Old August 5th, 2002, 09:01 AM   #2
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Gl2 Review (part two)

(continued from previous post)

Sensitivity
The sensitivity of the GL2 became something of a question mark as I put it through a variety of tests. With all cameras set to 1/60 of a second and 0 gain, The Gl2 required an aperture ranging from .7 to 1.7 stops larger than the xl1s, depending on the lighting situation, to reach an equavalent zebra pattern in the highlights. (the difference with the pd150 was even greater). What confuses me is the inconsistency of this variance, but my guess is that is has something to do with the GL2's lower contrast, and it's improved highlight rendering that allows the exposure to vary somewhat (in comparison with the other cameras) depending on the overall contrast of the scene.

This lowered sensitivity is not necessarily a bad thing. In the still life test with the PD150, the GL2 f-stop was 3.2 versus the sony's at 6.8. In this situation the gl2 with it's smaller chip appeared sharper, and had lower (and thus more controllable) depth of field than the larger chip pd150.

One of the first things I noticed when I hooked up the gl2 to a monitor in my studio, was that the Gl2 showed quite a bit of noise when I pointed at moderately lit, or darker areas of my studio. As I worked with the camera more over the coming weeks, I came to realize a couple of things.

1) that this noise wasn't necessarily more than what I have experienced with my other canon cameras...it was just sharper (and a bit finer), and that by adjusting the sharpness setting on the gl2 downward a notch or two this noise could be minimized or eliminated. In brightly lit situations, the GL2's noise level is almost invisible, and on par with the xl1s and the pd150.
2) When I registered this first impression, the camera settings I was using were AV exposure mode and f4-5.6 Due to the lower sensitivity of the camera, I was forcing it to increase the gain quicker than the xl1s or gl1 would. In low light situations, I would recommend using the Manual exposure mode, or at a minimum, avoiding the AV mode to minimize this problem.

Low Light Imaging
(as I only had the PD-150 on loan for a few hours. This portion of the comparison only Includes the xl1s and gl2.)
In the lowest light situations the gl2 is about 1/2 stop less sensitive than the the xl1s...not bad considering the smaller chips. However, in a low light scene where both cameras were able to achieve proper exposure at 0 db of gain, the Gl2 proved to be significantly sharper, albeit significantly noisier than the xl1s. As a test I tried to make the images in this low light situation match. This was achieved by turning the Sharpness on the xl1s up 2 notches, AND at the same time turning the gl2's sharpness down 3 notches.

Another significant difference between the gl2 and xl1s in low light was the oft-reported autofocus "hunting" when using the standard 16x IS-II lens. The scene I shot should have been an easy one for either camera to handle, with some very high contrast objects in the foreground, and a small area of undefined underlit texture behind them in the corner of the frame. The Gl2's focus was rock solid, whereas the xl1 varied between a small "hunt" between the foreground objects, and then (with the camera still locked down) switching to a full on "war party" alternating focus between the foreground and that small block of texture in the background.

Indeed, I have a strong preference for the lens on the gl2 over the xl1s. It is extremely sharp, and the focus ring has significantly more drag than the xl1s lens (and the gl1 as well), which makes it focus more like a traditional (non-servo) lens. When focusing, the sharp point "snaps" into place just like it should. It also has a slightly longer zoom range, and the addition of the wd-58 wide angle attachment produces some of the most delicate, film like images I have yet to experience with a video camera.

Color
The gl2 produces the most neutral image of the 3 cameras when set at default, with a daylight white balance. The xl1s is significantly more saturated and red, where as the PD150 was slightly warm. The Gl2 perhaps suffers a little in the area of saturation, as I was unable to match even the default setting of the xl1s with increases in color gain and phase on the GL2. In fact, the xl1s seems a little over saturated to me, but I think the color range of the gl2 is a bit limited.

Digital Zoom
Due to the higher resolution chips in the gl2, the digital zoom performs exceptionally well up to 40x, with no apparent loss of resolution. Once you enter the 100x portion of the range, pixelization becomes more and more apparent, although I have to say, I like how it looks at 100x...sort of a grainy, blown up "Americas most wanted" surveilance-cam look.

ViewFinders
The eyepiece viewfinder is a substantial improvement over the gl1 and xl1s. While smaller in size, it is much brighter and sharper. With the xl1s, I find that I am only comfortable when focusing if I'm using an external monitor. While some of this is due to the xl1's lower sharpness, the gl2's viewfinder makes it easy to focus in-camera. The flip-out LCD is another story. While it has greater resolution than the gl1's lcd, it is plagued with poor color (bluish), and low contrast, making if very difficult to judge the look of your footage. I find that if I try to use the LCD to judge exposure (without zebras), I am consistently underexposing by a stop or more. By contrast, the gl1's flip-out was just the opposite, somewhat contrasty and higher in saturation, but I always felt I could trust the overall look of it, and in fact, I rarely had a problem judging exposure on the gl1.

Autofocus
The gl2 autofocus is excellent, although somewhat slower than the gl1, and xl1s. Typically it is rock solid, almost completely devoid of the hunting that plagues the xl1s ( and in low light the gl1). When switching focus from a nearby object to something in the distance, the Gl2 can be very slow to react. Something tells me that this attribute is related to its ability to hold focus, and that Canon has chosen the lesser of two evils. I, for one, think that they made the right choice here, one that I wish they would have made on the xl1s.

Frame Mode
Implementation of the frame mode seems similar to the XL1s. The Gl1 had less of the motion artifacts you see on the newer cameras, but I feel the Gl2s version is a little less choppy. The Gl2 seems to have less of a sharpness loss (ie almost none) in frame mode than the Gl1 or Xl1s.

Controls
Users of the GL1 will find that most things are where they expect them, although when I first got the camera, I was at a loss to find the Exposure Mode dial. Canon has chosen to make this a menu item (luckily with a separate entrance). It is relatively easy to use, but I have to say I miss the dial. Otherwise the controls all seem to make sense. The menu and exposure scroll wheels have changed to a spring loaded toggle type switch. Again, I liked the earlier version better, but the toggles work just fine. The frame mode has also been moved into the menus, which for the purposes of my tests was a bit of a pain. In common use, you probably wouldn't switch between modes often, but I wish Canon had made it available through the custom key.

There are a few areas of the GL2 I have yet to try out...like the clearscan, and the new digital still feature of the camera. I also haven't done any significant testing of the sound. The mic appears to have a similar quality to the one on the gl1. The voice mode does seem to filter out some of the background, but is in no way a replacement for a good shotgun mic. Hopefully I can add to this in the coming weeks.

Conclusion
The new Canon Gl2 is an outstanding camera that I think builds on the best attributes of the GL1, and also in several ways represents a significant improvement over the Xl1s. In the image quality tests conducted with the Gl2, XL1s and PD150, the images from the Gl2 were superb, and virtually interchangeable with the PD150 in terms of contrast, detail, and sharpness. In casual filming under a variety of situations, the Gl2 produced extremely delicate, film-like imagery. Its increased resolution makes even zoomed out wide-view footage look good. The increased range in the highlights gives this camera a much less harsh look, even under bright sun. It's weaknesses are apparent: more noise in moderate to low light situations, and lower overall saturation and sensitivity, but these deficiencies are not fatal by any means, in most cases, fixable with in-camera controls.

The same should be said about the Xl1s, while it's apparent lack of sharpness, higher contrast and reddish color balance were dramatically apparent in comparison to the other cameras, it should be noted, that using sharpness, setup and color controls built into the camera, the Xl1s is certainly capable of outstanding images (although one wonders why the camera wasn't tuned properly in the first place). Additionally, there are many features on the XL1s that make it an exceptional choice, from its expandability, easy access controls, larger form factor, better zoom function etc.

In many ways I think the Gl2 is important in what it might foretell for future versions of the XL series. 1/3 inch chips with 410k or better resolution I think is something that is needed for the XL cameras to continue to compete with the PD150 and other new cameras from Panasonic and JVC.

Thats all for now...I will try to add a few more still photos to my web site in the coming days.

Barry
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Old August 5th, 2002, 10:40 AM   #3
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Excellent

thanks for that Barry finally someone who's written a solid review. I'm waiting for the camera here in the UK and I really wanted to know how it comapared to the likes of the XL1s and the VX2000. Your review has reinforced my decision to buy this camera.
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Old August 5th, 2002, 10:58 AM   #4
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Do I understand correctly that you used the "daylight" setting for XL1s white balance rather than actually white balancing for the lighting used for the test?
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Old August 5th, 2002, 11:38 AM   #5
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Don

You are correct. In conducting the comparison, I was trying to eliminate, as much as possible, any subjective input by leaving cameras at certain default settings, and my feeling was that the daylight default was the most standardized way of comparing the cameras. Another method would have been to custom white balance each of the camera's, and perhaps that can happen in the future.

Our tests were completed using mid afternoon (3-4pm) sunlight filtered through white ripstop nylon. The still life also includes a mini mole 1k, with a full blue daylight correction filter as the key light. We checked the gl2's white balance in this set-up and it was visually identical to the daylight preset.

Barry
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Old August 5th, 2002, 07:05 PM   #6
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XL1s

Thanks, that was worthwhile reading. My question is not very technical I'm afraid. For me, the look of the XL1(s), particularly for interviews, is superior to the PD-150. Do you think the GL-2 would outperform the other two in this regard? Subjectively speaking, which camera has the best look?
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Old August 5th, 2002, 07:25 PM   #7
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Great review!

Barry,

As usual, you are a great contributor. Thanks for the review, and hopefully, you will post more info, tips and tricks as you get more friendly with your GL2!

Thanks again!

michael.
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Old August 5th, 2002, 07:34 PM   #8
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Thanks Barry
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Old August 5th, 2002, 09:03 PM   #9
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Appreciate the review. If you have a chance, please do it after a manual white balance, or in auto white balance mode. Arguably the most likely methods of camcorder use. Sounds like the presets may not be the same on the two Canons. I trust there were no filters on any of the camcorders.
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Old August 5th, 2002, 10:00 PM   #10
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Great overview Barry. Thanks.

I'm puzzled by your mention of the somewhat limited color range of the GL2.

Canon camcorders have always been known for their rich,
warm color palettes. To think that the GL2's might be hobbled in comparison
makes me cautious as I'm considering a purchase.

Is this a problem that Canon is looking to rectify via a firmware update (if such a method is possible)?

Or, is it correctable via, say, the color controls in Final Cut Pro 3?
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Old August 5th, 2002, 10:18 PM   #11
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Thanks for that Barry. It seems from what you said in the review that you think that the GL2 is more of a camera for "film look" than say the Xl1s, and so if you were buying for mainly movie making, would you go with the GL2 over the Xl1s? Assuming you could live without the interchangable lenses and just use adapters.

Most people I've heard of doing DV films use PD150's but they're just too expensive..:)
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Old August 6th, 2002, 12:53 AM   #12
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Barry,
This was a terrific review of the GL-2 and it was very generous of you to take the time share it with us. Really.
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Old August 6th, 2002, 06:00 AM   #13
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Barry, I take it that the movie is in the order PD150, Gl2, Xl1s...repeat?

[edit] Ignore that - just noticed the text on that movie page..gl2, pd150, xl1s.. :)

Yeah the PD150 does give nice skin tone results but I was impressed with the Gl2's handling of it also.
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Old August 6th, 2002, 07:09 AM   #14
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Very nice job Barry, well written and to the point. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to learn from your experiences.

Jeff
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Old August 6th, 2002, 09:09 AM   #15
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Here are my thoughts on everyones questions

>>>>>For me, the look of the XL1(s), particularly for interviews, is superior to the PD-150. Do you think the GL-2 would outperform the other two in this regard? Subjectively speaking, which camera has the best look?<<<<

Right out of the box, I felt the pd150 looked the best relative to skin tones, however the gl2 is capable of duplicating the look of the either the pd150 or the xl1s, by adjusting color, sharpness, set-up etc...The gl2 was a very close second relative to skintones, but I think its delicate handling of highlights puts it quite even. I would personally choose the gl2 for most things as I'm a Frame Mode cultist, turning down the sharpness a notch or two, and bumping up the set up and color gain slightly. As far as stock microphones, the gl2's is probably too omnidirectional for interviews, the xl1s is somewhat more focused.

>>>>>If you have a chance, please do it after a manual white balance, or in auto white balance mode. Arguably the most likely methods of camcorder use.<<<<<

I did a quick check in the studio, and manual white balancing did improve the xl1s red shift substantially. The Gl2 changed very little, if at all. It appears that the xl1s daylight preset is off significantly. I'll put up a new still with the custom white balance on the xl1s as soon as I can get to it.

>>>>Canon camcorders have always been known for their rich,
warm color palettes. To think that the GL2's might be hobbled in comparison
makes me cautious as I'm considering a purchase.<<<<

Overall I think the color on the Gl2 is fine, and in fact, more natural looking than the xl1s. In casual shooting around the yard, I really don't notice any lack of color in the image. What I was referring to was that the color gain control is very subtle, and didn't allow me to "oversaturate" the image..which usually you wouldn't want to do anyway...


Thanks again for everyone's kind comments and questions....I'm off on a shoot today, but as soon as I can I'll put up a few more stills.

Barry
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