Hands-on Canon GL2 Report, Part Two
by Barry Goyette, August 2002
Low Light Imaging
As I only had the PD150 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.
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.
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. It’s sort of a grainy, blown up “America’s Most Wanted” type of surveilance-cam look.
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.
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 with the XL1S.
Frame Movie Mode
Implementation of the Frame Movie 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 Movie mode than the GL1 or XL1s.
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.
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, and in most cases are fixable with in-camera controls.
The same should be said about the XL1s, while its 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 and GL 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.
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