CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Canon GL2 review: Canon GL2

Canon GL2

Dick Ridington
7 min read
Canon replaces its popular three-CCD GL1 MiniDV camcorder and goes after Sony's VX2000 with the GL2, offering a superior 20X zoom lens, a 1.7-megapixel photo mode, and excellent color fidelity at a price point similar to the VX2000's. The camera's long lens, pristine images, and light weight make it a superb option for documentary filmmakers.

Playback controls are located in a panel on the camera handle.
The GL2 follows the sleek lines pioneered by Sony's VX series, reinterpreted only slightly here with a silver and charcoal color scheme trimmed in red. The GL2 also trims about half a pound from the VX2000's weight, easing the load on your arms for handheld shooting and making this a dramatically lighter handheld alternative to Canon's own XL1S. At 2 pounds, 14.5 ounces with battery and media loaded, it's a little bit lighter than its predecessor, the GL1, as well. Its 2.5-inch flip-out LCD--one of the few things on the GL2 that you won't find on the XL1S--also makes it well suited for shooting sans tripod.
This is a camcorder with a great deal of control to offer, but how to exercise that control isn't always apparent at first. You might forget, for instance, that to select one of the four programmed-exposure modes, you'll need to actuate a switch on the lower left side of the camera body, then push in the wheel labeled only Select (in other modes, it's used for other purposes), then choose from an onscreen menu. To do the same thing on the XL1S, you merely move the power-on switch to one of the four programmed-exposure modes inscribed on the camera body, with no menus or remembering necessary. Similarly, the GL2's grouping of the controls for gain, exposure, and shutter speed on one menu-driven dial seems a bit crowded to us.

The custom buttons allow one-touch activation of preprogrammed camera settings.Only a speaker for playback and a Display button are hidden away behind the LCD.

The cassette hatch is a model of good design: its operation interferes with neither hand strap nor tripod.
If the GL2 can be a challenge to learn to use, that's not the fault of the excellently organized and written manual; it's one of the most useful guides to a sophisticated camera we've seen. And once you know your way around, the camera isn't difficult to use. There are, for example, three separate displays for the two channels of audio controls so that you can't help keeping tabs on your levels. Should you choose to ride those levels manually, you'll find the right and left channel controls located on two dedicated dials.
Although far more compact than the XL1S, like its big brother, the GL2 comes richly endowed and offers you ample discretion over how you employ its assets. Everything you'd ask of a prosumer camcorder is here--automatic and manual focus and exposure control, the latter augmented by programmed autoexposure settings to let you quickly adapt to a variety of shooting circumstances--in addition to standout features such as nearly two megapixels of still-photo resolution.
You can adjust exposure and other image parameters manually via easily reached controls.Press the photo button, and you can shoot a 1.7-megapixel still, thanks to Canon's pixel shift technology. There's a USB port on the camera for quick transfers, too.

Other notable refinements include SMPTE color bars that provide a reference for subsequent color correction, a neutral density filter, and variable zebra stripe pedestal levels that set the brightness level that triggers onscreen overexposure warnings. Canon has also added adjustable color gain, sharpness, and black level settings to the GL2, as well as shutter speed settings as slow as 1/8 of a second.
The camera's Clear Scan setting allows you to synchronize your camera's shutter speed with the scan rate of a computer or other monitor, thereby avoiding the rolling horizontal lines that otherwise mar shots including monitors. A pass-through analog-to-digital conversion mode lets you use the camera to convert analog signals to digital ones and record them directly to an external deck. You can even designate whether the flip-out LCD screen will or won't go into mirror mode when you turn it past a given point, a feature that may please makers of camera housings for underwater use, which sometimes require such control.

The GL2 retains its predecessor's excellent 20X zoom lens. Included accessories.

Looking at the GL2 feature set side by side with that of its larger sibling, you might suspect that you're practically getting an XL1S in a smaller package. Well, aside from the XL1S's interchangeable lens and viewfinder and higher-performance image stabilization, you just about are. And when the fixed optics on the smaller camera come from a company with the heritage of Canon, you're not likely to be disappointed. The 20X zoom lens, which the GL2 inherited from the GL1, not only offers magnification on a scale no other manufacturer offers in a fixed-lens prosumer camera, it also helps produce superb color fidelity. We wish only for a manual zoom ring set behind the existing focus ring.

You can monitor your audio levels on the indicator window.
The GL2 generally lived up to our high expectations for its performance. Its autoexposure responds accurately to lighting changes, though not as quickly as we'd like (the VX2000 fell similarly short). Autofocus performs admirably, even at the far end of the zoom range, which is an improvement on our experience with the XL1S's 16X optical zoom. Unlike the XL1S, though, the GL2 has a manual focus ring that can't override its autofocus, and there's no override button to quickly reset focus to infinity when the camera loses focus lock or inappropriately focuses on a foreground object.
The zoom motor is operable for traditional shooting with a right-side-mounted rocker switch, for very low shots with a top-handle-mounted set of buttons, and with the remote control. We found the rocker switch very easy to control and quite smooth, and the camera's variable zoom settings let you control how quickly the zoom motor accelerates in response to your touch.

We were unsatisfied with the capacity of the supplied battery and believe you'll probably find yourself seeking a more powerful cell.

Input/output ports.

The GL2's audio recording system includes meters and dials for separate control over two audio channels, with an option to add an adapter compatible with professional XLR terminated microphones. That option makes the GL2 look somewhat like the VX2000's DVCAM counterpart, the PD150a; however, Canon's optional audio adapter does not provide so-called phantom power--the mic you attach to it must be self-powered. Both zoom motor and tape transport were quiet, so as not to contaminate the sound track. Unfortunately, the mic is nearly omnidirectional. We wish the onboard stereo condenser microphone offered more sound rejection to the rear of the camera, rarely a place from which you want sound.
The 2.5-inch, flip-out LCD color screen mimics the one found on the VX2000, although this one wasn't very visible in direct sunlight. We found the EVF sharp and easy to use.

The GL2 comes with a large eyecup attachment to make the viewfinder easier to see in bright light, and you can adjust its focus with the diopter lever underneath, too.You can store only six high-resolution photos on the supplied 8MB SD memory card, so you'll probably need to purchase a larger one.

The GL2 produces pristine images and superior color fidelity within the limits of the DV medium. It stands toe-to-toe with Sony's VX2000 in this regard. Unlike Canon's XL1S, whose low-light performance faltered in our tests, the GL2 is every bit as good as the VX2000 under low-light conditions, producing noise-free blacks and handling candlelight with aplomb. This is likely the result of the new, higher-resolution CCDs Canon employs in the GL2 (380,000 effective pixels per CCD for the GL2 versus 250,000 for the XL1S), coupled with another step forward in Canon's pixel-shift technology and its fluorite lens. Canon claims fluorite helps prevent color aberrations that reduce sharpness, contrast, and saturation. We can't judge that claim, but we can say the GL2's color fidelity seemed superior even to the VX2000's high performance. The GL2 surprised us by resolving noticeable detail in cloud formations beset with glare--detail invisible to our unaided eyes.

The GL2 captures sharp video with a pleasingly warm tone.
Our reference to the limits of the DV medium denotes that the usual sources of artifacts remain. If you are videotaping high-contrast or exceptionally bright objects, you'll note diagonal lines moving across the highlights. The red brake lights of New York City cabs against their yellow paint were just one place we saw this problem. But we have yet to see a DV camera overcome it.

Even in low light, the camera produces vivid colors with little noise.
Stills are another part of the GL2 story deserving a mention. At 1.7 megapixels, photos saved to the supplied SD memory card media are quite usable, although they don't compare in quality to the output from a good dedicated still camera with equivalent resolution. The GL2's maximum still resolution of 1,488x1,128 leaves both the VX2000's 640x480 shots and the DV-tape-quality stills from Canon's own XL1S far behind.

Canon GL2

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8