Canon GL2 Mini DV Camcorder Review

The Canon GL2, one of the most anticipated new video cameras this year, is the successor to the popular GL1. Like a warm bowl of porridge, the GL2 is just right – not too small, not too expensive and yet it has nearly all of the features most advanced users will ever need. For serious hobbyists and professionals looking for a no-compromise fully manual camcorder that weighs in at less than three pounds, the 3-CCD GL2 is one of only a few cameras you must consider in your research.

Amazing Audio

Our favorite new features on the GL2 are aural. As you’ve no doubt read before in these pages, we are sometimes disappointed that audio is such a secondary concern to camcorder manufacturers. Indeed, use of a decent microphone is a good indicator that someone has made the transition from beginner to intermediate videographer. You might then understand why the new audio features on the GL2 excited us so much.

With two channels of balanced XLR inputs (via an optional adapter: $250), a 1/8-inch minijack for unbalanced stereo and two levels of signal attenuation, this camera is ready for most audio sources. A prominent switch lets you turn the AGC on and off, and two small wheels make level adjustments simple. Of course, the headphone jack allows you to monitor the audio signal, but, more importantly, you can objectively judge the strength of the audio with the LCD level meters on the side of the camera. You can also refer to the full-color (white [nominal], green [strong], yellow [warning], red [clipping]) level meters on the LCD panel, or use the full-color ones in the viewfinder. With clipping indicators and the ability to adjust the noise floor (in 3dB increments), the GL2 does audio right. And that’s reason enough to get excited about this camcorder.

Fully Manual

The rest of the improvements to the GL2 are solid, incremental changes over the excellent GL1. Externally, Canon rearranged the buttons a bit, but not so much that GL1 users will have any serious problems. The mode dial on the GL1 that allowed you to switch from automatic to manual modes with a single spin has been replaced with an only slightly less convenient push-and-turn on-screen menu. Likewise, the Exposure and Select wheels now function with a push-and-turn action, instead of just a spin. Our natural resistance to change makes us want to criticize this more strongly, but we have to admit that we got used to the new buttons very quickly.

The most clever new control is the programmable CSTM (custom) key, which you can set to toggle on and off 11 possible options, including image stabilization and zebra stripes. Strangely, pushing the CSTM key for Mike Attenuation brings up a menu, even though it is an ON/OFF toggle feature. There is also a CSTM Preset key that recalls your custom picture settings, such as color gain and sharpness.

To help set the exposure, you can set the GL2 zebra stripes anywhere from 80 to 100 IRE (by increments of 5), depending on your preferences. In addition, a simple but effective light meter gives you instant feedback on your overall exposure. The camcorder comes standard with one of Canon’s smaller (BP-915) Li-ion batteries. While we didn’t do extensive duration tests, three batteries were enough to get us through an entire day on the test bench. Fortunately, you can disable the power-save mode on the camera, so that the camera will not shut off automatically during extensive pauses on a shoot, whether or not a tape is inserted. Smartly, the camera does disengage the tape mechanism after five minutes of inactivity, thus preventing damage to the tape.

The Proof is in the Picture

Other miscellaneous features that we liked include: the noticeably sharper LCD (although it was physically flimsy and relatively small), the excellent optical image stabilization, the user-selectable zoom speeds (can be different from the handle to the grip), the interval timer and, of course, frame movie mode. In the end though, the quality of the video is the true measure of a camcorder, and the GL2 came through here as well. Besides impressing us overall as we shot in a number of different situations, our objective resolution tests show that this camera and lens is very definitely approaching the theoretical upper limits for Mini DV camcorders. It was in these picture quality tests that we really appreciated the manual picture Sharpness control. Some people like a little softer image, while the resolution tests benefited from cranking the sharpness all the way up.

With this camcorder it is pretty hard to find anything to complain about in terms of image quality when you have so many manual options that will allow you to get the shot just right, at least according to your own personal artistic sensibilities.

With beautiful imaging and crystal audio, the GL2 is one camera we recommend without hesitation.


Format: Mini DV

Lens: fl=4.2 to 84mm; f/1.6-2.9; 20:1 optical zoom, 58mm filter

Canon Professional L-Series Fluorite Lens

Image Sensors: 3 (three) – 1/4-inch CCDs; 410,000 pixels

Image Stabilization: optical

Viewfinder: .44-inch color (180,000 pixels)

LCD viewscreen: 2.5-inch color (200,000 pixels)

Focus: auto, manual

Maximum shutter speed: 1/15,000 sec.

Exposure control: auto, full manual

Iris control: auto, manual

White balance: auto, manual

Inputs: FireWire, S-video, composite,

RCA audio, 1/8″ mini

Outputs: FireWire, S-video, composite,

RCA audio, USB, headphone

Edit interface: LANC, FireWire

Other features: 8MB MMC (memory card),

1.7 megapixel stills (1,488X1,128), Frame Movie mode

Dimensions: 4 5/8 (h) x 5 3/8 (w) x 12 (d) inches

Weight (sans tape and battery): 2 lbs. 7 1/2 oz.

Performance Times

Pause to Record: 0.89 sec.

Power-up to Record: 5.10 sec.

Fast-forward/Rewind (60 min. tape): 2 min. 18 sec.

Tested Horizontal Resolution: 515 lines


  • Superb audio
  • Fully manual options
  • Excellent exposure control


  • LCD seems flimsy


Awesome audio, vivid video and fantastic flexibility make this camcorder an outstanding option.


One Canon Place

Lake Success, NY 11042

(800) 828-4040


The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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