The Canon GL1
DV Camcorder

A Platypus Field Review
by Dirck Halstead

Canon, more than any other manufacturer of still and video cameras, has listened carefully to the market, and they've heard what professionals want and need. Considering the time lapse between estimating what we want, and being able to deliver it to us when we want it--their efforts have been exceptional.

Eighteen months ago, we reviewed the Canon XL-1 camcorder. It was, and remains, the premier tool for serious videojournalists. It's batting average, going up against $50,000 plus Betacams for broadcast use, has been phenomenal. In the months ahead, you can expect an improved version of this camera, which will only solidify Canon's lead.

In the meantime, for those professional photojournalists who wanted to add digital video to their toolbox, the big problem has been the sheer size of the instrument. As wonderful as the XL-1 is, it's still tough to imagine a photojournalist carrying their normal complement of cameras, lenses, and all the other stuff they need for daily coverage, then adding a video camera. What we need is a camera small enough to tuck into a camera bag, but still able to deliver broadcast quality (which means using a 3 CCD camera).

The GL-1 is aimed at this market. At 3 5/8 lbs., it can easily be stowed in a Domke bag, along with the strobe and meters. Yet, its operating capability is broadcast quality. It has a flip-out 2.5" LCD screen that offers wonderful options. Not only does it allow the camera to be used as a player, in tandem with a nonlinear edit system, using firewire (gee, you don't suppose the "G" designation had anything to do with the Apple G4 do you?), but also makes possible a fluidity of motion from the perspective of the operator that beats the commonly used eyepiece.

It takes standard Mini DV cassettes, and in our tests, it is hard to tell the difference between tape shot on the XL-1 and the Gl-1. 

For any serious videojournalist, you must take into account a simple proposition: all "prosumer" cameras are very likely to fail. There is a difference between the robustness of a Betacam and the best DV cameras on the prosumer level. They WILL fail, and per Murphy's Law, they will do it at the worst possible time. On a shoot for ABC News  Nightline, my XL-1 blew a main power chip halfway through the shoot, and I was on the island of Capri. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a PAL mini-DV to finish the shoot, but it taught me a lesson. Never again will I undertake a major shoot without a backup camera. The GL-1 is perfect for this. It takes very little space, but when push comes to shove, it can work like a real pro.

The camera uses the same batteries as the XL-1, and by using the "pro" lithium-ion 2700mAh battery, I was able to run through almost a full hour of tape without replacement. The camera uses 3 1/4 inch chips each delivering 250,000 effective pixels. This is opposed to the three 1/3 inch chips in the XL-1.

One of the stellar points of the camera is the fluorite 20x lens (it says 100x on the side, but that's with digital enhancement). Canon pioneered in fluorite lenses in the 1970s, and the quality of the optics is simply stunning. It would be difficult to find, among the expensive C-mount broadcast lenses (Canon included), one with a sharper picture. Canon expects to introduce wide-angle adapters soon.

There are two major problems with the camera, however. The first, is in the field of audio. The dinky onboard mic simply won't cut it for broadcast use. When interviewing a subject, on the street, at a distance of three feet, the audio quality is not up to broadcast specs. Strangely enough, Canon has the capability to come up with a fix. They introduced a tiny stereo zoom mic for the old L2, Hi8 camera, which they continue to sell for the Optura--an incredible mic for its size. It measures up favorably with Senheisser MK66, which is a broadcast standard mic. For some reason, Canon has lost track of this mic, and it would be an ideal companion for the GL-1. But first, they have to lengthen the two-pole connecting cord, which now is too short to connect the camera and mic when it is placed in the shoe. Even if you want to use a Senheisser or similar broadcast mic, the small size of the camera makes it problematic where to put it. Our Videosmith, Steve Smith, will soon be making accessories available to solve these problems. (Videosmith is at

The other problem is, there is no way to generate "bars." They are the color spectrum representations generated by every professional broadcast camera. They are indispensable in the setup of edit systems--especially nonlinear. Many broadcast editors will not accept a tape without bars--sure proof of an amateur. Prosumer camera manufacturers for some reason have included bars as an option, but kept it a secret. For example, it is possible to generate bars on an XL-1 by going to the "green" mode on the power select dial, then holding down both shutter buttons on the handle. You can do it on a Sony DSR200 or VX1000 by turning the camera off, then holding down both photo and video buttons simultaneously, then powering back up. This is a very valuable feature on any camera intended for professional use--Canon opted for it.

Which brings us to a reality facing manufacturers, whether they are in the camera or computer industry. It is now possible to make equipment, sold at consumer-level prices and capable of producing a professional end-product. If there is a mind-set which says, "well, only professionals would be interested in these features, even though they don't cost us anything more," they are VERY wrong. This market has shifted.

Bottom line: the Canon GL-1 is a terrific piece of equipment, at a very affordable price.

The Platypus applauds.

The Canon GL-1 can be ordered from VIDEOSMITH at VIDEOSMITH is an official Platypus Resource Center.

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