Canon XA10 – It’s no GL2 Upgrade…July 27, 2012
It may be strange to compare a 10 year old Standard Definition, Tape based camera to a current gen HD, SD card based (with 64GB internal memory) camera but bare with me for a moment.
When the Canon GL2 was released in 2002 for a retail price of around $2400 it was the successor to the GL1 but because of the many improvements the GL2 became wildly popular. At the time there were no 3 CCD cameras in that price range especially not with features that rivaled bigger, more expensive camera. While it lacked interchangeable lenses and XLR inputs it’s size, L class 20x lens and rock solid performance made it a hit. The GL2, along with the Sony DCR-VX2000 ushered in a golden age of “Prosumer”
After working with one a project back in 2002 I convinced an investor to help me buy one (thanks mom) and have used it to record weddings, concerts, videos, plays, recitals, trips to the beach, air shows, blah-blah. You name it and I’ve captured it with my GL2. But 10 years is a loooong time in technology years (sort of but not quite like dog years). I was getting weary of time spent dumping down from tapes and problems associated with bad tapes. I did buy a DSLR but with it’s limitations it doesn’t work well recording a whole concert. Time to research a replacement for the venerable GL2.
Wanting to stay at my same price point of 10 years ago (~$2500) I had the following to choose from:
There are a few other model but they didn’t fit a few criteria I was looking for.
There are no retail stores close to me that will allow me to view and try out any of these models. Since a major concert was coming up I decided to rent a XA10 and give it a test run. I came across a great equipment rental company of the web (Lensrental.com) and found what I needed (along with a few things I will be trying out later) and placed my order. Kudos to Lensrental.com as the item came on time, with everything I needed for a flawless experience. I even tried out their online Chat communication with some questions and I am completely satisfied with my experience.
I rented the XA10 for 4 days even though I only needed it for a Saturday concert to give myself time to test it out and get familiar with it. As soon as I took it out the box I knew this was no GL2 replacement. At first glance the only thing that separates the XA10 from the Canon Vixia consumer line of cameras is the XLR inputs on the handle. The XA10 is tiny, about one-third the size of a GL2 and half the size of an XH-A1 or XF100. It didn’t even seem to register on my tripod and I had to practice to avoid overshooting my target during pans and tilts.
The XA10 has few buttons because it is using touch screen technology, this means menu hunting to find a way to change certain options. To be fair the GL2 has a menu system as well that is accessed by one button/toggle switch and some had found that to be troublesome compared to more advanced cameras.
One great source of disappoint for me on the XA10 was the weak 10x optical zoom lens. It is a 30.4 to 305mm equivalent to a 35mm camera as opposed to the 20x zoom of the GL2 which was great selling point to me a decade ago. (I *never* used digital zoom while recording). IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) this class of camera needs more than a 10x optical zoom.
A quick search of other cameras in the $2000 – 2500 price range reveal ~10x is the norm. sigh)
Video quality is not as robust as I would have hoped for. Utilizing a single 1/3 inch CMOS sensor (same as the XF100 & 105 – for a comparison view this Philip Bloom review). The XA10 does not shoot nearly as well in low light as I would like and even in manual mode I could not find the option to open the iris further or lower the shutter speed.
The biggest issue I had with the XA10, however, is the so called Auto Mode. While in Auto Mode it seems that nothing could be adjusted; most menu options were greyed out. It was more like a Dummy Mode than an Auto and even options that should have been accessible, such as choosing whether to record to internal memory or SDHC card was greyed out. I found that mode utterly useless.
Perhaps I was expecting too much from the XA10. I’m just surprised at how far backwards we have gone while claiming progress. Next up I will test the XF100 and others in the next price range.