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:

  1. Canon XA10
  2. JVC GY-HM150U
  3. Sony NEX-VG10
  4. Panasonic AG-HMC80

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.



  1. Thanks for the article. Can you help us with more comparison info? We are also considering changing from the GL2 to the XA10. The experience we have is when we compare new HD camcorders (Canon HMF300, and T2i) to the picture quality of the old GL2, the zoomed in GL2 is much more clear (less noise and crisper) than the new HD camcorders! Especially in lower light the GL2 still is far better with it’s lower resolution than the new HD units. The XA10 is supposed to have the prosumer chip and be better quality. In your experience how does the XA10 picture quality zoomed in lower light compare to the GL2?

  2. Thank, Mark, for your question that I’m just now getting to (sorry for the delay). I’m certain that you have made your decision by now but after my experience with the XA10 I feel that it is just a glorified Vixia upgrade. For a better video experience I would upgrade to the XF105 at the very least. The XA10 is just too consumer like for me without any real professional features.
    Along with the Canon line of cameras I am looking into testing out a JVC and Panasonic model in the same price range to see how they compare.

  3. I just bought a used gl2 on craigslist for $300 and I must say i am pretty pleased even with it being as old as it is. I was just wondering what settings you would recommend for recording a show.

  4. I still use mine as often as I can. While I don’t like having to spend the time to dump the tape back to digital for editing I just have not found anything currently under $4000 with which to replace the GL2. I have often looked into get one of these: DataVideo HD but am waiting for the price to come down
    I normally use manual white balance, digital zoom off, normal for movie mode.
    Under custom mode I use the normal settings and do color adjustment in post when compared to other cameras. (Canon is not known for having the best color in this class)
    Then depending on the venue or event I may shoot in manual put usually I shoot in AV mode.

    Feel free to ask any additional question and don’t forget to LIKE me at SpaceAge

  5. Awesome. I’m running mine through a USB capturecard straight into my laptop with an external hard drive. Seems to work good for the time being seeing as though I dont have a fire wire port and the capture card was $10 on amazon

  6. Hi Robert: Thanks so much for replying. We haven’t actually made our purchase yet. Since it is three cameras to replace G2(s), a new switcher to replace our datavideo, and other associated equipment, we are slowly and carefully weighing out the options. Something new on the table is the Canon Canon HF G20 (and wide angle 25). They are touted as having the “prosumer” sensor. Have you had the opportunity to compare or see the G2 with the new G20? The pricepoint of $1100.00 is a definite draw. However, there is still the challenge of matching the image quality of the G2.

  7. I intend to rent this camera once LensRentals.com has it in stock so that I can give it a work out and see how it does. I recently used my HF M301 along with my GL2 and 60D to shoot a video. The side shots are done with the HF M301, which only has a 1/4 CMOS processor, and works well so I would have high hopes for the G20.
    That price point IS attractive and the JVC GC-PX100 is another device in that same range that will get my attention. As soon as I can get either one I will be creating a review.

  8. Robert, great to hear you are planning a rental and review. I look forward to reading it and getting your opinion. I have high hopes too but from past comparisons the GL2 is surprisingly hard to beat.

  9. […] Lensrentals.com is a company that I have used in the past as when I was able to write the article about the Canon XA10. So I went to their site to see if they list the JVC GC-PX100  or something in its class as being […]

  10. BTW – I did end up renting the JVC GC-PX100 and was not impressed. Review to follow along with some sample video. The high speed recording is a pure gimmick which is unfortunate.

  11. Did anyone ever come to a conclusion?
    I am looking at the Vixia HF G30 but have my doubts about it. I often zoom in with the GL2 to a spot where something is about to happen, then push the manual focus button to lock the focus. These itouch-screens may be OK on a cell phone but there are places where a button is the only way to go.

  12. I made progress by downloading the manual for the HF G30 and reading it. Yes it is easy to switch to manual focus, and many other options. The normal Auto/Manual focus button is inside the LCD door but the button can be re-assigned to one of the outside buttons. There are 5 assignable buttons. This is the camera I chose to replace my GL2. The touch screen actually looks useful (touch a spot and lighten the exposure for instance). 20x optical zoom. There is an ND filter that is automatic, not sure if it is manually controllable.
    My DM-50 microphone from the GL2 will not work with it (different shoe, it needs the DM-100), I will try the WD-58 wide adapter from the GL2 but it may not work if zoomed from wide. I know my cheap fisheye only works at full wide zoom on the GL2 but the WD-58 can be zoomed. The correct wide lens is the WA-H58.
    Thanks to all above and others for all the useful info.

  13. There is an external battery charger as well. It is made by Canon and is supposed to charge all 800 series batteries.
    Canon CG-800 Charger Adapter at about $50 US

  14. I used the professional version of the G30 (XA20 which is basically the same except for the added XLR handle) and I found it to be a much better camera than the XA10. The touchscreen is still not a great way to access menu options but the camera handles very well and the pictures it takes are great.

  15. For anyone reading this be very careful which model you get quotes on. Canon also made (discontinued now) a VIXIA HF S30 which is a completely different camera with a 10x optical zoom vs 20x for the HF G30. What a difference one letter makes.

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