Cameras  - the Canon GL series camcorders

TV-1 eases students into the world of photography using some of the smallest cameras on the market. Fortunately, we start out easy, using cameras from the Canon GL series. These consumer camcorders take professional broadcast-quality images using the mini-DV format. Camera work begins with learning about the types of shots that can be edited into a compelling sequence. Eventually students will be able to produce broadcast quality video that can be used in news packages or even documentaries. 

The Canon GL series produces broadcast-quality images for the demanding creative videographer who wants the right tool for the right job! Whether you’re shooting for news, documentary, TV adverts or corporate video, the GL series is ideally suited to meet your production challenge!

This camera has a wealth of features that offer the highest level of control for your video production needs -- the must-have for the person looking for a camera that compliments their creative vision!


Before you learn how to operate the camera, take a moment to know what not to do. Having to send the camera out for repairs will deprive others of its use.  

A few don’t’s:

  • DON’T LEAVE THE CAMERA IN YOUR CAR (could get stolen or be subjected to extreme temperatures)
  • DON’T LEAVE THE CAMERA UNATTENDED, EVEN FOR ONLY A FEW MOMENTS (always take the camera with you whether it’s to class, the café, or to a cash machine)
  • DON’T LET FRIENDS OR RELATIVES BORROW THE CAMERA. This camera is for TV-1 students only!

Right! Now that we got that business out of the way, let's learn how to operate this camera!

Camera On Power Switch

To power up the cameras, there is a Power switch on top where you can select CAMERA mode (for operating the camera in normal photography). You can also switch to VCR mode to play back your recordings.

The playback controls (for Play, Rewind, Fast-forward, etc.) are located in a compartment set within the carrying grip.

Loading and Unloading the Cassette

In the GL1 Slide the EJECT button to release the outer tape compartment cover. Then press the EJECT button to open the inner cassette compartment. In the GL2 all you need to do is slide the OPEN/EJECT switch to open both the outer compartment and the inner cassette compartment. Insert the tape with the tape window facing out. Once you’ve loaded the cassette, press the PUSH label on the cassette compartment until it clicks. Wait for the compartment to retract automatically before closing the compartment cover. Don’t interfere with the cassette compartment while it’s opening or closing automatically, or attempt to close the cover before the cassette compartment has fully retracted. 


To view what you just recorded without having to leave CAMERA mode, use the REC SEARCH buttons located just above the pull out LCD viewfinder. Pressing the + or – buttons enables you to view the last few seconds of your recording and to cue the tape to a point where you can begin a new recording.


IMPORTANT: The timecode you record on tape should be continuous and unbroken. When cuing tapes to begin a new recording, make sure that the camera picks up from the last timecode you recorded rather than being parked on blank (un-recorded) tape. Otherwise, the timecode resets to zero and you will end up with duplicate timecodes on your tape. Not only will this hamper your ability to log the tape, but a timecode break could also impede the computer’s ability to capture video. It’s probably best that you don’t make a habit of previewing your recording until you’ve completed the shoot. However, if you must review the recording, make sure that when you re-cue the tape that it’s parked solidly on established timecode and not a blank area. 


To begin recording in camera mode, select CAMERA on the power switch. The Start/Stop button for recording is located on the right side of the camera at the side grip (the big red button).



There is a duplicate button on top of the camera embedded on the carrying handle. You can use this button for low angle recording. When not in use there is a lock switch positioned on the side of the carrying handle to prevent accidental operation while carrying the camera.


To operate the recording button, make sure that the button is positioned in STANDBY mode. On the GL1 there is a MOVIE MODE button above the Recording button.

The MOVIE MODE should be switched to NORMAL mode. In the GL2 there is a similar button above the red recording button on the side grip. Make sure this button is switched to TAPE.  


Camera Mode Selection

For most shooting situations, you can use the “A” mode for automatic, which allows you to control functions such as exposure, white balance, and focus in the Automatic mode.

      -- On the GL1, set the AE Mode selector wheel to "A" for Automatic.

      -- Preferably, you want to set the mode to "M" for Manual.

-- On the GL2, make sure the program selector switch is in “P” (program mode).  Then select what mode you want to use from the menu accessible at the back of the camera.

The menu thumbwheel immediately behind the “P” mode switch must be pressed first to access the menu options. From the menu items, dial to the AUTO mode and press the thumbwheel to select.

IMPORTANT: Do not use the "Easy Recording" mode (the green square on the GL1), or you will not be able to use manual focus.  Do not shoot in auto focus unless you are shooting fast-moving action.


The Auto Focus buttons are located behind the lens on the left side of the camera. Pressing the buttons will enable you to switch between AF (Automatic Focus) and MF (Manual Focus). When in MF mode, you will see MF in the viewfinder. Assume that you’re in AF (Automatic Focus) when the MF text doesn’t appear in the viewfinder.



When using manual focus, first zoom in on your subject all the way. Then focus the image by turning the focus ring on the lens. Once the image is in sharp focus, zoom back out and compose your shot.

Neutral Density (ND) Filter

ND helps reduce light entering the lens under bright conditions, such as bright, sunny skies. Think of the ND filter as a pair of sunglasses for the camera lens. However, when you’re shooting indoors you need to turn off the ND filter, otherwise your images will be under-exposed. The ND filter button is located on the left side of the camera behind the lens. When ND is selected you will see “ND”  appear in the viewfinder.

Rule of Thumb: Use the ND filter when outside under bright conditions. Turn off the ND filter when shooting indoors.



For more control over exposure and shutter speed, shoot in Manual.    

The Canon GL1 has a manual setting on its camera mode selection wheel (AE Mode Settings). Select M for Manual to control the exposure, letting in more or less light. The EXPOSURE thumbwheel is located just behind the lens on the left side of the camera.



Shutter Speed

Manual mode also allows you to set the camera’s Shutter Speed. This setting comes in handy when shooting sports events. Fast-moving action may appear blurred under low shutter speeds. For instance, imagine fan blades as they’re spinning. You can’t see the individual blades until you increase the shutter speed. When you increase to a certain point, the individual fan blades become visible. That’s because the faster shutter speed matches the cycles per second frequency of the fan’s rotation. You can see the same effect in helicopter blades. But when you want to see athletes on the field running to the finish line, increasing the shutter speed helps you avoid seeing their legs as a mere blur.


To select the Shutter speed, press the EXPOSURE thumbwheel until the shutter numbers in the viewfinder are selected. The numbers appear in increments from 1/60 of a second up to 1/15,000. However, keep in mind that as you increase shutter speed, the light entering the lens gets reduced. To compensate, you’ll need to open the aperture more. Find a happy medium between selecting the correct exposure and using the right shutter speed. Under most conditions, a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second is acceptable. However, under low-light conditions you will need to reduce the shutter speed to 1/60th of a second, which also matches the cycles per second frequency of many common fluorescent lights.


CAUTION: The GL2 is capable of using a shutter speed less than 1/60th. Do not shoot at less than 1/60th of a second, or your video will contain excessive motion blurs, looking like something from a low-bandwidth YouTube video.  (The GL1 does not go below 1/60th.)

Gain Control

When shooting under low light conditions, it’s important that you allow as much light to enter the lens as possible. Therefore, the aperture will be open all the way and the shutter speed reduced to 1/60th of a second. But if the image still appears under-exposed, you have the option of using the Gain controls. Gain simply increases the strength of the video signal, allowing you to see more detail in the image. However, gain also comes with a cost – the more you increase the gain, the more “noise” shows up in your image, making it appear grainy. Again, you’ll need to use your best judgment, depending on the circumstances.

To select Gain, press the EXPOSURE thumbwheel until the Gain in the viewfinder is selected, which is a number followed by dB (the decibel unit that measures gain. Under most lighting circumstances, you can leave the Gain at 0dB, but you can take it up to 12dB.

Check the menu to make sure it is set up properly (see the glossary of terms for descriptions of specific features).  The menu on both cameras is accessible on the back.  Press MENU and then use the dial below it to make your selection.


Most important MENU features to remember:

  • 16:9 – make sure it's turned off (!!!)
  • Wind Screen – turn off unless shooting in very windy conditions (!!!)
  • Mic Att – keep turned off, unless you're shooting in very loud conditions (!!!)
  • Audio Mode – 16 bit, always (!!!)   This must be checked on the GL1, not the GL2
  • Make sure the D/T (date/time) display is turned off (!!!)
  • Tape speed should always be SP for Standard Play. LP (Long Play) won’t play back on some machines in our edit bay.


  • Make sure the ND filter is turned off unless you are shooting in very bright light!
  • Make sure the "photo" button isn't selected, or it will shoot still pictures.


AE Modes

The GL1 is equipped with a camera mode (AE Mode Settings) wheel that allows you to select from Easy Mode to Spotlight. In most cases, you’ll want to use M (Manual), which allows you more control over the exposure and shutter speed. But you can experiment with the other modes if you wish, depending on what it is you want to shoot.

  • Auto (denoted by the A in the box) – this setting is much like Easy Recording mode. The camera automatically controls camera adjustments allowing you to simply point and shoot. However, in Auto mode, you have the option of adjusting the settings manually, especially the focus.
  • Tv (Shutter Priority) – this mode is perhaps most useful when shooting sports. The shutter priority allows you to change the shutter speed while the camera will automatically set a matching aperture setting. Shutter speed is useful when shooting sports and objects that are moving fast. The faster the shutter speed, the less you’ll see motion blur in your object.
  • Av (Aperture Priority) – this mode allows you to select aperture settings (f-stops) to get the proper exposure while the camcorder automatically sets a matching shutter speed. This mode allows for the best control of depth of field when you want your foreground subjects to stand out from the background.
  • M (Manual) – this mode offers the creative freedom of a complete range of manual controls. In Manual, options exist to set the exposure at any combination of shutter speed and aperture levels.



The GL1 has two other modes in the AE settings. One is SAND AND SNOW, which is designed to prevent dark, underexposed subjects in situations with bright backgrounds--commonly found in sandy and snowy areas. Lastly, there’s the SPOTLIGHT mode, which automatically adjusts the exposure to effectively record images and/or subjects lit by a spotlight or other concentrated light source. NOTE: the AE Mode settings for the GL2 are available in the Menu.


Audio Settings

Use the external microphone for interviews and stand-ups. The camera’s on-board, built-in mic should be used for natural sounds (NATS).

Astonishingly, the GL1 isn’t equipped with any means to adjust the audio manually. This problem was rectified when the GL2 came out.

The GL2 camera is equipped with 2 audio thumbwheels at the back to adjust Channels 1 & 2.  What’s also useful is that the GL2’s viewfinder displays both audio channels to help guide your manual adjustment.

To adjust the audio manually on the GL2, switch the AUDIO REC LEVEL BUTTON from A (Automatic) to M (Manual). Adjust the audio levels by moving the thumb-wheel, and note where the levels appear on the audio meter display either in the viewfinder or on the meter on the left side of the camera. Adjust the thumb-wheel for each channel so that the levels don't go much beyond the -12 dB range.

The GL2 also has an audio meter built into the side of the camera.

IMPORTANT: Always use headphones to monitor the quality of the audio, making sure that it is free distortions.

White Balance

Both the GL1 and the GL2 have manual white balance controls, if you wish to use them. The automatic white balance still delivers a fine picture. White balance becomes necessary if the whites in your shot look either too blue or too yellow, depending on whether you’re outdoors or indoors.


 To white balance manually, point the camera at something white and zoom in until the entire field of view is filled with white. In the WHITE BALANCE button track just below the pull-out LCD viewfinder, press SELECT. Pressing this button repeatedly allows you to cycle through different white balance modes in the viewfinder. The modes are indicated in the viewfinder as icons – a “light bulb” icon for indoor settings; a “sun” icon for outdoors; and the “white balance” icon for manual selection. When an icon doesn’t appear, the white balance is automatic.


The camera has a stabilizer on it to help you get steadier shots when not using a tripod.  The stabilizer is the hand icon on the bottom of the camera on the GL1, and “Image S” found in the GL2’s menu.  The hand icon will appear in the display when the stabilizer is on.

Note: Turn the stabilizer off when using the tripod.  Plan to shoot most of your shots on the tripod! However, if you must shoot hand-held, use the widest possible angle (zoom out all the way), which will help reduce the appearance of vibrations in the camera.


You will notice buttons on the camera called DE or D. EFFECTS. Simply, the Digital Effects allow you to add fades, remove the colour, stretch the image, or even add a strobe effect to your shot. Once recorded, these effects cannot be removed. You can always add effects during the edit stage so don’t even bother using this function.

Glossary of Terms/Camera Special Features

The following are in the camera menu, with descriptions of their functions:

  • Zebra pattern -- Diagonal stripes appear in display to highlight overexposed areas.  Will not show up on the videotape. 
  •  "D. Effect" in menu means digital effects.  Turn off for most shooting.* 
  •  "D. Zoom" -- Digital zoom.  See handout packet.
  •  AE Shift -- Stands for "automatic exposure".  See handout packet.
  •  16:9 -- Will shoot video in wide-screen ratio.  On regular screens, will put black bars at the top and bottom.  Don't shoot in this mode!
  •   C. Sharpness -- Camera sharpness.  Use the default setting.* 
  •  C. Phase -- Camera color phase.  Use the default setting.* 
  •   WL. Remote -- Wireless remote.  Plan on not using it!
  •  Tally Lamp -- Should be on, unless for some reason you do not want someone to know you are recording.  (Be mindful of the ethical implications of this!)
  •   Rec Mode -- Record mode.  Keep in SP (standard speed).
  •   Wind Screen -- Should only be used in very windy conditions, or the microphone will not pick up as much!  Will not work with the external microphone.
  •   Mic Att -- Stands for microphone attenuator.  Only use in very noisy conditions!
  •   Audio Mode -- Always use 16 bit audio for the highest sound quality.