for high school football
I have been doing highlight films for my son's high school. I'm up for buying a new camera, I love the features and looks of the xl2. Do I go for one or go for GL2, VX2100, or the Sony HD camera? (I think I wanna stay away from HD for a few years, dont wanna upgrade computer system)
You've mentioned a lot of different cameras and they all have their individual strengths and weaknesses, so it really boils down to what features are going to be the most beneficial to you for covering the football shoot.
On the plus side, the Canon XL2/GL2 both have 20x zoom lenses, great for getting close to the action on the field. No other cameras you mentioned have the zoom capabilities that these two have. Of the two, the GL2 is easier for handheld work because it's smaller and lighter than the XL2, but you'll have less picture shake with the XL2 because it IS heavier and that makes for a steadier shot when used handheld or on a brace. Unless you're not using a lot of zoom, because the wider the shot the less visible the camera shake is. The XL2 will give you a a cleaner and sharper picture than the GL2 and it's better in low light situations as well. These two cameras have stereo mics right from the factory, giving you a great sound to go along with the picture.
On the minus side, overall the XL2/GL2 are not so good in low light situations compared to the other choices you mentioned. When you start zooming in to a tight shot with these cameras the iris will start to close down and that will decrease the light coming through the lens even more. Will you be shooting night games? The image stabilization of both these cameras is about half as good as the Sonys you mentioned, so if you're doing a lot of handheld work with a lot of zoom dialed in this becomes an issue.
Are you confused yet? Wait, it gets better.
None of the Sonys you mentioned have more than a 12x zoom, which is a problem videotaping people running around on a field that's a hundred yards long. But the Sony VX2100 has great low light capabilities, the DSR-PD170 is even better. When I need to shoot in low light and I don't want to blind someone with my on-camera light I'll put down my XL2 or GL2 and reach for my PD170 every time. How much better is it in low light? In order to get the same exposure from the GL2 I'd have to crank up the picture gain to +12 or +18 to equal the PD170 shooting at zero gain. And the PD170 goes to +18 gain too. And the GL2 would be recording picture noise to boot. But all things being equal, and if you have control of the lighting, I like the picture from the XL2/GL2 better than the Sony PD170. I could explain why the Sonys are better in low light but that's another phone call :) And don't forget that the Image stabilization of the Sonys are twice as good as the Canons. This means you can move/shake your Sony twice as much before the picture starts to show it. It makes a difference.
The Sony FX1/Z1U HDV series of cameras are still only 12x zoom and don't come close to the VX2100/PD170 with regard to shooting in low light. But don't stop yourself from buying one of these because you're not ready to shoot HD yet. You can still capture to your Windows machine in standard def via firewire the same as any other SD camera, with the option to capture HDV later when you're ready, as along as you've kept your source tapes. The only reason I didn't buy two Z1U's last spring is because of the 12x zoom thing. And you'd love the HD picture of these cameras.
I have been shooting my sons high school football games for two years now with the Canon XL2 ( I have a GL2 as well ). The coaching staff says it is the best footage on tape they see in our league. Most of our games are at night and I have no problems with exposure for the lighting conditions and getting a very good result. At the most I have needed was to boost the gain 3db, a minimal impact on the picture quality that no one even would notice. I shoot from the roof top photobooths normally and I mount the camera on a tripod. I use a Varizoom LCD color monitor and a lanc controller on the handle, so I can frame the shot far more accurately and following the action much more smoothly. The optical zoom range is awesome. One option I am going to purchase for next season is the Canon 3X wide angle lens. I want to get in as close as possible while still maintaining a field of view from the backfield to the safety, I think it will make a very good video shot even better. The camera is heavy for handheld shooting though. It isn't as big (long) as a pro ENG, so the balance is not as comfortable for sustained shooting, say for sideline field views. For short term shooting there it is fine, but if you plan to spend much time "off tripod" get a shoulder mount system for it. (I believe you should do that no matter which of the cameras you mentioned that you choose from, your video will be that much better). When I chose my XL2's last year I decided that the general consumer market wasn't yet ready for viewing HD and therefore the demand either ( HD DVD decks, T.V.'s etc.) so I too decided to wait on the HD camera, they will get better feature wise and the price will come down. I can not speak to the results you would get with the VX 2100, have never used one. Best of luck to you.