November 21, 2009

A Review of the Canon G11

There’s no perfect camera. There never will be. There’s no camera that’s right for everybody in every situation. But the Canon PowerShot G11 is a camera that is right for more things than not, and more people than not, and in my opinion, it’s a camera that re-establishes Canon as the king of the high-end compact.

The big news is that Canon made a great decision in pushing this camera out the door with 10 megapixels rather than the 14.7 megapixels found in the G10. In other words, the camera is aimed at those more interested in image quality over top-dog resolution.

The 5X, 28-140mm (EFL) lens covers a large focal range that works very well for most situations. As I said earlier when testing this camera for the first time, I do miss the slightly wider 24mm focal range of the Panasonic LX3, but it’s no deal breaker.

All the usual features are included with the G11. You can use any Canon flash on this camera via its hot shoe, AND you can get a sync speed of up to 1/2000th of a second. That’s pretty remarkable for a compact camera. The LCD is of good quality and now swivels, although it’s 2.8 inches instead of three inches wide. The macro mode works spectacularly. There’s optical image stabilization that really works. The RAW file format is or will be supported by a wide variety of photo software applications and there is a viewfinder, albeit a crappy one.

Beginners can buy this camera, stick it on AUTO, shoot in Fine JPEG mode, and get great looking 3.5Mb images that will blow away most anything they’ve ever seen from other point and shoot models. Pros can take the camera to new heights by simply putting it in manual mode and gaining control over every critical function from aperture, to shutter speed to focus. Shooting RAW, you can post-process G11 images into pretty much anything you want. And that’s one of the big reasons why I stepped away from the Panasonic LX3 and back to the Canon G series. There just wasn’t enough third-party RAW support for the LX3.

The G11 feels very good in my hand, but will probably seem a bit large to folks with smaller hands. It also feels a bit heavy compared with other compact cameras. But I LOVE the dials. This was one of the things that got me hooked back on the old G9. They are very comfortable and easy to use, requiring fewer glances at the LCD to hunt for nested menus.

The low-light, high ISO performance of this camera is really quite good, considering its small sensor size. I’m very comfortable using it at ISO 800.

The camera’s battery life is on par with other compact cameras I’ve used. I may be in the minority here but I wish that these cameras would all come ready to use “AA” batteries instead of the proprietary battery typically supplied. Since you can always get “AA” batteries, that would be a safer choice. But I won’t hold my breath.

The image quality from the G11 is amazing. There’s very little chromatic aberration. The noise reduction employed by Canon works well, and there’s little trade-off in the way of detail loss. There is, as you might expect at this price point some minor barrel distortion exhibited when you use the lens at 28mm, but nothing you can’t easily correct in post.

If you’re a JPEG shooter, you may want to increase the in-camera sharpening a bit. RAW shooters can apply sharpening in post to get great results.

The movie mode is 640 x 480 and the movie quality is good as is the sound. Of course I’d like 720p video but you can’t have everything.

And then there’s that viewfinder. It’s the single most disappointing feature on the G11. It only offers a 77% view of the image. That’s not much to go on when you’re framing. It does give you something to work with, and if you’re my age and used to holding a camera against your eye rather then three feet out in front of you, it is an advantage, but just barely. Had Canon put a decent viewfinder on this camera it could have been close to perfect. I guess their engineers decided we should always be left wanting something :)

What’s most astonishing about the G11 is that under studio lights, or great natural light, it can be used as a professional portrait camera. In fact, I’d venture to say that I could put the lens out to about 100mm, shoot at around F/4, hook up to strobes and make photos that compete with anything you get on the average DSLR.

For less than $500, Canon has managed to create a camera that will satisfy the needs of everyone from beginners looking to move up the ladder toward a DSLR and pros who want a competent backup compact that shoots RAW files of sufficient publication quality to get the winning shot. Highly recommended.
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