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A Photographer’s Review of the Canon G11

Posted in Photography Gear with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2010 by Darwin

Note: To see all future reviews please note this blog is no longer active, please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

As most of you know, I’ve had a Canon G11 for a few months and have been taking photos with it for my Daily Snap feature on this blog. This is not a tech review, for a great list of features and specs and a summary of what to expect from the camera go over to dpreview for their review on the Canon G11. For the stuff I like and dislike about the G11 from daily use see my summary below:

The Canon G11 – The Great Features

10 MP – That’s Plenty, Thanks!

The Canon G9 (released Sept. 2007) had 12 MP and at the time I thought Canon had crammed too many pixels onto too small a sensor–but it didn’t stop me from buying the camera ;-). The G9 suffered badly from noise if I used anything higher than 200 ISO or if the RAW image was slightly underexposed and then brightened in the RAW converter (the blue channel was especially susceptible to noise with any strong post-production edits). Nevertheless, I loved the camera because I could take it everywhere and still get publishable photos for stock and commercial use as long as I stayed in the 100 ISO range and was meticulous about getting good exposures.

When Canon released the G10 a little over a year later many photographers thought Canon was headed in the wrong direction upping the pixel count to 14.7 MP. Indeed a common complaint about the G10 was noise at all but the lowest ISO settings. I never upgraded to the G10 because I felt jamming even more megapixels onto the tiny sensor was just asking for trouble.

In August of 2009, Canon introduced the G11 and I was really glad to see a reduction in the megapixel count to 10MP. Was the drop beneficial? You bet! I can easily make amazingly detailed 12 x18 inch prints from the G11 and the files seem cleaner and less noisy than G9 files. I often use the G11 to ISO 400 without hesitation and even to ISO 800 if I make sure I properly expose the files in-camera (expose the histogram to the right). So the drop in megapixels has given me a point-n-shoot that I can use at higher ISO’s. The photo below shows a studio still life followed by 100% detailed views showing noise characteristics of the G11 at various ISO’s. For most people ISO 400 is easily acceptable, and many would still be happy with ISO 800 in real world prints to 11×16. The screen shots here  show the magnified file much larger than you would see detail on a 12×18 inch print.

©Darwin Wiggett - Canon G11

ISO tests of the Canon G11 - 100% detailed crop

That Amazing Tilt and Swivel Screen 

For a long time photographer’s have been asking Canon to bring back the tilt and swivel LCD screen of their earlier G-series models. With the G11, Canon finally obliged. And I love it! I can’t imagine shooting without this feature. No matter what the camera angle you can rotate the LCD to see what you are shooting. This feature is great not only for macro photography but also for alternative angles of view in regular photography. Personally, I would never again buy a point-n-shoot camera without a tilt and swivel LCD screen: the feature is so useful that I have a hard time going back to my dSLR and its fixed LCD.

Quick Access ISO and Exposure Comp Dials

Two big and easily accessible control dials on top of the camera make it fast to change exposure compensation and ISO on the fly. I constantly use the exposure compensation on my cameras to fine-tune the exposure to get the best possible histogram for better quality files. And I often switch the ISO when moving from outdoor to indoor shooting conditions. I hate it when exposure compensation (or ISO) are parameters that are buried in sub-menus or can only be accessed by pressing three buttons, standing on your head and singing God Save the Queen–in a minor key. 😉

The G11 makes exposure comp and ISO settings easy with the two large dials on top of the camera that are lit with yellow lights to show the setting you have chosen (see image below). As a side note, I almost always leave the exposure compensation on my G11 pushed to  +1/3 to get the histogram a bit more to the right for cleaner noise free files (just watch that you do not clip important highlight details).  For more on properly using your histogram, see my download “Expose Right”.

Fast accessible EXP COMP and ISO dials

Great Macro Mode

Compared to the G9, the macro mode on the G11 is much improved. With the G9 I had to mess around a lot to get a macro shot to work but for whatever reason, getting a macro shot in focus is much easier with the G11. I don’t really care what Canon did, all I care about is that the macro mode on this camera works so much better.

Macro mode on the G11

Great Image Quality

I’m impressed by the RAW files I get from the G11. I can easily get my G11 files accepted by Getty or any of the other stock agencies I use. So the quality of the files are good  enough for me to use in a professional capacity. They ain’t as good as a 5D Mark II, or even a Rebel (I won’t mention the 7d 😉 ) but the files are really great for a point-n-shoot.

Built Like a Tank

Some people complain about the weight and the size of the G11 but frankly I like the solid feel and the little bit of heft in my hand, it feels like I am using a  Leica or something like that.

Useful Zoom Range

For me the zoom range equivalent of 28 – 140mm is perfect. I rarely need much wider than 28mm in a point-n-shoot and the 140mm is enough reach for my needs. I prefer the zoom range of the G11 over the G9 which was 35 -210mm. I would rather have more on the wide end than the long end.

The Canon G11 – The Crappy Stuff 

The Viewfinder

Why the hell did Canon ever put a viewfinder on the G-series cameras? It is totally useless; it is not accurate–it’s small and it’s pointless. Take off the viewfinder and trim a little weight from the camera!

Autofocus Modes

There are two autofocus modes in the G11, Face AiAF and FlexiZone. The former uses face recognition to focus on human faces (it works really well). The latter allows the user to manually move the AF focusing frame around the frame  to any point you want in focus. This mode works well and is my most used mode. With the G11 if there are faces I use Face AiAF. If I want to pick the focus point in more deliberate shooting then I pick FlexiZone.

The problem is neither mode works well for general shooting. With the G9 there was an AiAF mode that worked well for general subjects to get grab shots. I wish in the G11 that Canon had three modes, Face recognition, FlexiZone, and a generic AiAF mode.

The Thing I Hate the Most

On the right, back side of the camera are numerous buttons and a control dial. There are a tonne of controls back there and Canon probably thought that having them all together and easy to access with a thumb would make the camera fast to operate. The problem is that the buttons and the dial are too crammed together and too small for anyone with a normal sized thumb to use without accidently pressing several things at once. I need to use my fingernail to run these controls (just try that with gloves on). Also all those buttons on the back means there is nowhere to rest the base of your palm on the back of the camera. Holding the right side of the G11 with your right hand is problematic because no matter where you put your thumb or your palm you’re gonna hit some button and change some controls you don’t mean to. This drives me bonkers!! I swear and swear and swear evertime I hit a *%$#ing button accidentally! A few times I have wanted to chuck the flippin’ camera into the river because of this problem!

Where oh where does your right hand go?

Conclusion

I love the G11 but I really think Canon needs to rethink the controls on the back of the camera. Maybe on the G12 Canon will design things a little better. Canon you’re getting close to building a perfect point-n-shoot (at least for my likes). In spite of a few shortcomings, overall I am really happy with the G11 and will continue to use it daily.

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