Canon's ever-popular PowerShot G series see major changes in both the LCD and sensor configuration, but does it do enough to justify it's substantial price tag? What Digital Camera puts the Canon PowerShot G11 through its paces...
Canon PowerShot G11 review
The DSLR market has seen unprecedented growth in recent years, mostly towards entry-level models. It seems as though fewer people are content with entering the world of photography at the basic point-and-shoot level, instead wanting more from their camera and aspiring to a higher level of photography. This growth isn’t solely restricted to entry-level DSLRs, however, with advanced compacts also seeing more first-time buyers.
The emergence of the smaller Micro Four Thirds cameras, such as the Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic GF1, are seen by many to fit this requirement well, however they remain relatively new pretenders to the throne long ago assumed by Canon and its G series. The new PowerShot G11 is, in defiance of sequential numeration, the ninth incarnation in Canon’s respected G series. The combination of full manual functionality, a distinctive, rugged build and burgeoning specification has made the G range often the first choice for people who are looking for a more portable companion to their DSLR set-up. Not only that, but the G series, more often than not, offers such quality that consumers otherwise looking for an advanced offering will often spurn a DSLR in favour of the latest ‘G’.
The new G11 features the reintroduction of a vari-angle LCD screen, as well as an important adaptation of sensor technology – rather than increase megapixel count, as has been seen on every G series model to date, Canon has instead opted to reduce megapixel count by nearly a third compared to the G10. The result, says Canon, is a sensor that’s vastly improved in low-light conditions. So does this claim ring true? And what exactly does an advanced compact offer that enables it to justify asking for nearly 600 of your hard-earned pounds?
Features & Design
Canon PowerShot G11 review – Features
One of the standout changes made to the G11 is the aforementioned sensor resolution dip to 10MP. In a first for the G series, Canon has opted to reduce the resolution rather than increase it. This is a refreshing change and is being seen more and more in the compact market – it seems as though the message that megapixels aren’t the be-all and end-all with regards to image quality is finally getting through to both the public and manufacturers alike.
The G11 sports the same 1/1.7in CCD sensor as its predecessor, but now boasts a resolution of 10MP effective. The fact is that Canon has shed nearly five megapixels from the 14.7MP G10, and rightly so – when the resolution of the G10 was announced, questions were asked as to whether it could actually effectively manage such a high resolution on, in effect, a small sensor.
Canon claims that this reduction in resolution means improved low-light performance, a claim further supported by the sensor being twinned with the DIGIC 4 processor. Canon also offers a new maximum ISO 3200, extended right up to 12800 in reduced 2.5MP mode – a sign of confidence for low-light performance.
The G11 also features a new addition in the shape of its LCD screen. While recent models in the G series have seen a fixed LCD screen housed on the rear of the camera, the G11 is fitted with a 2.8in vari-angle LCD; a feature not seen since the G6. The LCD pulls away from the camera’s body 180° on a vertical axis, and then rotates around 270° on a horizontal axis. The LCD screen itself boasts a 461k-dot resolution that is beyond many a compact camera and safely competes against its high-spec peers.
Outside of the two headline changes, much of the G11 specification remains the same. The model boasts a 5x optical zoom (28-140mm in 35mm equivalent terms) with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 – f/4.5. The lens benefits from Canon’s Optical Image Stabilisation, promising blur-free images throughout the range, too. The model boasts full manual control, as well as two custom settings for saving commonly used configurations. The G11 supports both Raw and JPEG capture (including both together simultaneously), while movie capture is also supported, though HD video is not yet featured. The emphasis isn’t solely on manual control – the G11 benefits from Canon’s iSAPS (intelligent Scene Analysis based on Photographic Space) technology, and as such offers an intelligent auto mode complete with scene recognition. It also features face detection technology, allowing ‘FaceSelf-Time’ and ‘Face Select and Track’ shooting technologies, plus Canon’s ‘blur-beating Motion Detection Technology’, while i-Contrast helps optimise dynamic range to retain detail in shadows and highlights.
Other features of the G11 remain from previous models in the series and will no doubt please devotees of the range. The model sports an optical viewfinder, albeit a very small one that’s difficult to view as effectively as some other cameras. Thanks to the hotshoe atop the camera, the G11 can be used in conjunction with Canon’s range of Speedlite flashguns too.
Canon PowerShot G11 review – Design
Retro design features that made the G10 a favourite remain – the G11 sports a solid rotating mode dial substantially raised from the body of the camera, while underneath it is a dial of slightly larger circumference which controls ISO settings. Located on the top of the camera’s top plate is another solid metal dial which controls exposure compensation between -2 and +2. Due to the reasonably heavy build of the camera, it’s important to be able to garner a strong grip when in use. This can be an issue when the articulating LCD is against the body, because the tight cluster of operating buttons and control wheel means that it’s all too easy to accidentally press undesired buttons. However, when operating the G11 with the LCD screen pulled away from the body of the camera, the space left behind is more than ample for a comfortable hold.
One issue that is not resolvable is the inadequacy of the optical viewfinder – it’s far too small to be much use when shooting, other than in particularly troublesome lighting conditions.Another element of the design which doesn’t sit entirely comfortably is the shutter release. The button itself is raised from the camera’s body and its travel from unpressed to half-pressed to enable focusing is loose, meaning that it’s a touch difficult to differentiate when the camera is actually focused, and applying a little extra pressure to try to confirm autofocus can often result in accidentally taking a photo. Though in the grand scheme of things this is just one of those small niggles that’s definitely manageable.
Performance & Value
Canon PowerShot G11 review – Performance
In use, the G11’s start-up time comes in at under a second, with the camera ready to shoot in just a little longer. The G11 is also prompt when composing images, with the AF system operating admirably quickly and reliably accurately. The camera can struggle a touch in low light and sometimes when operating close up, occasionally selecting the wrong subject for focus, but the model offers a simple resolution for this – manual focus. When selected, the LCD of the camera displays a large 100% magnification window in the centre of the screen to aid accurate focus. This, combined with its control wheel operation, means that accurate focus is simple to obtain.
Many photographers view a vari-angle LCD screen as an unnecessary feature, and this may have been the thinking behind Canon ditching it from the G series some time ago. However, when implemented as well as it is on the G11 it’s hard to see what there is to complain about. Not only does it maintain an excellent high resolution – 461k-dots, albeit at 2.8in it’s 0.2in smaller in size than the G10 – but the vari-angle nature is as complete as can be. The screen can be rotated to sit as a conventional LCD screen would, or to face into the camera’s body for closed protection, while it can also be turned 180° outwards and then rotated through 270° for either low or raised level shooting. Not only is the screen a pleasure to use in its conventional setting thanks to the high resolution and excellent colour rendition, but the variety of angles available at your fingertips opens up an entirely different and convenient way of working.
Canon PowerShot G11 review – Value
There is no escaping the fact that the G11 is an expensive camera, even compared to similar models in the field. Consider, for example, the excellent Panasonic Lumix LX3, of which you could nearly buy two for the price of a G11. Many entry-level DSLRs are also comparable in price terms. It’s important, however, to consider the G11 for what it is – a real alternative to the bulk of a DSLR, that oozes quality in both build and performance and produces great images. What’s more is that it offers a distinctive, quirky design and one of the best applications of a vari-angle LCD seen on a digital camera. Bear in mind the high price-tag won’t stick forever too.
Canon PowerShot G11 review – Image Quality
G11 review – Exposure
The G11 displays reassuringly reliable exposures, with the balance between shadows and highlights pleasingly apparent. This is helped by the impressive dynamic range displayed by the sensor – even in difficult lighting the G11 manages to both preserve shadow detail and prevent highlights from blowing out.
G11 review – Colour and White balance
Canon’s characteristic vibrancy and radiance is evident with the G11, with real punchiness displayed throughout the frame, without seeming to be too unnatural. White balance is slightly unreliable, with a tendency to err to either the warm or the cold side, but this is by no means beyond repair, and in general it’s solid.
G11 review – Raw and JPEG
The difference between Raw and JPEG files lays mostly with the in-camera processing. Noise is less pronounced in the JPEG files, owing to the G11’s in-camera noise reduction, though this does mean that JPEG files can be lacking sharpness present in the Raw files. Colour rendition also differs between the two – colour is punchier in Raw files, suggesting that JPEG processing mutes the colours somewhat. Finally, tonal gradation is smoother in Raw files than JPEGs.
G11 review – Noise and ISO
The improvements in noise control much-touted
by Canon is noticeably present thanks to the combination of fewer megapixels and new technologies. Comparing images from the previous model, the G10, and the G11 shows a vast improvement in noise control. Where fairly aggressive noise was visible at ISO 1600 previously, images are now considerably less-grainy – there’s at least a stop of difference that’s ideal for low-light shooting. At the maximum ISO 3200 image sharpness is compromised, though not entirely to the detriment of image quality, while image quality is of a good standard throughout the range.
In the world of advanced compacts, the G series from Canon has long been regarded as one of the best. While the models aren’t always as small as some other advanced compacts on the market, the sturdy design and advanced feature-set mean that they are always a popular model – either as a DSLR companion or as a more advanced model in a standalone capacity. The G11 continues this rich tradition and the improvements over the G10 are well received. The reduction of resolution means that noise is much better controlled at higher ISO settings, while the vari-angle LCD screen is one of the best on the market. So, while obtaining a G11 does mean parting with a substantial whack of cash, if you do decide to purchase then you’ll undoubtedly be bagging yourself an excellent camera that should last many years.