The more I use the Canon G11, the more I see that the newest and higher end compact cameras are under rated. I have spent over a week now shooting the G11 in all conditions and I have to say that while the ergonomics are poor, the picture quality is very good. And the camera has a very “well built” feel to it, like the difference between a Honda and a Mercedes.
The G11 itself is built very well and feels sturdy in your hands. Even the swivel screen does not feel flimsy as you swing it in and out. The problems I have with the camera revolve around where the right hand has to grip the camera body. There is a small bump to wrap your fingers around it on the right but it’s too damn small to be of any use. The body really needs to be extended here and in fact, on the older G series, one of the most popular accessories is a grip extender. Without it, my thumb ends up resting on the buttons since there is not any space to put it anywhere else. The “menu” button ends up jammed into my palm and the thumb goes right over the function button. So often, I find my settings have changed. Holding the camera in the vertical mode is worse, to keep your finger on the shutter button keeps my fingers hitting the buttons all the time. Most common I find my F stop has changed without my knowing it. A button lock switch would have been a killer addition. Something like small slide switch on my iPhone where I can silence the phone in an instant.
But since I dont have it, I make do. Ergonomics aside, the picture quality is very important, I mean, no matter how good the buttons are, if the picture quality sucks, then why bother? This camera had the sensor size “degraded” from 12 to 10 megapixels in order to clean up some of the noise from putting too many pixels on a very small sensor.
Now the noise is not alot compared to other small cameras, it is still considerably more than my D90 or D300. Even at a relatively low ISO of 400 is still noisy. This means in post, there is an extra step of having to run Noiseware (or whatever your choice for noise reduction is). In Noiseware, the “Film Grain” setting seems to work very well at cleaning up the images without ruining the edge details. In this picture, I shot at ISO 800 with a shutter of 1/125 F3.5 and 15mm. The noise is clearly visable but not too objectionable and would easily clean up. At 3200, you would be to pretty desperate to use the image even after clean up. ISO 1600 is pretty much the limit of the G11 to make a decent image that will still clean up well.
Given the price tag of the G11, I am surprised at the stunning amount of distortion in the wide angle settings. At a retail price of 500 USD, I would expect much better optics than this. In this shot of my MBP screen at it’s widest, you can see the barrel distortion all around the image.
To fix it, you need to remember to move the lens in just a touch and the level of distortion drops right off. This is overshadowed by how well the camera works in close up work and macro work. It can take stunning ly good close up shots in very difficult situation even holding it without any tripod. The IS that Canon added to it works incredibly well. In these shots, I was shooting through a case case in both shots.I was right up on the glass but not touching it and just using spread finger tips as a “tripod”. In both shots, the G11 was set to macro mode and in full manual. In the gears shot, I did use manual focus to get the focus exactly where I wanted it.
I will say that I bought a spare battery for this and I find that I really dont need to use the spare even after shooting off over 300 images during the course of a day. Now, I did not use the flash very much and I tend to turn off the camera when I’m not shooting since it comes on very fast. But still, it’s a very good achievement in battery life
And lets talk about RAW vs JPEG. On my older Canon SD500, 550 and 800 cameras, the camera generated JPGs are pretty good. On the G11, they suck. Is that plain enough? The color balance and sharpness is not there. I find that shooting RAW is the ONLY way to really use this camera and then clean it all up in post. So in a major way, that defeats the whole reason for using a point and shoot which is connivence. Now, I dont mind since my workflow is already geared up for RAW but for someone like my wife, this camera is completely wasted on her and she is a pretty good snapshot artist. So if it were me, I would NOT recommend this camera to anyone other than a serious amateur or a working pro who really can use the manual settins and the close up/macro capability of this camera. Anyone else will be very frustrated by it. As it is, it frustrates me but I’ll live with it till someone designs a better semi-pro point and shoot.