DCRP

Canon PowerShot G11 Review

How Does it Compare?

For the last several years, camera manufacturers have been caught up in a race to see who could produce the camera with the most Megapixels. The PowerShot G-series -- Canon's flagship compact cameras -- went along for the ride. The PowerShot G7 had 10 Megapixels, the G9 (there was no G8) was 12 Megapixel, and the PowerShot G10 had a whopping 14.7 Megapixel CCD. While "more is better" may work for some products, it's not a good fit for the tiny sensors used by compact digital cameras. Thus, the image quality on the G-series models got worse with every iteration, especially at higher sensitivities. Canon did something very unusual in the world of consumer electronics: instead of raising the resolution on their newest camera, the PowerShot G11, they actually went in the other direction -- by nearly 5 million pixels. While less-informed shoppers may be put off by the fact that the best Canon compact is "only" 10 Megapixel, the truth is that the resolution is more than enough for almost everyone, and the improvement in image quality is well worth the "sacrifice". The G11's superb image quality combined with its performance, rotating high resolution LCD, manual controls, and expandability make it a top choice for those looking for a full-featured compact camera.

From most angles, the PowerShot G11 looks exactly like the G10 that came before it. That means it's a fairly large camera made of a mixture of metal and plastic. Build quality is good all around, and the camera feels nice and solid in your hands. There are some ergonomics missteps, however: the controls on the back of the camera are cluttered and easy to bump accidentally, and I found the zoom and four-way controllers to be too small. The PowerShot G11's lens won't win any awards for its specs: it's a pretty standard F2.8 - F4.5, 28 - 140 mm model (anyone remember when G-series cameras had an F2 lens?). However, the quality of the lens is very good, with good sharpness from one edge of the frame to the other. There's an optical image stabilization system inside the lens which reduces the risk of blurry photos and takes the jitter out of your movies, as well. On the back of the camera you'll find the most obvious difference between the G10 and the G11, and that's the return of the rotating LCD display (yay!). While the screen size has dropped from 3.0" to 2.8", I think people will appreciate the flexibility that comes along with having a rotating screen more than 0.2 inches. The resolution is unchanged from the PowerShot G10, meaning that this screen has 461,000 pixels -- twice that of your typical LCD. The PowerShot G11 also has an optical viewfinder, which is a rarity these days. I wish it protruded a bit further back from the camera (so my glasses don't smack into the LCD) and I'm not a fan of seeing part of the lens (at wide-angle), but I'll take what I can get. The G11 is very expandable, offering support for external flashes, a teleconverter lens, a wired remote, and an underwater case.

The PowerShot G11 is packed with features, but Canon didn't go overboard on the gimmicks like some other manufacturers. For the point-and-shoot crowd, you've got a Smart Auto mode that selects a scene mode for you (it even knows when you're using a tripod), and you can select your own scene as well, if you'd like. The new low light mode may sound tempting, but the low 2.5 Megapixel resolution combined with the very high sensitivities produces small, often noisy photos (translation: adjust the ISO manually instead). Another new shooting mode is tailored toward optical viewfinder fans: the LCD turns into an info screen, just like on a digital SLR. You can easily change camera settings without having to trudge through the menu system. The G11 also features face and blink detection, and there's a handy "face self-timer" feature that waits for the photographer to enter the frame before it takes the picture. Manual control enthusiasts will be pleased with the G11's offerings, which include full control over exposure, white balance (including fine-tuning, but not bracketing), customizable menus and buttons, and support for the RAW image format. One feature that disappeared on the G11 is the ability to remotely control the camera from your Mac or PC, which was handy at times. Something else that's disappointing is the camera's movie mode, which appears to be stuck in 2006: the resolution is VGA, and you can't use the optical zoom while recording. At least the recording times are long!

Camera performance was very good in most areas. The G11 starts up very quickly for a camera in this class, taking about 0.9 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. While the G11 isn't the fastest focusing camera in its class, it still performs better than average, taking about 0.2 - 0.5 seconds at wide-angle and 0.5 - 0.9 secs at telephoto to lock focus. The camera focuses accurately in low light (thanks to its super-bright AF-assist lamp), with focus times hovering around a second in those situations. I didn't find shutter lag to be an issue, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal, even when shooting RAW or using the flash. The G11's battery life is well above average for its class. The one area in which the G11 feels a bit sluggish is in continuous shooting mode. While you can keep shooting until your memory card fills up, the frame rate ranges from 0.7 - 1.1 fps, which is surprisingly given the relatively low resolution of the camera.

The PowerShot G11 produces very good quality photos. Canon claimed that the G11 and its new "high sensitivity" CCD would perform better at low light than other cameras in its class, and they weren't lying. While it certainly won't replace a digital SLR, the G11 lets you use sensitivities a full stop higher than your typical compact camera. If you shoot RAW and do some basic post-processing, even ISO 1600 photos (taken in good light) are usable for small prints. And, unlike the last "low light" camera I tested, the PowerShot G11 delivers noise-free images at low ISOs. Exposure was generally good, though like many compacts, the G11 does clip highlights at times. Colors were vibrant, and subjects are smooth yet detailed. Purple fringing levels were relatively low, and the camera did an effective job of preventing redeye in flash photos.

There are a few other things to mention before I wrap things up. First, I want to reiterate the fact that some useful features on the PowerShot G10 were removed on the G11, namely remote capture support, Auto ISO Shift, and voice recording. Despite being a high end camera, you won't be able to get at the G11's memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod. And speaking of which, Canon neither includes a memory card nor built any memory into the G11.

When glance at the comparison table between the PowerShot G10 and G11 that I posted at the start of the review, you might think "wow, what a step down". While the G11 is missing some features from the G10 and has a smaller LCD and a slower burst mode, it's better in virtually every other respect. It offers excellent image quality (including better than average performance in low light) with a solid feature set for both beginners and enthusiasts. The PowerShot G11 isn't a perfect camera, but whether you're an enthusiast looking for a companion for your D-SLR or a beginner who just wants a great point-and-shoot camera, you won't be disappointed with your purchase.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • About a full stop advantage over most of the competition in low light
  • Nice 5X zoom lens with 28 - 140 mm range (though a faster aperture range would've been nice)
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Well built, rangefinder-style body (though see issues below)
  • Flip-out, rotating high resolution 2.8" LCD display
  • Optical viewfinder (only listing this because it's a rarity these days)
  • Full manual controls, now with white balance fine-tuning
  • RAW image format support; good RAW editor included
  • Smart Auto mode picks a scene mode for you; plenty of others to choose from yourself
  • Responsive performance in most respects
  • Customizable menu, buttons, and spots on mode dial
  • Redeye not a problem
  • Well implemented face and blink detection features; handy face self-timer feature
  • Powerful flash
  • Built-in neutral density filter
  • Very expandable: supports an external flash, remote shutter release cable, teleconverter lens, and underwater case
  • Above average battery life
  • HDMI output

What I didn't care for:

  • Some useful features from the G10 are gone: remote capture, Auto ISO Shift, voice recording
  • Continuous shooting mode won't win any awards for speed
  • Movie mode is just VGA, with no use of optical zoom
  • Ergonomics aren't great: cluttered buttons on back of camera (watch your fingers!), small four-way controller and shutter release/zoom controller
  • Optical viewfinder doesn't protrude past the LCD (which bugs me, at least); lens visible at 1X-2X zoom positions
  • No memory card included; can't access memory card slot while using a tripod

The closest competitor to the PowerShot G11 is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 (though its lens is considerably different). Some other mid-zoom cameras with large LCDs and image stabilization include the Casio Exilim EX-Z450, Fuji FinePix F200EXR, Kodak EasyShare Z1485 IS, Nikon Coolpix S640, Olympus Stylus 7010, Samsung SL820, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot G11 and its competitors before you buy!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.