DCRP

Canon PowerShot G11 Review

Using the Canon PowerShot G11

Record Mode

Press the power button and the PowerShot G11 is ready to take its first photo in about 0.9 seconds -- that's very quick.


There's a live histogram on the G11

While not quite as fast as some cameras from Panasonic and Sony, the G11 still turns in better than average autofocus times. At wide-angle (and in good light), the camera takes between 0.2 and 0.5 seconds to lock focus. Telephoto focus times were about twice that, staying under one second most (but not all) of the time. The camera's bright AF-assist lamp allows it to focus accurately in very low light, with focus times hovering around a full second.

Shutter lag wasn't an issue, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.

Shot-to-shot delays were around 1 - 1.5 seconds for JPEGs and 2.5 seconds for RAW+JPEG combos. Adding the flash into the mix did not significantly increase these times.

You can delete a picture after you've taken it by pressing the delete photo (focus point) button on the back of the camera.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the camera:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB card (optional)
Large
3648 x 2736
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG 15.0 MB 113
RAW 12.5 MB 135
Fine 2.5 MB 749
Normal 1.2 MB 1536
Wide (16:9)
3648 x 2048
Fine 1.9 MB 1007
Normal 918 KB 2048
Medium 1
2816 x 2112
Fine 1.6 MB 1181
Normal 780 KB 2363
Medium 2
2272 x 1704
Fine 1.1 MB 1707
Normal 556 KB 3235
Medium 3
1600 x 1200
Fine 558 KB 3235
Normal 278 KB 6146
Small
640 x 480
Fine 150 KB 10245
Normal 84 KB 15368

The first thing I should point out is that the G11 does not have a "super fine" JPEG quality setting, unlike on its predecessors. It does support the RAW image format, and can save a RAW image alone, or with a Large/Fine JPEG.

Alright, let's move onto the menu system now!

The PowerShot G11 has an high resolution version of the standard Canon menu system. It feels a little slow moving at times, but it gets the job done. If you want, the camera can display a description of each menu item, which can be helpful to beginners. The menu is divided into three tabs (when in record mode), covering shooting and setup options, plus a customizable menu. Here's what you'll find in that first tab:

  • AF Frame (Face AiAF, center, FlexiZone) - see below
  • Digital zoom (Standard, off, 1.4X, 2.3X) - see below
  • AF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the focus point or the selected faces
  • Servo AF (on/off) - for tracking a moving subject
  • Continuous AF (on/off) - when on, camera is always focusing, which reduces focus times, but at the expense of battery life
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • MF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the center of the frame in manual focus mode
  • Safety MF (on/off) - allows you to press the focus point button to activate autofocus momentarily when using manual focus
  • Flash control
    • Flash mode (Auto, manual) - the latter lets you adjust the flash strength; only available in the manual shooting modes
    • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
    • Flash output (Minimum, medium, maximum) - only available with flash mode set to manual
    • Shutter sync (1st-curtain, 2nd-curtain)
    • Redeye correction (on/off) - digital redeye removal, as the photo is taken
    • Redeye reduction lamp (on/off) - shrinks the pupils to reduce the risk of redeye
    • Safety FE (on/off) - whether the camera adjusts the shutter speed or aperture to avoid overexposure when using the flash
  • i-Contrast (Auto, off) - see below
  • Spot AE point (Center, AF point) - what area of the frame is metered when in spot metering mode
  • Safety shift (on/off) - camera will adjust the shutter speed or aperture as needed to obtain a proper exposure when in the priority modes
  • Wind filter (on/off) - reduces wind noise when recording movies outdoors
  • Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
  • Review info (Off, detailed, focus check) - detailed shows you shooting data and a histogram; focus check enlarges the focus point or faces
  • Blink detection (on/off) - puts up a warning screen if someone in your photo had their eyes closed
  • Custom display settings - you can have two sets of these for the LCD and one for the viewfinder
    • Shooting info (on/off)
    • Grid lines (on/off)
    • 3:2 guide (on/off)
    • Histogram (on/off)
  • Reverse display (on/off) - whether the image on the LCD is flipped when the screen is facing toward your subject
  • IS mode (Continuous, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
  • Converter (Off, telephoto) - for when you're using the conversion lens
  • Date stamp (Off, date, date & time)
  • Record RAW+JPEG (on/off) - here's how you turn on RAW+JPEG mode
  • Set Shortcut button (Off, ND filter, white balance, custom WB 1/2, servo AF, digital teleconverter, redeye correction, i-Contrast, AF lock, display off) - define what this button does
  • Save settings (C1, C2) - save your favorite camera settings to the two custom spots on the mode dial
FlexiZone AF not only lets you position the focus point, it also lets you change its size The camera found 5 of the 6 faces in our test scene

There's lots to talk about before we move on. First up, the AF frame options. FlexiZone lets you use the four-way controller to select the area in the frame on which to focus -- which comes in handy when the camera is on a tripod. You can select the size of the focus point: normal or small (see screenshot). Face AiAF combines multi-point autofocus with face detection. If the camera detects any faces, it will give them focus priority, and make sure white balance and exposure are accurate as well. If there aren't any faces, it'll switch to 9-point autofocus. The camera's face detection system can locate up to nine faces in the frame, and you can select one of them to track as they move around the scene. The system works pretty well, typically finding 4 or 5 faces in our test scene. I should add that the G11 has a new blink detection feature that warns you if one of your subjects had their eyes closed in the photo you just took.

Two other focus-related features are the AF mode and servo AF. The two AF modes are single and continuous. The former activates the AF system when you halfway-press the shutter release, while the latter has the camera trying to focus. Continuous AF can reduce focus times, though it's at the expense of battery life. Servo AF will keep the autofocus system running, even with the shutter release halfway-pressed. You can use servo AF to track a moving subject.

The camera has a number of digital zoom options, all of which can reduce the quality of your photo if you use too much of it. However, if you're willing to lower the resolution a bit, you can safely use some digital zoom without reducing image quality. At the M2 (4 MP) setting you can get 7X of total zoom without a loss of quality, while at M3 (2 MP) you get 11X.

The G11 has the same i-Contrast feature as the G10 and many other PowerShot models. This feature promises to reduce over or underexposed areas of a photo, but in practice, I rarely saw much of a difference. If you do take a photo that could use some brightening, you can also use this feature in playback mode.

What are those three IS modes all about? Continuous mode activates the OIS system as soon as you halfway press the shutter release, which helps you compose the photo without camera shake. The "shoot only" option doesn't turn it on until the photo is actually taken, which improves the performance of the OIS system. The panning mode only stabilizes up and down motion, and you'll want to use this while tracking a moving subject horizontally. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable if you're using a tripod.

Now, here's what you'll find in the setup tab of the menu:

  • Mute (on/off) - quickly turn off the camera's beeps and blips
  • Volume
    • Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
  • Sound options
    • Startup sound (1-3)
    • Operation sound (1-3)
    • Self-timer sound (1-3)
    • Shutter sound (1-3)
  • Hints & Tips (on/off) - gives you a description of menu items
  • LCD brightness (1-5)
  • Startup image (Off, 1-3)
  • Card format
  • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset)
  • Create folder (Monthly, daily)
  • Lens retract (0 sec, 1 min) - how quickly the lens retracts when you enter playback mode
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Time zone (Home, world)
  • Date/time
  • Distance units (m/cm, ft/in)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Language
  • Reset all - back to defaults

The last tab in the menu is called My Menu, a feature normally reserved for digital SLRs. You can select what items you want here, and whether the camera goes to this menu (instead of the record menu) when you press the Menu button. Definitely a handy thing to have!

That's enough for menus, let's get to photo quality now.

I have no complaints about the G11's photo of our macro test subject. The colors are spot-on, with the camera's custom white balance feature handling our studio lamps with ease. The subject has a very smooth appearance to it (kind of like a digital SLR), but there's still plenty of detail. There's a tiny bit of noise in the darker areas of the photo, but not nearly enough to concern me.

The minimum focus distance is unchanged since the G10, which isn't surprising, since the PowerShot G11 uses the same lens. You can get as close as 1 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto while in macro mode.

The night shot looks very good, as well. With full manual controls at your disposal, you can easily select the shutter speed that brings in enough light for this scene. If you're using the Auto mode, the camera will automatically select the night scene mode, and it can even tell if you're got the camera on a tripod (which is a necessity for photos like this one). The buildings are nice and sharp, and the G11 didn't clip too many highlights. There is some noise here and there, but again, it's pretty low for a compact camera. While I didn't see any true purple fringing here, there's definitely some cyan-colored fringing around some of the lights.

The night photos were reshot on 11/30/09 to make the composition more consistent with other reviews

Alright, let's use that same night scene and see how the G11 handled this scene at high ISOs:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

There's very little difference between the ISO 80, 100, and 200 photos, with just a slight increase in noise from one to the next. You should easily be able to make large prints at these sensitivities. At ISO 400 we see more noise and the beginning of some detail loss, reducing your print sizes to small or medium. Details are pretty smudged at ISO 800, so this is as high as I'd take the PowerShot G11 in low light (though you'll get better results by shooting RAW -- see below). I'd probably pass on ISO 1600, and would definitely avoid ISO 3200 in low light.

You can usually squeeze more detail out of a camera by shooting with the RAW format and doing some post-processing. Let's see if that works for these night shots. I should point out that I used Digital Photography Professional for my RAW conversions, since the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in beta wasn't producing good results.

The RAW conversions below were redone with different settings in Digital Photo Professional, which gave better results than the prior samples.

ISO 400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (DPP)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (DPP)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

As you can see, there is some improvement to be had by shooting RAW and doing some post-processing at both ISO 400 and 800. The images are noisier, but they're also sharper and more detailed. I ran the ISO 1600 shot through the same routine and while the image looked a little better, though I still don't think it's usable for a 4 x 6 inch print.

Look for ISO test number two in a moment.

There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the PowerShot G11's 28 - 140 mm lens. You can see what this distortion does in the real world by looking at the "curving" building on the right side of this photo. Neither corner blurriness nor vignetting (dark corners) were problems here, which is a testament to the quality of the G11's lens.

The PowerShot G11 takes a two-pronged approach to redeye removal. You can have it use its very bright AF-assist lamp to shrink the size of your subject's pupils, and the G11 can also digitally remove any redeye that survives that. I have everything turned on for this test photo and as you can see, there's almost no red to be found.

Now it's time for the G11's second ISO test, which is taken in our studio. Since the lighting is consistent, you can compare these results between cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the noise levels at each sensitivity, I highly recommend viewing the full size images as well. Let's go:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

Everything is buttery smooth through ISO 200. At ISO 400 there's a bit of noise, but not enough to keep you from making a large print. The ISO 800 is still very usable (though probably not for poster-sized prints), especially if you do some post-processing. Things started to soften up at ISO 1600, saving this setting for small prints only (though see the RAW comparison below). The ISO 3200 image is soft and noisy, and is best left untouched (unless you're really desperate).

Do things improve at high sensitivities by shooting RAW? You bet:

The RAW conversions below were redone with different settings in Digital Photo Professional, which gave better results than the prior samples.

ISO 800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (DPP)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (DPP)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

Again you can see the benefits of shooting RAW. The ISO 800 and 1600 shots go from soft and smudged to nice and sharp. Of course, now there's some mild noise, but look at how much more detail is captured.

I have a few more comparisons using the test scene to show you. The first purpose of this example was to see if just lowering the resolution of the 14.7 Megapixel images from the PowerShot G10 would be enough to match the quality of the G11. I also threw in the test scene from the PowerShot SX10 IS, which has a different 10 Megapixel sensor than the G11. Since the resolution of all three cameras is 10 Megapixel, the playing field is level, so let's see what happens:

ISO 800

PowerShot G10 (downsized)

PowerShot G11

PowerShot SX10 IS
 
ISO 1600

PowerShot G10 (downsized)

PowerShot G11

PowerShot SX10 IS

I don't think that there's any question that the PowerShot G11 produces cleaner images than its predecessor at ISO 800. The G11 also produces cleaner images than the 10 Megapixel PowerShot SX10 IS, so there's obviously been some advancements in noise reduction since that camera was introduced. None of the cameras are great at ISO 1600, but I think it's safe to say that the G11 is the best of the three. And, as you saw above, you can get even better results from the G11 by shooting RAW images and doing some post-processing.

The last comparison I want to make is against the camera that most folks consider the best low light compact camera on the market: the Fuji FinePix F200EXR. The G11 outclasses it in terms of lens speed, features, and expandability -- but what about high ISO image quality? I again lowered the resolution for the competitor, taking the F200EXR from 12 to 10 Megapixel. Let's see the results:

ISO 800

Fuji FinePix F200EXR (downsized)

Canon PowerShot G11
 
ISO 1600

Fuji FinePix F200EXR (downsized)

Canon PowerShot G11
 
ISO 1600 post-processed

FinePix F200EXR (downsized)

Canon PowerShot G11

The most obvious difference here is how much sharper the FinePix F200EXR's photos appear. Fuji is going easy on the noise reduction here, which makes the G11's pictures look fuzzy by comparison. If you clean up the images a bit (using RAW for the G11) the gap is closed, though I still think the F200EXR has a slight edge.

Overall, I was very pleased with the photos produced by the PowerShot G11. Exposure was generally spot-on, though like most compact cameras, the G11 does clip highlights at times. Subjects have the very smooth look that is sort of a Canon trademark, but they're not soft -- plenty of detail is still captured. Colors were vibrant, and as you've seen in my test shots, the white balance system handles unusual lighting quite well. As for noise: the G11 certainly won't replace your digital SLR, but it does produce images with less noise and quite a bit less noise reduction artifacting than your typical compact camera. There's a tiny bit of shadow noise at the base ISO, but there's no detail smudging until the highest ISOs on the camera. About the only camera that does it better is the FinePix F200EXR (though I'm yet to test the PowerShot S90). In good light you should be able to make midsize or large prints through ISO 800, and ISO 1600 is definitely usable if you do some easy post-processing, In low light the camera performs well through ISO 400, though at ISO 800 I'd be shooting RAW instead of JPEG. The camera does offer a low light mode (described earlier), but the combination of low resolution and very high sensitivities don't lend themselves to great image quality. Purple fringing levels were low on the PowerShot G11.

Now, I invite you to have a look at our photo gallery, which has a few more low light shots than normal. View the full size images, maybe print a few of them if you can, and then decide if the PowerShot G11's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

I was disappointed to see that Canon did not put an HD movie mode on their flagship compact camera. I mean, if the Digital ELPH models can have one, why can't the G11? I also noticed that Canon took away some features that were on the PowerShot G10, such as manual mic level control. What you're left with is a run-of-the-mill VGA movie mode that feels dated. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 fps) with sound until you hit the 4GB file size limit or 1 hour time limit. At the highest quality setting you'll hit the file size limit first, in about 45 minutes.

For even longer recording times, you can drop the resolution to 320 x 240 (30 fps), which allows you to hit that 1 hour time limit. The Color Swap and Color Accent features are available in movie mode, should you want them.

Despite what the camera manual says ("you can also zoom in and out with the zoom lever during shooting"), you cannot operate the zoom lens while you're recording a movie. You can, however, use the digital zoom. As you'd expect, the image stabilizer is active during movie recording. The G11 also offers a wind filter, which comes in handy when you're taking movies outdoors.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the efficient H.264 codec.

Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting:


Click to play movie (18.9 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime/H.264 format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The PowerShot G11 has a very nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (complete with transitions), image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and zoom & scroll. This last feature will enlarge the image by as much as ten times, and let you move around. You can use the scroll wheel on the back of the camera to move from image to image, while keeping the zoom and scroll setting intact. You can also use the Focus Check feature by pressing the Display button, which will enlarge the focus point or the faces that were detected in the photo.

Original photo Photo after "auto" i-Contrast

Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can apply most of the My Colors feature to your photos, as well. If there's any redeye in your photos, you'll find a tool to remove it here. You can also use the i-Contrast feature to brighten up the dark areas of your photos, with a choice of Auto, Low, Medium, or High settings.

If you're viewing a movie, you can use the Edit tool to trim unwanted footage off of the beginning or end of the clip.


Selecting a category

Photos that were taken in certain scene modes are automatically categorized, but if you want to do it manually, just use the My Category option. Your selection saved in the photo's metadata and transferred over to your computer (though only Canon's software can do anything with it).

Moving through photos with the scroll wheel... ... and the Jump button

There are several ways to move through photos on the camera. Naturally, you can just press left or right on the four-way controller. You can also turn the scroll wheel, which lets you move through your photos a lot quicker. Another option is to use the Jump feature, which lets you move ahead by date, category, file type, or just by 10 or 100 photos.

By default you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get more info, including a histogram.

If you're using the four-way controller to move through photos, you'll wait for less than a second between each one. You can move through them a lot quicker by using the scroll wheel. Like nearly all of Canon's cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.

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