Originally Posted: October 17, 2010
Last Updated: January 19, 2011
The PowerShot G12 ($499) is the latest model in Canon's flagship G-series of digital cameras. It's a relatively minor update to the PowerShot G11, adding these features:
- High Sensitivity System combines a larger-than-average 10 Megapixel CCD with a DIGIC 4 image processor for better image quality in low light (the G11 was essentially the same, just without the marketing term)
- Uses new "Hybrid" optical image stabilizer, which reduces both shift and angular blur
- Faster continuous shooting
- New control dial on the front of the camera
- ISO dial on top of camera now adjusts sensitivity in 1/3-stop increments
- New HDR (high dynamic range) feature, plus additional special effect scene modes
- Records 720p video at 24 frames/sec with stereo sound
- Support for SDXC memory cards
As you can see, there's nothing really ground-breaking here, but it's a nice upgrade nonetheless. There are two "downgrades" on the G12: battery life has dropped about 5%, and the manual is now in PDF format on an included CD-ROM.
So what hasn't changed? The G12 retains the same (28 - 140 mm zoom lens, high resolution rotating LCD, rangefinder-style design, full manual controls, and expandability of the G11 that came before it. And did I mention the optical viewfinder, which has become all too rare on compact cameras these days?
Is the PowerShot G12 the ultimate compact camera? Find out now in our review!
Due to their similarities, portions of both the PowerShot G11 and S95 reviews will be reused here.
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot G12 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 10.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot G12 digital camera
- NB-7L lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Neck strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution and manuals
- 34 page basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
The PowerShot G12 does not come with a memory card, nor does it have any built-in memory. That means that you'll need to buy a memory card right away, unless you happen to have one sitting around already. The G12 supports a lengthy list of flash memory, including SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus media, though I'd stick with the first three if I were you. If you're sticking with still photos, then a 2GB card is probably adequate. Movie fanatics will probably want an 8GB card. It's worth spending a bit more for a high speed card (Class 6 or faster), especially for movie recording.
The G12 uses the same NB-7L rechargeable lithium-ion battery as the PowerShot G10 and G11. This battery packs 7.8 Wh of energy into its plastic shell, which is quite good for a compact camera. Here's how that translates into battery life:
As you can see, the PowerShot G12 comes up just shy of the top spot in the battery life table. For whatever reason, the number of shots per charge has dropped about 5% since the G11, but it's still quite good. The Fuji and Sony aren't really true competitors of the G12, but I'm throwing them in anyway since they're advertised as being "high sensitivity".
I do want to mention the usual issues about the proprietary batteries used by the G12 and every other camera on the above list. They're expensive (a spare will set you back at least $50, though generic may be available for less), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when your rechargeable runs out of juice.
When it's time to charge the NB-7L, just pop it into the included charger. The charger plugs directly into the wall, and takes approximately 140 minutes to fully charge the battery.
As you can see, the PowerShot G12 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no clunky lens cap to deal with.
PowerShot G12 with the new FA-DC58B filter adapter
Image courtesy of Canon
The PowerShot G12 has an impressive collection of accessories for a compact camera. If you didn't know any better, you'd think you were looking at a digital SLR's accessories! Here are the most notable items that you can pick up:
There are a few more items that I didn't list, such as a flash bracket, off-shoe flash cable, and an inexpensive external slave flash (though I don't know why you'd bother with that, given the G12's hot shoe).
Alright, let's talk software now!
Camera Window in Mac OS X
Canon includes version 74 (that's not a typo!) of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot G12. The first part of the software suite that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window (pictured above), which you'll use to transfer images to your computer, organize photos on the camera (meaning delete or protect), upload videos to YouTube, and adjust a few camera settings (startup screen, sounds, theme).
ImageBrowser in Mac OS X
After you've transferred photos to your computer, you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, which are for Mac and Windows respectively. The Browser software lets you view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos. If you categorized any photos on the camera (more on this later), then this information is transferred into the Browser software.
Editing in ImageBrowser
Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, plus the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment option for those who want a quick fix.
While Browser can open RAW files, it cannot edit them or export them as JPEGs.
Digital Photo Professional in Mac OS X
For editing RAW images, Canon includes their Digital Photo Professional software. The main screen isn't too different from Image/ZoomBrowser (I guess it looks a little more "professional"), with your choice of three thumbnail sizes, plus a thumbnail + shooting data screen. The batch processing tool lets you quickly resize and rename a large number of photos.
RAW editing in DPP
The RAW editing tools in DPP are fairly elaborate. You can adjust exposure, white balance, the tone curve, color saturation, sharpness, and noise reduction. The software is very responsive, with nearly instant updates to the image after you change a parameter.
As of the publication date of this review, Adobe Photoshop CS5 was not able to open the PowerShot G12's RAW files. I imagine that the next version of the Camera Raw plug-in will support it.
So what's the big deal about RAW, anyway? RAW images contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. This allows you to adjust settings like white balance and exposure without degrading the quality of the original image, so it's almost like taking the photo again. The downside is the large file size (compared to JPEG), fewer shots in continuous shooting mode, and the need to post-process each image on your computer before you can turn it into a more common format like JPEG.
PhotoStitch in Mac OS X
The last part of the Canon software suite that I want to mention is PhotoStitch. As you can see, this allows you to combine multiple photos into a single panoramic image. It's super easy to use, and the results can be impressive. While using the G12's Stitch Assist feature isn't required to make panoramas, it does help you line things up correctly, so there are no "seams" in the final product.
Something missing from the software suite is the ability to control the camera from your Mac or PC. This was a feature of earlier G-series cameras, but for whatever reason got axed on the G11 last year.
Things have gone downhill in the documentation department. While the PowerShot G11 had a thick, printed manual in the box, all you'll find with the G12 is a 35 page "getting started" guide. The full manual is now in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. While I don't like digital manuals for any camera, it's especially disappointing when the product costs $500. The manual itself is quite detailed, though it's not what I'd consider user-friendly. Documentation for the software bundle is installed onto your Mac or PC.
Look and Feel
The PowerShot G12 looks nearly identical to its predecessor, with the most significant change found on the front of the camera:
|The front of the PowerShot G11 and G12. Images courtesy of Canon USA.|
If you look at the top-left of the above photo, you'll see what I'm talking about. On the G12, the logo has headed south, with a new front control dial taking its place. You'll use this dial to adjust manual exposure settings, among other settings. Combine this with the scroll wheel on the back of the camera, and the G12 operates a lot like a digital SLR. The other changes include finer control over sensitivity using the ISO dial on the top of the camera, and a more defined thumb rest on the back.
The G12 remains as very well built camera, with a rangefinder-style metal and plastic body. It feels very solid in your hands, with even the normally flimsy battery door feeling pretty strong. The camera can be comfortably held and operated with just one hand. While the thumb rest is more defined now, I still found the lower part of that finger resting right on the four-way controller, which can be "dangerous". While the most important camera controls are well-placed, the G12 is loaded with buttons and dials, which can be it a bit intimidating at first. Once you get used to the camera, you'll learn to love having all those direct buttons and dials -- changing the ISO and exposure compensation has never been easier.
Now, let's see how the PowerShot G12 compares to the small group of competitors, in terms of size and weight:
The PowerShot G12 is the tied with the Nikon Coolpix P7000 (a new camera which looks almost like a clone of the G12) for the title of largest camera in the group. The G12 has lost a bit of weight compared to its predecessor, though it's still one of the heavier cameras in its class. It's not a pocket camera by any means, but it travels easily enough over your shoulder, or in a camera bag.
Alright, let's begin our tour of the PowerShot G12 now, starting (as always) with the front view.
The PowerShot G12 has the same F2.8-4.5, 5X optical zoom lens as the G10 and G11 that came before it. I've been a bit disappointed the lenses on recent G models, not for their quality, but for the fact that they aren't "fast" like the lenses found on earlier models (the old PowerShot G6 had an F2.0-3.0 lens). The focal range of this lens is 6.1 - 30.5 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 140 mm. While the lens itself is not threaded, you can add conversion lenses and filters by using the adapters I mentioned in the previous section. To attach the adapter, you need to remove the ring around the lens barrel, which is done by pressing the button at the lower-right of the photo. You can also buy different colored "rings", if you so desire.
The PowerShot G12 has a new hybrid optical image stabilization system, just like its more compact sibling, the S95. How does this new system work? I think Canon explains it better than I could:
Hybrid IS employs both an angular sensor and an accelerometer, enabling it to suppress both the blur caused by the angle of the camera and the "shift blur" that happens when your subject moves parallel to the camera, a problem that is especially noticeable at large zoom factors.
Sounds good to me! Keep in mind that no matter how fancy the image stabilization system, it still won't freeze a moving subject, nor will it allow for multi-second handheld exposures. But it's still way better than nothing at all. Let's take a look at the G12's IS system in action now, shall we?
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
Both of these photos were taken at 1/5 of a second, with the lens in the middle of its range. I don't have to tell you that the photo taken with IS turned on looks a whole lot sharper! You can also use the image stabilizer in movie mode -- and it works quite well -- as you'll see in this brief example.
To the upper-right of the lens, just above the Canon logo, is the camera's built-in flash. The G12's flash is a bit stronger than the one on the G11, with a working range of 0.5 - 7.0 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 4.0 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO), which is quite powerful. If you want more flash power and a reduced chance of redeye, then you can add an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.
To the left of the flash is the optical viewfinder, followed by the rather large AF-assist lamp. This lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations. It's also used for reducing redeye and as a visual indicator for the self-timer and smile detection features.
The last thing to see on the front of the camera is that new control dial that I mentioned earlier. You'll use it to adjust manual exposure settings, though its function can be changed in the shooting menu, which I'll get to later.
One of the features that made the PowerShot G-series cameras famous was their rotating LCD display. This 2.8" screen flips out to the side and rotates a total of 270 degrees, from facing your subject all the way around to pointing at the ground. This allows for overhead or ground-level shots that would be nearly impossible with conventional LCDs. The screen can also be placed in the "traditional" position (see below), or closed entirely when not in use (or if you're using the viewfinder).
Here's the back of the PowerShot G12, with the LCD in its standard position. The screen is the same as on the G11, which is fine by me. The screen has 461,000 pixels, so everything's nice and sharp. I was impressed with the viewing angle of the display, as well. Outdoor visibility was good (though not quite as nice as on the PowerShot S95), and the screen brightens automatically in low light, so you can still see your subject.
Above the LCD is the G12's optical viewfinder, which has become a very uncommon feature these days. This viewfinder has 77% coverage, and you can use the diopter correction wheel to its left to focus what you're looking at. I found that you can see the lens in the lower-left corner of the viewfinder at the wide end of the lens (just like on the G11). I also don't think it's sticks out far enough from the back of the camera, especially as someone who wears glasses. I don't want to complain too much -- I'm grateful that there's a viewfinder in the first place!
To the left of the viewfinder is the shortcut button, which is customizable. By default it doesn't do anything, and later in the review I'll tell you what options can be assigned to it. When you're plugged into a computer or printer, the button allows you to transfer photos to your PC, or select photos for printing.
On the opposite side of the viewfinder you'll find the button for entering playback mode. Continuing to the right, we find the AE/FE lock button, which does just as it sounds.
Moving downward, we find buttons for focus point selection + delete photo and metering mode + jump (ahead when reviewing photos). I'll tell you more about the focus modes when we get to the menu section of the review. The available metering modes include evaluative, center-weighted, and spot.
Under that is the combination four-way controller and control dial. The dial is used for many things, including navigating menus, quickly flipping through photos you've taken, and adjusting manual exposure settings. The four-way controller (which is a bit too small for my taste) can be used for many of the same things, and it also does the following:
- Up - Manual focus (on/off)
- Down - Self-timer (Off, custom) - see below
- Left - Macro (on/off)
- Right - Flash (Auto, on, slow synchro, off)
- Center - Function menu (see below) + Set
Manual focus mode (center-frame enlargement not shown)
The manual focus feature lets you use the control dial to set the focus distance yourself. A guide showing the focus distance is displayed on the right side of the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged, as well. You can get an "assist" from the autofocus system by pressing the focus point button. Something else you can see here is the camera's built-in electronic level (toward the bottom-center of the photo). When the little line in that guide is in the middle it will turn green, telling you that the camera is level.
The G12 has a totally customizable self-timer. You can set both the delay (0-30 secs) and the number of shots (1-10) that will be taken. There are some other cool self-timer features that I'll tell you about a little later.
Pressing the center button on the four-way controller options up the Function menu, which has these options:
- DR correction (Off, auto, 200%, 400%)
- Shadow Correct (Off, auto)
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, underwater, custom 1/2)
- My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color)
- Bracketing (Off, exposure, focus)
- Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous, continuous AF)
- Flash compensation/output (-2EV to +2EV or 1/3, 2/3, Full) - choices depend on shooting mode
- ND filter (on/off)
- Aspect ratio (16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 1:1, 4:5) - new to the G12
- File type (JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG)
- Image size / quality (see chart later in review)
Two new features on the PowerShot G12 are dynamic range and shadow correction. The latter was actually on the G11, where it was known as i-Contrast. Dynamic range correction is used to reduce highlight clipping, while shadow correction brightens the underexposed areas of a photo. Dynamic range correction requires the camera to boost the sensitivity, up to a maximum of ISO 3200. Shadow correction does its thing without increasing the ISO sensitivity but, as with DR correction, there still may be an increase in noise. I managed to use the same "purple fringing torture tunnel" for three examples in this review, with the first being DR correction:
|DR Correct Off
View Full Size Image
|DR Correct Auto
View Full Size Image
|DR Correct 200%
View Full Size Image
If you look on the right side of the original image (with DR correction off), you'll see blown highlights on the columns, the floor, and in the sky. Simply flipping the DR Correction setting to "auto" dramatically improves the image quality -- suddenly the sky is blue, and detail has returned to the columns and floor tiles. If you compare the 200% and 400% versions, it's pretty obvious that the "auto" setting chose something close to the latter. While the ISO is boosted to 320 for the Auto and 400% settings, the increase in noise is negligible.
Now, let's use that same exact scene to see what the shadow correct feature can do:
|Shadow Correct off
View Full Size Image
|Shadow Correct On
View Full Size Image
Not much to say here -- the shadow correction feature works as advertised! Do note that you can also use this feature (which is known by its old name, i-Contrast) in playback mode.
Fine-tuning white balance
The G12 has a nice set of white balance controls. In addition to the usual presets, there are also two custom slots, which allow you to use a white or gray card to get accurate color in unusual lighting conditions. You can also fine-tune any of the white balance items, in the amber-blue and/or green-magenta directions. Two things you (still) can't do on the PowerShot G12: bracket for white balance or set the color temperature.
Sharpness is one of the settings you can adjust with the Custom Color option
The My Colors feature should be self-explanatory, save for the custom option. This one lets you manually adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, as well as red/green/blue/skin tone levels. I would've liked to have a noise reduction option here, as well.
The G12 has the ability to bracket for both exposure and focus. For exposure, the camera takes three photos in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each shot can be as little as 1/3EV or as much as 2EV. Focus bracketing is something that you can use in manual focus mode. The camera also takes three shots in a row: one at the selected focus position, a second a little closer, and a third a little further away. You can adjust how large the interval between each shot is, though it's not specific (just small, medium, or large).
Now let's talk about the continuous shooting modes on the PowerShot G12. There are three continuous modes on the camera: regular (which locks the focus on the first shot), AF (which refocuses before each shot), and LV (locks focus on first shot - for manual focus and fireworks mode only). Here's what kind of performance you can expect from the G12's continuous modes:
The burst mode has received a nice speed increase on the PowerShot G12, especially when taking JPEGs. Where the G11 took photos at 1.1 fps at that setting, the G12 is capable of nearly twice that. And, you can keep shooting until your memory card is full, regardless of the image quality setting. The LCD keeps up with the action fairly well, so you should be able to track a moving subject.
One of the unique features of the G12 (and its predecessors) is its built-in neutral density filter (many other cameras have them, but the G12 actually lets you turn it on or off). The ND filter cuts down how much light hits the sensor (by three stops), which allows you to use slower shutter speeds or smaller aperture values than you could otherwise.
Getting back to the tour now: the last two items on the back of the camera are the Display and Menu buttons. The Display button toggles the information shown on the LCD (or turns it off entirely), while the Menu button does exactly as you'd expect.
Like dials on your camera? Then you'll be in hog heaven with this next view of the PowerShot G12. The dial on the left lets you adjust the exposure compensation from -2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments.
Next up is the hot shoe. For best results, you'll want to attach one of the Canon Speedlites I mentioned back in the accessory discussion, as they will sync up with the camera's metering system, and also allow for high speed flash sync. The top-of-the-line 580EX II flash and the ST-E2 wireless transmitter can also be used to control other flashes. Another advantage to using a Canon flash is that you can adjust the settings using the menu system on the PowerShot G12. If you're using a non-compatible flash, you'll most likely need to adjust its settings manually. The G12 can sync as fast as 1/250 second with a non-Canon external flash.
Straddling the hot shoe are the G12's stereo microphones (the one on the right is hard to see). Stereo sound recording in movie mode is one of the new features on the PowerShot G12.
Continuing to the right, we find two dials, one on top of the other. The larger one on the bottom is for adjusting the ISO sensitivity, from 80 to 3200. On the PowerShot G11 it moved in 1-stop increments, while on the G12 you get 1/3-stop precision. The small dial on top is the mode dial, which has these options:
As you can see, the PowerShot G12 offers a full set of manual controls, with the ability to save two sets of camera functions to the custom spots on the mode dial. About the only thing missing is a bulb mode.
If you don't want to deal with manual controls, just throw the camera into Smart Auto mode. The G12 will pick one of twenty-eight scene modes for you, and it can even detect when the camera's on a tripod, adjusting the settings appropriately. Face detection and subject tracking are also available in this mode.
If you want to pick your own scene mode, there are plenty to choose from, including several new choices. Here are some of the most interesting (to me, at least):
Smart Shutter takes advantage of the camera's face and smile detection system, and can do some pretty neat tricks. The first is smile detection, which will take a photo of your subject or subjects as soon as one of them smiles. You can select how many photos are taken before the smile detection feature is turned off. Next up is the wink self-timer, which I believe is a Canon exclusive. Compose the shot, turn on the self-timer, and when someone "winks" at the camera, it'll take a photo two seconds later. The last Smart Shutter feature is face self-timer, which will wait until a new face appears in the scene (presumably that of the photographer), and then take a picture.
The HDR (high dynamic range) feature is new and welcome addition to the PowerShot G12. HDR photography isn't new, but having a "one-touch" option on a camera is. In this mode, the G12 takes three photos, each at a different exposure. These photos are combined into a single exposure, with dramatically improved contrast. Unlike some of the "high speed" cameras that can take handheld HDR photos, you absolutely need a tripod when using this feature on the G12. Here's an example for you, again using the purple fringing torture tunnel:
View Full Size Image
|HDR mode on
View Full Size Image
As you can see, the HDR feature both brightened the shadows, and reduced the highlight clipping in the above photo. Detail has returned to the areas on the right side that were "clipped" in the regular photo. If you look over on the left side of the HDR photo, you'll see another issue with HDR photography: moving subjects will be in several places in the finished product!
The next group of scene modes are all special effects. The Color Accent and Color Swap features have been around for several years, but they're still worth a mention. Color accent lets you select a color in the image that you want to "keep", while the rest of the photo is changed to black and white. Color swap does just as it sounds-- you swap one color for another. The nostalgic mode lets you see the front dial to select how "aged" a photo looks. The fisheye effect should be self-explanatory, while the miniature effect blurs the image, except for a selected area (which can be horizontal or vertical), making things like cars look like toys.
The final scene mode is Stitch Assist, which lets you overlap photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single panoramic image (on your Mac or PC).
The view on the LCD in Quick Shot mode. Pressing the Function button allows you to adjust any of the settings on the screen.
The Quick Shot mode is pretty cool, in that it feels a lot like using a digital SLR. The LCD turns into an info screen that you can use to view and adjust the camera's settings, and you compose your photos using the optical viewfinder. The camera also turns on continuous autofocus (and face detection) which reduces overall focus times (but puts an extra strain on your battery).
The PowerShot G12 retains the same low light mode as its predecessor. This lowers the resolution to 2.5 Megapixel and expands the ISO range all the way to 12,800. I don't think you actually want to use that setting, but if you do, it's there. At the more reasonable setting of ISO 3200, you'll get photos that make for "just okay" 4 x 6 inch prints (example).
Completing our look at the top of the camera, you'll find the power button and shutter release / zoom controller combo at the far right of the above photo. The zoom controller, which is on the small side, moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.9 seconds. I counted fourteen steps in the camera's 5X zoom range. I still think that bot the zoom controller and the shutter release are too small, with the latter seeming a little too sensitive, at least on my camera.
The only thing to see on this side of the G12 is its very stylish speaker. The lens is at the wide-angle position here.
On the other side of the camera you'll find its I/O ports, most of which are kept under a plastic door of average quality. Before we open it up for a closer look, I should mention that the lens is at full telephoto in this picture.
Alright, let's open that door!
The ports here are for HDMI, remote control, and USB+A/V output. In case you're wondering where you plug in the optional AC adapter, the G12 uses a DC coupler, which is essentially a battery with a power cord coming out of it.
On the bottom of the G12 you'll find a metal tripod mount (hidden from view here), plus the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is reinforced, and fairly sturdy. I was disappointed to see that you can't get to the memory card slot when the camera is on a tripod on Canon's flagship compact camera.
The included NB-7L battery can be seen at right.
Using the Canon PowerShot G12
It takes about 1.1 seconds for the PowerShot G12 to roll out its lens and prepare for shooting. That's pretty quick, especially for a camera with an extending lens.
There's a live histogram and an electronic level on the PowerShot G12
Autofocus speeds are right where they were on the G11, which is to say "good, but not fantastic". In good light and at the wide-angle end of the lens, the G12 locks focus in 0.3 to 0.5 seconds. At the telephoto end of the lens, focus times will be about twice that. The PowerShot G12 does focus relatively quickly (~1 sec focus times) and accurately in low light, courtesy of its AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag wasn't an issue, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.
Shot-to-shot times ranged from 1.5 seconds for JPEGs to 2 seconds for RAW images. Adding the flash into the mix increased both of those times to around 2.5 seconds.
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, at least for the 4:3 aspect ratio:
As you can see, the G12 can take a RAW image alone, or with a Large/Fine JPEG. If you flip the camera into RAW mode, you'll find that you cannot take a photo at any aspect ratio other than 4:3. However, by selecting RAW+JPEG, you can do so, with the RAW image appearing "pre-cropped" when you open it up in Digital Photo Professional.
Alright, let's move onto the menu system now!
When "Hints & Tips" is turned on in the setup menu, the camera will show a brief description of the highlighted menu option
The menu system on the PowerShot G12 looks exactly like the one found on its predecessor. It's attractive, easy to navigate, and features "hints & tips" that describe each option. When you're taking pictures, the menu is divided into three tabs, covering shooting, setup, and "My Menu" options. Keeping in mind that not all of these are available in each shooting mode, here's the full list:
You can put up to five of your favorite shooting menu items here
The G12 detected three faces in our test scene, though it was very "jumpy"
There are four AF modes on the PowerShot G12, though only three are accessible at any one time. Face AiAF combines multi-point autofocus with face detection. If the camera detects any faces, it will give them focus priority, making sure white balance and exposure are accurate. 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 use the Face Select feature to follow them as they move around the scene. Recent Canon cameras haven't fared well with my test scene -- it seems to jump from person-to-person, usually locking onto three or maybe four faces at one time. I imagine that in reality it will fare much better. The G12 also features a blink detection feature that warns you if one of your subjects had their eyes closed in the photo you just took.
The next AF mode is FlexiZone, which lets you select the area in the frame on which you wish to focus (save for a margin around the edges). The size of the focus point can be adjusted as well, with a choice of small or normal. In some shooting modes you'll have center-point AF, instead of FlexiZone. The fourth and final AF mode is new to the G12, and that's Tracking AF. Point the camera at your subject, press the focus point button, and the camera will follow them as they move around the frame. This is different from the Face Select feature that I just mentioned, as it works with any 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 the standard digital zoom setting without reducing image quality, as long as you stop at the right time (the zoom position indicator becomes yellow). At the Medium 2 (2 Megapixel) setting you can get 8.7X of total zoom without a loss of quality.
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.
The last thing to mention is the Dial Function option, where you can customize the function of both the front and rear control dials. In addition to their default functions (adjusting exposure), these dials can also be set to adjust aspect ratio, white balance correction, and i-Contrast (shadow/dynamic range correction).
Enough about menus, let's talk photo quality now!
The PowerShot G12 did a superb job with our macro test subject. The image is tack sharp, yet still retains the "smooth" look that has become a Canon trademark. The colors are nice and vivid, with the G12 handling our quartz studio lamps with ease. I don't see any signs of noise or noise reduction artifacting, neither of which I would expect.
The macro focus range is the same as it was on the PowerShot G10 and G11. You can be just 1 cm away from your subject at wide-angle, while that number jumps to 30 cm at the telephoto end of things.
|The night photos were reshot on 1/19/2011 to provide a brighter exposure|
The night shot turned out pretty well, though it's a bit more "zoomed out" than I would've liked (the G12 doesn't offer much precision when it comes to adjusting the focal length). With full manual controls at your disposal, bringing in enough light for a photo like this is a piece of cake. The point-and-shoot crowd can use the Smart Auto mode to take long exposures, with the camera even detecting when you're using a tripod. The buildings look nice and sharp, with minimal noise levels. There is some highlight clipping here, as well as some cyan-color fringing around bright light sources.
Let's use that same night scene to see how the PowerShot G12 performed at higher sensitivities:
The first three crops (ISO 80, 100, and 200) are all very clean, with just small increases in noise as the sensitivity goes up. ISO 400 has more visible noise as well as some detail loss, though it's still usable for midsize and perhaps large prints. Details start to go south at ISO 800, so I'd save this for small prints only, or consider shooting RAW (see below for that). The buildings start looking pretty mushy at ISO 1600, and they start to fade into the background at ISO 3200.
Now, I want to show you the benefits of shooting RAW at higher sensitivities. Let's take that so-so ISO 800 shot and the soft and mushy ISO 1600 photo and see if we can't bring them back to life with a little post-processing.
At ISO 800 there's no doubt that shooting RAW and then doing some really easy post-processing (noise reduction and sharpening) gives you much nicer results. The retouched image has more noise, but it has a lot more detail than the JPEG, so it's worth the trade-off in my opinion. While there's also an improvement at ISO 1600, don't expect to be making 11 x 14 inch prints of the photo.
I'll have examples of how the G12 performs in normal lighting in a moment.
The amount of barrel distortion at the wide end of the PowerShot G12's lens is somewhere between mild and moderate. You can see what this does to your real world photos by taking a look at the building on the right side of this photo. I did not find corner blurring or vignetting (dark corners) to be a problem on the G12.
The PowerShot G12 takes a two-pronged approach to redeye removal. You can have it use its AF-assist lamp to shrink the size of your subject's pupils, and the G12 can also digitally remove any redeye that survives that. Above you can see the results I got with both removal methods turned on -- there's some noticeable redeye. So, I went into playback mode and tried to remove it there:
Voila -- no more redeye. I'm not sure why the playback tool could remove the red, but the real-time system could not -- perhaps because the one in playback mode takes more time to look for it? Regardless, one way or another, you should be able to keep redeye out of your photos.
Now it's time for the G12's normal light 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 begin:
Everything looks great through ISO 400, with just a slight hint of noise at that last sensitivity. ISO 800 is still remarkably clean for a compact camera, with very low noise levels. Things unfortunately start to soften up at ISO 1600, meaning that you'll have to reduce your print sizes or shoot RAW instead. ISO 3200 has more noise and less detail, but there may yet be hope for it...
I already showed you how using the RAW format and doing 30 seconds of post-processing can improve the quality of the G12's high sensitivity photos. Well, here are two more examples, using the ISO 1600 and 3200 photos from above.
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (DPP)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (DPP)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
I don't think anyone will deny that the post-processed images look better than the original JPEGs. Sure, they have more or a grainy look to them, but there's a lot more detail. While there's little to be gained (in terms of image quality) by using RAW at low sensitivities, it's definitely worth it when the ISO gets to its higher settings.
The PowerShot G12 has some of the best photo quality of any compact camera. Exposure was generally accurate, though like every compact camera, the G12 will clip highlights at times. Thankfully, I showed you two ways in which you can reduce this: the dynamic range correction and HDR features (though the latter requires a tripod). Colors were nice and saturated -- no complaints there. Photos do have the aforementioned "smooth" look to them, which some may find to be a bit soft. If you're one of those people, you might want to make a custom My Colors setting with increased sharpening. The camera keeps noise levels very low until you get to ISO 800 in low light and ISO 1600 in good light. Both the church interior (ISO 400) and Fish Company sign (ISO 640) were very clean for a fixed-lens camera. While purple fringing popped up here and there, it was never strong enough for me to consider it a problem.
Don't just take my word for all of this. Have a look at our photo gallery, perhaps printing a few pictures, and then decide if the PowerShot G12's image quality meets your needs.
One of the areas in which the PowerShot G12 was enhanced was with regard to its movie mode. While the G11 had a VGA movie mode, the PowerShot G12 can record 720p video with stereo sound, albeit at 24 frames/second. You can keep recording until the file size reaches 4GB, which will take about 25 minutes. The resolution can also be lowered to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 (both at 30 fps), though recording will stop just before the timer hits 30 minutes.
One thing that hasn't changed is the inability to use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie. You can use the digital zoom, but it will degrade the quality of the video. The image stabilizer can be used without issue, though. There aren't any manual controls in movie mode, though the wind filter comes in handy when you're shooting outdoors.
There are three special effect movie modes: miniature, Color Swap, and Color Accent. The former works in the same way as it does for stills, except that 1) movies are silent and 2) you can select a playback speed of 5X, 10X, or 20X. The Color Swap and Color Accent features were explained earlier.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the efficient H.264 codec.
I haven't done an Amtrak sample video in a while, so here's one taken at the 720p setting. It's a bit choppy, but that's what you get with a frame rate of 24 fps. Be warned, it's a very large download!
The PowerShot G12 has a new and improved playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (complete with transitions), image protection, favorite-tagging, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and playback zoom. This last feature will enlarge the image by as much as ten times, and then 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.
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. The G12 has the ability to assign a category to a photo, and in many cases, it's done automatically, based on the scene mode that was used.
The only video editing feature is a useful one -- a trimming tool to remove unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a clip.
|Filtering photos by date using the Jump feature||Smart Shuffle|
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 filtered playback (jump) feature, which lets you show photos by date, category, file type, whether they're a favorite, and you can move forward or backward by 10 or 100 photos, as well. A new addition to the PowerShot G12 is the Smart Shuffle feature, which shows four photos which are somehow related to the one currently selected (I don't really see the point of this one).
By default, you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get a lot more, including a histogram. On the info screen you can press "up" on the four-way controller to reveal an RGB histogram.
The PowerShot G12 moves from one photo to another without delay.
How Does it Compare?
The PowerShot G12 is one of very few cameras that feels like a go-anywhere digital SLR. Sure, it's not as fast as the real thing, nor is the image quality as good (at higher sensitivities). But it does offer solid build quality, very good photo quality, generally snappy performance, an optical viewfinder (a rarity these days), manual controls, tons of customizable features, and the kind of expandability that you'd only find, well, on a D-SLR. No camera is perfect, and the PowerShot G12 is no exception. The lens isn't really remarkable considering that this is Canon's flagship camera, especially if you remember the fast lens on earlier G-series cameras. The control layout is a little tight, and can be overwhelming to new users. And while I love having an optical viewfinder, I don't like having a nice view of the lens while at the wide-angle position. The new 720p movie mode is nice, though I wish the frame rate was higher, and that the optical zoom was available while recording. Despite those issues, the PowerShot G12 is an impressive beast, whether you just want a high-end compact camera, or a "second camera" to go along with your D-SLR.
From a design standpoint, the PowerShot G12 is essentially a clone of the G11 that came before it. That means that it sports a well constructed metal and plastic body with a classic rangefinder style. New additions to the body include a front dial for adjusting manual exposure settings, stereo microphones, and more options on the ISO dial. With its countless buttons and dials, the PowerShot G12 can be a bit overwhelming to new users. Once you get the hang of things, though, you start to appreciate having things like ISO and exposure compensation close-at-hand. I do wish that some of the controls were a bit larger, notably the zoom and four-way controllers and the shutter release button. The G12 uses the same F2.8-4.5, 28 - 140 mm lens as the G10 and G11 that came before it. The lens isn't terribly fast (especially compared to classic G-series cameras), but it's sharp across the frame, with minimal purple fringing. The G12 uses Canon's new "hybrid" optical image stabilization system, which reduces both shift and angular camera shake. On the back of the camera you'll find a flip-out, rotating 2.8" LCD with 461,000 pixels. The screen is quite sharp, and it offers good outdoor and low light visibility. As I mentioned above, the G12 has an optical viewfinder with 77% coverage, though I"m not a fan of having the view blocked by the lens barrel when at the wide end of things. Something I like a lot more about the G12 is its expandability. You can add a teleconversion lens, filters, external flash (including dedicated macro Speedlites), underwater case, wired remote control, and more.
The PowerShot G12 is definitely feature-packed, for both beginners and enthusiasts. If you want point-and-shoot, the G12 offers a Smart Auto mode that can select one of 28 scene modes automatically, even detecting when you're using a tripod. There are plenty of other scene modes you can choose from, plus some fun special effects. I found the face, smile, and wink self-timers to be handy, as well. If you're an enthusiast, you'll love what the G12 has to offer. You've got your manual exposure controls, white balance fine-tuning, exposure and focus bracketing, and customizable buttons, menus, and dials. The camera supports the RAW image format, and Canon includes a pretty nice editor with the camera. About the only things missing in terms of manual controls are a bulb mode, the ability to set the color temperature, and white balance bracketing. The G12 now sports a 720p movie mode, allowing you to record up to 25 minutes of continuous HD video, with stereo sound. The bad news is that the frame rate is 24 fps (so things are slightly choppy) and that the optical zoom cannot be operating while you're recording.
The G12 is generally a good performer. Hit the power button and it's ready to start taking photos in about 1.1 seconds -- not bad for a camera with an extending lens. Autofocus speeds won't break any records, but the camera will accurately focus in about 0.3 - 0.5 seconds at wide-angle, and 0.6 - 1.0 seconds at telephoto. Low light focusing was good, with focus times hovering around the one second mark. Shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot speeds ranged from 1.5 seconds for JPEGs to 2 seconds for RAW. Adding the flash into the mix increases the delay to 2.5 seconds, which isn't too bad. The G12's continuous shooting mode is faster than it was on the G11, now allowing you to take an unlimited number of RAW or JPEG images at 1.2 and 2.0 frames/second, respectively. While battery life has dropped slightly since the PowerShot G11, the G12's numbers are still above average.
Photo quality is one of the PowerShot G12's strong points. It takes well-exposed pictures, with vivid colors and a pleasing "smooth" appearance. The camera definitely lives up to its "high sensitivity" billing, with photos that have lower noise than typical compact cameras. You can safely use the PowerShot G12 at ISO 400 in low light and ISO 800 in good light without having to worry about noise. If you want to use higher sensitivities, then it's a good idea to use the RAW format and do some post-processing, which will give you cleaner, more detailed photos. The camera does clip highlights at times, but you have two features to combat that: G12's dynamic range correction and HDR features (tripod required for the latter). The G12 did have some redeye in our flash test photos, even with all the preventative features turned on. Thankfully, I was able to get rid of that annoyance using the tool in playback mode (which strangely enough did not work on the G12's little brother, the S95). While purple fringing popped up here and there, it was generally minor.
Three last issues before I wrap things up. First, the full camera manual is only available in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. Come on Canon, this a $500 camera! You won't be able to access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod. And finally, on a related note, the G12 does not come with a memory card, nor does it have any built-in memory.
You'd expect great things from Canon's flagship compact camera and, in most respects, the PowerShot G12 delivers. It offers a solid (though somewhat cluttered) design, great photo quality, features for beginners and enthusiasts, HD video, and more optional extras than anything else in its class. Sure, a faster lens, further improved movie mode, and an actual printed manual would be nice, but I guess those will have to wait for the next model (or so I hope). For now, though, the PowerShot G12 is a good choice for those wanting near-D-SLR image quality, performance, and expandability in a more portable body.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality, with about a full stop advantage over typical compact cameras at high sensitivities
- Nice 5X zoom lens with 28 - 140 mm range
- New and improved "hybrid" optical image stabilization
- Well built, rangefinder-style body
- Flip-out, rotating high resolution 2.8" LCD display; good outdoor and low light visibility
- Optical viewfinder
- Snappy performance in most respects
- Full manual controls, with support for RAW format
- Smart Auto mode picks one of twenty-eight scene modes for you
- Customizable menu, buttons, and spots on mode dial
- Useful HDR, dynamic range, and shadow correction features
- Powerful flash
- Built-in neutral density filter and electronic level
- Records movies at 720p (24 fps) with stereo sound and wind filter
- Very expandable: supports an external flash, remote shutter release, teleconverter lens, underwater case, and more
- Above average battery life
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Controls can be intimidating at first; small and cluttered buttons, especially zoom and four-way controllers and shutter release button
- Lens can be seen through optical viewfinder when at wide-angle position
- Some redeye, though removal tool in playback mode got rid of it
- Can't use optical zoom in movie mode; 24 fps frame rate a bit choppy
- Wish list: faster lens, WB bracketing, ability to set color temperature
- No memory card included; can't access memory card slot while using a tripod
- Full manual on CD-ROM
The closest competitors to the PowerShot G12 include the Nikon Coolpix P7000, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, and the Samsung TL500. The Fuji FinePix F300EXR and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX5 don't offer the same features and expandability of those cameras, but are still worth a look due to their high sensitivity abilities.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot G12 and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photos turned out in our gallery!