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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot G9  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 9, 2007
Last updated: December 31, 2011

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The Canon PowerShot G9 ($499) is a high-end fixed-lens camera offering almost every feature you could imagine. It replaces the PowerShot G7, which was a disappointment compared to previous models, in this reviewer's opinion. The new G9 takes care of many of the issues that people had with the G7, with the most notable change being the addition of RAW image support. However, the rotating LCD that made the G-series famous is still nowhere to be found.

Here's the full list of what's new on the G9 compared to its predecessor:

  • 12 Megapixel CCD (vs 10MP)
  • 3.0" LCD display (vs 2.5", though it still doesn't rotate like on previous G-series cameras)
  • RAW image format supported
  • Auto ISO Shift
  • In-camera redeye removal
  • Improved battery life + battery level indicator on LCD

There are a few other features that I'll cover in the body of the review. So what hasn't changed? The G9 features the same 6X optical zoom lens, image stabilization system, manual controls, SVGA movie mode, and classic design of its predecessor.

Will the PowerShot G9 live up to its heritage, unlike the G7 before it? Find out now in our review!

Since the two cameras have much in common, I will be reusing portions of the PowerShot G7 review here.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot G9 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 12.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot G9 IS camera
  • 32MB MMCplus memory card
  • NB-2LH rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
  • 273 page camera manual (printed)

Canon includes a 32MB MMCplus memory card in the box with the camera. Odds are that this is the only time you'll ever see an MMCplus card, as they're pretty rare. Anyhow, that card will hold just five photos at the highest JPEG quality setting, so you'll want to get yourself a larger memory card, and fast. The G9 supports four types of flash memory: SD, SDHC, MMC, and MMCplus, and I'd probably stick with the first two. I'd recommend a 2GB, high speed card for best camera performance.

The G9 uses the same NB-2LH battery as the G7 before it. This small battery packs 5.3 Wh of energy, which is about average for a camera in this class. Here's how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot A650 IS * 500 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Canon PowerShot A720 IS * 400 shots 2 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Canon PowerShot G7 * 220 shots NB-2LH
Canon PowerShot G9 * 240 shots NB-2LH
Fuji FinePix F50fd * 250 shots NP-50
GE E1240 210 shots GB-40
Kodak EasyShare Z1275 320 shots 2 x 2100 mAh NiMH
Nikon Coolpix P5100 * 240 shots EN-EL5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ7 * 460 shots 2 x unknown NiMH
Pentax Optio A40 * 240 shots D-LI68
Samsung NV20 ** 200 shots SLB-0837B
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200 * 300 shots NP-BG1

* Has image stabilization
** Number not obtained using the CIPA standard

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The good news is that the G9's battery life is about 10% better than its predecessor, though it's still way below what the "old" G6 used to get (300 shots). Despite the improvement, the G9's numbers are still below average in the group as a whole.

I always like to complain about proprietary batteries like the one used by the PowerShot G9, so here goes. For one, they're expensive, with an extra NB-2LH costing more than $45. Secondly, if your G9's battery dies, you can't pop in an off-the-shelf battery, as you could with a camera that uses AAs. If you're interested in such a camera, you'll see some of them listed above. The PowerShot A650 in particular has a lot in common with the G9.


When it's time to charge the battery, just snap it into the included charger, and plug the charger directly into the wall. It takes about 105 minutes to fully charge the NB-2LH.

*

There's a built-in lens cover on the G9, so there's no clunky lens cap to deal with. As you can see, it's a fairly bulky camera.

The G9 supports quite a few optional accessories, and I've compiled them all into this chart for you:

Accessory Model # Price * Why you want it
Wide-angle lens WC-DC58B From $145 Brings the wide end of the lens down by 0.75X to 26.3 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Telephoto lens TC-DC58C From $100 Boosts focal range by 2X to an ultra zoom-like 420 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Conversion lens adapter LA-DC58H From $17 Required for conversion lenses; threaded for 58 mm accessories as well
Ring accessory kit RAK-DC1 $25 Includes three lens rings of different colors, so you can replace the black one that comes on the G9
External flash 220EX
430EX
580EX II

From $119
From $235
From $400

Boost flash range and reduce redeye; you can use most third party flashes as well, though these sync with the camera
Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 From $185 Lets you control two separate groups of external flashes, wirelessly
External slave flash HF-DC1 From $90 Doesn't integrate with the camera; fires when the onboard flash does
Waterproof case WP-DC21 From $160 Take your camera up to 40 meters underwater
AC adapter ACK-DC20 From $47 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
Car battery charger CBC-NB2 From $81 Charge your battery in the car!
Soft camera case SC-DC55A/B/C ?? Protect your camera from the elements
* Prices were accurate when review was published

That's a pretty extensive list, if you ask me. The only thing missing here is a remote control, which was supported on older G-series models.


CameraWindow in Mac OS X

Canon has given their bundled software a refresh, with the ImageBrowser (Mac) and ZoomBrowser (Windows) products now up to version 6. The Mac version is now Universal, so it runs at full speed on Intel-based Macs.

The first part of the Browser software that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window, and you'll use it to download photos from your camera.


ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

Once that's done you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, depending on your computer. Here you can view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos. If you categorized any photos on the camera (more on this later) then that information is transferred over to the Browser software.


ImageBrowser edit window in Mac OS X

Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and 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.


RAW Image Task in Mac OS X

If you're viewing a RAW image, you can edit it using the totally remodeled RAW Image Task in the Browser software. The RAW Image Task appears to be derived from Canon's Digital Photo Professional software that comes with their digital SLRs. It lets you edit virtually any RAW property imaginable, including exposure, white balance, sharpness, color, and noise reduction. I found the RAW Image Task to be both easy-to-use and responsive.

In the near future you'll also be able to use Adobe Photoshop to process the G9's RAW images -- Adobe needs to update the Camera Raw plug-in first though.

In case you wondering why RAW support is a such big deal, I'll tell you. A RAW image contains unprocessed data directly from the camera's sensor. That means that you can adjust any of the properties I just mentioned without affecting the quality of the image. Think of it as a second chance to take the photo: if you botched the white balance, RAW lets you fix it. The downside with RAW is that 1) the file sizes are huge (16MB) and 2) you must process the files on your computer in order to get them into more common formats (e.g. JPEG). It's not a feature that the average point-and-shoot user needs, but enthusiasts will definitely take advantage of it.


RemoteCapture Task in Mac OS X

But wait, there's more. The G9 also supports remote capture from your Mac or PC using the RemoteCapture Task build into the Browser software. You can operate nearly all of the camera's features from your PC, and when you take a photo, the image is saved onto your hard drive. This is a feature rarely found on fixed-lens cameras, so kudos to Canon for offering it.


PhotoStitch in Mac OS X

A totally separate program called PhotoStitch can, well, stitch together separate photos into one giant panorama. The interface is simple, the process takes minutes, and the results are impressive, as you can see. You can use the G9's Stitch Assist feature to line up the photos side-by-side with just the right amount of overlap.

Canon has changed the documentation slightly on the G9. Gone are the separate quick start and user manuals -- now it's just one book. The manual is very detailed, with every feature and option covered. At the same time, it's not terribly user friendly. Still, as camera manuals go, it's better than most. Canon also includes separate manuals describing direct printing and the software bundle.

Look and Feel

From most angles, the PowerShot G9 looks identical to its predecessor. In fact, the only real differences on the G9 are its larger LCD screen and black lens ring. And that's fine, as the G7 was a very well designed camera. Canon has gone with a a retro "rangefinder camera" design with the G7 and G9, and it gives the cameras a professional look.

The G9 is built like a tank, made almost completely of metal. It doesn't really have a right hand grip (unless a small strip of rubber counts), though it still fits comfortably in your hands. The camera has more than its share of buttons, though you shouldn't have to read the manual to figure out what most of them do. My one ergonomic complaint is the same as it was for the G7: the zoom controller and shutter release button are too small.

Now, here's a look at how the G9 compares with the other cameras in its class in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot A650 IS 4.4 x 2.7 x 2.2 in. 26.1 cu in. 300 g
Canon PowerShot A720 IS 3.8 x 2.6 x 1.7 in. 16.8 cu in. 200 g
Canon PowerShot G7 4.2 x 2.8 x 1.7 in. 20 cu in. 320 g
Canon PowerShot G9 4.2 x 2.8 x 1.7 in. 20 cu in. 320 g
Fujifilm FinePix F50fd 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 155 g
Kodak EasyShare Z1275 3.5 x 2.5 x 1.2 in. 10.5 cu in. 161 g
Nikon Coolpix P5100 3.9 x 2.5 x 1.6 in. 15.6 cu in. 200 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ7 3.9 x 2.5 x 1.3 in. 12.7 cu in. 184 g
Pentax Optio A40 2.2 x 0.9 x 3.6 in. 7.1 cu in. 130 g
Samsung NV20 3.8 x 2.4 x 0.7 in. 6.4 cu in. 152 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200 3.6 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 9.1 cu in. 142 g

As you can see, the PowerShot G7 and G9 have the same dimensions and size -- not too surprising. The G9 is by far the largest camera in this group, though that certainly didn't bother me. While it won't fit in most of your pockets, it's still easy to carry around in a jacket or camera bag.

Enough about that, let's dive into the details now, with a full tour of the PowerShot G9.

The PowerShot G9 has exactly the same F2.8-4.8, 6X optical zoom lens as its predecessor. The focal length of the lens is 7.4 - 44.4 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 210 mm. I'm probably not the only one wishing that the focal range started at 28 mm instead! While the lens itself is not threaded, you can add conversion lenses or 58 mm filters by removing the ring around the lens (by pressing the button at the lower-right) and attaching the optional conversion lens adapter.

Somewhere inside the G9's lens is Canon's optical image stabilization (OIS) system. If you currently own a digital camera, chances are that you've taken more than your share of blurry photos. Quite often, this blurring is caused by "camera shake", which is created by the tiny movements of your hands. Sensors inside the PowerShot G9 detect this motion, and one of the lens elements is shifted to compensate for it. Image stabilization is not a miracle worker: it won't stop a moving subject, nor will it allow you to take night scenes (like the one later in this review) without a tripod. It will, however, let you use shutter speeds that were unusable otherwise.

Want to see how well the OIS system works? Check these out:


Image stabilization on


Image stabilization off

The photos above were taken at a very slow 1/3 second shutter speed. As you can see, without stabilization, the resulting photo was quite blurry. Turning on OIS (in "shoot only" mode here) produced a nice, sharp photo. If you need another example of what image stabilization can do, check out this brief sample movie.

To the upper-right of the lens you'll see the G9's built-in flash. The flash range has improved slightly compared to the G7, though only at the wide end of the lens. Canon lists the range as 0.3 - 4.0 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.5 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO), which really isn't that great considering that this is supposed to be a "high end" camera. If you need more flash power then you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that I'll show you in a bit.

Moving left from the flash we find the optical viewfinder, followed by the AF-assist lamp. The AF-assist lamp, which also serves as the visual countdown for the self-timer, is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations.

While Canon didn't bring back the rotating LCD on the G9, they did up the size from 2.5" on the G7 to 3.0" here. The resolution of the screen is 230,000 pixels, so everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility is excellent on this "PureColor II" screen (though see my issue below), and in low light situations the screen brightens automatically, so you can still see your subject.

Normal LCD view LCD view with polarized sunglasses

What I'm about to write may sound a bit strange, but since I've never encountered this before, I'm going to mention it. Most digital camera LCD screens are polarized (which improves outdoor visibility), and most people will never notice. That is, unless you're wearing polarized sunglasses, which are fairly common these days. On most cameras, the LCD gets dark only in the portrait orientation. However, the G9's screen is completely black in the "normal" landscape orientation when you have polarized sunglasses on. Taking off your sunglasses solves the problem, but in my case I couldn't see anything, as they are prescription lenses. Thus, if you wear prescription polarized sunglasses, keep this in mind.

Directly above the LCD is a large optical viewfinder, which shows 80% of the frame. Optical viewfinders seem to be pretty rare these days, and I'm pleased to see that Canon hasn't done away with it, especially considering how little real estate is available on the back of the camera. I noticed that you can see part of the lens in the lower-left corner of the frame when it's at the wide-angle position. A diopter correction knob on the left side of the viewfinder is used to focus what you're looking at -- a handy feature for those of you without perfect vision.

To the left of the viewfinder is the shortcut (custom) button, which doubles as the Print/Share button when connected to a printer or computer. You can assign almost any function to this button, including the handy Auto ISO Shift feature that I'll cover later in the review. When you're hooked into a printer or PC, just press this button to make prints, transfer photos, or even choose a picture to use as a desktop background.

Moving to the right of the viewfinder now, we find buttons for entering playback mode and for Auto Exposure+Flash Exposure lock. The AE/FE lock is also used to add voice captions while in playback mode.

Jumping now to the right side of the LCD, we have four buttons, the four-way controller, and the control dial. First, here are the buttons:

  • Focus point selection + Delete photo
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments) + Jump (quickly moves through photos in playback mode)
  • Display (toggles what's on the LCD, and also turns it off)
  • Menu (does what it sounds like)


The camera gives you a nice visual aid when adjusting the aperture and shutter speed

I'll cover the focus options when I get to the menu discussion later in the review. Now I want to tell you about the unique four-way controller / command dial combination. In the center is a traditional four-way controller, though it's on the small side. Surrounding it is a dial which you can use to select manual settings, navigate the menu system, or playback photos. When you're adjusting manual exposure settings, retro-looking graphics are shown on the LCD (see screenshot). You can also use the four-way controller for those, and it can also do the following:

  • Up - Manual focus (on/off)
  • Down - Drive (Single-shot, continuous, continuous AF, continuous LV, 2 or 10 sec self-timer, custom self-timer)
  • Left - Macro mode (on/off)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, flash on, flash off)
  • Center - Function/Set


Manual focus (center frame enlargement not shown)

Turn on the manual focus feature and you'll use the command dial to set the focus distance. The center of the frame is enlarged on the LCD, which also displays a guide with the current focus distance on it.

There are three continuous shooting modes available on the PowerShot G9. The "regular" one will keep shooting JPEGs at 1.4 frames/second until you run out of memory. You can shoot in RAW mode as well, though the frame rate is quite slow (around 0.5 fps). While there's a bit of lag, the LCD keeps up fairly well, so you should be able to track a moving subject. The continuous AF mode focuses before each shot is taken, which drops the JPEG frame rate down to 0.8 frames/second. If you're in manual focus or fireworks mode, there's also a continuous LV mode, which lets you see the photo before it's taken, rather than after (like the regular continuous mode).


Function menu

By pressing the center button on the four-way controller, you'll open up the Function menu. This menu has the following options:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, underwater, custom 1/2) - see below
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin, darker skin, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom) - see below
  • Bracket (Off, exposure, focus) - see below
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments) + flash output (1/3, 2/3, full)
  • Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • ND filter (on/off)
  • Compression (see chart later in review)
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)

One of the many manual controls on the PowerShot G9 is for white balance. You can use a white or gray card as a reference, so you'll get accurate colors in mixed or unusual lighting. The camera lets you store two different custom white balance settings.

The G9 has the same My Colors features as Canon's other PowerShot cameras. Most of the items listed above are self-explanatory, but I do want to describe the Custom Color option. This lets you adjust contrast, sharpness, and saturation, plus red, green, blue, and skin tone levels (-2 to +2, in 1-stop increments). There are two other My Colors features that I'll describe in a bit.

There are two bracketing modes available on the PowerShot G9. The first one, exposure bracketing, takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each shot can be ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV, or ±1EV. There's also a focus bracketing feature which works in a similar way. The camera will take three shots in a row: one at the chosen focus setting, another a little closer, and the third a little further away.

The neutral density filter is a feature that dates back to the PowerShot G3. Simply put, the ND filter reduces the amount of light hitting the sensor (by three stops) without affecting color. This allows you to use slower shutter speeds or larger apertures than you could otherwise.

And that's it for the back of the PowerShot G9!

There's plenty more to see on the top of the camera. First up is the "retro" ISO dial on the left side of the photo. There are two Auto ISO modes on the camera, with the "Hi" option using higher sensitivities. I'd only use this if you know that you'll be making small prints. More on the camera's ISO performance later in the review.

Next up we have the G9's hot shoe. Here you can attach one of the three EX-series Speedlites I mentioned earlier, or any third party flash. The Canon flashes will integrate with the camera's metering system, so everything operates automatically. If you're using a third party flash, chances are that you'll have to select the camera and flash settings manually. The G9 can sync as fast as 1/250 sec with an external flash.

Continuing to the right, we find the mode dial, which has the microphone to its upper left. The items on the dial include:

Option Function
Movie mode More on this later
Stitch Assist Helps you line up photos for later stitching into panoramas
Special Scene mode Pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from portrait, landscape, night scene, sports, night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, underwater, ISO 3200, color accent, color swap. More below.
Auto mode Fully automatic, most camera settings locked up
Program mode Automatic shooting, but with access to all menu options. A Program Shift feature lets you select from various shutter speed/aperture combos
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed and the camera picks the aperture. Shutter speed range is 15 - 1/2500 sec; do note that the fastest shutter speeds are only available at small apertures
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose the aperture and the camera picks an appropriate shutter speed. Range is F2.8 - F8.0
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself; same ranges as above
Custom 1/2 Store your favorite camera settings in these two spots

Not surprisingly, the G9 has full manual controls, plus two custom spots on the mode dial. In Program Mode you can hold down the "*" button to activate a program shift feature, which lets you select from various shutter speed/aperture combinations.

Buried deep within the scene menu is the camera's ISO 3200 option. The G9 lowers the resolution to 1600 x 1200 to minimize the damage from noise and noise reduction, but the resulting images still border on useless in my opinion, even when printed at 4 x 6.

Also in the scene mode list are two of the other My Colors features on the G9. The Color Accent feature lets you select a color to highlight, and then all the other colors are turned to black and white. Color Swap does just as it sounds -- it swaps one color for another, though not terribly well.

To the right of the mode dial is the power button, with the shutter release button and zoom controller above that. The zoom controller and especially the shutter release button are far too small, in this writer's opinion. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.7 seconds. I counted fourteen steps in the G9's 6X zoom range.

The only thing to see on this side of the camera is the speaker.

On the other side of the camera you'll find the I/O ports, which are behind a plastic door of decent quality. The ports here include A/V out and USB -- there's no DC-in port since the optional AC adapter uses what's called a DC coupler (basically a battery with a power cable coming out of it). As you'd expect, the G9 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to a Mac or PC.

The G9's 6X lens is at the full telephoto position here.

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount (hidden in this photo) and the battery/memory card compartment. The door covering this compartment is of decent quality. In the "what were they thinking" department, you can't swap memory cards while the G9 is on a tripod. That's pretty disappointing, considering that this is Canon's flagship PowerShot camera.

The included NB-2LH battery is shown at right.

Using the Canon PowerShot G9

Record Mode

It takes just over one second for the PowerShot G9 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's pretty darn quick.


There's a live histogram on the G9

Focus times were the same as they were on the G7 -- very good. Typically, it took the camera between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus, though you may wait as long as one second for focus lock at the telephoto end of the lens. Low light focusing was excellent, thanks to the G9's AF-assist lamp.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds at which it can occur.

When shooting in JPEG mode, shot-to-shot delays were minimal, with a delay of about one second before you can take another shot. If you're in RAW mode, the delay is about two seconds, and it's just slightly longer if you're shooting RAW+JPEG. Adding the flash into the mix didn't seem to slow things down at all.

You can delete a picture after you've taken it by pressing the delete photo 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 32MB card
(included)
# images on 2GB card (optional)
Large
4000 x 3000
RAW+JPEG 19.7 MB 1 92
RAW 16.7 MB 1 108
Superfine 5.1 MB 5 364
Fine 3.0 MB 9 620
Normal 1.4 MB 20 1284
Wide (16:9)
4000 x 2248
Superfine 3.8 MB 7 488
Fine 2.2 MB 12 824
Normal 1.1 MB 27 1700
Middle 1
3264 x 2448
Superfine 3.4 MB 8 556
Fine 2.0 MB 14 924
Normal 980 KB 30 1916
Middle 2
2592 x 1944
Superfine 2.4 MB 11 760
Fine 1.4 MB 21 1356
Normal 695 KB 42 2684
Middle 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1.0 MB 30 1884
Fine 558 KB 53 3356
Normal 278 KB 102 6360
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 114 7108
Fine 150 KB 177 10988
Normal 84 KB 278 17268

As I mentioned back in the software discussion, the PowerShot G9 now supports the RAW image format. You can take a RAW image by itself, or along with a Large/Fine JPEG. As the chart shows, RAW images take up a ton of space on your memory card, so be sure to buy a large one!

Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The G9 uses the standard Canon menu system. It's attractive and easy-to-use, with no confusing icons or abbreviations. You can use both the four-way controller and the command dial to navigate the menu system. And now, keeping in mind that some of these options may not be available in all shooting modes, here's the full list of record menu options:

  • AF Frame (FlexiZone, Face Detect, AiAF, Center) - last option is only available in Auto modes; see below for more
  • 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)
    • Slow synchro (on/off)
    • Safety FE (on/off) - whether the camera adjusts the shutter speed or aperture to avoid overexposure when using the flash
  • Digital Zoom (Off, 1.5X, 2.0X, Standard) - see below
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Custom self-timer
    • Delay (0-10, 15, 20, 30 secs)
    • Shots (1-10)
  • 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
  • Auto ISO Shift (On, Print/Share button, off) - see below
  • MF-Point Zoom (on/off) - enlarges the center of the frame in manual focus mode
  • AF mode (Continuous, single) - see below
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
  • Review info (Off, detailed, focus check) - see below
  • Record RAW+JPEG (on/off) - here's how you turn on RAW+JPEG mode
  • Save original (on/off) - for the My Colors feature
  • Auto category (on/off) - photos are automatically categorized based on the scene mode they were taken in; more on this later
  • IS mode (Continuous, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
  • Converter (None, wide, telephoto) - for when you're using a conversion lens
  • Custom display settings - you can have three sets of these settings:
    • Shooting info (on/off)
    • Grid lines (on/off)
    • 3:2 guide (on/off)
    • Histogram (on/off)
  • Set Shortcut button (Off, metering, ND filter, white balance, custom WB 1/2, digital teleconverter, 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


You can adjust the size of the focus points on the G9

Lots to talk about before we move on. First up, the AF frame options. AiAF is your standard 9-point autofocus. 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. For either of these two modes, you can set the size of the focus point(s) to "regular" or small.

The camera has detected three faces here. You can select the "primary" face using the four-way controller. You can also get a count of how many photos the camera has detected by pressing the Display button Here, the camera has locked focus onto all six faces.

The G9 also supports one of the "must have" features of 2007 (according to camera manufacturers, at least): face detection. Canon's implementation of this feature is among the best out there, with the G9 locking onto all six faces in our test scene with ease.

A quick note about the G9's digital zoom features now. Canon calls the 1.5X and 2.0X options a "digital teleconverter" -- it's basically just fixed digital zoom. The Standard option is what you'll find on every camera. The Safety Zoom feature warns you when you pass the point where image quality is degraded. When you're shooting at the highest resolution that starts as soon as digital zoom kicks in, but if you're using a lower resolution you can more of it. At the M3 (1600 x 1200) picture size you can get a total of 15X zoom without any loss in image quality.

The Auto ISO Shift feature, which has been on Canon's other models for a while now, is a handy one. If the camera thinks that a photo will be blurry, you can press the Print/Share button (which will be blinking) to automatically boost the ISO to a setting that will result in a sharp photo. You can also have the camera boost the ISO automatically, if you desire. Keep in mind that this feature can add a lot of noise to your photos, so use it wisely.

There are two AF modes to choose from on the camera. Single AF focuses only when you halfway press the shutter release button. In continuous AF mode, the camera is focusing constantly, which means less waiting when it's time to actually take a photo. The downside is that continuous AF puts an extra strain on your battery.


Reviewing faces using the focus check feature

The Review Info option is new to the G9, and it lets you choose what information is shown on the LCD after you take a photo. You can have it just show, the picture, display shooting data and a histogram, or perform a "focus check". This last option works differently depending on what AF frame option you're using. If you're using something other than face detection, the camera will enlarge the area around the focus point(s) that were used. If you did use face detection, it'll show you each of the faces, and you can move from one face to another by pressing the Function/Set button.

The Auto Category feature assigns one of the standard photo categories (people, scenery, events) to a photo based on what scene mode you used to take the picture. You can edit these -- or manually assign a category -- 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.

There's also a setup menu, which is available in both the record and playback mode menus:

  • 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)
    • Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
  • Audio
    • Mic level (Auto, manual)
    • Level (-40 to 0 dB) - if you selected manual above
    • Wind filter (on/off)
  • LCD brightness (-7 to +7, 1-step increments)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Time zone (Home, world)
  • Date/time
  • Clock display (0-5, 10, 20, 30 secs, 1, 2, 3 mins) - hold down the Func/Set button while turning on the camera and the G9 becomes an expensive clock
  • Card format
  • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset)
  • Create folder
    • Create new folder - on the memory card
    • Auto create (Off, daily, weekly, monthly) - this new features will automatically create new folders on the memory card at set intervals
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Distance units (m/cm, ft/in)
  • Lens retract (1 min, 0 secs) - how quickly the lens retracts when you switch to playback mode
  • Language
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Print Method (Auto, PictBridge)
  • Reset all - back to defaults

An additional "My Camera'" menu allows you to customize the startup screen, beeps, and phony shutter sounds that your camera makes. The software included with the camera lets you use your own photos and sounds as well.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The PowerShot G9 did a superb job with our macro test subject. Colors are vibrant, and the subject has the trademark Canon "smooth" look. That doesn't mean that the image is soft -- in fact, the G9 captures plenty of fine details, such as dust. One thing that I wasn't terribly impressed with was the G9's custom white balance feature -- it produced a green cast under our quartz studio lamps. I ended up just using the tungsten preset, which produced the accurate colors you see above.

In macro mode you can be just 1 centimeter away from your subject, which is about as close as you'll find. Do note that macro mode is unavailable near the telephoto end of the lens.

The G9's night shot has a bonus feature -- the moon over the San Francisco skyline. The photo quality here is very good, with the camera taking in plenty of light (thank you manual shutter speed control). The buildings are nice and sharp, as well. There's some noise to be found here, which shouldn't come as a surprise, considering the 12 Megapixel resolution of the PowerShot G9. Purple fringing was not a problem.

There are two ISO tests in this review. The first one uses the night scene above, so you can see how noise levels look at high ISOs in low light. Here we go:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

The ISO 100 shot is just slightly noisier than the one at ISO 80. At either of these settings, a large print is a no-brainer. Noise reduction noticeably kicks in at ISO 200, and you'll especially notice this in areas of solid color, which appear mottled. Still, a midsize print is still possible at this setting. Detail loss is quite noticeable at ISO 400, so I'd save this one for small prints or desperation only. The ISO 800 and 1600 settings are too noisy to be usable in low light situations.

We'll see how the G9 performs in better lighting in a bit.

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the PowerShot G9's 6X optical zoom lens. This can make straight lines appear curved, as the building on the right illustrates in this example. Vignetting (dark corners) was not a problem, and blurry edges/corners were minimal.

By the way, this chart illustrates the poor custom white balance that I mentioned above -- notice the greenish cast.

The G7 had a big redeye problem, and there was nothing you could do about it (without resorting to software on your PC). The PowerShot G9 still has a big redeye problem, but now there's a tool in playback mode that removes it. Here, have a look:

Now that's a whole lot better! It's too bad that you can't have this feature run automatically when you take a flash photo. I should add that you can remove redeye from multiple faces in a photo at the same time.

And now it's time for ISO test number two, which is shot in my "studio". You can compare this test with those in other reviews on this site. While the crops below give you a quick view of the differences at the various ISO sensitivities, it's a good idea to view the full-size images as well. And with that...


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

The first three crops are very clean, with no major noise or noise reduction artifacting to be found. Noise reduction starts to smudge details at ISO 400, but a midsize print is still a piece of cake at that setting. ISO 800 is my recommended stopping point for shooting in good light, and it's really only for small prints. At ISO 1600 details are gone, and I don't think it's usable. There's also the ISO 3200 scene mode, but as I mentioned earlier, it's not worth using.

As long as you keep an eye on the ISO sensitivity, you'll get very good results from the PowerShot G9. The camera took well-exposed images (except for some blown highlights in our torture test), with accurate and vivid color. As I mentioned in the macro section, the G9 produces very smooth looking photos, and I don't mean soft -- it's more like a digital SLR than anything else. Considering the resolution of the G9, its low noise levels are impressive (at the lower ISO sensitivities, at least). There's not much noise because the camera is applying lots of of noise reduction, which really starts to eat away fine details starting at ISO 200 in low light, and ISO 400 in normal light. The G9 is no substitute for a digital SLR when it comes to high ISO shooting! Purple fringing appeared here and there, but it was never bad enough for me to consider it a problem.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, and maybe print a few of them if you can. Then you'll be able to decide if the G9's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The PowerShot G9's movie mode has changed slightly since the G7, and that's fine by me. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 fps) with sound until you run out of memory, or the file size reaches 4GB (which takes 32 minutes). If you want longer movies without lowering the resolution, you can use the new "long play" mode. In this mode, you can record for a full hour before you hit the file size limit.

Another way to extend your recording time is to drop the resolution to 320 x 240 or 160 x 120. The former can record at either 15 or 30 fps, while the latter can only do 15 fps (and for only 3 minutes).

The G9 offers a high resolution 1024 x 768 movie mode, though the frame rate is a sluggish 15 fps. Here too there's a 4GB file size limit, which also occurs after 32 minutes or so.

There's also a time-lapse recording mode, which will take a photo every 1 or 2 seconds (for up to two hours) and then compress it into a 8 or 4 minute long movie (respectively). If you want to take pictures of the grass growing, here's how to do it -- just remember to buy the optional AC adapter.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming (it will be locked when you start filming). You can, however, use the digital zoom. The G9's audio controls let you manually adjust the mic level, or apply a wind filter.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here are two sample movies for you, taken at both the 640 x 480 (30 fps) and 1024 x 768 (15 fps) settings. Enjoy!


Click to play movie (22.5 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.


Click to play movie (17.5 MB, 1024 x 768, 15 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

Playback mode on the PowerShot G9 is very good -- and nice and fast, too. It offers slideshows, image protection, voice captions, thumbnail view (which is nicer than on most cameras since it enlarges the photo you're looking at), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. When you're zoomed in you can press the Func/Set button and then move from photo to photo at the same magnification setting using the command dial. There's also has a separate print menu lets you tag photos for printing to a PictBridge-enabled photo printer.

Most of the My Colors features can be used in playback mode, save for Color Accent, Color Swap, and Custom Color.

In terms of editing features, you can rotate and resize a photo, though you cannot crop it. Here's also where you'll find the redeye removal tool that I raved about in the previous section. If you're viewing a movie clip, the camera lets you trim unwanted footage from the beginning or end of it.


Assigning a category to a photo

The My Category feature lets you assign photos to any of seven possible categories (events, people, scenery, to-do, and custom 1-3). If you have Auto Category turned on in the recording menu then this will be done automatically for some of your photos. There are three custom categories, though I don't see a way to give them a name instead of the generic "My Category 1". You can select images by their category and display slide shows of them, or delete/protect them.

Scrolling through images with the command dial The jump menu

You can use the G9's scroll wheel to quickly breeze through photos. In addition, the jump feature lets you move forward/ back by sets of 10 or 100 photos, or by date or category.


Sound recorder

The G9 also offers a dedicated sound recording feature. A single audio clip can be as long as two hours, and you can select from three different sample rates (11, 22, or 44 kHz).

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. You can also use the focus check feature that I described earlier.

The G9 moves between images fairly quickly, with your choice of two transitions. Like with most Canon cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.

How Does it Compare?

There were two key features missing on last year's PowerShot G7 that turned off both myself and the Canon G-series faithful: the lack of a rotating LCD, and no support for the RAW image format. On the new PowerShot G9, Canon has rectified the second issue, but I think there are still plenty of people holding out for a G-camera with that handy rotating LCD. The PowerShot G9 brings several new features with it, most notably a larger LCD display and RAW support. It offers a host of nice features, but it has more than its share of flaws. Still, for a full-featured fixed-lens camera it's pretty good -- as long as you don't let the ISO get too high.

The PowerShot G9 looks a whole lot like its predecessor, with the only noticeable changes being its larger LCD and different-colored lens ring. It's not a small camera by any means. In fact, it's sort of the antithesis of Canon's stylish and curvy Digital ELPHs. The G9 is square, heavy, and not what I'd call pocketable. The G9 is well built, with a rangefinder-style body made mostly of metal. While it doesn't have much of a grip, the camera is still easy to hold, even with one hand. My only ergonomic complaints are that the zoom controller and shutter release button are too small, and that you cannot swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The G9 uses the same 6X, 35 - 210 mm lens as its predecessor. Inside the lens is Canon's image stabilization system, which does a good job at preventing blur due to "camera shake". On the back of the camera you'll find a large and fairly sharp 3-inch LCD display. It's outdoor visibility is excellent, assuming that you're not wearing polarized sunglasses, in which case you can't see anything at all (see my examples earlier in the review). Low light LCD viewing was also very good, as the screen brightens automatically in those situations. Thankfully, Canon didn't get rid of the optical viewfinder when they put the larger LCD on the G9 -- it's really an expected feature for a high-end camera. If you ever want to expand the G9's capabilities, it's ready to go. You can add wide-angle and telephoto conversion lenses, an external flash (via a hot shoe), an underwater case, and more.

The PowerShot G9 has almost every feature you could possibly want on a camera. On the automatic side, you've got a point-and-shoot mode and numerous scene modes. One of those scenes is the requisite high ISO mode, which is essentially useless. One feature that I do like called Auto ISO Shift, which lets you boost the ISO at the push of a button, in order to get a sharp photo. There are plenty of manual controls on the G9 as well, including white balance, shutter speed and aperture, and focus. The camera lets you store two sets of your favorite settings to spots on the mode dial, and one of the buttons on the back of the camera is customizable. And, as I mentioned, the camera now supports the RAW image format, and the newly enhanced RAW Image Task software is fully capable of editing these images. About the only manual features missing on the G9 are white balance fine-tuning and a bulb mode. Regardless of your skill level, you'll appreciate the G9's movie mode and redeye removal tool -- and trust me, you'll need the second one.

Camera performance was generally very good, except for battery life. Startup time was great, with the G9 ready to go in just one second. Focusing times ranged from 0.2 seconds at the wide end of the lens to around a second at the telephoto end. Low light focusing was excellent. Shot-to-shot delays were minimal, ranging from 1 second when shooting JPEGs to 2.5 seconds when shooting RAW+JPEG. The G9's continuous shooting mode isn't the fastest out there (topping out at 1.4 fps), but it will let you shoot until your high speed memory card is full. While battery life has improved since the PowerShot G7, it's still below average in the ultra-high resolution class.

As long as you don't let the ISO sensitivity wander too high, you'll get very good quality photos from the PowerShot G9. They were well-exposed, with colors that are both accurate and vivid. The one time colors weren't so accurate were when I was using custom white balance -- the resulting photos had a greenish color cast. Photos have the "smooth" appearance that has become a trademark of Canon cameras. While noise doesn't become a problem until the highest ISO settings, artifacting caused by noise reduction kicks in a lot earlier. You'll start seeing noticeable detail loss at ISO 200 in low light, and ISO 400 in good light. While purple fringing wasn't much of a problem, redeye was. Thankfully, there's now a tool in playback mode to get remove this annoyance from your pictures.

The PowerShot G9 is a solid high-end camera, though it won't be replacing your digital SLR anytime soon. It offers a full set of features, both automatic and manual, and throws them into a well-built, expandable body. If you keep the ISO as low as possible you'll get some nice photos out of the camera, though a D-SLR will wipe the floor with the G9 at higher sensitivities. Though I still miss the fast lens and rotating LCD of the older G-series models, I can still recommend the PowerShot G9 to anyone who wants a high-end camera without stepping up to a digital SLR.

If you want to save some money, you may want to consider the PowerShot A650 IS ($399) or PowerShot A720 IS ($249). Both have 6X zoom lenses, image stabilizer, and manual controls as the G9, with the former having a rotating LCD display.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality if ISO is kept low
  • 6X zoom lens with optical image stabilization
  • Cool rangefinder-style body; built like a tank
  • Huge 3-inch LCD with excellent outdoor and low light visibility (though see issue below)
  • Full manual controls, plus plenty of scene modes
  • RAW image format supported; capable editing software included
  • Very good performance in most respects
  • AF-assist lamp, good low light focusing
  • Handy redeye removal and Auto ISO Shift features
  • Built-in neutral density filter
  • Well implemented face detection feature; user can automatically check faces (for open eyes, smiles) after a photo is taken
  • Support for conversion lenses, external flash, underwater case
  • Custom button and spots on mode dial
  • Nice movie mode
  • Supports remote capture from a Mac or PC
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Lots of noise reduction above ISO 200 (in low light) and ISO 400 (in good light); useless ISO 1600 and 3200 settings
  • On the expensive side for a fixed-lens camera
  • Redeye still a big problem (though you can remove it in playback mode)
  • Custom white balance didn't perform well in our studio
  • LCD cannot be seen when wearing polarized sunglasses (only mentioning this because it's uncommon)
  • Below average battery life
  • Lens visible through viewfinder at wide-angle
  • Tiny shutter release button and zoom controller
  • Can't swap memory cards while camera is on a tripod
  • Still missing that fast lens and rotating LCD from past G-series cameras

Some other cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot A650 IS and A720 IS, Fuji FinePix F50fd, GE E1240, Kodak EasyShare Z1275, Nikon Coolpix P5100, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ7, Pentax Optio A40, Samsung NV20, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot G9 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

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 or technical support.