DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot G1
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, October 22, 2000
Last Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2002

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For most of this year, your only choices for a high-end 3 Megapixel camera were the Nikon Coolpix 990 or Olympus C-3030Z. A few months later, the Kodak DC4800 came into the field. And finally, Canon has entered the fray with the PowerShot G1 ($999) -- and it was worth the wait.

You may have read our Coolpix 990 vs. Olympus C-3030Z review in the past. In my review of the G1, I will do my best to compare it to the 990 and 3030 that it competes with.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot G1 has an excellent bundle, with everything you need right in the box. It includes:

  • The 3.34 Mpixel Canon PowerShot G1 camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • One BP-511 Lithium-ion battery (rechargeable)
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • Remote control
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk v.2.0, and Adobe PhotoShop 5.0LE
  • 140 page manual

The first piece of good news about the PowerShot G1 is the CompactFlash slot. While Canon only bundles a 16MB card, the camera supports CompactFlash Type II cards, which means the IBM Microdrive is compatible. I put the 340MB Microdrive from the EOS-D30 I'm testing into the G1, and it worked flawlessly. One thing a lot of people wondered about when the Coolpix 990 was released was why Nikon left out Type II compatibility. I've got to give the G1 the advantage on storage over the CP990 and C-3030Z.

Good news #2 is that Canon is finally including the battery kit in the box (as opposed to making it optional on their other PowerShot cameras). A fully charged BP-511 battery lasts for up to 160 minutes, according to the manual. Your mileage will vary depending on your usage of the camera, of course. When you plug the AC adapter into the camera, it charges the battery and can provide power to the camera as well (not at the same time of course).

Camera shown with remote control, lens cap, and BP-511 battery

And the third piece of good news is that like Olympus, Canon includes a wireless remote control with the G1. You can take record and playback pictures without ever touching the camera.

Finally, Canon's manual and software is top notch. The manual has lots of sensible diagrams, and good explanations for everything. The software has been updated since I last covered it in detail (see the PowerShot S10 review), but it's only gotten better. One new piece of software is Canon's RemoteCapture application, which lets you control the camera from your computer (while it's connected, of course!)

Oh, and the lens cap even comes with a strap! <grin>

The Tele-converter gives you additional 1.5X magnification
The Wide-converter's magnification is 0.8X

Canon included three optional accessories with the G1 for me to test out as well: the Tele converter, Wide angle converter, and conversion lens adapter (required to use the first two). You can see these attachments in action in the photo gallery. No word on pricing on these attachments was available.

And for those of you who still only have serial connectors on your computer, Canon sells a serial connection kit as an optional accessory.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot G1 is built like a tank. While I don't have the C-3030Z or Coolpix 990 anymore, I can tell you that the G1 is definitely heavier than my Coolpix 950. There is a good deal of metal on the body, and some sturdy plastics too. The camera's dimensions are 4.7 x 3.0 x 2.5 inches, and it weighs 14.8 ounces empty. For comparisons sake, that's more the double the weight of the PowerShot S100 Digital ELPH!

Just because it's fairly heavy doesn't mean it's hard to hold. There's adequate room for your right hand, though I found my left hand covering up the LCD info display on many occasions.

The front of the camera has the usual stuff: lens, AF illuminator (for low light focusing), flash, IR receiver, and microphone. The lens (7-21mm, equivalent to 34-102mm on a 35mm camera) is one we've seen before. It's believed to be the same lens as on the Sony DSC-S70 (Carl Zeiss?), Epson PhotoPC 3000Z, and the Casio QV-3000EX. And I just discovered that the lens on the Panasonic PV-SD5000 seems to be the same one too! I guess this must be a pretty good lens if it's so popular!

The back of the camera is where things get interesting. The LCD display can swing out and swivel in a number of directions. You can see it closed a little further down the page... here's two other possibilities:

Here, the lens is swiveled out to the side. I could flip it over the other way too, and the image would correctly invert.
Digicam traditionalists (if there are any) can get the LCD in this position too.

Much like the Coolpix 9xx-series' swiveling lens, I initially viewed the swiveling LCD as just a gimmick. After using this camera for a few weeks, I wish every manufacturer was putting this feature on their cameras! It's so nice to be able to look at the LCD without crouching down to get behind it. You can also hold the camera over people's heads and see what picture you're taking. And I also found it helpful in reducing glare, since you could aim the LCD away from the sun.

As far as the LCD's quality goes, it's very good -- very smooth and very sharp. No complaints here, at all.

If you prefer to use the optical viewfinder, you can close the LCD and it shuts off. This is great for battery conservation as well.

The optical viewfinder is quite large, and it has diopter correction for those of us with glasses. If the LCD is folded out, you won't have to worry about your nose smudging it... but if it's just flipped over, you will.

The buttons above the LCD control flash, spot metering, and macro mode while in Record mode, and thumbnail mode, zoom & scroll, and "jump" (more on this later) in Playback mode.

The buttons to the right control: Exposure/Flash Lock, Exposure compensation/white balance/flash strength/bracketing, and display (LCD on/off, etc).

The buttons at the top right are for invoking and moving through the G1's menu system.

Now, let's look at the top of the camera.

The LCD info display is one of the most detailed on any consumer digital camera. In this photo, the settings shown are: 1 second exposure, Fine/Large resolution, no flash, single shot, full battery, no CF card inserted, auto white balance, no exposure compensation (whew!).

In the middle of the picture, you can see a hot shoe for an external flash, which neither the Coolpix 990 or C-3030Z have (though they have a flash sync port). The G1 supports Canon's EX series Speedlites, including the 220EX, 380EX, 420EX, and 550EX. I tried the 380EX that came with the EOS-D30, and it worked without a hitch (and I was surprised that the flash itself had a zoom mechanism too!).

To the right of the hot shoe is the mode wheel, which doubles as the power switch. The mode wheel sits on top of a switch that moves between Record, Off, Playback, and PC connect.

The mode wheel has more choices than almost any other digital camera I've seen. Here's a rundown:

  • Full manual
  • Aperture priority (Av) - ranges from f2.0 to f8.0, with plenty of stops along the way
  • Shutter priority (Tv) - speeds range from 1/1000 sec to 8 sec
  • Program mode
  • Full auto
  • Pan focus mode - for when you "don't want to miss a shot, but you cannot predetermine the subject's position or focal distance"
  • Portrait mode
  • Landscape mode
  • Night Scene mode - for people against night scenes
  • Black and white mode
  • Stitch assist - for help making panoramas

A few weird things I noticed about shutter and aperture priority mode, and confirmed in the manual. In shutter priority mode, if you're shooting at speeds between 1/640 and 1/1000, the aperture is fixed at f8.0. The reverse is true as well: in aperture priority, if you choose an aperture less than f8.0, the shutter speed will not go above 1/500 sec. [Added 10/24]

Just to the right of the mode wheel, there's a button for continuous shooting mode and self-timer/remote control. Seems like a strange combination to me, but it works. The remote only works when you've got the timer/remote mode engaged!

Finally, above that button is the shutter release and zoom control. The shutter release gives just average tactile feedback... I'd prefer if it was a little more "decisive" about what's halfway down and what's not. While the zoom control was responsive, it seemed like it always traveled a bit after the I stopped pushing the button.

Looking now at the side of the G1. Under a VERY sturdy rubber cover you'll find the USB and power ports. I stay VERY sturdy because the darn thing was nearly impossible to open!

To the left of that is the A/V out port, for hooking into a television.

You can see the manual focus helper on the right side

Above that is a speaker, and a manual focus button. When you hit this button, you're presented with a graphic on the LCD that shows you how zoomed out you are. Unfortunately, no units of measure are used, so it's pretty arbitrary.

On the other side of the camera is the Type II CompactFlash slot. The door covering the slot is the only flimsy-feeling piece on the G1, but luckily the door stays shut.

And finally, the bottom of the camera. The battery door stays shut thanks to the black lock you can see in the middle of the photo above. The metal tripod mount doesn't seem to be at the center of gravity or below the lens.

Using the PowerShot G1

I'm going to discuss record mode in detail, covering not only regular shooting, but also RAW mode, and movies. I'll also cover playback mode at the end of this section.

Record Mode

The PowerShot G1 takes about five seconds to warm up, which is about average. There is noticeable lag during auto focus (< 1 sec) and shutter release (very small), but it's minimal, and on par with the other 3 Megapixel cameras. Canon claims that the shot-to-shot speed is 1.8 seconds on the G1.

Canon uses the "overlay" style of menus, which can make the menus hard to see when there's a bright background. The menus on the G1 are well laid out, and easy to move around in. Here are your choices in Record mode:

  • Resolution (Large/Medium/Small, which is 2048 x 1536 / 1024 x 768 / 640 x 480)
  • Compression (SuperFine, Fine, Normal)
  • File Format (JPEG, RAW -- more on this in a second)
  • ISO speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400 - more on this too below)
  • Digital Zoom (Off, 2X, 4X)
  • AF Mode (continuous, single)
  • Review (Off, 2 sec, 10 sec - this is how long the photo is shown on the LCD after it's been taken)
  • File Number Reset
  • Contrast / Sharpness / Saturation adjustment
  • And the usual setup stuff.

Canon doesn't give you an uncompressed TIFF mode on the PowerShot G1. Instead, they give what is called a "CCD RAW" mode, which is uncompressed data straight from the sensor. You can only view this information in Canon's ImageBrowser. The RAW format takes up much less disk space than TIFF mode (2.5MB vs. 9.4MB). The image below is saved as both a JPEG and a TIFF (converted from RAW format). I had a real hard time telling the difference between the two.

View this image as a JPEG (224KB) or TIFF (7.9MB)

Since the shot above is a macro shot, here's our usual one:

I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the G1's macro abilities. It handed this normally tough shot, and came out looking as good as my current macro favorite, the Coolpix 990. And it did a great job on the white balance (which my Coolpix 950 has a lot of trouble with). You can get as close as 6 cm (2.4") to your subject in macro mode.

Night shots were also very good, thanks to the full control of shutter and aperture that the G1 offers. There's very little in the way of noise in the above shot as well, which is always nice.

One test I did back in the CP990 vs. C-3030Z review was the redeye comparison. As you might remember, the C-3030Z beat the Coolpix handily. The PowerShot G1 did pretty well too, but I couldn't see that the redeye reduction actually helped. With special thanks to Dad again, take a look:

No redeye reduction
With redeye reduction

When I first posted our gallery photos, there was a lot of discussion on the web (especially on DP Review) about why my photos looked worse than those on the other camera sites. One thing we came up with was that just raising that ISO can quickly add noise to the pictures. If you put the ISO in Auto mode, it choose values between 50 and 100. While 50 is fine, 100 started to show this noise (take a look at the sky in the ISO 50 and 100 samples below). The shots below illustrate how changing the ISO affects photo quality:

ISO Auto

ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

Another photo quality issue that was brought up was "purple fringing", also known as chromatic aberrations. I especially noticed this on cloudy days. If you blow up the fourth photo in the gallery, look where the trees meet the clouds, and you'll see what I mean. Most digital cameras do show this phenomenon to a certain degree... since I was pointed out to me, this was the first time I've really looked closely at it.

After I figured out to keep the ISO set at 50, I got better results from the camera, to the point that I was very satisfied with them.

The PowerShot G1 also features a movie mode, with sound. I gave the Olympus the advantage over the CP990 for its movie mode, and the G1 is at the top of the pack as well. You can record up to 30 seconds of M-JPEG video (saved as an AVI file), at 15 frames/sec, at a resolution of 320 x 240.

For reasons that I still don't understand, the G1 (like with many other cameras) cannot use the optical zoom during movie filming. [Added 10/24]

Here's a little sample movie for your enjoyment. I'd rate the quality just OK, at least for this one.

Click to view movie (AVI format, M-JPEG codec, 3.8MB)

One final group of features I want to cover in Record mode are found on one of the buttons on the back of the camera (see previous section): exposure compensation, flash strength, white balance and auto bracketing.

Record mode

Exposure compensation and flash strength use the same units - exposure value (EV). You can move either between -2.0EV and +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments.

White balance has the usual choices (auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, flash) and custom mode. In custom mode, you just put whatever you want to be white in the center of the LCD, and hit the * button. This feature is great when the other settings just won't do (like in my dining room).

Auto exposure bracketing will let you shoot three different pictures, all with different exposure compensation values. For example, you can shoot the first one at -1.0EV, the second at 0EV, and the third at +1.0EV. You can choose pretty much any evenly-spaced set of exposure values. This feature is handy when the best picture isn't the normally exposed one!

Playback Mode

The G1's playback mode is very good as well. The typical playback features like slideshows, DPOF print marking, zoom & scroll, and protection are all there. The G1 doesn't have any really exciting extra features in playback mode, so I'll just touch on how well the usual stuff works.

Switching between photos on the G1 is very fast, especially considering that there's no low res version shown before the high res one. It takes just a bit over a second to switch between photos!

The G1 shows quite a bit of information about each photo (see above) -- the only thing missing is a histogram (which the Coolpix 990 has, by the way).

At the push of a button, you can zoom in to your photos (2X or 4X), and then scroll around in them. Canon's implementation of what I call "zoom & scroll" has long been the best in the business - it's superfast and very smooth too.

If there's one thing missing from the G1's playback mode, it's the ability to delete a group of photos (rather just just one, or all of them). Nikon is still the only one who offers what I think is a great feature.

How Does it Compare?

The inevitable question is, of course: Of the Nikon Coolpix 990, Olympus C-3030Z, and Canon PowerShot G1, which should I buy? Well, I'm not going to give you the answer you want -- you need to make the final decision yourself, based on research on sites like this one, and after spending some time at the store actually using these cameras.

But I will say that the PowerShot G1 takes care of a lot of issues that I had with the Coolpix 990, such as sound with movies, CompactFlash Type II support, and a hot shoe. Plus it adds the very handy swiveling LCD! This one would definitely be one of the finalists if I was camera shopping, and its very much worth your time to consider it!

What I liked:

  • Very sturdy, well designed body; Swiveling LCD is great
  • Great features for those on the "pro" end: hot shoe and full manual controls
  • Movies with sound
  • CompactFlash Type II support
  • CCD-RAW mode just as good as TIFF but much smaller
  • Superfast playback mode
  • Includes remote control and battery kit

What I didn't care for:

  • Pictures start getting noisy at ISO 100
  • Purple fringing noticeable on cloudy days
  • Having to send it back to Canon

There are tons of other cameras you'll want to consider before you buy. I've already named the Nikon Coolpix 990 and Olympus C-3030Z as the primary competitors, but also don't miss the Kodak DC4800, Toshiba PDR-M70, Epson PhotoPC 3000Z, and Casio QV-3000EX. (Of the cameras I just listed, only the Casio supports CompactFlash Type II.)

I hope you enjoyed this extended review -- I certainly put a lot of time into making it complete!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Be sure to read the reviews from Steve's Digicams and Digital Photography Review!

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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