Canon PowerShot G11 Review

Look and Feel

From most angles, the PowerShot G11 looks identical to its predecessor. The one big exception is the LCD, which now flips out to the side and rotates, instead of being fixed. Everything else is the same: the G11 is made of a mix of metal and plastic, and build quality is fairly good. The camera can be operated with just one hand, though you do need to watch your fingers.

Speaking of fingers, ergonomics remain a mixed bag on the G11. While I dig the retro, rangefinder-style design and the sticky right hand grip, the G11 has a lot of buttons, which can be confusing to new users. Some of the controls -- most notably the four-way controller, zoom controller, and shutter release button -- are too small. I also found that my right thumb likes to sit right on the four-way controller or the metering mode button, either of which can lead to accidental setting changes.

Now, here's a look at how the PowerShot G11 compares to other cameras in my rather unusual grouping of competitors:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon Powershot G11 4.4 x 3.0 x 1.9 in. 25.1 cu in. 355 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z450 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.7 cu in. 130 g
Fuji FinePix F200EXR 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.9 cu in. 175 g
Kodak EasyShare Z1485 IS 3.5 x 2.5 x 1.5 in. 13.1 cu in. 164 g
Nikon Coolpix S640 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.3 cu in. 110 g
Olympus Stylus 7010 3.8 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 8.4 cu in. 125 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 10.9 cu in. 229 g
Samsung SL820 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.7 cu in. 155 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 3.6 x 2.1 x 0.8 in. 6.0 cu in. 120 g

The PowerShot G11 is easily the largest and heaviest camera in the group. It's closest competitor, the Panasonic LX3, is considerably smaller, though it has half the zoom power of the G11.

Alright, let's begin our tour of the PowerShot G11 now, starting (as always) with the front view.

Front of the Canon PowerShot G11

The PowerShot G11 has the same lens as its predecessor. Considering the flagship status of the G11, its lens is unremarkable. It's not particularly fast (F2.8 - F4.5), and the zoom range is pretty standard (28 - 140 mm). That said, the 28 - 140 mm range is more than adequate for most folks, and the quality of the lens is very good. Should you want to expand the zoom range, you can do it in the telephoto direction by purchasing the optional teleconverter and its adapter. This brings the tele end of the lens up to 196 mm, which gives you 7X worth of zoom power. For whatever reason, Canon does not offer a wide-angle conversion lens. To attach a conversion lens, you simply press the button to the lower-right of the lens, remove the ring around the barrel, attach the conversion lens adapter, and then screw on the lens.

As you'd expect on Canon's flagship compact camera, the PowerShot G11 features optical image stabilization. The camera detects the tiny movements of your hands that can blur your photos, and then shifts a lens element to compensate. While this won't freeze a moving subject or let you take multi-second handheld exposures, it will allow you to use shutter speeds that would be otherwise unavailable. Want to see the IS system in action? Have a look at this:

Image stabilization off

Image stabilization on

I took both of the above photos at just 1/3 of a second, and the difference between the unstabilized and stabilized photos is very obvious. You can also use the IS system to smooth out your movies, as you can see in this brief video clip.

To the upper-right of the lens, just above the Canon logo, is the camera's built-in flash. The G11's flash has a slightly better range than that of its predecessor, possibly due to the higher sensitivity CCD that it uses. That range is 0.5 - 5.0 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 4.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO), which is quite good. Should you need more flash power (and less of a chance of redeye), you can attach 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, for serving as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

And believe it or not, that's all for the front of the G11!

View of the rotating LCD on the PowerShot G11

One of the features that made the PowerShot G-series cameras famous was their rotating LCD display. When the PowerShot G7 was announced back in 2006, there was no rotating LCD to be found. Three revisions later, the rotating LCD is back in full force. 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 camera makes sure the image on the screen is right side up when the LCD is rotated. The screen can also be placed in the "traditional" position (see below), or closed entirely.

As I mentioned at the start of the review, the LCD on the PowerShot G11 is a bit smaller than the one on the G10 (2.8 vs 3.0 inches). That's okay by me, since the old screen was fixed and this one rotates. The resolution is unchanged, with an impressive 461,000 pixels on display. Everything is as sharp as a tack, as you'd expect from a screen with that kind of resolution. I found outdoor visibility to be good, and in low light the screen brightens up quite a bit (though the refresh rate drops), so you can still see your subject.

Above the LCD is the G11's optical viewfinder, which has become a very uncommon feature these days. The viewfinder seems to be the same as on the G10, with 77% coverage. I don't think it's sticks out far enough from the back of the camera, especially as someone who wears glasses. I should also point out that you can see the lens in the lower-left corner of the viewfinder at roughly the 1X - 2X zoom position. 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 attached to this button. 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 command dial. The dial is used for many things, including navigating menus, quickly skimming 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 (2 or 10 sec, face, 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 command 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.

The G10 has some pretty unique self-timer modes. The face self-timer option works like this: you compose your photo and press the shutter release button. The camera then waits for one more face to appear, and then it takes up to ten photos of your group. The custom self-timer (a very uncommon feature) lets you select both the delay (0 - 30 secs) as well as the number of photos taken (1-10).

Function menu

Pressing the center button on the four-way controller options up the Function menu, which has these 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 tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color) - see below
  • Bracketing (Off, exposure, focus) - see below
  • Flash compensation/output (-2EV to +2EV or 1/3, 2/3, Full) - choices depend on shooting mode
  • ND filter (on/off)
  • Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous, continuous AF) - see below
  • Image size/quality (see chart later in review)

Fine-tuning white balance

The G11 has a nice set of white balance controls. In addition to the usual presets, there are also two custom slots, which allow to use a white or gray card to get accurate color in unusual lighting conditions. You can fine-tune any of the white balance items, in the amber-blue and/or green-magnenta directions. Two things you can't do on the PowerShot G11: 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.

The G11 has the ability to bracket for 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 1EV. Focus bracketing is something that you can use in manual focus mode. The camera also takes three shots in a row: one at the manual 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).

One of the unique features of the G11 (and its predecessors) is its built-in neutral density filter. ND filters cut 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.

Now let's get into the continuous shooting mode on the PowerShot G11. Despite the drop in resolution, the G11 is actually slower than its predecessor in this department. 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 G11's continuous modes:

Quality Continuous Continuous AF/LV
RAW + JPEG (Large/Fine) Unlimited @ 0.9 fps Unlimited @ 0.7 fps
RAW Unlimited @ 0.8 fps Unlimited @ 0.7 fps
JPEG (Large/ Fine) Unlimited @ 1.1 fps Unlimited @ 0.8 fps

First things first: I have no idea why the G11 shoots a tiny bit faster in RAW+JPEG mode than in regular RAW mode. While I like the G11's ability to shoot until the memory card fills up, the frame rate is quite sluggish for a 10 Megapixel camera. The LCD lags behind a little bit when you're shooting continuously, though it's still fast enough for tracking most subjects.

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, while the Menu button does exactly as you'd expect.

Top of the Canon PowerShot G11

The top of the PowerShot G11 is chock full of dials. The one on the left lets you adjust the exposure compensation from -2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments. It is pretty easy to bump accidentally, so keep an eye on it.

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. You can also control the flashes settings using the G11's menu system. If you're using a non-compatible flash, you'll most likely need to adjust its settings manually. The G11 can sync as fast as 1/250 second with an external flash.

Continuing to the right, we find the mode dial, which has the ISO dial underneath it, and the microphone to its upper-left. The ISO dial has an Auto option, as well as presets for 80 - 3200. The mode dial has these options:

Option Function
Movie mode More on this later
Special Scene mode Pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from portrait, landscape, night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, sports, sunset, night scene, fireworks, beach, underwater, aquarium, foliage, snow, Color Accent, Color Swap, Stitch Assist.
Quick shot mode Goes to a D-SLR style, viewfinder only shooting mode, with continuous autofocus turned on. See below for more.
Low light mode Lowers the resolution to medium size (2.5 Megapixel) and uses an ISO range of 320 - 12,800 for a sharp (but noisy) photo in low light conditions. See below for more.
Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with automatic scene selection. Many menu items are 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 by using the command dial (hold down the "star" button to activate this).
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed and the camera picks the aperture. Shutter speed range is 15 - 1/4000 sec.
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

As you can see, the PowerShot G11 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. In Smart Auto mode, the camera will select a scene mode for you, even detecting when you're using a tripod. If you want to select a scene mode yourself, you can do that too by selected the SCN option. Some of the notable scene modes include Color Accent (you pick a color to highlight, while the rest of the image turns to black and white), Color Swap (you can swap one color for another), and Stitch Assist (which helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single image).

There are also two new shooting modes: low light and quick shot. Low light mode is basically the replacement for the high sensitivity mode that was on the PowerShot G10. The camera lowers the resolution (all the way down to 2.5 Megapixel) and boosts the ISO as high as 12,800. I always recommend that people avoid modes like this, as photos can be quite noisy when the camera uses the highest ISO settings (see example). You're better off just adjusting the sensitivity manually.

Info screen in Quick Shot mode Changing settings in Quick Shot mode

The Quick Shot mode is pretty cool, in that it feels just 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, which reduces overall focus times (but puts an extra strain on your battery).

Returning to the tour, the next last things to see on the top of the G11 are the power and shutter release buttons, and the zoom controller that's wrapped around the latter. The zoom controller, which is a bit small, moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.7 seconds. I counted fourteen steps in the camera's 5X zoom range. I should add that I like how the camera displaces the current focus range on the LCD (e.g. 5 cm - infinity) for each zoom position.

Side of the Canon PowerShot G11

The only thing to see on this side of the G11 is its speaker. The lens is at the full wide-angle position here.

Side of the Canon PowerShot G11

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 include HDMI (new to the G11), A/V output, and USB. In case you're wondering where you plug in the optional AC adapter, you don't -- the camera uses a DC coupler, which is essentially a battery with a power cord coming out of it.

Bottom of the Canon PowerShot G11

On the bottom of the G11 you'll find a metal tripod mount (hidden from view here), plus the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is 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.