Canon PowerShot G12 Review

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!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

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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.