Canon PowerShot G12 Review

Look and Feel

The PowerShot G12 looks nearly identical to its predecessor, with the most significant change found on the front of the camera:

The front of the PowerShot G11 and G12. Images courtesy of Canon USA.

If you look at the top-left of the above photo, you'll see what I'm talking about. On the G12, the logo has headed south, with a new front control dial taking its place. You'll use this dial to adjust manual exposure settings, among other settings. Combine this with the scroll wheel on the back of the camera, and the G12 operates a lot like a digital SLR. The other changes include finer control over sensitivity using the ISO dial on the top of the camera, and a more defined thumb rest on the back.

The G12 remains as very well built camera, with a rangefinder-style metal and plastic body. It feels very solid in your hands, with even the normally flimsy battery door feeling pretty strong. The camera can be comfortably held and operated with just one hand. While the thumb rest is more defined now, I still found the lower part of that finger resting right on the four-way controller, which can be "dangerous". While the most important camera controls are well-placed, the G12 is loaded with buttons and dials, which can be it a bit intimidating at first. Once you get used to the camera, you'll learn to love having all those direct buttons and dials -- changing the ISO and exposure compensation has never been easier.

Now, let's see how the PowerShot G12 compares to the small group of competitors, in terms of size and weight:

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
Canon PowerShot G12 4.4 x 3.0 x 1.9 in. 25.1 cu in. 351 g
Fuji FinePix F300EXR 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. 12.3 cu in. 195 g
Nikon Coolpix P7000 4.5 x 3.1 x 1.8 in. 25.1 cu in. 310 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.7 in. 19 cu in. 233 g
Samsung TL500 4.5 x 2.5 x 1.2 in. 13.5 cu in. 356 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX5 3.6 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.8 cu in. 130 g

The PowerShot G12 is the tied with the Nikon Coolpix P7000 (a new camera which looks almost like a clone of the G12) for the title of largest camera in the group. The G12 has lost a bit of weight compared to its predecessor, though it's still one of the heavier cameras in its class. It's not a pocket camera by any means, but it travels easily enough over your shoulder, or in a camera bag.

Alright, let's begin our tour of the PowerShot G12 now, starting (as always) with the front view.

Front of the Canon PowerShot G12

The PowerShot G12 has the same F2.8-4.5, 5X optical zoom lens as the G10 and G11 that came before it. I've been a bit disappointed the lenses on recent G models, not for their quality, but for the fact that they aren't "fast" like the lenses found on earlier models (the old PowerShot G6 had an F2.0-3.0 lens). The focal range of this lens is 6.1 - 30.5 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 140 mm. While the lens itself is not threaded, you can add conversion lenses and filters by using the adapters I mentioned in the previous section. To attach the adapter, you need to remove the ring around the lens barrel, which is done by pressing the button at the lower-right of the photo. You can also buy different colored "rings", if you so desire.

The PowerShot G12 has a new hybrid optical image stabilization system, just like its more compact sibling, the S95. How does this new system work? I think Canon explains it better than I could:

Hybrid IS employs both an angular sensor and an accelerometer, enabling it to suppress both the blur caused by the angle of the camera and the "shift blur" that happens when your subject moves parallel to the camera, a problem that is especially noticeable at large zoom factors.

Sounds good to me! Keep in mind that no matter how fancy the image stabilization system, it still won't freeze a moving subject, nor will it allow for multi-second handheld exposures. But it's still way better than nothing at all. Let's take a look at the G12's IS system in action now, shall we?

Image stabilization off

Image stabilization on

Both of these photos were taken at 1/5 of a second, with the lens in the middle of its range. I don't have to tell you that the photo taken with IS turned on looks a whole lot sharper! You can also use the image stabilizer in movie mode -- and it works quite well -- as you'll see in this brief example.

To the upper-right of the lens, just above the Canon logo, is the camera's built-in flash. The G12's flash is a bit stronger than the one on the G11, with a working range of 0.5 - 7.0 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 4.0 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO), which is quite powerful. If you want more flash power and a reduced chance of redeye, then you can add an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.

To the left of the flash is the optical viewfinder, followed by the rather large AF-assist lamp. This lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations. It's also used for reducing redeye and as a visual indicator for the self-timer and smile detection features.

The last thing to see on the front of the camera is that new control dial that I mentioned earlier. You'll use it to adjust manual exposure settings, though its function can be changed in the shooting menu, which I'll get to later.

View of the rotating LCD on the PowerShot G12

One of the features that made the PowerShot G-series cameras famous was their rotating LCD display. This 2.8" screen flips out to the side and rotates a total of 270 degrees, from facing your subject all the way around to pointing at the ground. This allows for overhead or ground-level shots that would be nearly impossible with conventional LCDs. The screen can also be placed in the "traditional" position (see below), or closed entirely when not in use (or if you're using the viewfinder).

Here's the back of the PowerShot G12, with the LCD in its standard position. The screen is the same as on the G11, which is fine by me. The screen has 461,000 pixels, so everything's nice and sharp. I was impressed with the viewing angle of the display, as well. Outdoor visibility was good (though not quite as nice as on the PowerShot S95), and the screen brightens automatically in low light, so you can still see your subject.

Above the LCD is the G12's optical viewfinder, which has become a very uncommon feature these days. This viewfinder has 77% coverage, and you can use the diopter correction wheel to its left to focus what you're looking at. I found that you can see the lens in the lower-left corner of the viewfinder at the wide end of the lens (just like on the G11). I also don't think it's sticks out far enough from the back of the camera, especially as someone who wears glasses. I don't want to complain too much -- I'm grateful that there's a viewfinder in the first place!

To the left of the viewfinder is the shortcut button, which is customizable. By default it doesn't do anything, and later in the review I'll tell you what options can be assigned to it. When you're plugged into a computer or printer, the button allows you to transfer photos to your PC, or select photos for printing.

On the opposite side of the viewfinder you'll find the button for entering playback mode. Continuing to the right, we find the AE/FE lock button, which does just as it sounds.

Moving downward, we find buttons for focus point selection + delete photo and metering mode + jump (ahead when reviewing photos). I'll tell you more about the focus modes when we get to the menu section of the review. The available metering modes include evaluative, center-weighted, and spot.

Under that is the combination four-way controller and control dial. The dial is used for many things, including navigating menus, quickly flipping through photos you've taken, and adjusting manual exposure settings. The four-way controller (which is a bit too small for my taste) can be used for many of the same things, and it also does the following:

  • Up - Manual focus (on/off)
  • Down - Self-timer (Off, custom) - see below
  • Left - Macro (on/off)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, on, slow synchro, off)
  • Center - Function menu (see below) + Set

Manual focus mode (center-frame enlargement not shown)

The manual focus feature lets you use the control dial to set the focus distance yourself. A guide showing the focus distance is displayed on the right side of the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged, as well. You can get an "assist" from the autofocus system by pressing the focus point button. Something else you can see here is the camera's built-in electronic level (toward the bottom-center of the photo). When the little line in that guide is in the middle it will turn green, telling you that the camera is level.

Custom self-timer

The G12 has a totally customizable self-timer. You can set both the delay (0-30 secs) and the number of shots (1-10) that will be taken. There are some other cool self-timer features that I'll tell you about a little later.

Function menu

Pressing the center button on the four-way controller options up the Function menu, which has these options:

  • DR correction (Off, auto, 200%, 400%)
  • Shadow Correct (Off, auto)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, underwater, custom 1/2)
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color)
  • Bracketing (Off, exposure, focus)
  • Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous, continuous AF)
  • Flash compensation/output (-2EV to +2EV or 1/3, 2/3, Full) - choices depend on shooting mode
  • ND filter (on/off)
  • Aspect ratio (16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 1:1, 4:5) - new to the G12
  • File type (JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG)
  • Image size / quality (see chart later in review)

Two new features on the PowerShot G12 are dynamic range and shadow correction. The latter was actually on the G11, where it was known as i-Contrast. Dynamic range correction is used to reduce highlight clipping, while shadow correction brightens the underexposed areas of a photo. Dynamic range correction requires the camera to boost the sensitivity, up to a maximum of ISO 3200. Shadow correction does its thing without increasing the ISO sensitivity but, as with DR correction, there still may be an increase in noise. I managed to use the same "purple fringing torture tunnel" for three examples in this review, with the first being DR correction:

DR Correct Off
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DR Correct Auto
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DR Correct 200%
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DR Correct 400%
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If you look on the right side of the original image (with DR correction off), you'll see blown highlights on the columns, the floor, and in the sky. Simply flipping the DR Correction setting to "auto" dramatically improves the image quality -- suddenly the sky is blue, and detail has returned to the columns and floor tiles. If you compare the 200% and 400% versions, it's pretty obvious that the "auto" setting chose something close to the latter. While the ISO is boosted to 320 for the Auto and 400% settings, the increase in noise is negligible.

Now, let's use that same exact scene to see what the shadow correct feature can do:

Shadow Correct off
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Shadow Correct On
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Not much to say here -- the shadow correction feature works as advertised! Do note that you can also use this feature (which is known by its old name, i-Contrast) in playback mode.

Fine-tuning white balance

The G12 has a nice set of white balance controls. In addition to the usual presets, there are also two custom slots, which allow you to use a white or gray card to get accurate color in unusual lighting conditions. You can also fine-tune any of the white balance items, in the amber-blue and/or green-magenta directions. Two things you (still) can't do on the PowerShot G12: bracket for white balance or set the color temperature.

Sharpness is one of the settings you can adjust with the Custom Color option

The My Colors feature should be self-explanatory, save for the custom option. This one lets you manually adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, as well as red/green/blue/skin tone levels. I would've liked to have a noise reduction option here, as well.

The G12 has the ability to bracket for both exposure and focus. For exposure, the camera takes three photos in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each shot can be as little as 1/3EV or as much as 2EV. Focus bracketing is something that you can use in manual focus mode. The camera also takes three shots in a row: one at the selected focus position, a second a little closer, and a third a little further away. You can adjust how large the interval between each shot is, though it's not specific (just small, medium, or large).

Now let's talk about the continuous shooting modes on the PowerShot G12. There are three continuous modes on the camera: regular (which locks the focus on the first shot), AF (which refocuses before each shot), and LV (locks focus on first shot - for manual focus and fireworks mode only). Here's what kind of performance you can expect from the G12's continuous modes:

Quality Continuous Continuous AF/LV
RAW + JPEG (Large/Fine) Unlimited @ 1.1 fps Unlimited @ 0.7 fps
RAW Unlimited @ 1.2 fps Unlimited @ 0.7 fps
JPEG (Large/ Fine) Unlimited @ 2.0 fps Unlimited @ 0.8 fps
Tested with a SanDisk Class 6 SDHC card

The burst mode has received a nice speed increase on the PowerShot G12, especially when taking JPEGs. Where the G11 took photos at 1.1 fps at that setting, the G12 is capable of nearly twice that. And, you can keep shooting until your memory card is full, regardless of the image quality setting. The LCD keeps up with the action fairly well, so you should be able to track a moving subject.

One of the unique features of the G12 (and its predecessors) is its built-in neutral density filter (many other cameras have them, but the G12 actually lets you turn it on or off). The ND filter cuts down how much light hits the sensor (by three stops), which allows you to use slower shutter speeds or smaller aperture values than you could otherwise.

Getting back to the tour now: the last two items on the back of the camera are the Display and Menu buttons. The Display button toggles the information shown on the LCD (or turns it off entirely), while the Menu button does exactly as you'd expect.

Top of the Canon PowerShot G12

Like dials on your camera? Then you'll be in hog heaven with this next view of the PowerShot G12. The dial on the left lets you adjust the exposure compensation from -2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments.

Next up is the hot shoe. For best results, you'll want to attach one of the Canon Speedlites I mentioned back in the accessory discussion, as they will sync up with the camera's metering system, and also allow for high speed flash sync. The top-of-the-line 580EX II flash and the ST-E2 wireless transmitter can also be used to control other flashes. Another advantage to using a Canon flash is that you can adjust the settings using the menu system on the PowerShot G12. If you're using a non-compatible flash, you'll most likely need to adjust its settings manually. The G12 can sync as fast as 1/250 second with a non-Canon external flash.

Straddling the hot shoe are the G12's stereo microphones (the one on the right is hard to see). Stereo sound recording in movie mode is one of the new features on the PowerShot G12.

Continuing to the right, we find two dials, one on top of the other. The larger one on the bottom is for adjusting the ISO sensitivity, from 80 to 3200. On the PowerShot G11 it moved in 1-stop increments, while on the G12 you get 1/3-stop precision. The small dial on top is the mode dial, which has these options:

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, kids & pets, sports, Smart Shutter, super vivid, poster effect, Color Accent, Color Swap, high dynamic range, nostalgic, fisheye, miniature, beach, underwater, foliage, snow, fireworks, Stitch Assist.
Quick shot mode A viewfinder-only shooting mode, with continuous autofocus and face detection turned on.
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.
Smart Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with automatic scene selection. Many menu items are locked up.
Program mode Still fully automatic, but with access to all menu options. A Program Shift feature lets you select from various shutter speed/aperture combos by using the rear command dial (hold down the AE/FE lock 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 G12 offers a full set of manual controls, with the ability to save two sets of camera functions to the custom spots on the mode dial. About the only thing missing is a bulb mode.

If you don't want to deal with manual controls, just throw the camera into Smart Auto mode. The G12 will pick one of twenty-eight scene modes for you, and it can even detect when the camera's on a tripod, adjusting the settings appropriately. Face detection and subject tracking are also available in this mode.

If you want to pick your own scene mode, there are plenty to choose from, including several new choices. Here are some of the most interesting (to me, at least):

Smart Shutter takes advantage of the camera's face and smile detection system, and can do some pretty neat tricks. The first is smile detection, which will take a photo of your subject or subjects as soon as one of them smiles. You can select how many photos are taken before the smile detection feature is turned off. Next up is the wink self-timer, which I believe is a Canon exclusive. Compose the shot, turn on the self-timer, and when someone "winks" at the camera, it'll take a photo two seconds later. The last Smart Shutter feature is face self-timer, which will wait until a new face appears in the scene (presumably that of the photographer), and then take a picture.

The HDR (high dynamic range) feature is new and welcome addition to the PowerShot G12. HDR photography isn't new, but having a "one-touch" option on a camera is. In this mode, the G12 takes three photos, each at a different exposure. These photos are combined into a single exposure, with dramatically improved contrast. Unlike some of the "high speed" cameras that can take handheld HDR photos, you absolutely need a tripod when using this feature on the G12. Here's an example for you, again using the purple fringing torture tunnel:

Regular exposure
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HDR mode on
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As you can see, the HDR feature both brightened the shadows, and reduced the highlight clipping in the above photo. Detail has returned to the areas on the right side that were "clipped" in the regular photo. If you look over on the left side of the HDR photo, you'll see another issue with HDR photography: moving subjects will be in several places in the finished product!

The next group of scene modes are all special effects. The Color Accent and Color Swap features have been around for several years, but they're still worth a mention. Color accent lets you select a color in the image that you want to "keep", while the rest of the photo is changed to black and white. Color swap does just as it sounds-- you swap one color for another. The nostalgic mode lets you see the front dial to select how "aged" a photo looks. The fisheye effect should be self-explanatory, while the miniature effect blurs the image, except for a selected area (which can be horizontal or vertical), making things like cars look like toys.

The final scene mode is Stitch Assist, which lets you overlap photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single panoramic image (on your Mac or PC).

The view on the LCD in Quick Shot mode. Pressing the Function button allows you to adjust any of the settings on the screen.

The Quick Shot mode is pretty cool, in that it feels a lot like using a digital SLR. The LCD turns into an info screen that you can use to view and adjust the camera's settings, and you compose your photos using the optical viewfinder. The camera also turns on continuous autofocus (and face detection) which reduces overall focus times (but puts an extra strain on your battery).

The PowerShot G12 retains the same low light mode as its predecessor. This lowers the resolution to 2.5 Megapixel and expands the ISO range all the way to 12,800. I don't think you actually want to use that setting, but if you do, it's there. At the more reasonable setting of ISO 3200, you'll get photos that make for "just okay" 4 x 6 inch prints (example).

Completing our look at the top of the camera, you'll find the power button and shutter release / zoom controller combo at the far right of the above photo. The zoom controller, which is on the small side, moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.9 seconds. I counted fourteen steps in the camera's 5X zoom range. I still think that bot the zoom controller and the shutter release are too small, with the latter seeming a little too sensitive, at least on my camera.

Side of the Canon PowerShot G12

The only thing to see on this side of the G12 is its very stylish speaker. The lens is at the wide-angle position here.

Side of the Canon PowerShot G12

On the other side of the camera you'll find its I/O ports, most of which are kept under a plastic door of average quality. Before we open it up for a closer look, I should mention that the lens is at full telephoto in this picture.

Alright, let's open that door!

The ports here are for HDMI, remote control, and USB+A/V output. In case you're wondering where you plug in the optional AC adapter, the G12 uses a DC coupler, which is essentially a battery with a power cord coming out of it.

Bottom of the Canon PowerShot G12

On the bottom of the G12 you'll find a metal tripod mount (hidden from view here), plus the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is reinforced, and fairly sturdy. I was disappointed to see that you can't get to the memory card slot when the camera is on a tripod on Canon's flagship compact camera.

The included NB-7L battery can be seen at right.