Canon PowerShot G12 Review

Using the Canon PowerShot G12

Record Mode

It takes about 1.1 seconds for the PowerShot G12 to roll out its lens and prepare for shooting. That's pretty quick, especially for a camera with an extending lens.

There's a live histogram and an electronic level on the PowerShot G12

Autofocus speeds are right where they were on the G11, which is to say "good, but not fantastic". In good light and at the wide-angle end of the lens, the G12 locks focus in 0.3 to 0.5 seconds. At the telephoto end of the lens, focus times will be about twice that. The PowerShot G12 does focus relatively quickly (~1 sec focus times) and accurately in low light, courtesy of its AF-assist lamp.

Shutter lag wasn't an issue, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.

Shot-to-shot times ranged from 1.5 seconds for JPEGs to 2 seconds for RAW images. Adding the flash into the mix increased both of those times to around 2.5 seconds.

You can delete a picture after you've taken it by pressing the delete photo (focus point) button on the back of the camera.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the camera, at least for the 4:3 aspect ratio:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 4GB card (optional)
3648 x 2736
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG 16.5 MB 242
RAW 14.0 MB 285
Fine 2.5 MB 1471
Normal 1.2 MB 3017
Medium 1
2816 x 2112
Fine 1.6 MB 2320
Normal 780 KB 4641
Medium 2
1600 x 1200
Fine 558 KB 6352
Normal 278 KB 12069
640 x 480
Fine 150 KB 20116
Normal 84 KB 30174

As you can see, the G12 can take a RAW image alone, or with a Large/Fine JPEG. If you flip the camera into RAW mode, you'll find that you cannot take a photo at any aspect ratio other than 4:3. However, by selecting RAW+JPEG, you can do so, with the RAW image appearing "pre-cropped" when you open it up in Digital Photo Professional.

Alright, let's move onto the menu system now!

When "Hints & Tips" is turned on in the setup menu, the camera will show a brief description of the highlighted menu option

The menu system on the PowerShot G12 looks exactly like the one found on its predecessor. It's attractive, easy to navigate, and features "hints & tips" that describe each option. When you're taking pictures, the menu is divided into three tabs, covering shooting, setup, and "My Menu" options. Keeping in mind that not all of these are available in each shooting mode, here's the full list:

Shooting Menu

  • AF frame (Face AiAF, tracking AF, FlexiZone/Center) - see below
  • Digital zoom (Standard, off, 1.4X, 2.3X) - see below
  • AF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the focus point or the detected faces when you halfway press the shutter release
  • Servo AF (on/off) - camera focuses even with shutter release halfway-pressed, useful for tracking a moving subject
  • Continuous AF (on/off) - camera focuses even when you're not touching the shutter release button; reduces focus times at the expense of battery life
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • MF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the center of the frame in manual focus mode
  • Safety MF (on/off) - activate autofocus momentarily when using manual focus by halfway-pressing the shutter release button (the focus point button works, as well)
  • 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)
    • Redeye correction (on/off) - digital redeye removal as a photo is taken
    • Redeye reduction lamp (on/off) - uses the AF-assist lamp to shrink your subject's pupils to reduce the risk of redeye
    • Safety FE (on/off) - whether the camera adjusts the shutter speed or aperture to avoid overexposure when using the flash
  • ISO Auto settings - adjust how this feature works
    • Max ISO speed (400 - 1600) - how high you want the sensitivity to go
    • Rate of change (Slow, standard, fast) - how quickly the camera increases the sensitivity, probably based on minimum shutter speed
  • Spot AE point (Center, AF point) - whether the spot meter is linked to the AF point
  • Safety shift (on/off) - camera will adjust the shutter speed or aperture as needed to obtain a proper exposure when in the priority modes
  • Wind filter (on/off) - reduces wind noise when recording movies outdoors
  • Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
  • Review info (Off, detailed, focus check) - detailed shows you shooting data and a histogram; focus check enlarges the focus point or faces
  • Blink detection (on/off) - puts up a warning screen if someone in your photo had their eyes closed
  • Custom display settings - you can have two sets of these, which you toggle by pressing the Display button
    • Shooting info (on/off)
    • Grid lines (on/off)
    • Electronic level (on/off)
    • Histogram (on/off)
  • IS mode (Continuous, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
  • Converter (None, TC-DC58D) - for use with teleconverter
  • Date stamp (Off, date, date & time)
  • Set dial function - see below
  • Set Shortcut button (Not assigned, i-Contrast [DR/shadow correction], white balance, custom WB 1/2, My Colors, bracketing, drive mode, flash exposure compensation/output, ND filter, aspect ratio, RAW+JPEG, image size/quality, movie quality, servo AF, redeye correction, AF lock, digital teleconverter, LCD off) - define what this button does
  • Save settings - save your favorite camera settings to the custom spot on the mode dial

Setup Menu

  • 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)
  • Sound options
    • Startup sound (1-3)
    • Operation sound (1-3)
    • Self-timer sound (1-3)
    • Shutter sound (1-3)
  • Hints & Tips (on/off) - gives you a description of menu items, as shown above
  • LCD brightness (1-5)
  • Startup image (Off, 1-3)
  • Card format
  • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset)
  • Create folder (Monthly, daily)
  • Lens retract (0 sec, 1 min) - how quickly the lens retracts when you enter playback mode
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Time zone (Home, world)
  • Date/time
  • Distance units (m/cm, ft/in)
  • Electronic level (Calibrate, reset)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Control via HDMI (Enable/disable) - whether you can control the camera from the remote of a compatible HDTV
  • Language
  • Reset all - back to defaults

My Menu

You can put up to five of your favorite shooting menu items here

The G12 detected three faces in our test scene, though it was very "jumpy"

There are four AF modes on the PowerShot G12, though only three are accessible at any one time. Face AiAF combines multi-point autofocus with face detection. If the camera detects any faces, it will give them focus priority, making sure white balance and exposure are accurate. If there aren't any faces, it'll switch to 9-point autofocus. The camera's face detection system can locate up to nine faces in the frame, and you use the Face Select feature to follow them as they move around the scene. Recent Canon cameras haven't fared well with my test scene -- it seems to jump from person-to-person, usually locking onto three or maybe four faces at one time. I imagine that in reality it will fare much better. The G12 also features a blink detection feature that warns you if one of your subjects had their eyes closed in the photo you just took.

The next AF mode is FlexiZone, which lets you select the area in the frame on which you wish to focus (save for a margin around the edges). The size of the focus point can be adjusted as well, with a choice of small or normal. In some shooting modes you'll have center-point AF, instead of FlexiZone. The fourth and final AF mode is new to the G12, and that's Tracking AF. Point the camera at your subject, press the focus point button, and the camera will follow them as they move around the frame. This is different from the Face Select feature that I just mentioned, as it works with any subject.

The camera has a number of digital zoom options, all of which can reduce the quality of your photo if you use too much of it. However, if you're willing to lower the resolution a bit, you can safely use the standard digital zoom setting without reducing image quality, as long as you stop at the right time (the zoom position indicator becomes yellow). At the Medium 2 (2 Megapixel) setting you can get 8.7X of total zoom without a loss of quality.

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.

The last thing to mention is the Dial Function option, where you can customize the function of both the front and rear control dials. In addition to their default functions (adjusting exposure), these dials can also be set to adjust aspect ratio, white balance correction, and i-Contrast (shadow/dynamic range correction).

Enough about menus, let's talk photo quality now!

The PowerShot G12 did a superb job with our macro test subject. The image is tack sharp, yet still retains the "smooth" look that has become a Canon trademark. The colors are nice and vivid, with the G12 handling our quartz studio lamps with ease. I don't see any signs of noise or noise reduction artifacting, neither of which I would expect.

The macro focus range is the same as it was on the PowerShot G10 and G11. You can be just 1 cm away from your subject at wide-angle, while that number jumps to 30 cm at the telephoto end of things.

The night photos were reshot on 1/19/2011 to provide a brighter exposure

The night shot turned out pretty well, though it's a bit more "zoomed out" than I would've liked (the G12 doesn't offer much precision when it comes to adjusting the focal length). With full manual controls at your disposal, bringing in enough light for a photo like this is a piece of cake. The point-and-shoot crowd can use the Smart Auto mode to take long exposures, with the camera even detecting when you're using a tripod. The buildings look nice and sharp, with minimal noise levels. There is some highlight clipping here, as well as some cyan-color fringing around bright light sources.

Let's use that same night scene to see how the PowerShot G12 performed at higher sensitivities:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

The first three crops (ISO 80, 100, and 200) are all very clean, with just small increases in noise as the sensitivity goes up. ISO 400 has more visible noise as well as some detail loss, though it's still usable for midsize and perhaps large prints. Details start to go south at ISO 800, so I'd save this for small prints only, or consider shooting RAW (see below for that). The buildings start looking pretty mushy at ISO 1600, and they start to fade into the background at ISO 3200.

Now, I want to show you the benefits of shooting RAW at higher sensitivities. Let's take that so-so ISO 800 shot and the soft and mushy ISO 1600 photo and see if we can't bring them back to life with a little post-processing.

ISO 800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

At ISO 800 there's no doubt that shooting RAW and then doing some really easy post-processing (noise reduction and sharpening) gives you much nicer results. The retouched image has more noise, but it has a lot more detail than the JPEG, so it's worth the trade-off in my opinion. While there's also an improvement at ISO 1600, don't expect to be making 11 x 14 inch prints of the photo.

I'll have examples of how the G12 performs in normal lighting in a moment.

The amount of barrel distortion at the wide end of the PowerShot G12's lens is somewhere between mild and moderate. You can see what this does to your real world photos by taking a look at the building on the right side of this photo. I did not find corner blurring or vignetting (dark corners) to be a problem on the G12.

The PowerShot G12 takes a two-pronged approach to redeye removal. You can have it use its AF-assist lamp to shrink the size of your subject's pupils, and the G12 can also digitally remove any redeye that survives that. Above you can see the results I got with both removal methods turned on -- there's some noticeable redeye. So, I went into playback mode and tried to remove it there:

Voila -- no more redeye. I'm not sure why the playback tool could remove the red, but the real-time system could not -- perhaps because the one in playback mode takes more time to look for it? Regardless, one way or another, you should be able to keep redeye out of your photos.

Now it's time for the G12's normal light ISO test, which is taken in our studio. Since the lighting is consistent, you can compare these results between cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the noise levels at each sensitivity, I highly recommend viewing the full size images as well. Let's begin:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

Everything looks great through ISO 400, with just a slight hint of noise at that last sensitivity. ISO 800 is still remarkably clean for a compact camera, with very low noise levels. Things unfortunately start to soften up at ISO 1600, meaning that you'll have to reduce your print sizes or shoot RAW instead. ISO 3200 has more noise and less detail, but there may yet be hope for it...

I already showed you how using the RAW format and doing 30 seconds of post-processing can improve the quality of the G12's high sensitivity photos. Well, here are two more examples, using the ISO 1600 and 3200 photos from above.

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (DPP)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (DPP)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

I don't think anyone will deny that the post-processed images look better than the original JPEGs. Sure, they have more or a grainy look to them, but there's a lot more detail. While there's little to be gained (in terms of image quality) by using RAW at low sensitivities, it's definitely worth it when the ISO gets to its higher settings.

The PowerShot G12 has some of the best photo quality of any compact camera. Exposure was generally accurate, though like every compact camera, the G12 will clip highlights at times. Thankfully, I showed you two ways in which you can reduce this: the dynamic range correction and HDR features (though the latter requires a tripod). Colors were nice and saturated -- no complaints there. Photos do have the aforementioned "smooth" look to them, which some may find to be a bit soft. If you're one of those people, you might want to make a custom My Colors setting with increased sharpening. The camera keeps noise levels very low until you get to ISO 800 in low light and ISO 1600 in good light. Both the church interior (ISO 400) and Fish Company sign (ISO 640) were very clean for a fixed-lens camera. While purple fringing popped up here and there, it was never strong enough for me to consider it a problem.

Don't just take my word for all of this. Have a look at our photo gallery, perhaps printing a few pictures, and then decide if the PowerShot G12's image quality meets your needs.

Movie Mode

One of the areas in which the PowerShot G12 was enhanced was with regard to its movie mode. While the G11 had a VGA movie mode, the PowerShot G12 can record 720p video with stereo sound, albeit at 24 frames/second. You can keep recording until the file size reaches 4GB, which will take about 25 minutes. The resolution can also be lowered to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 (both at 30 fps), though recording will stop just before the timer hits 30 minutes.

One thing that hasn't changed is the inability to use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie. You can use the digital zoom, but it will degrade the quality of the video. The image stabilizer can be used without issue, though. There aren't any manual controls in movie mode, though the wind filter comes in handy when you're shooting outdoors.

There are three special effect movie modes: miniature, Color Swap, and Color Accent. The former works in the same way as it does for stills, except that 1) movies are silent and 2) you can select a playback speed of 5X, 10X, or 20X. The Color Swap and Color Accent features were explained earlier.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the efficient H.264 codec.

I haven't done an Amtrak sample video in a while, so here's one taken at the 720p setting. It's a bit choppy, but that's what you get with a frame rate of 24 fps. Be warned, it's a very large download!

Click to play movie (40.5 MB, 1280 x 720, 24 fps, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Playback Mode

The PowerShot G12 has a new and improved playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (complete with transitions), image protection, favorite-tagging, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and playback zoom. This last feature will enlarge the image by as much as ten times, and then let you move around. You can use the scroll wheel on the back of the camera to move from image to image, while keeping the zoom and scroll setting intact. You can also use the Focus Check feature by pressing the Display button, which will enlarge the focus point or the faces that were detected in the photo.

Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can apply most of the My Colors feature to your photos, as well. If there's any redeye in your photos, you'll find a tool to remove it here. You can also use the i-Contrast feature to brighten up the dark areas of your photos, with a choice of Auto, Low, Medium, or High settings. The G12 has the ability to assign a category to a photo, and in many cases, it's done automatically, based on the scene mode that was used.

The only video editing feature is a useful one -- a trimming tool to remove unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a clip.

Filtering photos by date using the Jump feature Smart Shuffle

There are several ways to move through photos on the camera. Naturally, you can just press left or right on the four-way controller. You can also turn the scroll wheel, which lets you move through your photos a lot quicker. Another option is to use the filtered playback (jump) feature, which lets you show photos by date, category, file type, whether they're a favorite, and you can move forward or backward by 10 or 100 photos, as well. A new addition to the PowerShot G12 is the Smart Shuffle feature, which shows four photos which are somehow related to the one currently selected (I don't really see the point of this one).

By default, you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get a lot more, including a histogram. On the info screen you can press "up" on the four-way controller to reveal an RGB histogram.

The PowerShot G12 moves from one photo to another without delay.