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DCRP Review: Canon
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, September 15, 2002
Last Updated: Saturday, December 7, 2002
The review has been completed using a production model camera. Product shots have been updated where necessary, and all sample photos are from this shipping model.
After a bit of a delay, I finally got a production model PowerShot G3! Judging by all the e-mails asking me what was taking so long, I can tell that there is a whole lot of interest in this camera!
The Canon PowerShot G3 ($799) is an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary upgrade of the PowerShot G2 (see our review). But Canon has added more than just bells and whistles. Here's what's new with the G3:
You're probably confused by that last item. iSAPS stands for Intelligent Scene Analysis based on Photographic Space (what a mouthful). The system is a database of photographic data, which has been accumulated by Canon over the last 60 years. When you press the shutter release button halfway, the G3 compares the current scene to the scenes in the database, and choose the best settings for that situation.
Added 11/14/02: According to Canon, one of the key advantages to this new feature is a reduction in shutter lag time compared to earlier models like the G2. The G3 spends less time hunting for focus because it already "knows" how far the subject should be based on statistical analysis of other photos shot at the same focal length and light level. Pretty slick!
So that's the iSAPS system -- now learn about the other new G3 features in our review!
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot G3 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
The PowerShot G3 is ready to go right out of the box. The only minor quibble I have is the 32MB memory card. Sure it's a good start, but you should plan on buying a much larger card right away if you want to get serious about digital photography.
The G3 uses the same BP-511 Li-ion battery as its predecessor. The battery has a very respectable 8.1 Watt/hours of power. For the sake of comparison, the EN-EL1 battery used by the Nikon Coolpix 5700 is 5.0 Wh and the NP-FM50 on the Sony DSC-F717 is 8.5 Wh. Canon says that you'll shoot about 750 pictures per charge with 50% LCD usage; you can stay in playback mode for 6 hours on a single charge.
When it's time to recharge, you just plug in the included AC adapter. This same AC adapter can be used to power the camera in the studio, or if you're just transferring photos to your computer. Charging the battery takes about 80 minutes.
The downside with proprietary batteries like the BP-511 is the cost ($60) and the fact that you can't use standard batteries (as you can with AA-based cameras) if you're in a bind. That's why I usually prefer cameras that use AA batteries.
The G3 includes a lens cap and strap to protect your lens. I must say I'm happy that everyone seems to be including both the cap and retaining strap these days.
Another nice surprise is the inclusion of the WL-DC100 wireless remote control (shown above). You can control the camera in both record and playback mode with this device.
The G3 is a fairly large camera
Like the PowerShot G2, the G3 is an accessory lovers dream. There are even some new options available. In the lens department, you can use the WC-DC58N wide-angle converter ($199) to shorten the focal length to 24mm, or the TC-DC58N tele converter ($129) to bring the top end up to 240mm. I tried both of these and was impressed with the results. A 58mm close-up lens ($125) is also available. Note that the LA-DC58B conversion lens adapter ($24) is required in order to use these.
The G3 is compatible not only with EX-series Speedlites, but also the Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX ($750), Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX ($1100), and the Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 ($340).
Other accessories include a soft carrying case and dual battery charger w/car power adapter ($180).
The G3 can also print directly to Canon's CP-10, CP-100, S830D, and S530D photo printers.
Canon includes their excellent Digital Camera Solutions software, as well as ArcSoft's Camera Suite, with the G3. The main programs in the DCS software package are ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser (Mac/PC names), PhotoStitch (a great panorama creation product), and Remote Capture (which lets your Mac or PC control the camera over the USB connection). Canon's software continues to be head and shoulders over the competition. Best of all (for us Mac users, at least), all the software is Mac OS X native.
Canon is also one of the best at creating camera manuals. Unlike the "VCR manuals" produced by some other manufacturers, Canon's manuals are well laid-out and easy to read. There are thick, printed manuals for both the camera and the software.
Look and Feel
The most obvious differences between the PowerShot G2 and G3 can be seen on the front of the camera.
As you can see, some things have been moved around between the two models. The G3 has a slightly different grip, and a command dial sits atop it. The G3 uses a new light guide flash which promises better flash exposure. And then, there is the new lens, which I'll cover in a second.
The G3 is a mid-sized camera which probably won't be in any of your pockets. The body is a bit more plastic than the G2, but it's "high grade" and seems tough enough.
The dimensions of the G3 are 4.8 x 3.0 x 2.5, and it weighs 410 grams empty. The G2 has the same dimensions but weighs 15 grams more.
The PowerShot G1, G2, and now the G3 are famous for their rotating LCD. You can use the positions shown above and further down the page, and anywhere in between. You can also flip the LCD around so the subject can see what's going on -- and the image is oriented correctly.
With all that out of the way, let's begin our tour of the G3 now.
As I've already mentioned, the G3 has a totally new 4X, F2.0-F3.0 optical zoom lens. The lens has a focal range of 7.2 - 28.8 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 140 mm.
Deep inside that lens is a neutral density filter. I'll have more on why you'd want one later in the review.
The lens itself isn't threaded, but you can remove the plastic ring around it by pushing the button just left of the "PowerShot G3" label. See:
Updated 11/14/02: This is how you install those conversion lenses (it's a "bayonet-style" system). You can use 58mm filters with the G3, but you'll need the conversion lens adapter to do so.
Continuing our tour now: just above the lens is the autofocus (AF) illuminator. This bright light helps the camera focus in low light situations. It should be on every camera, in my opinion.
To the right of that is the new light guide flash. This design prevents the wasting of flash power that is common on "regular" flashes. The light guide flash is much more focused than a normal flash. The working range of the flash is 0.7 - 5.0 m at wide-angle, and 0.7 - 4 m at telephoto. As I've mentioned already, the G3 supports all kinds of add-on flashes.
Below the flash, you can see a few holes for the microphone.
Here is the back of the G3, with the LCD in the traditional location. This 1.8" LCD is very good, with a bright, sharp, and fluid image. It is tough to see outdoors in bright light, though, which is typical. It's nice to see that Canon hasn't compromised on LCD size on their high end cameras, unlike some other manufacturers (here's a hint: it's "nokin" spelled backwards).
Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is good-sized. It shows 83% of the frame, according to Canon. I do have two complaints about it, though. The first is that at the 1X-2X zoom settings, you have a great view of the lens barrel. As you zoom, it disappears. My other complaint is about the diopter correction knob. While I'm very happy that it's there (being someone with poor vision), I found the knob hard to turn while looking through the viewfinder (when you're trying to adjust the focus).
To the left of the viewfinder are three buttons. They have different functions depending on which mode you're in, record or playback. From left to right:
|Record Mode Function||Playback Mode Function|
|Flash mode (Auto, forced, flash off) - redeye reduction is turned on via the menu||Thumbnail mode|
|Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)||N/A|
|Macro mode||Jump - quickly moves ahead in playback mode|
On the other side of the optical viewfinder is a button for manual focus and voice annotations (in record and playback mode, respectively). Like some other higher end cameras, the G3 can enlarge the center of the frame in manual focus mode, so you can make sure you're subject is in focus. A little gauge on the LCD shows you the current focus distance. You use the command dial (on top of the grip) to focus.
The "Func" menu
The three buttons to the right of the LCD are for (from top to bottom):
|Record Mode Function||Playback Mode Function|
|AE Lock||Delete photo|
|Display - turns LCD and info on it on/off|
Everything I listed above should be fairly self-explanatory. The two things I wanted to cover in more detail are the bracketing and photo effect features.
The G3 can do two types of bracketing: exposure and focus. In exposure bracketing, you pick a median value and choose the range. For example, I could do -1/3EV, 0, and +1/3EV. It's done graphically on the LCD and it makes sense. AE bracketing is a good way to ensure that your photos are properly exposed. Focus bracketing is the same idea: you choose a median value and the camera focuses a littler further away and a little closer. It makes more sense if you try it yourself.
The flash exposure compensation feature varies, depending on what mode you're in. Normally, it'll be just like regular exposure compensation. In manual mode (or if flash adjust is set to "manual", you can adjust the flash power in three steps: 1/3, 2/3 or full strength. If you've got an external flash hooked up, you have more control: 1/16 to full strength in 1/3 steps.
Updated 11/14/02: The G2 had photo effects but now there is a new one: custom effect. Here you can save brightness, contrast, and saturation into this spot, for easy retrieval. Also, unlike on the G2, you can use photo effects in any mode, including movie mode.
Let's continue our tour now. Over on the far right is the four-way switch, with two buttons below it. The four-way switch is used, of course, for menu navigation. It's also used for setting the exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments) and white balance. The white balance settings have been expanded as well, since the G2. The choices are:
That's right, you can now have two custom white balance settings stored for easy retrieval.
Below the four-way switch are buttons used for the menus -- most of the time. That "set" button is also used for activating Canon's "FlexiZone" focusing system. When this is activated, you can move the focus point anywhere on the frame using the LCD and the four-way switch. There is a border of about 1/4" on the LCD where you cannot go. This is nicer than the system used by Sony (for example), which limits the number of points you can use -- here it's virtually unlimited.
Finally we're done with the back of the camera -- so let's move on to the top!
Yes, there are even more buttons up here. I will work my way from left to right.
The G3 has a large, information-packed LCD display up here. I'm not going to read off what it says (that's what the manual is for), but you can get a pretty good idea by looking at it. The one downside is that it's not backlit -- maybe in the PowerShot G4.
To the right of that is the hot shoe. I've covered the flash options earlier in the review. The G3 works with any EX-series Speedlite plus the macro ring lights that I covered back in the first section. I assume it will work -- to some extent at least -- with non-Canon flashes.
Just right of the hot shoe you'll find the button for continuous shooting mode and the self-timer/remote control, plus the power/mode switch.
The final three items up here are the shutter release button, zoom controller, and mode wheel. The zoom controller takes the camera from wide to tele in 2.5 seconds, smoothly and quietly. The mode wheel has a load of options, including some new ones. Here they are:
|Stitch Assist||For help making panoramic shots|
|Night Scene||For night shots|
|Portrait||For portraits, believe it or not|
|Fully Auto||Point-and-shoot mode|
|Programmed Auto||Camera chooses shutter speed and aperture. All menu options are unlocked.|
|Shutter Priority (Tv)||You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a number of speeds ranging from 15 sec - 1/2000 sec. The 1/1600 and 1/2000 shutter speeds are only available above F4.0 at wide-angle and F5.6 at telephoto.|
|Aperture Priority (Av)||You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The choices range from F2 - F8 and will vary a bit depending on the focal range used.|
|Full Manual||You pick the aperture and shutter speed. See above for values.|
|Custom Settings 1||Your saved settings, easy to access. 1 of 2|
|Custom Settings 2||Here's #2|
As you can see, you can now store two sets of custom settings right on the mode wheel. You do so via an option in the menu.
The G3 can be used as a pure point-and-shoot camera or as an advanced, manually controlled one.
Here is the side of the PowerShot G3. Under a plastic cover, you will find I/O ports for DC in (for the AC adapter), digital out (USB), and A/V out.
Above that is the speaker. Okay, next side!
Here you can see the CompactFlash slot, which is behind a fairly sturdy plastic door. Like on the G2, this is a Type II slot, and the IBM Microdrive is fully compatible.
The included memory card is also shown.
Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. You can see the metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. That's the BP-511 battery over on the right.
Using the Canon PowerShot G3
The G3 takes just under four seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. If you desire, you can change the startup screen and sounds, via the menu system.
When you depress the shutter release halfway, the camera generally focuses quickly -- well under a second. It may take a little longer if the AF-assist lamp is used. The G3 did a good job focusing on the tougher subjects around the house. When you press the shutter release fully, the picture is taken promptly.
After a picture is taken, you have two options. Press the */Delete button, and you can delete the photo as it is being written to memory. Press the Func. button, and you'll be able to save the image in RAW format instead of JPEG. I have no idea when you'd ever need this feature.
Shot-to-shot speed is excellent. You will wait for just under 2 seconds before you can take another shot, even in RAW mode (assuming the post-shot review is turned off). RAW mode, by the way, is a format where the image is stored as uncompressed data from the CCD. The files are larger than normal JPEGs, but smaller than TIFF files (which the G3 doesn't write). Information about exposure and white balance are stored in the file, so you can tweak them later on the computer. That's also the point where you can save RAW files in other formats.
Updated 11/21/02: One thing missing on the G3 compared to the competition is a live histogram in record mode. You can see one right after you take the picture by pressing the Display button, but not while you are composing a shot.
Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the G3:
|Resolution||Quality||# Images on 32MB card|
(2272 x 1704)
(1600 x 1200)
(1024 x 768)
(640 x 480)
Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.
Now, onto the menus!
While the appearance of the menus has not changed since the G2, the items in the menus have. Here's a look at the easy to navigate record mode menu:
Time for some further explanation on some of those.
There are two speeds for continuous shooting: standard and high. The shooting rate is 1.5 frames/second at the standard setting, and 2.5 frames/second at the high speed setting. In high speed mode, you cannot review the images on the LCD after they are taken; at normal speed you can. I was able to take 13 shots in a row in standard mode, and 14 shots in high speed mode (both at the Large/Superfine setting).
This brings us to the neutral density (ND) filter. The ND filter is a light reducing filter, which allows you to use slower shutter speeds or larger apertures, which wouldn't be otherwise possible due to bright light. The ND filter subdues all colors uniformly. This is a feature you don't see everyday on a digital camera.
Finally, there's the Intervalometer (gotta love that word). This tool will let you set up the G3 for time lapse photography. You choose the interval between shots (1-60 minutes) and the total number of shots to be taken (2-100). Using the AC adapter is strongly recommended.
There is also a setup menu on the G3, so let's take a look at that. Here are the interesting items:
If you so desire, you can customize the startup screen, beeps, and phony shutter sounds that your G3 makes. If these bother you, you can also turn them off.
Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
I'm very pleased with how the macro test shot turned out. The colors look great -- accurate and not too saturated. Aside from the slightly out of focus nose, the subject (3 inches tall) is sharp. The focal range in macro mode is 5 - 50 cm at wide-angle, and 15 - 50 cm at telephoto. The optional close-up lens will get you as close as 10 cm (only at the telephoto end).
By the way, the recordable area in macro mode is 74 x 54 mm at wide-angle, and 55 x 41 mm at telephoto. You're welcome, Andy <grin>.
The G3 did a pretty good job with the night test shot. This exposure was 10 seconds, and it really captured all the lights and reflections that you'd see in person. There is some noise, but I don't think it's out of control or anything, especially considering the length of the exposure. Though it's not easy to see in this shot, the G3 had some strange chromatic aberrations on certain lights. I have a better example of this shortly.
When I first took the redeye test shot, I was kind of disappointed in the results. So I set it up again and re-did it. Same thing. I tried it again (using the same setup that I always use) and got the same result. Even with redeye reduction, there's noticeable redeye. Of course this can be removed in software, but I'd prefer not to see it this pronounced in the original shot.
Added 12/5/02: Several people wrote in saying they had very little trouble with redeye, especially if the subject was looking right at the camera. My redeye test isn't terribly scientific, and as they say, your mileage may vary.
There's a rather strange phenomenon that I noticed in just a few pictures I took with the G3. One was the night shot, and the other was the interior of the church (see this picture).
Now, I almost expect to get chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) on things like windows with bright light filtering through them. This isn't what bothered me -- I almost expect to see this on a digital camera.
This does. All of the lights in the church (I didn't inspect them to see what kind they were) had these purple halos around them. You can also see this a bit in the night shot. I had another night shot that I took (a more zoomed-in version of the shot above, not available online) that exhibited more of this phenomenon than the one posted here. These were the only times that I noticed this problem. In other photos, chromatic aberrations weren't really an issue. In fact, I'm not even sure that this is the same thing as the purple fringing that you usually see (like in the stained glass above).
|Section below added 11/13/02: After reading some analysis of my tests elsewhere, I decided to do a few more tests. I headed to San Francisco's City Hall, a building more spectacular than most state capitals. I did two separate tests, for noise and chromatic aberrations (purple fringing). Enjoy.|
The first test was to compare noise levels at the four available ISO settings: 50, 100, 200, and 400. I've cropped the same area in each of the shots for comparison purposes. The full-size images are also available. These were all taken in program mode.
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It was starting to rain, so I had to hurry. The next test I did was to see the effect of aperture on chromatic aberrations. I cropped the very top of the dome (the cupola?) in each picture.
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As you can see, as the F-number went up, the purple went down. Once I got above F3.5, it was totally gone. As I continued to raise it, the image became too dark to really be usable (I suppose full manual mode could've helped there). These were taken in aperture priority mode at ISO 50, by the way.
Aside from the purple fringing and redeye, I found the G3's photo quality to be excellent, in terms of color and exposure. I don't think the G3 is the best in terms of resolution, compared to other cameras. Have a look at the palm tree and grass in this shot for an example -- it's not as sharp as one would hope. Still, the G3's photo quality is some of the best out there... just not groundbreaking, knock-your-socks-off amazing. I think the Nikon Coolpix models (even the 4300) and the Sony DSC-F717 produced noticeably sharper images than the G3.
By all means -- check out the photo gallery and judge the photo quality for yourself.
The PowerShot G3 has a newly enhanced movie mode. The resolution is still 320 x 240 (or 160 x 120), but you can now record for up to 3 minutes per movie (regardless of resolution). Of course the included 32MB card only holds about 2 minutes worth, but if you had a larger card, you could do 3 mins.
Sound is recorded with the movie, which is saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec. You can use the photo effect feature in movie mode, so you can make black and white or sepia movies.
Not surprisingly, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. This is the norm for cameras that record sound with movies.
You can edit your movies in playback mode. You can delete unwanted frames from the first or second half of the movie, and either save it as a new movie, or overwrite the current one.
This sample movie was taken while I was waiting (and waiting) for the train home.
Click to play movie (4.0MB, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The playback mode is basically the same as on the PowerShot G2. It doesn't have a lot of gimmicks, but the basic features it has are implemented well. That includes slide shows, image protection, thumbnail mode, image rotation, and DPOF print marking.
The zoom & scroll feature is the best on Canon cameras, and it's even faster on the G3 thanks to the new DIGIC image processor. You can zoom into your images up to 10X, with many steps in between. Scrolling around in the enlarged area is very snappy.
Moving between images is very quick as well -- about a second between high res thumbnails.
If you want information about your photo, the G3 delivers. You can find out almost everything about your photo, including a histogram.
If you have a Canon photo printer, you use playback mode to control it.
How Does it Compare?
The Canon PowerShot G3 is one of the finest digital cameras on the market. It offers robust performance, tons of manual controls, unmatched system expandability, and excellent photo quality. The DIGIC processor has made the G3 one of the most responsive cameras I've used. The playback and movie modes are some of the best out there, as well. The neutral density filter is a nice bonus, but my guess is that the average shooter probably won't use it. But it's not a perfect camera. The redeye and strange (but rare) purple fringing that I noticed were surprising for a camera of the G3's caliber. The diopter correction knob was hard to use, and I didn't care for the view of the lens through the optical viewfinder at wide-angle.
Now for the million dollar question: is the G3 the best 4 or 5 Megapixel camera out there? Guess what, I'm not going to answer. I don't think there is one camera that is best for everyone (I mean that honestly, not as a cop out). The G3 is definitely a contender that goes up nicely against cameras from Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, and Sony. Do your research and you (rather than me) can decide what the perfect camera is for your needs.
If I was a PowerShot G2 owner, I probably wouldn't race out and upgrade. If I was deciding between a G2 and G3, I'd pony up the extra cash for the G3. My main reasons for doing so would be the DIGIC processor and the 4X zoom lens.
So I hope this helped somewhat in your decision making!
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Other 4 and 5 Megapixel cameras to check out include the Canon PowerShot S45 (a smaller version of the G3), Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom (uses 3.3MP SuperCCD), HP Photosmart 850, Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi, Nikon Coolpix 4500, 5000, and 5700, Olympus C-4040Z, C-5050Z, and E-20N, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F707, DSC-F717, and DSC-S85.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot G3 and it's competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our PowerShot G3 gallery!
Want a second opinion? How about a third?
Get another opinion on the G3 from Steve's Digicams.
Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to email@example.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
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