As predictable as the co-eds which annually flock to Cancun during Spring Break, Canon updates its top-of-the-line G series compact digital camera every year. And why not: Enthusiasts consistently rave about the G Series, as does DT, given that this sophisticated digicam model is as close to a tweaky DSLR as you can get. However, it’s hardly the perfect replacement due to its slow response times (1 frame per second versus 3 fps or more). Still, the PowerShot G11 is really the pinnacle for point-and-shoot options. Read on to find out why it’s among this year’s top scorers.
Features and Design
The Canon PowerShot G11 is a beefy, black-bodied camera that looks like an old 35mm model you’ll find on eBay. If attributes like super-cool, colorful and ultra-thin are at the top of your wish list, realize – this sucker is not for you. Photo geeks will immediately recognize it as the basic styling hasn’t changed for years, though. In fact, if you compare the G10 (which is still available) and the G11, you’d be hard pressed to them apart other than the model number—looking only at the front and top that is. The rear is another story though, as Canon made a huge change from a fixed position 3-inch LCD (G10) to a 2.8-inch vari-angle screen. We liked using the swivel screen since it helped steady the camera while shooting.
The G11 is slightly larger than G10, but neither fits a tight jeans pocket. It measures 4.41 inches wide, 3 tall and 1.9 deep, tipping the scales at 12.5 ounces (body only), and 14.2 ounces fully loaded with battery and SDHC card.
The front is dominated by a 5x wide-angle zoom (28-140mm), which is a good range. Press the ring release button nearby, and you can add conversion lenses. Also found here are an AF Assist lamp, flash, viewfinder peephole and nicely textured grip. The top screams “tweak me,” as there are dedicated EV compensation and ISO dials along with the mode dial. But while at a quick glance these features appear similar to the G10, there are differences: ISO hits 3200 rather than 1600 and the mode dial has two new settings—Quick Shot and Low Light—along with the usual Auto, PASM, Scene and a pair of custom settings.
With Quick Shot, the camera adjusts the focus and exposure of your subject in the viewfinder. This feature proves to be no big deal. Low Light, on the other hand, comes in quite handy and lets you shoot very dim scenes such as a candlelight dinner without a flash. Although resolution drops to 2.5MP from 10, quality is very good, although not as fine as that offered the S90. That camera, which we liked so much, has an f/2.0 lens versus f/2.8 here. Even so, the results are much better than other point-and-shoots.
The vari-angle screen (rated an excellent 461K pixels) is the key feature on the back. It swivels and folds inward to prevent scratches when not in use. We enjoyed using it since you can operate the camera from many different angles, not just pressing it up to your face. The screen held up nicely, even in direct sunlight. The G11 also has a viewfinder with diopter control, but unfortunately it gives a distorted view of your subject. Plus, it’s only 77% coverage versus 100% for the LCD. After awhile, we didn’t bother using it. Other controls on the rear include S for shortcuts, playback, AE/FE lock, AF Frame Selector, metering, display, menu and a control dial with center function/set button. A quick run through the 196-page owner’s manual will get you up to speed in no time.
The bottom of the Made In Japan camera has a tripod mount and battery compartment with SDHC card slot. On the right side there are mini HDMI, USB and remote terminal connections, while on the left you’ll find a small speaker.
The camera comes with everything you need other than a mini HDMI cable and SDHC card. Once the battery was charged (it’s rated a decent 390 shots with the LCD on), it was time to start shooting.
Performance and Use
With the G11, like the S90, Canon took a step backwards—at least in megapixel count—in order to win. More specifically, the G11 uses a 10MP sensor rather than the 14.7MP of the G10. This is actually a good thing since the pixels are larger, meaning colors are more accurate and digital noise is decreased, resulting in better quality photos.
We lived with the camera for several weeks, taking it everywhere, topping off our tests with the aftermath of an early blizzard. We shot highest resolution 3648×2736-pixel JPEGs and used the RAW option as well. We started off in Auto then used the mode dial for other options including Low Light mode which can bump ISO to 12,800 (the native range is 80-3200). Once done, we made a batch of prints and examined the files closely on a monitor (up to 300% zoom).
Like the S90, with its similar sensor, we were floored by the lack of noise of our standard test subject. ISO 1600 was fairly clear and even 3200 very useable. As for Low Light, Canon suggests using it for a birthday cake and candles. We used a single candle in a dark room and the results were good, even for 2.5MP (we easily made 8.5×11 prints. But with an f/2.8 lens rather than f/2.0, results weren’t as eye-popping or clean as with the S90.
Overall, the G11’s colors were very accurate, and provided the solid Canon results we’ve always liked. There was some purple fringing at extreme telephoto using severe enlargements, but the prints were fine. The only real drag was the lack of shot-to-shot speed. Forget shooting action sports. Instead, plan on snapping pretty portraits and beautiful landscapes, as this camera is for the thoughtful photographer.
Standard-def videos (640×480 at 30 fps) were O.K., but a camera with this price and pedigree should really be at least 720p.
What can we say? Canon’s on a roll now and its top-end cameras are winners. Just as Nikon was in the zone about a year ago hitting everything out of the park, Canon is locked in. Even though the G11—around $439 at legit online dealers – is an excellent camera though, we’re very partial to the S90 which costs $399 and still love the Panasonic LX3. Regardless, if you can overlook the G11’s flaws—which are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things—it’s a fine choice. But given the option, we’d spend our dough on the S90 instead.
- Very good picture quality
- Wide-angle 5x zoo
- Quality adjustable LCD screen
- Optical image stabilization
- Slow at only 1.1 fps
- Distorted viewfinder
- No HD video