Canon PowerShot G12 Review

Canon's G12 introduces HD video recording, in-camera HDR capabilities, and a number of other subtle updates to the well-respected, but expensive, G series.
Canon's G12 introduces HD video recording, in-camera HDR capabilities, and a number of other subtle updates to the well-respected, but expensive, G series.
Canon's G12 introduces HD video recording, in-camera HDR capabilities, and a number of other subtle updates to the well-respected, but expensive, G series.

Highs

  • Very good picture quality
  • Low noise even in very low light
  • Tweaks galore
  • HDR a great option for still subjects

Lows

  • Expensive
  • Too much noise at elevated ISOs
  • No dedicated video button
  • May be the end of an era
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Performance and Use

Like the S95, G11, and Nikon P7000, the PowerShot G12 has a 10-megapixel CCD, which is larger than the usual digicam sensor (1/1.7-inches vs. 1/2.3). Fewer and larger pixels result in good color with less noise at higher ISOs — and 10-megapixels is more than enough for large prints. Canon started this trend about a year ago — getting off the megapixel merry-go-round — and should be commended for it.

We kicked off shooting full resolution JPEGs (3648 x 2736 pixels) in Smart Auto, then proceeded to move through the mode dial, switching to RAW when the subject presented itself. Autumn has hit the Northeast, so we had the chance to capture some colorful leaves. Along with the typical clichés, we took people shots, landscapes and performed other tests.

Once done, the images were viewed full screen on a monitor, 8×10 prints made, and videos reviewed on a 50-inch plasma via HDMI. Before getting into the specific results, let’s say the G12 is a real pleasure to use. Controls are in all the right places, the menu systems easy-to-follow, and it has the heft that lets you know you have a real camera in your hands. The vari-angle LCD is very good, rarely wiping out in direct sunshine, but it would be nice if it were larger. The camera’s optical image stabilization system is among the best we’ve used, plus the G12 has more tweaks than most people would ever want. As an added bonus, the camera grabs two frames per second versus the 1.1 fps of the G11. You still won’t get rock-solid focus of moving subjects, but it is a definite improvement.

One of the highlights of this camera is the HDR option in the scene settings. High Dynamic Range combines a series of three photos which results in wider dynamic range. This means there’s less noise, a wider color gamut and much more detail. The results are outstanding, but note this is for static subjects only, as Canon recommends a tripod when using it. We rested it on a counter while shooting similar shots of a lit candle in Low Light mode and then HDR. Results were truly night and day, with much less noise, larger file sizes and detail that were stunning. If you can get your kids or spouse to sit still long enough, you’ll get some great portraits.

With the low light 2.5-megapixel setting you can handhold the G12, a real positive when shooting a birthday party. While in this mode, ISOs range from 320 to 12,800; it’s 80 to 3200 in all others. The results were very good, especially at the lower settings. An 8×10 of a 12,800 ISO image was pretty good, which is incredible when you think about it. Naturally, ISO 320 was much better, and HDR simply blew it away.

Everything isn’t paradise with the G12. We were a bit disappointed at some higher ISO shots of our test subject (a multi-colored beaded lampshade). If you stay below 800, your large prints should be fine.

Photos taken outdoors with lots of daylight were right on the money, as you’d expect from Canon’s top-of-the-line point-and-shoot. The camera captured the crisp blue skies, bright red and yellow leaves, as well as excellent detail of foliage and macro close-ups of the last butterflies of the season.

Videos were a good 720p, without too much blocking and digitization. It’s not AVCHD, but the clips are sufficient for capturing motion memories. The G12 is first and foremost a camera and quality stills is its raison d’être. As such, it delivers the goods.

Conclusion

No surprise here — the Canon PowerShot G12 is an excellent camera with HD video that will appeal to loads of enthusiasts. But — and this is a big but — for around $100 more you can get a Sony NEX-3, a very compact camera with a much larger 14.2MP APS-C sensor, interchangeable lens capability, 720p video and seven frames per second burst shooting. There are also Micro-Four-Thirds interchangeable lens cameras from Olympus and Panasonic, plus Samsung’s new NX100 also has a DSLR-sized sensor and optional glass. If you’re looking for a quality camera at the $500-$600 level, you now have more choices than ever. The PowerShot G12 does give you the 28-140mm focal range without the hassle of swapping lenses and spending a tidy sum for the zoom of your choice. With the influx of compact interchangeable lens cameras, we may be seeing the end of the era of the fully-featured, high-priced point-and-shoot. While it’s easy recommending the G12, it’s not the slam dunk it used to be.

Highs:

  • Very good picture quality
  • Low noise even in very low light
  • Tweaks galore
  • HDR a great option for still subjects

Lows:

  • Expensive
  • Too much noise at elevated ISOs
  • No dedicated video button
  • May be the end of an era

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