As D-SLR prices continue to fall—you can get a 10-megapixel Sony A200 for $499 including a lens—the appeal of similarly-priced advanced point-and-shoot digicams dims even further. And yet, while all the imaging buzz centers on D-SLRs, fully-featured aim-and-forget cameras definitely have their place… especially for people who don’t want to lug around a bulky three pounds of plastic and glass just to take a good photograph.
We’re not so snobby as to turn our noses up to handy point-and-shoots though, especially when there are models like the Canon Powershot G10 around. This rugged and solid digicam fits in your pocket (as long as it’s a reasonably large one) and has 14.7MP – that’s right, nearly 15-megapixel – resolution. In addition, the retro-looking camera has a wide-angle zoom and several cool dials that give it a rather unique feel.
However, this is an almost-$500 camera, not a sub-$250 model like the pocket-sized and very popular 10MP Canon SD880 IS. So is the G10 worth the extra cash, or is an affordable D-SLR the way to go? Let’s put is through its paces and find out…
Features and Design
The G10 looks very similar to the still available PowerShot G9—which means the all-black digicam has a very retro rangefinder vibe and seems more at home in ancient film days than 2008. Nonetheless, savvy shutterbugs will know you’re holding one of the most advanced P&S cameras in your hand. The only models that would generate similar gadget lust are the Leica D-Lux 4, the very similar to the Leica Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 or 13.5MP Nikon Coolpix P6000; they all cost around $500, apart from the Leica, which makes you pay an extra $350(!) to flash the logo.
The make of the camera is mostly smooth other than a textured surface by the right grip. The G10 just feels good and solid in your hands. It measures 4.3 x 3.06 x 1.81 (WHD, in inches) and tips the scales at 12.3 ounces for the body only, about twice the weight of a typical P&S digicam. It’s even slight larger and heavier than the 12.1MP G9.
Speaking of that still-available camera, beyond higher resolution, the G10 has a completely different—and in our opinion—much better lens. The G10 has a 5x zoom with a range of 28-140mm versus the 6x G9 with its 35-210mm focal length. You might think more telephoto power is a plus, but we beg to differ. The wider angle lets you take much more dramatic shots and larger group photos. We’re big fans of 28mm or wider opening focal lengths and this is a real plus for this 2008 edition.
Naturally, the lens is a dominant feature on the front where you’ll also find the flash, a porthole for the viewfinder and the self timer/focus assist lamp. The lens also has an additional option: Press a button on the lower right side and you can take off the ring surrounding the lens so you can add optional conversion lenses. The Canon and G10 logos round up our tour of the faceplate.
The top of the G10 adds something very new when compared to the G9 though, and gives a hint as to who should be purchasing this camera. Rather than just a mode dial, Canon engineers stacked this dial on top of a separate ring for ISO adjustments (Auto, Hi and individual settings for 80-1600; Hi is 3200). To translate: Clearly this camera is for the person who is really into shooting with available light and wants ISO changes at their fingertips. We can’t think of any P&S digicam with a dedicated sensitivity dial—and few D-SLRs have them as well.
Here’s another indicator—there’s a dial for exposure compensation on top as well (+/- 2 EV). Again, few cameras have this so readily available. Basically, what we’re saying is the G10 is really for people who are seriously into photography, say someone with a D-SLR who also needs a relatively compact camera to simply carry around without all the attendant SLR gear.
Here you’ll also find a hot shoe for optional flashes—another rarity for point-and-shoots—an on/off key and a shutter button atop the wide/tele zoom control. Tucked next to the ISO dial is a two pinhole mic that’s barely an excuse for a microphone. That said, it’s the rare digicam offering that actually cares one whit about audio quality. Last we checked, the main reason to buy one was for shooting pictures.
The rear of the G10 is dominated by an extremely high-quality 3-inch LCD screen rated 461K pixels versus the G9’s 230K. It’s not the 921K dots of better D-SLRs, but it offers solid performance nonetheless, handling itself well in almost all situations. If in the rare instance it doesn’t work, there’s a viewfinder with diopter adjustment to deal with these issues. We never really needed it, even while shooting some Manhattan images at night or in dark rooms.
Other buttons on the back are pretty common, including a Direct Print for use with Canon printers. This key can also be designated as a shortcut for a feature of your choice such as white balance or neutral density filter. There’s also a playback key and another for AE/FE lock. To the right of the screen is a large control dial surrounding a smaller ring that gives access to Macro, Manual Focus, Flash and Burst options. A smaller function/set button rests in the middle. Another set of buttons lets you change the AF focus frame, metering, the Display on the LCD and the last opens the Menu. The Menu is easy to understand and navigate.
The right side of this Made in Japan camera has a slot for the USB and A/V outs and a remote input while a small speaker is on the left. On the bottom are the metal tripod mount and the battery/SD card compartment.
What’s In The Box
The Canon PowerShot G10 comes with a solid kit including the camera, battery/charger, strap, USB and A/V cables. There’s a 304 (!) page pocket-sized User Guide along with software and Direct Print user guides. The Canon Digital Camera Solutions Disk (ver. 38.1) has ZoomBrowser EX 6.2, Digital Photo Professional 3.5, PhotoStitch 3.1 and the EOS Utility 1.1a for the PC and similar software for the Mac. These help you manage and edit your images and “develop” RAW files.
After charging the battery and popping in a 2GB SD card, it was time to start shooting.
Image Courtesy of Canon
Performance and Use
Since this is a 14.7-megapixel camera, it takes 4416×3312 pixel images, generating a flow of data that makes the camera “breathe” heavily. It takes 1.3 frame-per-second bursts. Any D-SLR—even the cheapest—will do 3 fps. In other words, if action sports are your thing, the Canon G10 is not for you. That said, we didn’t waste our time on a soccer game, but rather concentrated on snapping typical photos taken outdoors and in. The G10 features DIGIC 4, Canon’s newest imaging processor that’s also found on D-SLRs such as the Canon EOS 50D. Along with pushing 14.7MP files through the system, the processor helps improve Face Detection and powers the new i-Contrast feature that automatically evens contrast and enhances shadow detail, per the manufacturer.
We started off in Auto with JPEG Super Fine compression with optical image stabilization and i-Contrast engaged. We also enabled grid lines, which is a real plus when framing wide-angle shots. After Auto, it was time to shift to the various scene modes and finally to manual options with RAW shooting.
Although the G10 is a bit of bruiser, the camera is really a pleasure to take snapshots with. It has a substantial feel, and your inner photographer emerges once you realize this is quite a powerful tool that you’re holding in your hands. Let’s re-emphasize—this is definitely not the fastest acting camera on the block—slow and steady is the key as you frame your shots and make adjustments. That said, Face Detection worked really well with solo and group shots. After taking many photos, it was time to turn out 8.5×11 full bleed prints with no tweaking via photo editing software or printer.
This first word that popped out of our mouths upon examining the finished results was “gorgeous.” Images shot outdoors in bright fall sunshine were magnificent, the best we’ve seen from a P&S camera to date. Colors were as accurate as can be with that nice overall Canon “feel” we like so much. Detail in the far corners and edges was excellent as well. Manhattan skyscrapers were beauties with very good building detail. Images shot at night in Night Scene came out very well too, as you could see the individual windows on the Met Life tower from several blocks away. The OIS did a fine job keeping image blur relatively under control to boot.
As for shots taken indoors, this P&S has similar noise problems to other compact digicams. Noise reared its ugly head at ISO 400, and a still life taken at ISO 1600 had dots galore, though you could make an acceptable 4×6. Sadly, the noise-handling characteristics of the G10 pale in comparison to almost any D-SLR simply because of physics. The larger imaging devices used in D-SLRs keeps noise under control. The Canon EOS 50D is also a 15MP camera, but the results aren’t even in the same league. Then again, the 50D is $1,399 for the body alone versus $499 for the G10. Regardless, a $500 D-SLR will still do a better job.
In terms of the video capabilities of this camera, they’re really nothing to discuss in any great detail. It takes 640×480 pixel clips at 30 fps—a.k.a. VHS level. Today, when camera makers hype the fact their latest-and-greatest offerings can take high-def 720p video and beyond, this is poor by comparison. And the sound quality is what you’d expect from a two-pinhole mic.
We really liked the Canon PowerShot G10, but it’s only for a sliver of shutterbugs out there—especially with a price tag of $450 in the real world.
Yes, it takes very fine images at low ISOs with good light. The wide-angle option is also a real plus, and the superb 3-inch LCD screen is great for framing your shots and reviewing them. The camera has a ton of adjustments to keep you inner gadget geek enthralled for a long time as well.
However, this digicam is slow when it comes to saving images and the burst mode is paltry when compared to any D-SLR. And digital noise is a problem for the device, just as it is for almost every compact digicam on the market.
If you’re a serious, thoughtful photographer looking for a carry-around digicam, by all means – buy this baby. But if fast-moving subjects are more your speed and/or you like shooting in dim available light, the G10 is not for you.
• Versatile wide-angle zoom
• Terrific shots in good light
• Great feel and ergonomics
• Excellent LCD screen
• Optical image stabilization
• Expensive compared to a D-SLR
• Relatively slow
• Digital noise at ISO 400 and above
• Video should be higher quality