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I've always been a fan of Canon compacts – and particularly the 'G' series, being one of the first compact cameras to offer Raw files – although they've not always been perfect. For some reason, they decided to leave Raw off the G7, and with the general compact users obsession with pixels, decided to try to squeeze 14 megapixels into the relatively short-lived G10.
So how the G11 measures up, I carried one around for a while to see.
Picking it up the first thing you are aware of is its size – this can only just be referred to as a compact camera. Its overall dimensions are very similar to some of the Micro 4/3rds camera bodies, and at 355g, it's certainly not a camera you'll carry around in a shirt pocket.
But the G11 is in many ways so much more than a compact, with top-plate mounted dials rather than fiddly buttons and complex menus. Once basic preferences are sorted through the menu system, most camera functions can be controlled from the top-plate. With program aperture and shutter-priority and manual exposure modes, as well as fully auto, a number of scene modes and video all controlled from one dial. Surrounding this dial is another with ISO from 80 through to an optimistic 3200. To the left of the hot-shoe (itself a welcome addition to a compact camera) is a third dial controlling exposure compensation. A viewfinder, albeit one showing only a rough approximation of what will appear in the photo, can be useful on sunny days for those who find the generously proportioned 2.8inch screen difficult to see. Personally I never used the viewfinder as I found it simply too inaccurate to aid composition.
The chunky body holds well in my hands, and all the controls are well placed. I do wish, however, that Canon had put a lock button on the exposure compensation dial, as I found it easily got turned when putting the camera into or taking it out of my bag, so it needed constant checking. To a lesser extent the ISO and mode dials could have a locking facility as well, although neither of them did get caught whilst I was using them, I can envisage that this could still easily happen. The overall feel of the camera does instil confidence and in many ways it reminds me of the old Leica CL.
The screen on the G11 now offers a useful tilt and rotate facility, which is excellent for low and high-level shots, and usefully, can be folded in to face the camera when not in use to prevent damage in transit. The addition of this is partly responsible for the bulk and weight of the camera, but the flexibility it offers is a major plus point.
Slight barrel distortion.
Image quality is great, particularly with shooting Raw – the G11 (along with Canon's S90, the Lumix LX3, and the Samsung TL500) uses the 1/(1.7) Sony sensor, the largest sensor available in any truly compact camera, measuring 7.6 x 5.7mm, and is well capable of A3 enlargements. High ISO performance is still laughable (why do manufacturers put ISO 3200 on a camera when it is totally unusable) but so much better than the G10 it replaces. The old G10 at ISO 100 I had such bad noise that it really could only be used in emergency, the G11 is at least two stops better than the 10, giving similar results at ISO 1600, but ISO speeds up to 400 are fairly good. I admit, I dislike electronic noise, so I found myself using this camera at ISO 80 most of the time, where image quality was superb.
Cathedral quarry crop taken at ISO80.
A close up of a paperweight taken at ISO 1600.
Noise at ISO1600.
Image stabilisation worked well, allowing hand-held shots with good sharpness down to around 1/10sec.
My favourite feature with most compact cameras is their macro ability, although only really effective at the wide-angle setting, where the G11 will focus down to about 1cm; the thing you have to be most careful about is not to bump the front element on the subject! As you're working with a 6mm lens for macro, adequate depth-of-field is never a problem, very close shots of flowers can be shown in their environment.
The G11 lets you see the detail of this catkin.
I found the face-recognition facility great at parties and family get-togethers, as it almost always locked onto a face and got the focus and exposure spot on. I even tried it with macro in a field of bluebells, and surprisingly, it seemed to treat them in the same way as faces, making accurate focusing straightforward.
Commuters at rail station.
Flash is well controlled and easy to set, and as someone who typically hates on-camera flash, I was pleasantly surprised by the evenness of illumination of the results, and the exposure using flash could not be faulted.
Without a doubt, the latest incarnation of the G-series is a tremendous success, but it's aimed at a definite market. A shirt pocket camera it is not. Even as a jacket pocket camera, it's going to pull the jacket out of shape. If it's a small compact your after, the nearest competition comes straight from the same stable, in the form of the Canon S90, boasting the same sensor, some wonderfully innovative controls, including programming the lens surround ring to act as a zoom control, or an aperture ring, and in a package about half the size of the G11. Maybe the S90s lens isn't as good as the G11, but it's brilliantly compact, and about £90 cheaper.
|Another example of the types of shot you can produce with the G11.|
Canon G11: summary
Some of the Micro 4/3rds cameras, such as the Panasonic GF1 are about the same size as the G11, but when you add a zoom lens on them they become more 'camera' and less 'pocket', but only a slight increase in overall size gives you a sensor over five times the size, with corresponding improvements in high ISO performance. It wouldn't be too hard to put the body in one pocket and a lens in another. They also come at a hefty price premium.
The G11 sits right between these two extremes, which could put it on dangerous ground, being neither one thing nor the other; but in many ways it captures the best points from both camera types, offering high quality in a portable-enough package. Perfect for the serious photographer who is looking for something to carry instead of the SLR, and ideal for someone looking for quality in a compact package without worrying about interchangeable lenses and sensor dust problems.
Overall, the G11 works almost flawlessly, and I can't think of many improvements I'd need in a successor – apart from an accurate viewfinder. Canon again have come up trumps on the latest of the G-series, but before you rush out to buy one, make sure it's the right camera for you, I'll guarantee, if it is, you won't be disappointed with the results.