Canon Powershot G10 Digital Camera Review - With a profile like the New York city skyline, does the new Canon Powershot G10 have a bustling metropolis of features or is it a ghost town? Matt Grayson investigates.
Exposure compensation: /- 2EV in 1/3 step increments
Shutter speed: 15sec-1/4000sec
Flash: Built-in, hotshoe
Monitor: 3in Purecolor LCD II, 461,000dots (153,666px)
Interface: USB 2.0
Power: Li-Ion battery
At £421, the Canon Powershot G10 offers a 5x optical zoom, external hotshoe, optical viewfinder and RAW recording. The Nikon Coolpix P6000 at £369 has a 4x optical zoom, external hotshoe, optical viewfinder and RAW recording. Keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming review.
Alternatively, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 at £318 has a 2.5x optical zoom, non-dedicated external hotshoe, no optical viewfinder and RAW recording.
The exposure compensation wheel can be seen with the new location of the ISO dial on the opposite side of the hotshoe. Note also the custom button in the top corner on the back remains.
The back is roughly similar in design to the G9 but buttons have been redesigned.
The best shot dial sits on top of the ISO dial which used to be on the opposite side.
The main menu is brighter and has larger writing. Some options such as Flash control access a wider sub menu.
The AF square can be resized by pressing the display button. It can also be moved around the frame for off-centre focusing.
Canon Powershot G10: Modes and features From a distance, the Canon Powershot G10 looks remarkably similar to it's older brother the G9. A square on front or rear view best shows the chimney-like stack of dials on the right shoulder. These accommodate the regular Best Shot dial on the top with the ISO dial sat below. On the G9, the ISO dial was on the left shoulder and this has been replaced with a dedicated exposure compensation dial.
The mound of dials doesn't look altogether unpleasant though. It's not overtly annoying and certainly has an underlying advantage with creating more space to place the new dial on the top. The front lens bezel is still removable by pressing the discreet button in the bottom corner while the 5x optical zoom from the 28mm wide angle lens is also still operated by the zoom rocker with its diminutive size and recognisable springiness.
The back of the unit looks similar to the G9 with the slight exception of the buttons being made larger and any writing has now been printed directly onto the corresponding button. The chrome buttons designated to the playback, power and shutter release have also been turned black.
It's an interesting turn of viewpoint to add a dedicated exposure compensation dial on the top of the camera. This could be a nod towards the recent love of HDR photography by a lot of people. It could also simply be that Canon are listening to the public and that's what they asked for. I'd like to think the latter and it wouldn't be the first time that they did, remembering the release of the Canon EOS 50e just over ten years ago.
The two main menus are still available with the function button, which is located in the centre of the location pad that sits in the middle of the thumb dial, giving access to the quick functions such as resolution, white balance, bracketing and the neutral density filter.
In contrast, the main menu goes more indepth allowing you to make changes to features such as the AF flexizone which allows you to manipulate the focus area and is a useful feature for photographers who enjoy focus stacking. The main menu is exhaustive and would take an age to cover everything but needless to say there are some interesting features in there such as i-Contrast which is Canon's version of the Nikon D-Lighting, image stabiliser adjust, Servo AF, flash control which then accesses a sub-menu for these settings and drive settings for a new self portrait feature which I'll cover in the focus and metering area of the review.
Other features that aren't so welcome include Safety MF which is a feature that overrides any of your settings if the camera thinks that the photograph might be incorrectly exposed. Add to that all of the theme menu, which is a waste of memory and you've a few items that either you don't want to or don't need to use.
The size of the flexizone AF square can be adjusted by pressing the AF button just above the thumb wheel/navigation pad ensemble. This button also doubles as the delete function when you're in playback mode and discretly erasing all the blurry pictures that you never admit to taking.
At the launch of the Canon Powershot G10, I was told by one of the technical departments henchmen that the 5x optical zoom can be increased by simply adjusting the resolution of the camera. He explained this under the logical premise that on the zoom bar, digital zoom is signified by a blue bar.
When you get to the maximum optical length, reducing the resolution then changes the digital area to yellow. He said that this is an extension of the optical zoom but in my further tests, the image breaks down in a similar way to the digital zoom so I remain sceptical. He also failed to mention that the optical zoom bar is white. This means that a yellow bar is neither digital nor optical zoom. So which is it? I asked Mike Burnhill who is the Digital SLR and EF lens product specialist who knew the answer to the question.
He said: "White is the optical zoom, Blue is digital zoom and Yellow is safety zoom which works at image sizes other than Large JPEG and RAW. So, yes with the white zoom bar the image is magnified etc by using moving optics i.e. a zoom lens.
In safety zoom mode, you have a lower resolution and so there are pixels not used, instead of down-resing the image (lowering the resolution), as is normally done in digital zoom i.e. 15 down to 10 using the cameras internal software. Safety zoom uses a cropped area of the sensor that matches the resolution being used and then the optical zoom. So it's using the optical magnification plus crop factor and no interpolation or down-resing. Digital zoom, uses a cropped area and then interpolates the image to the selected image size."
What Mike is saying is that the breaking up of the image wasn't from the zoom actually being digital but simply the fact that the resolution is so low.
Canon Powershot G10: Build and handling As the type of camera you'd buy either as a back up for your existing DSLR or as a smaller alternative if you're not quite ready to carry around loads of stuff then it's expected to be a good build. In fact it's just as good as the G9 before it and the G7 before that and the G6 before that etc. One thing I'm unsure about is the size of the sensor. I think a larger one could've possibly been placed inside not only to cope with the inherent noise that'll inevitably come with a higher resolution, but also because more detail will be recorded in the image and impress more people.
As it happens, the sensor is the same size as the G9 which makes me dubious about the forthcoming noise tests.
The lens isn't USM but does have image stabilisation built in. It also goes as wide at 28mm which is great for landscape photographers but with a wider bottom end comes a lower top end and the smaller zoom to previous models reaches a maximum 140mm.
I think the battery door could be more solid in it's construction but it's the little touches such as the metal tripod bush and solid plastic port covers instead of rubber ones that make the difference.
The newly released DiG!C IV processor has been installed into the G10 which, Canon say, is roughly 1.3x faster than the DiG!C III that is found in the G9.
More elements have been added to the lens construction and the G10 now has 11 elements in 9 groups compared to the G9 which has 9 elements in 7 groups.
The rear screen has been improved upon with a higher resolution of 461,000dots. This equates to around 153,666 pixels and means more detail can be seen in playback and when monitoring for manual focus or noise detection.
Canon Powershot G10: Performance
In the burst mode, the Canon Powershot G10 managed 14 images in the ten second time span which works out at roughly 1.4fps (frames per second). Start up time is around a second with a shutter lag of 0.12sec which sounds great but is in fact slower than a lot of standard compacts. This really surprises me as I would've thought it to be faster than that especially as the G9 gave results of around the 0.08sec mark.
The skin tone colour is the same as the G9 but the primary colours look more saturated.
For those of you currently owning a G9, I've circled the original colour chart used on the Canon Powershot G9 review last year for comparison. The primary colours on the new camera look richer which will be down to the new DiG!C IV processor.
I originally thought that maybe the newer photograph was slightly under exposed but the lights are at a uniform setting and the skin tone tile looks the same. I like the colour reproduction on the colour chart image and the mono tones have also come out nicely balanced.
One thing I'm uncertain about is the slight sharpening seen in the tiles at full magnification. This could be an indication of noise creeping through at low ISO.
The landscape mode image.
The aperture-priority landscape image.
I took the landscape image in landscape mode and aperture-priority. Of course the maximum the aperture can go to in aperture-priority is f/8 which isn't ideal for landscape shots but is better than f/3.2 that landscape mode chose.
The reason that it chose this aperture value is so it could use ISO80 to give as smooth an image as possible. Obviously this causes problems with a narrow depth of field but using a smaller f/18 or similar aperture would give longer exposures unless the ISO is cranked up.
The detail on both shots is great but a slight purple line from fringing is detectable on the white bars. I like the grass colour which doesn't change through either picture but is a realistic reproduction. The similarities in both shots makes me wonder why they bother with the landscape mode at all.
I'm surprised with the portrait shots. It was a bright day when I took them and set the white balance to the sunshine setting. The cast is a bit too strong for my taste although it's not something that can't be fixed in post.
Portrait mode has given a blue cast despite the white balance put to the correct setting.
Fill in flash has given a warmer tone to the image and added catchlights to the eyes.
Using a burst of flash has helped warm the image back up and added some much needed catchlights to the eyes. The shadow on the background is soft and hardly noticeable but one thing I did notice was the green line of fringing around the top of the head.
Macro gets as close as 1cm, just be careful of the shadow caused by the lens and top of the camera.
Like the G9, the G10 offers a macro facility that can get as close as 1cm. It's great to be able to get so close into your subject although out of all the angles I tried with this photograph of the headphones, this was the only one that didn't cast a shadow from the top of the camera and lens. Be aware of where the light source is coming from to avoid this problem.
Another problem gained from such close focusing is the lack of light entering the lens. In this instance it has forced the camera to open the aperture to f/2.8 in order to expose correctly. This causes a thin focal plane which can be seen running along the lettering on the headphones.
Canon Powershot G10: Focusing and metering The Canon Powershot G10 offers plenty of overriding features for focusing. Macro mode switches between close focusing down to 1cm and infinity and staying on the back of the camera is the flexible AF button which allows you to adjust the size of the focus square and where it's positioned. For those of you who enjoy doing it yourself, the Canon Powershot G10 offers manual focus and it's enabled by pressing the up button on the D-pad. A sliding scale appears on the right of the screen which will show you the distances and where the focus point corresponds to it.
Face detection works well and can even have metering tied to it.
Within the menu system, you can change the AF frame from AiAF to Flexizone or face detect. An interesting new feature of the G10 is the self portrait face detection. Setting the camera up in the same way as a normal self portrait with the timer, it takes a photograph two seconds after it detects a new face in the frame.
Metering options are accessed from the button on the opposite corner of the D-pad and you can choose from centre-weighted, evaluative and spot. The great thing about the latter two are that they can work as usual or they can be assigned to the flexizone and collaborate with the focusing. In turn this can then be assigned to the face detection which ensures faces are perfectly exposed and focused.
Canon Powershot G10: Noise test I was initially surprised that the G10 only goes to ISO1600 with the release of the EOS 50D and 5D MkII at the same time and their obvious advancements in noise control. I thought we'd see a bit of that technology rub off on the high end compacts and at least see a boost to ISO6400.
Unfortunately, there's no such input from the Canon ISO Integration Department (I made that up) and noise remains terrible at high settings. ISO80 is lovely with sharp detail on the petals. This detail doesn't leave but problems have started to leak through at ISO200. To be fair, this is at full size enlargement and for me, the image doesn't become unbearable until ISO1600 anyway. While ISO800 has the purple blobs in the shadow area and a distinct loss of detail in the petals, it's not threatening enough to worry over.
With the results of the noise test I can see why they didn't simply put a couple more setting in and I think the high resolution and small sensor can partly be to blame for this.
The ISO80 test.
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1600 test.
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Canon Powershot G10: Verdict
It's a worthy successor to what is arguably the most popular DSLR back up camera. The addition of the bracketing dial on the top plate will help with quicker, more varied exposures as well as HDR fans. The two dials sat on top of the other still amuses me but interestingly, I've never thought it a bad idea.
There's plenty to do on the G10 and it should help you out of plenty of scrapes when you don't have your DSLR.
The new technology is an added bonus with the DiG!C IV processor speeding things up while the face detection self timer will help those of you specialising in self portraits.
It's unfortunate they've not really improved on noise performance and I think this could be the only thing that limits the G10.
Canon Powershot G10: Plus points New bracketing dial
Good colour rendition
Great low ISO performance
Loads of focusing modes
Wide 28mm lens
Canon Powershot G10: Minus points Bad high ISO performance
Close 1cm focusing causes a shadow
Safety MF feature
Smaller zoom that the G9