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Canon PowerShot G7 Digital Camera Review

Canon PowerShot G7 Digital Camera Review - Just when you thought the days of the prosumer camera were over, up pops the Canon G7. Duncan Evans investigates.

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Category : Compact Cameras
Product : Canon PowerShot G7
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With the dramatic falling of prices for digital SLRs and the introduction of inexpensive, entry-level models, the days of the so-called bridge camera, the prosumer model that sat uneasily between feature-rich compacts and true SLRs, looked well and truly over. To an extent, they are, which is why Canon's G7 has had to reposition itself.
front view of the G7

Specifications
  • 6x optical zoom with optical Image Stabilizer
  • 10Mp resolution
  • DIGIC III and iSAPS
  • Face Detection AF/AE
  • 2.5" LCD screen
  • ISO1600
  • ISO and multi-control dials
  • 25 shooting modes
  • ND filter built in
  • Digital Tele-Converter and Safety Zoom
  • JPEG file format

With the G7 Canon has rather retreated from the bridge camera market and the styling of the previous models in the series, and instead repackaged it as a feature-rich compact for the more serious amateur.
the battery compartment

Modes and features
The headline feature of the G7 is the form of the whopping 10Mp resolution. Is this more than you actually need? Well, perhaps not. As the camera is aimed at the enthusiast who wants a more convenient camera than a SLR, rather than a happy snapper, then the extra resolution can be put to good use in landscape shots. What's startling, and an obvious change from the previous cameras in the series is that the LCD monitor, an admirable 2.5” with a respectable 207k pixels, is fixed to the back of the camera. No flip out and rotate LCD here. This, and the obvious decision to shrink the camera, have resulted in the weight falling from 467g in the G6 to 320g in the G7. Now that's a loss Weight watchers would be proud of. Despite this, the camera controls don't feel unduly squashed, and there's even room for an exciting new addition.

Let's on the top plate. Up here there's the on/off button, which is recessed and not the easiest to activate, but at least it's a reasonable size. The zoom and fire button are together, and while the zoom is small, at least it feels solid. Next to this is the mode dial, which contains the usual PASM modes (S being listed as Tv on Canon cameras). There are two custom settings, a totally auto mode, video, stitch-assist for panoramas and a Scene mode. The scenes cover 16 situations and include things like fireworks, beaches, snow, underwater, portraits, landscapes and even an ISO3200 mode. Rotating the dial on the back of the camera, scrolls through the selections on the LCD, showing previous and upcoming modes, so it's easy to find the one you want. No pictures with the scene modes like some compacts, so Canon is saying here, have them, but we aren't going to hold your hand more than that.

Over the other side of the flash mounting is... an ISO dial. Why oh why isn't this on every digital SLR? Just having an ISO control mode on a dial, and then having to change the settings on a menu isn't enough. Full marks to Canon for including this here. It runs from ISO80 to 1600, and also has an Auto mode.

rear top view of the G7
Around the back is a silver playback button that's similar to the on/off one, a combined dial and joypad arrangment, and five buttons. The buttons are custom, focus mode, exposure compensation, setup menu and display options. There's also a button in the middle of the dial/joypad, which activates the common menu options. Firstly, let's look at the custom button. This is marked by a star and as usual with Canon cameras, activates a metering reading. So far so good, but now, say you were in AP mode, you changed the aperture, two graphic displays appear on the LCD, showing aperture and shutter speed. At a glance you can see how much you need to change one, to get a desired result on the other. Better yet, if the ISO button is now rotated as well, the scales instantly update, making it easy to quickly trade off quality for speed, or speed for aperture. If you are trying to create a specific effect like slow-motion waterfalls, or freezing moving objects, this is a very nice feature.

Build and handling
It's really solid and all the controls feel like they will last more than 10 minutes. The weight loss from the G6 obviously makes it easier on the hand, but the loss of the flip-out is a real shame, making composition more tricky. There's an optical viewfinder, but the lens barrel extends so that it sticks into the view, and its not particularly good. Only to be used when the sun is so bright the LCD can't be seen. There's not much of a grip, just a slight change in the body with a strip, but it handles better than it looks like it should. There's very little space on the back, but where it is, the thumb sits comfortably. All the controls are easy to use, except for the on/off button. The setup menu and the features menu are two separate items, but are easy to navigate. What is a little messy is that the focus selection and exposure compensation buttons require pressing again to select any changes. This means that to change a single setup feature, you could be pressing any of five buttons on the back.
the menu system at work

Flash options

The hotshoe supports Canon Speedlites 220EX, 430EX, 580EX (some functions not support). The built in flash has a red-eye reduction mode as expected, but can also do a second curtain, slow-sync flash for creative combined exposures. The flash can be set to auto-TTL, or manual, and has three levels of adjustment using either, making fill-flash easy to control. The flash isn't very strong with a range of just 4m at ISO100, but it's good enough for portraits.

Performance
Like many recent compacts, the G7 features face recognition focusing. Tie this in with the portrait camera mode and you can automatically have the image adjusted for skin tones. There are a range of colour profiles to assign to shooting as well, so that the picture can be tweaked for people or landscapes or skies for example. There is a choice of focussing and metering system, allowing a focussing point to be moved around the screen and used for spot metering. This and the various modes, plus the custom metering function are all good things to have and the camera is pleasingly chunky and straightforward to use. The dual control of joypad and scroll wheel isn't entirely necessary for navigating the menu systems, but the wheel is certainly makes shutter or aperture selection easier. Apertures can be selected in one third stops as well, which is nice to see.
the aperture and shutter scales

While the G7 is a nice camera to hold and use, and it starts up quickly, there are a few shortcomings on what is supposed to be an enthusiasts camera. The shooting speed for example, is 2fps if you turn the monitor off first and use fine or normal JPEG compression. Continuous shooting with auto-focus is 0.8fps under the same criteria. Switch the LCD on, as its the primary focussing mechanism and its unrealistic to not use it, and shoot in Superfine JPEG for the best quality, without continuous autofocus, and you can shoot an initial burst of 4 frames at around 1fps, but then the internal buffer fills and over a ten second period you only get 6 frames, rather than 20.

The exposure compensation also doesn't offer a great range, being just + or – 2EV and when in AP mode, the camera will only produce a shutter speed of just one second. This is odd since in shutter priority mode it can manage 15 seconds and will set the aperture accordingly. This itself is nothing to write home about, ranging from f/2.8-f8, which is standard for a compact. While the ISO range is fine, going up to ISO1600, it's a little annoying to find that the ISO3200 option is only there in a custom, program mode where you have no control over shutter and aperture speeds.

That said, there's more good stuff in the form of live histograms being available on the LCD, the macro function works very well being to get in a close as just 1cm!

Colour chart note: On the site, images are automatically displayed as sRGB, however, you can download the hi-res, unconverted image by right clicking on the thumbnail and selecting Save Link As. Then view the image on your computer.

the colour chart
The colours are very faithful, though red and blue are slightly lighter than reality. All the mixtures of colour are completely faithful expect for the yellow-green combination which is slightly more yellow than the lime green its supposed to be. The primary and lighter greens are both spot on though.
the landscape test
In the landscape test -2EV exposure compensation was required to retain the colour in the sky. Once Highlight/Shadow had been used to restore the foreground, plenty of noise became evident. There's good sharpness in the image, but the is colour fringing on both white, metal stanchions and on the wooden lock gate.

the portrait test
The dedicated portrait mode has the effect of deliberately softening the image. This shot was taken in Aperture Priority mode, using flash adjustment of -1EV and it works well with a sharper result.
the 6x optical zoom in action
This shows the sharpness of the 6x optical zoom with the image stabiliser turned on. The only fly in the ointment is that colour fringing on the branches in the sky area above the church tower.

Noise tests
The ISO80 picture is very clean, with smooth tones and excellent sharpness. There's some, very faint, signs of noise in the ISO100 picture, but nothing of real concern. It starts to appear more in the shadow areas of ISO200 pictures but is only quite noticeable in ISO400 mode. ISO800 is still sharp while being quite noisy, but when it gets to ISO1600, the noise level increasing significantly and the colours shifts as well.

ISO 80 result
ISO80 mode

ISO 100 test
ISO100 mode

ISO200 test
ISO200 mode
ISO400 test
ISO400 mode

ISO800 test
ISO800 mode

ISO1600 test

ISO1600 mode


Verdict
There's a slight element that the G7, having been cut down to size, has rather lost something. It has a number of admirable features and is genuinely nice to use, but the performance is slightly off. The loss of the flip-out LCD is a real shame, but for those wanting a camera that's convenient to carry, the large weight and size loss is surely a good thing. The use of colour modes to optimise the picture for specific types is a good thing, but it's surprising to see only sRGB being supported rather than the wider gamut of AdobeRGB. The colour accuracy itself is good, but not quite perfect, while the lens offers very sharp pictures throughout the 6x optical zoom. What is apparent is that colour fringing can be a problem, even against blue skies, never mind white ones, if it's bright. Also, the camera did seem to struggle with any kind of contrast range, often requiring -2EV exposure compensation to retain detail in the sky.

Images themselves are full of detail thanks to that huge resolution, while noise is well controlled up to ISO800, but significantly it appears in shadows areas at ISO100. The higher ISO modes, in bright conditions, perform better than rival compacts and as well as some more expensive models. It's just that in shadow areas, its endemic.

There are options to add wide angle and telephoto convertors as the metal ring on the front of the camera unscrews, and these would extend the usefulness of the G7 further. As it is, it's a solid, feature-rich compact, that may have fewer prosumer aspirations, but still offers a wealth of photographic potential in an easy-to-use package.
The top angle view of the G7


Plus points:
10Mp resolution
2.5” LCD
Anti-shake
Very solid build
Good controls
Some excellent features
ISO on a dial – yes!
Lots of colour modes
Built in ND filter

Negative points:
Only sRGB
Not a fast shooter
Only 1sec exposure in AP mode
Optical viewfinder poor
Noise in shadow areas

FEATURES:

HANDLING:

PERFORMANCE:

OVERALL:

 

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Comments


Brufus 7
12 May 2007 1:00PM
Agree with the review conclusions - spot on. Bought the G7 as "town and about" camera (bit big for that role but still bags better to carry than an SLR or bridge) about a month ago. Lack of RAW is missed. Useful auto-bracketing almost makes up for this though. Must say that the camera does lots of things very well but the greatest draw-backs are the pretty useless viewfinder (no guideline/highlight guides - just a glass porthole) which means you will be armslength more than you think using the LCD panel..which also doesnt flip.. once youve had a flip screen its hard to go back. The other downside is the noise above ISO 200. ISO400 is much more noise than the reviews in my opinion, shadow speckled pixels and sand-grainy foliage not very useful. Consequently I keep the G7 on ISO80, but have had the dial jump to the adjacent HI mode by mistake on occasion, that should be at the other end of the dial with the 1600ISO. The LCD interface and dials are very slick. Only other downside is barrel distortion..but then thats a pretty amazing zoom range for a little foldaway lens - I suspect its hiding some L type glass in there. Image stabilizer is great, battery life runs to at least 300 shots.. but no indication until a red warning light comes up.. (hate this "market segment" dumbing-down!). Run the G7 at -1/3 EV too, to reduce skyblown highlights.

Love the Wide mode for panaoramics and alternative framing. Overall its a good camera and replaces an SLR when you dont want the bulk and the street visibility (used it on a recent trip to Eastern Europe), so great for human interest shots- except you are forced into that armlength-LCD thing for critical framing. If you set the lens shutdown to zero seconds, by the time you put the camera in your pocket the lens is closed and parked - Great! Macro is quite useable too. Found the flash harsh, but power is tuneable and theres a canon standard hotshoe so thats just me as a reluctant flash user.

This G7 replaces an 8MP Olympus SP350 that was a better pocket size and on paper was great (RAW, AA Batteries, but let down by the sub-snail SLOWness (those rather awful XD cards they say) I was expecting a digital XA which it could have been but for the shutter and storage lag, and barrel distortion again - the price of small zooms I guess.

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1 Jun 2007 9:23PM
Brufus is spot on with his appraisal of the G7. I agree with all his comments.

I think the ephotozine review of the G7 noise is fairly kind. It really is noisy above ISO 100. ISO 200 is usable and maybe even 400 depending on what you are trying to achieve on the day. I mainly use mine for black and white and often the noise problem is not an issue. In fact it can add to the overall mono look.
That said, at the lower ISO's the pictures are nice and sharp and the colours are really nice and vibrant.

The zoom lens suffers badly from barreling but if you pick your focal length it's manageable and can be further rectified with Photoshop etc.
The thing to bear in mind is the versatility of a big zoom on a small camera - there has got to be a compromise somewhere.

Regarding the noise problem - it's a shame that Canon have bowed to market forces and squeezed 10 megapixels onto a small sensor. I think it would have been possible to produce better results with 6 or 8 megapixels. A pitty as the only real issue I have with the camera is the noise problem. However, I get along fine with the camera and try to avoid conditions where noise becomes an issue.

The build quality of the camera is really superb. I am very pleased with that aspect and it's a joy to hold. It feels reasuringly solid. All the switches, dials and buttons are well made. And the menus and functions are very user friendly and intuitive. In fact, I think that the build quality is better than my Nikon D80.

It makes a great 'carry anywhere' or second camera. And in fact I probably take more pictures with it than the D80 as it is with me most of the time.

The view finder is a bit pants but the rear screen is a nice size and very clear. Most functions can be accessed via buttons without having to navigate through multiple menu steps - typical Canon well thought out design.

The G7 has some weak points but overall I think it's a great little camera and I am pleased with mine.
13 Jun 2007 10:49PM
I agree with the comments in general, but I think ultimately the G7 is being judged unkindly on the basis of its specs on paper and not how it actually works in hand. I'm a middle-aged person who has a bag full of heavy Canon gear that he uses for work, failing eyesight, and a body that complains when I carry 25kg of photo gear around.

The G7 is not a camera that will replace your whatsanon large sensor SLR, and it's not meant to be. It's not a tiny completely idiot proof pocket camera either. In many ways, it's a much better camera than the g6 and g5 before it, which I've used extensively and had pay for themselves many times over (and not shooting in RAW btw).

1. Loss of articulated screen: yes, I liked that one too, but the viewing angle of the G7 screen is much better, it is MUCH larger and brighter, with the end result that I find it easier not harder to take surreptitious shots (unless I'm trying to shoot around corners, which isn't often!). And I can see the image on it without reading glasses. Loss of LCD on the top doesn't bother me either, because I stopped being able to read it a long time ago. And anyway, if I'm taking my eye away from the viewfinder to read the top display, why can't I read the back display?
2. The viewfinder is small and not perfect, but neither was its predecessors, neither is that of the competition (in 2 skins, one with a red dot), and most non-slr cameras don't even have an optical viewfinder. Btw, the Rollei 35, a true icon of a camera, didn't have a viewfinder at all.
3. RAW is genuinely over-rated by most amateur photographers. You need sophisticated software to make the most of RAW (I have the programs, the computer, and I do it all the time, but it's not really fun and it takes time). If you have that software, frankly, you can do a lot of tweaking to a good jpeg as well. I find that leaving the G7 in neutral or colors off yields a good enough image to go to full color dbl page magazine spread. More than that and you shouldn't be using a camera like this. Are you planning to send digital files to a custom lab to make huge prints without using good interpolation software? If so, don't use this camera, put your house in hock and buy a $15k film back for your Rollei instead. Simple.
4. Noise at high ISO? Hello? How many serious photographers, pro or amateur, used to shoot 400 ISO slides, what to talk of anything faster? So it's not a Canon 5D or Leica M8 in its control of noise --- noise is actually a creative compositional element anyway, just as grain is/was. Do you want ALL your images to look exactly the same? Again, if you need to be taking noiseless images in a dimly lit room, buy something else. Or use a tripod, and if not, remember that this is a camera, in the tradition of cameras, not of video games.
5. Lens aperture: this is to biggest shortcoming to me, not because of something silly like "one less stop of light" (remember, you gain at least 2 stops with image stabilization, so you come out ahead). What's lost is the ability to get shallow depth of field, an important creative element. The compensation is that the lens coating is MUCH better than the predecessor, flare is controlled, and it's longer.
6. Focusing speed etc: yes it's slower than my Canon SLR body and lens combination that costs as much as a car. But it's MUCH faster than its predecessor, and even faster than the speed at which all photographers who aren't capturing action actually work. If you're concerned with art images and you're griping because you think this camera's shutter or focus is too slow, you need to find something else to do because you're not likely to be a particularly good photographer.

Call me quirky, but I find having to consider the light, white balance, subject etc because I'm shooting in jpeg makes me think more about photography, like it used to be when I used film. This camera gives one a lot of manual control in a body that is an ergonomic jewel. If you actually need to rely on this camera to make images that will be viewed somewhere other than a computer screen, in sizes of 24 inches, etc, then you shouldn't buy this camera. For everyone else, it's more than up to pretty much anything it will be asked to do.

I suggest people who are concerned with its "noise" "slowness" etc, set the ISO dial to 200, color cast to neutral, camera to Av, turn off the back screen, put their eye to the viewfinder and go out and take some images. Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, and a host of gods in the photographic pantheon never had speed, noise control, and focus speeds this good. On the other hand, if you put food on the table by selling images of Formula One cars that you've stopped in their tracks, this isn't the camera for you. But you probably know that already.

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