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My Review of Canon’s G12

I took this image coming out the end of the car wash. It shows the G12’s ability to capture detail. Handheld, no filtration

In the late 1990’s, consumer digital cameras suddenly became a reality. A dedicated SLR user, I was interested to watch the development at the same time, of the SLR digital cameras, beginning with the Kodak DSLR bodies which were huge, low megapixel and ultra-expensive. My first foray into digital was in the “point and shoot” arena, due primarily to affordability. My Nikon Coolpix 5000 was just a “toe-dip” into digital waters. While I could see a lot of potential in digital capture, I really disliked the shutter lag, lack of ability to see through the lens, and lack of versatility in “lens choice.” When the D100 came along in 2000, I happily shipped the point and shoot in trade for a DSLR.

Over the years, I have always carried a small, point and shoot camera for those occasions when the DSLR is inconvenient. While I have owned a handful of point and shoot cameras, I have never found one I could be “satisfied” with. The ability to shoot raw images is a big factor in my choice (see my Blog, “Why You Should Shoot Raw“). But, P&S raw processing time has been unacceptably slow.  I have also remained frustrated with the signature “shutter lag” that seems to have accompanied all P&S cameras.

There isn’t any doubt that inexorable development of the point and shoot camera industry has greatly benefitted the “higher-end” markets

But there isn’t any doubt that inexorable development of the point and shoot camera industry has greatly benefitted the “higher-end” markets. This includes constant improvement in sensor technology, noise reduction and image stabilization technology.

The new 4/3 “mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras” are also intriguing. But the combination of price point and the need to purchase new lenses meant that it was not enough different (nor more convenient) than my current, very adequate DSLR system. Nor are they—in my view—as versatile.

When I bought my D100 in 2000, my sister bought a Canon G5. I looked rather carefully at the G series specs and have continued to follow them over the years. The G series was probably the first so-called “bridge camera,” (i.e., the “bridge” between the point and shoot market and the DSLR market). Numerous pro shooters and high-end enthusiasts have embraced this model for serious imagery.

I have been a “Nikon guy” for 30 years. But I am not a “my dad can beat up your dad kind of guy”

I have been a “Nikon guy” for 30 years. But I am not a “my dad can beat up your dad kind of guy” (see my blog, “Should You be Shooting Nikon?”). I like to think of myself as a pragmatist. Over the years I have observed and admired some of the things other companies—notably Canon—have come up with. I believe the G series has led the way and others have generally followed. I tried to find (and like) the Nikon “equivalent” to the current G cameras. I really did.

Looking at my particular shooting specs, it became clear to me that one of the G series cameras was really the best fit. Ultimately, it came down to either the G11 or the G12. Ultimately, I settled on the G12. There were a number of reasons:

Mechanics

The controls on the G12 are well laid out, logical and easy to understand—probably the best that I have owned. One draw of the G12 for me was the retro-style controls. You needn’t spend a lot of time in and out of menus and for a long time shooter that is just, well, comfortable. Most of the settings can be made with one of the two control “dials” on top of the camera body. There are both front and back dials which make it feel very familiar to a DSLR user. The G12 is not a “superzoom” by any means. Rather, its 28-140 (35mm equivalent) zoom range is near ideal for the “landscape” shooting I prefer. At the same time, it is also well suited for a walking around camera and one for family and vacation photos.

Sensor

The G series continues the “APS” sensor size commonly used in point and shoot cameras. Interestingly, the G11/12 actually reduced the pixel count from the prior G10. This may mirror a current trend to recognize that there may be a ceiling on pixel counts on the smaller, “APS” sensors. At the same time, they seem to be concentrating on some of the very important issues like noise reduction at lower light levels and higher ISO (which admittedly have a relationship to sensor size/pixel count). For my own experience, 10 megapixels will be plenty for the intended use. My D100 was 6 megapixel and I have no hesitation making 13 x 19 inch prints from it. The G11/12 uses a CCD sensor array.

Importantly, for me, the G series maintains the ability to capture and save in raw format. In my limited use so far, the “processing time” seems minimal and very acceptable – a quantum improvement in my prior raw-capable point and shoot cameras.

Equally important; shutter lag seems to be minimal to non-existent; certainly very acceptable.

Cool Stuff

Front Control Dial – The G12 appears to be only a minor improvement/refresh of the G11. But I was attracted enough to the one or two features to go for a new G12 rather than trying to find a “deal” on a G11. One of the improvements was the addition (actually, a re-introduction of a feature that I understand was on the G9 and prior bodies) of a front control dial. My Nikon DSLR has both front and back dials (as, I am sure, the Canon DSLR’s do), so I like that. It feels comfortable – and is versatile.

HDR – Another new item is a built-in HDR feature. While I am not usually an “auto-anything” fan, this struck (strikes) me as a neat and perhaps useful feature. I have suggested in prior writings (see my Blog, “Managing Dynamic Range Digitally“) that we are not a long way away from HDR in-camera sensors that will capture a true HDR image, much like the pre-tone-mapped image that comes out of HDR software). Don’t be fooled. The G12 “HDR feature” is simply an automated 3 shot bracket, combined with in-camera HDR software.   It is also a bit of a compromise for my taste.  When reading the specs, it didn’t occur to me that in order to achieve all this wizardry in the camera, it would be necessary to use the jpg format.  So if you use this HDR feature, you will give up all the versatility of raw capture.  It is doubtful that the in-camera software will have the versatility or fine adjustment of a program like Photomatix, starting with raw files. But in a situation where you don’t have the time or inclination to set up for a full-blown HDR merge, a cool addition. Hand-holders beware. This is a tripod-required feature!

Electronic Level – The G12 incorporates a “digital spirit level” in the LCD viewer. It is a really cool little feature which I could see possibly being used on DSLR cameras in the future. My Nikon D200 has a digital level feature, but it must be invoked and it occupies the screen all by itself. As such, it is kind of clunky and doesn’t appear to be a neatly done as the one which is just an “on/off” choice which adds to other on-screen information on the LCD screen.

“Hybrid” Image Stabilization – In 2009, Canon introduced “hybrid image stabilization technology” (http://www.dpreview.com/news/0907/09072207canonhybridis.asp) in its DSLR lenses. The G12 incorporates the technology, which is new from the G11. Canon says the technology compensates for motion in two different ways—linear and rotational. Canon appears to me to have been the clear leader in IS technology over the years, so I am willing to say this is probably going to be an improvement over prior technology.

Tracking Auto Focus Mode – Again, a new feature for the G series, I have had some kind of AF tracking on my last two DSLRs. I don’t do a lot of action shooting, so I may not be the most appreciative of this feature. But to the extent that it might be useful, I like the fact that it can be activated and used.

Articulating LCD Screen– This is hardly a unique feature, as prior models had it, as well as many other manufacturers (my Nikon Coolpix cameras had it). But it is a cool feature, giving more flexibility and versatility to the use of the screen.

Real Time Histogram Display – Again, this is not unique to this camera, but it is a nice feature when composing an image using the LCD screen.

Add Ons and Accessories

All “higher-end” point and shoot cameras have the ability to add accessories of some description. The G12 has a bayonet type mount on the front of the body which allow the addition of add-on lenses and accessories. One accessory that I find almost indispensible in my photography is my circular polarizer filters. A polarizer can be a “savior” when you are photographing during the “bad light” time of day, which is, more often than not, when I will be likely to be carrying this camera, as a walking around camera. On all of my point and shoot camera’s I have missed the polarizer in certain image situations. I have purchased a “hood” type arrangement that bayonets onto the G12 and is threaded for 72 mm (which is great, as my main DSLR lens is also 72mm) to accept filters. One thing that my brief experiences have demonstrated is that it is difficult to use it effectively without being able to see its effect through the optical viewfinder. I can see it on the LCD screen, but only with some difficulty.  The barn shot below was taken using this apparatus, and in addition to the above, I note (perhaps because of the mathmatics of the smaller sensor/lens combination) a much greater tendency toward uneven polarization in the sky than what I generally see on my D700.  There is clearly vignetting at the widest angle setting on the lens, too.

I also purchased a remote shutter release. I see that Really Right Stuff makes an L-bracket for the G12 and I am likely, before all is said and done, to purchase that (see, “The L-Bracket, Don’t Leave Home without it”). As I have previously blogged, the L-bracket is one of the most useful tools in my own bag. Of course, all this “stuff” starts to defeat the articulated purpose, which is to have something small and portable. So it will be interesting to see where the compromise ultimately lies.

For those of you who find flash indispensible to your photography, the G series has a hot shoe for Canon dedicated flash units. There are various tele-converter accessories that are also available. My own experience has been that these things are of limited utility for those of us who already have DSLR gear and the experience is more one of frustration than satisfaction. For someone who will be using the G12 as their sole camera, there are some options out there, though. I would suggest considering a tripod purchase if that is the case.

The Proof is in the Imagery

Of course. Obviously. Both Canon and the G-series are noted for their clean images and good color. As each new sensor comes out, sporting new technological advances, there is no reason to believe that it won’t just keep getting better and better. Dpreviewnotes that the reduction from almost 15 down to 10 megapixels was a bit of a compromise, giving up low light detail for cleaner, more noise free detail at higher ISO settings. I hope not too much. I take a fair amount of low light images—though I expect not as much with this camera when I have the D700 with its so-called full-frame sensor to use for that. And, because I see me using the G12 handheld much more often, I think the all-around “compromise” is a good one, allowing higher ISO and thus, faster shutter speeds.

Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Haven’t had a great deal of time to use this camera. The shots here, while admittedly mostly boring shots around my backyard, are posted mainly to illustrate image quality under certain conditions.  As the barn photo also illustrates,there is a little too much noise apparent in images where you might expect it to show up, for my taste. When shooting handheld, I have the dynamic IS always on. I hope to illustrate future blogs with examples from this camera.

This is a shot captured as raw on a bright overcast day. My normal PS adjustments were made.

Same shot using the G12 built in HDR. Note the additional details in the sky, as well as the in camera white balance determination

Thanks for reading

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9 Responses

  1. Great review Andy. The built in HDR comparison shot is pretty impressive.

  2. […] some “pro” features even in a “casual” point and shoot (see, “My Review of Canon’s G12“). Thinking that since it is all I am going to have with me, I decided I needed to learn some […]

  3. Why did you choose this over the S95 (or S100)? Have you read anything on the coming G1 X? And if so, what do you think?

    • WARNING! LONG Reply :-):

      Good question, Phil:

      First, the S100 was not out when I bought this camera. The comparison would have to be between the S95 and the G12.

      The S90-95-100 series is kind of a whole different family, considered a true pocketable “Compact” camera, a true P&S, reminiscent of the Elph and IXUS series. Pocketable. I had an early Elph digital; a really nice camera; well built, small, but limited to jpg and only 3mp. Good for primarily web-images. I gave it to my son some years back and eventually, it “died.”

      Both the G12 and the S95/100 have the same sensor size (though the S100 has packed more mp on 10 for the 95/G12 and 12 plus for the S100). But the S100 boasts a newer processor (DIGIC 5 vs. the DIGIC 4 on the G12 and S95).

      I am not sure I seriously looked at the S95 at the time, but I did today. It, but especially the S100 is an impressive camera. If compact size were an important issue, it would get the nod over the G series. If not, I think the G-series wins. I didn’t particularly care about pocketability. I do think the lens/image quality is slightly better for the G12 series.

      I rely a lot on dpreview for my research. They have a nice comparison here: S95 and here: S100. At the end of each individual review they do, they have a nice comparison feature for the ratings. They give the G12 a higher rating, for what its worth.

      The G12 is really aimed more at the old “rangefinder” camera community. It has a viewfinder, which I prefer to the LCD in most cases. It has the size/ “chunkiness” of that style of camera. It also has “retro-style” dials on the camera for essential settings (it is all in the menu system too, but it is nice to have the dials for ease of use – especially for us older users). The G12 also has a fully articulating view finder, which is a nice feature (had it on an older Nikon Coolpix). The zoom range is slightly better (S95 is 28-105; S100 is 24-120; the G12 is 28-140). The G12 also has a hot-shoe for off-camera dedicated flash. The G12 has a slightly wider aperture at the long end (f4.5 vs. f5.6), although I don’t know that with the small sensor/lens footprint that is particularly important, especially with the higher ISO capability of these cameras.

      I think they both have their uses and following. For a lot of what you do with your P&S, I might lean toward the S-series. For my style and uses, I prefer the chunkier, but slightly more versatile, G series. I confess to a bit of “tunnel vision” when I set out to do my research. The G-series has been the flagship, pro/enthusiast P&S camera since the original G-1.

      The constant new offerings really make the P&S (and a crossover, that is blurring the lines with the new 4/3 interchangeables) market exciting and the choice difficult.

      If I were in the market now, I would definitely look hard at the new G1 X. The sensor is six times larger than the G12 sensor (closer in size to the DSLR sensor than to the G12)! That translates to significantly better IQ almost 100% of the time. All the other features I like appear to have been retained in only a slightly larger, but slightly narrower footprint.

      I also think the S100 beats the S95 out by a significant margin, adding more lens range, higher ISO, GPS and full HD video. The new DIGIC 5 processor sounds like it would result in significant IQ improvement. But, surprisingly, the 95 gets better DP and Amazon user reviews (more stars: 4/4.5 vs. 3.5/3.5).

  4. Oh yeah, one more thing: Really Right Stuff makes and L bracket for this camera. I have it, and a remote release, so I can use this on a tripod for longer exposures. I also have a lens hood and cpl attachment for it, but since you cannot see it through the viewfinder, it is pretty awkward to use.

  5. Thanks. I gather that it is not necessarily a good thing to squeeze more megapixels on the same size sensor. Like you, I like a pocket camera for those times when a DSLR is not prudent. I take more than my share of silly stuff – vanity plates and food dishes at the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives I frequent on the road. My first iPhone was not quite up to the task but as they have gotten better they are almost acceptable for simple tasks like that. So one use I had was wanting better quality for simple tasks. Looks a bit weird to whip out a DSLR and take a photo of your meal – not that it doesn’t anyway. I wound up getting a Panasonic ZS7, mainly for the great zoom and partially for the GPS. It has been adequate for everything except cropping. I had an early Nikon competitor to the G12, the Nikon 5400. It shot raw but was quickly out-dated technologically and I put all my real money into DSLR’s – especially since I had the extra burden of also buying equipment to shoot sports. I would like a decent pocket camera to shoot raw and have been bombarded by reviews for the S95. But when I heard the details of the G1 X and the larger sensor, I immediately perked up. But, as expected, it not only is not out yet, it has a higher price point that an S95 or S100. I could go so many ways on a new purchase – the 50mm 1.4 (I have the 1.8), an SB 700 (I have the 600) but don’t quite have the need for a SB 910 or step up to the G12, S10 or G1 X. What I really need is the 24-70mm 2.8 but I’ve blown my budget on the used D3. Thanks for the explanation. I think there are a lot of us, with good DSLR’s who see the value of a good rangefinder. I’ve learned that raw is now a minimum for me – primarily for cropping. Sensor size is also becoming more important. To me, a rangefinder has the convenience of a fast-food meal, but with much better nutrition 🙂

  6. Yeah. I had the 5400 and its predecessor. As I mention in the blog, I have been a Nikon SLR/DSLR user for many years and they are as comfortable as “old shoes” for me. But I just haven’t been able to “warm up” to any of the P&S offerings, so far.

    The ONE thing about the new G1x that is enticing is the comparably huge sensor size. However, the DPreview piece is just “lukewarm” enough that given the price point and my already spent investment in the G12, it will be interesting to follow, but not a “must have.” Indeed, at the price point (being a 2-year old camera now), the G12 seems like it might be a good bargain. The image quality and ease of handling make it a winner for me. Its not a shirt-pocket camera, it is small enough to carry around conveniently. Will be an interesting test in the Caribbean in a couple weeks.

  7. […] that are now available on the market. I currently routinely carry and use 3 different cameras: a Canon G12 P&S, a Nikon D7000 “DX” sensor camera, and a Nikon D700 “FX” sensor […]

  8. […] to generate the image quality that we now take for granted in modern DSLR cameras. In July of 2011, I reviewed the Canon G-12, a part of the Canon G-series cameras that have been used by some pro’s as backup cameras. I […]

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