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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for reading