Canon PowerShot G11 Overview
Reviewed by Shawn Barnett, Zig Weidelich, and Dave Etchells
Review Date: 11/21/09
Canon's PowerShot G11 digital camera is a direct successor to last year's PowerShot G10 model, and external styling of the two cameras remains fairly similar. Probably the most notable difference when comparing the cameras side-by-side is that the PowerShot G11 now has a tilt/swivel LCD display in place of the G10's fixed LCD panel. To achieve this, the size of the panel has been decreased from a 3.0-inch diagonal to 2.8 inches, while retaining the same dot count. The Canon G11's body size has also grown just slightly since the G10, with an extra tenth of an inch (2-3mm) added to the width and depth, although a similar amount has been trimmed from the height.
Perhaps the most significant change in the Canon G11 is to be found under the skin, though. While it retains the same 1/1.7-inch CCD image sensor size as its predecessor, the G11 reduces the sensor resolution from 14.7 to 10.0 effective megapixels. This marks the first time we've seen resolution being reduced as a camera lineup progresses, and it's an important step in the direction of sanity. With the megapixel war now thankfully in its death throes, we'd like to see a few more manufacturers dialling back their sensor resolutions in the interests of improved dynamic range, image noise and low-light performance. Canon says the G11 offers a two-stop improvement in noise performance as compared to the G10. The lower end of the ISO range is slightly expanded from the previous camera, with the Canon G11 offering sensitivities from a minimum of ISO 80 through to a maximum of ISO 3,200 equivalent. A special high sensitivity scene mode allows images to be shot at as high as ISO 12,800 at a reduced resolution of 2.5 megapixels.
The Canon PowerShot G11 retains the same 5x optical zoom lens from the PowerShot G10, which offers 35mm-equivalent focal lengths ranging from a useful 28mm wide angle to a 140mm telephoto. Maximum aperture varies from f/2.8 to f/4.5 across the zoom range, and as with its predecessor, the Canon G11 includes true optical image stabilization to help combat blur from camera shake. The Canon G11 is based around the same DIGIC 4 processor that featured in the G10. This allows an autofocus system with both face detection and subject-tracking capabilities. Available shutter speeds for the PowerShot G11 range from 1/4,000 to 15 seconds, and metering modes include evaluative, center-weighted and spot. Exposure modes are also unchanged, with the Canon G11 including program, aperture- or shutter-priority, or a fully manual mode. Flash sync speed has been improved to 1/2000 second, and the range when set to Auto ISO has also increased, with the PowerShot G11 rated at 1.6 to 23 feet (50cm to 7m) at wide angle, and 1.6 to 13 feet (50cm to 4m) at telephoto.
Like the G10 before it, the Canon G11 can record 30 frames per second movies with monaural sound at resolutions up to 640 x 480 pixels (VGA), and opts for H.264 MOV compression. The Canon PowerShot G11 is unchanged from its predecessor in storing its Raw or JPEG images and movies on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC types. The G11 supplements the G10's NTSC / PAL video output with a high-definition HDMI connector, and retains the USB 2.0 High Speed computer connectivity. Power comes from an NB-7L lithium-ion rechargeable battery, the same type used in the G10.
The Canon PowerShot G11 began shipping in the USA from October 2009. Just like the G10 a year earlier, the Canon G11 has a US$500 pricetag.
Canon PowerShot G11 User Reportby Shawn Barnett
The much-beloved Canon G-series has been around for a very long time in digital camera years. The first model, the Canon G1, had a 3.3-megapixel sensor -- a big deal back in 2000. It also had a 3x zoom, a 1.8-inch swiveling LCD, a maximum aperture of f/2.0, a max shutter speed of 1/1,000 second, and a high ISO setting of 400. This is the G1 to the right here.
Fast forward nine years and eight models later (there were no G4 or G8 models), and the Canon G11 takes the scene with a 10-megapixel sensor and the triumphal return of the swivel screen, whose LCD now measures 2.8 inches. Both of those measurements are down from the G10's 14-megapixels and 3.0-inch LCD, but it's the emphasis on quality and utility that has returned. The maximum aperture is the one unfortunate omission in this return to the G-series roots, as it remains at f/2.8 rather than the severely missed f/2.0 optic that reigned up through the Canon G6. Shutter speed and ISO have increased, though, to 1/4,000 second and 3,200 thanks to the continuing advance of sensor and image processing technology.
For me, the most important aspects are lens quality and sensor output. The good news is that both seem up to snuff -- if you do some important relative comparisons that consider high ISO performance and price, not to mention versatility. Canon's claims of gaining major advantage by dropping back from 14 to 10-megapixels seems a little suspect at first, until you print the images. That's our major benchmark here at Imaging-Resource.com. The Canon G11's printed images hold up quite well.
Will you get digital-SLR quality across the ISO range? No, not really. But you do get excellent optical quality with very sharp corners, and the ability to print high quality 16x20-inch images that are on par with 10-megapixel digital SLR cameras up to ISO 800, and get to carry a smaller camera.
Canon's own ad campaign with the VII Photo Agency photographers has forced me to look at the Canon G11 as I would if I were a war correspondent. Would I be pleased with the G11 if I were in a foreign country with bullets flying around, needing to carry less hardware? I'm also driven to compare the G11 to the Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic GF1, two Micro Four Thirds cameras that like-minded enthusiasts are considering as their next "everywhere" camera. You have to imagine that photojournalists are also looking at this emerging form factor, because it is similarly more stealthy than the typical digital SLR camera, yet has a larger sensor than the G11.
So does the Canon G11 measure up to its predecessors, competitors, and rivals in this price and size range? That really depends on your needs, but I think it's a compelling camera for a wide range of users, and offers a lot that sophisticated users will appreciate. There are plenty of compromises here, but when you're talking about a tweener camera, the Canon G11 meets an impressive array of needs.
Look and feel. When I look at the Canon G11, words like burly, gnarly, rugged, and even ugly come to mind. It's a kind of ugly that's beautiful, though: Ugly like you want your body guard to be, because he has a job to do, and that's scare bad guys away. Well, the Canon G11 has a job to do, too, and that's to get a good shot quickly, but fit into a reasonably small space so that you're more likely to bring it along.
Though it is a good chunk of camera, it's a little smaller than the Olympus E-P1, and larger than the Panasonic LX3. Its swiveling LCD adds some functionality, though, something neither of these rivals offers. Weight is 14.1 ounces (400g) with an SD card and the Canon G11's lithium-ion battery.
Normally I'd show the lens open in the front shot, but I wanted to show the impressive-looking integrated lens cover that opens automatically when the lens deploys. Lens covers like this are not new, but they are increasingly rare on larger digital cameras, which have mostly defaulted to plastic lens caps. Integration has many benefits, but be aware that this door is springloaded plastic, not gear-driven steel as its design would suggest, so it can be easily forced open by a wayward finger or a nasty set of keys if the Canon G11 is dropped carelessly into a bag or pack without a proper case.
A release button to the lower right of the lens allows removal of the knurled ring so you can mount the 1.4x accessory teleconverter lens TC-DC58D via the required LA-DC58K adapter.
Upper left of the lens is a very bright AF assist lamp, of the type I'd love to see Canon add back to their SLRs (I imagine VII Agency photographer types would want to disable this lamp in a Custom mode so they don't look like some kind of rifle ranging device). Above right of this is the optical viewfinder, whose accuracy is extremely poor and image very small despite its relatively large objective. The flash seems smaller than the G10's, and the grip is good for a camera of this size and weight, with a low profile and a textured rubber surface. The camera feels enough like a small SLR or the E-P1 that I'm continually tempted to grab it around the grip with my left hand hold it by the lens. This is not a good idea, of course, since the lens is motorized and holding it might damage the gears inside.
From the top you get a better view of Canon G11's thickness. It's a chunk. I actually like its size and weight, though, and it's still a lot thinner overall than a Rebel or other small SLR. But check out the dials: One for Exposure compensation, one for ISO, and one for the Mode setting. Each is quite hard to turn, which is just right. You don't want them to turn accidentally in a bag or while you're shooting; these won't. Markings are white on black, too, making them easy to see in more lighting conditions. The only color markings are the green Auto selections.
The zoom control is a small toggle that surrounds the shutter button above right. It seems a little small for the Canon G11's overall size, but it works well enough. The zoom only moves at one speed, unfortunately, and it doesn't work at all when shooting video (zoom is digital telephoto only in Movie mode); worse, it's slow to start moving once you've activated it. It reminds me of luxury sedan: press on the gas and the car's computer has to check all sensors to see if you really mean it, then it goes. I'd rather not have the G11 second guess my choice.
The Power button has a slight forward cant to it, which you cannot see, but can feel with your finger. Power on the Canon G11 and a green LED lights up inside. Orange LEDs also clearly indicate which setting is active on each dial.
Just off to the left of the ISO 100 setting on the dial are two long slots for the microphone; the speaker is on the left side just below the camera strap lug.
The back of the Canon G11 looks very similar to the G10, but it's different, mostly to make room for the articulating screen. I don't have a G10 to compare with, but it seems that the Control dial is a lot smaller, with a lot less space on the right side. Canon actually added a bit of room for the hinge to articulate on the right side without changing too much. All of the buttons, though, are still in the same basic locations, so it's an easy upgrade. The Shortcut/Direct Print button also lost the illumination that the G10 used to show connectivity with a computer or printer. And from here you can also see that the Mode dial is also about a millimeter shorter than the G10's dial.
The four buttons above and below the Control dial are also canted for easier activation and tactile differentiation. The AE/FE Lock button is also raised above the back surface and juts out on a slope, requiring slightly more deliberate effort to activate. Unfortunately it's when shooting vertically that I accidentally pressed many of these buttons, including the ones integrated into the Control dial navigator.
Slim and sturdy, the articulating screen works like most Canon screens of this type: very well. I can't tell for sure whether the LCD's shell is metal like the rest of the body, partially because magnesium alloys feel too like plastic at certain densities. The feel is pretty sturdy, though.
I also like how the Control dial works. It seems to take each click of the dial into account, which is more than most Canon control dials do. The dial also rocks in four directions, to serve as buttons, activating Manual Focus, Flash, Drive, and Macro modes. The screen is a little close to the dial to scroll as easily as you could with the G10's dial, which often slows my progress until I get my thumb in just the right position.
On the right side you can see the hard plastic port door that is released with a pull at the thumb notch. When opened, it springs shut, but you have to snap it back into place. Now's a good time to mention that no matter how rugged it looks, the Canon PowerShot G11 is not sealed against water, dust, or sand, and that includes this door, so be careful using the G11 in rugged conditions.
Sensor. As I mentioned in my preview writeup of the Canon S90, I'm thankful that Canon has seen the light and for the first time reduced the resolution of a camera line, not following the pack into a world of ever-shrinking pixel sizes that gather fewer and fewer photons per pixel as resolutions rise. Higher pixel density also has the effect of revealing what once seemed to be minor flaws in a camera's optics, making lens design more difficult and therefore expensive.
One reason that cameras like the Canon G11 are smaller than an SLR is that their sensors are smaller, and the lens can be smaller while still achieving the same relative magnification as a much longer lens on an SLR. Though many people think a camera like the G11 should easily rival an SLR's image quality, I've prepared a little graphic to show why it's a considerable challenge to match the light-gathering capability of a Micro Four Thirds, APS-C, or full-frame camera in a small body. Likewise, you can also see why the 1/1.7 sensor in the G11 can gather more light than the typical digital camera, whose sensor is only 1/2.5.
Imagine that each of these blue rectangles is a sensor, and that each is divided into 10 million pixels. The light gathering ability of the 1/1.7 sensor is indeed going to be better than the 1/2.5 design. But the Micro Four Thirds sensor is considerably bigger, so it's obvious why a camera like the Olympus E-P1 would have less trouble gathering enough light at ISO 1,600 to best the G11's equivalent setting. It's a lot like handing three kids three different containers, and asking them to catch as many jelly beans as they can. One gets a dixie cup, one a quart jar, and the other a bucket. When the jelly beans start flying, who's going to catch the most? The kid with the bucket. Transform your jellybeans into light particles, and your containers into sensors -- or pixels on a sensor -- and it's easier to see why bigger pixels are better.
So the Canon G11 is generally better than most small cameras with 1/2.5 sensors when it comes to low-noise image output, but not quite as good as Micro Four Thirds or larger cameras, which each have considerably bigger buckets. But the sensor isn't the only factor to consider.
Barrel distortion is a about average at wide-angle, but it's noticeable if you take any shots of buildings or other objects with straight lines in them.
Autofocus. Canon autofocus is usually excellent, but the G11 gave me some trouble. I'm more of a center-point AF kind of guy, rather than letting the camera pick what's important to focus on. The Canon G11 failed to focus too often for my taste. I had the same problem with the Canon S90. Low-contrast objects almost always give cameras trouble, but the G11 and S90 do it more often than I'm used to.
The Canon G11 has something that's been with the G-series for a long time, which Canon calls Flexizone AF. You get a single autofocus box in the middle of the screen, and when you press the AF selection point button, you can use the arrows or Control dial to move the box around the screen. It's especially useful when you're working on a tripod and intend to focus on a particular spot repeatedly, or when working with a model on a portrait where the eye will be in the same area shot after shot.
When it's working, the Canon G11's autofocus system is about average for the class, acquiring focus and capturing an image in 0.54 second at wide-angle, and 0.75 second at telephoto. It can also focus down to 1/8 footcandle unassisted by its AF-assist lamp when trained on a high-contrast subject, and can focus in total darkness with the AF-assist lamp enabled.
The Canon G11 also has some special autofocus features, in addition to the now ubiquitous Face detection. The feature I thought I'd appreciate the most just got in the way, which was AF-point zoom. This enlarges the AF point, overlaying the enlarged image over the center of the screen, such that you really can't compose your image anymore. If it's a face, you might be able to see that the eyes are in focus, but you'll have little idea of the expression, so you'll have to go into the menu to turn the feature off. Perhaps if the Shortcut button could be set to toggle the feature off and on it would be more useful.
Manual focus also uses the zoom function, but it doesn't work very well. If I half-press the shutter button to set the focus at about four feet, I notice essentially no difference in the zoomed image as I move focus to infinity. Nowhere along the path do I see focus "pop," so I consider manual focus out of the question on the Canon G11.
Still, Continuous and Servo AF modes are interesting options, which allow you to track subjects before and after you press the shutter halfway, respectively. The Servo mode would be especially useful when taking pictures of children who can seldom keep still.
Image stabilization. Canon's optical image stabilization system is excellent, as always. Best to just leave it on except when you have the Canon G11 mounted on a tripod. I prefer to leave it in Continuous mode so that I can see how well it's working, but if you're in a rough situation where you need all the stabilization you can get, set it to Shoot only, and the G11 will be able to do the greatest amount of correction when you press the shutter button. There's also a Panning option, which you can turn on when tracking objects that are moving horizontally past you.
LCD. The Canon G11's LCD is vibrant, perhaps to a fault. I used its exaggerated view of the world to capture what I thought were some beautiful images of some sunlight glowing on orange Fall leaves. When I got home to Bridge, though, I was disappointed by the washed out yellow leaves I saw, especially among the RAW images, and started to look askance at the LCD's integrity.
When I opened the images in Canon's DPP software (Digital Photo Pro), though, I remembered instead to look askance at Photoshop's Adobe Camera Raw engine. DPP's renderings were quite a bit better than ACR's, revealing the bright orange leaves amidst the darker orange ones, while ACR showed bright yellow leaves against mildly orange/yellow leaves. Quite a difference.
Still, the Canon G11's LCD is a little more vibrant than what I see on my computer monitor, and what I get from the printer, so beware of that; more importantly, though, be aware of how you view your thumbnails onscreen, because until it's tuned properly, programs like ACR will make your images look very different from what you remember.
And wouldn't you know it, right after writing all that, Adobe announced ACR 5.6 release candidate, and images look much more like they should. Usually if ACR doesn't support a camera, it won't interpret the RAW file at all, but not in this case. Be careful how you view your images from any new camera, especially RAW files. Canon's DPP does a pretty good job.
Flash. Flash coverage was uneven at wide-angle in our test shots, and in some of my informal shots as well. But I try not to use flash much with a camera like this. Flash range is good, though, reaching out all the way to 16 feet and also to between eight and nine feet at telephoto, again not bad for an on-camera design with a 5x zoom. These results were not quite as good as the Canon G10 in our lab tests, but it was also a different target when we tested that camera. To reach Canon's maximum stated ranges of 23 and 13 feet, the G11 has to boost the ISO to 500, while the G10 reached the specified 15 and 9 feet with a boost to only ISO 250.
Movie mode. Movie mode is probably the least impressive feature on the Canon G11. With even digital SLRs able to turn out HD video, let alone many pocket cameras, it's something of a disappointment to be limited to SD (Standard Definition). Well, it would be to most folks; I'm still plenty happy with VGA resolution for most videos I shoot, but the competition (Panasonic LX3, for example) is shooting 720p HD. Neither the LX3 nor the G11 can zoom optically once recording has started, another disappointment. So video's still a mixed bag in this category, with few players offering everything in one camera.
The Canon G11's movie resolutions include 640x480 and 320x240, both at 30 frames per second. An 8GB card will give you one hour and four minutes of video recording depending on your subject, but the camera will stop recording when the file size reaches 4GB, or one hour in length, whichever comes first. They also spec a Class 4 SDHC card for these numbers, or else the recording might start earlier.
Menus. Like most Canon PowerShots, the Canon G11's settings are split between a Function menu, reached by pressing the FUNC/SET button, and the Main menu, accessed with the MENU button. Many companies have begun to emulate the system, because it puts the most-accessed parameters where you can find them quickly. The Function menu includes White balance, Color mode, Bracketing, Flash EV, Neutral Density filter, Drive mode, and Image Size/Compression.
The Main menu is a pretty standard three-tab design, but with Canon's new semi-animated scheme with 3D touches here and there. The third tab is reserved for My Menu settings, something the individual sets up for himself with his most oft-accessed settings. You can move between the tabs at any time using the zoom toggle, and move up and down in the menus with the rear Control dial. Left and right arrows can also move you between the tabs, but you have to scroll all the way to the top. When on a menu item, they change the settings for that menu. Boring to read, but it works well, allowing quick changes to camera settings most of the time.
Modes. The Mode dial has the usual complement of Auto, Program, Time value, Aperture value, and Manual, and there are a few Scene modes, which I won't list here. But my favorite two settings are C1 and C2. With these, you can make the kind of camera you want appear at a moment's notice without making a lot of adjustments. I made two modes that would fit two individuals: one, a dad taking pictures of the kids, the other a photojournalist operating in stealth mode. The first, C1, snaps the Canon G11 into Av mode, so I can blur the background as much as I like depending on the subject with an eye toward faster shutter speeds. Color is set to Vivid, compression to JPEG L, AF to Face AiAF, IS to Continuous, etc.
C2, my photojournalist mode, captures in Program mode, with black and white as the color setting, Compression set to JPEG L, AF to center point, IS to Shoot only, and so on. Shooting in Black and White mode puts the photographer's mind into that gritty luminance-only mode, and lets him see what his publisher will eventually publish, a vision photographers had to imagine before digital cameras. If I had my way, I'd set the camera to RAW+JPEG with black and white mode on, but as soon as you switch to RAW capture you lose all color options and see just the RAW that the G11 sees. Pity.
I keep finding uses for the Custom modes, so I'm only wishing more cameras had them. The only things that can't be set with the Custom modes as far as I can tell are the two items whose controls have become analog: EV compensation and ISO. They're on the dials on the top deck, and can't be overridden electronically.
One feature I particularly like in Playback mode comes into play when you've shot a RAW+JPEG image: Hit the Delete button, and you can choose whether to delete both the RAW and the JPEG, or just the JPEG, or just the RAW. Very slick, a feature long needed on many cameras.
Storage and battery. The Canon G11 uses a lithium-ion battery, the NB-7L, a 7.4 volt, 1050mAh cell. Next to it is the SD/SDHC card slot. The battery door locks down better than most PowerShot cameras, even though the design is essentially the same. The tripod mount is right next to the battery door, so card and battery changes require removal from the tripod.
When using the Canon G11's LCD monitor to frame images, which most will use, the NB-7L gives a pretty high 390 shots per charge. If you turn off the LCD, though, you get up to 1,000 shots.
Shooting with the Canon G11
Whether to take the Canon G11 out for a walk is a tough call. That's the way it is with 'tweener cameras. You either need big pockets, a pack, or a tolerance for a camera strap around your neck. Bottom line, though, if you want good pictures from a medium-size camera, the Canon G11 will deliver, so you'll want to bring it along now and then.
Despite my misgivings about the Canon G11's image quality (based on our first shots out of the lab), I really enjoyed my first outing with the camera. It's made with the involved photographer in mind. While digital controls are useful for many things, and considerably cheaper to program, physical controls are still better for certain functions; and big dials are great for visual thinkers -- like photographers. No, it's not a big deal to have ISO and EV compensation on a dial, but it helps with the fun factor, and adds a sense of immediacy to your actions. I also know that two clicks counter clockwise will dim the shot by -0.67 stop without even looking at the dial, let alone the LCD screen, so I can concentrate on my subject, rather than try to finesse some button or dial while watching characters on the LCD.
That optical viewfinder is really way too tight, and doesn't show much of the frame. It's not unexpected, though, and is at least a decent pointing device to get the camera somewhat on target.
The Canon G11's LCD is quite good, though, and great in sunlight, so I used it most of the time. I didn't use the articulating LCD much, but it was nice to have when I needed it. As I mentioned, the colors are a little more pumped than they'll look on a calibrated monitor, but just keep that in mind when you're shooting.
Since I shoot mostly vertically, one problem I had with the Canon G11 was accidentally pressing the AE/FE Lock button, the AF-point Selector button, or the Metering mode selection button. Sometimes I pressed the Manual Focus button too. The only way around it is to control the camera more with my left hand, and just use the right hand to stabilize and emphasize my pressure on the shutter button only. I tend to tilt most often to the right, so it's still a problem for me when shooting the recent G-series cameras.
Slow. My biggest problems with the Canon G11, though, are its autofocus and shot-to-shot speeds. Compared to others in this class, it's about average in all of these areas, but its performance is closer to that of my SD1000, not my SLR. First, the screen stays blacked out for a long time after you press the shutter. That cuts my contact with my subject, which is not good. It also takes too long to return control to the shooter as it tries to playback the image. I turned image playback off in my photojournalist mode, and was much happier, but I still think the G11 takes too long to get the follow-up shot. In our tests it scored 2.29 seconds between shots in JPEG mode, and 2.80 seconds between shots in RAW. That rises to 2.88 seconds in RAW+JPEG mode. A lot can happen in 2.88 seconds, my journalistic friends.
Put the Canon G11 into Continuous drive mode, and you'll get 1.11 JPEGs per second, but only 0.84 frames per second in RAW mode. Nobody ever said this was a camera for action, though; it's more for the thinking, storytelling photographer who has time to think about his shots and anticipate them. Once you learn the Canon G11's moment of capture, you'll do just fine. If you're not the type to ever learn that, though, consider a camera with shorter shutter lag, like an SLR.
Zoom is also slow to start, taking what seems like half a second before it starts to move after I've pulled the toggle all the way to the end.
Making adjustments in the various exposure modes is easier in some than in others. In Program mode, it's fairly easy to enter Program shift, by pressing the AE-L button, then turning the Control dial. In Shutter and Aperture priority modes, you're only controlling the one aspect, so you just turn the dial. Manual mode, though, gets a little weird. You have to press the Metering mode button. What's weird about it is that it doesn't just switch between shutter and aperture controls, but goes from aperture to Metering mode. It all happens onscreen, so it's not hard to follow, but strange to encounter at first, and just a little annoying. SLRs like the Rebel use the EV Compensation button to shift the Command dial for aperture adjustment, but since there's a cool EV Compensation dial on the G11 no such button is available.
Remote capture? Some things are missing from the Canon G11, including the ability to capture images remotely from a computer, a little-used feature that was included for nearly all PowerShots for a few years, but now seems to have disappeared. Though the software actually installs on my Mac, I can't access it at all, and the manuals don't mention it either. I endeavored to install it on my netbook as well, and that required an update to the .Net Framework 3.0 (which of course required another update to 3.5), yet the Remote Capture Task seemed to do nothing. Unfortunately I have no time to investigate further, so let's just say it seems to be a dead feature that for some reason still installs. The manuals do not mention it at all.
What's nice to note is that Canon simplified the Camera Window software, with yet another interface, but at least it's identical on both Macs and PCs.
Also missing from the Canon G11 is a depth-of-field preview, which is a shame. Not much more to say about that, but it's something photographers appreciate. I guess with a digital camera you can just take a shot and see what it looks like.
Printed results. Regardless what I thought of the images at 100 percent onscreen, resolutions are high enough that what matters is how well these images print. Print quality is excellent from the Canon G11's images, with good color. Cameras generally save their files with a default ppi (pixels per inch) setting: The Canon G11's default of 180 ppi would result in a print size of 20.3x15.2 inches, and that represents about the limit at ISO 80 and 100. JPEG images straight from the camera are slightly soft, so you can print a little bigger if you sharpen the G11's images carefully in Photoshop or other retouching software. Unmodified, though, ISO 80, 100, and 200 shots are just about right at 13x19 inches. Even ISO 400 shots are usable at 13x19 but are a tad soft, getting back their snap at 11x14. ISO 800 shots are usable at 11x14 when viewed from a distance, but appear soft on close inspection. They come back into usefulness at Letter size (8.5x11).
Output quality takes a noticeable drop at ISO 1,600, though, with prints looking really soft at Letter size (8.5 x 11 inches). Comparing shots from the Canon G11 with those from the Panasonic LX3, we discovered just how the LX3 gets such impressive printed results at this ISO setting. The LX3's high-ISO shots actually look pretty bad on-screen, with quite a bit of noise and very coarse-looking details. Printed, though, they look surprisingly good. What became apparent as we studied images from the two competing cameras was that the LX3's files had a lot of pretty large-radius sharpening applied to them. On-screen, they look really over-sharpened, but printed at 8x10 inches or so, they looked quite good. Applying similar over-sharpening to the Canon G11's images (1.0 pixel radius, 220%) produces similar-looking results on-screen, but excellent results on the prints as well, producing great-looking Letter size prints that actually edged out those from the LX3. With no processing, the Canon G11's ISO 1,600 images make acceptable-looking 5x7 inch prints.
This trick of deliberate over-sharpening turned out to be an important discovery, because performing the same trick on the G10's 14-megapixel images didn't produce anything like the same results, revealing much more chroma noise. The LX3's images likewise show some pretty distinct blotchiness that ends up more noticeable primarily because the LX3's saturation is also boosted a bit relative to that of the G11. While we seldom do this deep an analysis of print quality, it was an interesting exercise that showed how different sharpening strategies can get very different results. Because Canon's main reason for dropping the G11's resolution was to get better high ISO performance, we felt it was worth investigating why it its ISO 1,600 shots seemed so little improved when printed. This sort of issue often comes down to a matter of personal preference, but we think most G11 owners will be happier with their ISO 1,600 photos if they take the time to "oversharpen" them.
Leaving ISO 1,600 aside, it's worth noting that the ability to print ISO 800 images at 11x14 with only minimal softness is quite an accomplishment for a compact camera, particularly when you consider how much smaller the Canon G11's sensor is compared to those of APS-C cameras like the Canon Rebel XS or XSi.
Summary. Overall, the Canon G11 is another great G-series digital camera with plenty to excite the photo enthusiast. The step back in resolution does seem to have made a difference in the overall picture quality, improving the lens's apparent performance as well as the Canon G11's printed image quality. It's not perfect, and it does leave a few standards behind, but the Canon G11 makes a great everywhere camera, if you're okay with its size. See below for the full conclusion, and check out the tabs above and below for our deeper analysis of the Canon G11.
Canon G11 Features
- 10-megapixel CCD
- 5x zoom lens (equivalent to a 28-140mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- 4x digital zoom
- Optical viewfinder
- 2.8-inch color LCD monitor
- Full Manual through Automatic exposure available, including Aperture and Shutter priority and 20 Scene modes
- Built-in flash with three modes and an intensity adjustment, plus red-eye reduction
- SD/SDHC memory card slot (no card included)
- USB 2.0 computer connection
- HDMI out
- Lithium-ion battery
- Software for Mac and PC
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Canon PowerShot G11
- Neck strap NS-DC9
- Battery charger CB-2LZ
- Battery pack NB-7L
- AV cable AVC-DC400
- Interface cable IFC-400PCU
- Software CD
- Extra battery pack NB-7L
- Large capacity SDHC memory card. (These days, 8GB is a good trade-off between cost and capacity.)
Canon G11 Conclusion
Camera enthusiasts get more of what they expect from the Canon G-series with the Canon G11: High image quality, good lens quality, and a swiveling LCD screen. We still don't have the f/2.0 lens back, but instead we have a 5x zoom that starts at a useful wide-angle of 28mm equivalent, and has a still-respectable f/2.8 maximum aperture. The Canon G11 is built sturdily, and has excellent controls. The three dials on the top deck are tightly sprung, making them difficult to turn, which is just right. The Canon G11's swiveling LCD screen is beautiful and convenient, but you do well to be aware that it's a little too beautiful at times, exaggerating some colors a bit. It's also wise to note that despite its rugged appearance, the Canon G11 is not necessarily well-sealed against water or dust; though Canon does offer a waterproof/dustproof case for this fine little machine.
Shooting with the Canon G11 is very enjoyable. Though they are few, the dials add a tactile sense back into your photography, especially the EV compensation dial. What I like most is the machine-like feel of the G11: it doesn't try to be beautiful; instead it seems designed and built to get the job done. I have to adjust my hold on the Canon G11, though, to shoot in my normal mode, which is vertical. It's too easy to press one of the many buttons that are clustered right where my thumb needs to rest. Instead I have to hold most of the Canon G11's weight in my left hand when shooting vertically.
Optical quality really is quite good, with remarkable corner sharpness at all focal lengths, which is one of the main reasons to consider the G11. Zoom is a little slow to start, which bugs when you're trying to compose shots quickly. And shutter lag and shot-to-shot times, while average for the category, could still be faster for a deluxe camera released here in 2009. The drop to 10 megapixels should have resulted in some speed increase, but we think it could be the more aggressive noise suppression that's keeping speeds low. The drop to 10-megapixels was also supposed to result in less noise overall, which we do see, but it's not mind-blowingly better. It's the chroma noise that's most significantly reduced, resulting in smoother shadows and less detail lost to noise suppression that brings the G11's image quality up, which requires less post-processing on the photographer's part. We'd like to see more noise reduction options, as well, as we currently see on most mid-range digital SLRs, rather than the all-or-RAW approach that the G11 takes. As for viewfinder accuracy, it's as bad as ever at only 79 percent coverage, so just use it as a pointer, knowing that you're doing to capture a lot more than you see in the viewfinder. At least the LCD view is a true 100%.
Ultimately, the Canon PowerShot G11 is the G10 done better, with better low-light performance, better control over noise, an articulating screen, great battery life, and the same great lens. It's a sure Dave's Pick.