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Canon PowerShot G3

The third generation of Canon's popular G model retains last year's 4 megapixel CCD, but brings a 4X zoom lens and a host of other improvements.

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 9/16/2002

Executive Overview

The PowerShot G3 is a solid update to Canon's wildly popular G2 model, introduced in the late summer of 2001. The G3 retains the same 4-megapixel CCD (3.87 megapixels effective) used by the G2, but sports a 4x optical zoom range, vs the 3x zoom of last year's model. There are myriad other upgrades and improvements though, including maximum shutter speed of 1/2000 (vs 1/1000), an internal ND (neutral density) filter that reduces incoming light by three full f-stops, much more flexible autofocus operation, expanded white balance options, increased bit depth in all color management and image processing operations, increased flash flexibility, including full support for the wireless features of the EOS line of speedlights (via Canon's optional remote transmitter) AND support for Canon's macro twinlight, and expanded utility for the camera's "creative" exposure modes (black/white, sepia, vivid color, etc).

Fortunately, the G3 also carries over all of the design elements I applauded in the G1 and G2, including the rotating LCD monitor that's one of my personal favorites. The monitor swings out to face the photographer, reverses and locks back into the camera's back panel (screen side up), or extends and rotates up to 270 degrees. This flexible LCD design lets you compose images while standing in front of the camera (with the remote controller or self-timer), or to hold the camera at various angles, such as overhead or at waist-level. Most important is the ability to store the LCD face-down in its recessed compartment, protecting the delicate screen from fingerprints, scratches, and nose grease!

The G3 is very close to the size of the G2, at 4.7 x 2.7 x 3.0 inches (120 x 69 x 77mm), and just slightly lighter, at 17.3 ounces (494 grams) with the battery pack and CompactFlash card installed. While this may seem a little hefty when compared to other compact digicams, the G3 is quite manageable, considering the range of features and controls it offers. It should fit easily into a large coat pocket or purse, and comes with a half-inch neck strap for added convenience. The more angular protruding grip on the right side of the G3's body also provides a more secure grip for the fingers of your right hand.

The G3's eye-level optical viewfinder zooms along with its 4x lens and features a central autofocus / exposure target in the center. The diopter adjustment dial on the left side of the eyepiece controls the viewfinder focus for eyeglass wearers, and two LED lights on the same side report the camera's ready status. Canon positioned the optical viewfinder very close to the lens, apparently to minimize parallax between lens and viewfinder, but one result is that the lens protrudes into the lower left-hand corner of the viewfinder frame at wide angle focal lengths. The LCD monitor display is activated by the Display button, which also controls the monitor's information readout. When in Shooting (or Record) mode, the LCD reports the exposure mode, flash setting, single or continuous capture, metering, and quality settings. The G3 retains the playback-mode histogram readout we first saw on the G2, which reports the tonal distribution of the image. In addition to the histogram display, any overexposed highlights flash in black and white on the screen to warn you of potential problem areas. A small status display panel on top of the camera reports settings such as file size, battery power, the number of frames remaining, and various other functions as they are enabled.

The telescoping, 4x optical 7.2-28.8 mm zoom lens (equivalent to 35-140mm on a 35mm camera) offers both manual and automatic focus control. The through-the-lens (TTL) autofocus system operates in either Continuous or Single Autofocus mode, controlling how often the autofocus mechanism adjusts the focus. Where the G2 allowed you to assign the focus area to one of three points in the frame, the G3's powerful "FlexiZone" autofocus option lets you move the focus area freely around the central 60% of so of the frame. As with the G2, the autoexposure system can be configured to spot-meter from the area being used to set the focus. Manual focus mode is accessed by pressing a button on the upper right side of the camera's rear panel and then adjusting the focus with the command dial on the top of the front handgrip, just below the shutter button. A distance scale on the LCD monitor indicates approximately how far you are from maximum and minimum focus, reporting the distance in either English or Metric units. The Manual Focus display also enlarges the center portion of the frame, so that focus is easier to determine visually. As of this writing (based on a prototype model), Canon hadn't stated the minimum focusing distance of the G3 yet, but it appears to go somewhat closer than the G2's 2.4 inch minimum. (I'd peg it at around 1.5 inches, or 3.8 cm.) Digital zoom is controlled through the Record menu, with enlargements to 3.5x. (Remember that digital zoom only enlarges the center portion of the CCD image, therefore compromising image quality, softening the image in direct proportion to the magnification achieved.)

The G3 provides as much or as little exposure control as you want. The main exposure modes, which Canon refers to as "Creative Zone" functions are selected using the Mode dial on top of the camera. These include: Auto, Program AE (P), Aperture-Priority (Av) , Shutter Speed-Priority (Tv), and Manual (M). Shooting in Auto mode puts the camera in charge of everything except the flash. Program AE lets the camera choose the aperture and shutter speed settings, but gives you control over all other exposure options. Aperture and Shutter Speed Priority modes allow you to set one exposure variable (aperture or shutter speed) while the camera chooses the best corresponding one. Manual mode gives you full control over all exposure controls. The camera's aperture can be set from f/2-f/8, and the shutter speed ranges from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds. (Depending on the lens aperture, maximum shutter speed may be limited to 1/1,250. This is a significant upgrade from the G2 though, which had a maximum shutter speed of 1/1,000, and was limited to 1/640 at large apertures.) In another advance over the G2, the G3 has an internal neutral density (ND) filter, that cuts the incoming light by a factor of 8. (This three f-stop attenuation will permit the use of slower shutter speeds or larger apertures with brightly-lit subjects, providing for special effects like motion blur or shallow depth of field. It also makes it practical to use the flash for much closer macro shooting than would otherwise be the case.)

The remainder of the G3's extensive exposure controls are accessible through external control buttons or the on-screen Record menu. They include a White Balance setting with nine options: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, and two separate Custom settings; adjustable ISO settings from Auto to 50, 100, 200, and 400; Exposure Compensation from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV), in one-third-step increments; Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) from +1/3, 0, and -1/3 EV to +2, 0, and -2 EV (a total of three exposures, with adjustable step sizes ranging from 1/3 to 2 EV); a choice of Evaluative (new to the G3), Center-Weighted Averaging and Spot Metering modes, and Automatic Exposure (AE) Lock. The G3's built-in flash actually offers nine operating modes (Flash off, on (forced), and auto, with options for red-eye reduction and slow sync independently selectable for each of the two active modes), although Canon's draft manual described it as a 5-mode flash. There's also a Flash Exposure Compensation control that lets you vary flash power from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments. The Flash Exposure (FE) Lock function (* button, in record mode) allows you to lock the flash exposure setting based on a specific portion of the frame. A hot shoe accepts either dedicated Canon strobe units, or generic "dumb" third-party flashes. New to the G3 is full support for the wireless capabilities of Canon's high-end EOS external speedlights (through the use of Canon's optional remote transmitter accessory), as well as for Canon's very flexible Macro Twinlight.

The G3 also offers several special shooting modes accessed through the Mode dial. They include Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Stitch Assist, and Movie modes. (Several "Image Zone" modes from the G2 have apparently been dropped, including Pan Focus, Color, and Macro modes. The options formerly associated with Color mode (vivid color, neutral color, black/white, and sepia) are now accessed via an LCD menu option, while Macro mode is entered solely via a rear-panel pushbutton.) Portrait mode uses a large aperture to focus on the subject, while maintaining an out-of-focus background. In contrast, Landscape mode slows the shutter speed and maximizes depth of field.

Night Scene mode illuminates your subject with flash and uses a slow shutter speed to evenly expose the background. The Stitch-Assist mode is Canon's version of panorama mode, in which multiple, overlapping images can be captured horizontally, vertically, or in a clockwise grouping. Images are then "stitched" together on a computer using Canon's bundled PhotoStitch software. Movie mode allows you to capture as much as three minutes of moving images and sound at approximately 15 frames per second, with a choice of 320 x 240- and 160 x 120-pixel resolution. (The three-minute maximum movie recording time represents another enhancement relative to the G2, apparently thanks to Canon's new "Digic" image processor.)

Other special shooting modes, accessed via on-camera buttons or the Record menu, include: Macro, which allows you to photograph subjects within a range of 1.5 inches to 2.3 feet (38 to 70mm) at the maximum wide-angle setting. (I need to confirm the macro-focus range with Canon, once I get a production-model camera to test.) Continuous Shooting mode captures multiple, successive still images, at about 2.5 frames per second, as long as you hold down the Shutter button. (The number of images and actual shot-to-shot speed depend on several factors, including image size/quality and the amount of memory remaining on the flash card.) There's also a High Speed Continuous Shooting mode for faster captures. The Self-Timer / Wireless Remote Control mode can be used to activate a 12-second countdown shutter-release function, as well as trigger the shutter remotely with the accompanying wireless infrared controller.

Images are saved onto CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, with available pixel dimensions of 2,272 x 1,704, 1,600 x 1,200, 1,024 x 768, or 640 x 480 pixels. Three JPEG compression levels are available, as well as a RAW data file format, which results in a higher quality image compression (Canon ZoomBrowser EX software is required to process RAW images). A USB cable is provided with the camera for speedy connection to PC or Macintosh computers, and a software CD offers an impressive selection of utilities. Canon's own Digital Camera software package includes tools for downloading and organizing images, processing RAW files, stitching images captured in Stitch-Assist mode, and a unique application that allows you to operate the camera remotely through your computer (RemoteCapture 1.1). RemoteCapture not only controls the shutter, but provides a histogram of the subject so that you can check the exposure.

US and Japanese G3 models come with an NTSC cable for connecting to a television set. (European models are equipped for the PAL standard.) Combining this video composition and playback tool with the remote control capabilities can turn the camera into a very useful presentation tool.

Power for the G3 is supplied by a rechargeable (high capacity) BP-511 lithium-ion battery pack and AC adapter, which are provided with the camera. The AC adapter serves as an in-camera battery charger, but a separate battery charger is available as an accessory, as well as an AC adapter kit, which plugs into an automobile cigarette lighter. Battery life is exceptional, thanks to the high capacity of the BP-511 pack.

The G3 appears to build well on the heritage of the G1 and G2 before it. It offers an exceptional feature set, good optics, and excellent exposure and creative controls, all at a competitive price point. While some prospective purchasers may be given pause by its 4-megapixel resolution in a day when many of its competitors weigh in at 5 megapixels, I don't think there'll be that much of a difference in real resolution, based on my early test results. Like the G2 before it, the G3 has a very sharp lens, and really makes the most of the pixels it has to work with. At the same time, sticking with the four megapixel CCD has let Canon maintain better noise performance than much of the 5-megapixel competition. Bottom line, I doubt that many G2 owners will find sufficient reason to trade in their cameras for new G3s, but I do think that the G3 will compete very strongly in the high-end "prosumer" market, even against the plethora of 5-megapixel models now available.

 

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