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Canon Powershot G6

The next generation of Canon's popular "G" model updates the line with a larger, 7.1-megapixel CCD and a redesigned camera body.

Review First Posted: 09/28/2004




MSRP $699 US

 

*
7.1-megapixel CCD for 3,072 x 2,304 pixel images
*
4x optical zoom lens, f/2.0-3.0
*
Auto, Scene Program, Program, and Manual exposure modes
*
Unique tilt/swivel LCD panel
*
Very good noise performance: Low levels and a small, tight pattern.

Manufacturer Overview

The Canon PowerShot G6 is the latest in a long line of high-end digicams from Canon Inc, reaching back to the original G1, first introduced back in the fall of 2000. Canon's G-series PowerShots have consistently been among the most popular cameras on our site, thanks to their combination of a rich feature set, excellent optics, and superior image quality. The new Canon G6 keeps the same excellent 4x zoom lens and most of my favorite features from the previous PowerShot G5 model, but bumps the sensor resolution to 7.1 megapixels up from the G5's 5.0. Besides the larger sensor though, the new Canon G6 incorporates quite a few other enhancements, including a slightly larger tilt/swivel LCD display, a redesigned camera body, menu system and user interface. Read on for all the details, the new Canon PowerShot G6 looks like a real winner in the high-end digital rangefinder camera market!

 

High Points

 

Changes from the Canon PowerShot G5
(And the G1, G2 and G3, for historical reference)

As some of the most popular high-end "prosumer" digicams of the last few years, many of our readers may already be quite familiar with the Canon PowerShot G1, G2, G3, and G5. The G6 is strongly reminiscent of its predecessors, sharing a number of features from past cameras, along with the same lens used since the G3. The main differences are detailed below:

Feature
G6 G5 G3
G2
G1
Dimensions (W x H x D) 105 x 73 x 73 millimeters 121 x 74 x 70 millimeters 121 x 77 x 64 millimeters 120 x 77 x 64 millimeters
Weight (body only) 380 grams 410 grams 425 grams 420 grams
Body Improvements / Differences Narrower body, enlarged handgrip. Silver with rubberized black panel on inside of hand grip. Mode dial moved to rear of camera, shutter button moved in front of control dial on top of handgrip. (Similar to G3) More angular handgrip for better finger-traction, Silver-colored metal body panels. Body is more rectangular, boxy-looking
Enlarged Handgrip, Champagne metal cover
Standard grip, gray metal cover
Startup screen, startup sound yes/yes
(Multiple options via "My Camera" menu)
Yes/yes
No/no
Maximum Resolution (megapixels) 7.1 (eff) 5.04 (eff) 3.87 MP (eff)
3.14 MP (eff)
Resolution Settings 3,072 x 2,304

2,592 x 1,944

2,048 x 1,536

1,600 x 1,200

640 x 480
2,592 x 1,944,

1600 x 1200,

1024 x 768

640 x 480
2272 x 1704,

1600 x 1200,

1024 x 768

640 x 480
2048 x 1536,

1024 x 768

640 x 480
Filtration RGB
CYGM
Lens 4x
35-140mm equiv.
F/2.0-3.0
3x
32-104mm equiv.
F/2.0-2.8
Minimum macro area 54 x 40 millimeters 69 x 52 millimeters 74 x 56 millimeters 70 x 52 millimeters 82 x 52 millimeters
Slow shutter speed range 15 sec
8 sec.
High shutter speed and aperture combinations 1/1250 - all apertures

1/2000 - f/4.0 and higher

1/640 - f/2.8~f/3.5 to f/8

1/800 - f/3.5~f/5.0 to f/8

1/1000 - f/8 only

1/640 ~ 1/1000 sec.

f/8 only

Neutral Density Filter 3-stop cut (equivalent to ND 0.9), set via record menu. ----
LCD Monitor 2.0-inch, 118,000 pixels 1.8-inch, 118,000 pixels 1.8-inch, 113,578 pixels
Flash Operation Internal: Total of 9 modes, counting all combinations of on/off/auto and redeye plus slow sync options.

Supports EX-mode Speedlites, Ringlight, Macro Twin Flash, and Remote Transmitter

Internal: 5 modes

Supports EX-mode Speedlites and Ringlight,

Internal: 5 modes

Supports EX-mode Speedlites only

Signal processing speed No spec, but cycle time is the same, AF speed is improved, despite larger sensor (40% more image data). Considerably faster than G2, but don't have a specific spec for this.
Faster (twice as fast as G1)
---
Signal processing bit depth 12 bits/channel, through all image processing operations. 10 bits/channel
Noise reduction Considerably improved over G5 Very good
Better
---
Battery Life Excellent, but hard to assess, as I couldn't conduct direct measurements. Canon claims 300 shots with LCD on, 900 with LCD off, but measurement standards may have changed in the last year. Excellent: About another 7% improvement over the G3. Excellent: My measurements indicate roughly a 15% improvement in worst-case battery life over the G2.
400 images/LCD on

1000 images/LCD off

300 minutes/Playback

260 images/LCD On

800 images/LCD off

160 minutes/Playback

Focusing Points "Infinite"- FlexiZone AF/AE allows positioning of the AF/AE area anywhere within about 60% of the frame area.
3
1
Manual Focus Focusing area magnified on LCD monitor, numerical distance values displayed
---
Autofocus Bracketing Focus bracketing option under the FUNC button snaps three shots with minor tweaks in focus setting between them. ---
Metering Modes Evaluative, Center-Weighted, Center Spot, Off-Center Spot

Incorporates Canon iSAPS scene-analysis technology for more accurate exposures under tricky lighting.

Evaluative, Center-Weighted, Center Spot, Off-Center Spot
Center-Weighted, Center Spot
Manual exposure mode improvements A reversion to original behavior? LCD is dark when underexposure is set, only brightens briefly while AF is operating.
Metering display when shutter button is pressed halfway; LCD monitor remains bright even when underexposure is set.
---
Program Shift Yes
No
Intervalometer Option Shoot 2-100 shots, at intervals of 1 to 60 minutes --- ---
White Balance Settings 9, including two separate Custom settings for manual adjustment to standard white card.
6, including new Fluorescent H for daylight fluorescents
5
Color Effects Mode Yes
(Expanded to allow application of color effects (including B/W shooting) in any exposure mode except Auto.
Yes
No
Movie Mode options and durations

640 x 480 - 30 sec.

320 x 240 - 180 sec.

160 x 120 - 180 sec.

320 x 240 - 180 sec.

160 x 120 - 180 sec.

320 x 240 - 30 sec.

160 x 120 - 120 sec.

320 x 240 - 30 sec.
Continuous Shooting Speeds

Continuous High: 1.57 fps

Continuous: 1.06 fps

(by actual measurement)

Continuous High: 1.96 fps

Continuous: 1.39 fps

(by actual measurement)

Continuous High: 2.27 fps

Continuous: 1.46 fps

(by actual measurement)

Continuous High: 2.46 fps

Continuous: 1.04 fps

(by actual measurement)

Continuous: 1.7 fps
Startup time, shutter lag, etc. Faster:
Startup is 3.92 seconds,
full-AF shutter lag is 0.74-0.78 sec
Slower: Startup is 4.82 seconds, full-AF shutter lag is 1.04-1.17 sec Much faster
(4.2 seconds startup, 0.94 second full AF lag)
Faster
(7.2 seconds startup, 1.3 second full AF lag)
---
Interval between frames in Single frame mode 1.93
(Actual measurement, not Canon specs)
1.94
(Actual measurement, not Canon specs)
1.88
(Actual measurement, not Canon specs)
2.3 sec.
(Actual measurement, not Canon specs)
1.12 sec.
(Actual measurement, not Canon specs)
Digital zoom function True zoom up to 16x combined digital and optical True zoom up to 14x combined digital and optical
True zoom up to 11x combined digital and optical
Digital teleconverter, either 2x or 4x for a maximum of 8x combined
Histogram display in Playback mode Yes
No
Image magnification during playback Up to 10x, 10 steps
3x/6x
2.5x/5x
Image erase function
Improved (fewer steps)
---
RemoteCapture functions
Improved: Live video can be shown on attached monitor as well as computer screen. Shutter button on camera remains functional.
Displays captured images only. Shutter can be released with computer only. Video out does not function while RemoteCapture is active.
USB Mounter for Mac OS 9.0 ~ 9.1 Provided.
(Also supports PTP mode for Windows XP and Mac OS X connection with no driver software needed.)
Provided.
No (however, software itself is compatible with G1)
Direct Print mode The big change this year is support for the new PictBridge industry standard. Supports previous printers, as well as newer models CP-200, CP-300, i70, i470D, i450. (G3, G2 also forward-compatible with most new printers, although G2 needs firmware upgrade to support some.) Yes - Also with CP-100, S830D and S530D Bubble Jet printers.
Yes, with CP-10
No
Cropping in Direct Print mode
Yes
---
Accessory Compatibility New bayonet-mount lens adapter, with wider range of wide, tele converters, now covering range of 24.5mm to 245mm equivalents.

Support for both Macro Ring Light and Macro Twin Light units, as well as Remote Strobe Transmitter for wireless flash connection.

Same as G1 plus Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX
Wide, tele converters extend range to ~28 to 150 mm
Wide, Tele and Macro Converters
Supplied CF Card 32MB
16MB
Control Changes Menu interface slightly updated Top controls mirror EOS layout more closely, including the Command wheel. Mode dial and power switch separated, made easier to operate. Tabbed sub-menus for FUNC button greatly improve efficiency of user interface. ---
Position Sensor Position sensor automatically tags EXIF header for image rotation on portrait-format shots. ---
Post-Exposure RAW file save You can choose to save a RAW-mode file on the fly, by hitting the Flash button during the review period. You can choose to save a RAW-mode file on the fly, by hitting the FUNC button during the review period. ---

 

 

Executive Overview

The PowerShot G6 is a solid update to Canon's extremely popular G5 model. The G6 retains the same user enhancements that debuted on the G3 and G5 models, including a 4x lens and various feature upgrades, but features a new body design, along with a larger, 7.1-megapixel CCD. The G6 also carries over all of the design elements I applauded in the previous "G" models, 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 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 G6 is quite a bit smaller than the G3, at 4.1 x 2.9 x 2.9 inches (105 x 73 x 73 millimeters), and weighs in at 16.7 ounces (474 grams) with the battery pack and CompactFlash card installed. While this may seem a little hefty when compared to other compact digicams, the G6 is quite comfortable in the hand, thanks in part to its redesigned, chunky handgrip on the right side that provides secure purchase for your fingers. It should fit easily into a large coat pocket or purse, and comes with a half-inch neck strap for added convenience.

The G6's eye-level real-image optical viewfinder zooms along with its 4x lens and features a central autofocus / exposure target in the center. The diopter adjustment slider below the eyepiece controls the viewfinder focus for eyeglass wearers, and two LED lights on the right hand 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 thanks to the body redesign, the lens no longer protrudes into the lower left-hand corner of the viewfinder frame at wide angle focal lengths. - A very welcome change from the G3 and G5. 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, plus the low battery and camera shake warnings as applicable. Also shown, if set to other than their defaults, are the exposure compensation, white balance, ISO speed, photo effect, bracket, flash exposure compensation / flash output, file format, digital zoom, red-eye reduction, macro / super macro, auto rotate, ND filter, AE / FE lock, manual focus, and movie recording indicators. Even if the information readout is disabled, camera settings are shown on the LCD display for six seconds after the most recent settings change. The G6 retains the playback-mode histogram readout first seen 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. The G6's powerful "FlexiZone" autofocus option lets you move the focus area freely around the central 60 percent of so of the frame. 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 left side of the camera's rear panel and then adjusting the focus with the Main dial on the top of the front handgrip, just behind the Shutter button. A distance scale on the LCD monitor indicates approximately how far you are from maximum and minimum focus, with approximate distances shown in either English or Metric units. The Manual Focus display also enlarges the central portion of the frame about 2x, to make focus easier to determine visually. The G6's Macro mode lets you focus as close as 2.0 inches (5.0 centimeters). Digital zoom is controlled through the Record menu, with enlargements to 4.1x. (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 G6 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 the rear 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 (although a Program Shift function lets you bias the exposure for a faster shutter speed / wider aperture, or a slower shutter speed / smaller aperture). Aperture and Shutter Speed Priority modes allow you to set one exposure variable (aperture or shutter speed) while the camera chooses the best value for the other parameter. Manual mode gives you full control over all exposure parameters. The camera's aperture can be set from f/2 to f/8, and the shutter speed ranges from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds. The G6 has an internal neutral density (ND) filter, that cuts the incoming light by a factor of eight. (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 G6'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 EV to +/- 2 EV (three exposures in rapid sequence, with adjustable step sizes ranging from 1/3 to 2 EV); a choice of Evaluative, Center-Weighted Averaging, and Spot Metering modes, and Automatic Exposure (AE) Lock. The G6's built-in flash actually offers no less than 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. 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. The G6 also offers 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 G6 also offers several special shooting modes accessed through the Mode dial. They include Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Stitch Assist, and Movie modes. 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 rectangular grouping of four. 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 either 10 frames per second at a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, or approximately 15 frames per second, with a choice of 320 x 240- and 160 x 120-pixel resolutions.

Continuous Shooting mode captures multiple, successive still images, at just over one frame 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 of approximately 1.6 frames per second. The Self-Timer / Wireless Remote Control mode can be used to activate a two or ten-second countdown shutter-release function, as well as trigger the shutter remotely with the accompanying wireless infrared controller (with remote delays of zero, two or ten seconds set through the camera's menu system).

Images are saved onto CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, with available pixel dimensions of 3,072 x 2,304; 2,592 x 1,944, 2,048 x 1,536, 1,600 x 1,200; 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 operating the camera remotely through your computer. You can control nearly every aspect of the camera, including ISO, White Balance, Zoom, flash and EV settings, and of course shutter speed and aperture. It's pretty impressive. Captured images are sent directly to the computer. ArcSoft Camera Suite 2.1 also accompanies the camera.

An A/V cable accompanies the camera for connecting to a television set. 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 G6 is supplied by a rechargeable (high capacity) BP-511A lithium-ion battery pack and AC adapter, which are provided with the camera. The battery charger included with the G6 charges the battery outside the camera, allowing you to have a second battery charging while the camera is in use (a positive change from the G5's in-camera charger). This does mean that the AC adapter is now an optional extra, however, and since the included "folding prongs"-style charger plugs directly into the wall without a cable, the charger may block access to nearby power points when in use. Also available as an accessory is a dual external battery charger for charging two batteries simultaneously, and a car battery cable, which plugs into an automobile cigarette lighter.

 

Design

With a significantly restyled body design as compared to the previously-released PowerShot G5, the G6 looks "squarer", having shaved almost three quarters of an inch off the width, with only negligible changes to the height and depth. The G6 maintains a boxy body style with a multitude of external controls, but with a significantly larger hand-grip that is easier to hold firmly. The body measures 4.1 x 2.9 x 2.9 inches (105 x 73 x 73 millimeters), and is clad mostly in silver plastic and metal body panels. Weighing in at 16.7 ounces (474 grams) with the battery pack and CompactFlash card installed, the G6 has a little heft to it. However, the hand grip is substantial enough to balance out the weight and, with its increased size and a new rubberized black panel on its inside, provides a secure hold. The G6 can fit into a very large coat pocket or purse, or it can be carried with the half-inch neck strap. For extended location shooting, I highly recommend investing in a small, padded camera case.

The G6's front panel houses the lens, optical viewfinder window, built-in flash, autofocus assist light, microphone, and one of two remote control sensors (on the front of the hand grip). The 4x zoom lens telescopes out about an inch from the camera body when the G6 is powered on, and retracts when the camera is powered off. The lens is protected by a plastic lens cap, tethered to the camera body with an attached cord. The tiny three-hole microphone, which is visible above to the camera lens, records sound to accompany in-camera movies. A thick hand grip on the right side of the camera provides a secure grip and provides good traction on the camera body for your fingers. Also visible on the front panel is a small button below and to the right of the lens. This is a latch for the bayonet-mount for accessory lenses. Pressing this latch lets you twist and remove the cosmetic lens barrel shroud, revealing a set of mounting flanges to which Canon's lens adapter barrel attaches.

On the right side of the camera is a sliding/hinged door that accesses the CompactFlash slot, accommodating both Type I and II CompactFlash cards. At the top of the right side is an eyelet for attaching one end of the neck strap. A secondary remote control sensor is also on this side of the camera.

The left side of the camera has a speaker for playing back recorded sound, and a set of jacks for the A/V output, USB connection, and DC input for the included AC adapter/battery charger. All the jacks are protected by a hard plastic door that swings open to reveal the connectors. At the top of the left panel is the other neck strap attachment eyelet.

The G6's top panel features a small status display window; an external flash hot shoe; a Power dial with central Off button; a Main dial for controlling various camera settings; a Zoom Lever; a Shutter button; a Backlight button; a Flash button, a Continuous Drive / Self-Timer / Wireless Controller button; and a Metering / Jump button. I always appreciate status display panels like the one on the G6, as they report camera settings and other miscellaneous information without the need for the power-hungry LCD monitor. The Power dial is normally locked to prevent accidental actuation in your camera bag. It's released when you place your finger on it, pressing in the small button at its rear. The Shutter button on the G6 angles toward the front of the camera, to match the angle of your index finger as it wraps over the grip, and a small bump on the front of the Zoom lever makes for quick and easy "tip of the finger" access to the camera's optical and digital zoom functions. The Main dial is handy for quickly changing camera settings such as aperture and shutter speed, and is located just behind the Shutter button on the top of the hand grip.

The majority of the exposure controls are located on the camera's back panel, along with the optical viewfinder and LCD monitor. The G6's eye-level optical viewfinder features a diopter adjustment slider underneath and two LEDs that report camera status on the right. To the right of this is the Mode dial, with shooting and exposure options. The swiveling LCD monitor pops out of the camera back and rotates 270 degrees when fully extended. You can fold it back into its storage compartment with the monitor facing outward or leave it extended and turn the screen to accommodate a variety of shooting angles. Finally, the monitor can be turned around and popped back into the panel face-down, protecting it from accidental scratches and fingerprints. (All in all, a very handy design.) The Four-Way Arrow pad ("omni selector," in Canon parlance) protrudes slightly from the back of the camera, directly below a contoured area that acts as a thumb rest, providing counter support to the large hand grip on the front of the camera. In addition to serving as a navigational tool through settings menus, the Four-Way Arrow pad also controls White Balance and Exposure Compensation settings. On the left side of the viewfinder eyepiece are the MF / Microphone and Macro / Index buttons. An AE Lock / FE Lock button sits on a protruding area directly below the top-mounted Power dial, and a cluster of four buttons - Set / AF Frame Selector; Menu; Display; and Function / Erase, respectively, rounds out the back of the camera below the Four-Way Arrow pad.

The G6's bottom panel is reasonably flat, with a sliding door to the battery compartment and a threaded metal tripod mount. The tripod mount is positioned just slightly off-center (to the right of the lens), most likely to allow clearance for the bottom of the lens mechanism. Because the battery door and tripod mount are so close to one another, it would be difficult to make quick battery changes while working with a tripod. However, if you purchase the optional AC adapter, the side-facing position of the auxiliary power socket should address any power concerns when shooting in the studio.

Accompanying the camera is a small infrared remote control, with a rated working range of up to 16.4 feet (5 meters) from the front sensor, and to about 3.3 feet (1 meter) from the side sensor. By activating the Continuous / Self-Timer / Wireless Controller button in Shooting mode, you can use the Remote to fire the shutter (with a delay of zero, two or ten seconds), adjust the optical zoom, or scroll through the LCD display screens without coming in contact with the camera body. This works well with the rotating LCD monitor, because you can mount the camera on a tripod and compose the shot while standing in front of the camera. The remote also offers several playback functions, which are useful when viewing images on a television screen. The Index display and Replay zoom buttons on the bottom of the remote control enable you to view up to nine thumbnail images at a time, or enlarge one captured image on the LCD monitor. The four arrow buttons on the Remote give you the same capabilities as the Four-Way Arrow pad on the back of the camera, permitting you to scroll through stored images or maneuver within a larger one. Depressing the Remote's Shutter button while in Replay mode lets you play movie files on the camera's monitor or a television. As with the G5 model, I was glad to see the inclusion of this simple gadget as a standard feature on the G6, especially given its video capabilities, which allow the camera to be used as a presentation tool.

 

Viewfinder

The G6 features both an eye-level optical viewfinder and a tilt/swivel LCD monitor on the back of the camera for image composition. The real-image optical viewfinder zooms along with the lens (except in Digital Telephoto mode, which requires the LCD monitor), and displays a set of target crosshairs in the center of its screen. A diopter adjustment slider directly below the eyepiece adjusts the viewfinder focus for eyeglass wearers. The viewfinder optics seem pretty well-suited for eyeglass wearers. The objective has a high enough "eyepoint" to accommodate even fairly thick eyeglass lenses, and the diopter adjustment seems to cover a very broad range. (Accommodating even my own 20/180 vision at the "nearsighted" end of its range.) Two LED lights to the right of the viewfinder eyepiece report the camera's status during certain operations. For example, when you depress the Shutter button halfway, a steady green light (on top) indicates that the camera is ready to record. A flashing green light indicates that an image is either being written to, read from, or erased from the CompactFlash card. A steady orange light (on top) indicates that the camera is ready to record and the flash is adequately charged, while a flashing orange light indicates a camera-shake warning (i.e. the shutter speed is too slow to handhold), or that the camera's exposure metering system believes the image will be underexposed. The lower LED light glows yellow when the camera is set in Macro or Manual focus modes, and blinks yellow when a focusing problem is detected.

Unlike the G3 and G5 before it, the G6's optical viewfinder is just a little further away from the lens. Thanks to this change, the lens no longer protrudes into the lower left-hand corner of the viewfinder frame at wide angle focal lengths, a major complaint I had with the previous cameras. This change will also yield (very) slightly increased parallax error, but that will only affect close-in shooting - and we find it infinitely preferable to the viewfinder being obstructed in common shooting situations. Kudos to Canon for listening to users and reviewers!

Measuring 2.0-inches diagonally, Canon's low-temperature, polycrystalline silicon, TFT color LCD monitor features the same smart, swiveling design we first saw years ago on the PowerShot Pro 70, and later on the original G1. The monitor's plastic casing actually pops out of the back of the camera and swings around to face forward (the same direction as the lens). From that position, the monitor can be rotated forward 180 degrees or backward 90 degrees, allowing you to hold the camera in practically any position and still see what's going on in the viewfinder. The best part of the LCD's swiveling monitor design is that it can be flipped around to face the back panel and then closed, keeping the screen safe from scratches and smudgy fingerprints.

The Display button controls the LCD monitor's image and information display. Pressed once, it activates the LCD monitor. The second press turns on the information display, which reports Exposure, Single or Continuous Shooting, Manual Focus, and Flash modes (depending upon the Shooting mode you are using), as well as Digital Zoom and a handful of other exposure settings (when enabled). At the bottom of the screen are the Shutter Speed and Aperture settings, which appear only when the Shutter button is halfway depressed. The third press of the Display button cancels both displays. Note that when the LCD is enabled without the information display, settings are still shown on the LCD monitor for six seconds after the most recent change to one of the camera's settings, and the shutter / aperture choices are displayed when the Shutter button is half-pressed.

The G6 preserves the enhanced manual focus utility we first saw on the G2's LCD display. Not only does the LCD show numbers on its distance scale (a feature I consider almost mandatory), it also enlarges the center of the image, making it easier for you to focus accurately based on what you're seeing in the LCD. The G6's LCD is also used when selecting exposure compensation, white balance, flash exposure compensation, and autoexposure bracketing options. Pressing the middle (FUNC) button next to the LCD on the camera's rear panel calls up a series of tabbed sub-menus that let you control ISO, picture effects, exposure and focus bracketing, flash exposure compensation, and image size and quality.

In Replay (Playback) mode, the LCD monitor provides a full-frame display of captured images, which you can view individually by scrolling left or right with the arrow buttons on the Four-Way Arrow pad. Depressing the Macro / Index button brings up a thumbnail index display of nine images at a time. Alternatively the same effect can be achieved by tapping the Zoom lever towards the wide-angle position once. Moving the Zoom lever to the telephoto position activates the G6's Digital Enlargement mode, which lets you enlarge an image anywhere from 2.5x to 10x its normal size on the screen, in ten steps. The arrow keys permit you to move around the enlarged image and check the fine details. Unlike the implementation of this feature on some cameras, zoomed playback on the G6 lets you see all the way to the extreme edges of the image, important for checking critical framing. The 10x magnification is also quite sufficient for critical focus evaluation.

In Playback mode, one press of the Display button pulls up detailed information about the captured image, including the file name, date, and time it was recorded, compression, resolution, and what number it is in the sequence of captured images. Depressing the Display button a second time adds exposure information such as the Image Zone (portrait, landscape, etc.), Shutter Speed, Aperture, Exposure Compensation, and White Balance. Included in this extended information display is a small histogram, which plots the tonal distribution of the image in a graph. Histograms are useful tools for checking exposure, as they report the distribution of highlights, shadows, and midtones, but they don't do a good job of informing you when small highlight areas are blown out. The G6 deals with this by flashing any overexposed portions of the image black and white in the image accompanying the histogram display, indicating that you need to adjust the exposure. A third press of the Display button turns off the information display, returning the LCD to the main image display mode. A nice feature is that the expanded information displays - but not the histogram - remain on the screen if you use the zoom toggle to magnify the playback image from either of the information display modes.

 

Optics

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The G6 features a built-in, 4x, 7.2-28.8mm zoom lens, equivalent to a 35-140mm lens on a 35mm camera. This amounts to a range from average wide-angle to pretty good telephoto coverage. When the camera is powered on, the lens telescopes out from the camera body into its operating position (extending about an inch from its stowed position), then retracts again when the camera is shut off. A plastic lens cap protects the lens when not in use, and features a small tether to attach it to the camera body. Focus can be automatically or manually controlled, with a range of 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity in Normal Focus mode. Macro mode features a focus range of 2.0 inches to 1.6 feet (5 to 50 centimeters). The aperture adjusts automatically or manually, with an f/2.0-3.0 to f/8 range, depending on the zoom setting. (The value of the very fast f/2.0 maximum aperture is not to be underestimated. It'll let you use shutter speeds twice as fast as the more common f/2.8 lenses usually found on digicams, a significant benefit in many situations.) An internal neutral density filter can be deployed via a menu option to cut the light transmission by a factor of 8 (3 f-stops), permitting the use of wider apertures or slower shutter speeds in bright conditions.

Manual focus is activated by depressing the Manual Focus (MF) button on the back of the camera. Once pressed, a distance indicator appears on the LCD monitor, providing a reference scale for focusing. Scrolling the Main dial back and forth controls the focusing distance, which is displayed via a bar graph on the LCD monitor. The distance marks on the focusing scale are shown in metric or English units, as selected in the Setup menu. The readout shows meters or feet, centimeters or inches, depending on the range. I found the roughly 2x viewfinder enlargement that accompanies Manual Focus mode very helpful in setting focus. As soon as you turn the Main dial to adjust focus (while in MF mode), an enlarged portion of the subject appears in the center of the LCD display, making it easier to determine exact focus. While the manual focus system works pretty well, I'd really like to see more numeric distance markings on the scale: In low light conditions, I've sometimes found it necessary to set focus by estimating the distance, but the limited number of specific distance markings on the G6's manual focusing scale make it difficult to do this. Also, the focus seems to adjust very slowly when in manual focus mode, to the point that I sometimes found it a little frustrating, when it seemed that I was rotating the command dial with very little apparent effect in the focus setting.

When shooting in Autofocus mode, the G6 offers both Continuous and Single Autofocus functions. In Continuous mode, the camera is constantly adjusting focus, even when the Shutter button is not depressed. In Single mode, the camera focuses only when the Shutter button is depressed halfway, which helps to conserve battery power. Given that the camera is continuously adjusting the focus in Continuous AF mode, you'd expect the shutter delay to be less. (Since the lens ought to be close to optimum focus most of the time.) Like most cameras with continuous autofocus modes though, the G6's shutter lag was actually slightly longer in Continuous AF mode in my tests. It might thus be useful for tracking moving subjects (which IR has no quantitative way of testing), but don't look to it as a means to improve shutter response.

The G6 features Canon's "FlexiZone Autofocus" system, which lets you change the focus area by scrolling smoothly up or down, right or left. The AF area can be positioned anywhere within a central area covering roughly 60 percent of the frame. To move the AF area, press the SET button while in Record mode. The central box that marks the AF area will turn green, indicating that it is selected. Using the up/down, left/right arrows on the Four-Way Arrow pad, you can then move the AF box smoothly around the frame. When you have it positioned where you want, press the SET button again to deselect it. Once the focus point is set and the picture is framed, pressing the Shutter button halfway will turn the box green if the selected area is in focus or yellow if it's not. Through the Record menu, you can choose to have the Spot Metering function use this same area for its exposure determination, using the Spot AE Point submenu option.

Canon's earlier G3 model was the first camera I had seen with an Auto Focus Bracketing feature on it, and I'm pleased to see it return on the G6. Auto Focus Bracketing (AFB) snaps three exposures in rapid succession, shifting the focus slightly after each. This function is accessed through the FUNC button's sub-menus. You can set the focus step size from one to three in arbitrary units, by depressing the FUNC button, scrolling to the AFB option with the Omni Controller, and then using the Omni Controller again to choose the amount of variation between shots. Depress the Set button, then fully depress the Shutter button to start the series. The camera makes all three exposures with just one press of the Shutter button.

Digital Zoom is activated through the camera's Record menu and is operated with the same controls as the optical zoom. The amount of total zoom (optical plus digital) is reported in the top right corner of the LCD monitor whenever digital zoom is engaged, and can go as high as approximately 16x. (The 16x total zoom corresponds to 4x optical plus roughly 4x digital.) Digital Zoom is not available when shooting with the G6's Movie mode, or when using the RAW file format. (It's important to note that digital zoom simply enlarges the center of the CCD image, resulting in some loss of image quality in the form of reduced image sharpness that's directly proportional to the amount of digital zoom used.)

Like the G3 and G5, the G6 accommodates several optional conversion lenses via a lens adapter kit, so you can extend your camera's wide angle or telephoto capabilities with high-quality optics. The adapters attach via a bayonet mount on the lens barrel, and a small button below the lens on the front of the camera releases a catch, letting you remove the cosmetic collar surrounding the lens barrel and reveal the flanges of the bayonet mount.

 

Exposure

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The G6 offers excellent exposure control, with Automatic (AUTO), Program AE (P), Shutter Speed Priority (Tv), Aperture Priority (Av), and Manual (M) exposure modes, as well as a handful of special settings for specific shooting situations. Under the Automatic exposure mode, the camera controls both shutter speed and aperture settings, giving you control of digital telephoto, flash, compression, and image resolution. The Program AE mode also takes control of the shutter speed and aperture settings, but allows you to adjust all other exposure controls, including ISO, Exposure Compensation, Flash, Flash Exposure Compensation, Light Metering, AE lock, Auto Exposure Bracketing, White Balance, Contrast, Sharpness, and Color Saturation. In Program AE mode, a Program Shift function allows you to bias the exposure for a faster shutter speed / wider aperture, or a slower shutter speed / smaller aperture, by pressing the AE / FE lock button, and then rolling the Main dial back and forth to select the combination of aperture and shutter speed that you want to use.

Shutter Priority mode puts you in control of the shutter speed setting (with a range from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds), while the camera chooses a corresponding lens aperture. As with the Program AE mode, you maintain control over all other exposure options. Aperture Priority works along similar lines, except that you control the aperture (f/2.0-3.0 to f/8) and the camera chooses the best shutter speed. In Aperture Priority mode, the maximum shutter time is 1 second, and the minimum is limited to 1/1,250 for apertures of f/3.5 and under. Both the shutter speed and aperture values are displayed on the LCD monitor. If the camera doesn't agree with the exposure settings you've selected, the numerals indicating the amount of under- or overexposure on the LCD will turn red when you half press the Shutter button, letting you know that either the aperture or shutter speed needs to be corrected. In both Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, you can quickly adjust the designated exposure variable by simply turning the Main dial. Courtesy of a new Safety Shift option in the Record menu, the camera will (if selected) override your selected shutter / aperture setting in Shutter or Aperture Priority modes, should the metering system detects that the exposure will be incorrect with your selected setting. In Manual mode, the Main dial adjusts both settings, you just press down on it to alternate between aperture and shutter speed. (A very convenient way to control both variables with a single control.) In Manual mode, the maximum shutter time of 15 seconds is available, but the same restriction to 1/1,250 or below for apertures of f/3.5 and under remains in effect. (This is a consequence of the interaction between the G6's shutter mechanism and the lens aperture.)

Several preset exposure modes are also available for shooting under special conditions. Portrait mode uses a large lens aperture setting to reduce the depth of field, resulting in blurred backgrounds and strong focal emphasis on the primary subject. Landscape mode uses a small aperture to keep both the foreground and background in sharp focus. A slow shutter speed is also common in Landscape mode, so it's recommended that you use a tripod. Night Scene mode uses a slow shutter speed to capture the color and detail of an evening setting, along with a flash exposure to illuminate the primary subject in the foreground. When slow shutter speed and flash are used together, the overall scene is more evenly exposed. This mode can also be combined with the Red-Eye Reduction flash for portraits, or you can cancel the flash altogether. A tripod is also recommended when working in Night Scene mode, and portrait subjects should be warned to remain still after the flash, until the shutter is closed.

A quick-review mode allows you to confirm the recorded image immediately after exposure. To access the Review mode, you can simply continue to hold down the Shutter button after the exposure. The just-captured image will remain displayed on the LCD until you release the Shutter button. (I really like the convenience of this feature, as it's easy to access when you want it, without tying you down with long review times when you don't need them.) Or, you can turn on the Review function through the Record menu, which displays the image for anywhere from two to 10 seconds, in one-second increments. You can immediately erase the image by pressing the "Function / Delete" button, which pulls up a small erase menu on the bottom of the monitor. Press the Set button to complete the erasure, or the Right arrow button to highlight "Cancel", followed by the Set button, should you change your mind.

Just as on the G3 and G5, the G6 offers the ability to decide after you've shot a photo whether you want to save it to JPEG or RAW file format. If the camera is set to record normally in JPEG format, you can elect to save the just-captured image to a RAW file by pressing the Flash button at any time during the image-review period. (Whether you're reviewing the image by continuing to hold down the Shutter button, or via a preset review period programmed through the setup menu.) This seems like a handy option, as you could elect to save any images with problematic exposure as RAW files to maximize the data you'll have to work with on the computer after the fact.

Exposure compensation can be adjusted from ñ2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. The camera's metering system offers three operating modes: Evaluative, Center-Weighted Averaging, and Spot Metering. Evaluative metering looks at a number of points throughout the frame, and evaluates the brightness range and distribution between them to come up with the best exposure setting. Center-weighted averaging is based on an averaged reading of the overall scene, with a particular bias towards a reading from the center of the frame. Spot metering reads only the center of the image, the area that falls within the crosshairs of the viewfinder or within the small square that pops up on the LCD monitor when you press the Spot Meter button. Spot metering is useful when you're shooting under backlit conditions. In these situations, you can use the spot meter to obtain a reading of the area you want properly exposed, then lock the exposure with the AE Lock function, (activated by pressing the "*" button on the back panel in record mode), and recompose your shot for the final exposure. (Note: depressing any other button on the camera will disengage the Spot Metering function.)

Through the Record menu (Spot AE Point submenu), you can also link the Spot Metering area to the FlexiZone AF point described earlier. When the Spot AE Point option of "AF Point" is selected, and the spot metering option is activated, the AF box acquires a set of inner brackets indicating that spot metering is active, and that the AF box is where the metering is being done. If the Spot AE Point is set to "Center," the white brackets will appear in the center of the LCD screen, indicating that this is where the Spot AE metering is being done, regardless of the position of the AF point.

The G6 offers nine White Balance modes, including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H (for daylight-balanced fluorescents), Flash, and two separate Custom modes. The Custom mode lets you manually set the white balance by holding a white card in front of the camera and pressing the "*" button to set the value. Having two Custom settings makes it easy to move back and forth between scenes with radically different lighting. (An example might be a shooting assignment that had you moving between indoor and outdoor spaces at night, with different types of artificial lighting used in the two settings. You could set one Custom white balance for the indoor shots, and the second for the outdoor ones.)

ISO film speed equivalents are set in a submenu of the FUNC button, with choices of Auto, 50, 100, 200, or 400 ISO values. The higher the ISO setting, the more you can extend the camera's exposure range in low-light situations, but keep in mind that image noise increases in more or less direct proportion to the ISO value. Other manual exposure adjustments in the Record menu include Sharpness, Contrast, and Saturation controls.

As you'd expect, image noise in the G6's images increases with increasing ISO, but I found the G6's noise to be less objectionable than that from many competing cameras. The amplitude of the image noise has been reduced from what it was in the prior G5 model, bringing it in line with the current crop of high-end prosumer digicams from a range of manufacturers. While the G6's image noise is roughly on par with other high-end digicams in terms of its absolute magnitude, it has a finer-grained texture than is common among prosumer digicams, which makes it less evident to the eye. The net result is that, while its ISO 400 images are indeed noisy, their appearance is such that I wouldn't mind shooting with the G6 at that ISO level, something I can't say for many non-SLR digicams these days.

 

Flash

The G6's built-in flash operates in any one of nine available modes. You can leave it turned off, have it fire all the time, or only fire automatically, as the camera sees fit. In any of its active modes, you can turn on red-eye reduction (which illuminates the bright AF assist light on the front of the camera before the flash fires, to make your subjects' pupils contract), or enable Slow Sync mode, which combines the flash with a slower shutter speed to allow more light from the scene lighting to enter the lens. The combination of off plus two active modes (forced or auto) with four variations each (normal, red-eye w/o slow sync, red-eye w/slow sync, and slow sync w/o red-eye) adds up to nine modes total. The main flash modes of off, forced on, and auto are selected via the Flash/Index button in the front left-hand corner of the G6's top panel. Slow Sync and Red-Eye Reduction modes are controlled via the Record menu. Through the same menu, you can also specify whether the flash syncs with the first or second curtain. (That is, on shots with slower exposure times, the flash can fire either as the shutter opens, or as it's closing.)

The flash exposure can be adjusted from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments by the using the FUNC button on the camera's back panel together with the Four-Way Arrow pad to access the Flash Exposure Compensation adjustment menu. You can also lock the Flash Exposure Setting (FE Lock) for a specific area of your subject, just as you would with a normal exposure. Simply center the portion of the subject you want to have metered and press the "*" button to lock the flash exposure. The flash will fire single pulse to lock the exposure reading, then you can recompose your image and make the exposure with the FE Lock in place. (Note that pressing any other button after the "*" button will cancel the flash exposure lock.) Canon rates the G6's flash effectiveness from 2.3 to 16.5 feet (70 centimeters to 5 meters), a figure that agreed with my own test results. (This is a more powerful flash than found on most consumer-level digicams.)

In addition to its built-in flash, the G6 features a hot shoe for mounting more powerful external flash units. Canon recommends using its own Speedlight 220EX, 420EX, 550EX, 580EX, MT-24EX Macro Twin Light, or MR-14EX Macro Ring models, but other manufacturers' models should work as well. The G6's flash sync speed is a maximum of 1/250.

Canon's handling of the sync-speed limitation on the G6 bothers me a little though, as it did on the G3 and G5 before it. If you're in Auto or Program AE exposure mode, all is well, the camera simply won't select a shutter speed greater than 1/250 when the flash is enabled. In Tv (shutter speed priority) or Manual mode though, you can select shutter speeds as fast as you want (all the way up to 1/2,000), but if you have the flash turned on (forced flash is the only mode available, the Auto option is only offered in Programmed exposure mode), the actual shutter speed will be restricted to 1/250! I disagree with this design choice. When a camera is in a mode that gives the user control over some parameter or other (such as shutter speed), the camera shouldn't arbitrarily override the user's settings. While the G6 does show you that the shutter speed has changed to 1/250 when you half-press the Shutter button, it's easy to miss seeing the changed shutter speed unless you're on the lookout for it. I guess it's good that the camera tries its best to deliver you a well-exposed shot, but I'd really like to see some way of optionally preventing an override like this.

Carried over from the G2, G3 and G5 is automatic Speedlight EX recognition in Aperture-Priority mode. When the camera senses that a Canon EX-model external flash is mounted and in ready mode, it automatically sets the shutter speed to 1/60 second, overriding the normal tendency of Aperture-Priority metering to set the shutter speed based on available lighting. This is very handy, as you can attach an EX-model flash unit, set the camera to Aperture-Priority metering, and then just turn the flash on or off as you wish, without worrying about what the shutter speed is doing. Note though, that the G6 must be in full manual mode to use with other non-Canon flash units. (Since the Aperture Priority mode will normally select a very slow shutter speed when an "unrecognized" flash unit is attached and the scene is dimly lit.)

Auto Exposure Bracketing

The Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) mode is another function controlled by the FUNC button's sub-menus. It automatically captures a series of three images, each at a different exposure setting. You can manually set the exposure step size in one-third-step increments, covering a range from -2 to +2 EV, by depressing the FUNC button, scrolling to the AEB option with the Four-Way Arrow pad, and then using the Main dial to choose the amount of variation between exposures. Depress the Set button to make your selection, then fully depress the Shutter button to start the series. The camera makes all three exposures with just one press of the Shutter button. In AEB mode, the exposures are chosen to bracket whatever exposure setting you've dialed in using the Exposure Compensation adjustment. Thus, the bracketing always occurs around whatever exposure you've chosen based on your evaluation of the scene and the camera's metering.

Note that Auto Exposure Bracketing cannot be used with flash photography. If the flash fires, only one image will be recorded.

Continuous Shooting

Controlled by the Continuous / Self-Timer / Wireless Remote button on top of the camera, the G6's Continuous Shooting mode captures multiple consecutive images at up to 1.6 frames per second (fps). This frame-capture rate may vary slightly, depending on image quality, and functions in use. (In my own testing, the G6 consistently delivered 1.05 frames/second, shooting either large or small JPEG images. Shooting in RAW+JPEG mode, the frame rate dropped to 0.68 frames/second.) The G6 will continue to capture images as long as the Shutter button is depressed, or until the camera's memory card is filled. Shooting slows after about 10 large/fine JPEG shots, or four RAW+Large JPEG frames.

Interestingly, I noticed that the tendency of the earlier G-series cameras to delay slightly longer between the first and second continuous-mode shots than between subsequent ones seems absent (or at least very much reduced) in the G6. The variation in interval between the first two shots and subsequent ones was within a few percent in my timing tests of the G6.

Through the Record menu, you can also select a High Speed Continuous Shooting mode. In this mode, the capture rate is much faster than normal Continuous Shooting, rated at two frames/second by Canon, and delivering 1.6 frames/second in my tests. As with the low-speed continuous mode, shooting RAW+JPEG slowed the high-speed mode frame rate to about 0.7 frames/second. (Virtually identical to the speed for that format option in low speed continuous mode.)

Both continuous modes capture data directly to the buffer memory, but the "standard" continuous mode does some amount of the signal processing on the fly. The result is that cycle times in normal mode are slower, but the camera can sometimes record longer bursts before having to pause to empty its buffer, particularly when working with smaller image sizes and lower quality settings. High Speed continuous mode captures more quickly, but doesn't do the processing on the fly, with the result that fewer shots can fit in the buffer memory before having to empty it. (About 8 large/fine JPEG shots, vs 10 for the low speed mode.)

As noted above, the G6 has a fairly generous buffer memory, able to capture 11 large/fine frames in rapid sequence in single-shot mode, 10 frames in low-speed continuous mode, and 8 in high-speed mode. RAW+JPEG buffer capacity is about 4 frames, still not bad. All of these numbers represent a fairly dramatic improvement over the relatively limited buffer capacity of the previous G5 model. (Four large/fine JPEG frames two RAW ones.)

Movie Mode

The G6 also offers a Movie mode, which is accessed by turning the Mode dial on top of the camera to the miniature movie camera symbol (a camera will appear in the upper left corner of the LCD display). The AVI / Motion JPEG files are recorded at either 10 frames per second at a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, or approximately 15 frames per second, with a choice of 320 x 240- and 160 x 120-pixel resolutions . Recordings can last as long as thirty seconds at the higher 640 x 480 pixel setting, or three minutes at either of the lower resolution settings, depending on the amount of memory available on the CompactFlash card. To begin recording, you simply press the Shutter button once. A red dot icon appears in the upper right-hand corner of the LCD screen, indicating that recording is in progress, and a counter in the lower right-hand corner begins counting up to show the length of the current clip in seconds. To stop recording, simply press the Shutter button again. (Note that the recording options are largely preset in Movie mode: Macro mode, Resolution, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, Manual Focus, preset Picture Effects, self-timer, wireless delay, ND filter, and AF assist beam are the only adjustable functions.)

When finished, you can view the recording by toggling the power switch to the playback position. Pressing the Set button brings up a little VCR-style playback control panel, with buttons for play, fast forward and fast reverse, go to end and go to beginning. A scissors icon lets you trim the movie to select just the part you're most interested in, and save it to the memory card as a separate file. When the movie is playing back, the control panel disappears, but you can stop playback by hitting the Set button again.

Quicktime(tm) 3.0 or later is required to view the AVI/Motion JPEG files recorded by the G6 in Movie mode. Quicktime is included with current versions of the Mac OS (any version later than 8.5), and a QuickTime player for the Windows platform is included on the Solutions Disk bundled with the camera.

Stitch-Assist Mode

The Stitch-Assist mode records a series of overlapping images that can be stitched together to create horizontal or vertical panoramas or stacked, 2 x 2-frame rectangular composites. A framing guideline for each format appears in the LCD monitor to help line up successive shots. After each shot, a portion of the image remains on-screen, as an aid to lining up the next image in the series. For the horizontal and vertical panoramas, you can take up to 26 images in a series, enabling you to record a full 360-degree circle of the surrounding scenery. For horizontal or vertical panoramas, you can set the camera to record the series of images either right to left or left to right, top to bottom, or bottom to top. The 2 x 2 mode uses a series of only four images, starting from the top left corner and moving in a clockwise direction, to create a complete composite. If you decide that you didn't align the last image correctly, or are unhappy with it for any reason, you don't need to reshoot the entire series - you can go back to redo the last shot by pressing the left-arrow on the Four-Way Arrow pad. You can also opt to change your mind once again, and keep the previously recorded image, by pressing the right-arrow on the Four-Way Arrow pad. Once the images are downloaded, you can use Canon's PhotoStitch program to seamlessly combine them in your computer.

Self-Timer Mode

The Self-Timer button on top of the camera also controls the Continuous Shooting and Remote operating modes. When set to the Self-Timer / Wireless mode, the camera displays the standard self-timer icon (a clock face with one hand) in the LCD display, and the self-timer icon with a remote symbol (hard to describe, but it makes me think of a radar gun) in the LED panel on top of the camera. When in Self-Timer mode, depressing the Shutter button activates either a 2- or 10-second countdown, as selected via the Record menu. During the countdown time, the bright white AF-assist lamp on the camera's front panel blinks, gaining speed in the last two seconds. If the camera's Beep function is turned on in the Setup menu, the camera will also beep during the countdown. While in Self-Timer mode, you can also trigger a two or ten-second countdown by pressing the Shutter button on the remote control, or to capture the shot immediately.

Interval Shooting

The G6 also features a built-in intervalometer, that lets you program the camera for extended time-lapse exposure sequences. You can choose intervals between successive photos ranging from one to 60 minutes, and anywhere from two to 100 photos in the series. This opens lots of opportunities for interesting time-lapse shots, but be sure to use the AC adapter for any long sequences, to avoid any interruption of power.

Remote Sensor/Transmitter

The G6's Wireless Remote Control allows you to trigger the camera from as far away as 16.4 feet (5 meters) from the front sensor, and as far as 3.3 feet (1 meter) from the right side sensor. The range of the remote control will depend somewhat on ambient lighting and the angle you're at relative to the front of the camera. Range in bright sunlight will be much less than in a darkened room, and you'll get more range when you're directly in front of the camera than when you're to one side. The G6 lets you set the shutter delay when using the remote to zero, two, or ten seconds. (The no-delay option is particularly welcome, as most digicams with IR remotes have a minimum delay of two or three seconds.) Besides simply triggering the shutter, you can also use the IR remote to adjust the optical zoom lens with its two Zoom buttons, and activate the LCD monitor with its Display button. With the LCD monitor rotated so that it faces you, you can use the Zoom buttons on the remote control to compose the image and the Display button to scroll through the LCD information screens to check exposure settings. In Replay mode, the remote control can be used to scroll through stored images, scroll around areas within a magnified image, view an index of up to nine captures, and replay movies, very handy for presentations using the built-in video output.

 

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times

When you press the shutter release on a digital camera, there's usually a delay or lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms to do their work and can amount to a significant delay in some situations. Since this number is rarely reported by manufacturers or reviewers, and can significantly affect the picture-taking experience, I now measures shutter lag and cycle times using an electronic test setup I built for this purpose. It has crystal-controlled timing, with resolution to 0.001 second.

PowerShot G6 Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
3.92
Time from power-up to first shot. About average.
Shutdown
2.75
Time for lens to retract. A bit faster than average.
Play to Record, first shot
2.22
Time until first shot is captured. Average to a bit slower than average.
Record to play (max/min res)
1.3/0.9
1.1/0.5
Top times are for max res JPEGs, bottom times for min res. First number is for immediate review after capturing an image (hold down the shutter button), second is for camera at rest, after having finished processing.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.78/0.73
Longer time is for telephoto, shorter for wide angle. On the fast side of average. ("Average" runs from 0.8 to 1.0 seconds, but many current high-end models manage 0.6 sec or better.)
Shutter lag, continuous autofocus 0.83 Continuous AF may help for moving subjects, but is slower than single AF for stationary ones.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.47
About average. (Average is about 0.5 second, but again, many current high-end models do better.)
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.077
Very fast.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
1.93/1.87/2.44
First number is for large/fine files, second for small/economy. Last time is for full res CCD RAW+Large JPEG files. Buffer holds minimum of 11 shots at max JPEG size/quality, essentially unlimited shots at lowest size/quality, and four shots in RAW+JPEG mode. Buffer takes about 46 seconds to clear for JPEGs, about 41 seconds for RAW+JPEG files with Lexar 80x card.
Cycle time, continuous mode 0.95/0.95/1.48 First number is for large/fine JPEG, second for small/basic JPEG, third is for RAW+Large JPEG. Buffer holds minimum of 10 large/fine files, many small/fine (100 or more), four RAW+JPEG files. Buffer clears in ~46 seconds for large/fine JPEGs, 34 seconds for small/basic JPEGs, and 33 seconds for RAW+Large JPEG with a Lexar 80x card.
Cycle time, high-speed continuous mode
0.64/0.61/1.45
First number is for large/fine JPEG, second for small/basic JPEG, third is for RAW+Large JPEG. Buffer holds minimum of 8 large/fine files, many small/fine (85 or more), four RAW+JPEG files. Buffer clears in ~37 seconds for large/fine JPEGs, 31 seconds for small/basic JPEGs, and 35 seconds for RAW+Large JPEG with a Lexar 80x card.


While not as fast as recent digicams using hybrid IR/contrast-detect autofocus systems, the G6's full-autofocus shutter lag times of 0.73-0.78 second represents a significant improvement over the 1.04-1.17 second range of the earlier G5. (Impressive, given the G6's larger sensor, which means more data has to be clocked off for each iteration of the autofocus adjustment cycle.) At 1.93 seconds/frame in single-shot mode, shooting large/fine JPEG files, cycle time is almost exactly the same as that of the G5, although the G6's buffer now holds 11 shots, vs the meager 4 shot of the G5. Continuous mode cycle times have slipped a little bit, to just under 1 second per shot, down from 0.72 second on the G5 for normal continuous mode, and 0.64 second, down from 0.51 second for high-speed continuous mode. Not bad, but probably not a first choice for sports or other fast-paced action.

 

Operation and User Interface

Like its predecessors, the G2, G3 and G5 models, the Canon PowerShot G6's combination of control buttons and dials may seem a little complicated at first glance. However, once I became familiar with the features, I actually found the user interface to be very intuitive. I generally prefer to change as many exposure settings as possible through external controls, without resorting to the LCD menu, and the G6 does pretty well in this regard. Better yet, the G6's organization of multiple functions under the FUNC button's menus and the multiple functions of the Main dial make for very fluid camera control. The camera controls are somewhat more spread out than on the earlier models, so you'll probably find yourself using a two-handed grip when shooting - although one hand is sufficient for quick snaps where you don't want to adjust the settings.

I appreciate the small status display panel on top of the camera, which allows you to check current camera settings without having to activate the LCD monitor (a nice battery conservation feature), and found the orange backlight enabled by the Backlight button to be an extra bonus for shooting in dim or dark conditions. I also enjoyed shooting with the rotating LCD screen, which makes composing shots from odd angles a lot easier to manage. The ability to flip the monitor all the way around to face the back panel was great for keeping fingerprints and smudges off of the screen when handling the camera.

Control Enumeration


Shutter Button
: Sloping downward to the front on top of the camera's hand-grip, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed. In Playback mode, pressing this button will return the camera almost immediately to readiness to shoot the next image.

Zoom Lever: Surrounding the Shutter button and also sloping slightly, this lever controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode. In Playback mode, this lever controls the digital enlargement of recorded images, and also serves as a duplicate access to the nine-image thumbnail view.


Main Dial
: Directly behind the Shutter button, on the top of the handgrip, this dial controls a variety of camera settings. It adjusts aperture and/or shutter speed depending on the exposure mode, sets any menu setting in the Function menu, sets White Balance and Exposure Compensation options, and controls the manual focus setting. In Playback mode, this dial scrolls back and forth through captured images.


Power Switch and Button
: This lever and button combination controls both the camera's power and mode. Located at the right rear corner on top of the camera, the lever portion features a small button on the front, which allows it to turn when pressed. Turning the lever to the left activates Record mode and powers on the camera, while turning it to the right enables Playback mode. In the center of the lever is the Off button, which powers the camera off.


Display Backlight Button
: Directly to the right of the top-mounted LCD info display, this button triggers an orange LED backlight that helps you see the display in dim or dark conditions where it would otherwise be invisible. On the first press, the panel will light up for six seconds; if pressed again within that time, the backlight is disabled.


Flash Button
: Positioned in the very left front corner of the top panel, this button cycles through the three primary flash modes of off, on (forced or fill-flash) and automatic. (The sub-options for the flash of red-eye reduction and sync are controlled via the Record menu.) Although there is no labelling to indicate this, when reviewing an image after capture in JPEG mode (either courtesy of the Instant Review function or by holding down the Shutter button), this button allows you to call up a two-option menu where you can choose to save a RAW file version of the image just captured instead of the preset JPEG type.


Drive Mode / Self-Timer / Wireless Remote Button
: Directly behind the Flash button, this button cycles through the camera's available drive settings. Choices are Single, Continuous, High Speed Continuous, and Self-Timer / Remote Control modes.


Metering / Jump Button
: Directly behind the Drive Mode / Self-Timer / Wireless Remote button, this control selects between Evaluative, Center-Weighted Averaging, or Spot metering modes when the camera is in Record mode. In Playback mode, it pulls up the "jump bar." When the jump bar is displayed, the right and left arrow buttons (or the Main dial) jump ten images forward or ten images backward, rather than the usual single-image movement.


Lens Ring Release Button
: Hidden between the lens and hand-grip in the lower right of the front panel (as viewed from the rear), this button releases the lens ring so that it can be removed. Removing the ring allows you to connect accessory lens adapters to the G6.


Macro / Index Button
: Located to the left of the viewfinder on the camera's rear panel, this button accesses the Macro function when the camera is in Record mode. In Playback mode, this button displays up to nine images at a time, in a thumbnail index format, on the LCD screen.


MF / Sound Button
: Directly below the Macro / Index button, this button switches the camera between auto and manual focus control. In Playback mode, this button enables sound recording, for short sound clips to accompany images.


Diopter Adjustment Slider
: Below the circular viewfinder eyepiece, this notched slider adjusts the optical viewfinder's focus to accommodate eyeglass wearers.


Mode Dial
: Moved to the rear panel of the camera next to the optical viewfinder (unlike the top-mounted position of past G-series PowerShots), this notched dial controls the camera's exposure mode. The following options are available:


Four-Way Arrow Pad (Omni Selector)
: Located just to the right of the LCD display on the camera's back panel, this four-way rocker button features an arrow in each direction. In any settings menu, these arrows navigate through menu options. In most Record modes, the up arrow activates the Exposure Compensation menu, at the bottom of the LCD display. Pressing the down arrow enables the White Balance menu. In Playback mode, the right and left arrow keys scroll through captured images.


Menu Button
: Directly below the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button displays the settings menu in any camera mode. It also dismisses the menu display.


Set Button
: To the left of the Menu button, this button confirms menu selections. In still-picture Record mode, this button lets you change the AF area. After pressing the button, the AF indicator frame turns green, and can be moved throughout the frame with the arrow keys. Additionally, this button accesses secondary settings in the Resolution, Effects, and Bracketing menus.


Function / Erase Button
: Below the Menu button, this button displays a separate set of menus on the LCD monitor. Icons for each submenu line the left side of the display, and item choices appear along the bottom of the LCD display. The following menu options are available:

In Playback mode (and Quick Review mode), this button calls up the single-item erase menu.


Display Button
: Directly to the left of the Function button, this button controls the image and information displays on the LCD monitor. In Record mode, this button turns on the image display with the first press, activates the information display with the second press, and cancels both with the third press. In Playback mode, the button cycles through the captured image information displays, including a detailed information display with a histogram.


AE / FE Lock (*)
: Located by itself on a protrusion underneath the Power switch on the camera's rear panel, this button locks the normal exposure, or the flash exposure (if the flash is enabled) in any Record mode. It also allows you to access the camera's Program Shift function in Program mode, metering the scene and then allowing you to select from a range of shutter speed / aperture combinations.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

The G6 has a single Mode dial on the rear panel, which controls the exposure mode. A second Power lever controls whether the camera is in Record or Playback mode. Within Record mode, the Mode dial sets the exposure mode to either Movie, Stitch-Assist, Night Scene, Landscape, Portrait, Auto, Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, or Custom (C1 & C2).

Record Menu (Red): With the exception of the Auto exposure mode, most of the Image Zone exposure functions, and the Movie mode, the Record menu provides virtually identical options for all exposure modes. These menus are accessed by depressing the Menu button once while in a Shooting mode. Following are the available settings:


Setup Menu (Yellow): The Setup menu provides universal camera control options that remain the same in both Shooting and Replay modes. This menu is accessed by depressing the Menu button once and then scrolling to the right with the Four-Way Arrow pad. Following are the available settings:


My Camera Menu (Purple): The third menu available in any Record mode, this lets you customize the camera's start-up screen, sounds, etc. Each setting offers three choices already programmed into the camera (Canon screen, scenic view, or bird image), but you can also load your own images and sounds. I guess some folks may find this amusing, but I really don't understand Canon's expending the engineering resources to put this sort of thing in a camera for the serious amateur. I mean, do any of the G6's prospective buyers really care about having their cameras play a different startup sound or tune?


Play Menu (Blue): This menu is only available in the Replay mode. It allows you to scroll through captured images; erase, protect, and rotate them; or set them up in a slide show or for printing on a DPOF compatible device. The Play menu offers the following selections:


 

Image Storage and Interface

The G6 uses CompactFlash memory cards for image storage, accommodating both Type I and II card sizes. This means that the camera is also able to store images to an IBM MicroDrive for increased storage capacity. A 32MB CompactFlash Type I memory card is supplied with the camera. Entire CompactFlash cards cannot be write-protected, however, the G6's Play menu allows you to write-protect individual image files, protecting them from accidental erasure, unless the card is formatted.

Still images can be saved at one of five resolutions ( 3,072 x 2,304; 2,592 x 1,944; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; or 640 x 480 pixels), while movies are recorded 10 frames per second at a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, or approximately 15 frames per second, with a choice of 320 x 240- and 160 x 120-pixel resolutions. Still images also have three JPEG compression levels available: Superfine, Fine, and Normal, plus a RAW setting that records the image straight from the CCD, without any processing. The benefit of the RAW data file format is that it compresses the image file without any loss in image quality (that is, the compression can be completely reversed) and the color isn't adjusted to match any particular file format, such as RGB TIFF. All of the image color parameters are kept in their original state. (RAW images require the Canon Zoom Browser software for processing on a computer.)

Following are the approximate resolution / quality and compression ratios for a 32MB card (compression numbers are based on our own computations):

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
Fine
Standard
Basic
RAW
Format
High Resolution
3,072 x 2,304
Images
(Size)
10
3.1 MB
16
1.9 MB
34
923 KB
6
3.9 MB
Approx.
Compression
7:1 11:1
23:1
2-3:1
(lossless)
Medium 1
Resolution
2,592 x 1,944
Images
(Size)
12
2.5 MB
22
1.4 MB
44
716 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
6:1
11:1
21:1
-
Medium 2 Resolution
2,048 x 1,536
Images
(Size)
19
1.6 MB
35
907 KB
69
462 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
6:1
10:1
20:1
-
Medium 3 Resolution
1,600 x 1,200
Images
(Size)
31
1.0 MB
55
573 KB
105
302 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
6:1
10:1
19:1
-
Low
Resolution
640 x 480
Images
(Size)
118
271 KB
182
175 KB
287
111 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
3.4:1
5.3:1
8.3:1
-

A full complement of interface software comes with the G6, as does a USB cable for speedy connection to a PC or Macintosh computer. The G6 supports "PTP" image transfer mode, which means you can connect it to a computer running Windows XP or Mac OS X without the need for additional driver software, although it refused to appear on my Mac PowerBook's desktop, which was running OS 10.3.4 at the time. (Drivers are included for other flavors of Windows and Mac OS though, so no worries if your computer is running an older OS.) I measured the G5's transfer rate on my Sony Vaio desktop computer (2.4 GHz Pentium, Windows XP), and clocked it at 570 KB/second using the Windows XP camera-connection software. This is a pretty good clip, and a slight improvement over the prior G5 model, but a little disappointing, in that it probably means that the G6 is still using a USB v1.1 interface. (Cameras with slow USB interfaces run as low as 300 KB/s, cameras with fast v1.1 interfaces run as high as 600 KB/s. Cameras with USB v2.0 interfaces run as fast as several megabytes/second.)

 

Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff happens," as they say. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

Direct Print/PictBridge Printing

Besides the USB computer connection, the G6 also supports direct printing (no computer needed) to a number of Canon printers, as well as PictBridge-compatible printers from other manufacturers. Canon Direct Print-compatible printer models that can be directly connected to the G6 include the compact Card Photo Printer models CP-200, and C-300 (as well as the earlier CP-10 and CP-100), and the i70, i470D, and i450 (as well as the earlier S830D and S530D Bubble Jet (inkjet) printers. The Bubble Jet printers support the EXIF 2.2 standard, which takes advantage of special "metadata" stored in the JPEG file header to optimize print quality.

PictBridge is a new industry-wide direct printing protocol standard that is supported by a wide variety of both printer and digital camera manufacturers. PictBridge supports not only specifying print quantity, but (depending on the printer and camera in use) other parameters such as paper size, paper type, image cropping, etc. Canon's support of PictBridge appears to be pretty robust, as the camera will let you control a fair range of print settings, if the printer you're connected to supports them.

 

Video Out

The G6 has a video-out port with a choice of NTSC timing format, for US and Japanese model televisions, or PAL timing format for European televisions, which are selectable through the Play menu. The video output can be used for reviewing previously recorded images or running slide shows from the camera. It also shows all three LCD menu screens, as well as the preview display from the LCD viewfinder. Combined with the very flexible controls of the wireless remote transmitter, the live video output display opens up interesting possibilities for portrait photography, such as using a video monitor as a remote viewfinder.

The output cable is a true A/V cable, as it fans out into two RCA jacks, one for video, and one for audio. Plugged into any video monitor (or TV with direct video and audio inputs), the audio capabilities of the G6, combined with the wireless remote control, should make it an effective portable presentation device.

 

Power

The G6 is powered by an internal BP-511A rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, a LiIon design that packs quite a wallop (meaning long run times). For users who already own other products with similar batteries, the G6 can also accept the BP-514 / BP-511 / BP-512 types, although battery life will vary depending on the type used. The camera ships with one BP-511A battery pack (with which we did our testing). The battery charger included with the G6 charges the battery outside the camera, allowing you to have a second battery charging while the camera is in use (a positive change from the G5's in-camera charger). This does mean that the AC adapter is now an optional extra, however, and since the included "folding prongs"-style charger plugs directly into the wall without a cable, the charger may block access to nearby power points when in use. Also available is a dual external battery charger for charging two batteries simultaneously, and a car battery cable, which plugs into an automobile cigarette lighter. A CR2016 lithium battery keeps the G5's internal clock going, and fits into a small plastic "sled" that stows neatly in one side of the main battery chamber. This sled is rather fiddly to remove with large fingers, and the battery equally fiddly to remove from the sled, but neither operation will need to be done particularly frequently.

Because the G6 relies on its LCD display for viewing and selecting some of its settings, it can be somewhat of a drain on the power supply. Fortunately, the camera has an automatic shutdown mode (three minutes in Record mode, five minutes in Playback mode) to help conserve battery power, and you can control power consumption by reducing your use of the color LCD monitor (in favor of the optical viewfinder and top-mounted info LCD), as well as keeping the autofocus mechanism in Single mode rather than Continuous mode.

Unfortunately, the PowerShot G6's proprietary power connector prevented me from conducting my usual detailed power-drain measurements. It's safe to say though, that the G6 offers very long battery life, given that Canon claims a 300-shot battery life, based on the CIPA industry standard. (A fairly conservative rating standard, which includes use of the flash on a percentage of the images. The spec calls for shooting an image every 20 seconds, running the lens back and forth between wide angle and telephoto focal lengths, using the flash every 4th shot, and turning the camera on and off after every 8th shot.) Canon also claims approximately 400 minutes of run time in Playback mode, which is longer than the 312 minutes I projected for the G5. (Although my standard and Canon's may differ, so the G5 and G6 numbers many not be directly comparable.)

 

Included Software

The Canon PowerShot G6 comes with a software CD containing the latest versions of Canon's digital software, which provides a wealth of utilities. Compatible with Windows and Macintosh operating systems, the software package allows you to download images from the camera, process RAW data files, stitch together images shot in Stitch-Assist mode, set up images for printing, and operate the camera remotely from the computer. Also included is a second software CD loaded with ArcSoft Camera Suite 2.1, also for both PC and Macintosh formats. The suite includes PhotoStudio, for editing images, and VideoImpression, for editing movie files.

This latest edition of Canon's RemoteCapture software seems to be more capable than earlier versions. RemoteCapture is something that most will never use, but a few who discover it will find RemoteCapture indispensable. You actually see a live image from the camera on your screen, and every picture you take is loaded onto the computer. You can control nearly every aspect of the camera, including ISO, White Balance, Zoom, flash and EV settings, and of course shutter speed and aperture. Captured images are sent directly to the computer. It's pretty impressive...

 

In the Box

Included in the box with the PowerShot G6 are the following items:

<<G6 Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

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