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Canon G12 Review

Review by Mike Pasini and Zig Weidelich
Overview by Mike Tomkins
Review Posted: 11/17/2010

Canon's PowerShot G12 digital camera is the company's latest flagship fixed-lens camera, and a direct successor to last year's PowerShot G11 model. The Canon G12 retains the same ten megapixel CCD sensor resolution as its predecessor, coupled to the same DIGIC 4 image processor that featured in both the G10 and G11. The pairing of sensor and processor has now been giving branding, described as the "HS System," with the initials standing for "High Sensitivity."

The Canon PowerShot G12 retains the same 5x optical zoom lens from the PowerShot G10 and G11, which offers 35mm-equivalent focal lengths ranging from a useful 28mm wide-angle to a 140mm telephoto. And as with its predecessor, the Canon G12 includes true optical image stabilization to help combat blur from camera shake.

Also like its predecessor, the PowerShot G12 has a 2.8-inch tilt/swivel LCD display, with 461,000 dot resolution. Other features retained from the G11 include a high-definition HDMI video output connector with Consumer Electronics Control (HDMI-CEC) compatibility, and the ability to save still images not only as compressed JPEGs, but also as Raw files.

So what's new? There's a new control dial on the front of the camera body, mirroring those on Canon's EOS-series DSLRs, and support for an optional FA-DC58B lens filter adapter which extends along with the lens itself, accepting Canon 58mm-threaded filters. The top-panel ISO dial is also finer-grained, allowing adjustment in 1/3 stop increments, and there's also a new user-configurable Auto ISO function. Another addition is tracking autofocus capability.

The addition of an electronic level function will allow photographers to assure themselves of even horizons. The PowerShot G12 also offers a variety of new aspect ratios, including 4:3 (native), 3:2, 16:9, 1:1, and 4:5.

A Smart Auto function automatically selects the appropriate scene mode from among 28 types, depending on subject matter. The Canon G12 is also now certified as Eye-Fi Connected, meaning it provides access to certain management features of the popular WiFi-capable SD cards in-camera.

The Canon PowerShot G12 further adds a new high-definition 720p movie mode, with stereo sound recording -- a significant update from the G11's standard-def, VGA video with monaural audio. A miniature effect function is available during video shooting in the Canon G12, something we've seen in several of Olympus' digital camera models -- and early indications are that, as in those cameras, this will have an effect on framerate.

There's also a new high dynamic range (HDR) shooting mode, which captures three successive photos with varied exposure, and then combines them in-camera to produce a single image with increased dynamic range. Since the function relies on multiple source images, it's only of use for relatively static scenes. It further requires use of a tripod, and hence can't be used handheld, because the Canon PowerShot G12 can't microalign the source images before merging.

Availability for the Canon PowerShot G12 in the US market began early October 2010. List pricing is set at around US$500, the same as that of its predecessor.

 

Canon PowerShot G12
User Report

by Mike Pasini

When I last looked at Canon's G Series PowerShot, things were a lot simpler. The G10's competition was Panasonic's LX3 and Nikon's P6000.

This time around, it's the Panasonic LX5 and the Nikon P7000 fighting it out with the Canon G12 as each company's flagship digicam. But there's a lot more competition for your camera dollar. Even from Canon, whose much more compact S95 may make you wonder which model is the flagship PowerShot.

And beyond that, there are the mirrorless cameras from Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, and Samsung that are more compact than a dSLR if larger than a digicam, but offer better image quality than a digicam.

Mouse over to extend lens.

The real debate this year isn't Canon, Nikon or Panasonic. It's more a question of how small you want the box to be and how large you need the sensor to be.

On those counts, the Canon G12 would seem to be disadvantaged with a big body and a small sensor. The S95, like the LX5, has a very desirable small body but a small sensor, and the mirrorless cameras are bigger both in form and sensor.

Look and Feel. So size is an issue. And if you're looking for a very small camera with excellent quality and full features, you might just fall in love with the S95. The Canon G12 is going to look too big to you and feel as heavy as a brick in your bag.

I've complained about the G-series size before. And I take the S95 as Canon's excellent answer to my complaint.

But I have to go a little further this time. I compared the Canon G12 to an Olympus E-PL1 and guess which camera was bigger and heavier? The Micro Four Thirds mirrorless E-PL1.

Neither of these cameras is pocketable. I did carry the Canon G12 in my jacket pocket most of the time, but it really pulled the jacket down on that side. It's much more suited to a small camera bag or purse. Or you can just use the included shoulder strap.

I used a wrist strap rather than the Canon G12's included shoulder strap. Riding public transportation, I prefer not to draw attention.

Compared to the G11, the Canon G12 is nearly identical, but Canon has made a couple of nice physical improvements:

 

The Canon G12's grip is the same as the G11's and quite adequate. It's the one thing really missing from the S95.

Also retained is the articulating LCD. This makes it easy to see what you're shooting when holding the Canon G12 above your head or below your waist. But it can also be used for self-portraits because it can face forward, too. You can fold it back against the body like any other digicam for ordinary use and protect it by facing it into the body when you're traveling with it.

There's also an optical viewfinder. Some people insist on it. But they are always (very) inaccurate; in this case, it only shows 78% of the scene at wide-angle, and 79% at telephoto in our tests. The Canon G12's viewfinder image is also very small. A dioptric adjustment sits next to it. But the LCD, on the other hand, is accurate and easily seen in bright sunlight.

The Canon G-Series has always been expandable with a range of accessories including a 1.4x teleconverter lens and 58mm filter adapter. A release button on the front frees the Canon G12's bayonet-mount knurled ring for the adapter that accommodates lenses or filters. For some odd reason, Canon also sells different color rings so you can personalize the camera if you've got nothing else on your mind. The Canon RAK-DC2 Ring Accessory Kit ($27 list) includes three rings, black with a gold accent, black with a blue accent, and silver with what looks like a white accent.

The G Series has also been known for its fast lens and the Canon G12 uses the same glass as the G10 and G11, a 5x 28-140mm f2.8-4.5 zoom. It's extended both by a 4x digital zoom and a hybrid image stabilization system that uses both an angular sensor and an accelerometer to suppress both the blur caused by the angle of the camera and the "shift blur" that happens when the camera moves parallel to a subject.

The angular sensor turns out to be pretty handy. In fact, there's a menu option to calibrate level for the Canon G12. You put the camera on a flat, level surface and calibrate it. Then you can press the Display button in Record mode to display an electronic level to help you level the camera.

I found myself bumping over the 5x optical zoom limit into digital zoom quite a bit, but I've been shooting with 20x zooms lately.

While the Canon G12's manual seems to discourage Eye-Fi use ("This product is not guaranteed to support Eye-Fi card functions," it says), I used an Eye-Fi Pro X2 with it with no problems. And there is even some firmware support for Eye-Fi wireless SD cards.

Controls. As you move up the camera quality chain, you find more and more options have a physical control rather than a menu item. That's a welcome thing in my mind because your fingers can remember where things are, leaving your brain free to focus on shooting.

But it can be unnerving.

I was taking a few practice shots in the car one rainy day and the difference between the outdoor light and the inside light was so dramatic that the dashboard was just too dark.

The simple solution was to overexpose the interior by kicking the Canon G12's EV up a bit. I looked through the menu system but couldn't find EV. I thought it was because of the mode I was shooting in, but I was already in Program. I confess I had to give up, shooting in Manual mode before the light changed.

Okay, so I wasn't familiar with the Canon G12. But later I gave it another shot. I was framing a basketball hoop from below with the blue sky above. The sky again was too bright for the scene, so I wanted to use EV to underexpose the scene.

Knowing EV wasn't in the menu system, I gave the obscure buttons a shot. The asterisk button, the user-defined button. Nothing.

"Maybe you should read the manual," my observant friend suggested.

Actually, the solution was a lot simpler than that. There is an EV dial on the Canon G12's top panel. I don't know how it eluded my search but it was in plain sight. That's why this is a confession.

To save you my embarrassment, let's tour the Canon G12's controls.

Smart Shuffle. In Playback mode, use the arrow keys to select which of the smaller images to show in the center next.

On the front of the Canon G12, the new front dial is conveniently positioned just below the Shutter button. The auto-focus assist/self-timer lamp is just to the upper left of the lens ring. Above it to the right is the viewfinder. And right of that is the flash. It's not a popup flash and it is very close to the lens, promising red-eye. Below and to the right of the bayonet lens ring is the Ring Release button, allowing you to replace the Canon G12's ring with an adapter for either a teleconverter or 58mm filters.

The bottom panel has the Memory Card/Battery compartment protected by a nice, large cover that is easy to open and close. At its hinge is a metal tripod socket about the middle of the panel but not centered under the Canon G12's lens.

On the left side panel where the LCD is hinged, you'll find the speaker grill. And on the opposite side, you'll find the HDMI port, Remote Terminal, A/V port all under a plastic cover with a sharp snap to it.

On the Canon G12's top panel, Canon has loaded the important shooting controls. At the far right are the Shutter button and Zoom lever. The Shutter button is as small as Shutter buttons go (and thankfully not chrome) but worked fine. Zoom was smooth and slow enough to compose with precision.

Behind them is the small Power button with a green LED in the center to indicate status. It's nearly flush to the Canon G12's top panel so you can't easily feel for it, but it's easy enough to find and use once you know where it is.

To the left of them is the ISO Speed dial with the slightly smaller Mode dial on top of it. An orange LED just left of the dials indicates which ISO and which Mode is active. ISO can be set in one-third stops.

On top of the optical viewfinder hump is a hot shoe with five electrical contacts. On either side of the hump and a bit forward are two microphones.

On the left side of the top panel is the EV dial set slightly back so it's easy to dial in a different EV setting.

The back panel holds the Canon G12's 2.8-inch LCD with 461,000 pixels. Above it is the optical viewfinder with two status LEDs on the right and a dioptric adjustment on the left. To the left of the viewfinder is the Short Cut/Direct Print button. To the right about an equal distance from the viewfinder is the Playback button.

In the top right corner is the AE Lock/FE Lock asterisk button. Further down and just to the right of the Canon G12's LCD is the four-way navigator ringed by the Control dial and with a Function/Set button at its center. It's surrounded by four other buttons: the AF Frame Selector/Erase and Light Metering/Jump buttons on top with the Display and Menu buttons below.

The arrow positions on the four-way navigator lead double lives, of course. The Up arrow handles Manual Focus, the Right arrow Flash modes, the Down arrow Self-Timer modes and the Left arrow Macro mode.

Slide Show Options. Simple options, nice transitions, but with HDMI output a little fancier show (with music) would have been appreciated.

When I found the Canon G12's controls, I thought they were a bit stiff and a bit sharply knurled. Slightly unpleasant to actually use, that is. And therefore a disappointment in an otherwise nicely appointed camera. They really aren't up to dSLR standards.

You can register different functions to the Front dial, the Control dial, and the Shortcut button. In Manual mode, for example, the Front dial can set the shutter speed while the Control dial can set the aperture. In Aperture Priority, the Canon G12's Front dial controls the aperture and in Shutter Priority, it controls the shutter speed. A menu option lets you change all that to suit your preference.

A menu option lets you assign any of several functions to the Shortcut key. Those include Unassigned, i-Contrast, White Balance, Custom White Balance 1, Custom White Balance 2, My Colors, Bracketing, Drive Mode, Flash Exposure Compensation/Output, ND Filter, Aspect Ratio, Raw or JPEG, Image Size/Compression, Movie Quality, Servo AF, Red-Eye Correction, AF Lock, Digital Teleconverter, and Display Off.

Lens. The Canon G12's 6.1mm to 30.5mm (28mm to 140mm equivalent), is a 5x optical zoom lens. Focusing ranges from 2.0 inches to infinity at wide-angle and 12 inches to infinity at telephoto. Macro at wide-angle focuses between 0.4 inch and 1.6 feet. At telephoto, Macro focuses from 12 inches to 1.6 feet. You can manually focus the lens from 0.4 inch to infinity.

Corner softness is almost low through the focal length range. Chromatic aberration, more noticeable at wide-angle, is well controlled for a small camera. Barrel distortion is slightly higher than average at wide-angle, noticeably distorting straight lines. But that's not unusual for a 28mm equivalent lens.

Modes. The Canon G12 offers a wide range of shooting modes if nothing quite as ambitious as Casio and Sony have cooked up.

Manual. Front dial controls shutter speed and the Control dial handles the aperture.

No G Series PowerShot is worthy of the name, of course, without full Manual control. Aperture and Shutter Priority are not far behind. And I was glad to see the Canon G12 actually offered some aperture options, ranging from f/2.8 to f/8.0 at wide-angle and f/4.5 to f/8.0 at telephoto. Shutter speeds ranged from 15 seconds to 1/4,000 second.

Program mode is pretty tame on any Canon and so it was with the G12. Program Shift is activated by pressing the AE Lock button in the upper right corner of the Canon G12 and turning the rear Control dial. A graphical representation of the available apertures over the available shutter speeds appears onscreen, sliding left and right as you turn the dial.

Auto mode is actually a Smart Auto. The Canon G12 can recognize several shooting situations, optimizing settings for them while detecting and focusing on faces. Canon doesn't document what situations the G12 can recognize but Macro and Portrait were two.

Low Light uses a small image size of 1,824 x 1,368 pixels with a higher ISO to capture natural light images while minimizing the effects of camera shake and subject blur.

Quick Shot. Everything on one screen.

Quick Shot mode continuously adjusts focus and exposure while turning the LCD into a control panel with rows of settings you can scroll through, using the Front dial to change them quickly. To compose the shot, you use the optical viewfinder. Settings include Shutter Speed, EV, White Balance, My Colors, Histogram, Self-Timer, Aperture, Flash EV, AE Lock, FE Lock, Aspect Ratio, ISO Speed, Flash Mode, i-Contrast, Image Type, Image Quality, Image Size, Drive Mode, Camera Orientation, Image Stabilizer, Recordable Shots, Battery Charge, Red-Eye Correction, Date, Eye-Fi transmission. Anything else can be accessed by pressing the Menu button.

Scene modes on the Canon G12 include Portrait, Landscape, Kids & Pets, Sports, Smart Shutter, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Color Accent, Color Swap, High Dynamic Range (HDR), Nostalgic, Fisheye Effect, Miniature Effect, Beach, Underwater, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, and Stitch Assist.

Of those I found HDR particularly interesting when used in low light. It takes three shots and composites them in the camera. In most situations where you'd need it, you'll have to use a tripod with HDR. And Fisheye was a lot of fun, too.

HD movie. 720p24 H.264 format with stereo sound. Optical zoom not supported, but digital zoom is. (Click to download 16.9MB MOV file.)

Movie mode options include 1,280 x 720 at 24 frames per second with 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 both at 30 frames per second. Standard, Miniature Effect, Color Accent, and Color Swap effects are available in Movie mode.

Menu System. The Canon G12's menu system will be familiar to any PowerShot owner with only minor variations reflecting the model's advanced capabilities.

Function Menu. Here the i-Contrast dynamic range correction options are displayed.

If what you need can't be found on a button (or dial), press the Function button in the middle of the Canon G12's four-way navigator. If you need more general behavioral modification, use the Menu button.

The Canon G12's Function button uses a totem pole of icons on the left with options appearing across the bottom. The Menu button uses a tabbed set of options that are easily navigated, although to switch tabs you have to go all the way to the beginning or end of each list of options before the tab option is active again.

My Menu can accommodate up to five frequently used menu options. And you can change their order, too. Very handy.

Storage & Battery. The Canon G12 supports SD/SDHC Memory Cards, SDXC Memory Cards, Eye-Fi Cards, MultiMediaCard, MMC Plus Cards, and HC MMC Plus Cards.

At the highest quality setting and a 4:3 aspect ratio, you can store about 1,471 images on a 4GB card, according to Canon. You can record up to 25 min., 8 seconds of 1,280 x 720 HD video on that same 4GB card. Clip sizes are restricted to 4GB in HD and one hour for 4:3 formats. SD Speed Class 4 or higher memory cards are recommended.

The rather bulky lithium-ion Canon battery (NB-7L) is rated for 7.4 volts and 1,050 mAh, providing 370 shots with the Canon G12's monitor on, or a playback time of seven hours, according to Canon, which used CIPA measurement standards.

The battery cover has a slot you can fit over an arrow printed on the battery to indicate it's charged. A depleted battery can be indicated by turning the cover around so the arrow is covered. Clever and very helpful if you use more than one battery.

The Canon G12's battery charger has a convenient folding plug design. And an AC adapter is available.

I found battery life to be extensive, rarely charging the battery between shoots.

DIGIC 4 Image Processor. Using algorithms developed by Canon, the DIGIC image processor facilitates the high-speed processing of tasks like reducing false colors or moire patterns and canceling noise during long exposures. It also reduces noise for high-speed image capture and provides higher resolution signal output to the Canon G12's LCD.

DIGIC 4 is even faster than its predecessors. It incorporates noise reduction technology and Scene Detection technology, along with improved video functionality, Face Detection technology and Motion Detection technology.

 

Shooting with the Canon G12

Zoom Range. 28mm to 140mm to 4x digital zoom.

It seemed to me I couldn't take a bad shot with the Canon G12. I particularly liked how well it held shadow and highlight detail with a smooth distribution of midtones, not to mention natural color. Even reds held up well, to my surprise.

And the range of the lens from macro to wide-angle at 28mm was encouraging. I was a bit worried about exceeding optical telephoto but I let it fly after I saw the first results. There was pretty good detail (exceeding what I could see with my eyes) and the color held up well, too.

So I took the Canon G12 everywhere with me for a couple of weeks.

Vehicles. I shot a number of vehicles for some reason, all of them instructive.

The dark interior shots on a rainy day really show off the tonal range of the Canon G12's captures. The seat shot has a very shallow depth of field, but I was actually interested in the seat back, not the raindrops. At 1/32 second I really didn't have much room to negotiate a smaller aperture unless I kicked up the ISO.

The dark dashboard shot was taken in Manual mode because I was still hunting around for the EV control. At least there was a Manual mode there so I could get the shot. But again, what I saw in the car was that lovely gradation of tone and it's there in the shot, too.

The red of the Rumbolino looks pretty good, too. Compare to the metallic red of the flower vase in bright afternoon sunlight, which was also well captured.

The Toyota pickup was a study in fall colors, let's say. I was glad the Canon G12 didn't bump up the ISO despite the overcast sky just as it kept it to ISO 80 on the rainy day. The Canon G12 has an option in Auto ISO to limit how high the ISO is allowed to go, but also to slow or accelerate its rate of change, which leans the bias toward slower shutter speeds and wider apertures to keep the ISO low, or else allows it to change more quickly. Settings are Slow, Standard, and Fast.

Fisheye. When you need a little more room on the bus.

Effects. The first shot of the bus was really just a setup for the Fisheye effect shot that follows it. It's a fun effect that still gives you a full frame, unlike a real fisheye lens.

The white JFK rose shows how well highlight detail is captured. There's just the very slightest red blooming on the edges of the largest petals where they meet the dark green background. You really have to pixel-peep to see it.

For some reason it's more fun shooting monochrome than desaturating a color image at the computer. The Canon G12 lets you shoot black and white (and even sepia), showing you the effect as you compose with the LCD. It's right on the Function menu, too.

I shot my logs on Twin Peaks in both color and black and white. Somehow the black and white shot always looks more interesting. And the Canon G12 held onto the highlights very nicely, even though the wood has been bleached by the sun for months.

The shot of the parking lot shows the Miniature effect, which defocuses the top and bottom of the image to make the subject appear toy-like.

Low Light. The dolls in near darkness show what the Canon G12 can do in low light using HDR, Low Light mode, and a range of ISO settings in Program. HDR was the first shot (it seems to always record as ISO 800), not very successful, because as I mentioned HDR mode requires a tripod.

Color is pretty consistent from ISO 400 to ISO 2,500. ISO 400 at 1/4 second suffers camera motion blur, despite Canon's optical image stabilization, which was on for all of these shots. At ISO 2,500, detail is still sharp on the small doll, although not the best we've seen. Still, none of the other shots were as sharp.

Dynamic Range. I took a series of shots of a fire hydrant in the rain to test i-Contrast, Canon's dynamic range optimization. Settings were Off, Auto, 200 percent, and 400 percent. I was particularly concerned in this series with holding highlight detail without using EV to underexpose.

First, I'll point out that the red blooming we saw just a hint of on the rose is a little more evident here at the edges of the hydrant.

Second, I'll point out that it's hard to attribute any real difference to any of these even with the bright sticker on the top of the hydrant as our highlight test. They're all well exposed with very good color (that red curb is very natural) and excellent detail.

More revealing of dynamic range are all the shots taken together. I shot with i-Contrast set to Auto for the most part and none of the images show blown-out highlights.

The row of logs on Twin Peaks is a good example. The bleached logs still have detail and you can see rocks in the dark shadows they cast. That's really a pretty good job with that scene.

Unfortunately, there isn't an Exif tag to reveal the i-Contrast setting. But fortunately, you can change the i-Contrast setting in Playback. You can select between Auto, Low, Medium, or High.

There is a second set of i-Contrast images of a fig tree at the bottom of the gallery that I did label with the setting. The first (DR0) has i-Contrast turned off. The second (DRA) is Auto, the third (DR1) is 100 percent, and the last (DR2) is 200 percent. That's the full range.

I think it's a good idea to set it on Auto and enjoy the feature.

Street Shooting. Even though the Canon G12 isn't a compact digicam, it's a lot smaller than even a small dSLR, and even more compact than most mirrorless cameras. So when the World Series came to San Francisco, I put the Canon G12 in my pocket for a walk around the stadium before Game One.

It was already crowded hours before the game so having a small camera was a decided advantage. And having a large battery capacity was another advantage I appreciated. In that sense it was a lot like having a dSLR rather than a little camera with a thin wafer of a battery. I left the camera on, protecting the lens as I navigated the crowd.

Because it's a 28mm-equivalent wide-angle, I zoomed all the way back and composed my shots casually, sometimes just taking a flying leap of faith by pointing the camera in the general direction of the subject.

This was another situation where having dials and buttons beat the pants off navigating menus. If I needed to adjust exposure, the EV dial was right there, no fooling around with the LCD. That made a big difference.

So did the Front dial when I slipped into Aperture Priority mode to isolate a statue against the busy background. In this case, I was looking at the LCD to compose the image anyway, but the Front dial made it easy to find the widest aperture.

Some things are just impossible to judge on an LCD. The shot through the fence looked as if the players beyond the fence were sharp, but that isn't the case. Having taken that shot more than once, I knew it required manual focus, but street shooting wasn't going to provide the opportunity. It was really a point-and-shoot event.

Still, the overall effect of the 40 shots I took around the stadium was just what I was looking for. Though misfits and discards individually, they were, like the Giants themselves, winners as a group.

Hiking. Another ticket the Canon G12 filled was as a hiking companion. I took a few hikes with the Canon G12 (in fact, I rarely left the house without it).

One hike along Glen Canyon has always been a challenge photographically. The scenes are dramatic but the pictures tend to be rather bland. But with the Canon G12 I was able to capture the hillside in the Fall light framed by the evergreens along the road. Hard to believe that's in the middle of San Francisco, but there you go.

My usual hike up Twin Peaks for the zoom series of shots was on a particularly brilliant and clear day.

At the full telephoto focal length, I took a shot straight down Market St. You can just about make out the time on the Ferry Building (it may help to know it was 12:37). That's not something you can see with the naked eye.

The shot of the Golden Gate Bridge used digital zoom but you can see how well it held detail by examining the thin vertical cables holding up the roadway.

As the zoom series shows, the Canon G12 has a sufficient reach at 20x with digital zoom, although the 5x optical zoom is a little short for distant landscapes. Digital zoom held up very well, though, in both color and detail, so I didn't hesitate to use it.

Aspect Ratios. But the Canon G12 really shined at wide-angle with 16:9 aspect ratio. I shot mostly 4:3 aspect ratio to the largest file sizes, but I preferred 16:9. The Canon G12 also offers 3:2 and even 1:1 aspect ratios. There's a nice macro shot at 1:1 in the gallery.

But the wide-angle shots of the roadway trailing off into the sky on Twin Peaks are dramatic. As is the row of logs and the staircase. They draw you into the shot. And that's partly the wide-angle lens and partly the aspect ratio. On the Canon G12, you get both to play with.

HDR. The last two shots in the gallery were both taken with the HDR Scene mode. In HDR, the Canon G12 takes three shots at different exposures (I heard different shutter speeds for my still life images), compositing them in the camera.

At 1/4 second (more or less, considering there are three shots), camera blur becomes a problem. And the two HDR shots certainly show that. But I had such great results using Sony's Handheld Twilight mode under the same circumstances, I had to try it. Sony clearly wins this round, thanks to their micro-alignment feature, something the Canon G12 lacks. So as I've said, a tripod is necessary.

Before I packed up the Canon G12, I popped it on a tripod and took a series of garden furniture shots. I thought the shadows and bleached wood would profit from multiple exposures and, with the color options, clearly show the alternate renderings.

Program HDR Default HDR Sepia
HDR Black & White HDR Super Vivid HDR Poster Effect

Which chair would you sit in?

Raw. The Canon G12, like its predecessors, can store Raw captures and even Raw+JPEG captures. There are two in the gallery. Both are high-contrast images of a plant in bright sunlight.

While it took a second to write the Raw data to the card, performance wasn't as sluggish as it is with some digicams that capture Raw data. It really wasn't suitable for quick action or continuous release, however.

It's worth downloading one of the Raw images to see how much range they have. You'll need Lightroom 3.3 or Camera Raw 6.3 to handle them, at least among Adobe products.

GPS. One final confession. All the gallery images were shot with an Eye-Fi X2 Pro card, which put GPS data into the Exif header based on the router the images passed through on their way to the hard disk. Since this isn't at all accurate, I've simply used Phil Harvey's ExifTool to remove the GPS data.

See the test results summary, along with pro/con and our conclusion below. For more detailed test results, see the Optics, Exposure and Performance tabs.

 

Canon G12 Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Moderate blurring at lower left
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Very mild blurring, upper left corner

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Canon PowerShot G12's zoom shows moderate blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, with the strongest instance in the lower left corner. However, blurring didn't extend very far into the frame. At telephoto, performance is a little better, with only very slight softening in the corners. Good results overall.


Wide: High barrel distortion; quite noticeable
Tele: Very little barrel distortion, barely visible

Geometric Distortion: There is higher than average barrel distortion at wide-angle (0.9%), and almost no perceptible pincushion distortion (less than one pixel) at telephoto. Pretty good results overall.


Wide:
Moderately high
Tele:
Low

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate in terms of pixel count, though pixels are fairly bright. The effect extends deep into the frame, though width and intensity decrease. Telephoto, however, shows much less distortion, with faint red and blue pixels just visible.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Canon PowerShot G12's Macro mode captures a sharp image with strong detail, though with visible softening in the corners that extends far into the frame (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Chromatic aberration is also visible. Minimum coverage area is 1.22 x 0.92 inches (31 x 23mm), which is quite good. The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked almost entirely by the lens.


 

Canon G12 Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: Optical
Tele: Optical
Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Canon PowerShot G12's optical viewfinder showed about 78% coverage at wide-angle, and about 79% coverage at telephoto, a very poor performance, though no surprise for a non-TTL optical viewfinder. The LCD monitor showed about 100% coverage accuracy at wide-angle and at telephoto, which is excellent.


 

Canon G12 Image Quality


Color: The Canon PowerShot G12 produced good saturation overall, though strong reds, greens, browns and blues showed mild to moderate oversaturation. Bright yellows, aqua and cyan were actually a little muted. Hue performance showed some shifts in color, such as cyan toward blue, red toward orange, and yellow toward green. Lighter skin tones were close to accurate, though slightly cool, while darker skin tones showed a warmer, yellowish cast.


Auto WB:
Good, though slightly magenta
Incandescent WB:
Too pink
 
Manual WB:
Also good, though a hint cool

Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting best overall, despite a slight cool cast. The Auto setting also turned out well, though it was just a bit magenta. Incandescent mode resulted in a strong magenta cast.


Horizontal: 1,500 lines
Vertical: 1,400 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,500 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,400 vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,200 lines per picture height.


Wide: Bright
Tele: Good
Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) showed bright results at wide-angle at the rated 23 feet, despite having to move the camera out of the main lab. (The white doorway, panels and ceiling often fool cameras into underexposing the flash target, but not the G12.) The G12 did however boost ISO to 400 to achieve these results. The telephoto test came out well exposed at the rated 13 feet, with an ISO increase to 320.

Auto flash produced bright results in our indoor portrait scene, thanks to an automatic ISO boost to 250. The slower shutter speed of 1/25 second selected by the camera could result in mild blurring from subject movement, though.


80
100
200
400
 
800
1,600
3,200

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is quite good at ISO 80 up to about 200, though smudging becomes more evident at ISO 400. Yellow and purple chroma (color) noise begins to appear in darker areas at ISO 800, and worsens as sensitivity increases. Stronger noise reduction at the higher ISOs decreases detail as well. However, overall results are still better than average. See Printed results below for more on how this affects prints.


Printed: ISO 80 and 100 shots look good at 16 x 20 inches, if just a bit soft in our red leaf swatch.

ISO 200 images have good detail at 13 x 19 inches, with only minor luminance noise in the shadows.

ISO 400 shots are good at 11 x 14, again showing only minor grain in the shadows.

ISO 800 images are good at 8 x 10, and 11 x 14s may be usable in less critical applications.

ISO 1,600 shots look better at 5 x 7, with the only exception being the loss of all contrast in our target red swatch.

ISO 3,200 shots are quite good at 4 x 6.

Overall, a very good performance from the Canon G12. Dark areas deepen slightly as we move up the ISO ladder and down in print size, but color and apparent exposure look pretty consistent. It's also a little better image quality than we saw in the Canon S95.


 

Canon G12 Performance


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is slower than average at wide-angle, at 0.66 second, though about average at 0.75 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.076 second, not the fastest out there, but still pretty quick.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is slower than average, capturing a large/fine JPEG frame every 2.4 seconds in single-shot mode. Continuous mode captures JPEG frames at 1.97 frames per second, just a little sluggish for its class. RAW+JPEG continuous mode is slower, at 0.96 frames per second.


Flash Recycle: The Canon PowerShot G12's flash recycles in about 4.1 seconds after a full-power discharge, about average.


Low Light AF: The G12's AF system was able to focus down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, and the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Canon PowerShot G12's download speeds are moderately fast. We measured 6,433 KBytes/sec.


 

In the Box

Shipped with the retail version of the Canon G12 are:

 

Canon G12 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Articulated LCD screen helps compose from unusual angles
  • High build quality
  • Good grip
  • Dials for ISO and EV
  • New Front dial very handy
  • Excellent optics with a 28mm start to the 5x optical zoom
  • Excellent Optical Image Stabilization
  • New hybrid IS system corrects for both lateral and angular shifts
  • Good Macro
  • Supports Raw (and Raw+JPEG) with less speed penalty than most
  • Very good low light performance
  • Excellent, familiar menu system
  • My Menu for commonly used settings
  • Custom settings on mode dial
  • Good color accuracy
  • Faster JPEG burst mode than G11 (but still sluggish)
  • 720p HD movies with stereo sound
  • Better than average noise performance
  • Lots of accessories including an underwater housing, ring light, off-camera flash, teleconverter, filter adapter
  • Optical viewfinder (but see Con about accuracy)
  • i-Contrast with highlight and shadow adjustments
  • Variable AF frame size
  • AF-point zoom
  • Tracking AF
  • HDR mode (but requires use of tripod)
  • Good flash range
  • Decent flash recycling time
  • Flash hotshoe
  • Excellent battery life
  • Face detection, face self-timer
  • SDXC card support
  • Awkward size: heavy and bulky
  • Controls are stiff and rough
  • Small Shutter button and Zoom ring
  • Mediocre cycle times
  • Poor optical viewfinder coverage
  • High barrel distortion at wide-angle
  • Moderately high chromatic aberration at wide-angle (when wide open)
  • Moderate corner blurring at wide-angle (when wide open)
  • Autofocus is slower than average at wide-angle, and on the slow side of average at telephoto
  • No noise reduction options
  • Optical zoom not supported during movies
  • Telephoto doesn't go as long as some of the competition
  • Auto flash can use slow shutter speeds
  • Lacking features some competitors have (no hand-held multi-shot modes, no automatic panorama feature, etc.)

The PowerShot G12 manages to improve on the G11 without taking any backward steps. It represents more a refinement than a revision, but that only reflects what a solid camera the G11 was.

Despite that, the G12 is getting squeezed on one side by its own slimmer and nearly-as-capable PowerShot 95 stablemate. And on the other side, it's getting pushed by a handful of small mirrorless cameras that aren't quite as small, but pack larger sensors. It's simply a different landscape in 2010.

I found myself picking up the Canon G12 rather than the Olympus E-PL1 next to it simply because it was slightly smaller and its image quality was always pleasing. I might just have easily picked up an S95 or a Panasonic LX5 if one of those had been sitting on the table, though.

What used to be the top of the mountain, the flagship among digicams, is now something of a compromise. A pleasant compromise, I hasten to add, but not the slam dunk of years past.

On the other hand, compromise is an art, and Canon has delivered such an artful one that it easily merits a Dave's Pick. For the best image quality across the ISO range, the trophy clearly goes to the Canon G12. It's the best G-series PowerShot I've had my hands on.