The Digital Photo Guy

Canon G11 – A Serious Compact Digital

by on Dec.20, 2009, under Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing

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Monday Morning Tip – 12/21/09

I bought a Canon G11 for my wife’s (mumblty-mumble) anniversary of her 29th birthday. I’d always heard the Canon G-series were great cameras but didn’t like the direction they took when they removed RAW from the G7. The G9 and G10 (there was no G8) just seemed to be entries in the megapixel race and I wasn’t convinced a 1/1.7″ sensor could support low noise at 12.1 and 14.7 megapixels.

With the G11, Canon seems to have addressed all the negatives of previous models and put back all the positives they had previously removed. This is the first time in the history of digital cameras that a company has actually reduced the number of megapixels (from 14.7 back to 10) on a new entry. Trust me, you’ll never miss those extra pixels and you really love the clean, noiseless images.

G11 (front)

First, let me show you some things I really like about the G11. Canon has struck the perfect balance between usability and compactness with the G11.

G11 (top)   G11 w/ CyberSync   G11 (back)

The first photo (above left) shows the EC dial to the left. This is a huge advantage when dialing in +/- exposure compensation. Any serious photographer is constantly adding or subtracting light to balance the light and dark areas of his/her photo. Most compact digital cameras bury this in a menu, making it virtually useless. With the Canon G11, even newbies immediately see the value of making quick exposure adjustments via the EC dial.

The middle red box is the external flash hot shoe. My wife would never want to carry a camera with an external flash but she’d be perfectly happy to use a VALS (voice activated light stand). With a small CyberSync remote transmitter (middle photo), she can direct her VALS (me) to aim and hold the flash where she wants it. The 420EX flash in the middle photo shows the CyberSync receiver. The CyberSync is the best wireless solution and only costs US$130 for a set but there are even less expensive solutions such as the Wein Peanut Slave for US$34.95. The most useful feature of a hot shoe on a camera with an electronic shutter is high-speed flash. Because the Canon G11 doesn’t use a mechanical shutter, sync speeds well in excess of 1/250 second can be used. The advantage of such a fast shutter speed is the ability to override the sun in an outdoor shoot. This, however, is the subject of another MMT.

Third from the left in the first photo above is the direct ISO control. Again, this is something that’s often buried in some obscure menu in most compact digitals so it’s a welcome change for the Canon G11. Notice how the lowest ISO is 80. DPReview, in its excellent in-depth review of the G11, measured true ISO at 64. That’s a super bonus that produces silky smooth, noise-less images.

Finally, the last arrow points to the Full Manual position. While other compact digitals have manual mode, the Canon G11 uses a button on the back to directly access Meter Mode, Aperture and Shutter Speed via the main control dial. This makes the G11 Manual Mode eminently useable. Again, many compact digitals tend to bury the aperture and shutter speed controls deep in layers of menus making them virtually useless.

For all its virtues, the G11 isn’t without some faults. First, the camera is cramped for average male hands. When using the G11, I had to daintily hold it with my left thumb and forefinger. My right thumb supported the camera from underneath and my right forefinger, of course, released the shutter. I felt like a caveman at a society tea, trying to balance a teacup in one hand and scarf down cookies with the other. Any attempt to hold the camera in a normal dSLR grip results in random button presses and/or fingerprints on the LCD. I accept this as a trade-off between a large dSLR and a small compact camera. Next, the optical viewfinder is a disaster. The photo below shows what the frames captures versus what the viewfinder sees. The screen of my laptop was exactly framed from side-to-side in the viewfinder, yet, the image shows much more around the periphery. DPreview says the VF is 77% of the full frame. Most dSLRs are within 2% to 5%. I wouldn’t trust the VF for precise work. Third, the battery and SD card cover is blocked when a tripod is attached. This isn’t a biggie for casual snapshooters who don’t normally use tripods but it’s a hassle for those of us who do.

 G11 Viewfinder   G11 Fun with Water Drops

Offsetting these minor nits are the huge, glorious, beautiful swivel/rotate LCD and very short shutter lag. All in all, the Canon G11 is what I would buy if I were looking for a compact digital camera that can produce serious work. I really like being able to quickly set up a shot like the water drop above because the camera is light and doesn’t require a lot of support. Also, the shutter lag is quick enough for all but the most demanding action photos.

If you’re still scrambling around for a last minute Christmas gift, check out the Canon G11. On the Right Coast, prevailing street price seems right at US$449. It don’t get no gooder’n this.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to All!

This is my last MMT for 2009. I may post short notices between now and Jan 4, 2010 but no long articles. It’s been another fun year and I hope you’ll continue to improve your photography skills in 2010 by following my site.

Good Light, Good Memories and Good Luck to All…

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2 Comments for this entry

  • Cris Roberts

    Hi Just reading your review of the G11 Canon and wondered if you had encountered any problems with the swivel screen not displaying any info and the camera will not turn on with swivel screen open, Still can take photos but no video? Thanks rgds Cris

    • Lee

      Hi Cris,
      I believe you’re the first Kiwi to comment here but not the first I’ve met. I used to go to NZ on business back in the early ’80s. I’d love to return someday for a leisurely holiday to places like Hells Gate Thermal Reserve where I told my client, “Ian, many have told me where to go but you’re the first to drive me to the gates!” LOL
      My wife’s G11 always has the LCD facing out so as to not slow down any photo opportunities. I haven’t noticed any problems with start-up or shut-down. The screen info has always cycled through all the different display formats so I’m not aware of any blank screens. As for video, we never use that function so it hasn’t been tested. Hope that helps.
      For an indepth review, check DPReview. My reviews are more about ergonomics such as heft and feel.

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