Canon PowerShot G10

Canon’s Powershot G9 was an instant hit with professional photographers searching for a take anywhere/backup camera. In fact, it seems like there’s barely a photojournalist I know who doesn’t own one. Its successor, the, perhaps unsurprisingly named G10, has much to live up to. Does it succeed, or is it an upgrade too far?

Given that Canon have somehow managed to cram an extra 2.6 million pixels onto its tiny 1/1.7” CCD (the G9 had 12,1MP, the G10 has 14.7MP) you might be forgiven for thinking the latter. Thankfully though, the word on the street is that image quality and noise from the G10 are both slightly better than the G9.

That said, you might ask yourself why anyone would want their compact to give them 14.7MPs, especially when a certain competitor’s full frame DSLRs offers just 12.1MPs and are highly regarded as a result… Given that Canon have managed to add quite considerable pixel density, yet improve slightly on noise, you might also ask yourself how much better noise and overall image quality might have been had they stuck to the more than adequate 12.1MP of the G10?

That’s not to say that noise is bad, in fact the G10 produces some of the best noise characteristics of any camera in its class. The trouble is that (like most compacts) while ISO 80-200 looks great (albeit with small amounts of luminance noise) and ISO 400 is a bit noisy but still perfectly usable, anything above is a waste of time…especially ISO 1600.

One of the headline features of the G10 is that it has Canon’s DIGIC 4 chip for a brain. Since this is exactly the same chip that is found in their high end DSLRs, it’s hardly surprising that the G10 behaves much more like a DSLR than a compact. Metering, auto focus, white balance, colour, image processing and shutter lag are impressive even DSLR standards. The only fly in the Vaseline is that when the G10’s built in flash is called into play, particularly in dimly lit conditions (i.e. exactly the ones in which you are most likely to be using flash) shutter lag becomes a major issue, to the extent that unless you are photographing a static subject (or a snail), the camera effectively becomes unusable.

The other issue with the built in flash is that although flash compensation of up to +/- 2 stops is offered in Tv/Av mode, when you switch to manual mode, for some inexplicable reason, this drops to just three output settings. Either this is a problem with the firmware, or it is discrimination against photographers who know what they are doing…

Of course you could attach a speedlight to the camera’s hotshoe, which should, in theory, solve at least some of these problems, but it would also seem to defeat the object of using a compact camera. Not that the G10 can really be said to be that compact. I did manage to fit it into my trouser pocket…but only because, unlike most photographers, I have deep pockets… Compared to the competition though, it is unquestionably large. But it’s all good, as this and its ridged magnesium alloy build gives it a reassuringly sturdy feel and allows the G10 to sit in the hand more or less perfectly.

Its controls are laid out spaciously and ergonomically, one of the BIG improvements over the G9 being the addition of two dials to the top panel – ISO and exposure compensation, which together with the top mounted shutter release and mode dial, give the illusion that it is a rangefinder camera (if only!). Useful as these are (and don’t get me wrong, they are incredibly useful) I would have much preferred shutter speed and aperture dials though.

Since the mode dial sits atop the ISO dial, it seems perfectly possible to create a similar dual dial arrangement in place of the single exposure compensation dial, which would solve half of the equation, the rest of which could be addressed by putting an aperture ring where it belongs…around the lens (or via the provision of a DSLR style controller wheel at the top front right hand corner of the camera). Better still, one could make room for both dials by ripping off the mode dial and disposing of it…along with the multi modes, in favour of just one mode…manual. Though somehow, I suspect that goes against the grain…or should that be noise?

Another significant improvement over the G9 is the new image stabilized 28-140mm (equivalent) zoom lens (it was 35-210mm equivalent on the G9), which makes it far more appropriate for reportage/photojournalism. Unfortunately though, at f2.8-4.5, it is on the slow side. I’d happily sacrifice some more of the tele end for a constant f2.8 aperture (especially given the availability of an optional teleconverter for people who are incapable of taking Robert Capa’s advice and moving closer ). What I wouldn’t sacrifice is the lens’ fantastic macro abilities, though these are marred somewhat by the camera’s OS, in as much as the moment you click the shutter, your setup is lost , so if you’re not happy with the result, you have to start afresh instead of just tweaking things a little.

This is not the only issue with the OS. Switching from JPEG to Raw, is a convoluted procedure that involves making alterations in two separate menus. As a result, I did a whole shoot in JPEG instead of Raw…a mistake I’ve never made with any other camera I have tested or used. But when it comes to software, it’s not all bad, as the G10 ships with DPP, Canon’s RAW conversion software, which, is both very good and very free.

Having decried every compact to have been released without an optical viewfinder, I now find myself in the extraordinary position of decrying this camera for having one. The problem is that although it zooms, the G10’s viewfinder only offers 77% coverage, feels tiny and cramped and worst of all, displays absolutely no information whatsoever…and therein lies the fatal flaw. To adjust exposure, you have to look at the huge, bright, very inviting, 461,000 dot 3”LCD screen on the back of the camera (which, unlike the viewfinder, is very good) and once you do so, it’s far quicker and easier to compose on it, than to go back to the viewfinder (especially if you’re trying to capture the decisive moment). In fact, much to my surprise, I was perfectly happy using it by default, my only complaint being ‘night view’, which, in dusky or dark situations, boosts LCD brightness…making it nigh on impossible to visually judge how a scene will record. I wouldn’t mind if this ‘feature’ could be disabled, or if the viewfinder was bright enough to provide an alternative, but neither is the case, though the live histogram is helpful in such situations.

So, as much as it pains me to say it, Canon would be better off jettisoning the viewfinder (which would have the added bonus of making the camera both more compact and cheaper) or going the whole hog and swapping it for a rangefinder, a move that I expect would be welcomed by everyone except a certain German manufacturer…

One other minor complaint with the G10 is that the battery/memory card compartment are located at the bottom of the camera, so if you’re planning on using it with a tripod, that might be an issue (though why you’d buy a compact and then lug around a tripod is a bit of a mystery).

So here’s the kicker, this camera (like all others) may not be perfect, but I absolutely loved it! Not only does it offer better usability than any other compact I have tried, but its results are second to none. Are there things I’d change about it? Absolutely, staring with the sensor size, continuing with a faster (and perhaps interchangeable) lens, an additional couple of controllers, fixing the issues I’ve highlighted with the flash, loosing the viewfinder or replacing it with a rangefinder and, if I wanted some bonus functionality, HD video (as opposed to the rather limited 640×480 at a pointless, unless you’re American, 30FPS, that’s currently on offer), GPS, bluetooth and WiFi. However, even as is and despite a price tag that’s up there with that of a budget DSLR, the Canon G10 is my number one choice for a take anywhere/backup compact camera.


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