Admittedly, we didn’t know entirely what to think when industrial conglomerate General Electric announced last year that it was looking to play ball in the digicam market. As DCR General Manager and erstwhile editor
While GE’s cameras may not have always been met with the warm reception company leaders were hoping for, the brand has shown perseverance and a willingness to seriously and honestly reconsider what worked and what didn’t about its first-generation offerings. Out of this reevaluation came a slate of new cameras – including the ultracompact GE G2 up for review in this case – that promised to address performance-related concerns with the first round of cameras and further dig into GE’s digicam-market foothold. With all of this in mind, we were interested to see how the reworked G2 would fair in our standard mixed of studio tests and real-world shooting.
The GE G2 is an 8.0 megapixel compact that features a 4x internally contained zoom lens. A 2.7-inch high-resolution display handles all shot composition and option navigation duties on the slim, light G2, which measures out as slightly smaller than a standard deck of playing cards.
Manufactured by California-based General Imaging under the auspices and branding umbrella of General Electric, the G2 heavily hypes a host of new soft features that work in tandem with its respectable if fairly conventional specs to provide some unique capabilities. Of course, the G2 sports a face detection system, with mode options selected via a dedicated face detection button; in performance testing, though, the technology used here shows itself to be a clear step back – in terms of acquisition speed and correct recognitions – from the truly excellent systems we’ve seen from the likes of Canon and Sony this season. At times (and especially indoors, where light wasn’t so good), I had trouble making the system detect anything at all.
More impressive on paper, at least, is the G2’s “blink detection” technology. The unique system, which can be enabled or disabled via the main menu, recognizes when subjects have blink and throws a warning up on the screen – allowing you to check for blinks and retake a shot if necessary without having to examine the preview. It’s a great idea, but in this case, the technology is (obviously) linked to the G2’s face detection system, which means if you can’t get face detection to recognize a face, you don’t get the benefits of blink detection. That said, in controlled testing here in the office, the system appeared to be completely reliable, flagging blinking subjects with 100-percent accuracy.
Smile detection, which will only fire the G2’s shutter when subjects are smiling, is the third face of this camera’s soft features pyramid, though it too, being dependent on face detection for its operation, was a little finicky under the best of circumstances, and too slow between smile recognition and capture to be of much use anyway. Given the amount of system lag, you’d be better off simply watching for a smile with the camera pre-focused.
The G2’s shooting modes (as well as the playback mode) are all selected via a small mode dial. The primary shooting mode options include:
- Auto: User-selectable parameters are limited to flash mode, macro focus, and image quality options.
- Manual: In practice, a program auto mode, with selections for ISO, focusing/metering modes, color mode, etc.
- Scene: Counting the portrait mode on the main dial, 13 scene presets (with short descriptions as to their use) are available.
- Electronic Image Stabilization: Boosts ISO to allow faster shutter speeds and compensate for camera shake.
- Panorama Stitch: The G2 is capable of stitching up to three images together in-camera to form a single panoramic shot.
- Movie: The G2 is able to shoot movies with audio at up to 640×480/30 fps.
For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.
Styling and Build Quality
The first-round GE digicams were fairly widely panned for their high-gloss black finishes, which gave an undue impression of cheapness. Thankfully, the company has made some great strides where styling the second-gen models is concerned, with the handsome matte black finish on our test unit’s metal shell providing a pleasant look and high-end feel that’s much more in line with expectations for the style-conscious ultracompact market.
Build quality out back is a little more pedestrian, with a slight budget feeling about the buttons. In spite of this, the G2’s extremely well-made casing is convincingly rugged feeling on the whole, with tight panel fit and no unusual creaks or squeaks when torqued.
I’m not a big fan of GE’s flimsy chromed battery door, but there’s nothing here that doesn’t offend equally on the majority of cameras on the market.
All in all, the device is plenty small and light enough (it’s almost disconcertingly light, in fact, though we’re not complaining) to fit easily in a shirt or jeans pocket, and is sufficiently refined where the styling is concerned to stack up well against all comers. The G2 certainly doesn’t break new ground in the visual department, but its conservative looks, small form, and low weight conform to expectations for its class. Likewise, robust build quality makes this a camera that’s easy to feel good about where construction is concerned.
Ergonomics and Interface
Ergonomically, the G2 is no worse than any other ultracompact and may well prove to be somewhat better than many of them. Though there’s very little to grip solidly on the camera’s front panel and the finish can be a little bit slick, there’s also little chance of inadvertently obstructing something important (flash, lens, etc.) with a finger.
Without a solid hand-hold, navigating the G2’s button array out back can be a bit of challenge with one hand. In terms of layout, though, things couldn’t be much straightforward, with the G2 presenting the standard range of mostly d-pad driven controls in an arrangement that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever used a digicam – and easy enough to figure out for everyone else.
The G2’s firmware interface can be somewhat less intuitive at times: while the basic shooting interface is easy enough to understand (with a press of the “FUNC” key calling up most adjustment options in a nicely styled menu), the menus themselves, though short, aren’t always easy to follow, with some unclear labeling and grouping at work. Perhaps even more irritating, the G2 is prone to “forgetting” certain shooting settings (macro, drive mode) if you need to duck into the main menu to make a change.
On paper, the G2’s 2.7-inch LCD looks to offer more than adequate performance, with auto gain-up in dark as well as bright conditions and plenty of resolution (230,400 dots, for the technically minded). These numbers hold quite well with what other manufacturers are offering on ultracompacts these days; the issue comes, however, in actually using the screen.
As with the last generations of GEs we reviewed, it seems that the G2’s screen remains a poor indicator of what’s really going on with the image. Color fidelity is suspect with the saturation of greens and blues, especially, and some playback-side JPEG compression seems to be at the root of images that look much less clean and crisp than the often actually prove to be.
To the positive, the G2’s display is more than acceptably fluid everywhere but low light, with refresh rates that work fine for tracking moving subjects.
Timings and Shutter Lag
When we first look at a GE digicam offering, we came away less than impressed, to say the least, with its speed and auto focus capabilities. GE’s camera folks assured us that the performance demons that haunted the first generation of their cameras had been exorcised for round two. So what of this claim?
Speed all around has been improved slightly in the G2, though the camera still lags behind even average performance for its class in this regard. Pure shutter lag is a rather sluggish 0.16 seconds, putting the G2 somewhat below average in this respect. AF acquisition and capture times create issues of their own given the G2’s inconsistencies in this area (see the Auto Focus heading for more): when the G2 was able to lock focus, press-to-capture times were just under a second, at 0.9. Lock problems led to some fairly drastic inconsistencies in this number, however.
In five-shot burst mode, the G2 is able to capture five full-res images in 3.75 seconds, for a decent if not particularly impressive frame rate of around 1.35 fps. Unlimited continuous mode is more inconsistent: for the first four frames, the rate is only slightly slower than five-shot mode, but at the fifth frame the G2 slows to capture just under one frame per second for all remaining shots until the buffer is cleared. Not surprisingly, the use of a high-speed Class 6 card didn’t result in meaningful performance gains compared to more pedestrian memory types.
Lens and Zoom
The G2 preserves its slim, sleek profile with a non-extending “periscope style” zoom lens, covering a focal range equivalent to 38-152mm in 35mm terms. The G2’s lens is generally silent if a bit notchy in operation, with some pronounced release bounce after letting off the shutter proving to be the only irritation of note.
Performance-wise, the G2 is a bit slow, optically, at wide-angle, with an f/3.5 maximum aperture putting the camera about half a stop behind the norm for this class. The camera offers a more in-line f/5.15 value at telephoto.
Whatever the G2’s strengths, focusing consistency is not among them. The camera’s relatively slow AF response times noted previously were often compounded by focus lock that was simply all over the map. The camera’s two AF modes – single-area and multi-area – prove to be a study in contrasts in this regard: multi-area AF is faster, but wildly unpredictable in where it chooses to lock. Single-area AF (which tends to be faster on many compact cameras) drags along by comparison (two seconds press-to-capture was not uncommon in good light in single-area mode), and has a strong tendency toward back-focusing: in a quick count, roughly a quarter of my single-area AF test shots ended up severely back-focused. There’s clearly an issue in need of further examination here.
If regular focus can cause headaches, macro focus with the G2 appears to be some kind of cruel, time-wasting joke. GE states the G2’s minimum focusing distance with macro shooting enabled at wide-angle to be six centimeters (around 2.3 inches), but I found anything under about six inches at wide angle to be inconsistent territory at best; our test unit was never able to focus at less than four inches.
Even working in what’s allegedly it’s spec range, the G2’s macro mode is enough to give you fits: in a timing test, focusing on a memory card (with plenty of high-contrast details) positioned against a solid white surface, the G2 took between two and four trips from infinity to closest focus and back to finally lock. Average time? Just over 3.5 seconds from press to capture. Best of all, though, even at a distance of roughly seven inches from the subject for this test, the camera missed focused almost as much it hit (of the ten test shots used for the timing average, four were misses).
These issues, combined with similar oddness in real-world shooting – the camera not wanting to grab macro lock at all until after the shutter button was released was a fairly common one – all add up to a serious irritation where shooting close subjects is concerned.
For a typically underpowered unit, the G2’s flash/metering combo performs surprisingly poorly indoors – with a strong tendency to blow out highlights when subjects are at close range and completely lose coverage at longer distances that should be in the camera’s stated 11-foot range with auto ISO enabled.
With limited control beyond red-eye reduction options (which, it should be noted, worked just fine in our testing), adjusting flash power is difficult: exposure irregularities in this area make working with the G2’s flash much like shooting with a primitive fixed power unit, except in this case you don’t even have the luxury of shutter/aperture adjustments to compensate.
A full-power flash discharge recycles in a longish 8.6 seconds, betraying the G2’s slightly smaller-than-average battery power rating. Average flash recycle times were in excess of three seconds as a rule.
The G2 uses what GE terms “electronic image stabilization,” though from all indications the special stabilization mode (which must be selected via the mode dial) is merely an ISO boost mode, and not some kind of hybrid stabilization system a la Nikon’s eVR technology. With more and more cameras in the G2’s price and features class moving to true optical image stabilization, this oversight puts General Imaging’s offering at a slightly disadvantage compared to the leaders among competition in this regard.
GE rates the G2’s 750 mAh lithium-ion pack at 200 shots, and I found this number to be more or less consistent with my experience using the camera. While performance in this regard doesn’t deviate far from the norm in the ultracompact world, it still puts the G2 at the typical disadvantages at least for this class where all-day shooting is concerned.
Of course, finding a spare battery for this slightly less common device may prove to be a real challenge: General Imaging doesn’t list one as an accessory on their website (in fact, the G2 is incorrectly listed as shipping with a pair of AA alkalines), and a quick search of the usual channels online turned up nothing. That’s not to say that a backup isn’t available – rather, you simply may have to do a little more leg work to find one.
In general terms, the G2 conducts itself fairly well where image quality. Inconsistent auto focus muddies the water somewhat, making it hard to tell at first where some softness seen at times in the G2’s captures was the result of slightly missed focus or something else in the image pipeline.
At baseline settings, the G2 captures images that are crisp, clean, and surprisingly neutral in terms of saturation – a welcomed change of pace for those of us who prefer more naturally toned images.
Exposure, Processing, and Color
As noted, I found the camera’s default image processing pleasing, with generally good color fidelity and unobtrusive sharpening. By default, the G2 does serve up some weirdness in reproducing reds, giving them the pinkish, washed out tone seen in the shot above.
A limited range of color mode options allow for some adjustment. Most notably, the Vivid mode handles colors in a way that much more closely resembles the shots that most consumer-focused cameras produce these days. While reds are still awkwardly skewed, shooting in Vivid does bring back some of liveliness and punch that the G2 doesn’t show by default.
The requisite Black and White and Sepia color modes are also available.
Black and White
Black and white reproduction here is just fine, though I find GE’s choice of extremely yellow/tan toning for the sepia mode to be a little much.
From all indications, the G2 offers more default contrast than many cameras in this class, and decidedly less in the way of dynamic range.
Shots with a wide gap between shadow and highlight details look particularly compressed from the G2, though to its credit, the camera’s default metering does seem to expose for correct highlights – something few compacts do without prodding. It should also be noted that for more nuanced control, center-weighted and spot metering options can be used in place of the G2’s default multi-area setup.
White balance with the G2 is all over the map: under fluorescent light with the auto setting, the camera casts strongly green/blue. Using the incandescent preset under certain types of extremely warm tungsten light leads to much the same phenomenon. Conversely, auto white balance, while not exactly good, isn’t terrible either under incandescent light.
While the shot is too warm (and a little bit pink in its skew), the shift is relatively minor compared to that experienced with many cameras.
All in all, then, a mixed performance bag where white balance is concerned: while auto performance is rather satisfactory, the inability to get consistently balanced results from the presets should be cause for raised eyebrows.
Periscope-style lens designs are somewhat notorious for introducing a host of issues into the mix, and the list of concerns with the G2’s lens is long. Barrel distortion is present at wide-angle, but what’s even more apparent in normal shooting is some pronounced corner softness at the wide end of the lens.
100% crop, left edge
(Oddly, it should be noted that our test unit also repeatedly but inconsistently showed more softness on the left than the right image edge.)
As the shot above illustrates, the G2 is also prone to vignetting at wide-angle, with basically all of my wide-angle captures showing between a stop and two stops of darkening at the corners.
Rounding out our trifecta of lens issues is the G2’s flare control problem: even the slightest hint of off-axis light was usually cause for concern, and strong late-day sun exposed concerns with both flare and ghosting.
To the positive, what I really didn’t see with the G2’s lens was much in the way of color fringing or chromatic aberration.
Even viewing contrast boundaries at 100 percent (as in the crop above), there’s very little cause for concern in this regard.
All in all, the G2’s lens issues won’t ruin the majority of shots, but they do add yet another concern to a growing list of irritations with this camera.
Sensitivity and Noise
Compared to its 10 to 12 megapixel competition, the 8 megapixel G2 has the natural advantage of lower resolution on an equivalent-sized sensor where noise is concerned. A smaller-than-average sensor works to level the playing field to some degree, however.
ISO 64, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Overall, the G2 is able to hang with its classmates up to ISO 800. Beyond this, heavy noise reduction takes its toll on details, but even then the camera doesn’t perform badly: it’s perfectly capable of producing small snapshot prints from ISO 1600 captures (and besides capturing snapshots, what do most people really do with an ultracompact anyway?).
Additional Sample Images
The bottom line on the G2 is that it’s a perfectly competent little camera so long as you stick to basic picture-taking situations, avoid the device’s questionably functional gimmickry, and don’t demand too much from the AF system. While its performance didn’t tend to wow us, the same could be said for many of the cameras we test. In fact, the bigger issue around here with the G2 has to do with its price: at around $170 these days, the G2 is certainly budget priced for an ultracompact, but it’s far from the only player offering ultracompact style and performance in its price class. With the likes of Canon‘s SD1100 IS, Nikon‘s Coolpix S210, and Panasonic‘s FS3 all coming in at right around the same sticker, unless you’re just taken by the way the G2 looks, few strong reasons for recommending this camera over some of its more established competition come to mind.
In fairness, while the first generation of GE cameras came off somewhat disappointingly, the G2 makes a significant step forward for the company: if it’s not exactly besting some of the aforementioned class leaders on their home turf, at least GE’s latest offering has found its way into the same neighborhood as these cameras – a good sign for things to come from the manufacturer. As to the G2 itself, though, in a crowded field against some excellent competition, the whole package still feels just a bit too unrefined and underdeveloped to earn a resoundingly positive appraisal.
- Good build quality, nice styling
- Neutral default color reproduction
- Noise performance good through ISO 800
- Flaky macro mode, poor AF generally
- Menus have a way of “forgetting” settings
- Some serious lens concerns
- Flash performance odd at best
- Lots of minor irritations begin to add up
|Sensor||8.0 megapixel, 1/2.35″ CCD|
|Lens/Zoom||4x (38-152mm) zoom, f/3.5-5.15|
|LCD/Viewfinder||2.7″, 230K-dot TFT LCD|
|Shutter Speed||30-1/2000 seconds|
|Shooting Modes||Auto, Manual, Image Stabilization, Movie, Scene, Panorama|
|Scene Presets||Portrait, Indoor, Sport, Children, Leaf, Snow, Sunset, Fireworks, Glass, Museum, Landscape, Night Landscape, Night Portrait)|
|White Balance Settings||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Fluorescent CWF, Incandescent, Manual|
|Metering Modes||Multi-Area, Center-Area, Spot|
|Focus Modes||Center AF, Multi-Area AF, Macro, Face Detection|
|Drive Modes||Normal, Top 5 Continuous, Infinite Continuous|
|Flash Modes||Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Flash, No Flash, Slow Sync, Slow Sync/Red-Eye Reduction|
|Self Timer Settings
||10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off|
|Memory Formats||SD, SDHC|
|File Formats||JPEG, MPEG4|
|Max. Image Size||3264×2448|
|Max. Video Size
||640×480, 30 fps|
|Zoom During Video||No|
|Battery||Rechargeable lithium-ion, 200 shots|
|Connections||USB 2.0, AV output, DC input|
|Additional Features||Face Detection, Smile Detection, Blink Detection, Panorama Stitch Mode|