DigitalCameraReview.com
Canon PowerShot G11 Review
by J. Keenan -  10/12/2009

For years, a G-series Powershot has been the flagship of the Canon compact digital fleet - starting with the G1 about mid-year 2000, all have featured RAW and JPEG shooting formats along with full manual controls. As the line progressed, resolution predictably moved higher and new and/or additional features or upgrades to existing systems found their way into subsequent models. Last year, the PowerShot G10 hit the streets packing 14.7 megapixel resolution on a 1/1.7 inch sensor, Canon's current generation DIGIC IV processor and a 3.0 inch LCD monitor.

Canon PowerShot G11

Now, Canon has introduced the PowerShot G11: "Designed for those looking for a pocket-sized camera with SLR functionality, this new powerful camera is ideal for the consumer who is looking to capture beautiful landscapes and professional portraits."


The G11 features a 10 megapixel resolution on a new 1/1.7 inch sensor and DIGIC IV processor designed as the "High Sensitivity System" for improved low light ISO performance. An articulating 2.8 inch LCD monitor joins the 5x optically stabilized zoom lens that covers the same 28-140mm focal range (35mm equivalent) as the G10. Here's what that focal range looks like:

Canon PowerShot G11
Wide angle

Canon PowerShot G11
Telephoto

Automatic and full manual controls along with the traditional G-series RAW/JPEG options have been retained. The new camera accepts SD/SDHC, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus card, and HC MMCplus card memory media. Canon includes a lithium battery pack and charger, USB and A/V cables, a neck strap, and CD-ROM software with each camera.

At first blush, lower resolution on the same physical-sized sensor and a smaller monitor (even one that swivels) might seem like a step backward in a market that seems wedded to the principle of more and bigger. But when criticism was directed at the G10 (not very often) it tended to concern ISO noise performance that some found less than stellar. One quick way to improve noise performance is to increase the physical size of the sensor while retaining the same level of resolution, or decrease the level of resolution while retaining sensor size. Canon's website says "You asked, and Canon not only listened, but delivered big-time." Let's see if backing up is the way to get ahead.


BUILD AND DESIGN
The PowerShot G11 offers the retro look of a classic rangefinder camera, and its metal and composite body fit and finish are first rate - the camera is finished in rich-looking flat black paint. Overall size and weight remind me strongly of the Panasonic GF1 (less the 14-45mm lens). This is a large and heavy unit in relation to most 5x point and shoots.

Canon PowerShot G11

Ergonomics and Controls
The rounded-edge, rectangular body of the G11 features a slightly built-up grip in the right front that provides a secure feel to one-handed shooting. The flash is positioned at the top left edge of the camera body and invites total or partial blockage by fingers of the left hand in two-handed holds.

Canon PowerShot G11

The top and back of the body are covered with controls - the shooting finger falls naturally to the shutter button but the thumb lies across the menu button, control dial, metering and delete buttons on the camera back. Even so, unintended activations were not a problem with regard to still images, but movies could be a different story, as we'll discuss later.

Canon PowerShot G11

From a shooting standpoint, I found the G11 appealing because external controls allow quick changes to ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation and metering mode; the latter two are settings I use extensively in dealing with difficult lighting conditions.

Menus and Modes
Folks familiar with Canon compacts will feel right at home with the menu set on the G11, and newcomers to the brand will find the camera highly intuitive to manage and set up, even without benefit of the user guide. After pressing the menu button, menus or menu items are selected via the control wheel and the camera displays a brief explanation of the function of the specific item in question.

There are ten primary shooting modes:

Display/Viewfinder
The 2.8 inch LCD monitor on the G11 is of approximately 461,000 dot composition and offers 100% coverage; it can swing through 180 degrees and rotate along its long axis through 270 degrees. The monitor is adjustable for five levels of brightness and the ability to articulate can be of help in bright outdoor light, where the monitor can sometimes be difficult to see for image composition.

Canon PowerShot G11

The camera has an optical view finder, but coverage is only 77% and makes the VF useless for accurate image composition - the image seen and composed through the finder does not include significant area on all sides that appear in the actual image that is captured. No data is presented on the VF screen - two small circular lights that appear in your peripheral vision when using the VF indicate when the camera has achieved focus. The VF does have a diopter adjustment for varying degrees of eyesight acuity.

PERFORMANCE
The G11 presents an interesting dichotomy in that it is "Designed for those looking for a pocket-sized camera with SLR functionality" as well as "advanced amateurs." This is balanced by the full range of auto shooting options and specific scene settings that most advanced amateurs will seldom use. The G11 is first and foremost a point and shoot (with a size and heft that will have you thinking "pocket-sized" refers to Godzilla-sized pockets), but with a definite SLR mentality when it comes to manual controls and, more specifically, the ability to adjust important shooting settings on the fly.

Shooting Performance
SLR functionality was left out of the G11 with regards to powering up - the camera takes about 1.6 seconds to present a focus icon after power on and the quickest I could get off a first shot ran about 2.25 to 2.5 seconds - definitely point and shoot type times.

Single shot-to-shot times ran about 3 seconds with a SanDisk Extreme III 20MB/s card. Continuous shooting rates at full resolution with AF and exposure calculated for the first shot and applied to all in the sequence ran 1.1 fps - the camera shot 25 consecutive JPEGs and was still going strong when I quit shooting. Tracking moving subjects is hamstrung by a screen blackout of about 0.9 seconds after the first shot of the sequence, and the camera is always one shot behind on display.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 0.01
Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR 0.01
Canon PowerShot G11 0.03
Olympus Stylus 7010 0.03

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 0.27
Canon PowerShot G11 0.38
Olympus Stylus 7010 0.45
Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR 0.55

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 3 2.2
Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR 6 1.8
Olympus Stylus 7010 2 1.7
Canon PowerShot G11 1.1

AF acquisition times in good light with no pre-focus ran about 0.38 seconds - times lengthened a bit in dim conditions but the G11 has a focus assist lamp. Shutter lag came in at 0.03 seconds.

Flash range can go out to 16 feet at wide angle and 13 feet at telephoto with auto ISO set. Recycle times with partial discharge ran about 4 seconds - seemingly full discharges took a bit over 5 seconds. The G11 will display and update the flash recycle icon while the shutter button is half pressed, making follow up shots possible at the earliest possible moment - the camera will not allow shots with the flash enabled until the flash is fully charged.

With ISO set to 80 for best image quality, flash range is predictably short. However, the G11 can provide a little post processing magic to help, using i-contrast in the camera playback menu. Here are shots of an aircraft at the National Museum of The Air Force in original and post-processed form.

Canon PowerShot G11
Original

Canon PowerShot G11
i-Contrast

The flash also performed well at close range - these two shots were made in the archives of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame at distances of about two feet. There is some loss of highlights in the white foam of the second photo, but the flash exposed the main subjects in both shots nicely. (Our thanks to HOF VP/CFO Bill Allen for providing our photo op in the "behind the scenes" world of the Hall).

Canon PowerShot G11

Canon PowerShot G11

Lens Performance
The G11's 5x zoom maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 at wide angle to f/4.5 at telephoto - nice speed across the entire focal length of the lens. There is a bit of barrel distortion at wide angle, and the slightest hint of pincushion at telephoto. Edges are a bit soft at both the wide and telephoto ends of the zoom, and there can be some slight chromic aberration (purple fringing) in some high contrast boundary areas, but the fault is well controlled overall. The lens can focus as close as 0.4 inches in macro mode.

Video Quality
With more and more point and shoots featuring 720p HD video, it was surprising to find Canon's flagship compact capturing at a maximum 640x480 pixel resolution. Video quality seemed adequate.

When in movie mode, the control dial switches the camera between standard, color swap, and color accent movie modes - the right thumb lays across the dial and can move it relatively easily, switching modes.

Image Quality
I was very pleased with default image quality out of the G11 - virtually all shots used to illustrate this review were shot at 80 ISO and Program auto mode, and all with auto white balance. Indoor with flash, indoor with available light, outdoor - the G11 produced excellent results.

Canon PowerShot G11 Canon PowerShot G11
Canon PowerShot G11 Canon PowerShot G11

If the default settings don't produce images to your liking, the My Colors palette offers a range of color/tone settings as well as a custom setting that allows the user to modify image characteristics like saturation, contrast and sharpness. It's hard to imagine not being able to come up with a combination of settings to please the fussiest of users.

Canon PowerShot G11
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

Auto WB shot warm under incandescent light in our studio, but performed well otherwise. The Air Force Museum is, for the most part, dark with spot illumination of the aircraft and exhibits, and shots in this environment were invariably color accurate. The G11 has white balance settings for daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, underwater and a custom setup in addition to auto.

Evaluative metering was used for most shots in the review, and worked well in a range of lighting conditions. The G11 would lose some highlights on occasion in high contrast scenes, particularly shots with portions of open sky in the image - and most cameras would behave the same. With exposure compensation easily adjustable on the camera top, fixing highlight issues was easy. Center-weighted and spot metering options are also available.

ISO noise performance was all we hoped for - compared to the G10, I'd say the G11 is about 2 stops better. ISO 800 in the G11 looks very similar to ISO 200 in the G10, at least to my eye.

Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 80
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 80, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 100
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 100, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 200
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 200, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 400
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 400, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 800
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 800, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 3200
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 3200, 100% crop

The G11 is quite clean from 80 through 200, with just the slightest of noise showing up at 400 and a bit more at 800, but even these two values are quite good. ISO 1600 shows definite deterioration, and 3200 is predictably worse. Below is a direct comparison of the ISO 1600 shots from the G10 and G11 cropped at 100%.


Canon PowerShot G10, ISO 1600, 100% crop

Canon PowerShot G11, ISO 1600, 100% crop
In addition to our studio shots which demonstrate performance on a largely light image, here's a series at the Pro Football Hall Of Fame shot in a more moderately lit environment.

Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 100
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 200
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 400
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 800
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot G11
ISO 3200

Additional Sample Images

Canon PowerShot G11 Canon PowerShot G11
Canon PowerShot G11 Canon PowerShot G11
Canon PowerShot G11 Canon PowerShot G11
Canon PowerShot G11 Canon PowerShot G11

CONCLUSIONS
When Canon brought out the successor to the G10 and dropped resolution from 14.7 to 10 megapixels, some eyebrows may have been raised. The trend in compact digitals has been to keep bumping up resolution (while not necessarily keeping pace with physical sensor size), but Canon heard some grumbling about the G10's noise performance and, to their credit, responded.


The G11 is a wonderful combination of a lens with very good optical performance, good auto focus and shutter performance, and lowered resolution on the same physical-sized sensor that produces excellent noise performance for a compact digital. Image quality from the G11 is the best overall of any compact digital I've ever reviewed - at 100% enlargements the images are quite clean, without the artifacts that seem to pop up to one degree or another in the other guys.

The viewfinder is poor for image composition due to its inaccuracy (77% coverage), but that's about the end of the gripes for this camera. It's bigger and heavier than the typical 5x point and shoots and the MSRP is bumping entry-level DSLR territory at $500, but the camera offers something for everyone - full auto controls, scene shooting options, face detection et.al. for the new user, and manual controls with DSLR-like adjustability (and RAW) for the more experienced shooter.

Pros:

Cons: